Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Season Extension Gardening

Winter may be in full swing, but so is our season extension gardening! In our pantry garden, we're still utilizing low tunnels and a cold frame to keep cold-hardy plants alive and happy despite the chilly weather. In fact, these simple systems are so effective at keeping in the warm, that on sunny days like today, we have to open them to prevent overheating the plants.

Interested in creating structures like this at home? Our Tool Share Program offers low tunnel kits, and our garden staff would love to chat with you about building a cold frame at home! Stop by during pantry hours to talk to us about the how's, when's and why's of season extension gardening.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Lacto-Fermented Cranberry Chutney: a holiday classic that's good for your gut

Barbara Lehr shares her wisdom about all things fermented every Friday from noon til' two with her Fermentation Friday demonstrations in the Hub Kitchen. Just in time for the holidays, this week she sampled a lacto-fermented cranberry relish with flavor dimensions that are out of this world! While it's culinary value is unsurpassed, you'll also appreciate the health benefits (lacto-fermented foods can aid digestion, for instance, making this a perfect accompaniment for a holiday feast). This recipe is quick to whip up (with or without a food processor) and only needs two days to ferment. Click here for the recipe.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Growing Salad Greens Indoors

Growing Salad Greens Indoors
You can grow your own fresh salad greens indoors all winter long, including spinach, chard, leaf lettuces and mesclun green mixes!    

Start with containers at least 4 inches deep.  Fill container with a potting mix to at least 3 inches.  Plant seeds 3 inches apart.  Plant spinach and chard seeds ½ an inch below the soil.  For lettuce seeds, place seeds on top of soil, and sprinkle lightly with soil, until just covered. 

Place your container in a warm area (like on top of the fridge).  Cover with plastic or mist often with water until the seeds sprout.  Then remove plastic.

Next, place container in a sunny, south-facing window, or under a florescent light.  If using florescent lights, be sure to keep the lights 6 inches above growing greens at all times.  Any further is too far, and closer could burn the leaves or make them too warm (salad greens like cooler temps).  Keep lights on for 12 hours a day.

Fertilize weekly or bi-weekly with a weak solution.  Good organic fertilizers to use indoors include liquid seaweed and compost tea.

Your greens will be ready to harvest in about 30 days.  Snip the base of the largest, outer leaves, and be sure to leave at least 4 inner leaves to continue to grow.

We will be demonstrating how to grow salad greens indoors this week on Tuesday from 12-2pm, and Thursday from 2-5:30pm.  Drop on by!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Microgreens - tiny and tasty!

Are the cold temperatures getting to you already?  Do you wish you could still be playing in the dirt?  We have good news – you can!  This week’s pantry demonstrations are focused around growing micro-greens.  Micro-greens are exactly what they sound like – tiny vegetables or grains used to add extra flavor to dishes or snacks.  Most commonly used on salads and sandwiches, micro-greens are jam-packed with nutrients and flavor.  What’s more, they are also very easy to grow at home!

First, you will need the following supplies:
  • Seed flat* or disposable baking pan
  • Potting soil* -- about 1-2” of depth per flat
  • Watering  can (or a plastic container with holes in the lid)
  • Full spectrum fluorescent shop light* or a sunny warm location
  • Duct tape and a sharpie for marking start dates and seed type
  • Seeds – suggestions; 1 cup of peas or sunflowers or ¾ cup of radish, arugula, spinach per flat
* These supplies are available to borrow from MHC’s Tool Share program.  Come in and sign up for free!

