The Dirt

Texas: The Great State of Olives

Monday, February 03, 2014

You might not give it much thought, but what you eat locally has as much to do with tradition and culture as climate and growing conditions. Olives in Texas? They grow here, but it took someone who was willing to go out on a limb to bring them to market in Texas. Jim Henry wanted to grow grapes, but heard nothing but tales of how difficult an undertaking it would be. Why not olives, then? There weren’t people growing them on a large scale in Texas, but that didn’t mean it couldn’t be done. Jim settled on his life's work fter planting several experimental olive orchards from Marble Falls southward, and trying out different varieties of olives. In 2004, he selected Carrizo Springs, Texas, as the place to plant a high-density commercial olive orchard and brought in his first commercial olive crop in 2007. Soon after, he met Karen Lee, whose background in specialty foods marketing and olive oil in particular was a perfect match for the future of Texas olives. We caught up with them last week to hear about their pioneering mission to bring high-quality olive oil to our community.

Why raise food?

Olives have a rich and timeless history that connects us to the whole of human civilization.

How did your previous life experience or influences prepare you to raise food for a living?

In my opinion, nothing really prepares you for being a farmer--every day is a new experience.

What does “sustainable” mean to you?

Properly managed, an olive orchard can flourish and produce olives for generations, for centuries. We are starting something that will be a legacy for our children and grandchildren, and their children and beyond. We manage what goes into our soil, our water, and into our trees to ensure that our fruit will have the same natural characteristics and qualities in the decades to come as it does today.

What does a “day in the life” look like at Texas Olive Ranch?

With 40,000 olive trees, there is always something that needs attention, whether it's pruning the hardwood, trimming the base of the tree, managing the drip irrigation system, repairing equipment, or visiting with guests. At the end of the day, we love to enjoy the cool southeast breeze from our porch rockers with a cold drink.

What is special or different about the food you raise?

Texas Olive Ranch is the largest operating olive orchard in Texas, but it wouldn't be considered big by world standards. We are still a small family farm, but we are pioneering what we hope will become a robust specialty crop industry for Texas. Olives and olive oil are such great components of the human diet, with antioxidants and polyphenols that essentially help keep users young and healthy and good looking. We love it.

What would we be surprised to learn is part of your “job description”?

Everybody in our organization is a multi-tasker, and we all pitch in to do whatever needs to be done, from sweeping the floor to harvesting the crop to working product demos and farmers’ markets.

What do you find most rewarding about farming?

It's kind of elemental--you work with natural elements, earth, wind, water, even fire, to make food. It's cool.

What do you find most challenging?

The US has no current regulation for labeling olive oil quality, which leads to mislabeling and fraudulent claims by unscrupulous importers and bottlers. US growers are struggling to get our federal government to be aware of domestic olive oil production, and maybe at some point soon they will recognize that there IS a US industry and put some limits on fraudulent labeling practices.

What do you feel is the biggest obstacle faced today by folks who want to raise food sustainably for a living?

American consumers are often conditioned to buy cheap food, and we find ourselves constantly telling the story of what we do and why cheap isn't always a good thing.

What is a farmer’s role in our society?

The role of farmers today is the same as it has been for hundreds of years, but our society has become so dependent of cheap imported food that people have virtually forgotten that food comes from farmers and ranchers. The convenience of a grocery story obscures the work and the life behind our food supply. American farmers continue to provide domestic local food sources, which, when you think about it, is a pretty important function.

Why should we shop at the farmers’ market?

To be in touch with where your food comes from, to keep it real, to know what's in it, and to stay connected to your own food chain.

What is the best news in food you’ve heard recently?

The US International Trade Commission report on olive oil recently detailed a year-long study on the American olive oil industry and is improving awareness among our lawmakers and increasing interest in labeling standards. This will be a very good development for American consumers to require truth and accuracy in olive oil labeling.

What do you wish more people knew about growing food?

Well, it's not rocket science, but it's a lot more complicated than a lot of people think. Just because you put a plant in the ground doesn't mean you're going to get a crop--it takes a lot of management and timing and paying attention.

What inspires you?

Happy customers, customers who have discovered that fresh extra virgin olive oil is so much better than what they buy in grocery stores. We're going to keep on doing this!

What is one thing everyone can do to create a better, stronger food system?

Buy local.

What are you cooking this week?

Farro with roasted peppers, potatoes and carrots, Kitchen Pride mushroom soup, and kale with onions.

What’s your favorite farm-raised recipe or dish?

Pinto beans drained and tossed with chopped fresh tomatoes, cilantro, fresh squeezed lemon and lots of delicious Texas Olive Ranch mesquite olive oil!

Quick Picks

Favorite breakfast: homemade granola with orange-infused olive oil and yogurt.

Favorite comfort food: Nopal tortilla chips and home made salsa cruda.

Favorite book about food: Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil by Tom Mueller.

Favorite cookbook: I am holding out for one by Quincy Adams-Erickson!

Favorite in-season fruit/veggie: Beets.

Favorite food indulgence: Oysters.

Cultivating a Market Garden in the Schoolyard

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Tara Fisher-Muñoz arrived at SFC's grand opening already buzzing with excitement. With infectious enthusiasm, she introduced herself to Grow Local Teaching Garden Coordinator Ellen Orabone, eager to share stories about a new program she's involved in at Wells Branch Elementary. Tara, a parent there, and a long-time participant in SFC’s Spread the Harvest program, gushed about the latest development at the Wells Branch school garden: their Farmers’ Market Project. This project for fifth-graders provides an opportunity to cultivate a market garden from seed to farm stand, and in its first year, it has already yielded delicious results. When Tara invited Ellen and Grow Local Education & Community Garden Coordinator Sophie Fuchs to visit the Wells Branch Garden, they jumped at the opportunity. Ellen and Sophie brought back these insights.

