A Thousand Gardens in Africa

Now that Spring is coming, and gardens are germinating in minds and sunny windowsills, I thought it would be an appropriate time to write this post. For some, A Thousand Gardens in Africa is a half a world away, for most it's on another continent, but if you listen to what the folks are saying, the words could be spoken by you,or any other gardener.

When I was Salone del Gusto Terra Madre 2012, the exhibit for A Thousand Gardens in Africa fascinated me, The program truly reflects Slow Food International's commitment to good, clean and fair food. There was music, dance, and gardens. A real sense of local community as you can see from the photos below.

The video above says more about this program than anything I could write. I've only seen an exhibit, and read the literature about it, but these folks in the video live it everyday.

I do want to highlight this;

The thousand gardens are concrete models of sustainable agriculture, sensitive to different contexts (environmental, socioeconomic and cultural) and easily replicable.

The project involves the creation of school, community and gardens.

A good garden guarantees fresh and genuine products, promotes local products , safeguards traditional recipes, produces quality food products.

A clean garden respects the environment, uses soil and water sustainably, protects biodiversity.

A fair garden is a community experience, bringing together different generations and social groups; promotes the knowledge and skills of farmers, improving their autonomy and self- esteem; and encourages food sovereignty, giving the community the possibility to choose what to grow and eat.

The link above is from the Terra Madre 2012 page. There is a comprehensive look on Slow Food International's A Thousand Gardens in Africa page. As you step out into your garden, and work the soil, think about A Thousand Gardens in Africa, and how connected we are despite distance, language and culture.


gardens A Thousand Gardens in Africa







gardens at Terra Madre








dancing at A Thousand Gardens Exhibot







Gardens at Terra Madre

¡TIERRA!, Lavazza's Responsible Choice, Part 2

photo coffee canIn my previous post, I contrasted the sustainable and socially responsible choice that Luiggi Lavazza made in 1935 to change his business vision, with the choice of greed that some American corporations indicated they will make in 2014 when a new health care law goes into effect.

From Lavazza's Code of Ethics page (yes, a stated code of ethics) on their website:

The Lavazza Group has always been committed to observing all legislation applicable to the various business units, in the firm belief that the way in which business is conducted is just as important as the profits achieved and that nobody should operate under the false assumption that business targets are more important than legal and ethical standards.

¡TIERRA! is a project that demonstrates the Lavazza Foundation's commitment to a sustainable and socially responsible business model. The project started in 2002 and involves six coffee growing communities in Honduras, Peru, Colombia, India, Brazil and Tanzania. The project is focused on three key initiatives, the quality of the product sold to consumers. the living conditions in countries where the coffee is produced, and environmental protection. Logic tells me these intitavies are smart, long-term benefits to all, and not short-term benefits for a few. The success of this project is demonstrated by the fact that in 2009, three communities in Peru, Honduras and Colombia are now autonomous.

Lavazza ¡Tierra!, is the product that is the result of this project. It is a coffee that is 100% Arabica that is produced fully from sustainable farming. It's  certified by the Rainforest Alliance, an non-governmental organization that I will write more about next week. They are an excellent organization, with rigid standards required for their certification. The certification has been received for the coffee produced by the Peru, Honduras and Colombia communities, and is being pursued for the India, Brazil and Tanzania communities.

The coffee has a beautiful color, an enticing aroma, and bold, deep flavor without any burnt or acidic notes in the either the flavor or finish. I like it. A lot. When I first saw the Good Coffee, Good Karma tagline, the skeptic in me came out. After this roundtable though, I'm a firm believer that this tag line is apt. Let's a take a look at the Tanzania project as one example that kicked the skeptic to the curb.

In Tanzania, the project involves 750 local producers and their families. A school has been built, MaseRing Nursery School in the village of Maande in the Kirua region. The village sits at an altitude of slightly more than 3,900 feet on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro. The school will function as a the hub of the community  will use Montessori method to the teach children, enabling them to work towards their future human potential. The school will also be used for adults to meet and organize, and attend adult training sessions. The goal here is for the Tanzania community to achieve independence like the ¡Tierra! communities in Peru, Honduras and Colombia. From a Lavazza Press kit about the Tanzania ¡Tierra! community:

The main phases to achieve independence will have to be carried out in Tanzania as well: improving the living conditions, social development and economic growth of farming communities, improving the liveability of the territory, developing high-quality productions that are increasingly ecological and profitable, thanks to new agricultural techniques and production tools, aimed at greater competitiveness and independence.

