The Dirt

Happy Anniversary Cocoa Puro!

Friday, October 17, 2014

by Tom Pederson, Owner, Cocoa Puro

October 24th is our 10 year business anniversary. I fondly remember walking up to Suzanne Santos and some volunteers with a small cooler of my chocolates under my arm, offering them a taste, and asking if I could be at the market. Suzanne said, "When can you start!", and we joined the SFC Farmers' Market soon after to begin our venture as a small family business. We sold out on our very first day at the market and that gave us the confidence to continue. Since then, I've made over 3 million Kakawa Cocoa Beans by hand, and been at the market almost every single Saturday offering many innovative chocolate items for sale. It's been very gratifying to receive the support of Austin shoppers who come to the market on Saturdays to support local goods. Thank you for all you've done to make that possible.

Grow Local’s “JUST SEEDS” Initiative

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


Grow Local is spreading the word about the mighty seed! Seeds are an integral part of our national and local food systems, as well as our cultures and traditions, and nothing is more impressive in the natural world than tiny seeds that create entire plants from almost nothing. We want you to discover the magic of the seed, why it is so important to know where your seeds come from, and how to save your seeds – so we started the JUST SEEDS initiative! No matter your experience with seeds or seed-saving, we have activities for you to become better acquainted with nature’s impressive seeds. Check out below for how to get more involved with seeds this fall.

Take our Seed Saving Basics class – Join SFC’s Grow Local team for this "Just Seeds" workshop and learn all about seed-saving for beginners. Add another layer of sustainability at your home or community garden by preserving plant diversity, developing seed stock that is resilient and better adapted to our particular climate, and sharing your seed bounty with the Austin community! This class covers the basics of seed saving including the fundamental reasons for saving seed, seed saving guidelines and processes, and easy seeds to save. Register Here:

Attend the Fall Seed Swap Potluck – Grow Local would like to invite all local farmers, home or community gardeners, or any other type of seed-lover to bring your own saved seeds, transplants, or harvest from your gardens and/or a tasty, local dish for this year's Fall Seed Swap Potluck. This will be a time to mingle with members of the seed saving community and share gardening experiences. Even if you don’t currently garden or save your own seeds, we will have a seed saving demonstration and plenty of seed saving resources to get you started! Since this seed swap potluck is the day before Halloween, be sure to bring PUMPKINS or any type of squash for jack-o-lantern carving and a seed saving demo for cucurbits. Also, feel free to dress up in your Halloween costume! The best costume will win a prize! RSVP Here:

Save Seeds from your Halloween Pumpkins – Follow the easy steps below to save pumpkin seeds from your Jack-O-Lanterns, and cook them up for a tasty treat.

1. Preheat oven to 375° F (190° C).

2. Separate any pumpkin seeds from the pumpkin flesh. The best way to do this is by hand, or by using an old (cleaned) comb that you wouldn't mind getting dirty. If it is difficult to remove those fleshy bits on the outer pumpkin shells, here are some tricks:

  • Soak the seeds in water for a few hours, and then strain the seeds in small batches into a mesh strainer. With your hands, stir the pumpkin seeds around in the mesh strainer and let the mesh catch the remaining pulp. When you slide the seeds out of the strainer, they should be pretty clean.

3. Pat seeds dry with a paper towel and spread out on a baking dish. Although no seasoning is necessary, this would be the time to season your pumpkin seeds with:

  • a little bit of curry powder, cayenne pepper, or chipotle flakes for a spicy, savory edge.
  • a little bit of cinnamon, clove, or nutmeg for a sweet treat.
  • regular old table salt or sea salt for added salty flavor.

4. Throw the pumpkin seeds in the oven for 20 minutes, or until golden and crunchy. Allow to cool before eating!

Cry No More: Plant Some Onions!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Garlic Chives
originally published in the Austin American Statesman

Our current view of onions has been shaped by their effect on our tear ducts, their supposed similarity to ogres (Shrek: “We both have layers”), and their unfortunate ability to ward off possible mates via breath odor. However, ancient Egyptians once worshipped the modest onion for its concentric rings and spherical shape symbolizing eternal life, eaten in large quantities by ancient Greek Olympians to lighten the balance of their blood, and transformed by Native Americans onions into poultices, dyes, and syrups. Quite the heroic root!

A quick glimpse of the onion’s extensive health benefits should convert us all into onion-lovers. Phytochemicals improve the ability of Vitamin C to boost the body’s immunity, and chromium assists in blood sugar regulation. They also contain quercetin, a cancer-reducing compound, as well as other heart-healthy compounds that help reduce inflammation and heal infections. The best news? Now is the time to get some onions in the ground in your garden!

