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Monthly Archives: January 2010

Slow News Day: Michelle Obama – First Gardener, Foodie, Childrens Health Advocate

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This has been a big year for the Slow Food movement, with some high-profile help from First Lady Michelle Obama.

In June, the Obama White House broke ground for its organic kitchen garden (involving local schoolchildren in the process), the first White House vegetable garden since Eleanor Roosevelt’s Victory Garden in the 1940s.

I wrote about it on Slow Family Online, in a story about the bumper crop of home gardeners.

The above picture of First Lady Michelle Obama and children in the garden appeared in the White House blog. Food from the garden is feeding the White House, as well as homeless recipients at Washington, D.C.’s Miriam’s Kitchen.

The blog, Eat The View, offers an entertaining round-up of the White House Garden, and other Edible Landscape campaigns.

In September, the First Lady went a step further, inaugurating the first ever weekly farmers market on the White House lawn, allowing visitors the opportunity to purchase fresh food directly from the farmers who grew it. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was on hand for the opening, and he spoke about the importance of eating fresh, locally-grown food.

Says Mother Earth News:

The White House farmers market serves as a symbol to the rest of the United States that the current administration is supportive of small food producers and sustainable, healthy food systems.

The 2009 White House Farmers Market ran through October and will resume again in the spring.

This week, Michelle Obama decided to raise awareness of the importance of fresh, healthy food another way — by announcing a campaign aimed at curbing childhood obesity. She told the U.S. Conference of Mayors, “Obesity in this country is nothing less than a public health crisis” and said that healthier habits were imperative to the next generation of children. In addition, they needn’t be expensive to undertake. Her campaign will include specific programs like improved school lunches.

You might want to visit Slow Food USA for more information on the Time for Lunch Campaign to improve school lunches.

If you are remotely a foodie or White House follower, you will want to follow the Obama Foodarama blog, which keeps up with both. Given the Obama White House’s emphasis on fresh food and good health, there is certain to be no shortage of news.

Photos: The White House/Joyce N. Boghosian, AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta. Art: National War Garden Commission/US Department of Agriculture, 1917-19.

Marin County Coho Salmon have Spawned Again

I just got wind of the late winter return of several Coho salmon to their habitat in Marin County’s Lagunitas watershed. This is particularly wonderful news because this had been a year of especially low sightings of this beautiful, endangered salmon.

This weekend is the last one of the season in which to take a Creekwalk to see the salmon, led by a trained naturalist. My family and I have done this 2-hour walk and it is terrific. You walk beautiful streams and learn a great deal about salmon, their habits and habitat.

There are two tours daily, at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., Saturday & Sunday, January 30 and 31.

Creekwalks begin from the San Geronimo Valley Community Center, 6350 Sir Francis Drake Blvd. There is a small suggested donation. Plenty more information is available on the SPAWN (Salmon Protection and Waterwork Network) Creekwalk page.

Even with a low count, the salmon season has had its share of excitement. SPAWN has a great naturalist blog, which goes into vivid detail about salmon sightings and other activities in the creeks and on the trails.

This is a great explanation from Alaska fisherman Mark Glassmaker about how salmon spawn. U.S. Fish & Wildlife offers a no-frills page that has a lot of good information about salmon life cycle and spawning habits, as well as some information on various species and their rates of extinction.

Whether or not you take advantage of a Creekwalk this weekend, you can certainly celebrate the return of the Coho and what it says about the health and renewal of our ecosystem.

Photos: Public Domain, Susan Sachs Lipman


Great Winter Nature Activity: Butterfly Rearing Kit

Although there are many ways to play outside in winter, sometimes an indoor activity is the call. If that’s the case, you might want to look into this activity that allows you to witness first-hand the life cycle of the butterfly — a Butterfly Rearing Kit.

I got to witness a Butterfly Rearing Kit at my daughter’s pre-school. It’s a completely delightful experience and makes a great indoor nature activity for winter or any time of year. The kit comes with a foot-tall cylindrical net cage that can be hung, placed on a tabletop or stored until you’re ready to use it; five or more caterpillars (depending on kit size); food; all materials needed to perform feedings; and complete instructions. It’s an ingenious way to be able to witness the fascinating life cycle as the caterpillars transition to chrysalises, and finally to Painted Lady butterflies.

Caterpillars can even be shipped at a later date. The Nature Gift Store guarantees that a certain amount of butterflies will hatch within three weeks. At that time, if it’s warm enough, they can be let out to fly on their own.

The Butterfly Site also has terrific information about butterflies, their rearing and life cycles, conservation, migration, and much, much more. Reading about glorious butterflies makes me want to watch their metamorphosis again with my family, perhaps in time to release butterflies in spring so they can graze from the local wildflowers and begin the process of the adult life cycle.

In addition, this week PBS’ is running a one-hour documentary, The Incredible Journey of the Butterflies, about the twice-yearly 2,000-mile migration of the Monarch butterfly. The above PBS link has information about when you can see the show locally, as well as clips you can watch.

Photo: Nature Gift Store

School and Community Gardens Grow More than Food

I recently came across two wonderful stories about community gardens.

