Let’s talk about FAIR food

Put the shopping cart away and farm your yard!

Let’s talk about the distribution of food and fairness. Should we pay more for commercially raised organics at the grocers and big box stores? No, not in my opinion. In fact, it’s an emphatic NO! Should we pay more for delicious, locally grown food at the local farmers markets? Yes, of course, but within reason.

I think it’s safe to say that paying $5.00 a pound for heirloom tomatoes is not within most people’s means. And you know what? It’s unreasonable. Is local, fresh organic food so precious that only the well-to-do have access to it?

It shouldn’t be, but apparently it is.

Look, it’s roots and leaves, flowers, berries and stems. It grows in dirt and compost and worms and, like a beloved pet, showers us with abundance, with the meagerest of attention. So why is food so scarce in the city and so out-of-reach for we urban dwellers?

It shouldn’t be. This has got to stop. If you’ve got a spare inch or two of soil to plant, then please grow FOOD on it. Now is the time. We’ve gotta start farming our yards, patios, rooftops and balconies. We’ve got to insist on community gardens for our highrise dwelling friends, assistive gardens for our senior friends and schoolgardens for our children. We’ve got to insist on community composting facilities and curbside composting. We’ve got to put our own food on our table.



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Slow Food Phoenix School Garden Tour 2010

Great gardens start with really cute aprons!

Funny, one of our City Farmer fans had asked, “Does Phoenix even HAVE enough school gardens to make a tour?”  

LOL, Yes! And this is Slow Food Phoenix’s first EVER school garden tour. We truly hope it’s the first of many, many to come. In fact there were so many gardens that we were only able to hit four of them that day. But we’re glad we did. Each and every garden was vital and precious, just like our kids. We soon learned that in every garden there is one person who is the chief inspiration for the garden and its gardeners. We dubbed them the “garden angels”. Every garden angel had a corps of committed garden shephards: teachers, retired teachers, volunteers and parents.  

Exquisite student-painted murals of the "Climates of the World" line the corridors at Hidden Hills Elementary

Hidden Hills Elementary School

This school’s garden in north Phoenix was started in 1998 and has since been featured in Phoenix Magazine’s “Best Schools” issue. Strolling the campus inside and out, it is hard to believe that this is an elementary school. Really? This is an elementary school? It looks more like a museum of science and natural history…or a botanic garden. We were floored. Impressive “exhibits” include a desert tortoise habitat, wetland habitat, geometry garden, individual class gardens (i.e., each class grade had their own garden), and a butterfly garden. The garden angel for Hidden Hills is one Mrs. Farland who was not there on the day of the tour. No wonder: our guide gushed that Mrs. Farland was a tireless visionary who knew just where and how to seek grants, opportunities and enthusiastic community support. What’s so neat about the gardens here is that the program is integrated into the school’s curriculum so every student is involved from seed to harvest. 

Beautiful Trudy is incubating live chicks for her kids

Chaparral Preschool  

This school garden, part of Chaparral Elementary in northwest Phoenix, is a whopping 13 years old! The star and garden angel at Chaparral is Trudy, our amazing host and guide. Trudy gave us a goody bag of sunflower seeds (harvested at the school of course), instructions for a Kid’s Grass Caterpillar Project , a Pasta and Brocolli recipe (one of her kids’ favorites!) with instructions on “How To Have a Pea Party”, and a flower planting guide for Maricopa County. Trudy fed us fresh-picked snow peas and tender, sweet stems of brocolli while we toured her amazing classroom. We gleaned this gem from the tour map and – having met her – we simply KNOW that this is Trudy talking: “They sweat as they pull out the weeds, carry big bags of soil, turn dirt, plant the seeds and water every day. The weather cools and the plants grow… we pick, we taste, we beg for more. We are gardeners.” 

It was heartbreaking to learn that dear teachers like Trudy may LOSE their funding next year. We were told this by another teacher in the same district – 9 schools will be affected in this district alone. We don’t mean that they will lose their garden funding – there is never any “garden funding” except what the teachers and communities bring in – we mean they stand to lose their JOBS and their preschools. We can’t even begin to imagine the loss this will be to the children and their families. 

Flowers and inspirational messages grace the garden at Roadrunner

Roadrunner Elementary & Preschool

This well established school garden, just down the way from Chaparral, was filled with the scent of sweet pea and iris blossoms and they have made great use of vertical space. A beautiful mix of edible and ornamental plants towered above us, handmade mosaic tiles sparkled beneath us (each stepping stone tile was a parent-student project), and sweetly posted garden signs met us at every turn. It felt like Wonderland! This school is the very-deserving recipient of a Green Schoolhouse Series Safari Schoolhouse, a $1million gift! Teacher Peggy and her garden angels gave us packets of hand picked hollyhock seeds that were packaged in “Roadrunner School” private labels (created by the teacher), and a potted palo verde seedling that was donated to the school by a local private sponsor, also labeled with custom “Roadrunner School” tags. We think it clever marketing and we applaud the teachers and families at Roadrunner for their entrepreneurial skills. It can make the difference between an ordinary garden and one that engages the community and inspires participation and loyalty.