In detail, the new ¡Tierra! phase in Tanzania saw the involvement of 750 coffee-growers and their families, for a total of about 3,750 people. The work carried out benefited from the ongoing collaboration of international and local partners, including Kirua West Cooperative Union (KWCU), Kirua Children Association (KChA), Kilimanjaro Native Cooperative Union (KNCU), Tanzania Coffee Research Institute (TaCRI), Tanzania Coffee Board (TCB), and City Coffee Ltd.

The ¡Tierra! project in Tanzania is aimed at providing constant training to coffee-growers, guaranteeing the quality of their product and improving economic and social sustainability, thus enabling them to access the international market and, in the near future, also to sell their coffee independently and in a competitive way.

There's nothing more that I can add to that except thank you to Lavazza for doing this, and to encourage you to look for all Lavazza products where you shop. You can go here to find ¡TIERRA!, scroll down to the fifth row. Amazon.com also carries it through the same seller as the previous link.

Steve Mc Curry is an excellent photographer, and storyteller whose work is world-renowned. He's taken the journey with ¡TIERRA! since the start, and here are some of his photographs that Lavazza provided at the roundtable. Click on a thumbnail, and the gallery will open on separate page where you can click through all the images.

Next week, I will write about the participants in the roundtale, Daniel R. Katz, founder and board chair of Rainforest Alliance, Ana Paula Tavares, executive vice president of Rainforest Alliance, Carlo Petrini, founder and chairman of SlowFood, and Giuseppe Lavazza, vice president of Lavazza, and what was discussed.




¡TIERRA!, Lavazza's Responsible Choice, Part 1

screen shot photograph lavazza good karm good coffee

“I don’t want to be part of a world that destroys Nature’s treasures.” – Luigi Lavazza




 It was during a trip to South America in 1935 when Luigi Lavazza expressed his dismay at the destruction of whole batches of unsold coffee — an experience that left its mark on him, and changed his business vision.

Talk about a life changing experience. The above is from a Lavazza media kit I received at roundtable called Partners for Sustainability, Together for a Sustainable Future at Salone del Gusto Terra Madre 2012. The roundtable was a discussion between Daniel R. Katz, founder and board chair of Rainforest Alliance, Ana Paula Tavares, executive vice president of Rainforest Alliance, Carlo Petrini, founder and chairman of SlowFood, and Giuseppe Lavazza, vice president of Lavazza. From a Slow Food International's Press Release, the focus of the roundtable:

An examination of shared pathways and projects to guarantee sustainable development. A debate on the concrete ways of doing business, reconciling attention to products with protecting our resources, starting with the experience of the Rainforest Alliance, the international NGO that has been collaborating with Lavazza on the ¡Tierra! project for ten years.

It was a lively and informative discussion, and I learned a lot in 90 minutes. I was impressed by the choice of Lavazza to be socially responsible. It shows that there is a choice about a business is run, and sets a good example. Lavazza's choice provides a good contrast to the choice that some businesses are making here in America.

In America, the 2012 presidential election is over. Americans chose to reelect Barack Obama, and with that choice, they endorsed his health care law. Health care in America is a mess complicated by greed and politics. There are some business owners who have made it clear that because of this law requiring them to provide health care to workers who work 30 hours a week or more, will have their hours cut so the business won't have to provide them health care. This law applies to businesses with 50 or more employees, and goes in effect in 2014.

Considering the potential public health problem this creates, food handlers without health insurance, not to mention the lack of responsibility to the well being of the employees who help the business make money, and to consumers who drive these companies business, it a clear choice of greed over social responsibility. A business in and of itself can't make its own decisions or choices.  The business owner, or owners, make the choices that define a business its business practices. Lavazza's choice, sustainable development, along with collaborating  with an international NGO that protects the rainforest, and all its inhabitants while maintaining a successful business, is socially responsible. The restaurant chains choice of cutting hours to deny health care is greed.