How did the Wells Branch Elementary Garden get its start?

The garden started three years ago as a project of the Wells Branch PTA’s Go Green Team. With a shoestring budget to work with, the team’s first goal was to get edible garden beds planted, since they believed this was the most important teaching aspect of the garden. Thanks to donations of lumber, soil, compost, and manure from local businesses; free compost, seedlings, and seeds from SFC’s Spread the Harvest program; and, of course, hours of time from dedicated volunteers, the garden gradually became a reality. And with more than $15,000 raised to date, the garden will continue to grow.

How does the Farmers’ Market Project work?

The Farmers’ Market Project gives students the opportunity to take on full responsibility for cultivating a veggie garden with an eye toward reaping enough harvest to sell. Students are responsible for researching what vegetables they’d like to grow, planting, caring for their plants, harvesting, and ultimately, selling their produce at their weekly Friday farmers’ market. In the process, they learn about plant and water cycles, organic gardening, environmental stewardship, and even a bit about what it takes to run a business (they keep spreadsheets of their sales!).

What else is happening at the garden?

Each grade level at Wells Branch also has a “Garden Explorer Period,” which allows students to participate in garden classes during the school day. Day-to-day programming includes kids planting in the beds and participating in vegetable tastings in order to reinforce the importance of food crops and the ability to eat the food that they raise. Parent volunteers assist teachers as they deliver lessons on a wide variety of subjects outside in the garden.

What did you see on your visit to the Wells Branch garden?

We were invited as “guest gardeners” to teach Garden Explorer Period lessons for third and fourth graders and to check out the Farmers’ Market Project. With the first group, we led a Plant Part Play activity, in which students acted out the functions of the six plant parts (imagine kids sucking up water like roots, and flirting with imaginary bees, as flowers). Not only were the students engaged--they already knew their plant parts! The fifth graders gave us a tour of their garden beds, greenhouse, and Farmers’ Market spaces. These students could correctly identify every vegetable species in the garden. Tara pointed out an  “SFC-Supported Garden” sign proudly placed among the greens.

What was most striking about your visit to the garden?

The excitement of the students was so inspiring. These kids are learning so many things through the garden--from academic concepts, to personal and financial responsibility, to ecological consciousness--and they’re retaining that knowledge. They understand that food is important, and they’re excited about eating their veggies!

We’re thrilled about what's happening in the Wells Branch Elementary school garden--folks here and at other school gardens throughout Central Texas are helping students engage with healthy food as participants in their local food system. We can’t wait to see what innovative approaches school garden leaders like Tara will try next, and we’re excited to support them when they do.

To learn more about the Wells Branch Elementary school garden project, visit the PTA Go Green Team blog. Click here to learn how Grow Local can assist with your school garden project!

A Year of Resiliance

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Farmers are resilient folks. After a year of continuing historic drought, tens of thousands of plants lost to May freezes, 90% loss on the peach crop, floods in neighboring communities, and continuing water battles, one of our vendors could only laugh and say, “Well, if you are knocked flat on your back, then the only place you can look is UP.” It’s this spirit that truly defines our success at the farmers’ market, and despite the odds, 2013 was still a year to celebrate. Join me for a little walk down memory lane to recognize the accomplishments of the past year at the SFC Farmers’ Market sites – Downtown, at Sunset Valley, at The Triangle, and East.

In 2013, we maintained our steady overall economic impact of $3 million dollars of exchange at the markets. Yes, the farmers and vendors, through the direct relationships that they have with customers, keep their farms and businesses viable because of the commitment that shoppers have to putting their dollars where their hearts are – with the farmers and small food and artisan enterprises. The markets obviously saw a lot of customers – up to 232,470 visitors! On behalf of the 111 vendors that graced the SFC Farmers’ Market grounds during 2013, we thank you, Austin!

This was the 10th year of the SFC Farmers’ Market Downtown (some of you still lovingly call it by its original name, Austin Farmers’ Market), the sixth year for the market at The Triangle, the third year for Sustainable Food Center operating the farmers’ market at Sunset Valley, and the second year for operating SFC Farmers’ Market East. All total, 22 years of market experience!

SFC Farmers’ Markets are consistently recognized for having the highest SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and WIC FMNP (Women, Infant and Children Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program) farmers’ market usage in the state, with benefits redeemed for nutritious fruits and vegetables and other sustainably raised dairy, meats, and eggs direct from farmers. Last year, SFC conducted $27,000 in SNAP purchases. We have strong performance in FMNP as well: $37,000 in WIC FMNP vouchers were used to buy fruits and vegetables in the summertime program in 2013.

Even more fruits and vegetables were purchased because of the first (started in 2012) Double Dollar Incentive Program in the state at the SFC markets. In addition to the SNAP and FMNP sales, an additional $37,000 was purchased with “Double Dollars” benefits– a program that matches SNAP or WIC benefits dollar for dollar. We first started the program with the SFC Farmers’ Market East and quickly added the Sunset Valley market in 2012; in 2013 we expanded to all four market sites in October.

All these “first in Texas” programs and incentives to shoppers keep farmers and other vendors coming back to SFC Farmers’ Markets. Market vendors have created an estimated 120 part-time jobs at the four SFC farmers’ markets. More than 50 fruit and vegetable producers, ranchers, and dairy owners in Central Texas are fulltime farmers, with a considerable portion of their income coming from SFC Farmers’ Markets. We also see the markets as a prime opportunity for volunteers to effect change in the food system, while having fun! Almost 800 volunteer shifts are fulfilled in market information booth and food education activities at both markets annually.

All told, the year 2013 was a year that proved the resilience of our farmers and our community, a year that saw vendors creating award-winning food products, a year of continued support by partners and customers, and a year of delicious food.