Ground will soon be broken for the first New York school garden in the Edible Schoolyard project, which was begun by pioneering chef and school garden proponent Alice Waters. The garden, at Public School 216 in Brooklyn’s Gravesend neighborhood, will feature a solar-powered building with a kitchen classroom that includes space for the children to make and enjoy meals from the food they’ve grown. Also in the works are a chicken coop, a composting system, an outdoor pizza oven, a portable greenhouse, and rainwater collection.

The 460 students, grades K-5, will learn a variety of traditional subjects through the garden, and it is hoped that the school will become a center for environmental and agriculture studies. The school, in an area where children would not normally have ready access to gardens, represents the 6th Edible Schoolyard in the U.S. and the only one currently set to operate year-round. School Principal Celia Kaplinsky said she also envisions the garden as a place to build community, where children with many different cultures and languages can bond.

Read more about Brooklyn’s Edible Schoolyard in this New York Times article.

Another terrific story just surfaced about a series of backyard vegetable gardens in San Jose, CA. The project is spearheaded by a group called La Mesa Verde, which is part of the Silicon Valley Health Trust. Both groups encourage healthy eating and community enhancement through gardening, noting that growing ones own healthy food is not only a source of pride, but a surefire way to have access to good greens.

30 backyard gardens were recently planted in San Jose’s Gardner and Washington-Guadalupe neighborhoods, which are home to many relatively new Latino immigrants who comprise the city’s working poor. The neighborhoods, while blessed with an average of 300 sunny days a year, offer limited access to fresh food. Homegrown food has meant access, along with tremendous money savings, for many. Says one resident, “People don’t eat vegetables unless they are close by.”

La Mesa Verde founder Raul Lozano hopes to get about 70 more backyard gardens planted by spring, with help from community volunteers.

Read more about the San Jose backyard gardens in the New York Times.

Photo: Jean-noël Lafargue. ChickenFreak

National Day of Service

National Day of Service is here again. This year, January 18th marks the Martin Luther King Day national holiday, and the day designated a national day of service as a way of honoring Dr. King’s life and legacy.

National Day of Service has been recognized by Congress since 1994, but it may have been truly popularized last year when President Obama, on the eve of his inauguration, re-declared the day and provided energy and resources toward getting people involved in the service of helping others.

Last year, our family decided to contribute by serving at Muir Woods National Monument. With a group numbering a few dozen people, we raked and cleared dirt paths and cleaned moss and mud from between the planks of the boardwalk that leads into the park. Rangers told us this is something they do twice a year. It felt great to help them and this treasure of a national park, and to contribute our efforts to a stunning, natural place that so many visitors enjoy and that happens to be near our home. Muir Woods and the Golden Gate National Park Conservancy, in the San Francisco Bay Area, have a web page where one can find volunteer opportunities for National Day of Service and other times. The National Park Service also has a page where you can search for volunteer opportunities at national parks around the country.

Last year, we also learned of a local book drive and Anna chose some books she no longer wanted, which were donated to a children’s library in a struggling neighborhood. It was wonderful to imagine other young readers discovering books we had all enjoyed and gotten a lot out of.

This year, of course, a lot of attention is on helping the people of Haiti recover from a devastating earthquake. There are fundraising and other efforts underway. One thing children can do to feel empowered in helping Haiti is to hold a bake sale or other sale to raise money for organized relief efforts.

There is also no shortage of opportunity to help people everywhere with food, companionship, mentoring, building, and otherwise committing some time, energy and goods, for the day of service, a day in the future, or a period of time. A great place to research service opportunities is the serve.gov website, which offers information by locality, as well as information about helping Haiti.

This is a good web site to read or hear Dr. Martin Luther King’s speeches and learn more about him. Dr. King said, ”Life’s most persistent and urgent question is ‘What are you doing for others?’ A simple day of service can be a very meaningful way for family and community members to come together in the act of doing something for others and remembering what this holiday is about.

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman, Lynn Mueller

Celebrate National Strawberry Ice Cream Day

January 15 is National Strawberry Ice Cream Day. Why not enjoy some strawberry ice cream? According to Ice Cream Journal, the earliest ice cream flavors were vanilla-based with fruit mixed in. An early adapter of this was Maryland Governor Thomas Bladen who, in 1744, began serving strawberry ice cream to dignitaries and guests.

There are tales of ice cream coming to us from ancient Rome and China, but Zinger’s page on ice cream history dates the creamy concoction to 1600s England.

Probably like you, I had no idea there were so many official U.S. food holidays. I found this food holiday calendar, along with another list of national food holidays. Food holidays, recipes and food trivia also abound on a fun blog called Foodimentary. So, not to worry, if you’re reading this late. There is probably still time to catch National Fig Newton Day.

Photo: Public Domain

Tulip Planting Time

Well, we got the bulbs in a shade before New Year’s. This was very late for us, but a neighbor and terrific green thumb assured me it was okay, as the bulbs had had more than their share of fridge time leading up to the planting, and the soil is still diggable.

