Archives for the month of: April, 2011

little city gardensLast week I spent an enjoyable afternoon helping out on an urban farm in the Mission District of San Francisco. The farm, Little City Gardens, is run by two lovely ladies: Caitlyn Galloway and Brooke Budner. I know Caitlyn from New Bohemia Signs, where we are both part-time sign painters. I’ve been hearing about her farming endeavors  around the shop for the past year and it was exciting to finally go check out the farm.

For most of the last year, Caitlyn and Brooke have been fighting legislation that required an expensive and difficult to acquire conditional-use permit to sell vegetables that were grown in the city. The pricey permit put a damper on their experiment to make urban framing economically viable.  Instead of shelling out they decided to challenge the law and pave the way for urban agriculture in San Francisco. Their legislative battle captured both local and national attention, even getting a write up in the New York Times last May. I’m excited to report that the girls won! April, 20th Mayor Ed Lee signed into law a bill allowing urban agriculture in San Francisco. The signing ceremony was held at Little City Gardens.

Green house

The afternoon I spent on the farm was the day before Mayor Ed Lee was coming to sign the new urban ag bill into law. What impressed me most was the sense of community on farm. The lot is nestled in the middle of a neighborhood in the Mission District and throughout the day neighbors stopped by to give their congratulations to Brooke and Caitlyn. There were also a handful of neighbors volunteering their time to help with farm duties. This is the beautiful thing about urban agriculture: it connects people to their food and the people who grow it. It’s eating local at its best.

Brooke watering the veggies

I really enjoyed getting my hands dirty and doing some hard physical labor. I made some new friends and I learned a lot too. Richard, a fellow volunteer, showed me how to identify invasive fennel, wild turnips, and wild black berries. It’s easy to get disconnected from where food comes from and spending a day farming is a humbling reminder to be appreciative of the food you eat.

While Caitlyn and Brooke have succeeded in paving the way for urban agriculture in San Francisco it is still illegal here in the East Bay. Novella Carpenter, an urban farmer in Oakland has recently run into some trouble with the city for selling vegetables from her garden. So there’s still work to be done. It’s time to put food production back into the hands of the people, not government subsidized industrial agriculture. Support urban agriculture in your area and while you’re at it, plant a few vegetables of your own.

basil and green pepper seedlings I’m growing a little vegetable garden in front of my apartment. It’s a tiny little plot of earth that I hope will yield a little produce in the coming months. Even though the garden is only about 5’x5′ I’m trying to squeeze as much out of the little space as possible. I’ve planted tomatoes, squash, cucumber, green beans, green pepper, basil, and strawberries.

Today, I transplanted the green pepper, basil, and strawberries that I started from seeds into my garden. I felt like I was sending my kids to college. For the past 5-6 weeks they’ve been living safely in front of a window, indoors. But I today I sent them out into the big world full of snails and who knows what else that could wreak havoc on their tiny leaves. I’m being melodramatic but with such a tiny garden, it’s high stakes. Each plant counts!

This garden is a fun experiment. I don’t have a particularly green thumb and this is my first attempt at growing vegetables. I’m not one of those people that can kill a plant just by looking at it but I do tend to over water and make similar mistakes. When I was little, I tried to plant sunflowers every spring but none of them ever made it.  I would stand over them, in awe of germination and admire their little cotyledon leaves. Inevitably, I would end up petting the little fuzzy leaves. They were just so cute!  But I guess I didn’t pet very gently because I would always end up crushing them. My Mom thought this was hilarious and would have to explain to me through her giggles why my plants weren’t growing. When I told her recently I was planting a vegetable garden, the first thing she said was “Just try not to pet them to death.” vegetable from my gardenI’m trying not  to let my expectations get too high. I am a novice gardener after all, I’m sure there will be mistakes to learn from. But I’m already looking forward to caprese salad with fresh basil and tomatoes, sweet strawberries and cream, and delicious and refreshing cucumber salads. Does anyone have good gardening tips for beginners like myself?

kumquatI recently tasted kumquats for the first time. It was a deliciously intense experience. I became interested in trying kumquats after watching some moms give their little kids some to snack on. The moms were happily munching away at the fruit while the kids made the best sour faces I’ve ever seen and immediately spat them out. Their little faces were all puckered up, brows furrowed, eyes squinted tightly shut, and cheeks turned inward. It was hilarious and I knew I had to give kumquats a try.

After I bought some kumquats I had to do a little research to figure out how to eat them.  Turns out it’s pretty simple,  just pop the whole thing in your mouth. Kumquats are a citrus fruit about the size of a grape, so it’s not a big mouthful. But that tiny fruit packs a punch. The outer rind has a very delicate sweet flavor and the inside flesh is extremely tart. Together they balance out to a nice sweet-and-sour flavor.

The taste took some getting used to but I really began to love the extreme flavor. Plus, they have an amazingly refreshing aftertaste. I love trying out new fruits; if you haven’t experienced kumquats, give them a try sometime!

The Mediterranean climate of the Bay Area makes it perfect for ornamental fruit trees. Trees bursting with fresh fruit is a common sight in my neighborhood. Unfortunately, it’s equally common to see piles of rotting fruit beneath the trees. Waste annoys me (plus free food is awesome), so I usually gather what I can from branches that hang over the sidewalk (the law states that any fruit on branches growing over the sidewalk are public). I’m a novice at urban foraging – you won’t find me eating dandelions or acorns – but who would turn down locally grown, free, fresh fruit?

Like growing your own food, I think there’s something equally liberating about finding it in your environment. My first foraging expeditions were with my Mom, when I was small. In the fall we would pick up pecans that grew in a field near our house. Since then I’ve been gathering food from my environment whenever I come across it.olives

My most recent foraging haul was from a mission olive tree around the corner from my house, right next to the Buddhist Temple. Mission olives are a black olive that were originally brought to California by Franciscan missionaries. I’ve been waiting for the fruit to ripen for the last few weeks and been doing some research on how to cure the olives. An unfortunate taste-test taught me that olives ARE NOT edible right off the tree. It was indescribably bitter.

There are many ways to cure or ferment olives to make them ready for consumption, but the method that seemed most appropriate for this type of olive is dry curing. Basically, you pack them in salt for a month. Here’s how to do it:

Dry Cured Mission Olives:

Materials: Crate or box, burlap or cheese cloth, salt, and ripe mission olives (dark purple to black).

1. First, make slits in your crate or box, if it doesn’t already have slits.

2. Line the crate with burlap or cheese cloth. Secure in place.

3. Pour in a layer of salt, then put in a layer of olives. Continue until you’ve covered all the olives in salt.

4. Put the crate over a basin to catch the moisture, or put it outside where it won’t get rained on.

5. Wait one week, then dump the contents of the crate into another container. Shake well and return to original crate. Remove any damaged or rotten olives.

6. Repeat step five every 3 days-1 week for 4-6 weeks. The olives are cured when they are shriveled and smaller in size.

7. Separate the olives from the salt.

8. Dunk the olives in boiling water for thirty seconds. This melts the waxy covering on the olives.

9. Dry overnight.

10. Mix with olive oil and spices and refrigerate.

Dry cured olives

These directions are assuming you harvested a large crop of olives. I followed these same directions on a smaller scale. I used a plastic take-out box instead of a crate and cut slits in the bottom of the container and gave it some air holes on the top.  I set it on a cookie sheet to catch drips, the whole thing fit comfortably on top of my fridge. I’ll let you know how they turn out!

Update: The preserved salted lemons turned out pretty amazing. Salty and sour with a note of cinnamon. Expect some recipes with these tasty pickles soon!

lemon bar recipe

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