Now, you might be wondering, how does this play into a blog about heirloom varieties of plants, the threat they face with extinction and storytelling. A major motivation for me is encouraging people who heirloom garden to look at their gardening, and the knowledge that goes with it as a family heirloom that passes  to future generations. Luigi Lavazza's family heirloom, his coffee business and his business vision, is good fit for the motivation mentioned above. His quote resonates deeply within me, and I'm quite impressed with the ¡TIERRA! project. It amplifies the core message in that quote, and it will demonstrate the clear difference in the choices, social responsibility verses greed.

Next week, in part two of this series, I will tell you about the ¡TIERRA! project, and share some wonderful photographs by Steve McCurry, provided by Lavazza Part three the following week will focus on the roundtable.


My Plan for Turin and Salone del Gusto

slow food international's turin logoI leave on Tuesday, and I'm excited and grateful. I'm scheduled to arrive in Turin, Italy,  Wednesday, at 10;30 a.m Turin time. Unfortunately, I won't get to the preopening press conference and subsequent events on Wednesday. My hotel reservation were wrong, I had to cancel it. The person making the reservation was confused. That person was me. I was fortunate to find a studio apartment about 3 miles away from the center of Turin. Check in there is at 2:00 p.m., and I'm sure I'll want to get acclimated after a long day of travel. Here's a taste of what's on offer for this week.  La Veneria Reale

My home for this four-day trip will be La Venaria Reale, a United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), world heritage site. A brief description;

The Reggia di Venaria Reale is an extravagant baroque Royal Palace used as a Savoy residence in the 17th to 18th centuries. Built in the mid-17th century, it's one of the most significant examples of baroque art and architecture in existence and is one of the most beautiful royal residences in Europe. Inside are many beautiful frescoes and original paintings.

My studio apartment is located on the perimeter of this complex. The gardens are vast, and I can't wait to stroll through them. The video below will give you sense of their scale.

Hopefully, I'll take a gondola ride on one of the ponds in the gardens here, and there's installation of Brian Eno's music that would be a unique experience. I've been a fan of his since his time with Roxy Music.

Salone del Gusto Terra Madre (SGTM)

It all starts with a taste.

By understanding where our food comes from, how it was produced and by whom, adults and children can learn how to combine pleasure and responsibility in daily choices and appreciate the cultural and social importance of food.

As you can see from that quote, Slow Food International is devoted to preservation of biodiversity, and to the education about why it's so important. To that end, take a look the work of their Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity, their education programs and their University of Gastronomic Sciences. That's an impressive commitment, and too much to try cover in one blog post. Once I get to SGTM, and participate in the demonstration of Slow Food International's commitment, I can provide real-time examples of what they do.

There will a large international Marketplace, where Terra Madre producers from around the world will have their products on display. There will be four plazas, three will feature Italian producers, one will feature international producers. There will be a tour for the press, but as I mentioned earlier, I won't be able to attend the pre-ceremony events. I have a tentative personal shopping experience set up, and I hope that does come through.

If not, there is so much being offered, that I'm not worried about filling my schedule.

Chocolate and Historical Caffes

Turin, chocolate and historical caffes in Italy are blended together in the official drink of the Piedmont region, the Bicern, which is a layered hot drink made with espresso, hot chocolate and whole milk;

The Caffè Al Bicerin has been serving the drink in Torino's Piazza della Consolata since the 18th century, and some authorities believe that the drink was invented there. Others believe that it originated around 1704 in the Caffè Fiorio which still stands on what is now Via Po.

The relationship between Turin and chocolate is honored with a yearly chocolate festival, chocolate tours, and a choco pass that is a tasting tour of some of the chocolate shops in the city.

There will be so much to see and do, and I welcome you along for the ride. I will updating the blog as much as I can. I anticipate they will be short bursts of information, with more comprehensive posts when I get back.

