Day 348–Farmer Spotlight–Carolina Bison

English: Bison bison. Original caption: "...

While I like to think I have a creative brain, some things are difficult for me to envision. Take clowns for example. I can’t imagine them NOT being creepy. likewise, I have a hard time imagining a fall without football. Or Lindsay Lohan without drama. Add to this my difficulty imagining the western North Carolina mountains and foothills teeming with bison. Well, that’s not quite the same as Lilo without the po-po following her, but still. Bison?

Yet, it is apparently true. At one point, millions of American Bison roamed the plains of what is now the United States. I’m not sure they ever called North Carolina home, but that is changing quickly. Several farmers in North Carolina are raising bison as a healthy alternative to beef. Carolina Bison in Asheville is one such business. The business began in 1985, when founder Dr. Frank King noticed that his patients who ate a diet of grass-fed bison noticed substantial health improvements. And so, a business was born!

Why did bison offer those benefits? Well, bison has less fat than beef (almost on par with chicken) and an extremely high amount of digestible protein. So, you get the taste of grass-fed beef with the health effects of eating white meat.

Carolina Bison offers grass-fed, steroid-free and antibiotic-free bison in the form of steaks, ground meat, roasts and stew beef. Since Asheville is a good 5 hours from Cary, I’m going to try the mail order service and see how that works. In the meantime, at least one North Carolina farm is selling bison at our farmer’s market, but I don’t know much about their protocol. We did pick up a pound to try this weekend as burgers for our famished selves after the 2012 Reindeer Romp 5K this Saturday!

For information about Carolina Bison, click HERE! For anyone in NC, they will offer ranch tours in the spring and I definitely want in on that! Maybe it will help with my visualization issue!

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Day 111–What’s Fresh At the Market?

Although I know that not everyone reading this blog is from North Carolina, I’ve had a couple of requests to share information about what is currently available at the farmer’s markets. Since I’m there anyway, I’m glad to do that!

I just returned from the farmer’s market on my lunch break and that place is hopping, I tell you! During the winter, I had no problem driving up and finding a prime parking spot. Today, I had to circle around to the back of the market to find any available spots. Lots of good eats today! Ready? Here goes:

  • Strawberries
  • Asparagus (green and purple)
  • Sugar snap peas
  • Fresh spring peas (shelled)
  • Onions
  • Lettuce–red leaf, green leaf, butter
  • Greens–mustard, kale, swiss chard, spinach
  • Radishes
  • Carrots
  • Tomatoes (hothouse)–mostly “Trust” variety
  • Cucumbers (hothouse)
  • Parsnips
  • Cabbage
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Honey
  • Herbs
  • Bedding plants
  • Garden plants (vegetable and herb plants)

In addition to some fresh asparagus, I scored a fresh roasting chicken from my friends at Rainbow Farm. Yay! Can’t wait for Sunday supper!

Our weather here is not supposed to be great this weekend (but we do need the rain badly). Still, I’m hoping to get out and do some strawberry picking with my family so we can make more jam! Have a great weekend at your farmer’s markets and get those fresh veggies!

Day 110–Our First Produce Box of the Year!

The Produce Box is here! The Produce Box is here!

Pulling into my driveway last night, I saw an unfamiliar car behind me. The car pulled into my drive and stopped. Someone looking for directions? Someone complaining about my lack of green grass in the yard? Nope. It was my Produce Box Neighborhood Organizer delivering my first Produce Box of the growing season! Life is good.

I’ve blogged about The Produce Box before (HERE), but this is the first box we have received since last fall, so it merits some additional blog time! The Produce Box sources all its vegetables and farm products (cheese, bread, honey, jam) from North Carolina farms, packages them into CSA-type boxes and delivers them to the house. Members also contribute a small fee (I think it was $3 this year) to provide small grants to local farmers to help address issues on their farms (some of this year’s grants included purchasing seed starting supplies, purchasing refrigeration units, educational opportunities, etc).

Because The Produce Box works with several farms, they do offer a greater variety of vegetables than a traditional CSA, which also reduces the risk of not receiving anything if one farmer has a crop fail. Members can pick among several boxes each week, including an organic box and a small box for folks who can’t consume all the veggies in the standard box. And I have to say it, I love having my vegetables delivered. One thing I can cross of my list. But you know, meeting with and talking to farmers has been a real joy for me, so even though I get my produce box delivered, I’ll still be heading out to the farmer’s markets to pick up anything not in my box as well as cheese, pasta, meat, eggs, etc.

