September Challenge: Save the tomatoes!

Why did we think it was a good idea to plant 10 plants or maybe 100 tomato plants?

Did we imagine ourselves surrounded by beautiful tomato salads or as Pablo Neruda put it in his poem Ode to Tomatoes:

the tomato

star of earth, recurrent
and fertile
star,
displays
its convolutions,
its canals,
its remarkable amplitude
and abundance,
no pit,
no husk,
no leaves or thorns,
the tomato offers
its gift
of fiery color
and cool completeness.

Delicious Crown Point tomatoes and fresh cheese with balsamic, from Hudson’s restaurant at our annual Taste of Earth gala fundraiser.

It is now late summer in Ohio, and we see red when the avalanche of fresh tomatoes arrives,  not just red, but also yellow, orange, green, and the color of the fading sunset.  Eating all those tomatoes while they are fresh is a challenge. This is the time when we put summer in a can.

Food preservation may be an art but the science of it teaches us how to do it safely.  It deals with the process of prevention of decay or spoilage of food, allowing it to be stored in good condition for later consumption. Preservation ensures that the quality, edibility and the nutritive value of the food remains intact and that it is not contaminated by pathogenic organisms or chemicals and does not lose optimum qualities of color, texture, flavor and nutritive value.

There are many methods to preserving the harvest, amongst them freezing, drying, vacuum packing, salting and pickling, canning, bottling, smoking, fermenting, using sugar, and even burying in the ground.  So let’s capture that tomato essence and put it in a jar.

Food preserving may be ancient but the internet is not, and in that virtual world you will find numerous sites that teach you the proper way of preserving tomatoes and other summer produce.

Here are some suggestions:

10 Ways to Preserve Food from Ancient to Modern 

The National Center for Food Preservation

OSU Extension Food Preservation Resources

Shared Meals and Social Change

Summer is a time to enjoy the perfume of freshly mowed grass, the song of crickets on hot muggy nights, the moon that rises and the rain that falls.  The heat of the summer also seems to bring out the worst in us, the riots and the hate.  This summer has been challenging. We are in a season of divisiveness, of confusion, of lies and half-truths.
Who do we believe?  Who do we like? Who are we?
If you’re feeling unsettled by these questions, I challenge you to let the beautiful summer days be a time to surround yourself with people who are different than you, not just in color, age and gender but also in ideology.  Food can be a means of social change, bringing people together in a way that few other things can do. During the month of August, find ways to gather with friends and also with “strangers” to share food and cook a meal of understanding.

 

A few weeks ago, we welcomed Local Abundance Kitchen to Crown Point, for the most beautiful outdoor cooking class in our outdoor kitchen. Iraqi asylee, Eman, cooked 3 traditional dishes on the cob oven and rocket burners. Guests had the opportunity to chop, stuff, knead and connect through cooking, before taking a brief farm tour and then sitting down to share delicious picnic meal. Participants in the class left with their stomachs and spirits filled, and we look forward to hosting more cross-cultural experiences like this in the future.

 

      

 

Sharing a meal is undoubtedly one of the best ways for us to all come together, so I encourage you to make time for this in your own life while the weather encourages us to be outside and social. Nature easily shares with us in this warm season. The fruits of our labor are ready to be plucked from the vine or yanked from the soil. When all is green and growing, seedlings are turning into flowers and food. These are the miracles of life, painted large across the land, revealing how we are all connected through the earth we depend on.  We are the painters of this canvas, let it be our goal to coexist in a dignified way, in harmony with nature and other human beings.

July Challenge: Watching our water usage

Water is the driver of nature. – Leonardo DaVinci

A sponge under a leaky faucet takes care of the annoying drippy noise. I do that. I have also plugged the sink and let it fill up with the drips, you know, to save water.   I will use that water for the house plants or to wash dishes. But really, this is just plain laziness and fixing the faucet would be a much better option and waste no water.

During our hot and sometimes dry month of July, let’s make water conservation the focus of our monthly sustainability challenge.

I was asked once, “Do you have water at your farm?”

“Two springs,” I answered.  “Then you are wealthy,” was the response.

This is really how we need to think of water, as a source of wealth.  In Ohio, we are lucky to have an abundance of fresh water. That does not give us permission to squander it, it gives us the responsibility to conserve it and keep it clean as it flows downstream all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.  Restoring the ecological health of rivers, watersheds, wetlands, floodplains, and aquifer is key to preserving our wealth and health.

Globally, about 70 percent of available fresh water is withdrawn for irrigation and other agricultural purposes. In places where water scarcity is a problem—about a third of the watersheds of the world—that percentage can grow to more than 90 percent. But there are ways to cut back water use without harming agricultural productivity, even in arid places. In the USA, most of the water is used not for irrigation (29%), but in the thermoelectric-power industry to cool electricity-generating equipment (40 to 50%).