Licuri Palm Nuts – Woman Gathers and 90% of the Lear's Macaw Diet

slow food international's turin logoSo many stories, so little time. While reading through the information provided to me by Slow Food International's press office, I came across the the story of licuri palms. The palms produce a local, traditional food that's harvested by women gathers grouped together by a local cooperative, and the fruit is essential to the diet of two very beautiful birds, Lear’s macaw, which 90% of it's diet is from this tree, and the hyacinth macaw. Both birds are threatened by extinction due the habitat destruction of the licuri palm. I didn't know about the licuri palm until I read this article by Josenaide de Souza Alves, coordinator of the Brazilian Licuri Slow Food Presidium. (A Slow Food Presidium is a local project that focuses on preserving traditional foods and creating a viable program for local producers to stabilize production, establish stringent production procedures and promote local consumption.) From the linked article;

The imposing licuri palm is also called the solitary palm of the Brazilian caatinga, the characteristic biome of the northeast of the country, running from northern Minas Gerais to southern Pernambuco, through the states of Bahia, Sergipe and Alagoas. The palm was once an integral part of the landscape and its fruits a common food. Even O Tratado Descritivo do Brasil, published in 1587 by the Portuguese explorer Gabriel Soares de Sousa, contains a description of the flavor and quality of the licuri palm fruits.

That date, 1587, is significant. It establishes a baseline of knowledge about this tree in modern history. A lot of exploration of the new world was happening than, and while all of this was new to the Europeans, to the indigenous species of the region, these discoveries were centuries old.

As with any local food source, the licuri nut plays an integral role in the local economy. Here in the United States, a big push is on for people to get back to buying local. For many people in the world, as matter of necessity, it's always been the local economy  Traditionally, woman would gather the licuri nuts, and process them. Again from the article on the Salone del Gusto Terra Madre website;

In the Piemonte da Diamantina region, in the heart of the Bahian caatinga, the main harvest takes place between January and May. The bunches are cut using a knife or a scythe, collected in a typical basket made from woven lianas called a balaio and transported on the backs of mules or on women’s heads. The women both pick and process the fruit. Sitting at home or in the shade of a tree, they use a stone to break the shells of the small nuts.

The nuts are also part of the traditional Easter meal in the region. Since 2005, a cooperative, Coopes, groups 120 different woman gathers from 30 communities to harvest the nuts, and process them into products for sale.

As with most local food sources, the licuri nut is a food source for all inhabitants of the region, including the hyacinth macaw and Lear’s macaw. From the link;

An amazing 90% of the Lear’s macaw’s diet comes from the Licuri palm. There can therefore be no confusing the fact that the macaws are totally dependant on this palm and their conservation has to ensure the continuation of the Licuri into the future. Unfortunately however, as the human population in this region has expanded the number of small subsistence farms have increased, further reducing the available natural habitat. Perhaps an even greater concern is the grazing of cattle over large ranches. In many case land is cleared by fire and consequently many Licuri palms are lost. Efforts may be made to protect adult palms by the people clearing the land but this is only because their fruit bunches can be fed to cattle.

Think about that, what if your 90% of your diet was from one source and it was disappearing? Scary prospect I would say. As mentioned, the pressure on the licuri plam comes from land being cleared by fire. The fact that one species of life relies on the fruit of this tree for 90% of its diet, should raise the value of this tree above anymore land needed for cattle grazing.

This tree was described in 1587 by an explorer of the new world. The nut of this tree provides 9o% of the diet of the Lear's Macaw, and is traditional food of the people who live in this region of Brazil. It's part of their Easter meal, which to the people who are devout, and celebrate Easter, this holiday is most revered. It's demonstrates of the value of biodiversity, that being the dependence on one tree for one species of a bird.

Brazilian Licuri Slow Food Presidium is a great example of the role of a Slow Food Presidium. To the local populations, the licuri plam is staple in their lives and traditions, and essential to the survival of Lear's Macaw. To lose the palm and Lear's Macaw would be tragic. With a local Slow Food Presidium working to ensure the survival of the licuri palm, the chances are much better for survival, and to ensure that part of the inherent biodiversity of our planet doesn't disappear.

This is one example of the information that will be shared at Salone Del Gusso Terra Madre. Josenaide de Souza Alves, coordinator of the Brazilian Licuri Slow Food Presidium will be there. If I find him, and  some licuri nuts at the Marketplace, I'll be sure to let you know.

White Vinegar as a Weed Inhibitor

In my FB newsfeed recently, an item appeared about white vinegar being a weed killer. Intrigued by this, I looked further into it across the internets. There I found  a number of blog posts about how this works. So, here's another one.

Always on outlook for simple, sustainable and effective ways to work in the garden, and to live my life with the smallest foot print I can, I gave white vinegar a try.