Cooking for One: A New Relationship

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

For those living alone, cooking for one can feel lonely, and eating out becomes an unhealthy default. At least that's what Cookie used to think. Faced with a need to make serious changes in her diet and eating habits, she recently finished a six-week cooking and nutrition class for cancer survivors, and came away with a whole new relationship to food. Cookie enjoyed the cooking tips and techniques, and definitely found nutritional info that she was looking for. In fact, she learned there was even more to reading a label than she had previously thought. What she didn’t expect, however, was to get so excited about cooking—even for one! Since completing the classes, she’s been cooking more, freezing left-overs, and even sharing recipes with her friends. She continues to experiment from the cookbook--here are some highlights from her class experience.

What made you want to take the class?

The Livestrong Program coordinator at YMCA notified me of the class. I want to get any and all information I need in order to build up my health. And the promise of free groceries was an incentive too.

What was your favorite part of class?

The eating part of course! Seriously though, I loved the cooking tips and techniques I learned from the instructors. And the fact I got the groceries to recreate the recipe was a plus.

What was your favorite recipe?

I loved the Lentil Soup recipe.

Did you make any of the recipes after the class?

I made Lentil Soup, Dried Fruit Compote, Waldorf Salad, Baked Butternut Squash. I also have been cooking some of the recipes out of the cookbook like the Applesauce Oatmeal. I like that most of the recipes have been under 300 calories and have low sodium.

Have you made anything else from the cookbook?

Applesauce Oatmeal, Spiced Almonds, Fried Rice, Vegetable Broth are a few. I’ve cooked other recipes out of the cookbook also.

Have you told others about what you learned?

I’ve talked about the things I learned in class to numerous friends (and a few strangers). I belong to a bunco game group and I shared the Lentil Soup recipe with several friends in the group. I also shared some of the nutritional knowledge and cooking tips/shortcuts I learned from the class.

What is the number one thing that you learned?

How to properly read a label and ingredient list. I thought I knew how to read a label but Amy Rahm opened my eyes to additional information to consider when reading a label and the ingredient list.

What positive changes have you made because of the class?

Buying and eating more vegetables especially greens--chard, spinach, and mixed greens. Since I am single, it is easy to eat out a lot. Since the class, I’ve been cooking more and freezing extra meals.

Indian Hills Farm

Monday, January 27, 2014

Small family farmers have to feed themselves too, and when food is destined first for your own table, you make sure it's grown right. It's this commitment to quality that makes the food you find at the farmers' market special. Family farmers work tirelessly to make sure the food they're growing is delicious, nutrient-dense, and harvested with care: it's their dinner too. Family farmers are stewards of the land: they hope to leave it in better shape for the next generation. Family farmers have relationships with the animals on their farms: they're partners in the agricultural process, adding nutrients to the land and giving their lives so that our community might be well-fed. Karen and Hersh Kendall are model family farmers, offering not just beef, fruit, and produce from their fields but also value-added pickles, bone broths and soups, and farm-grown pecan granola to lucky customers every week at SFC Farmers' Markets. They've been farming for a long time, and we're lucky they share the fruits of their labor with us--this week, we were thrilled to hear a little more about how and why they do what they do.

Tell us a little about the journey that led you to Indian Hills Farm.

In 1983 we purchased our land to develop it into a catfish farm. We operated for several years selling catfish and are still known by the old-timers as the "Catfish Farm." We diversified into cattle, pecans and also vegetable and fruit production.

Why raise food?

We raise food first for ourselves and sell the rest. For that reason, we only want to grow nutrient-dense, chemical-free vegetables and humanely-grown grassfed beef.

How did your previous life experience or influences prepare you to raise food for a living?

When we lived in Alaska, we had a large garden and it always seemed to grow extremely well for us. Hersh became interested in organic production there in the 1970's and researched it extensively. He read books and publications on organic farming and we found local sources for organic fertilizers and products there in Alaska. No small feat at that time, but he was determined.

What does “sustainable” mean to you?

Sustainable to us means using organic materials present on the farm to enhance plant growth and build soil structure. For example, we use rain water for irrigating our gardens, spoiled hay for mulch and compost, and pecan shells, hulls and leaves for mulch and compost as well. Our cattle also supply additional nutrients and organic matter for compost.

What does a “day in the life” look like at Indian Hills Farm?

A day in the life at Indian Hills Farm varies depending on what might have happened overnight. We always have plans, but every day on the farm presents a new challenge. Depending on the time of the year, we are working on whatever seasonal crops are being produced. Also, the cattle need to monitored on a daily basis. Currently, it's calving season and there are babies being born sometimes daily.

What is special or different about the food you raise?

One reason why our food is special is because we only take the best that we grow to the market. Our customers tell us our produce has a particularly good flavor which we believe is due to our soil. As for the beef, our steers have been born on the farm, have not been administered antibiotics, steroids, or added hormones and are raised in a pleasant, stress-free environment.

What would we be surprised to learn is part of your “job description”?

Our job descriptions are multi-faceted. Between the two of us we have several job descriptions: foreman, laborer, herdsman, mechanic, cook, gardener, office staff, marketer, etc, etc. Whatever the farm demands, we try to do it mostly ourselves.

What do you find most rewarding about farming?

The most rewarding thing about farming is producing high-quality food that we can be proud of.

What do you find most challenging?

The most challenging thing about farming is being able to supply that same food on a consistent basis while dealing with what Mother Nature throws at us.... drought in particular.

What do you feel is the biggest obstacle faced today by folks who want to raise food sustainably for a living?

The biggest obstacle today in producing food sustainably is dealing with a difficult environment and being able to supply the needed inputs without breaking the bank. The main example for us is water as we have been in a continuous drought off and on ever since we bought the farm.