I’m in Sunset gardening zone 17 (USDA Zone 9), in which you pretty much have to plant bulbs fresh each year. While each spring, some do come up where I’ve neglected to dig them out, they’re generally not as hardy or pretty as they were the first year. Perhaps this is for the best. Each year brings new trips to the local nursery and new types of tulips to try. I usually buy 60 or so bulbs — enough for a good show on the deck (one of the benefits of a smaller garden) and a volume discount, while not enough to upset the flower budget. The homely bulbs go into the fridge in mid-October for their long (especially this year) hibernation. And, on an invariably cold, crisp day — in 6″ deep holes (aided by a simple bulb digger) and with a little organic fertilizer — into the ground they go.

The Blooming Bulb site sells bulbs and offers more detailed tulip planting and storing instructions. The Plant Expert is a fabulous resource about choosing, planting, storing and growing bulbs and all kinds of plants. Another is Doug Green’s Flower Garden Bulbs, which sells bulbs as well. Brent and Becky’s Bulbs also sells bulbs throughout the year by mail order. A huge bulb and perennial seller worth knowing about is K. VanBourgondien and Sons. They offer good prices, an extensive selection, and a catalogue worth perusing, any time of the year.

So, what did we plant?

Negrita

Of our six different tulips, one was a returner from last year, the irresistible Negrita. The Negrita is a great tulip with a dramatic magenta color that provides a nice contrast to more pastel-colored tulips, and a classic big Triumph shape that is slightly elongated. This is one of our Negritas last year. It’s a sturdy, thick-stemmed flower, 18-22″ high.

Beau Monde


The Beau Monde brings out many a poet among bulb catalog writers. Blooming Bulb writes: “Huge chalice-form blooms are a creamy white with flames of raspberry red and bright yellow around the inside bottom of the bloom.” Brent and Becky’s Bulbs calls them “beautiful and alluring”. Both note that, while the Beau Monde is officially classified as a Triumph, it’s strong and hardy like a Giant Darwin. I think they’re supposed to be around 18″ tall, but am seeing a wide range of heights offered. We’ll find out in a few months!

Apricot Beauty

I am always on the lookout for classically shaped tulips in a soft salmon or apricot color. Last year I found it in a Daydream tulip and this year I’m hoping the Apricot Beauty is as pretty as its picture. Brent and Becky’s Bulbs tells me it’s also fragrant – hooray! – a Single Early tulip with a range of heights from 12″ up. (The tag in the nursery said 14″ — early flowering tulips tend to have shorter stems.)

Golden Apeldoorn


In another section went two brightly colored and popular Darwin Hybrid tulips. Blooming Bulb tells me that “the Golden Apeldoorn has golden yellow blooms with a black star shaped base. Very weather resistant with strong stems.” They are predicted to be tall – 20″ or so.

Parade


Joining the Apeldoorn is the bright red Parade. That one is described by Blooming Bulb as “deep scarlet red with a black base. Regal blooms on 24 inch stems!” We can’t wait.

White Parrot


We usually try to plant one especially exotic tulip – one with frilly edges or flames of color shooting through it. This year’s is the White Parrot. Writes Blooming Bulb: “Large white blooms with apple green brush stroke markings sit atop strong, straight 18-inch stems. Impressive in the garden and in the vase.” Sounds pretty enough to paint!

Photos: Beau Monde, Apeldoorn and White Parrot: Blooming Bulb; Apricot Beauty and Parade: Netherland Flower Bulb Info; Others: Susan Sachs Lipman

Resolution for 2010: Spend More Time in Nature

Happy New Year, Dear Friends!

As we leave the holiday season and swing into 2010, I have many resolutions that involve improved health, balance, time with loved ones, and calm. Foremost among them, and the act that can really enhance all of the above, is spending more time in nature.

Richard Louv, Founder and Chairman of the Children & Nature Network, has done a great deal of work linking time spent in nature with great improvements in health, cognition, creativity and well-being. Of course most of us know and experience this — All one needs to do is step outside, take a walk, breathe deeply and look around. Of course there’s a rich, unique experience to be had in the moment, as well, while we’re busy accumulating benefits and filling the well of our own capacity for wonder and awe.

Over the holidays, good friends held a hiking party, which was a superb, healthy, uplifting alternative to an indoor gathering. The weather, which had threatened rain, held out. The spot was the breathtaking Ring Mountain Preserve in Tiburon, CA, which I wrote about when I visited at wildflower time. And the host had prepared (and hiked in!) a veritable feast of holiday foods and hot Toddies and chocolate, which we enjoyed along with great company.

While not every gathering is going to have this confluence of fortune (I’d be hard-pressed to pull off one to this degree), I took with me a great deal of inspiration and creativity as I headed back down the mountain, the smaller kids still running around up top. Sure, why not have an outdoor party when everyone else is indoors? Why not get ourselves and our friends out in nature, to enjoy the bounty of beauty and fun that is so available and so often overlooked? Whether it’s a local park, a short trail, a community garden, or a backyard fortress, nature is somewhere near you and ready to fill the well of awe.

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman

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