It's NOT a weed killer, rather it's a detriment to the growth of the weed above ground, or any plant that the vinegar lands on. It's not selective, and some plants seem more effected by it than others.

I took some photos to share, but I can't find them. I've been using it for the past 3 weeks in my garden, so the initial impact of how effective it works is no longer evident. I'm impressed. I have 3 sides to my community garden plot that are not being used. The weeds are over grown, it impacts my plot. The vinegar works great ant inhibiting new growth along my fence. It's buying me time to get to these areas with paper and mulch as long term solution.

It does not kill the plant, but it singes the the foliage, and stops the plant from advancing in size. The plant will spend it's energy recovering and regrowing the existing foliage instead of advancing the growth further.

Adding some dish soap is more effective than not, and I found that Proxi brand dish soap works significantly better than Dawn. I had both in my house, so I tried both. The dish soap makes the vinegar sticky, and when spayed on the plant, it  stays on the foliage longer than just running off.

Get a spray bottle, and my ratio was 2 tbls. of soap to the 32 ounces in the spray bottle I use. That's it.

The ph in the vinegar has minimal impact on the soil, and in my opinion, in the home garden,or around the house, there is no need to use anything other than the standard 5% acid vinegar sold in supermarkets. I've seen people suggest using pickling vinegar, which has 9% acid, but unless you have it readily available, there is no need to go out of your way to acquire it.

There is a product called horticultural vinegar, and that has 25% acid. That will burn your skin, and it's not necessary for home gardening use in my opinion. Why risk injury to yourself when you don't have to?

Also, it's almost 10 times the price per gallon as the standard, 5% acid vinegar you buy in the supermarket. Keeping the Economy chapter from Walden by Thoreau in mind, the supermarket version is practical and effective.

This post gives you more detailed information about the research going on about vinegar as an organic herbicide. Just think, that hassle of the weeds growing between the cracks of the sidewalk can be taken care of with this simple, sustainable and effective solution.


Awe Inspiring, First Thoughts about the Forum

It's been a couple days since I returned from the Growing The Applachian Food Economy forum, and it's going to take me a while to process all the great information. I was in awe of what going on in Asheville, and the energy, passion and commitment to innovation I saw the event.. First thing, Asheville, North Carolina is a great place. They have been working on the local food economy for 20 years, and they should serve as a model for the rest of the country. It's not a perfect system, and they will be the first to acknolodwde that. They know their challenges, and they embrace them. They are constantly looking for innovation and collaboration. Mistakes and failures are looked at a lessons to share so they are not repeated. At the funder's panel luncheon, collaboration was noted as a key element in consideration for grants. The focus is on developing the community as whole, while encouraging entrenuers to start their businesses.

They have a Buy Local program that demonstrates the community's commitment to success. It's everywhere, and most noticible in the restaurants. The local farms are listed, and people know the local farms and the farmers, local breweries are noted, all 12 of them, and so are local bakeries. The downtown area has an independent art supply store, an independent hard craft supply store, a spice store, a chocolate store, a fresh potato chip store, numerous coffee houses and tea houses, Not to mention art galleries, and hand crafted artisan products such as a custom belt and sandal shop. And, a general store that's been around since to 1880s.

The demonstrated success of the 12 breweries is bringing a Sierra Nevada brewery to the area.

As I noted, this local food economy has been 20 years in the making. The forum was sponsored by the Appalachian Regional Commision.

The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) is a regional economic development agency that represents a partnership of federal, state, and local government. Established by an act of Congress in 1965, ARC is composed of the governors of the 13 Appalachian states and a federal co-chair, who is appointed by the president. Local participation is provided through multi-county local development districts.

What was very impressive to me was the infastructure and cooperation that's in place to support the local food economy. The North Carolina state goverment is also very proactive in supporting their farmers. Yes, there were complaints about burdensome goverment regulations at all levels, but from what I saw, there were advocates who worked the complaints as means to an end. That being a succesful outcome for the community.

The Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project, ASAP, is another example of  the support to the local farmer and community.

ASAP's Vison

Our vision is of strong farms, thriving local food economies, and healthy communities where farming is valued as central to our heritage and our future.

