The Dirt

Simone Benz Awarded SFC Golden Trowel

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

by Andrew Smiley, SFC Deputy Director

SFC issued the September 2014 Golden Trowel Award to Simone Benz, Community Outreach Coordinator. Simone also serves as Food Sector Manager with the GO! Austin / VAMOS! Austin (GAVA) place-based health initiative, of which SFC is a primary partner and leadership team member.

We recognize Simone daily for her contribution of a positive attitude and a strong work ethic, but she is being recognized for this “digging deep” award to honor her pursuit of new knowledge and skills, her boldness in taking on new assignments, her creativity in addressing unique challenges, and her dedication to building strong and meaningful relationships with community members we work with. Simone recently stepped up to represent SFC on the GAVA initiative leadership team. As part of that project, she is working to refine her community organizing skills through formal and informal learning opportunities. She is not daunted by the complexities of the GAVA project in the Dove Springs and the 78745 areas, and has worked to ensure positive impact and advancement of SFC’s mission through GAVA. Her exemplary work is inspirational to all of SFC and to the broader community.

Plan Your Fall Garden

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

As temperatures cool off in Central Texas, it’s time to get planting in the garden again! As you decide what veggies you’d enjoy growing and eating this fall, you’ll also want to think about how to arrange them in your garden. Here are a couple of tips to guide you:

  • Which way is south? In the Northern Hemisphere, the sun is in the south sky, which means gardens always get their best light from the south. As the days get shorter, and the sun’s trajectory across the sky gets lower, it’s even more important to make sure your garden receives unobstructed light from the south. What’s the take-home message for arranging your garden veggies: always place tall plants and trellises on the northern side of your garden.

  • Who likes who? One fascinating bit of garden wisdom is that certain plants actually benefit from growing alongside others, and, on the flip side, some plants are harmed by the proximity of others. This practice of pairing plants that provide mutual benefits to each other in the garden is called “companion planting”. Companion plants include tomatoes and basil, peas and carrots, and lettuce and strawberries. Find a companion planting chart, and give your veggies neighbors they like!

For a wealth of additional information to help you start your fall garden with confidence, join us for one of our upcoming hands-on classes, Citizen Gardener # 52 at LASA High School, or the Plan Your Fall Garden class in the SFC Teaching Garden!

Beyond Oatmeal: Whole Grains for Breakfast

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Think eating whole grains at breakfast boils down to two choices: bran-heavy cereal products or oatmeal? Think again! We don't have to rely on the old standbys that live in a special place in the pantry and only come out at breakfast time. Besides being rather ho-hum, processed oatmeal and cereal choices are more often than not loaded with sugar to make them more palate-pleasing, not exactly (ok, not at all) what dietary recommendations to eat more whole grains intended. With a little imagination, though, you can use a variety of whole grains to make hearty, healthy, and satisfying breakfasts that go beyond oatmeal or cold cereal.

Read on for sweet and savory whole grain breakfast ideas that feature some of the whole grains we’ll cook with in our upcoming Kitchen Fundamentals: Cooking with Whole Grains class on September 30th:


  • Butternut Squash Breakfast Risotto – warm leftover brown rice risotto with milk of your choice, cooked butternut squash, and a pinch of cinnamon, nutmeg, or ginger and serve with nuts and dried fruit 
  • Nutty Apple Rice Cereal (from The Happy Kitchen Cookbook)
  • Sprouted Quinoa Apple Pecan Bread (recipe follows)
  • Cold Quinoa Porridge – leftover quinoa served with your milk of choice, fresh fruit, nuts and a drizzle of maple syrup


  • Creamy Grits topped with herbed goat cheese and served with locally produced thick-cut maple bacon 
  • Veggie Quinoa Breakfast Bowl 
  • Pan-fried Polenta cakes served with sautéed vegetables and poached eggs – cut leftover polenta in squares and gently pan-fry in olive oil or butter until golden brown 
  • Brown Rice and Vegetable Fritters (from The Happy Kitchen Cookbook) served with farmstead cheese or yogurt and fresh herbs

Sprouted Quinoa Apple Pecan Bread

1 cup of cooked sprouted quinoa

1 apple, peeled and chopped

3 tablespoons flax seeds, ground

1 teaspoon chia seeds, whole

6 tablespoons of water

1/3 cup of grapeseed or safflower oil

1/2 cup pure maple syrup, Grade B Extra Dark

1 cup unsweetened applesauce

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup sprouted wheat flour

½ cup white spelt flour

½ cup whole spelt flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup of chopped pecans


Grease and flour a loaf pan. Preheat oven to 325.