Onions are either bulbing or bunching. Bunching onions are also known as green onions and are grown more for their foliage than underground bulb. Onion seeds can be planted directly into the ground throughout October, while onion starts or sets should be planted October to early November. We recommend planting from sets rather than direct seeds due to their higher success rate. Plant the bulb part of the sets 1 inch deep, with 4 to 5 inches between each plant and in rows 12 to 18 inches apart. Since onions are a root vegetable, they need to be grown in raised beds or in mounded rows at least 6 inches high. Varieties that do well in Central Texas are: Bulbing – Contessa, Grano 1015Y, Red Burgundy, Southern Belle (red), White Bermuda; Bunching/Green – Evergreen White, Green Banner.

Healthy onions require rich, well-drained soil that is covered in a layer of soft mulch. Bulbing onion stalks tend to look healthy even if under-watered. However, if the plants are too dry, they will develop stunted bulbs, so be sure to water during drought conditions; 1 inch per week is sufficient. Also be sure to cut or pull any onions that start to flower – onions are biennial plants, so this should only happen after two years, but extreme conditions can trigger bolting.

Harvest bulbing onions 100+ days after planting and bunching onions after about 65 days. When onions mature, their tops will become yellow and begin to fall off. When this occurs, you can bend the tops down to speed up the final ripening process. Loosening the soil will also encourage drying, which is necessary for successful storage. After harvesting your onions, let them cure on dry ground, being careful not to bruise the sensitive flesh, and allow them to dry for several weeks before storing. Onions should be stored at a dry, 40-50 degrees F in braids or with the stems broken off.

When cutting onions, you can reduce tearing and crying by leaving the root intact when you peel off the outer layers because the root has the highest concentration of sulphuric compounds that make you cry when cutting. Caramelized onions compliment just about anything from omelets to pizza. They are called “caramelized” onions because through the slow process of cooking, the sugars become caramelized and transform the onion slices into powerhouses of sweetness and flavor. You can make a batch and then store in the refrigerator for up to a week to have on hand to add to your dishes.

Caramelized Onions


  • 2 lbs. onions (any kind)
  • 3 Tbsp. butter or olive oil, or a mixture
  • Salt and pepper to taste


Slice onions into ¼ to 1/3 inches. (If they are not cut thinly enough, they won’t cook down fast enough and if they are too thin, they will nearly dissolve.)

Heat the butter/oil in a deep skillet or sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the onions. Stir to coat in the butter or oil and cook. Stir every five minutes or so.

A lot of moisture will be released during the first 20 minutes or so of cooking them. After 20 minutes, lower the heat and continue cooking, stirring often, until the onions are golden. The cooking will take nearly an hour in all.

Season with salt and pepper.

Ideas for uses:

-Use as a pizza topping

-Use as a vegetable in a frittata

-Sprinkle warm caramelized onions on top of roasted vegetables

-Make a caramelized onion and cheese panini, or grilled cheese

The $20 Challenge

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Joy Cooking

by Joy Casnovsky

Is it possible to make a balanced meal for 4 for under $20? It sure is and The Happy Kitchen/La Cocina Alegre® will show you how!!

I first started off with what we already had in our pantry and then built the meal around that—canned salmon, lentils, homemade (frozen) chicken stock, and quinoa. I then augmented what I needed by purchasing the following from the SFC Farmers’ Market East: red bell peppers, eggs, onions, carrots, sweet potato and a loaf of whole wheat bread. I had the following pantry staples that I didn’t need to buy: olive oil, salt, pepper, apple cider vinegar, tomato paste, bay leaves and cloves. I also used fresh parsley from the garden.

Guess what? The total price of the meal comes out to $19.11, which is $4.78 per person. How many drive-thru meals or sit-down dinners can you have for that price!? The best part was that after I portioned out the 4 servings of the salmon patties, quinoa and lentil soup, there were leftovers! So really, this meal can feed a hungry family (providing seconds) or the leftovers can be stored for another meal, thus decreasing the per person cost of the meal that much more.

Click here to watch a video of Joy cooking this dinner!

A few notes:

  • The price is based on per oz or per unit of food; I included the price for each ingredient, not just what I had to purchase.
  • The recipe calls for celery, but to keep things seasonal, I opted to add bell pepper in its place. Also, to increase efficiency in the kitchen (and while shopping), I was able to use the carrots and bell peppers in both the salmon patties and soup.
  • I usually have homemade bread crumbs already made and in the freezer, but this time I didn’t. Hence, the whole wheat bread purchase. Homemade breadcrumbs are easily made and are a great use for stale bread, bread heels or bread that you can’t eat fast enough before it spoils.
  • The price of the meal decreases to $13 when you make your own chicken stock or vegetable broth, have a garden (free parsley and bay leaves!) and use left-over bread or crackers for crumbs.

