Planting my #Garden for #Earthday Today

After WWII, America realized what we thought was the golden promise of an Industrialized Era.  We were (and are) an industrious bunch, working on efficiencies and trying to make EVERYTHING cheaper, better, faster…  at any cost, apparently.  We got good at it.  VERY good.  The problem is, in an era of excess, waste occurs.  We are content with car that get 20 MPG when gas is under $2 a

gallon.  Now it’s over $4 a gallon and we’re worried.  We, as consumers don’t see why it’s so expensive.  We don’t often realize that it takes MILLIONS of years to create the oil we use in practically EVERYTHING we produce from gas, to industrial fertilizers to plastic goods.  It’s taken us under a hundred years to notice that oil is not unlimited and that we maybe running to the end of our supply.  Millions of years to make, a century to use.  Hmmm…  Time to move on to something different.

What does this have to do with my garden?  Nothing really, except that by planting a garden, you too can help save the Earth, just like supporting endeavors to utilize renewable energy sources.  I guess they are linked.  And, it is Earth day after all.  And there’s only one Earth.

So, let’s ALL plan ahead.  Invest in renewable energy now AND start finding ways to conserve water.  Because, the next wars will be fought over H2O.  Trust me.  And it worries me.  Plan now.  Happy Earth Day, Earth.

A Portion of Our Proceeds… #connollyranch #dirttodine

It has long been my goal to provide a portion of our proceeds from our farm dinners to a local nonprofit organization.  I feel it’s simply not enough to be utilizing local food producers to purchase food from.  There is so much more that can be done.  Nonprofit organizations are the unsung heros that work in the silent background to help change antiquated laws or provide valuable community services.  There are many out there.  My challenge was finding one that was inline with my goals and philosophies of helping support local agriculture and raise awareness about the importance of local food systems.  While there are many out there, I have found one that is able to be involved with the dinners and actively participate in promoting the cause.

Our initial goal was to donate $500 per sold out event.  Well, now we feel that it can be much more.  While keeping our farm dinner prices the same as our initial budget, I think that we will be able to put over 10 times more money into the hands of nonprofits.  Funds that will go towards on-the-farm programs geared towards school aged children.  Programs that teach children hands on about how a farm operates including everything from animal raising to composting to cooking and eating.  I was very impressed.  You can check out a bit about what they do in the video below.  And follow this link to their website to learn more and become a friend.  Better still, come out to one of our farm dinners (scheduled to be released May 1st) to learn more about what they do first hand.

Straw Bale Garden In the Works

I first heard about this technique a couple of months ago.  The idea is that you can start the composting process in the bales by letting nitrogen (in my case, organic chicken manure) soak into them and allow them to “cook” over the space of a week.  (See previous post for details).  

Now that we have started our rainy season, I have purchased 4 bales of straw and have set them out into our mini farm.  My “farm hands” spread the manure over the tops and soaked them in real good.  We’ll continue the soaking process a couple of times a day unless it’s raining.  Hopefully these guys will start heating up real well and maybe we’ll see some mushrooms poking out.

After the bales cool down when the reaction subsides, the natural nitrogen in the straw will be available for whatever we want to plant.  We will be using them mostly for micro kale, micro cucumbers, pea tendrils, red vein sorrel, and nasturtiums for our Beyond the Kitchen farm dinners.  It’s gonna be great!

THE Way to Grow Vegetables for Your Restaurant or Home

I recently stumbled across an idea that many people have been exploring for a long time.  It’s called Straw Bale Gardening.  It’s got a huge advantage to conventional gardening.  It’s essentially a form of container gardening, but it’s very low cost and extremely  flexible in it’s set-up.  The bales sit up high on top of the ground and you don’t have to deal with turning soil, bending so far over, rocks, poor soil, or getting as dirty.  The only disadvantage that I can see so far is they initially take a lot of water to get them cooking.  After that, an easy drip system will minimize water loss.  Perfect for urban farming, even directly on concrete.  Make sure you don’t mind a little discoloration on the concrete if you do.

What’s happening is that the bales of straw (not hay), after conditioning, start to slowly decompose releasing nitrogen into your plants. Conditioning is easy.  Simply soak the bales in water twice a day for about 10 days.  Add about 3 cups of organic, nitrogen rich fertilizer to the tops of the bales at the beginning of this process so the nutrients can soak down into the bales.  Be sure the ties that are keeping the bales together are running horizontally so that no part touches the ground otherwise they could rot and your bales would fall apart. 

Sometime during this 10 days, the bale will start to get very warm in the middle.  This is the start of the chemical break down otherwise known as the conditioning.  If it does not heat up, it won’t grow your garden.  The heating up will subside after about a week.  After that, you simply lay out some compost on top of your bales and plant your seeds or transplant your starts.  Just water and fertilize as normal and get ready to enjoy some great produce.  The details can be found here.

