By Patrick Sewell
Ithaca is Gardens, or so it could be argued. A low-impact, inexpensive, hands-in-the-dirt activity, many Ithacans have used gardening to reconnect with the earth and discover the miracle of food. Gardens have even become political symbols, demonstrating resistance to an agricultural system heavily reliant on oil, pesticides and food monopolization. Of course, home gardens were even more prevalent before the arrival of industrial farming and the readily available, inexpensive calorie. At that time, growing crops was a necessity that supplemented people’s nutritional and medicinal needs. So important was the garden in fact, that seeds were often saved from generation to generation and handed down along with other prized familial goods. These seeds, formally known as heirlooms, are stores of information, carrying with them the genetic heritage of the environment in which they were formed and the stories of an earlier time and place.
Today, many of those who garden feel a certain draw to replant these heirloom varieties in their own yards. For one thing, heirloom plants often have a story associated with them, usually related to their origin. The Trail of Tears Bean, for example, is a pole bean that was carried by the Cherokees on their forced march westward, when displaced by white settlers in the 1800s. The Cherokee Purple tomato, presented to the gardening world by a Mr. Green from Tennessee, is one of the very first known black tomato cultivars, which was said to be given by the Cherokee Indians to his neighbor “100 years ago.”
We Ithacans are blessed with a bounty of local produce that surely rivals any other place in the world. GreenStar’s member-owners know that the Produce Department boasts a cornucopia of locally-grown fruits and veggies, year-round. GreenStar has worked with local farmers since the Co-op began selling produce, and as the Co-op has grown, so have the number of farms in the fertile valleys surrounding Ithaca. The planning required to bring the bounty of those farms to the shelves of GreenStar begins before any seeds have been put in the ground.
Around two dozen local farms supply GreenStar each year. During January, Debbie Lazinsky, GreenStar’s Produce Manager, meets with all of the farmers who supplied GreenStar the previous year, to write out purchase agreements and iron out who’s growing what. Some crops are supplied by one farmer exclusively, others are divided between more than one source. These meetings allow Lazinsky and the farmers to review the prior year’s season, discuss successes and failures, talk about trends in the field (pun intended!), set prices and figure out how to fill in gaps and deal with surpluses.
By Patrick Sewell
With rising gas prices, global warming and the recent movement towards green living, the idea of eating local has been getting a lot of attention recently. After all, the benefits to eating closer to home are pretty impressive: shrink your carbon footprint, support the local economy, eat more nutritious and healthy whole foods, and possibly even save a couple of bucks in the process. Now you can add one more reason to the list for eating local, and it’s one you can grow in your yard—pawpaws.
You may have already heard of pawpaws (Asimina triloba), a small, tropical looking tree with large, drooping leaves and large, three-lobed flowers that look like inverted trilliums. A native butterfly attractor (pawpaws are the sole source of food for the Zebra Swallowtail butterfly larvae), pawpaws are often grown ornamentally for conservation and aesthetic purposes. But it is the fruit of the tree that attracts many pawpaw enthusiasts. Having the look and feel of an oblong mango with large, bean-like seeds, pawpaw fruit can grow up to six inches long and weigh as much as two and a half pounds, earning them the honor of being the largest native fruit in the continental United States. This fact alone may entice a gardener to add a few pawpaw trees to their landscape, yet what is most interesting about the fruit is its unique flavor.
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New in Produce
|Lots to Be Thankful For|
The local bounty continues, brought to you by the sweat and toil of farmers -— surely something to be thankful for.
November ... the local bounty is bestowed upon us, plowed under the sweat-browed gaze of toiling farmers, as crouched workers pick and pull on bent knees with earth-covered hands. We stay warm within the confines of our offices and coffee shops, but those of the fields toil hard and tough to provide us with sustenance. Should we not be thankful for this? Not everyone is so lucky as to taste of these local wonders and vegetable splendor: Cider, Honeycrisp, Mutsu, and Golden Russet apples picked atop the ladders of Black Diamond, Indian Creek, and Littletree Orchards; honeynut, butternut, and kabocha squashes, parsnips, rutabagas, and radishes, kale, collards, cabbage, and other hearty greens, all picked or dug from the fields of Blue Heron, Stick and Stone, Remembrance, and Good Life Farms. Give thanks, not for memories of Pilgrims and violence, but for the lush local variety of sustainable agriculture that we are so lucky to enjoy.