Simple Steps for Growing Micro-greens:

  1. Fill seed flats with 2” of potting soil.
  2. Plants seeds by spreading them evenly on top of the soil.
  3. Water micro-greens after they are planted.  Keep them most but not soaked at all times (soil should feel like a rung out sponge).  Micro-greens must remain moist until sprouted, so water them 1 to 2 times daily.
  4. Label the outside of your container with the date you started and the seed type used.
  5. Place seed flat under the shop light or in a sunny warm location.  Most seeds require 60-70 degrees to germinate.  Sprouts will need 16 hours of light and 8 hours of darkness.  Place lights 2” higher than the height of the sprouts.
  6. Harvest your micro-greens when you see their first “true leaves.”  This usually occurs 7-14 days after planting.  Simply give the greens a “haircut” with scissors at the plant’s base.
  7. Enjoy as a snack, on a sandwich or salad, or added to dips and pesto!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Pop Your Own Popcorn

Here at the Hub, we usually start our cooking workshops with the following statement:

The best way to save money and eat better is to cook more meals at home, from scratch, using whole food ingredients. The same goes for snacks. Stove top popcorn is an affordable, whole food snack, and one that satisfies a craving often filled with junk foods like potato chips.

With the advent of the microwave, it seems old-fashioned stovetop popcorn popping has become a lost art. Old-fashioned (stovetop) popcorn tastes better, and you don’t have to settle for those fake butter products, which can be high in unhealthy fats. When you make it yourself, you get to decide how much, and what kind of fat is best for you. At less than a dollar a pound, the price can’t be beat! It's easy and lots of fun to make, too—kids of all ages get a kick out of listening to and watching it bounce around the pot. Eat it plain, drizzle with olive oil or butter, or dress it up with spices — the possibilities are endless! Just follow these easy instructions.

Friday, November 28, 2014

A Plate of Many Colors

In the Hub's Youth Garden Program, students will often harvest & cook whole food snacks such as Kale chips or roasted beets, parsnips and sweet potato.

Last Wednesday students from MHC’s youth garden program prepared a meal using some of the sweet potatoes and kale they grew in the garden. As they prepared the food we talked about the differences between whole foods, minimally processed foods and overly processed foods. The students were asked to figure out how many whole foods verses processed foods they used to prepare the meal. The hope was that students would experience a tasty meal and recognize that eating whole foods actually tastes great. We asked the students why they thought it was important to eat more whole foods (real food) and less processed? The students soon began to share answers they had learned from previous weeks, “whole foods have more nutrients in them,” “whole foods give your body energy,”  “our bodies work harder to break down the processed foods,” and last, “processed food will not give you energy that lasts, but whole food will.”

As the students sat down to enjoy the meal they had prepared each student shared the things they were thankful for.  Several students included garden club, the garden and their worm bin to their list of thanksgivings.

The meal was a complete success! Everyone enjoyed all that was prepared with the exception of one student who said he doesn’t like anything that taste like tacos, but he liked everything else. Our meal consisted of Hummus Tacos, Sweet Potato Oven Fries, Kale chips and an Apple Oat Crisp for dessert. 

Terms the students learned:

Whole foods = whole foods are foods in their natural state, or very close to their natural state. The vitamins, minerals and other nutrients remain intact in the food, and they do not typically contain added ingredients. Examples include fresh vegetables and fruits, beans, whole chicken, whole grains (such as oats and brown rice), eggs and milk. 

Minimally processed foods = whole foods which have been changed or added to in order to preserve naturally.
Examples include butter, whole grain bread, plain yogurt, juice, cheese.

Overly processed foods = foods which have been changed a lot from their original form before they are cooked, or foods that have added chemicals or artificial ingredients.
Examples include mosts cereals and breads, crackers, frozen pizza, boxed mac and cheese, fruit snacks, frozen prepared meals, fast foods.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Baked Sweet Potatoes with Poached Cranberries

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, we offer this healthy update to a classic holiday sweet potato dish. Sweetened cranberries take the place of the gooey marshmallow preparation. The colors are festive and bright, and the flavors are made for each other. 

Adapted rom Super Foods by Dolores Riccio

One 10-12 ounce package fresh cranberries
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 cinnamon stick
2 large sweet potatoes (about 2 pounds)
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
salt to taste

Preheat oven to 375 F. Wash potatoes and stab them in a few spots with a paring knife. Bake them for 30-45 minutes, or until beginning to soften, but still firm enough to slice.