In small mixing bowl, mix chia and flax with water and let stand. Then add in remaining wet ingredients: oil, maple syrup, applesauce and vanilla.

In another bowl, use a whisk to combine the dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Toss apple and pecans in with dry ingredients. Then pour in the wet ingredients and mix just until all ingredients come together.

Pour batter into loaf pan. Increase oven temp to 350. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until cake tester comes out clean.

The Happy Kitchen's Egg Primer

Monday, September 15, 2014


The incredible, edible egg: versatile, affordable, low in calories but packed with nutrition, eggs are an essential element of a culinary repertoire and something any home cook can master. Eggs are easy and quick, but making great eggs is about managing time and temperature, and learning some basic techniques. Read on for our egg primer!


On the one hand, this means having everything ready at the same time. You don’t want your eggs getting cold because your grits still have 20 minutes to go! But it also means knowing how long to cook something, which means not just setting a timer, but also developing your senses by learning the look, smell, feel and taste of perfectly done eggs.


In the kitchen, time and temperature go hand in hand. Too hot or not hot enough cooking temperatures can make your eggs turn out rubbery, dull or dry. Putting the temperature of the pan, water or oven aside, there’s also the temperature of the eggs about to be cooked. Cold eggs can crack, curdle or may not take on as much air as room temperature eggs.


Whisking, folding, stirring, flipping and straining – the techniques used for preparing eggs apply to all kinds of other dishes. Use your wrist and make swift but gentle movements with your utensils.

Let’s put these into action with three basic egg preparations: Scrambled, fried and poached.


Done in less than 5 minutes. Whisk the eggs (and milk or other ingredients) enough that they are slightly foamy with uniform color. Heat the pan to medium high, add butter or oil (or a little of each) and when it starts to bubble, add the eggs. When the eggs are in the pan, stir slowly to form the curds and then lower the heat and gently fold the curds or shake the pan for about 30 second. Let cook undisturbed for a minute and they are ready to eat. Best practice: serve on a pre-warmed plate. They should look soft and moist, not gooey, dry, browned or pale. Use a wooden or silicone spatula.


Done in less than 5 minutes, as little as 2 minutes if you like your eggs runny. Pre-crack the eggs into bowls if you’re worried about shells in your eggs. Preheat the pan to medium low, add butter and a little oil, and wait until the butter just starts to foam. Add the eggs, one at a time. Once in the pan the whites will be set by the 2 minute mark. From there, it’s all about the yolk. Cover the pan to gently steam the yolk or flip the eggs to fry them. Test the yolk by gently poking it – the more give it has, the runnier the yolks will be. The eggs look full, bright and glistening, even if they are browned, not pale and shrunken.


Fill a medium saucepan with an inch of water, add a pinch of salt (and, some say, a splash of white vinegar) and set on high heat. Pre-crack the eggs into individual bowls. Once the water is just at a boil, swirl the water and gently add the eggs, one at a time. Simmer the eggs, undisturbed, 3-5 minutes. Just set a timer on this one. Less time means runnier yolks. A perfect poached egg holds together and looks like a little pillow: soft and a little fluffy.

Grow Lettuce, Eat Okra

Monday, September 15, 2014


by Sustainable Food Center Grow Local Staff

Color and texture are key elements of lettuce, an often overlooked component of our salads and sandwiches. However, lettuce should not be limited to the few varieties sold in most grocery stores. There are many types of lettuce (Lactuca sativa) varying in color and texture that grow well in our Central Texas climate. Since colored vegetables are higher in antioxidants, be sure to include plenty of the red and burgundy varieties of lettuce in your garden and recipes. Recommended lettuce varieties for the area include Black Seeded Simpson, Lollo Rossa, Vulcan, Freckles, Buttercrunch, Salad Bib, Raisa, Red Sails, and Parris Island Cos. Try growing lettuce for a mesclun mix, which refers to assorted small, young leaves. Traditionally, mesclun mixes included equal parts chervil, arugula, lettuce, and endive, but today they may include frisee, radicchio, sorrel, or other varieties.