What is a farmer’s role in our society?

The farmer’s role in society is to produce high-quality food for customers so their health will be enhanced rather than harmed by the food they eat.

Why should we shop at the farmers’ market?

We believe our fellow farmers share our desire to bring the freshest, best, products possible to market. Most produce is usually picked no more than a day or two before bringing it to market. SFC has rules that dictate that no additives, harmful ingredients, etc. can be present in prepared foods--it's important to have the assurance that what you are buying is good for you. Also, farmers' markets make it possible for customers to meet the people who produce their food and have a real knowledge of where and how their food is grown.

What is the best news in food you’ve heard recently?

The best news regarding food we have heard recently is that the FDA has determined that trans fats and hydrogenated oils are not good for you. They have known it for almost forty years, so I guess it's about time to acknowledge it! In the 1977 issue of Rodale's guide to producing organic vegetables, it is noted that medical specialists and nutritional research warned about the dangers of hydrogenated oils in causing several serious disorders (hardening of arteries, etc). I hope it won't take that long for them to tell people that GMOs are bad for you as well.

What do you wish more people knew about growing food?

We wish people could understand the fact that growing food is very labor-intensive, with lots of difficulties, such as dealing with the environment, pests, etc. Also, consumers need to know that organic or sustainable food production is not a beauty contest. Real organic food can have blemishes of some sort or other that do not decrease the nutritional value at all. People may feel the cost is high for organic or sustainably-produced food,  but they need to realize the health benefits are substantial. We also want to educate our customers about our grassfed beef. Our steers are born on the farm to mothers who were born on the farm and are raised free-range until they are two plus years old. This produces a heavy beef that is rich in CLA and other nutrients and the deep red color that grassfed beef is known for. People need to understand that it is a long process to produce quality beef and we hope they enjoy the results of our efforts.

What inspires you?

Testimonials from satisfied customers. It keeps us coming back to the market.

What is one thing everyone can do to create a better, stronger food system?

Of course, the first thing is to support local farmers by coming to the farmers' markets. Also, another is to be diligent in reading labels and not buy products that have harmful ingredients. Consumers speak loudest with their dollars and companies will change when their products are not being purchased. A third thing is to educate yourselves and learn the terminology that hides the true identity of ingredients. Manufacturers have become very creative in their labeling. Be smart.

What are you cooking this week?

This week at Indian Hills Farm, we will have sirloin steak with steamed cauliflower leaves, chicken tarragon soup with our kale and Dewberry Hills Farm chicken, lemon meringue pie with Meyer lemons, fajitas with B-5 tomatoes, onions and peppers, and more.

What’s your favorite farm-raised recipe or dish?

One of our favorite farm dishes is Grassfed Beef and Barley Soup with our kale and homemade rolls. It’s a winner on a cold winter night.

What’s your favorite cookbook?

Our favorite cookbook is Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. With recipes from that book we have produced some of our best market products, such as our sauerkraut, ginger carrots, and our grassfed beef stock. Besides the recipes included, Fallon teaches about nutrition, healthy eating, food history and more. It's a great book.

Oh Kimchi: An Interview with Abbi Lunde

Monday, January 20, 2014

photo credit: Allison Narro for Edible Austin

There's something about kimchi--that funky, fermented, completely addictive Korean pickle--that's so much greater than the sum of its parts. Like most fermented dishes, something magical happens in the pickling crock that unlocks powerful nutrients and flavors. The best thing about Abbi Lunde's version is that it is distinctly Austin--made with locally-grown ingredients, it's a product of her commitment to her adopted hometown and an homage to her family's roots in Korea. 

Tell us a little about the journey that led you to Oh Kimchi.

My husband Duane and I both worked for Johnson's Backyard Garden for a couple years and had access to great vegetables for kimchi making. We had a passion for the local food scene and were inspired to bring my Korean family's recipes to Austin. I started out at the Barton Creek Farmer's market, only back in October with 30 jars, a table and a baby strapped to me. We have really come a long way in a short time, all driven by Austin's intense demand for our spicy fermented goodies!

Tell us about the products you make—what’s special about them?

There are so many ingredients people can use to make kimchi for themselves, but we stick to the methods and ingredients just like my family in Korea would use. We select our vegetables from small local farms here around the Austin area--often the vegetables come straight out of the ground and into kimchi in a matter of hours--something that would make even my "halmony" (grandmother) jealous! I feel so honored to be able to handle such beautiful veggies and carry on the family tradition.

Why use local ingredients?

I personally believe that you have to respect your body by respecting your food. We love getting to know our farmers; they feel like family and we trust their practices, and love that we know exactly where our money is going at the end of the day--you can't say that about a supermarket! Plus your food just tastes better when you know it was cared for with love.

How did your previous life experience or influences prepare you to make food for a living?

I've spend most of my adult life in a restaurant or bar, my teenage years on our family farm and out at the farmers' markets for JBG Organic. But most importantly, I grew up in many kitchens. My family in Korea was obviously an inspiration in terms of food. I was blessed with my mother and grandmother's palate. I was raised in West Monroe, Louisiana and spent most of my childhood at a crawfish boil, catfish fry, or potluck in a church somewhere; all my fondest memories were always shared with a lot of food and my favorite people. That is still how I like to spend my free time...when I find it!

What does “sustainable” mean to you?

At the end of the day, I simply have a responsibility to my daughter to do my best to give her a beautiful and healthy world to inherit. So to me, sustainability is about always striving to do what we can as a family and a business to ensure our practices are good for the environment on every level and mutually beneficial for our farmers, and that we are always putting something good out there for people. I try to challenge myself to bring everything in our life closer to the farmer's market. That's a good place to start!

What does a “day in the life” look like at Oh Kimchi?