ASAP's Mission 

Our mission is to help local farms thrive, link farmers to markets and supporters, and build healthy communities through connections to local food.

This is a beloved organization. And, from talking to people, rightfully so.

Than there's Mountain Biz Works. They offer lending services, consulting services and training services.

A common theme that I heard through out the forum was that for too many years resources were extracted from Appalachia and that was it. Because of that, now there is deep commitment to use the assets that exist there in Asheville, and Appalachia. Their assets are the land and the people. They recognize that working the land, and caring for it, sustains the economy, and the people who rely on it. The know it builds a strong community, and allows a local-based economy to be realistic.

It starts with a commitment, and being open to new ideas. That's one of many points that I took away from this forum. The commitment started 20 years ago in Asheville, and an infrastructure is in place to support the innovation and vision they have to succed and sustain.

Next up, I'll highlight a business incubator and common use kitchen in the Asheville area, and a community kitchen in West Virginia supported by a family of Farms.

Road Trip – Growing the Appalachian Food Economy

For the second time in two years, I'm taking a trip to the Appalachian Region. Last year, it was the Johnson City, TN area for Mark Twain tomato plants. This year, it will slightly southeast to Asheville, NC for Growing the Appalachian Food Economy: A Forum on Local Food Systems and Sustainable Agriculture. It's a two day forum that offers me a lot of opportunity to expand my knowledge, meet people and to visit an area of the country that treasures it local food economy. If you take a look at the agenda, you will see what I think is a well-planned event. I've worked on enough business development seminars to appreciate the effort that goes into creating a thoughtful, diverse and informative event. Particularly, I like how they offer concurrent sessions and tours of local ventures. Knowledge and application, what more can one ask for from a forum? Along with finance people who offer their insight into how they see future investment in local food and sustainable agriculture ventures, this event offers a comprehensive experience.

Show me a topic such as Food Heritage and Culinary Arts as Economic Drivers, and I'm sold. While this session will focus on Appalachia, the concept of food heritage is universal, and to have the opportunity to see an application of it in economic terms offers tremendous potential for me.

Another topic that catches my interest is Models of Sustainability: The Role of the “Agripreneur” . This will focus on finding a niche market that is environmental sustainable and profitable. It's a winning combination.

And to wrap up the forum, tours are offered. You can choose from three tours. I chose the West of Asheville tour, specifically for the tour of Blue Ridge Food Ventures, a shared-use kitchen incubator and natural products manufacturing facility. Food heritage, models of niche markets and sustainability and a food incubator. A nice trinity for someone like me striving for an heirloom solution here at Vanishingfeast.com.

I'll be sure to share my experiences in Asheville, NC here. I will get there on 3.31.12.

Heirloom Information, Companion Planting

photo of borage Along with heirloom seeds, the knowledge about how to grow them has been passed down from generation to generation also. Organic gardening is what I do, and it's what I encourage you to do also. Take a cue from nature, nature is organic.

When you create an garden, you're creating an environment for life of more than plants. You're creating a source of life for various creatures that exist in nature too. This is good. It's what you want to do. It's healthy and sustainable. Achieving the right balance is a challenge, but it's possible with some planning based in solid information.

While there are some creatures that will be drawn to your garden that you don't want, rabbits, deer and woodchucks for example, the fact that they are drawn to something you create to sustain their life tells you that your doing something right.

You do want to attract beneficial, whether they are pollinators, birds, or frogs, companion planting is one way to achieve this. Your garden is a abundant source of life concentrated in small area. That's why companion planting is important.

Here are a few examples of  why you should companion plant.

  • The legendary Native American Three Sisters, consists of corn, vining beans and squash. The corn provides a pole for the vining beans to grow up, so no poles are needs. The squash with it's broad leaves provide shade to soil which helps retain moisture and discourages weeds, and the prickly nature of squash plants deters some pests. Additionally the nutrients from these plants compliment each other. When cooked together, they form a perfect protein.
  • By planting different varieties of plants together you lessen the risk of an infestation of predator bugs. If you have a concentration of one variety of vegetable in a small area, you're offering up a all you can eat buffet for some bugs. If you scatter plants around, it's more of a scarp here and there instead. Companion plant some marigolds with the scattered planting, which  have a scent that repels some pests, you have a scrap that smell rotten.With this type of companion planting you are creating a sustainable environment for vegetable plants and marigolds which attracts and sustains beneficial pollinators, and reducing the need for toxic chemical insecticides.
  • Companion plants can serve as traps crops also. If you know have a common pest in the area where you garden that your crops attract, you can plant a companion plants as trap for the pests. Plant a concentrated area of the companion plant as a trap for the pest. Given the choice between an concentrated area of food, and a scattered area mention above, bugs will likely choose the concentrated area. Once they are concentrated, the pests are easier to pick off because they are in a concentrated area.

