Personal Sustainability: How-To Recipes

Enjoying Raw Milk

Milk.  It’s a simple pure product, right?  The ingredient label is simple – just milk plus a few added vitamins.   The USDA recommends we drink three glasses a day.

Milk BookI started to discover the complicated story of milk after reading Milk: The Suprising Story of Milk Through the Ages.  Traditional cultures, I learned, have enjoyed raw and cultured milk products for thousands of years.  Our current practices of pasteurization,  homogenization, and removing butter fat from milk, however, seem to completely alter milk’s chemistry.  This, in turn, changes how our bodies digest and process it.   Unfortunately, I read the book when living in Somerville, MA before the founding of the amazing local food stores that now grace the city.  Without a car, I had no real way of getting raw milk, so I started to drink smaller amounts of organic milk and more organic yogurt.

Now that I’m in Vermont, I’m incredibly lucky to have a handful of local farms within biking distance that offer weekly raw milk subscriptions.  Now that I can drink it, I’m more excited to read about it’s benefits.  On a national scale, Weston  Price Foundation’s Real Milk site keeps up on the latest research and legal issues.  Locally, Rural Vermont worked to legalize Raw Milk in Vermont and continues to support producers and consumers.   I’ve noticed several recent articles about milk – one found that preschoolers consuming higher fat milk were less obese and another found that raw milk consumption is a protective factor for asthma.  There was even a “real milk war” in which experts debated the safely of raw milk (fun to listen to you want to be introduced to the facts and controversy).  Clearly milk is an issue we take personally and have a lot of opinions about!


In the past few week’s I’ve been lucky to sample raw cows’ milk from Donegan Family Farm and Elderflower Farm, as well as raw goats’ milk from  Long Field Farm.  It’s amazing how good yet subtly different they all taste.  We enjoy making butter, ice cream, yogurt, eggnog, and feta from our raw milk.  Yogurt is a great one to try out first.  Lacto fermented dairy has many benefits even if you aren’t starting with raw milk, and you don’t need any special ingredients.

To make yogurt, you’ll need milk, 1/4 cup of good plain yogurt (I love using Butterworks Farm yogurt as my starter), clean canning jars, a pot, a thermometer, and a warm undisturbed place that can be kept at 110 degrees.  If you start with 1 gallon of milk, you’ll get one gallon of yogurt.  We use our oven, which has a pilot light, as our warm place – with the door shut it stays just above 100 degrees.  You can also use an igloo cooler filled with warm water to incubate your yogurt.

-Pour your milk into a heavy sauce pan.  Gradually heat it to 180 degrees.
-Remove from heat and cool to 110 degrees (use a cold water bath to speed this process)
-Stir in your yogurt starter until all the bumps are gone.
-Gently pour into clean canning jars.
-Place in a warm (110 degrees) undisturbed location for at least four hours.
-Refrigerate and enjoy!  Remember to save 1/4 cup for starting your next batch!

Raw cow milk, goat milk, yogurt, and butter.
Raw cow milk, goat milk, yogurt, and butter.
Get Involved! Musings

Empowering Farm to Cafeteria

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to attend this past weekend’s 6th annual National Farm to Cafeteria Conference.  Burlington has been a hot spot for amazing local food and food systems thinking this summer, and I’ve loved being nearby to take advantage.  I’ve had a great summer vacation; this conference was the perfect way to consider which next professional steps to pursue.

In an effort to process and absorb all of the information I’ve heard this weekend, I’ve listed some of the resources and highlights below:

-Vermont Congressmen: WOW,  our senators and representatives are doing really good work!  All made appearances over the course of the weekend and they totally get it.  I’m pretty sure that most of the things Bernie said could get him kicked out of office in most states, but in Vermont he got standing ovations.  Those of us working to promote farm to cafeteria work are lucky to have Sanders, Welch, and Leahy in Washington.  Chellie Pingree from Maine is equally impressive.  It’s nice to feel excited about some of the work being done by our federal government!