Lettuce grows well with cool temperatures and adequate moisture. Hot weather prompts it to complete its life cycle by blooming, producing seeds, and dying (this process is called “bolting”). Like many greens, the flavor gets bitter and the texture gets tougher when lettuce bolts in hot weather. Lettuce can generally tolerate frosts but not hard freezes, so in Central Texas, plant lettuce as early as September for a fall harvest in November or January-February for a spring harvest in March-April.

Lettuce is easy to plant from seed, but if you are hoping to accelerate the process, you can always plant from transplant. In order to know how to best plant seeds, you will need to know the two distinct ways to harvest lettuce: harvesting full heads, or the “cut and come again” method, in which a few leaves are cut from each plant while the leaves are small. The plants grow new leaves, allowing for a continuous harvest throughout the season. If you plan to harvest full heads, plant seeds about 8-12 inches apart, and about 1/4 inch in depth. If you plan to use the “cut and come again” method, simply scatter seeds over the desired area. Either way, press them lightly on the surface to firm soil against the seed, and then mist them well to thoroughly moisten. Transplants should be planted 4 to 6 inches apart in rich, well-drained soil, either in the ground or in containers at least 12 inches in diameter. Since lettuce is shallow rooted, avoid deep cultivation. Ideally, add several inches of organic matter such as compost. Mulching the plants is usually best when plants are well-established. Lettuce requires at least 8 hours of direct sun each day, but it can also tolerate a bit of filtered light, meaning as little as 5-6 hours of direct sun. Mild temperatures, high fertility, and regular moisture are key ways to ensure your lettuce grows.

Planting tip: Lettuce seeds germinate best in cold soil. Since Central Texas remains warm through October, it is best to put your lettuce seeds in the fridge for a week before planting in order to improve germination rates.

Depending on the variety, lettuce is usually fully mature for harvesting the entire plant in 40-65 days. Any part of the plant is tender and edible from the time it germinates, so feel free to pick leaves to eat or to use entire plants that are thinned at any time. Either pick the large but still tender, pest-free older leaves from the bottom of the plant or cut the entire plant just above the ground. Wash and prepare, or refrigerate immediately.

Because now is the time to plant, not harvest lettuce, we’re sharing a recipe for preparing okra, since it is in abundance! This is a great summer recipe because it can be made in a toaster oven, so that you don’t have to heat up your entire kitchen. Also, many people are turned off by okra’s slimy texture, and eating it whole in this recipe diminishes this factor significantly-- in fact it’s hardly noticeable. This makes a great snack—I often eat them with my fingers as if they were crackers or potato chips!

Roasted Okra

  • ½ lb. fresh, whole okra, any color (about 2 cups)
  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • Salt to taste


Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.

Wash okra and dry well.

Drizzle olive oil on okra.

Roast for ten to twelve minutes. Okra will be soft, but still retain its shape. Add salt to taste and eat warm.

Serves two.

Our Suzanne

Friday, September 12, 2014

It takes a village. No one understands community like SFC's own Suzanne Santos. A tireless advocate for local farmers, ranchers, and food vendors, she's been integral to making sure Austin has access to local, healthy food and that farmers have the opportunity to make a living growing good food. In the many years with our organization, she’s fed us with peaches and figs from her own trees and inspired us with her enthusiasm for local food, always looking for ways to help others. And now she needs us.

After some unsettling symptoms over the past week, hospital tests revealed a mass in her brain, and she required surgery this week to better determine a diagnosis and course of treatment. The procedure went well and her surgical team successfully removed all of the tumor; she still has a long road ahead of her, though. True to her nature, her first thoughts are for her beloved food community and our farmer friends who are currently facing challenges of their own. She called asking that we express her gratitude for the love and healing thoughts so many have shared, but also her hopes that we remember that we're stronger together, a lesson she's taught by example for as long as we've known her. Keep her close in your thoughts, and know as you also remember and reach out a helping hand to our friends at Springdale Farm, Green Gate Farms, Swede Farm, and Hairston Creek Farm, that we're building the kind of community that will make her proud.