There are many other benefits to companion planting, and I've added a Companion Planting page that has three links to more information, including a pdf that you can download excerpted from Companion Planting, a book from Rodale’s Successful Organic Gardening series.

Just as some plants do well planted together, some plants don't. You can go here for a good chart of what not to plant together. There are more benefits than there are drawbacks so most of the information out there reflect that.

The bottom line is nature knows best, and think about any walk in a meadow, or woods that you have taken. That's the best example of the power and benefit of companion planting. Created by nature to sustain itself, over generations of time. Learning from that is the best source of heirloom information.

Hopi Dye Sunflowers – Ancient Tradition, Modern Challenge

Hopi-dye I've written a lot about heirloom varieties of vegetables, but there are heirloom varieties of just about any plant. Take for example sunflowers. They have been around for a very long time. Some dates I have see put them back to 2600 b.c. While it's generally it's thought they originated in Central America, The Ancient Greeks have a myth about how the sunflower was created.

From Thomas Bullfinch;

Clytie was a water-nymph and in love with Apollo, who made her no return. So she pined away, sitting all day long upon the cold ground, with her unbound tresses streaming over her shoulders. Nine days she sat and tasted neither food nor drink, her own tears, and the chilly dew her only food. She gazed on the sun when he rose, and as he passed through his daily course to his setting; she saw no other object, her face turned constantly on him. At last, they say, her limbs rooted in the ground, her face became a flower,* which turns on its stem so as always to face the sun throughout its daily course; for it retains to that extent the feeling of the nymph from whom it sprang.

* The sunflower.

Sunflowers have been a staple with Native American nations for food, oil, and dye. They are credited with domesticating them in the Americas. The Hopi Dye Sunflower is a plant that I have known about for a very long time. I recall reading about them when I was young. I was fascinated by the concept that a dye could be made from something I snacked on. That thought got tucked away in my brain until this year while perusing sunflowers for my garden. I came across the Hopi Dye Sunflower and that thought popped out of hiding. I ordered the seeds.

The Hopi used it for dying yarn, baskets and face paint. The seeds will stain your fingers purple when harvesting them, and to extract the dye, boil the seeds. My fingers did get stained when I was harvesting the seed. I did extract they dye, the water in the pot turned black. I've read that you can extract dye from the stems and leaves which will be green. While researching this, I found out there's many plants and techniques that are used for creating dye. This presents another opportunity for those who wish to create a vegetable dye garden, and create a heirloom out that.

The plants are gorgeous. Sturdy, with deeper roots than the other sunflowers I grew this year. They are large plants but not overwhelming. There is one large central bloom, and multiple smaller blooms on the plants. The petals are nice rich yellow color, and the plants I grew, the center with the seeds were the dominant feature of the blooms. The seeds I planted were a rich, solid black with a sheen that looked they were varnished. The seeds I harvested did not have that full black color, but I also harvested them early since a hurricane was coming and I didn't want to lose the plants to the weather.

From reading some the information out there the Hopi Dye is a rare seed to come by. Sunflowers are so trendy now that there are more popular varieties that are more uniform and more appropriate as cut flowers. This trend is pushing the older varieties out.

As I have written before and will continue to write, one value of these heirloom varieties is the history and tradition with them. Take a minute and consider that a nation of people grew this plant for centuries. That is is not a trend, it's a a sustainable tradition.

Another value is you can't buy them at the market. You can only grow them. For those who don't garden that presents a challenge, to those folks I say this, think about the people in your life who do garden, ask them if they start their plants with seeds. If they do, consider these varities as gifts for them.

By doing so you can start a trend to sustain tradition.

If you love sunflowers and are looking for calender for 2012, check out Sunflowers a Go Go. The proceeds will benefit Vanishing Feast.