Eat a Rainbow

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Taste the Place

Kids! The best way to stay healthy and have fun eating is to taste new and colorful foods all the time. Fearless Food Tasters are kids like you who eat fruits and vegetables from all colors of the rainbow. How do you become an SFC Fearless Food Taster? Follow these steps:

  • Pick up a Fearless Food Taster card from the Taste the Place Tent at any of the four SFC Farmers' Markets.
  • Taste as many different kinds and colors of food from the Taste the Place tent at the SFC Farmers Markets.
  • Each card has a color wheel printed on it. Mark the color(s) of the food(s) you taste.
  • Bring this card with you to every SFC Farmers' Market and keep marking off colors as you try more foods.
  • Once you mark off all the colors on the color wheel, turn in your card at the Taste the Place tent and…
  • Get your Fearless Food Taster Certificate!!!

Spice It Up in the Kitchen for Fall

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Spice it up! Autumn is all about the warm flavors of fragrant spices. But they're not just about delivering flavor: the oils in spices also contain medicinal healing properties like aiding digestion, reducing inflammation, controlling blood sugar and stimulating appetite. Read on for some of our favorites for fall, explore their flavor profiles and try out our recipe below for a cinnamon-y, super-healthy butternut smoothie.

  • Cinnamon is spicy-sweet, warm, and woody. Add whole cinnamon sticks to pickling brine for beets or crush and add along with whole allspice berries to fall fruit shrubs.
  • Nutmeg is sweet, earthy, peppery, and slightly pungent. Use whole nutmeg and grate fresh as you use it. Try a little fresh-grated nutmeg on sliced pears or apples, or on oven-roasted Brussels sprouts.

Ginger is hot, sweet, and woody. There are so many good ways to use it in drinks, from making a ginger syrup to steeping it for hot tea. In our upcoming Brewing Probiotic Beverages Class, we'll be making Ginger Ale and Sweet Potato Fly. We'll use cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and more--hope you'll join us!

Butternut Squash Smoothie with Cinnamon

2 c. frozen peaches

2 cups butternut squash, peeled, cubed, steamed lightly, and frozen

1 medium banana, peeled and frozen

3⁄4 cup plain yogurt

1/4 cup apple juice or other liquid (water, orange juice, milk, coconut milk, nut milk)

2 Tablespoons natural peanut butter (or other nut butter)

1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon fresh grated ginger

pinch salt

Place all ingredients in a blend and puree. Serve cold.

Harvest that Rain!

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Here in Central Texas, we have two seasons: hot and not. Gardening in a hot, semi-arid region that has extended dry periods punctuated by heavy rain makes it hard to consistently provide plants with the water they need to grow. Most food growers rely on tap water to keep their plants alive during dry weather, but gardeners are discovering that chemicals in tap water harm the soil organisms that plants depend upon to absorb nutrients. As a result, more and more gardeners are storing rainwater.

The most popular place to store rainwater is in tanks that collect rain off roofs, but rain can also be stored in the earth by constructing rain gardens. Developed to improve the quality of urban waterways by capturing and cleaning polluted run-off, rain gardens sit a few inches or feet below the surrounding landscape. They mimic the earth’s naturally uneven terrain, creating depressions where water can settle into the ground and where plant roots and soil organisms can rid the water of metals, salt, oils, and other contaminants. Because most rain gardens capture polluted water, they are planted with non-edible natives that grow along wetlands. Food growers can nonetheless benefit from the principal of rain gardens by planting sunken food gardens that capture rain from nearby roofs and adjacent paths and lawns. As long as rain does not run off large, paved areas, chemical-laden lawns, or roofs made of lead or treated wood, it is safe to use on vegetable gardens.