While the potatoes are baking, wash and pick over the cranberries.  Combine the sugar, water, and cinnamon stick in a deep saucepan and bring the mixture to a boil; cook for 3 minutes. Add the cranberries, and cook uncovered at a low boil, stirring often, for about 5 minutes, or until the berries have popped open, but retain their shape. Remove the cinnamon stick and set the poached berries aside to cool slightly (the sauce will thicken). The cranberries can be prepared ahead; if chilled, bring them to room temp. before proceeding.

Once the potatoes are done, remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly. Cut the potatoes into thick, even slices, 4-5 per potato. Remove the peels, which will come off easily at this point. Place them into a serving dish, sprinkle with salt and ladle some of the cranberries on top. Leftover cranberries keep for weeks in the fridge and may also be frozen.


Monday, November 24, 2014

Basic Garden Tool Care

As the garden season for this year winds down at Mother Hubbard's, we begin to think of what we can do to prepare for next year's growing season. Among the many steps we take to overwinter the garden and organize for the new year, caring for our much-used garden tools becomes a priority. This simple process is great for a number of reasons! For one, tools can be expensive, and cleaning and sharpening them extends their life, cutting would-be costs of replacement tools. Additionally, sharp tools are far more efficient in the garden, lessening the time and effort of tasks like digging and mulching.  At Mother Hubbard's, we follow these simple rules to take care of our tools and prep them for the coming garden season:

1. Clean the tool by using a brush or steel wool to remove dirt and other substances. This helps prevent disease spread and keeps tools looking new. If a tool has multiple parts, it should be taken apart before cleaning.

2. Sharpen with a flat file. First, find the beveled edge of the blade of your tool. Stabilize the tool. Then, align the file with the bevel, and move the file along the blade in a single direction, away from your body. Repeat this process until the desired sharpness is acquired.

3. To remove any hanging metal pieces or burrs, place the file flat against the back side of the blade, and sweep the file once across.

4. Lubricate with linseed oil to protect against rust.

5. Reassemble any multipart tools, and you are done!

Good tool care is as simple as that!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Sensational Squash

Butternut, acorn, spaghetti, pumpkin--squash is the vegetable of the season. Our produce carts in the food pantry have been laden with all sorts of winter squash, which is good news for the frugally minded. Winter squash, properly cured, will keep through the winter if stored in a cool, dry spot, and the culinary possibilities are endless! Whether you go cinnamon sweet or sage savory, these autumnal gems offer something for everyone.

Those thick skins and hard bodies can seem intimidating until you realize that you can simply stab them in a few places (to vent steam) and stick them in the oven whole, bake until they are fork tender, then cut them in half and scoop out the soft flesh. From there you can make pumpkin pie (butternut can be used instead of pumpkin in any recipe) seasoned spaghetti squash, creamy butternut soup, and many other incredible creations (check out this vegetarian lasagne with butternut béchamel).

This season I have been especially taken with the simplicity and ease of transforming an adorable acorn squash into a comforting side dish, or a festive holiday entré.

We demonstrated and sampled roasted acorn squash in the pantry a few times, and plenty of folks seemed familiar with the basic butter and brown sugar method. At our Healthy Happy Holidays cooking workshop we assembled acorn squash stuffed with a tasty rice pilaf (perfect for the vegetarians at your holiday table). Find the recipe here, and be sure to enjoy these versatile, nutrient-rich beauties, while they are in season.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Garlic in the Garden!

Homegrown garlic can be as beneficial for your garden as it is for your cooking. With antibiotic properties for both humans and your garden, it’s no wonder that the low-maintenance plant is often found in urban gardens.
Three ways garlic can benefit your garden:

Pest Control with Companion Planting: 
Plant garlic around pest attracting plants and trees to help keep a variety of insect and animal pests at bay for the entire growing season. Follow usual garlic growing steps and harvest when the time comes

Soil Detox: 
Plant garlic in a bed that previously had disease-carrying plants, such as tomatoes. The antimicrobial and antifungal properties of the garlic will “clean” the soil by killing off a variety of pathogens.