Desert Marigold has made the garden a focal point of the school

Desert Marigold School

Desert Marigold, a 10-acre oasis on the north slope of South Mountain in Phoenix, is a Waldorf Education school. Waldorf schools embrace the whole child: heart, hand and head. This is not your average school garden! It is, in reality, a production farm with a full-time professional gardener whose salary, we were informed, is a line item on the school’s budget. On the day we toured they had harvested carrots, radish, and chard, and were offering them for sale at their market table. The market table and welcoming angels were located in the very cool shade of an authentic, award winning adobe structure that was built by the school’s third graders and doubles as a stage and backstage for theatrical productions. There are goats, chickens, a pig, acres of fruits and vegetables and SPIRIT here at the foot of this mountain.

DMS is so unlike any K-9 garden we have ever seen, and it is likely the best we will ever see. It is THAT remarkable. From their school calendar:

One at a time, the children dip their hands and hold them up to be dried in a soft towel. Inside, a large wooden table is set with colorful cloth napkins. The children look for the painted rocks that spell out each of their names. A pot of soup sits beside a tray of hot rolls. Snack time! The teacher lights a candle. The children serve one another and eat quietly. Soon one child, then another asks, “May I please have more soup?” “Yes you may,” says the teacher.

“Look, my radishes are up! Are your radishes up?” says a third grader. “I don’t like radishes but I’m going to like these,” says her friend. A pick-up truck is parked near the garden, tailgate open, bed full of manure. A teacher passes out shovels to three eighth graders who begin unloading the truck. Another teacher looks around. “Now I need two more volunteers to help secure the fence in the barn. The goats keep finding a way out of their yard.” Hands fly up. In a moment a small group, equipped with water bottles, heads over to the barn with greens and scraps for the pig.

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Basic Farm Bill Economics: The Beginning

My maternal grandparents were homestead farmers in Oklahoma and I remember my grandfather talking about how participation in the Farm Program required him to “lay some of my fields fallow”. That’s about all I remember of his speaking on that topic. Except I also remember thinking, well, that doesn’t make sense. Then I studied agricultural economics and policy in graduate school – after my Granddaddy Scott was gone – and I learned the concept behind price control. Everyone knows the basic law of supply and demand, right? Simply put, as supply rises and demand decreases, then prices fall. So, to stabilize prices on a commodity like wheat, for example, you PAY your farmers to reduce the amount of wheat they are growing, you reduce the glut on the market, and your farmers receive a better price for the wheat that they DO grow and sell, which stimulates the economy all round. And, to further control the price, you store a big bucketload of it in your “emergency food stores” to ensure the “health and safety of your country”. It’s exactly the same as controlling currency. Simply put.

It was brilliant. It helped my grandparents survive – I’m sure of it. So what happened to us as an agriculturally rich country? Why are we blaming rural farmers for lack of local food and, even, for GMO? Somewhere along the line Big Ag got mixed up in farm programs. Enter GMO. Oh so simply put….

Neither my grandfather nor any of his neighbors could have foreseen what would happen by accepting the benefits of the Farm Bill. Why would they? There was no harm in laying a field fallow because they, and all of their neighbors, grew their OWN fruits and veggies for their own consumption. It would never occur to them that they needed to provide peaches, lettuce, tomatoes and more to their neighbors or to the nearest city. Everyone was a City Farmer in their own right and they farmed to provide COMMODITIES to a broader market: the city.


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Food: it’s always the best we can do

Making 4-pallet modular compost systems with Will Allen & Growing Power

You know, I love what my friends have done for local food.

I want some of that.

But now, as I make plans to go visit my mom and dad for the holidays, I think about how that will be. I imagine myself telling them “You can HAVE this fat, but you can’t have THAT fat.” And it all just gets so complicated. How ironic is it that I should have to tell my own parents – people who came from farms – what to eat and what not to eat?

How is it that my own parents don’t know what’s good for them when it comes to food?

It’s because they left the farm. And even if they hadn’t left the farm, they would still be the generation that was fed a load of lies by the media. Enter television. Enter advertising. Enter Big Ag and the end of my parents’ simple diet.

My parents left the farm because they were tired of being poor. And because they wanted to make a difference for their families. It had nothing to do with food. It is not their fault, necessarily, that I grew up with macaroni and cheese from a box and bread from a plastic bag. They did the best that they knew how to do, with what they had.