What did we get in our first box? Due to a late season frost last week, this week’s box is smaller than usual, but still a very welcome sight! We received two packages of strawberries, sweet potatoes, spinach, a HUGE head of lettuce, greenhouse cucumbers, and carrots so fresh they still have the dirt on ’em. Yum. Just in time for saladpalooza night!

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Day 93–Gambling With a Garden

Four coloured 6 sided dice arranged in an aest...

Gardening is gambling with dirt.–Mark Twain

I am, typically, not a gambling person. I don’t buy lottery tickets, never been to Vegas, and don’t play bingo. Probably, much of this is because I do not have that “winner’s luck” required to succeed at games of chance. My mother has it. My brother has it in spades. Clearly, it skipped me. But still, I do get “the fever.”

You see, my gambling fever strikes me each year in February (no, not March Madness; my gambling there is with my pride, not with money). In February, we have the onslaught of the commercial seed catalogs. By the late winter months, I have forgotten about the bloodthirsty mosquitoes and the 95% humidity of a North Carolina summer. I have put last year’s gardening behind me and am staring at leafless trees and a brown landscape. Then, I open my mailbox in early February, and see color photos of beautiful, lush gardens, perfect flowers and tomato plants so full of juicy tomatoes that they need heavy-duty staking. It’s seed porn and it has me hooked. I am ready to take the risk. I mean, this could be the year, right? Right?

Betting on the success of our Cinderella garden, we spent the weekend organizing our gardening space to increase the odds of our success. We used the garden planning questions from the Dig In! conference to seriously think about what we have, what we can give and what we need from our little garden. Our garden is not large–just four raised beds–3 are 6′ x 3′ and one is 3′ x 3′. Not so much that we will get overwhelmed, but enough to keep us in the game. Here are some decisions we made using our planning questions.

  1. We know we hate to tote water around the yard. Knowing that watering is a chore in the heat of summer, we moved the raised beds from the scattered patches of sun in the yard to one central area, close to our rain barrels. This was helped greatly by the loss of a huge oak tree last fall. We may be eaten alive by mosquitoes come summer, but at least the sacrifice will be quicker.
  2. We are planting to save money and shopping time. In looking at what fresh items were the most expensive at the store and market, we planted the herbs that we most commonly buy–several kinds of basil, oregano, mint (in pots), lemon balm, rosemary, dill, flat leaf parsley and chives. These are typically pretty expensive and sometimes hard to find. In addition, many of these herbs overwinter here or at least re-seed themselves, so hopefully our investment will be seen over several years.
  3. We know what we want and we want fresh salads. Instead of buying a huge assortment of vegetables that we don’t consume in great quantity, we bought what we like to eat the most–cucumber, several tomato varieties, green peppers and eggplant. I’m betting (!) that we will get out and water in the heat if we know that the goal isn’t just random vegetables, but better salads.
  4. Our garden will be organic. I have never used pesticides other than insecticidal soap and I don’t plan to now. With that in mind, we understand we will need to be extra vigilant for bugs, bunnies and other critters that find our garden as appealing as we do.
  5. We want our garden to look nice. All our beds are now in a side yard that is easily visible to our neighbors. They are terrific neighbors and don’t complain, but we’d like the garden to be attractive for them when they look out their windows. We also want it to be a contemplative space for us. So, we’ll be adding a mulch path, some butterfly friendly flowers and other decorative elements as we go through the spring months.

Maybe our gambling luck is turning in our favor. Hours after filling our beds with compost and planting our initial garden, we had a very scary storm that included hail. “Good grief,” I thought, “you have got to be kidding me.” (Tom can attest that my words were, indeed, stronger than “good grief!”) Lo and behold, the next morning we checked on the garden and not a plant was touched by the hail.

If I were a betting girl, I’d say that was a sign…

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Two of our raised beds in their early stages!

Day 62–A Locavore’s Lunch–The Busy Bee

The Busy Bee is located in what was the Busy Bee Cafe in the 1920s.

I have to say that lately, I’ve had such great lunches from home that I haven’t been eating out for lunch much (good for my health and my wallet!). But when I do get lunch out, I typically frequent one of our many downtown lunch spots that serve local food. The Busy Bee on Wilmington Street (www.busybeeraleigh.com) is one of my all time favorites. They were, in fact, the catalyst for my new love of the fish taco!

Located in a former cafe of the same name, the Busy Bee features fresh, local, organic produce and NC sourced seafood. Their beef apparently comes from a distributer (according to my server), but much of the rest of the menu comes from local and/or sustainable sources. My favorites are the fish tacos and the spinach and artichoke burger (a hand-made veggie burger with spinach, artichoke and feta). Their sides are also wonderful. If you are a mac & cheese lover, get thee to the Busy Bee! Lighter than many mac & cheese dishes, it is very flavorful and filling. I usually go the unhealthy route on the sides with either the mac & cheese, tater tots (seriously–so good) or the fried green tomatoes.