Oh man...that's unpredictable! I spend a lot of time out at Winfield Farm in the kitchen. Duane and the baby are either out in the field or driving all over Austin running crazy small business errands. We are always out and about on Saturdays and Sundays at as many markets as time will allow, talking to our farmers and picking up veggies for kimchi-ing. We try to set aside time at Auditorium Shores (while it lasts) for our dog Olive every day too. 

What would we be surprised to learn is part of your “job description”?

I still like to clean the kitchen floors by hand. I'm obsessively clean and because kimchi can be a messy business, I find that a mop just doesn't cut it. I've never used one. Even at home. I really enjoy cleansing the kitchen at the end of the day. It's soothing!

What do you find most rewarding about making food?

It allows me to be creative, providing something real and good to the people I love, and it makes people happy, which is very fulfilling for me. Plus, I find the monotony of chopping veggies very meditative.

What do you find most challenging?

Baking! I'm terrible with measurements. I think baking is requires too much precision. I'm a "that looks about right" sort of cook.

What do you feel is the biggest obstacle faced today by folks who want to create good food for a living?

Well, first I'd have to say ourselves. Duane and our friends were very encouraging to me in the beginning when I didn't believe that my kimchi was good enough that people would be willing to pay for it. I was very hard on myself and didn't believe I could actually do it. Obviously, I was my own worst enemy. But in a more physical sense, one of our biggest obstacles is definitely all the paperwork! Getting the right permits and licenses is complicated, and there is lots of bad information out there. At the end of the day, though, the struggle with "the man" is definitely worth it!

Why should we shop at the farmers’ market?

I like knowing where my food comes from and where my money is going. I want to trust what I'm putting in my body and, if I can't make it myself, I want to trust who is making it. The farmers' market is like an incubator for some amazing local products. I like to be ahead of the curve when it comes to food trends and health care, and I love putting my hard-earned dollar back into helping someone else's small business grow a little bit more.

What is the best news in food you’ve heard recently?

Pogue Mahone Pickles and Confituras, some of our local SFC Farmers' Market favorites, just won awards at the Good Food Awards in San Francisco! We are so excited for them!

What inspires you?

I come from a long line of strong women. I am inspired every day to be more like them. My grandmother owned a noodle shop in Korea, made kimchi, was the local midwife, and was a single mother. She lost two husbands, several children, and is one of the kindest and most sturdy souls on this earth. Every batch of kimchi I make, I think of her, and imagine she is proud of me.

What is one thing everyone can do (or a few simple things) to create a better, stronger food system?

Keep it local as often as possible and stay educated. I like to plan seasonally and shop at the farmers' market for my groceries and for goodies that look inspiring. Then I fill in the gaps at Wheatsville, where I can find lots of local products under one roof. It's like a real-life scavenger hunt every weekend.

What are some of your favorite market finds?

I just tried Confituras' Suenos Marmalade and am obsessed. I also recently found a delicious West African-style Spicy Carrot Relish I'm sprinkling on everything!

What are you cooking this week?

Probably several things with kimchi, obviously. But I am excited to roast a pheasant this week. My daughter Ellie is really into cruciferous veggies so there's always a lot of sautéed kale, broccoli, and cabbage at our house these days.

What’s your favorite dish using ingredients from the market?

While our winters aren't so rough here, I love a good vegetable soup with a homemade chicken stock--lots of greens and root veggies and a big dollop of goat cheese on top! And maybe some gluten free fusilli if we are lucky.

What are some new products lined up for spring?

We are all seasonal, so we anticipate lots more greens, and the continuation of cabbage! But we are eagerly awaiting the reemergence of cucumbers!

Quick Picks

Favorite breakfast: Korean breakfast with seaweed soup, rice, egg custard, and lots of kimchi!

Favorite comfort food: Red beans and rice with andouille sausage or any kind of casserole. I have an affinity for casseroles--it's the Louisiana in me.

Favorite book about food: The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan

Favorite cookbook: The 1988 Southern Living Christmas Cookbook. It has my dad's favorite gingerbread cookie recipe. I don't really do many cookbooks. I know how lucky I was to learn by watching my mom and my grandmothers.

Favorite winter fruit/veggie: persimmons

Favorite food indulgence: Taro bubble tea (I'm slightly obsessed) and Chacosutra lavender chocolates! Mmm.

From Mendel to Mushy Peas

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

By Bianca Bidiuc
Grow Local School Garden Manager

To some, peas are a reminder of Gregor Mendel, father of modern genetics, who used pea plants for his breeding experiments. To others, fresh green peas simply bring a pop of color to dishes that reassures us spring is near. The world's first sweet tasting pea was developed in the 18th century by amateur plant breeder Thomas Edward Knight of Downton, near Salisbury, England, after which peas gained increasing popularity. Modern garden pea varieties trace back to Knight's selection, which explains why garden peas were known worldwide as "English peas" until the early half of the 20th century. The U.K. even boasts a pea etiquette. Much of the population spears or shovels peas, but the proper way is to squash them on the back of your fork – also known as mushy peas!

Peas are a cool-season crop, now available in three separate varieties to suit your garden and cooking needs – garden peas (sweet pea, inedible pod), snow peas (edible flat pod with small peas inside), and snap peas (edible pod with full-size peas).

Sow peas in spring, about one month before your last frost date, as peas produce poorly in hot weather. In climates with mild winters, a second crop can be sown in late summer for harvesting in late fall. Early peas in particular like raised beds or a sandy loam soil that warms up quickly. Heavier soils can provide cooler conditions for a late pea crop, but you'll need to loosen the ground before planting by working in some organic matter. Give peas a sunny spot protected from high winds. To make good use of garden space, interplant peas with radishes, spinach, lettuce, early greens. Carrots, in particular, are a favorite planting companion, hence the “peas and carrots” love affair.