Burlington and/or Vermont can be a model: With support for local food sourcing at all levels of the school and political bureaucracies, towns and cities in Vermont can and should become models for others working to increase farm purchasing.  Our smaller scale makes it easier to test things out, and our citizens still cherish our agricultural roots and value family farmers.  Producing, sourcing, processing, training, education, and paying for local healthy food can be perfected here, and then expanded across the country.  In Burlington, Superintendent Jeannie Collins and Food Service Director Doug Davis (my cafeteria man in Charlotte from elementary school years) are visionary role models.  Chuck Ross and Ellen Kahler’s work at the state level will support on the ground work.

Shelburne Farms is doing great farm based education work and I’m psyched I can tell out-of-state admirers that I attended summer camp there as a kid.

-The farm to cafeteria network is expanding.  This year there were over 800 attendees from across the nation.  Everyone I spoke to was doing real on-the-ground work that was making a difference in their community or region.  Everyone had experiences to share, advice to offer, or informed questions to ask.  I loved every side conversation I got to have!

-Gail Christopher from the Kellogg Foundation gets it.  I was so enthralled by her speech that I forgot to write anything down.  If I find her remarks in the post-conference media, I’ll link to it here!  She brought such a real, eloquent, and equitable perspective to the conversation.

Here are some great resources to check out for garden educators:

Thanks to everyone who inspired and motivated me at the conference.  It was a great weekend.

Home Gardens Recipes

Enjoying Edible Flowers

It’s still spring in the garden.  I’ve satisfied my winter cravings for fresh lettuce and spinach.  The spears of asparagus keep on coming – it still amazes me to see more and more emerge every morning.  Green salads have dominated my lunches and dinners for nearly a month now. My early spring seasonal stomach, in other words, has been satiated.

Now I’m starting to yearn for peas and other early fruiting crops.  As I watch teeny pods emerge from polinated pea blossoms and slowly grow larger and larger, I’ve decided to distract myself with the many edible blossoms that are now blooming in the herb and veggie gardens.

Cooking with flowers adds flavor and beauty to dishes.  Many herb flowers are edible and have tastes similar to their familiar leaves.  Legumes like peas and beans have sweet mild blossoms.  Chive blossoms can substitute for red onions in a salad.  To broaden my repetoir, I checked out edible flower lists online.  Remember to make sure a flower is not poisonous before eating! I was surprised to find so many familiar and common species on the list.  Check out my experiments below and let me know if you have other ideas for using edible flowers in your cooking:

Sage blossoms are slightly more mild than the leaves and are great additions to chicken, white fish, sausage, or white bean dishes.

I used these purple sage, chive, and thyme blossoms along with dill, yogurt, garlic, chives, olive oil, salt, and pepper to flavor our cannelloni bean and cooked chard salad.

A pea tendril, chive blossom, and dill leaves garnished my white bean chard salad.  I also tried frying some of the herb blossoms in olive oil (they’re the toasty brown things above).  Overall, I think fresh blossoms add better flavor and color to finished recipes.

Chive blossoms added an onion flavor to this simple salad.  Pea tendrils were beautiful, tender, and delicious.  Our sugar sprint tendrils have pink and purple hued blossoms while the traditional sugar snaps flowers are white. Their mild pea flavor added depth to the simple lettuce salad.  Remember though, when you harvest pea blossoms, they’ll never grow into peas!

Flowering plants have the added benefit of attracting pollinators to your vegetable gardens.  All fruiting produce including peas, beans, peppers, squash and tomatoes need to flower and be pollinated before they can bear fruit.

Borage blossoms are mild and have a slight cucumber flavor.  They have the added benefit of attracting beneficial predatory wasps to your garden.  These wasps prey on garden pests and help to keep your veggies healthy.

After browsing the list of edible flowers, I’m excited to integrate johnny jump-ups, anise hyssop, bean, and squash blossoms into meals as they come into season.  Let me know if you find any blossoms that you love or if you have other recipes that integrate edible flowers!