Read on for a how-to for creating successful sunken food gardens:

  • Create a plan. How does the rain flow over your site? Are there already natural depressions? How much rain runs off? Do you want to capture some or all of it? Perhaps you'll decide to create a series of small rain gardens overtime so that every drop of water stays on your site. Whatever you do, start small and build your gardens at least 10 feet from building foundations. Rain gardens can take any shape so be creative and have fun.
  • Call 811 to have your utilities marked before you start digging.
  • Dig. You want your sunken garden to be at least 3 inches below the surrounding terrain. If you’re working with existing natural depressions, you may only need to loosen and amend your soil. If you’re working on a slope, you may need to build swales. These are long mounds of dirt that run perpendicular to the slope, stopping run off so that it percolates into the soil. You may need to excavate soil in order to sink your garden. Alternatively, you can sink your garden by building up your paths with woodchips. Whatever option you chose, make sure your soil is loose and drains well. This means that if you are working with Blackland Prairie clay, you will need to add sand and compost. Also, make sure the bottom of your garden is flat so that water infiltrates evenly and does not pool.
  • Mulch. This adds another layer of material to hold water, and it prevents heavy rain from disturbing the soil. If you are catching rain directly off a roof, build a splash pad of gravel or stone so that the rain does not create a canyon in your garden bed.
  • Plant. If you have a shallow rain garden that captures small amounts of run-off, you can plant the usual suspects, such as spinach, onion and carrots. If you’re collecting a moderate amount of run-off, you can plant vegetables like tomatoes, arugula, peas and brassicas. If your garden captures a lot of water, use plants that can handle both heavily saturated and dry soil. Some of these plants include chile piquin, watercress, currants and most berries. With a little experimentation and practice, you will have a food garden that requires less hand watering than a level or raised garden and which thrives even during Texas’ hot, dry summers.

Remember, depending on what you plant and how much water you capture, you may still need to water your plants between rain events, but if your sunken gardens are properly constructed, you will need to water much less often.

For more information on rain gardens and on other techniques for storing water in the ground, we recommend reading Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond, by Brad Lancaster. You can also visit Grow Green’s online resource for rain gardens as well as the Austin Watershed Department’s online resources. If you're interested in an interactive, hands-on introduction to rain gardens, join us in the SFC Teaching Garden on Saturday, October18th, from 10am-12:30pm, where we will learn about and build a rain garden. Get more info and register here.

The Happy Kitchen's Fall Produce Guide

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Fall Greens

Fall is here, bringing new crops along with falling leaves and football games. The deep orange and bright green of autumn produce is delicious and good for you, but do you know how to choose the best of the best? Along with an upcoming cooking class on Vegetables Every Day!, The Happy Kitchen shares their tips for selecting the freshest, most delicious food from local farms. 

Winter squashes and sweet potatoes – look for ones that are heavy for their size, with firm skin with no broken or bruised areas.

Cabbage, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Brussels Sprouts, Kale –look for tight, compact head on broccoli and cauliflower, even color, and no yellow or mushy brown areas. For kale, look for leaves that are full, stems that are firm and release some moisture when snapped (smaller size leaves are sweeter).

Beets, carrots, radishes – seek out those with bright color, firm skin, and no wrinkles or brown mushy spots, making sure stem area is not too dry.

Leafy Greens – should be perky, not wilted; if in a head (like bok choy), look for a white stem/base (avoid any that are red/brown, “rusty”).

How to Transplant Plants

Tuesday, September 30, 2014


The weather is changing and so is your garden! Now’s the time to wander through the aisles of your favorite, organic plant nursery and pick out some fall vegetable transplants. Transplanting can cut down on the time from planting to harvest as compared to planting from seeds, but can be unsuccessful if not done properly. Remember, you are literally uprooting a plant from its home and moving it to new soil – a very delicate process! Check out our new Garden Bites video [link] with SFC’s Teaching Garden coordinator to see a demonstration on how to correctly plant a transplant, and see below for some more tips on how to grow beautiful fall vegetables from transplants!

Also, don’t forget to register for our Get Growing: Plan your Fall Garden class in the SFC Teaching Garden on Wednesday, October 8th. Get a hands-on experience in planning out your garden for the fall season, and learning about vegetables and varieties appropriate for our climate, companion plants, garden tracking, and harvest calendars. We will also touch on organic fertilizers and planting flowers to attract pollinators.

  • Check the weather - Transplant vegetables on an overcast and/or cool day so as not to stress the plant.
  • Water a lot - Water the plant while still in the pot, water the ground where you will be planting to plant, and water everything once you have transplanted the vegetable plant into your garden. Also, water regularly until you see that the transplant has established itself well.
  • Avoid root damage - When removing a transplant from its original pot, carefully press the pot until the soil is loosening. Push the plant out of the container from the bottom rather than pulling them out by the stems.
  • Loosen bound roots - Many times, transplants are a mess of roots when they are removed from the container, which is known as being “root bound.” You will need to loosen the roots, aggressively in some situations, in order to free up the roots. If you do not do this, the plant will not grow into its new space in your garden and will be stunted in growth.
  • Use mulch - Surrounding a transplant with mulch once it has been established will maintain good soil moisture content and keep the plant cooler in the last hot days of the season.

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.