Prepare a wide planting bed by loosening the soil to at least 10 inches deep while mixing in compost. Plant seeds in a double row, with a row of seeds on each side of the trellis. Poke seeds into the prepared site 2 inches apart and 1 inch deep. Thinning is not necessary. All peas benefit from a trellis or other support. Install a 6-foot-tall trellis before planting long-vined varieties. Compact varieties can also be staked with woody branches or cages after they sprout.

Providing peas with just the right amount of water can be tricky. They should never be water logged. On the other hand, don't let the soil dry out when peas are germinating or blooming or when pods are swelling. Once the plants are up, they only need about 1/2" water every week until they start to bloom; then, increase their water to 1" a week until the pods fill out.

To avoid mangling the vines, use two hands to harvest peas. When green peas are ripe, harvest them daily, preferably in the morning. Pick snow peas when the pods reach full size and the peas inside are just beginning to swell. For best flavor and yields, allow snap peas to change from flat to plump before picking them. Gather sweet green shell peas when the pods begin to show a waxy sheen, but before their color fades. Be sure to refrigerate peas to stop the conversion of sugar to starches and maintain crispness, ready to be used fresh or cooked in a variety of recipes.

Fried Rice

From Sustainable Food Center’s The Happy Kitchen/La Cocina Alegre®

5 Tbsp. canola oil
2 Tbsp. fresh ginger root, minced
7 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup cabbage, thinly sliced
½ cup carrots, diced
½ cup peas
6 cups cooked brown rice, cooled
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3 green onions, thinly sliced
1 small jalapeño, finely chopped
2 Tbsp. reduced sodium soy sauce

Heat oil in a large skillet.

Sauté ginger and garlic until golden brown.

Remove ginger and garlic from the pan and set aside until later.

Add cabbage and carrots to the pan and sauté until tender.

Add peas and cook until soft (about 2 minutes).

Remove vegetables from the pan.

Put the cooked rice into the pan and stir until heated through. If the rice is sticking to the pan too much, add oil.

Make a hole in the middle of the rice and add the eggs.

Stir eggs until they are well cooked.

Toss vegetables, ginger, garlic, green onions and jalapeño with the rice and eggs.

Stir in soy sauce.

Heat for one more minute.

Serves 8.




An Interview with I O Ranch's Jeff Ruyle

Monday, January 13, 2014

Jeff Ruyle has a big laugh and a friendly, easy affect, but he's serious about raising food. Deeply committed to the quality of the meat from his ranch and the humane treatment of animals, he'll be glad to talk to anyone about what makes I O Ranch lamb special. A certain confidence comes from knowing you're doing the right thing by your animals, your land, and your customers, and Jeff has it in spades. One bite of a Dorper lamb chop or roast and you'll get it: this is food raised with care. If you ask, Jeff will throw in recipes and cooking tips for free. A visit to his tent at the market on a Saturday will charm you--keep coming back, and you'll have a friend for life.

Tell us a little about the journey that led you to IO Ranch.

From the age of 20 to 28, I was an artist blacksmith and had an architectural metal shop in Austin. From age 28 to 47, I built high-end custom homes in Austin. At age 38, I started farming and ranching our family ranch, near Evant, Texas, on weekends while running the building business during the week. My wife thought I was crazy but I told her that the extra income would pay for our kids' college. A couple of those years, I thought it was actually going to prevent our kids from going to college, but I stuck with it. Each year I was being drawn to the ranch a little bit more. Three years ago, I took a leave of absence from my building company to focus all my efforts on the ranch…….just in time for the worst year of drought in over 100 years. Ouch! However, I never went back. I’m now 50 so I guess I finally figured out what I wanted to do when I grow up! Actually, I always wanted to be a farmer and a rancher, I just finally jumped in with both feet.

Why raise food?

I love to raise animals. I love to plant and grow stuff. I love to cook. I love good food.

How did your previous life experience or influences prepare you to raise food for a living?

I have been raising beef, pork, and chickens for myself, my family, and friends, since I was 20 years old. Once I tasted the Dorper lamb meat, I instantly knew what my next calling was.

What does “sustainable” mean to you?

To me, it means having an operation that sustains itself, without having to bring in additional resources, like synthetic fertilizers, for example. A grass-fed livestock operation is a perfect way to do that. If crops are harvested from a field, a certain amount of nutrients are removed from the field and need to be replenished in that soil. Under a well-managed grazing operation, the animals provide all the fertilizer you’ll ever need.

What does a “day in the life” look like at IO Ranch?

I have different tasks on different days. This is probably one of the reasons it never gets old. A better question would be, “What does a “week in the life look like.” Mondays and Fridays are usually my busiest days. We’ll start with Friday.

Friday: Gather the big lambs form the lamb pasture and sort and weigh them to see which ones make “the varsity” that week. Haul the lambs from the ranch to our place in Dripping Springs and turn them out on grass for the weekend. Load the ice chests and prepare for the weekend markets.

Saturday: We are at the SFC Sunset Valley and the SFC Downtown Farmers' Markets.

Sunday: We are at the Lone Star Farmers' Market at Bee Cave.

Monday: Load lambs and haul to Johnson City for processing. Pick up meat from previous lambs and return to Dripping Springs to unload meat. Deliver to restaurants, run errands, and update accounting.

Tuesday through Friday: Return to ranch and do general ranch work, work on current projects, work sheep, etc. I have a full-time ranch hand, a shepherd, if you will, that looks after the sheep and lambs twice a day, everyday. That allows me to be gone several days a week selling meat.

What is special or different about the food you raise?