Breakfast Like a Champ at SFC Farmers' Markets

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Our favorite place for weekend brunch or breakfast? SFC Farmers' Markets! Visit early for a leisurely coffee, juice, lemonade or tea accompanied by treats from our artisan prepared foods vendors. Read on for some of our favorite picks, make a plan to meet friends, and settle in for the most delicious people-watching and newspaper-reading opportunity you'll have all week!


  • Cake & Spoon' s rich, flaky breakfast tarts are made with seasonal ingredients, local cheese and local, pastured eggs.
  • Zippy Buddha's Brew Kombucha will wake up with a healthy dose of zippy flavor and probiotics.
  • Blackbird Bakery's gluten free treats have a cult following.
  • Easy Tiger offers sandwiches with seasonal fruit preserves and butter or goat cheese on their award-winning bread.
  • Fete Accompli offers refreshing, ice cold freshly-squeezed juice blends and lemonades.
  • Get healthy with Juice Land freshly pressed juices. 
  • Nothing says you can't have popsicles for breakfast! We fully endorse Mom and Pops frozen coffee treats.
  • Line up for Taco Deli's justifiably famous breakfast or hearty brunch tacos on warm tortillas, laced with their Dona or Roja salsa.
  • Texas Coffee Traders offers steaming, aromatic coffee in a variety of roasts and blends.
  • We love warm, hearty tamales from Tamale Addiction by The Gardener's Feast for breakfast--choose meat-filled, vegetarian, vegan, or sweet offerings.
  • Texas French Bread is stocked with flaky pastries and crusty, just-baked bread for breakfast noshing.
  • Kolaches from The Zubikhouse are an SFC Farmers' Market classic breakfast. Try one of their heritage Texas treats--soft, pillowy dough stuffed with either sweet or savory fillings--or a heartier offering from their cooked-to-order menu.
Sunset Valley
  • Happy Vegan Baker has legions of fans among the vegan (and omnivore!) community.
  • La Leigh Patisserie's cinnamon rolls and croissants make Saturday mornings warm and sweet.
  • St. Philip is the new kid on the block. The newest branch of the Uchi/Uchiko family, St. Philip offers bialys, pastries, and 
  • Line up for Taco Deli's justifiably famous breakfast or hearty brunch tacos on warm tortillas, laced with their Dona or Roja salsa.
  • Tamale Addiction by The Gardener's Feast
  • Texas Coffee Traders offers steaming, aromatic coffee in a variety of roasts and blends.
  • Texas French Bread is stocked with flaky pastries and crusty, just-baked bread for breakfast noshing.
  • Zippy Wonder-Pilz Kombucha will wake up with a healthy dose of zippy flavor and probiotics.

Five Healthy Grab-and-Go Breakfast Ideas from The Happy Kitchen

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

If you're the sort to listen to your mother, you know how important breakfast is. Finding the time to make it happen, though, can be a challenge now that we're all grown up. Eating a healthy breakfast provides a foundation for making smart food choices all day and offers energy for physical activity and smart thinking. There are lots of choices out there--a little pre-planning can help to make sure you're making the right ones. With a few go-to ideas in your toolkit, you'll be ready to meet the challenges of the day every day!

Read on for five healthy grab-and-go breakfast ideas from The Happy Kitchen

  • Make it easy - keep a full bowl of fruit on the kitchen counter or in the fridge for the world's easiest, most portable fast food!
  • Think protein - Boil 5-10 eggs at beginning of the week, keep them in the fridge, and grab 1 or 2 in the morning for protein. You can even just peel off the top part of the shell and eat the hard boiled egg right out of a shell with a spoon.
  • Layer it - Make yogurt parfaits layered with fresh fruit in to-go containers and store in fridge overnight; make up bags or small jars of granola to accompany.
  • Blend & go - Toss ½ cup yogurt, ½ cup rice/almond/soy milk in fridge in the blender container the night before and keep in fridge overnight. In the morning, add ½ cup frozen berries or other frozen fruit + 1 banana. Blend and sprinkle granola or rolled oats on top for extra energy and protein.
  • Think ahead - Cook steel cut oats, then divide into 1 cup portions in containers and store in fridge. Grab a container, add some milk (dairy or non), fresh fruit, a handful of nuts, and a teaspoon of honey and go!