School Gardens

Meet Your Farmer

How do you get eggs from a chicken if they don’t want to give them to you? Is it hot working on a farm? Are cucumbers fruits or vegetables? Do you have to catch the animals to get them on the farm? Does chocolate milk come from brown cows? Can we grow bananas in Somerville?  Strawberries?

I am always in awe at the enthusiastic curiosity of elementary students.  I had the pleasure of answering questions like these, and many more, during an event I recently coordinated entitled “Meet Your Farmer.”

In a team with Farm School Farmer David Graham, we visited six classrooms over the course of the day.  David contributed stories and experiences from working on a farm and I offered my expertise gained from working in city gardens during each classroom visit.  With each group, we helped students develop a more concrete and respectful vision of the farming occupation. Our goal was to increase their appreciation for the work it takes to produce food.  One of my main roles was to  make sure to connect our learning to actions we can all take in Somerville in the likely case that families can’t bring students out to farms in the suburbs.

What can we do in a city as densely populated as Somerville?  First, we need to figure out where one could even find space to safely grow vegetables.  As a group, the students brainstormed ideas ranging from backyards, to community gardens, to pots in a window, to their school garden.  (For adults considering backyard gardening, make sure to test your soil for heavy metals first!). We then learned that organic gardening is especially important in our community because it offers much needed habitat for important living things including decomposers, pollinators, predatory insects and birds.  There’s very little space in Somerville for these critters to find food, shelter, water, and friends, making urban gardening’s impacts greater than often is expected.

Next we brainstormed a list of fruits and vegetables that we would like to grow in our school garden.  We learned that many tropical plants can’t grow in Somerville.  We even might have to rule out space hogs like pumpkins and zucchinis if growing in small back yards.  Luckily, we learned that we can grow almost all of the favorite fruits and vegetables brainstormed at the beginning of the lesson.   At the end of the program, we all got to sample several slices of MA-grown Macintosh apples.  We liked how they were crunchy, sweet, and sour at the same time.  It was also cool that they were grown at a farm in our own state.

It’s that time adults!  Do you want to grow for yourself this season?  No matter where you live, you can grow food.  And if you find yourself brimming with questions, feel free to post them below and I’ll see if I can answer them for you!  You may also find the series of “Backyard Gardening” posts I made last year helpful if starting a garden for the first time.

Check out the groups that made this event possible!  “Meet Your Farmer” was coordinated by Groundwork Somerville and funded by Massachusetts Agriculture in the Classroom.  Additional partnering with Somerville Food ServicesUMass Extension Nutrition Education Program, and East Somerville Community School made everything possible.  Also check out the press the program got in the Somerville News and the Somerville Patch!

Answers to introductory questions: -Chickens rarely fight you for their eggs, though if a hen is broody (if she wants to hatch her eggs into chicks), you may have to reach under her with thick leather gloves. -It’s often hot in the summer, but it’s cold in the winter.  We dress for the seasons, like you do when you play outside.  -The animals on the farm were born there; they’re the babies of cows and chickens we already had. -Brown cows make normal white milk.  If you add chocolate and sugar, you get chocolate milk.  -Bananas don’t grow in Somerville because they die in the winter, but strawberries do!

Get Involved!

Maple Tapping Time

Supporters or the Somerville Maple Syrup will be tapping sugar maple trees on the Tufts Campus this Thursday January 26th at 3pm.  Families, neighbors, students, and anyone interested in participating in this fun outdoor event should gather at the bottom of memorial steps across from Anderson Hall, 200 College Avenue. At noon, we’ll climb the steps and begin to tap the trees growing on the sloped lawn to the right of the steps behind Paige Hall and the Lincoln Filene Center.  Attendees are encouraged to dress appropriately to be outside for an hour.

The Somerville Maple Syrup Project is coordinated by Groundwork Somerville in partnership with the Friends of the Community Growing Center, Somerville Public Schools and Tufts University.  In late January, maple trees in Somerville are tapped and the collected sap is stored for a 2-day public boil-down event in March at the Community Growing Center.  Sap starts flowing when temperatures drop below freezing at night, and rise above freezing during the day.