All grass-fed meats are not equal. Any grass-fed meat is healthier than grain-fed meet, and pastured meat falls somewhere in between, because those animals are supplemented with feed while on pasture. What moves grass-fed meat from a healthy food to a “super food,” is for the animals to be eating green grass or plants exclusively. Sixty percent of the fatty acids in a blade of green grass are omega 3’s. Green grass-fed meat is also much higher in beta carotene, conjugated linoleic  acid, lutien, and good cholesterol, and lower in harmful omega 6’s, and bad cholesterol. Each day that you take an animal off green grass, the benefits diminish. We plant our farmland in winter oats and the sheep eat the green leaves of the plant from November to April. During the winter, when most grass fed animals are eating dry dormant grass and hay, ours are eating lush green winter pasture. Ours are never fed any grain, given any antibiotics or hormones, chemical de-wormers, or exposed to synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. There are other grass-fed meats as healthy as ours, but none healthier.

What would we be surprised to learn is part of your “job description”?

Manning the I O Ranch Lamb Facebook page. I try to post photos or videos from the ranch at least every other day, so that people can see what our lambs are eating, how they are raised, and exactly where their food is coming from. I feel the more transparency, the better……. for the consumer, and for me. As proud as I am about our product, I am even more proud about our process. I never get tired of telling people about it.

What do you find most rewarding about farming?

All the smiling faces that I see at the farmers markets each week. We have an incredibly loyal customer base. Many of them I know by name, know their children’s names, and some have become good friends. I’m very proud of that.

What do you find most challenging?

Depending on the weather (that’s got to be an oxymoron). You have to have contingency plans in place. You expect the best, but plan for the worst, and most years you land somewhere in the middle. If you are not an eternal optimist, you will never make it in farming and ranching.

What do you feel is the biggest obstacle faced today by folks who want to raise food sustainably for a living?

Land prices, especially in the grass-fed meat business. It takes a lot of land to grow 100% grass fed meat, and land is very expensive.

What is a farmer’s role in our society?

The three most basic needs of a human body are air, water, and food. That makes the role of the farmer fairly important.

Why should we shop at the farmers’ market?

Quality of product would be far and away the number one reason. Once you start buying your food at the farmers' markets, it’s very hard to go back to the grocery store. There simply is no comparison between a fruit or vegetable that was picked before it was ripe, shipped hundreds, if not thousands of miles, from other states or countries, to the taste of those that were responsibly grown, carefully picked ripe the day before, and travelled only a short distance to market. This means that you narrow your choices to what is local/in season but I prefer to look at it as celebrating what is in season. Access to healthy food would be a close second to shop at the farmers' market.

What is the best news in food you’ve heard recently?

The continuing refusal to accept GMOs in the mainstream food supply.

What do you wish more people knew about growing food?

That not all grass-fed meats are equal, and some are not even really grass-fed.

What inspires you?

Our loyal customers.

What is one thing everyone can do (or a few simple things) to create a better, stronger food system?

Try to base a major part of your diet around the “local/in season” concept. Also, get to know your farmer or rancher, and ask lots of questions. Learn what questions you should be asking.

What are you cooking this week?

Lamb burgers at least twice a week. Also, a current favorite is spinach salad with bacon lardons, pecans, and onions, with a warm dressing of bacon drippings, red wine vinegar, honey, sea salt, and of course black pepper.

What’s your favorite farm-raised recipe or dish?

This week it's Lamb Stroganoff, using neck slices.

Quick Picks

Favorite breakfast: The I O breakfast at the ranch when all the family meets there for holidays. Bacon, sausage, eggs, potatoes and onions, biscuits and gravy. Sometimes we also have re-fried beans, too. Around 10:30am, and usually for 15 to 30 people.

Favorite comfort food: Cheese enchiladas.

Favorite book about food: Gaining Ground, by Forest Pritchard.

Favorite cookbook: Just one? Probably Matt Martinez’s Mex-Tex. Also, really enjoying The Austin Food Bloggers Alliance Cook Book right now.

Favorite fall fruit/veggie: Sweet potatoes or butternut squash. Waiting on parsnips to show up.

Favorite food indulgence: A chocolate croissant from Baguette et Chocolat.

Tecolote Farm Tour & Bonfire

Monday, January 13, 2014

As we drove up the bumpy driveway to Tecolote Farm on Saturday afternoon, amber sunlight slanted across winter fields of chicories and greens. The farm dogs ambled out to meet us and we gathered around to hear from Katie and David about more than 20 years of growing good food and community. There are endless ways to bring food from the earth, and I never tire of hearing how it happens. Each farm reflects a unique philosophy of agriculture born from location, soil, season, and the farmer who works the land. If you really want to understand your food and feel connected to what you eat, there's no better way to do so than to visit the farm where it's grown. By nature, farmers are generous folks, and we're so grateful that Katie and David were willing to share an afternoon with us, to walk the rows, and to light a fire in the waning hours of the day so that we might gather around and connect with each other in a deeper appreciation and understanding of what it means to be eaters joined by place and community. 

Want more farm tours and other fun local food adventures? Join our SFC Friends of Food Meetup group!
Interested in Tecolote Farm's CSA Program? Click here to learn how you can become a member this season.

Growing Happiness: Interview with Tecolote Farm's Katie Kraemer

Monday, January 06, 2014

Farming runs in Katie Kraemer’s blood. “I used to be so proud to write ‘farmer’ for my parents’ occupation when I had to fill out forms in school or for college,” Katie says, laughing. Katie met husband David Pitre in college; they shared dreams of forging a connection to the land. ”David always knew he wanted to be a farmer–he was never interested in anything else but growing food,” she says proudly. The 65 acres in Manor, Texas they have named Tecolote Farm, after the owls that also call the farm home, produce some of the area’s finest food–heirloom vegetables, blackberries, and pastured pork. For SFC Farmers' Market shoppers and Tecolote's devoted CSA members, the farm's peppers, squash, eggplant, tomatoes, alliums, green beans, herbs, gorgeous leafy greens, okra, and gorgeous root vegetables are highly prized. Yesterday, Katie took a break from readying the fields for a hard freeze to share her story with us.

