2/26/11

Leave the Bamboo to the Pandas

What to do with all the bamboo? For those of you that don't know, bamboo is not native to the Chesapeake region. Since this invasive species was introduced, it has spread rapidly and widely throughout the region. It grows quickly and thickly, making it an ideal choice for "living walls" and privacy hedges. But.... things can quickly get out of control and it competes with other native species creating a huge nuisance.















An innovative and wonderful urban farmer I know uses dried bamboo as her tomato stakes. I need bamboo stakes for all the delicious heirlooms I will be growing this year. And I know River Farm has a HUGE grove they are trying to combat... Genius! So, I called up my friends at the American Horticulture Society at River Farm and asked if I could cut back some of their pesky weed. Hours of sweat and battle later, I have stockpiled the long, strong, straight stems for when my tomato plants are lush!















While I appreciate the free resource, my advice: Leave the Bamboo to the Pandas.
-Farmer Mo

2/22/11

Bus + Beer Bash: Help us get the Mobile Market on the road!

Looking for something to do on Mardi Gras? Come support Arcadia’s effort to bring fresh, local food all around the city via the District’s first mobile farmers’ market.

From 4-8pm on March 8, come by for complimentary small bites and a cash beer bar at Churchkey — one of DC’s newest hotspots, located at 1337 14th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20010.

While you’re there, learn about the exciting work going on at Arcadia, choose from hundreds of delicious craft beers, and make a donation to our online Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to get the mobile market on the road. Onsite laptops will be available.


Come celebrate with good food, beer, and people! You might just find yourself calling it Mardi Bus next year….

A FEW NOTES:

  • Folks are welcome to check out/donate to our Kickstarter campaign, regardless of whether you are attending this event. The webpage will go live on March 7. (If you check before then for "Arcadia's Mobile Market," you won't see it.)
  • A qualifying donation to Kickstarter ($25 or more) will earn a complimentary beer at the event. If you donate online before coming to the event at Churchkey, be sure to bring a printout of your donation receipt to secure a complimentary beer ticket.
Bring your friends. This is going to be AWESOME.

2/21/11

Farmer Presidents

Happy President's Day!

Did you know George Washington was an innovative and avid farmer? As Arcadia used to be part of ol' Georgie's estate, I decided, in honor of President's Day, to dig a little deeper in to the agricultural past of the space. Located just up the street from Arcadia, Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens is a living history destination-- hosting over 1 million visitors every year! The original Estate house still stands, there is an exquisite museum (worth the trip alone), and reconstructed out-buildings including the blacksmith, the storehouse, and slave quarters. There are also GARDENS! And LOTS of them! Many of which produce food!













I have had the privilege of spending time at the Mount Vernon Farms over the last few weeks and am amazed by the amount of agricultural research and trials being done by our founding fathers! (not to mention the AMAZING work done by the reconstruction staff and the farm team at Mount Vernon!) I was especially impressed with the Pioneer Farm, a fully functioning farm located right on the Potomac. This demonstration farms recreates the methods followed during the period of Washington's life.

Washington chose to aband tobacco farming around 1765, ending his economic dependence on English agents to sell his tobacco and giving Mount Vernon greater autonomy and self-sufficiency. His main crop became wheat, but he experimented with over 60 field crops. Fish from the Potomac was also an important source of food and cash. Washington overcame the poor soil at Mount Vernon by starting an innovative plan of crop rotation (switching crop type every year) and mulching, which made his farmland able to sustain its yields. He also introduced the mule to America in a successful effort to find an animal better suited to farm work than the horse.

While we celebrate the agricultural accomplishments of our first President, let's also be sure to remember that much of his farm labor came in the form of slaves and bondage. The people who worked the land, knew the soil and fed the people should always be at the forefront of agricultural history in the US. To learn more about some of the laborers at Mount Vernon, check out Mary Thompsons's report.