Garlic “tea” as a low-cost, low-toxicity insecticide: 
  • Chop an entire head of garlic, add it to 4 cups of boiling water, and allow the contents to steep for 24 hours. Strain the boiled contents into a spray bottle.  
  • Test the “tea” on a small portion of the plant – if everything looks ok the next day, spray away! Make sure to cover neighboring plants so that pests do not simply move. The best time to spray is during the cool portion of the day. The spray will only last a few days. 
  • Caution: while the spray kills pests, it also kills the beneficial insects.

How to grow your own garlic:
  1. In the mid-fall, plant garlic bulbs in fertile, weed-free soil. The bed should be in full sun, or as close to full sun as possible.
  2. Each clove (one section of the entire bulb) should be planted root side down, 6-8 inches from all other cloves, and 2 inches down.  *Note: larger cloves typically mean larger yield 
  3. Once spring returns, make sure the plants receive about one inch of water per week. Halt self-watering once the visible leaves begin to yellow.
  4. By mid-June, you will notice that your plants have long, flowery tops that curl and straighten into long, spikey accents. These accents, or garlic scapes, should be cut to increase growth.  *Note: use the tasty scapes as additives to pesto, dips, soups, and other sauces
  5. Fertilize your garlic every two weeks beginning in March; try compost tea and worm castings!
  6. Bulbs are ready to harvest when the leaves turn yellow-brown in June or July. Dig (do not pull!) each bulb out of the bed. Move the bulb out of the sun ASAP.
  7. To cure and preserve garlic, tie or braid the leaves of 6-10 plants together. Hang the bundles in a shady, dry, and possibly drafty area for about 4-6 weeks.
  8. Once curing is complete, cut off stalks about 1-2 inches above the bulb and store the garlic in brown paper or mesh bags.
For a garlic planting demo, join us this week in the Food Pantry from 12:30-4:00pm!


Thursday, November 6, 2014

Building Soil with Leaves: The Free Garden Builder

We are having lots of fun with leaf piles in the MHC gardens at this time of year!  We are gathering these leaves to use throughout the coming years as mulch, in our compost piles and as a rich soil amendment.

This free amendment has many benefits for the garden.  We collect large leaf piles at each of our gardens each fall. The leaf piles start to break down over the winter and by spring they are ready to use as mulch in our garden beds.  This nice dark mulch helps to warm the soil as it collects the heat of the sunshine. As this mulch breaks down further in the garden beds, it conditions the soil in many ways. The leaf particles improve soil structure and can increase the water holding capacity of soil by up to 50%.  This organic material attracts earthworms and much of the microbiota that make up healthy soil.  Leaf matter also adds twice the mineral content to the soil that manure would provide.

You can also gain these benefits by top-dressing your garden soil with leaf mold.  Leaf mold is the product of a leaf pile that has been sitting and breaking down for a year or two.  We are fortunate enough this year to have piles of leaf mold to top dress our garden beds over the winter, and to use in  potting mixes for our container plants and raised beds.

At home you can use this years' leaves to tuck your garden beds in for the winter. However it is recomended to shred the leaves first, as whole leaves can form a mat over your beds that keeps water and air from your living soil.  You can simply run your lawn mower over your leaves a few times to shred them before adding to your beds.

Another way that leaves add big value to our garden is as a compost ingredient.  We add leaves to our compost piles all year round as our main carbon source, and we end up with gloriously dark and loamy compost.  Leaves are a carbon rich material, and a good recipe for compost is 2/3rds kitchen scraps to 1/3rd leaves.

So don't put those leaves on the curb to be taken away!  Keep them, use them, and your garden will repay you with healthy plants, produce and flowers!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Tyranny of Poverty

When I noticed the Slate article floating around on my Facebook feed, originally titled, “The Tyranny of the Home-Cooked Family Dinner,” my first thought was, “Well, you can always find a study to support your choices.” But after reading the article, and the original study out of North Carolina State University, my response grew stronger.

