Friday, March 19, 2010

In Generalness: Week of 03/14/2010

The last week has been an awesome official end to Winter 2010. It's felt like Spring, hitting the 60's. Some krokuses are up next to the house. I've turned compost piles. I've checked my farm for wet spots. None found. Yay! I also did some gnarly weeding in my blueberry patch, a voracious running beast with clover like leaves. Yuck!

Over the weekend, I drove out to Slavic Village to a Small Fruits Workshop, presented by Joe Kovach and the OSU Extension. Raspberries, blueberries, strawberries and apples, plus a lasagna-style vegetable garden. The Cleveland Botanical Garden maintains the plot, and the neighbors look after it. I'm ordering 40 strawberry plants as a direct inspiration from this workshop.

My company, Green Urban Enterprises LLC, formally exists! The business cards are made and totally sweet! The design incorporates the "A Farm in Cleveland?!" logo, plus relevant contact info, plus a map. An artist friend, Stephe DK, did the artwork and layout, and I'd say we split the design duties; however, he might tell you otherwise.

In my opinion after reading all these organic ag books through the winter, the number two take home message after hoophouses is soil blockers. There's a few pictures above. Supposedly, in Euro nurseries throughout Europe, plants are sold as starts without containers in these soil blocks, entirely removing the need for plastic containers and the subsequent corner of the basement that they inevitably take up. Sounds like a dream come true to me.

So a couple of weeks back, I went on the world wide web and found me some soil blockers. This task was a little difficult because a lot places were sold out already "due to unprecedented demand." When the soil blockers came in the mail, I was immediately struck by their branding, stating "Made In England." Like how cool is that? When's the last time you bought ANYTHING from England besides tea, or maybe some ale, or one of those little cars?

Also, I just met today with the good peeps at the Beachland Ballroom to discuss the 1st Annual Cleveland Farm Aid Benefit show. It looks like it's gonna happen on a Sunday night most likely in May. Now I just need more bands, and perhaps some restaurant and CDC sponsors. The basic concept is that bands would represent either a community garden, for-profit market garden, or a farmer's market. The band would have an individual in one of these agricultural endeavors. Proceeds would go to a specific project at that particular community garden, market garden, or farmer's market. I plan to use Willie Nelson-inspired imagery for the flyer.

This Sunday, March 21st, it's Seedling Sunday at Casa de Hush.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Book Review #4: Mushroom Cultivator: A Practical Guide to Growing Mushrooms at Home by Paul Stamets and J. S. Chilton

It's been exactly a dozen years since I've first read Mushroom Cultivator. At the time, I was finishing my Botany degree at Miami. I was immersed in plant cell tissue culture,taking a scanning electron microscopy course, doing a little help at a Cinci shiitake farm, hunting morels in the spingtime, and reading other mushroom texts.

With all that being said, Mushroom Cultivator is not the masterpiece that I remember from my days of old. The terms "practical" and "home" don't actually seem to apply. The writing and general presentation of the book is choppy-choppy. This may be the result of two authors. Then, there's all the scientific jargon and the always reader popular latin names. Don't get me wrong, Mushroom Cultivator is full of awesome information and is an encyclopedia of growth parameters; however, it feels like a trip to the dentist office, extraction is just painful.

I know home is where the heart is; however for the purposes of literature, "home" needs to be defined to determine if this book may be "practical" to you. One defining question could be, in your town/village/city/hamlet/countryside oasis/suburb/farm, could you have a five foot tall by four foot deep and wide horse manure compost pile? If so, this book may be "practical" to you.

I use the compost pile as an example because after an exhaustive 30 page discourse on the details of hot composting a one ton pile of horse manure straw bedding, the authors switch gears to non-composted substrates. Immediately, the non-composted substrates seem more practical to the home grower and include simpler materials like straw and woodchips. However, this section is breezed through, which basically left the door open for Mr. Stamets next book (a classic marketing technique). And of course, I own the next book and will review it in a few months.

By the way, this author, here and now, being Justin Husher, wants to say that as much as I find Mushroom Cultivator frustrating, I find his next, next book, or maybe even his next, next, next book, Mycelium Running to be worthy of a Nobel prize. I, hereby, nominate Mr. Stamets for a Nobel. So, none of this criticism is meant as a knock against what-will-be-truly re/evolutionary work that Mr. Stamets has pioneered. It's a criticism of format and presentation.

Mushroom Cultivator is a bit difficult to digest. However, it is packed full of information. With a little teeth pulling, you could filter through your personally relevant parts. I think this book could almost be classified as a historical document. And thus should be on your shelf, at least as reference. If you're a total beginner in mushroom cultivation, then COMPLETELY skip the 100 pages of mushroom contamination because then you'll never be motivated to start. And starting is what it's all about.