-Farmer Mo

2/20/11

All that *and* a packet of seeds

I had my first brush with fame this morning at the farmers' market. I'm not going to lie: I kind of liked it.



As I wandered about the Dupont market picking up eggs and apples and chatting with farmers and Street Sense vendors, a few different groups of grinning young women approached me to say that they'd been at the demonstration I'd given at yesterday's Rooting DC forum. Some showed me greens that they'd picked up to ferment. They seemed really excited. (See? I'm not the only one who gets giddy when it comes to kim chi.) It got me thinking about the first Rooting DC event I attended exactly two years ago. It was one of my very first forays into the DC sustainable food scene, and I recall leaving at the end of the day with a heart filled with excitement and hope. (I was bummed to miss the Forum last year, but I was fighting my way through the Southwestern winter gales at the time.)

It is events like this one, put on by the Field to Fork Network, that really brings people together and gets them fired up to DO things. Garden. Cook. Compost. Build things. Fix things. Help each other. Share ideas. And load DC area food enthusiasts up with endless packets of free seeds.

This year I was proud to be among the presenters, thanks to an invitation from my friend Farmer Mo to help with a demonstration on food preservation. Here she is talking about the importance of a solid seal.



I was just tickled to see that the young woman who had first taught me to ferment foods was sitting in the audience. She was smiling, even, and didn't seem at all alarmed that I was making kim chi with swiss chard. And, happily, nobody gave me a hard time about the poetry. (Who knows, maybe they showed up to see what kind of loony writes sonnets about canning tomatoes. Me. I am that kind of loony, but I'm harmless enough.) Regardless, I would say the session -- and the Rooting DC Forum generally -- was a huge success.

For those who came to our session after I handed out the 50 copies of recipes for tomato sauce, peach preserves, and beet green kim chi -- I think there were about 15 or 20 of you -- you can find recipes here. It was great meeting you all, and please feel free to drop us a line and let us know if you try out any of our recipes. And, of course, if you EVER need tips or ideas related to fermenting foods, you know who to call. :)

2/17/11

Farmers in Virginia lobby at state level













Check out what Virginia Farmers are doing to protect the rights of farm animals...

National Young Farmer's Coalition: Farmers in Virginia lobby at state level

2/15/11

"Food is not a problem, it's a solution."

It was one of a number of memorable quotes from this weekend's "Changing the Way We Eat" TEDx event. Actually, it was a line from a talk given by ECO City Farm's founder, Margaret Morgan-Hubbard. I must say that some of the brief talks given by folks from my own community at the satellite TEDx viewing party at the Letelier Theater were as good as the ones at the official event in Manhattan. And Margaret is right: by fixing our food system we can begin to address so many other social injustices, health problems, and, well, even unemployment rates. We need more healthy food. And we need more farmers to grow it. And more people choosing (and able) to eat it. And a government and communities to support it. Well, perhaps I'm putting some words in her mouth, but I think she'd agree.

Though there were a number of impressive ideas (and people) at the official New York City event, my favorite talk was actually given by a local farmer here in the DC area. Kristen, of Radix Farm (who I really hope will be a part of the supply chain for the mobile market I am developing), spoke eloquently about the need for each of us to pursue that which we most love and can thus help fix our food system, and our world more generally. Whether it's as a farmer, like the path she herself has chosen, or a school food reform advocate, or policy maker, or simply a loving parent or a more conscientious eater, the best thing each of us can do is to figure out what role best suits us and pursue it wholeheartedly. (Incidentally, Kristen also mentioned that she's looking for interns for the upcoming growing season, and I do know that our own Farmer Mo here at Arcadia continues to learn a great deal from her.) Her message rang true, and I've thought about it a great deal in the days since. We can all be a part of this change for the better.