As someone who teaches cooking workshops at a food pantry, I am familiar with the many barriers low-income families encounter when it comes to cooking at home. However, I disagree that the “tyranny” comes from the ideal of the home cooked meal.

The study follows several low-income households through their daily routines and reveals many of the struggles that make cooking at home difficult.  Among them, low wage jobs with unpredictable schedules, unreliable transportation, lack of nearby grocery stores, inadequate kitchens and lack of cooking gear.

Remarkably, many families facing food insecurity, and the obstacles mentioned above are cooking at home. From scratch. Those experiencing generational poverty may know this way of eating as a necessity. Perhaps they grew up with simple, affordable meals that stretch the budget and fill all the bellies in a large family; meals like ham hocks and cabbage, or red beans and rice.

When I prepare a dish from scratch as a demonstration in our food pantry, patrons stop to talk about their own variations, or how their grandma used to make it. A mom and her 9 year-old son sample diced, roasted eggplant; she asks about the smoky flavor (I season it with smoked paprika), the boy tells me about making a zucchini fritter recipe after sampling it here. It’s clear that many of the families using our food assistance program are cooking meals at home, in spite of the many, very real, obstacles.

The authors of the study remind us that the family meal is often used as a “hallmark of good mothering,” and claim that food intellectuals like Michael Pollan idealize home cooking while failing to recognize the elitism of the foodie movement.

From sustainable agriculture guru, Joel Salatin, to feminist-bashing bloggers at The Federalist, the critique of the article either takes aim at middle-class white people, whining about how hard it is to cook dinner or, emphasizes how important the family dinner is for preserving wholesome family values. The conversation about how to nourish a family has been dominated by upper class lifestyle bloggers, right-wing traditionalists and celebrity chefs.

I see myself as someone with a foot in two worlds. I’ve dabbled in lifestyle blogging, I read Martha Stewart’s Living cover to cover each month, my partner and I cook almost all of our family’s meals at home, from scratch with whole food ingredients, and I’m a nutrition educator at a food pantry. Our income has, at times, been low enough for us to qualify for food assistance, so I have also been a patron of the food pantry.  I know first-hand how elitist and out of touch the foodie movement can be (see Mark Bittman’s take on the word Foodie). Assumptions are written into the appeal for homemade everything, and cozy, locally sourced, family dinners. These are assumptions that completely miss the realities of wage workers’ lives, not to mention those living on the outer margins of society, without jobs or stable housing.

But the glaring error of the North Carolina study, and all the media coverage it has generated is this: the tyranny low income families are facing is not coming from the foodie movement. It is coming from the forces that create poverty. It is coming from a congress that refuses to raise the minimum wage and from employers who fail to pay a living wage, or to offer a predictable work schedule. It is coming from an out-of-whack food system that makes overly processed junk food more affordable than basic whole foods.

The outrage of the Slate article is misdirected. It’s easier to point the finger at those advocating for healthy eating than it is to take on agri-business or to spend time dissecting the farm bill in order to uncover its impact on our food system, and on families living in poverty. Let’s shift our gaze to the real tyrants, and search for ways to dismantle barriers that stand in the way of healthy eating for all of us.

Kayte Young
Nutrition Education Coordinator
Mother Hubbard's Cupboard

Update: Here are responses to the Slate article and the NC State Study that I really appreciated. 
Megan McArdle of Bloomberg View
Bettina Elias Siegel of Huff Post Food

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Roasting Fall Favorites

Thanks to the Hoosier Hills Food Bank's Garden & Gleaning Program, the Hub is well stocked with delicious and utterly autumnal acorn squash. These petite, late season squash have also come to us through our CSA with Heartland Family Farms, along with some lovely delicata squash.

Both of these beauties are perfect for roasting, and simple preparations, since they are packed with flavors that will warm your palate, while the oven warms your kitchen.