This is am extremely simplified version of the conditioning phase.  There are many examples out there of watering/feeding schedules to follow and how to achieve the “best” results.   Check them out.   A vast majority of people using this method report much fewer weeds, pests, diseases, and fewer general problems than planting directly in the ground.  Bales will last 2 seasons.  After that, spread them out over the ground to have some great compost to start some new bales.   I will be planting potatoes, peas, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, beets, broccoli, and a few herbs.  I can’t wait to give it a try.  Why not you?

Local Wheat

Here is a pic of the wheat we grew here at the Inn from some local seed stock…  I have never actually seen wheat growing.  It’s a blast teaching the kids about wheat and how you make bread and cereal and all the wonderful other things that are associated with it.  True food, not processed.

Wheat from Dunbar Farms, Southern Oregon

We have spread some wheat berries from Dunbar Farm around our garden a few months ago when it was really cold out.  Actually, it was our chief maintenance man, Trapper who grabbed a handful back in February when I was toiling with what to do with them.  Well, now that it’s warm, and the sun is shining, this is what we have…

 This is a great example of natural selection.  This wheat is grown in this area and selected for these growing condition.  I’m not sure of the lineage of this red wheat before I got it, only that it is an heirloom variety…  But we have kept it going for another season.  Perhaps we will continue to replant it season after season and show how this wheat is much better than GM seeds that have no value after it’s planted.  My seeds have history and can be replanted year after year, adapted to this region, unlike the genetically modified wheat that can only be planted for one season, then it’s lost.  Only time and people can decide what’s better.

Our Micro Greens Revisited

So, I took the plunge and purchased a 50 liter bag of “Hydroton”.  This is the clay like rocks I started experimenting with to grow microgreens under out grow lights in the kitchen.  It cost $35 and we are now converting all our indoor growing operations to utilize it.  Our most recent planting includes pea tendrils, micro radish and micro beets.  The tendrils have been tested and work great (see prior post) but the other items have yet to be seen.  Germination has already taken place after just 2 days.

Farmer Platon Getting Ready to Plant Our Heirloom Tomatoes

Here is Platon working the land and planting his tomato plants.  Don’t know where is farmer hat is…  Can’t wait till we can feature these tomatoes on our Summer menu!

Join Me In July As I Cook For a Fantastic Farm to Fork Event July 23rd

I will be excitedly joining Matthew Domingo, Director of Farm to fork Events to be a guest Chef for his July 23rd event at Willow-Witt Ranch in Ashland featuring their wonderful pastured pork and goat.  Enjoy wines by Weisinger’s Winery as we celebrate local farmers and wineries and enjoy food right at the source.  It will be a fantastic opportunity to meet the ranchers and learn about what goes into a fun and fabulously prepared dinner.   Farm to Fork events have become known for their interactive dining formats and this evening will prove to be no different.  Come join us and see what’s new from The Jacksonville Inn.

New Hybrid-Hydroponic System Results for Micro Greens in Our Kitchen

Well, here are some photos of what our pea tendrils look like using the new soiless growing medium.  These photos are taken 10 days after germination with just water and organic fertilizer.


 Needless to say, we will be switching all of our indoor growing operations to this new system. 
 It’s remarkable.  Thanks to the Ladybug Store for hooking us up with the experiment.  

New Cooking Demo Video

Here’s the latest video from KTVL Channel 10 West Coast Flavors.  Grab some popcorn and enjoy!

New Growing Medium.

We are experimenting with a new growing medium for our micro greens.  It’s natural clay pellets that wick water up.  In the bottom of the pan is natural, nitrogen rich water with the clay on top.  I have sprinkled pea seeds on top.  I then covered it with plastic wrap so the peas can take on the nutrient rich water and then germinate.  I’m hoping this will eliminate the need for soil and will make the growing process quicker, cleaner and more efficient.

What is Sustainable?

 

 

 

 

 

 

From the USDA Website:

Definition of Sustainable Agriculture

The term ”sustainable agriculture” (U.S. Code Title 7, Section 3103) means an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will over the long-term:

  • Satisfy human food and fiber needs.
  • Enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agriculture economy depends.
  • Make the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources and on-farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls.
  • Sustain the economic viability of farm operations.
  • Enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.

 

From Yourdictionary.com:

us·tain·able (sə stānə bəl)

adjective

  1. capable of being sustained
  2. designating, of, or characterized by a practice that sustains a given condition, as economic growth or a human population, without destroying or depleting natural resources, polluting the environment

I need to qualify this by saying I am not a farmer.  I respect farmers/ranchers/food producers.  It’s hard work.  It’s also very unpredictable.  Farming sustainability requires an understanding of the relationships between organisms and their environment.  One must benefit the other.  Consider it a closed loop system.  You don’t really need to introduce anything if done well.  Composting, water catchment and wind or solar power are examples of sustainable practices.  It’s important for me as a chef to understand how this works.  I need to understand why a commercial egg costs me 11 cents while a sustainable egg costs me 25 cents.  It’s important for my guests to understand this as well.

Food is getting more and more expensive.  There are reasons why.  Food in the US is cheaper than most other countries.  It’s artificially kept low by the government.  I don’t yet fully understand why.  I’m in the process of studying it now.  The main thing to know is that the food system must change.  If we are to continue as a people, we need to get back to basics and re-learn what our grandparents held dearly.  Are we as Americans generally privileged?  Yes.  Are we softer because of this?  Yes.  Will this be our undoing?  Only you can decide.  For now, support your sustainable food producers.  Just in case.  It may cost more, but can you put a price on a healthy planet?