In addition to daily sap collection, Groundwork Somerville staff and community volunteers teach a 4- week arts and science curriculum to 2nd graders in all of Somerville’s public schools and at the Somerville Public Library.  High school students working in the metal shop provide annual maintenance on the wood stove and evaporator pan they made in 2005.  The syrup produced is given as thank you gifts to key partners, and/or sold in small maple leaf jars at the Groundwork Somerville booth at the Union Square Farmer’s Market. To learn more about the project, visit and select the Somerville Maple Syrup Project page.

Get Involved!

Harvest Season…or Festival Season?

September is certainly a time of plenty when it comes to local food in Massachusetts. It also happens to be a season plentiful in great community festivals and events.  Attending these events is a great way to get out, show your support for the coordinating community organizations, AND amplify the amazing energy of collective fun.  Here’s what’s coming up in the next few weeks. Check out how many years each of these events has been running for – there’s some oldies but goodies and it seems like Somerville got energized in 2005!

Union Square Farmer’s Market: Saturdays 9am-1pm, Union Square, Somerville
*best time of year for anything and everything you could want at a farmer’s market

Moving Planet Rally: Saturday 9/24 3pm, Parade to Chirstopher Columbus Park, Boston
*the more people, the stronger the message: we need to move beyond fossil fuels

6th Annual “What the Fluff?” Festival: Saturday 9/24, 3-7pm, Union Square, Somerville
*”shenanigans and games” stages among other attractions

9th Annual Community Day: Sunday 9/25 11am-3pm, Tufts Academic Quad
*free lunch and free performances from student performance groups

Green Drinks Meet-Up: Friday 9/30 5-7ph, Johnny D’s Holland St. Davis Square
*free “green” (don’t know if that’s literal or not) appetizers and raffle for all participants in Walk Ride Days

6th annual Honk! Festival of Activist Street Bands: All weekend 9/30-10/2, Davis Square
*crazy performances scattered across Davis Square and a parade on Sunday

2nd Annual Boston Local Food Festival: Saturday 10/1, Fort Point Channel
*amazing local food vendors, demonstrations, skill shares (I’m Vermiculture at 12:45), music

17th Annual Growing Center Harvest Festival:  Saturday 10/1, 22 Vinal Ave
*apple pressing, butter making, pumpkin decorating, a silent auction fundraiser, nature activities

3rd Annual Somerville Local First Harvest Festival: Saturday 10/15, Arts at the Armory 191 Highland Ave
*Local beer, wine, food, music, and performance for $20…this will sell out!

Get Involved!

Farmer’s Markets are In Season!

Yesterday my mood was boosted when I happened across a farmer’s market on my way through Harvard Square…I had wanted to celebrate our last Nature Workshop at the Library by eating seeded watermelon and having a seed-spitting contest.  Finding a watermelon with seeds is almost impossible in a grocery store, but it’s guaranteed (I think) if the melon is locally grown.

Most of the youth I engage in programming have never eaten a watermelon with seeds – something that’s hard for me to comprehend and that I’m motivated to change.  When else are you allowed to spit in grassy public places for fun and competition?!  The watermelon we ate was amazing – juice dripped from our chins and seeds flew through the air as we enjoyed our end-of-summer sweet celebratory feast. Our worms even got to enjoy the rinds.

It’s that time of year when Farmer’s markets in New England have almost anything one could desire.  Veggies range from greens, corn, beans, zucchini, and tomatoes to more unusual choices like kohlrabi, amaranth, and crazy-colored carrots.  Fall favorites like winter squash and apples are starting to appear.  Fruits are available in abundance: melons, peaches, plums, blueberries, raspberries and more.

In Somerville/Cambridge area, we’re graced with lots of options…you don’t have to get out of work at a certain time or be around for the weekend to be able to get to a farmer’s market.  Check out the schedule and locations at the Federation of Mass Farmer’s Market Site to find out what’s most convenient for you…there’s probably several choices near your work and your home.  When poking around for the best sources of information online, I also discovered that this week is National Farmer’s Market week – the perfect time to check out a new market or revisit an old favorite!