And that’s all we, all of us, know how to do. So, you out there, wondering what to feed your families and how to go about it: Listen, you are doing the best you can. Follow what’s true and what’s local… and we’ll all be alright.

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Denver Urban Gardens’ 5th Annual Bicycle Garden Tour

Sage and sapience at Steele School Garden

Sage and sapience at Steele School Garden

Yesterday I had the extreme pleasure to participate in Denver Urban Gardens’ (DUG) annual bicycle tour in south Denver. Once a year DUG takes us on a cycling tour of some of their 80+ community gardens and then we have a potluck. Little secret here: the BEST potlucks are held by gardeners and foodies! Well, you can imagine. Like community gardening, the cycling tour was a way to commune with like-minded folks, make lasting friends, groove in the bounty of a summer’s garden and savor a morning in the sunshine! The weather couldn’t have been finer and did I mention the food? Yesterday’s tour covered about 8 miles of easy cycling. We started with our guide, Scot, from DUG at Rosedale Garden and then we pedaled on to South Grant Community Garden, Urquhart Memorial Community Garden, Steele School Garden, The Bridge Community Garden, and then back to Rosedale for our potluck. As will happen with firsthand observance and fun, I learned many interesting facts and insights about how community gardens and city farmers are flourishing!  [Please visit the photo album at City Farmer’s Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/pages/City-Farmer/139796795040]

Rosedale Community Garden 

The Rosedale Community Garden

The Rosedale Community Garden

resides in the University Park neighborhood and is the largest community garden in the Denver metro area with 80 plots plus common areas including an orchard, grape arbor, beehive and picnic/gathering area. Their composting operation in the back has been well established and honed over the years. Among other amenities and resources, DUG provides its gardens with the expertise of a certified Master Composter. This garden was established in the 80’s and has a board of directors. The beehive is a new addition and is the only community garden beehive in the city. The bees here will produce 300+ pounds of honey this year! The hive is maintained by its owner who will share the honey harvest with the garden and will also donate sweetness to Project Angel Heart. There is also a resident fox and her cubs at the garden. She maintains the squirrel and rabbit population at zero. Ms. Fox lives in harmony with the gardeners – children, teens and adults alike – and the garden has built a protective fence around her den opening.  Continue reading


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“IT’S O.K. TO WASTE FRIES” and other appalling notions

Is it okay to waste anything?

Is it okay to waste anything?

I could NOT BELIEVE my eyes when I saw this sign on a fryolator at an airport food court the other day.Yes, I was in the food court…. I was desperate for food because I’d been waiting on stand-by all day and couldn’t get on a flight. I will know better next time and fill my tote with real food whether I think I need it or not. 

Anyway, what’s with this company endorsed policy to waste? And look at the sign. It’s almost enthusiastic in the way it looks and reads. It’s like the message is “Go ahead! PLEASE waste the fries! And, while you’re at it, why don’t you waste everything?” Sure there’s plenty of money and shareholders and industrial agriculture. There are people who are desperate for work and they’ll eat a 99-cent burger if they have to. I know I have and I’m not ashamed to say it. And, yes, I realize that the intent of this sign is to ensure food quality and safety. And that is a good thing. 

I am not opposed to companies offering affordable food and making a profit. What I grow and eat is largely MY choice. What I’m opposed to is this public display of sanctioned unsustainability. According to Slow Food Nation, in this country we produce 1-1/2 times the amount of food each year than is consumed. In addition to this gross agroindustrialism, our children receive fast food and crap for lunch – the ONLY meal of the day for some children. This is so sad I am verging on tears. 

I ran across an article today at Civil Eats which brought to my attention a campaign developed by Slow Food USA called Time For Lunch. This campaign is petitioning Congress to add one dollar per meal per day to the National School Lunch Program. Please sign this petition at your earliest opportunity. I also urge you to have a conviction about how this dollar should be spent. In my humblest opinion, this extra dollar should be spent creating edible schoolyards such as the kind that Alice Waters, Chef Ann Cooper and the Chez Panisse Foundation have built in Berkely and, now, New Orleans. It is NOT enough to feed more dollars to a crippled system such as the School Lunch Program

And it is NOT “O.K. TO WASTE”.


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Canning is comfort…in a Slow Food way

Beets ready for pickling

Beets ready for pickling

Last Saturday I was privileged to have a home canning class with Claudia Kuhns in Denver. I had watched my Grandmas putting up their fruits and veggies as a kid, but I never remembered the technicalities – I did, however, remember the art.