I’ve also gone to the Busy Bee for staff happy hour, and the place has a terrific vibe in the evening. If you like beer, they have a pretty incredible selection of artisanal brews. If you don’t like beer, I can vouch for the Queen Bee martini with local honey and elderflower (a note: I do not sample adult beverages at lunch. Not that I haven’t been tempted, but still…).

If you’re in the Triangle looking for wonderful, fresh, locally sourced food, give the Busy Bee a try! And if you’re not local, check out their menu for some great flavorful inspirations that you might try at home!

Day 55–Community Gardens

Austin TX

“It is what it is, but will become what you make of it.”  Pat Summit

Spring is just around the corner here in North Carolina, and we are looking forward to planting our garden. I have mentioned before that we have some challenges (some extreme shade, some hot spots, horse-sized mosquitoes and LOTS of tree roots). I’m not only interested in having a successful gardening year for our family, but I am also interested in expanding access to fresh food. Don’t get me wrong, it’s been rewarding to find new local sources for our food and to post recipes and blog about our journey, but a larger issue is nagging at me. While I’m frolicking at the farmer’s markets, packing organic produce in my “green” Trader Joes bags, other families are having trouble finding any access to healthy, fresh food. Living in “food deserts,” these families, children, elders are often dependent on highly processed, overpriced foods available at local convenience stores. And there are many more folks who might have access to fresh food, but have no idea what they are eating (e.g., me six months ago). Food access and food literacy. Two huge issues affecting the health of many families in my area.

So I can let it nag at me, or I can see this as an opportunity for another part of our journey. Maybe I just have the zeal of the newly converted or maybe this is where I’m meant to go. Hard to tell at this point 🙂 In any case, an opportunity came our way and we are seizing it and we will see where it takes us.

Advocates for Health in Action is hosting a “Dig In” workshop focusing on building, maintaining and sustaining community gardens in our area. Topics for the 1/2 day program include garden planning, school gardening, legal issues, fundraising, organic gardening, bee keeping and more. The program looks like so much fun that our whole family is going! I feel fortunate to have this level of enthusiasm for not only improving our garden, but helping with a larger community gardening initiative. The event is in March and we will definitely blog about what we learned!

Taking this locavore journey is shaping us in ways we never expected (but I guess that’s why it’s a journey!). And taking up Lady Vols coach Pat Summit’s challenge, we will see what we can make of it.

 

Day 30–Western Wake Farmers Market

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Madison Whitley is the friendly of the Western Wake Farmer's Market

Any of us can get into a pattern of behavior, especially when it comes to shopping for groceries. So we are trying to extend our reach a bit and try other farmers markets and suppliers of local food. This week we had a great time at the Western Wake Farmer’s Market in Morrisville. A fun and totally friendly experience! Just a 15 minute drive from our house, the Western Wake Farmer’s Market has a terrific supply of locally produced cheeses, pasta, vegetables, seafood, and meat. Smaller than the State Farmer’s Market in Raleigh, this market focuses on high quality, mostly organic produce and no growth hormone, antibiotic free meat. The winter hours are Saturdays 10-12 and the market is located in the Carpenter Village shopping center parking lot.

Family Friendly Mom Power

We were greeted enthusiastically by Market Manager Madison Whitley, who quickly gave us information about the market and answered my many questions about vendors and how the Market works. The Market was actually founded by a group of moms who wanted the western part of our county to have the same access to fresh produce that others have from the State Farmer’s Market in Raleigh. Never underestimate the power of a group of moms! Everyone at the market was friendly, engaging and more than willing to answer my questions from The Sustainable Table question lists.

Improving Food Access

The WWFM, which was started by a group of dedicated moms, shares a concern that low income families in our county do not have adequate access to quality fresh produce (or in some cases, any fresh produce). The Market takes monetary donations, which it uses to purchase produce from the market vendors. Market vendors also make donations of produce themselves. The Market works with the Interfaith Food Shuttle, which picks up donations and distributes them to food pantries, soup kitchens, etc. This system allows them to contribute fresh produce without having to develop a new (and costly) distribution plan. In the last growing season, they donated more than 3,000 pounds of produce! LOVE this!

The Shopping

Ok, so this is a winter market, but the selection was still very good, with about 15 vendors. According to Madison, the summer market (starting in April) more than doubles the number of vendors. We purchased NC shrimp, locally roasted coffee, organic carrots and tatsoi, and two kinds of cheese (we’ll be back for more!).