The Homogenization of American Food.

There are an awful lot of “convenience” foods available today. From canned foods to frozen-prepared foods all the way to fast food. There are more options available today than ever. These “food” manufacturers are dictating what food “should” taste like. No longer is the croissant that a Parisian baker produces after years or more of training considered the standard. Now it’s the big-as-your-head croissant that you pick up at your local big box store that resembles little of its namesake.

We all make decisions on what food to eat. As a Chef, I feel I have a professional obligation to uphold. I am faced with many options. There are so many food manufacturers that want me to purchase their ready made crap. “Flash frozen at it’s peak” they say.  “Thaw and serve. Cut down on labor. Increase consistency.”   Sound wonderful, no?

I fear food manufacturers. They are huge. Their products are distributed far and wide. The goal is to manufacture these “foods” as cheaply as possible which often include absurd amounts of fats, sugars and salt.  They begin to dictate what pesto sauce or crab (“krab”) stuffed sole or croissants should taste like. The more people purchase and consume these products for their cheap convenience, the less we come to appreciate what real, home made food tastes like without all the fillers or additives. Why artisan bread from one region of the world tastes different than the other. The more restaurants that purchase and use Sysco’s latest “thaw and serve” product, the less we can appreciate a chef’s own ability to create the same thing from whole foods. So the “krab” stuffed sole you had last week at Bubba’s Fish House will taste the same as the one from Bojo’s Krab Shack because they get them from Sysco. For crying out loud, I can now buy caramelized onions, thaw and serve. God help us!

I promise I will make all my food from scratch using whole foods. My buttermilk dressing will not taste like “Hidden Valley” and my Mac n Cheese will not taste like Kraft. And this, I am proud of. Keep this in mind the next time you crave something “convenient” or manufactured. The Kraft’s and the Tyson’s should not and cannot be dictating what food should taste like.

Google “food manufacturing” if you want to be scared.  Then thank the one who taught you how to cook.  Then use that skill.  Get back to tradition.

Micro Greens

Micro Greens growing nice under the grow lights.  Nice to have these…

Emerging Trend, Hopefully Not Fading…

We are seeing more and more butcher shops coming back.  In the old days, before “super centers” with their pre-packaged gassed meats, there were local butcher shops.  There was a day when people knew how to cook.  They would go to their butcher shop and find a WIDE range of cuts.  See, the butcher would get in whole animals and break them down and offer all possible cuts from this one animal with varied pricing based on the cut.  Now, at these so called “super centers” you’re lucky to see 6-8 different cuts of beef where you may see 12-18 different cuts from your local butcher.  Not only was there more variety, there was better utilization.  The whole animal was being used.  What a concept.  What’s more, these animals would come from a local source a majority of the time.

This post is not about meat butchers though.  It is certainly on the rise which is great.  But what’s more fascinating to me is the rise of the VEGETABLE BUTCHER.  Just like your friendly neighborhood meat butcher, these guys and gals will give advise, prep and perhaps have a good story about veggies and cooking in general.

From MSNBC.com:

Personal choppers: Meet the world’s first veggie butchers

They want to change the way people eat, one vegetable at a time

As Alex and Aki from Ideas in Food put it…  “This is a game changer”.  So, go out, find them, and support them.

Link to original article:

http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/39690063/ns/today-food/

Ideas in food:

http://www.ideasinfood.com

Cooking up a Story…

One of the most comprehensive websites I’ve come across that covers everything from people and local farms to sustainable living.  Stop by for the latest food news and how it affects you.  Great stuff.  “Bringing the people behind our food to life”.

 

 

What’s a “Vegetarian” Burger?

There are many products out there that call themselves vegetarian burgers.  Out here, they are very popular.  You know…  Those little frozen, over seasoned hockey pucks that you just plop on the grill straight from the freezer…?  Well, I’m making my own.  It’s a black bean base with cumin, chili powder, onions and red bell pepper in the patty with some eggs and bread crumbs.  That’s grilled and served on our homemade rosemary rolls with grilled red onions, portobellos, swiss cheese and chipotle aioli.  Not a big fan of veggie burgers, but this really is very good.  I like to call it a hot vegetarian sandwich.  Delicious.

Spring Garden Prep

We are starting to get things ready for our spring garden.  The hibiscus plants that that were planted some 20 years ago have been removed and transplanted to allow more sunshine for the new seedlings.  We will also be expanding the garden area so we can build on our success from last season…

Hibiscus plants removed

 

ALL hibiscus removed.  Will be re-planted with a larger variety of edible flowers like nasturtiums.

 

Almost all of what you see should be expanded to garden space

Onion Soup

Here we take a super rich and creamy sweet onion soup and garnish with pickled chanterelles and duck confit.  We then take caramelized onion soup, shape it into croutons using agar agar and complete the dish with micro winter kale from the garden…

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