At the end of my own little spiel on Arcadia at the DC screening event -- which, incidentally, was my first official opportunity to speak on behalf of Arcadia (aside from my excited yammering on about the educational farm during the Vices that made Virginia event last fall) -- a number of folks asked me about how they could get involved with the work we are doing. Well, there are lots of ways. Come help out on the farm: Farmer Mo will be welcoming volunteers on Saturdays and Mondays beginning in April. Come get your hands in the ground. Or donate stuff (money, tools, etc.) if that is more what you're looking to do: if so, drop a line to our director, Erin. And to plug my own project, the Mobile Market manager (yours truly) is on the lookout for both funds to get up and running and contacts with local schools and communities around the District to set up one-time as well as weekly stops beginning this June. (Stay tuned for information on the happy hour fundraising kickoff event for the mobile market coming up in a few weeks....)

2/10/11

Buses everywhere

You know those people who get their first apartment and start drooling over vintage sofas in shop windows and can't stop talking about furniture? You know those new parents who seem to have some kind of obsession with strollers and seem incapable of walking past one without commenting on it? I think I have that sickness... but for school buses.

Take today, for instance. As I was biking to meet a lovely young woman about helping me to make a video for our upcoming Kickstarter campaign, I rolled right past a veritable treasure trove of buses and couldn't help myself....

video

It's a sickness, yes. Soon I hope to have my own 25-foot bus filled with local, seasonal fruits and veggies. But for now, I'll continue to ogle anything bright yellow with four wheels and a flip-out STOP sign.

I've got my eye on you, Bambi


Being one of the only woodland spaces along the Rt 1 corridor in Alexandria, I knew we would have deer. I also know, from very sad experiences, that deer can eat an entire garden within a week. I did not expect, however, to have an entire village of Bambi's living in the woods!! I see the evidence everywhere!


There are a lot of ideas circulating in the farming world about how to best deal with deer. Some say they hate marigolds and the smell alone will deter them. Others say bloodmeal sprinkled on plants or air cannons shot throughout the night (think how much the neighbors would love THAT one). In reality, it seems the only way to deter the deer is to build a fence and make a barricade between the deer and their feast (aka, your garden).

This week, thanks to the weather gods and an unseasonably warm Monday, the first installation of the deer fence went up at Arcadia! We attached 8' "invisible" mesh fence to 8' 2x4's purchased from a local building supply house. With a power drill and staple guns, we economically built a barrier that will, at least, deter the deer a bit. Fencing is not foolproof and some farmer's have seen them jump the 8' fence or wiggle their way underneath! I am going to have to be at peace with a little bit of midnight nibbling. Deer are part of the ecosystem too, right?

Another HUGE thanks to the staff from Birch and Barley and Buzz Bakery for coming out and trudging through the mud to help make our farm a reality!

2/7/11

Sustainable fuel

So I'm getting closer to determining what size bus I need. Next up is the matter of retrofitting it (design under development) and converting it to run on biofuel. Yep, I plan to alter a diesel engine to run on recycled cooking oil. Like that stuff you use to fry chicken or donuts. (From what I've heard, the connoisseurs opt for donut oil's aroma and stay far, far away from oil previously used for french fries or fish.)

I'd first heard of
running vehicles on vegetable oil from my friend Joel on my way down the California coastline about a year ago and have been rather taken with the idea ever since. I'll be driving a bus with a diesel engine, most likely, so the switch to biodiesel shouldn't be that big of a leap. And Arcadia is ALL ABOUT sustainability, right? Finally, considering our link to the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, it seems like a no-brainer. I mean, what the heck else do chefs plan to do with the used oil that, say, Evening Star Cafe has after they make their irresistible, fried Tofu Parmesan? It can run my bus!

Now, I became rather adept at checking the engine oil on our family's '86 Toyota Tercel that I drove on occasion during college, but that was many moons ago and I have a feeling this diesel engine conversion is a more complicated endeavor. I'm going to need help. Who the heck does this sort of stuff around here, anyway? I started asking around, pretty quickly learning of my friendly neighborhood biodiesel expert, Adam. Here he is next to his home-on-wheels that, you guessed it, runs on biofuel.