So, if you’ve been wanting to try something new, seek out a new farmer’s market or co-op store that you haven’t visited before. You may be pleasantly surprised and, if you’re lucky like we were, you’ll have a new favorite as well!

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Day 24–“Wildly Affordable Organic”

English: A hand reaching for organic tomatoes ...

I recently came across a great resource for staying on a budget while eating organic and thought I would share it. Although our goal isn’t specifically to eat “organic,” it is a part of our overall goal to eat sustainably and to reduce our household toxin load, and organic foods are a big part of that.

The resource is a book, website and blog titled “Wildly Affordable Organic” (www.cookforgood.com). Author Linda Watson (of Raleigh!) claims to have the secrets to living on $5 a day or less while eating organic (and vegetarian). In flipping through a borrowed copy of the book, there are some good tips for frugal living and some good tips for eating organic. The vegetarian and vegan recipes online look good enough that I might go ahead and purchase the book.

While the frugal tips are good, eating “organic” and eating “sustainably” are not necessarily the same thing. Buying organic produce does lessen the world’s pesticide load, but buying organic tomatoes from Mexico when you live in Maine does little to alleviate the carbon footprint of your food–especially if you can get minimally treated tomatoes or organic tomatoes locally at a slightly higher price. And are organic tomatoes from another country sustainable if the “farm” is a large agribusiness and laborers are not paid a fair wage? And are “organic” canned beans packaged in a can with a liner that uses BPA really worth the price if you’re getting a packaging toxin along with your healthy beans? You can only imagine the dilemmas swirling around my mind…

At some point, though, you have to stop and actually eat. Philosophical foodway issues aside, this seems like a good reference book for beginners on how to purchase organic foods without breaking your budget and how to make low cost, vegetarian dishes. Check out the website and see for yourself. Any day I can learn a few new tricks is a good day!

Day 10–A Locavore’s Lunch–Beasley’s Chicken + Honey

 

I woke up thinking today is Friday. It is Tuesday. Is it me or do other people do that, too? Sometimes, when the week stretches in front of you like a yawning chasm of time, there is a remedy. It’s called the Girls Lunch Out.

So, in the interest of self-preservation and blog research, we headed out to one of Raleigh’s newer, trendy lunch spots, Beasley’s Chicken  + Honey. Using all sustainable and many locally produced ingredients, Beasley’s serves fried chicken drizzled with local honey, locally produced veggie sides and desserts.

Beasley's Chicken + Honey uses local and sustainable foods for its menu

Beasley’s chicken is sustainably raised with no growth hormones or antibiotics. Although it sources from Georgia (why???), we like that it still meets our sustainable criteria. The vegetables (and there are many) source from primarily NC, although our server couldn’t give us any detail.

My 11-year-old companion (not yet tracked in at school) had the fried chicken biscuit, a fried chicken cutlet on a HUGE biscuit with pickled green tomatoes and a honey Dijon sauce. She had NC sweet potatoes on the side. “It was the perfect combination of flavors.” She finished about half, so she has lunch for tomorrow, too.

Chicken quarter (dark) and Ashe Co. pimento mac & cheese. Oh my.

I had the quarter chicken (dark), which came drizzled with honey and was very juicy and delicious. I had the Ashe County pimento mac & cheese for a side and that was better than the chicken. I took about half of my lunch home, too. I just can’t pack away fried chicken like I used to (and this is probably a good thing).

The service was good and we liked the industrial chic decor. At $25.00 for both of us, it was pricey, but it helps that we will each get 2 meals out of our lunch. And with fried chicken and mac & cheese, this isn’t a regular lunch spot for health reasons. Good to know that downtown Raleigh has delish sustainable/local fare!

Still wish today were Friday, but now I can face the week again!

Day 9–How 10% Can Make a Difference

A percent sign.

Did you know that North Carolinians spend $35 billion a year on food. $35 billion!!! I’m not “math girl,” but that seems like a lot of money to me. And we’re not even a huge state, like Texas or Florida or California.

The NC Center for Environmental Farming Systems has a new initiative called the 10% Campaign. They figure that if every family spent 10% of their grocery budget on locally produced foods, we would keep $3.5 billion dollars in our local economy instead of sending it to some corporate grocery store office. In this economy, I think that’s pretty cool.

If your family spends $200 per week on groceries, 10% is just $20 (or one trip to the farmer’s market). You can sign up at www.nc10percent.com and the 10% Campaign will check in with you every week to see how you’re doing. If you like to eat out, the website also has a list of restaurants who have committed to the 10% Campaign as well. Interested in taking the challenge?