Our pantry patrons enjoyed sampling these two recipes: Basic Roasted Acorn Squash and Roasted Delicata (or Acorn) Squash with Red Onion.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Sweet, Sweet, Sweet Potato Harvestin'

This Thursday morning at our Crestmont work-date, all of the interns and volunteers got together to begin the big, exciting task of harvesting sweet potatoes. Like normal potatoes, the edible part of the sweet potato is the tuber which grows underground, but first we had to clear away the thick, vine-y foliage which covered the sweet potato beds. We dug in, taking turns pulling vines, picking out the oh-so-evil bindweed, and sending wheelbarrows full of leaves up the hill to be composted. 

As we cleared away the foliage, we started to see the round, orange tops of sweet potato clusters peeking out of the ground. Excited to find out what was beneath the surface, we took our garden forks and started digging in; only stabbing a few potatoes in the process! Our hands and shoes were covered in dirt, but we all had smiles on our faces as we uncovered the little treasures we had been watching grow for months. It was amazing to see all the different shapes and sizes the sweet potatoes had grown into. Long-time volunteers Dan and Jordan found one neat cluster of several potatoes all wrapped around each other, and Garden Coordinator Kendra unearthed one the size of a football!

After harvesting only one of our two sweet potatoes beds at Crestmont, we sent almost 3 big buckets back to the Hub to be either cured or given out immediately! If you'd like to get in on the fun, make sure to stop by our next Crestmont work-date on Tuesday, October 14th from 5-7pm when we dig up the second bed.  Be sure to check our Facebook page for possible cancelations due to weather.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Building Community Food Security

MHC's guest column from the Herald Times October 7, 2014

As an emergency food provider, it is easy to get wrapped up in the business of just getting food out the door, and to avoid looking at the larger systems that lead to poverty and food insecurity.  After many years of working at Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard, I was thrilled to work with the Bloomington Food Policy Council and the Local Growers Guild to organize the recent panel discussion, Food Chain: A Discussion of Policies Affecting the Monroe County Food System.  Here at the Hub, we have always done more than distribute food, and helping to organize the Food Chain panel is one way we are advocating for a stronger local food system.

As Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard aims to increase access to healthy food for all people, it is well within our mission to work toward a stronger local food system.  The stream of food assistance in the United States comes from four general sources: food stamps, USDA commodity food, food donations (food drives or produce donations), and corporate donations diverted from the waste systems.  Some of these streams are already inconsistent, and when any dry up or are reduced, it takes more than an increase in food drives to support the food insecure.  New sources must be found, and as a community we increase the chance of meeting that need by developing a strong, sustainable local food system.

When I first got into the work of emergency food provision at Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard, I did so because I believe that issues of social justice and the environment are interrelated.  I saw in MHC’s vision and values not only a focus on food distribution, but a focus on upholding the dignity and respect of all involved, and on caring for the earth.  When we compost food and garden waste we grow healthy soil.  That healthy soil grows nutrient dense food, and nourishes our community. Healthy soil and shared knowledge around food production and preparation offer our most basic community food security.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Sanitize Potting Soil for Reuse

Did you know that sanitizing soil is a great way to save money, while ensuring optimal health for your plants? And all you need is an oven, a cooking tray, some tin foil, and a meat thermometer! And the soil you want to sanitize, of course.

Obviously, reusing your old potting soil is cheaper than buying new. But why should you sanitize it? Heating your soil to high temperatures in a microwave, oven, or pressure cooker kills the pathogens that could cause plant disease in your future plants. Sanitizing is especially important if your previous plantings had problems with pests, fungus, or disease. Be careful though; if your soil gets too hot, it could produce unhealthy toxins!

How to Sterilize Soil in the Oven
Don’t spend money on new soil when you can reuse!

·      Preheat oven to 200°
·      Put 4 to 5 inches of moistened soil into an oven-safe container and cover with aluminum foil
·      Put soil in oven
·      Use a cooking thermometer to find when soil reaches 180°, then cook for an additional 30 minutes
·      Do not allow soil to reach a temperature of higher than 200°, as this may produce toxins

Sterilizing soil is a good idea to ensure optimal growth and health of your plants!