Saving Gravenstein

Being the open minded person that I am, I do understand that not everyone wants to play in the dirt and collect cucumber and potato beetles off their plants everyday. But to those of who garden, well we all know how awesome it is. There are many ways for people to get involved in saving heirloom varieties. I choose to garden, and focus my creative energy in growing the content that inspires me to create. Now that is truly awesome. I'm learning so much by doing the artistic study the plants I grow. So gardening is my choice. There are many other choices for those who want to do something but don't garden, I hope that sharing some of the stories that people are creating in their lives while saving heirlooms, will inspire you to add your voice to an ongoing story in your community.

Consider it a walk on role to start.

I love apples. Just as I love tomatoes and melons, apples to me feel intuitively exciting. I also love Sonoma County, CA. And, Sonoma County loves the Gravenstein Apple. The story of the saving the Gravenstein is a natural fit for the storyteller that I am.

From Slow Food Russian River's website:

In the 1970’s Sonoma County was the Gravenstein capital of the world: today there are fewer than 10 Sonoma farmers who still make a living selling apples.

The international Slow Food movement is committed to preserving biodiversity and regionally important foods. Working with farmers, processors, and local community leaders, Farmers Markets and chefs, and in collaboration with the California non profit Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF), the Russian River Slow Food chapter is helping to develop high-value marketing channels for the Gravenstein, and to increase awareness in the bay area and beyond of the value of buying and eating this local apple. We are actively working to safeguard the future of the apple and the livelihood on those who grow it.

Slow Food is a great organization. Their members are passionate, they are international, and they are local. I attribute what I'm doing now to the US Slow Food Ark of Taste. Check out local chapters, or start your own, if there's not one in your area. It's a great way to get involved if you don't want to, or can't garden.

A domestic progarm of Slow Food USA is the US Presidia. From the US Presida program page:

If unique, traditional and endangered food products can have an economic impact, they can be saved from extinction. This is the simple reasoning behind the Presidia; small projects to assist groups of artisan producers.

And from the US Presida's website here's a nice history of the Gravenstein, along with a list of growers. From the link:

The Gravenstein was introduced to South Jutland, Denmark, in 1669, which is where it gained its name. German migrants brought the apple to North America in 1790 and Russian fur traders planted the first West Coast Gravenstein orchards at their outpost in Fort Ross in 1820, where the trees survived despite inhospitable conditions such as intense winds and salt air. It is likely that cuttings from theses trees were used to start the orchards in Sebastopol.

Using Sebastopol as segway to another level of commitment to the Gravenstein,The Rotary Club of Sebastpool, CA has a weekly bulentin called The Appleknocker. Here is a pdf of The Bullentin from August, 28, 2009, Program: Saving the Gravenstein Apple. Scroll through the pdf to the third page. From the bullentin:

Tom Lambert introduced our speaker, Paula Shatkin from Slow Food Russian River. Tom informed us that of the 5,500 acres of Gravenstein apple orchards that existed in SonomaCounty in 1958, only 875 remain today, an 84% drop in 50 years.

That's quite dramatic. It's a nice read, especially about the 1,500 Gravenstein apple pies that are made every year in the same room where the meeting was taking place. It complements the history I linked to above. Sonoma County takes the heritage of Gravenstein apples seriously.

And there's the Gravenstein Apple Fair.

But what I want to leave you with are the words of someone who lives take great pride in living in Sonoma County. She's a dear friend, whose insight I admire a lot. Laura says:

Gravenstein apples are one of the best parts of fall in Sonoma County, Jeff. They are a greenish apple, often with a big blush of red, and have the a tangy perfume that colors the air, already sharpened by the coolish, early nights. There's something wistful about the Gravenstein, in both flavor and aroma. You know you're about to enter the dark days of the year, and the apple is one of the last things before the threshold. Their season is very short. When organic Gravs show up at the farmer's markets (and/or my friends who have trees tell me to show up with a box), I'm there in a heart-beat, gathering as much as I can. They are a delicious snack apple, and make great crisps and pies. Once upon a time I used to put up apple sauce too, but honestly, I'm happiest eating them for lunch and breakfast with a bit of cheese.

Why would anyone want to lose such a delightful aspect of their local community?