Tell us a little about the journey that led you to Tecolote Farm.

We wanted to build our farm in a supportive, interesting community. When we found ourselves "with child" in 1992, while living and farming in Alaska, we began to seriously begin the process of choosing a region that would satisfy David's southern and Texas heritage as well as my southern California roots. Pre-SxSW, we found our South by Southwest home in Austin.

Why raise food?

Everybody needs to eat. We both love to eat and cook. It's a living one can feel good about, and it never gets boring.

How did your previous life experience or influences prepare you to raise food for a living?

I'm the daughter of a citrus rancher, and my dad was the son and grandson and great-grandson of citrus and cattle ranchers. I always appreciated the work he did, and our family's heritage. On my mom's side, they were Kansas wholesale grocers. David comes from a Louisiana Cajun background on the Pitre side. They love to eat! His great-grandfather, who made a huge impression on him, had rice fields and a shrimp boat. On his mother's side, coincidentally, there were more wholesale grocers, and even canners in Alabama. Food seemed to be a family theme on both sides.

What does “sustainable” mean to you?

Well, for a different take on the word, let's talk about farm sustainability. Every year we have been farming here-and this will be our 21st year near Austin-we have seen small farms come and go. Let's think about how to sustain a farm. We farm with the intention of being here next year. As such, we need to farm smart, turn a profit, and not burn out. That's one reason our CSA runs just half the year. The amount of time and resources it takes to keep an excellent CSA going with wide diversity requires us to farm full time about 8 days a week. By focusing on the market and wholesale when "the sun doesn't shine" quite so much (fall and winter), we can move at a more sustainable pace for part of the year and ensure our energy and enthusiasm for what we love doing most- our CSA (the longest-running one in Texas!)

What does a “day in the life” look like at Tecolote Farm?

They never look the same! This month it will look like fence building at the new river farm to keep out the deer. In December, it meant training Escoffier School culinary students how to harvest, wash, and bunch Fiesta Beets! In our high season, when the full time crew (about 10 people) is working 5 days a week, here's a simple rough sample:

6 am: Katie meets the CSA driver in the walk-in cooler and begins packing CSA baskets

7 am: Driver leaves on deliveries

7:30 am: Team Tecolote arrives for the day of fieldwork, harvesting, weeding, hoeing, planting, transplanting, washing, packing, or whatever the day holds

12:30: David eats with the crew. If anyone has mentioned the word BBQ before lunch (an act which is mostly forbidden), there may even be a field trip to Smitty's in Lockhart for lunch. That's special, though.

4:30-6: Departure time for the crew, depending on how badly something HAS to be done before tomorrow comes.

What would we be surprised to learn is part of your “job description”?

People manager, mechanic, water engineer, agronomist, soil scientist, marketer, database specialist and delivery supervisor, and so on and so on. I'm not sure what would surprise anyone, but it is a long job description between the two of us! While traveling in Spain a few years ago, I found that I got a dull response from my answer to the question, "What do you do for a living?" Back in the States, the mere novelty of my answer tended to pique interest in the surveyor. So, I complained to my host (American, but married to a Spaniard) about the lack of curiosity about my response. After a quick lesson in Spanish history, class systems, and the division between white and blue collar workers, she suggested a new substitute for "I'm an organic vegetable farmer." Here was her take on our job description: "I'm a business owner and run a vegetable distribution cooperative for 300 families." So fancy! It actually worked!

What do you find most rewarding about farming?

Being outside, being our own bosses. Observing the happiness fresh food brings to people's table and family lives. Having great food at our fingertips all year long!

What do you find most challenging?

Texas weather. Green washing. Localwashing.

What do you feel is the biggest obstacle faced today by folks who want to raise food sustainably for a living?

The challenge of encouraging people to come out and buy produce (lack of market). There's also other folks saying they're selling local products when they're not (faux local, localwashing).

What is a farmer’s role in our society?

To provide clean, healthy, fresh food while at the same time not exploiting people, hurting the environment, or wasting resources.

What is the best news in food you’ve heard recently?

Anything Mark Bittman writes. Hawaii just banned the sale of GMO foods! Locally, the City of Austin has expressed interest in sponsoring a major downtown farmers market centered around farmers.

What do you wish more people knew about growing food?

David chimes in: I wish they knew the amount of crop losses inherent in the organic system, and the true cost of organic food production. I wish they knew that cheap food always results in the exploitation of some people or the environment.

What inspires you?

Austin farmers' market shoppers who come out no matter what the weather. Love this town!

What is one thing everyone can do (or a few simple things) to create a better, stronger food system?

Shop at the farmers market. Buy from farmers you know and trust. Join a CSA. Teach your children to do the same.

What are you cooking this week?

Boudin from Best Stop in Scott, LA, slivered kohlrabi salad, mashed All Blue fingerling potatoes, treviso radicchio with pasta and parmesan, steamed beets, and so on!

What’s your favorite farm-raised recipe or dish?

Tecolote-raised pastured pork chops with David's collard greens, sliced watermelon radishes with lemon juice, and roasted pink fingerling potatoes.

Quick Picks

Favorite breakfast: In the summer, good toast with summer tomatoes, olive oil, salt and pepper.

Favorite comfort food: Biscuits and gravy (Katie makes the biscuits, David makes the gravy).

Favorite book about food: anything by Elizabeth David.

Favorite cookbook: The Joy of Cooking, Moosewood Cookbook, Deborah Madison's books, Alice Waters' books.

Favorite fall fruit/veggie: treviso radicchio, collard greens.

Favorite food indulgence: pasta carbonara.