At this point, it seems rather clear that the door is wide open for these mushroom hort techniques to be applied in the urban setting.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

"In the 1,000's of Feet"

As we're all about to witness the explosion of the urban food movement, I see the syntax and language morphing over time. Specifically, where I see change is in the concepts of acres. In general, most of us in urban foods have 1,000's of square feet, which is not quite the plural "acres" we always read about in even the most liberal of farm/ag/organic literature. My farm has 17,000 square feet, and it seems huge! My personal property is 0.09 acres, and I am considered to have a decent yard. Because of this, I think most city folk have no real concept of what an acre is or even looks like. I believe that my 17,000 could easily pass as an acre to most city folk though it's only a little more than a third.

As the explosion keeps blowing up, the urban ag info highway will evolve with it. Books. Youtubes. Webisodes. And what-nots. We will be speaking in the language of 1,000's of square feet like, "how many thousand square feet ya got," or,"I yielded so many pounds of tomatoes in two thousand feet." Don't get me wrong, I understand that there are acres available in our Rust Belt environs; however, an acre will not be the norm for the urban gardener. So let's keep good notes and even better Excel spreadsheets, and see what we can do with our thousands.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

E4S EVENT: Meet the Superstar Farmers of Northeast Ohio.

Last night, I had the pleasure of attending one of Cleveland's many local food events. However, this event felt like an ultra power-packed evening with several hundred people in attendance, including members of the press (myself excluded from that statement). Everybody was in attendance to celebrate the best of best and longest Northeast Ohio food producers.

The major players of Cleveland's Green Scene organized this occasion. Entrepreneurs for Sustainability and Local Food Cleveland (an awesome social-networking site for everything food and local and in Cleveland) put together the event, while Great Lakes Brewing Company hosted. The event being "Meeting the Superstar Farmers of Northeast Ohio," turned out to be an introduction to eight separate farmers with mostly different wares and experiences, coming from as close as within the city of Cleveland (Blue Pike Farm), or as far as about 60 miles out from Cleveland.

I will basically report who or what stood out from the information smorgasbord. One thing I noticed in terms of standing out is that it is highly correlated with having product samples, though as you will see through examples coming up not perfectly correlated.

That being said, Abbe Turner and her Lucky Penny Farm, whose whimsical business card states "CEO, Cheesemaker, Entrepreneur, Optimist," really stood out. Obviously, Ms. Turner is all about the cheesemaking. With her own crew of goats, she makes a feta and a classic, scrumptious soft goat cheese. Her presentation was simple with ice cream-styled sample spoons made for dipping right into the cheeses, no cracker to adulterate the product.

Ms. Turner can now also substitute "cheesemaker" on her business card to "caramelmaker." Her goat milk caramel can be described in modern terms as "OMG!" OMG is right. This caramel was like none other, never have I had a caramel richer and smoother in texture with a color like some kind of gold-radiating, light mocha. The caramel was perfectly amorphous and runny, but thick enough that one twirl of the spoon was enough to contain the glob of wholesome goodness. I want to go out and help on Lucky Penny Farm.

Miller Livestock Company, Inc. also really stood out due to their subversive marketing ploy of sampling their grass-fed and pastured tri-tip. I've all but given up beef because of the lack of options like Miller Livestock. I like their grassroots selling style. Basically, their customers buy direct in some form or another.

Jeff Brunty and his Brunty Farms stood out just for sheer enthusiasm and what seemed like amazingly youthful energy. I'm not sure how old Mr. Brunty is, but his age seemed generations apart from the other Superstars. However, his wisdom did not follow this age gap. Chickens and turkeys are his specialty, but Brunty may be making the jump to beef or pork soon. Farming on 17 acres in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park with his girlfriend, Brunty is part of the new school and is totally refreshing. I'd feel comfortable calling him "dude," especially since he forgot, like, all of his business cards. He left me with this sage-like advice, "you can just google Brunty Farm." El dude-a-rino, for sure.

Carl Skalak and his Blue Pike Farm left an impression not because of delicious samples, but rather because of Mr. Skalak's presentation style that seemed to chide and mock the event. He sometimes brought the crowd to an uncomfortable laugh (myself included). Perhaps, he's the Andrew Dice Clay of Cleveland Urban Farming. Aesthetically, I like his concepts, especially regarding open pollinated heirlooms, but his 500 acre-soy-farmer-about-to-lose-the-farm vibe sort of trumped his aesthetics to me personally. Does anybody know where to get this Polish Cleveland tomato that he was talking about? Or the name?

Lastly, a general theme of the event kept echoing throughout the night. That theme being, do the urban/small/micro farm thing only if you generally love the work and lifestyle, as it is not a get rich quick scheme, or even a guarantor of wealth.

Sorry no pictures this time, but you can eventually check out the whole event here:

Otherwise, you can probably just google any of the names, organizations, or companies mentioned in the article. Go Cavs!