Among many other awesome pursuits -- sustainable farming, building bike-powered blenders, and developing a community kitchen -- Adam is the driving force behind Mount Rainier's biofuel co-op (that, alas, isn't currently accepting new members). About a week ago, after a tour of his impressive DIY bus abode, Adam sat me down to explain the basics of biofuel. I took notes, but I'm still trying to wrap my head around some of it.

My brother got the engineering brain in the family. (I got the food obsession and wanderlust genes.) But my take home messages from my chat with Adam were:
1) It'll take a chunk of change to build a conversion system to fuel my mobile market on recycled veggie oil, and a small investment in fixing up the bus to be able to run on this renewable energy source.
2) You have to admit it does make sense: aside from the recycled nature of this fuel source, as gas prices rise again -- and they will -- it makes economic sense, too.

Speaking of moolah, keep your eyes open for a Kickstarter campaign in coming weeks to raise funds to purchase, convert, and run my beloved farmers' market on wheels....

2/5/11

Bus shopping and the "baby bear" phenomenon

Greetings, local food lovers and blog enthusiasts. Ibti here -- your friendly neighborhood mobile market manager!

Here I am next to the super cool, Richmond-based Farm to Family bus about two weeks ago when Erin and I stopped by for a visit at their CSA drop-off site. Isn't it rad? I want one. A school bus filled with seasonal, sustainable, fresh foods, that is, but not one nearly quite so... large. I am used to maneuvering a bicycle, after all.



Since throwing myself headlong into mobile market research at work these past few weeks, I've been lusting after school buses. I see them everywhere. On the way to work. Walking home from yoga. While running errands around town. Soon they will probably be sitting in the traffic of my dreams.

The first piece I am trying to work out is what size bus I will need. Like a modern day Goldilocks, I haven't yet found the right one for me. My friend Susan refers to this as "the baby bear phenomenon"....



Too small.



Too big.



Just right? Hmmm. Possibly. It's maybe, what, a bit under 25 feet long? I didn't have a chance to catch up with this one with my tape measure amid rush hour gridlock during my bike ride to work the other day -- it's hard to get my winter bike gloves off that quickly and rummage around in my backpack -- but something along this size could work nicely for a few neighborhood market stops each day. I can fit a lot of produce in there and still be able to navigate the narrow, potholed streets en route to Deanwood, say.

Stay tuned for updates as the mobile market project develops. Meanwhile, if anyone has a lead on a good diesel mechanic in the DC area, send 'em my way. I may be able to drive the thing, but I'll definitely need help with repairs, and my regular automotive consultant (aka, my little brother) doesn't do diesel....

2/2/11

Check out the amazing Laurie Ossman, director of Woodlawn, words on Arcadia!

2/1/11

A New Plant Home!



Starting this week, Arcadia's baby plants have found a home and a place to grow!! We are extremely excited about our new collaboration with Phelps High School in Washington, DC! An architecture and engineering training school, Phelps provides hands-on training for their 300 9-11 graders. We will be using their state-of-the-art Micro-
Grow Growmaster greenhouse to start our spring vegetables and provide a beautiful butterfly garden for the school. A group of students will be helpi
ng me in the greenhouse after school on Wednesdays and I hope to have weekly discussions about the tenets of sustainable farming. Who knows, maybe a future farmer is waiting to be discovered at Phelps now!

Starting plants in the greenhouse will be invaluable to ensure a good start at the gardens this spring. Transplanting "teenaged" plants rather than direct s
eeding provides healthier, stronger plants which leads to more vegetables! This also allows us to have an earlier season because we will not need to fret every night about the possibilities of a frost coming through and freezing the plant babies.

Thanks, Phelps Team! You all have been so helpful and we are excited to be working with you!

-Farmer Mo