Giles Smith Shares Inspiration for School Gardening

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Giles Smith is a teacher in a SBS (Social Behavioral Skills) unit in an Elementary School in the East side of Austin. He has participated in three courses offered at SFC-Citizen Gardener, Community Garden Leadership and School Garden Leadership. This week, he visits the SFC blog to share why he engages in the important work of teaching children where food comes from, sharing with them the pleasures of gardening and the importance of food justice and sustainability.

by Giles Smith

Aristotle tells us, “The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet.” Since I have been working in education, this quote has taken on a deeper meaning for me. As a new teacher in an Austin public school, I have dared to incorporate a gardening component into my curriculum. As this article is being written, the school garden where I will be planting my "bitter roots of education" is still overgrown with local perennials interspersed with endangered remnants of the spring planting of one of our second grade teachers and her class of mini-gardeners. The overgrowth is teeming with sunflowers, providing shelter and sustenance to a host of beautiful and useful friends who burrow, buzz and fly around our school’s interior patio. Our garden oasis is home to six raised garden beds neatly lined with rectangular blocks of limestone. 

A school garden is a wonderful tool, and can be used as an anchor to which many lessons may be tied. For example, math lessons taught around a well-organized garden bed can be introduced to teach the concepts of geometrical shapes, measurement, such as finding perimeter, area and volume. In science, discussions concerning reproduction and the life cycle of plants and insects, photosynthesis, water-cycle and conservation among others may be had. Students can also be engaged about important socio-economic issues surrounding sustainability, access, food sovereignty and social justice, issues that have become constant topics in our local, national and international discourse. Lastly, a garden that will be shared by several people or groups of people, provides many opportunities to develop social skills. Among them are effective communication, planning, organizing and conflict resolution techniques. 

This calls to mind another favorite quote: “Las semillas caidas al pie de los arboles germinan.” This proverb from the Afro-Cuban Lukumi tradition, an ancient spiritual tradition preserved by enslaved Africans and their descendants, is translated as, “The seeds that fall at the feet of trees germinate.” If one asks an elder what this means, they don’t speak of a garden or a forest. Here, the seed is a metaphor for children. This proverb speaks to the relationships of elders with children. Just as a child, a seed needs good, fertile conditions to be conceived, and as a plant sprouts, a child grows. Thus, the elder is to a child as the gardener is to a seedling. The stewards of this geocentric ancestral tradition understand the importance of teaching the next generation the knowledge of survival and thriving. They also know the importance of the “oko,” the farm or garden, in the life of all inhabitants of the earth. Perhaps that is why it is the central idea to one of their most important teachings--and to mine.

Build a Raised Bed for Fall Gardening

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

This fall, raise your spirits and get that garden off the ground! Raised garden beds, or garden boxes, can be a great addition to your backyard, school, or community garden. Constructed from non-treated, naturally rot-resistant, long-lasting wood, these beds can offer gardeners a variety of benefits while taking the strain off of your back or knees. They're also accessible for kids in school or family backyard gardens. Read on for six reasons to build one yourself!

Inspired, but afraid of power tools? Don't be! Register for our Deep Roots: Raised Bed Construction class in the SFC Teaching Garden on Saturday, September 13th. Participants will try out building different types of raised beds with the help of the SFC Teaching Garden Coordinator, and will also discuss raised garden bed care and which materials to use, including reusing household items for bed borders.

  • Keep it accessibile – Raised garden beds can built only a couple inches off of the ground, but they can also be built as high as 3 or 4 feet for increased accessibility for the disabled, elderly, or any other gardener needing a break from bending over. Also, with certain designs, the gardener can sit on the side of the bed and plant and harvest with even more ease!
  • Block those weeds! – When constructed correctly, raised beds can act as a weed barrier and decrease the amount of time needed to weed around vegetables.
  • Keep it loose – Stepping in and around a garden bed in the ground can cause soil compaction and make it hard for growing plants’ roots to form fully and for soil insects to thrive. Having a raised bed will decrease soil compaction by making it obvious where not to step.
  • Good drainage – By raising your garden up, you will be increasing your drainage, especially when compared to a clay soil that you may find in your backyard in Austin. It will at the same time decrease soil erosion by creating a natural barrier during rainstorms.
  • Control critters– Tall raised garden beds, at least 4 feet tall, can discourage critter such as rabbits and any underground rodents from invading your garden.
  • Looking good! – Raised garden beds can look tidier and more visually appealing that a sprawling in-ground garden.