I’m the sort of person who needs to see and hear and feel this kind of thing in order to get it. I need to get the technicality of it. And further, I need to understand ALL aspects: the worship of the plant, the brilliance of saving it, and definitely the technique and the engineering involved. And finally, last but not least, I need to experience the gastronomy of it: the science of appreciating the plant and the palette. Let me see if I can share my canning album with you here. Otherwise, please find it on my Facebook page called ‘City Farmer’ and become a fan if you will http://www.facebook.com/editphoto.php?aid=140778&id=139796795040#/album.php?aid=140790&id=139796795040&ref=nf

And let me say more about home canning and your options: You don’t need to have grown the veggies and fruits yourself. Don’t be hesitant in the least about buying fresh, local organic food to can and preserve. We all need to support our local farms who work so hard to offer us fresh, organic foods.  Be a purveyer! And furthermore, don’t you want to have fresh, organic foods that you’ve canned (with love) to feed to your family in the winter?

Our produce – tiny little delicious beets – was provided by Grant Family Farm. And the exquisite, flawless sweet cherries were grown with love and provided by Ela Family Farms. Thank you farmers!

Claudia’s and Irena’s Pickled Beet Brine

1 qt organic apple cider vinegar

1 qt + 1 cup water

1cup + 1/2 cup evaporated cane juice

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

2 teaspoon salt

Mix and modify to your taste. This would also be quite tasty with canned sweet potatoes and others. Experiment for more delight!


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Living small is possible… and possibly beautiful.

Rhonda's Balcony

Rhonda's Balcony

This weekend I stayed over at my friend, Rhonda’s, place. My goal was to clean up her balcony and beautify it with some plants and flowers. Here’s a lovely pic of what we were able to do in a 4′ x 7′ space. The bougainvillia is destined to be hung to free up the lovely table, and then we have a pot full of sage, oregano and thyme. The Agapanthus in the background is simply in its element in the beautiful Chinese pot on a stand. It catches the drips from the air conditioning unit.

Small is possible and IS beautiful.

An Agapanthus in a beautiful Chinese-motif planter. Nothing could be more perfect!

An Agapanthus in a beautiful Chinese-motif planter. Nothing could be more perfect!

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98 cents a pound for yellow squash?!!

001I was aghast to find that yellow summer squash is 98 cents per pound at the grocery store today. Yellow summer squash? Nothing could be easier to grow! If you have the tiniest plot of land – or even a patio or balcony – you could purchase a pack of seeds for about a dollar and, depending upon how much you sow, reap HUNDREDS of pounds of squash this summer. Most of that 98 cents for the store-bought squash goes to gasoline, trucking and middle men. Do we really want to encourage this?

My sister, who is a vegetable gardening newbie (but a social media expert) put a small garden in her side yard this spring and is already cooking and loving her home-grown organic zucchini and other goodies. You can too. And you should. There are options too:

  • join a CSA (Community Shared Agriculture) and take home a basket full of veggies and fruits every week. Membership can run a couple of hundred dollars per year but when you scrutinize it you may be spending that much on store-bought squash alone.
  • join a community garden and meet like-minded individuals who will encourage you, share with you and teach you.
  • start a garden in your own backyard (or front yard!). Don’t relish the thought of a whole garden? Get with your neighbors and do some “modular gardening”. You grow the squash, cucumbers and zuchini. Someone else grows the tomatoes. Someone else grows strawberries or melons or beans. And then you share amongst yourselves. You get the picture….

We need to do this for ourselves, for our communities, for our environment, for our elderly and, especially, for our kids. Ever spent an adventuresome hour in the garden with your kids? My grandmothers did so with me and they gave me a love and lifestyle that I will cherish forever. Please contact me on Facebook (fan CityFarmer) if you have any questions or need inspiration and resources!


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Newbie Ambassador at Denver Botanic Gardens

Statue in the grass

'So Proud of My Children' statue from Chapungu exhibition

Today was my first day as an Ambassador for the Denver Botanic Gardens. Ellen, the Manager of Visitor Experiences, fortunately was waiting there for me and she gave me a grand tour. I am grateful to work for her. Right off we had a delightful experience. As we were touring the garden a small plane kept circling around with a banner that said, “I [heart] you Maggie. Will you marry me? Love, Ryan.”

Ellen and I kept on our tour and we found the by-now famous Maggie-and-Ryan in the South African Deck. Everyone was applauding. Ryan had staged the whole thing – brought a photographer along and got down on his knees, ring and all. Ellen said, “Well, did she say yes?” She did. I told them well, you’ve made my day!

Ellen let me stay after my shift so that I could take pictures and I had a fabulous time doing that. I have a long ways to go – bringing the taxonomy back from the depths of my memory. But I’m up for it. I’m in my element. See my pictures at “City Farmer” on Facebook.

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