In addition to fixing any leaky faucets, here are 10 more simple suggestions for how to conserve water in your home and garden:

  1. Use a rain barrel to collect water that can be used for your garden and plants.
  2. Turn off the faucet while brushing your teeth and washing your hands
  3. Keep a plastic dishpan in the sink, so rinse water doesn’t automatically go down the drain.
  4. Take shorter showers or decrease the number of showers you take. For most people, daily showers are not a health or hygiene-related necessity.
  5. Water your outdoor plants in the early morning. You can use less water before temperatures start to rise during the day causing evaporation.
  6. Use native plants and/or low water plants and succulents. Consider the amount of water and care that plants will need while planning your garden.
  7. Add mulch. A 2-3 inch layer of mulch helps your garden soil retain moisture.
  8. Reduce your lawn size. Adding patios (we love natural building techniques) and other non-grass spaces reduces the amount of water you need to maintain your yard.
  9. Recycle household water. If you use a dehumidifier, keep a 5 gallon becket nearby to dump the water in. You can reuse this water for plants, etc.
  10. Make your own compost. Not only does your leftover food waste help nourish your soil, it can also help retain water in sandy soil or improve drainage in clay soil.

What are your most creative ways to conserve water at home and in the garden?

Pollination: What’s all the buzz about?

It is National Pollinator Week!

We at Crown Point Ecology Center are committed to become a model of habitat management practices that help pollinator species thrive. With the help of students from Our Lady of the Elms, we have expanded our pollinator-friendly flower gardens and crops. Support from the USDA NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Programs) is helping us increase habitat for the Monarch butterfly with milkweed plantings and other pollinators with mixed cover crops and pollinator gardens.

Thank you to everyone who donated to our pollinator initiative during our plant sale. With your financial support we have purchased two bee-hives and equipment for our interns to learn bee-keeping. And did you visit the Mustard Seed Market and Café Project Pollinator event last weekend to pick up some milkweed seedlings like those pictured here?  We truly appreciate all the partnerships in our community that help support birds and bees. According to second-generation Mustard Seed owner, Gabe Nabors: “Experts say 1 in every 3 bites of food depends on bees. Let’s save them!”

The relationship between plants and pollinators is quite simple, animals get food and plants get pollinated.  The tiny hummingbird is small enough to hover while feeding and the rich sugar nectar it feeds on supports the high metabolism needed for the hovering.  Bird friendly plants have marketed themselves as pro-bird and anti-bee with brightly colored but unscented flowers. Bees on the other hand, go for the perfume but don’t see the colors that well.

Butterflies, unlike bees, can see the color red. The social butterfly problem turns out to be a good thing, their continual flitting from flower to flower more than make up for the quantity of pollen they carry. The pro-insect camp of flowers has developed adaptations to charge the insects for the nectar, small stigmas and stamens located on the interiors of the flowers, so that pollen can stick on the back of pollinators as they brush against the anthers. Many pollinators are very picky for certain flowers (Monarch butterfly)  and some will eat anything and everything .  Certain flowers only invite specific pollinators while others invite everybody.  Simple needs for food and reproduction create a complicated and interesting evolutionary love affair.

Pollination is one of the most important ecological services provided to agriculture.  Increasing the diversity of the habitat for pollinators is critical.  Diversified plant habitats promote diversified bird and insect populations that prevent one species from becoming overly dominant and a pest.  Honey bee populations have declined significantly over the last 5 years and so have native bees and other pollinator species. Management and protection of wild, suburban and urban habitats and their populations of pollen-vectoring animals and nectar-producing plants will benefit not just our wild and native plants but is essential for the production of food from our crops.

So, if you need to eat to stay alive, please become a pollinator advocate.

June Challenge: Be a part of nature

We are not observers of nature, we are participants.

This month’s sustainability challenge is an easy one since you have no choice: Be a part of nature.  The challenge is to reflect and understand what your role is and should be.

Have you ever heard of the secret Thorntown? You can still find the ruins of this lost town in a mysterious farmland in Ohio. Large flat rocks, an old farm gate, old scraps of lumber and small sprouts of multiflora rose can be found at the site.  At one point in time the invasive rose bushes reigned and covered much of the land, drinking from a tiny seasonal creek.

And then came the children.With their pruners and their shovels and their cartloads full of rocks, they created their own world.  Little by little they pruned tunnels out of the plants, and the tunnels led to mini houses pruned out of the bushes.  The children showed superhuman strength hauling 400 pound cartloads of rocks to create floors for their house.  They would disappear magically and quietly into the woods, not to be seen or heard for hours.

Those children were my daughters and their friends, fully engaged and being part of nature.  The children grew up and left and the bushes were taken over by a new community of plants. Thorntown is as full of life as it always was without the thorns or the children.   I have observed the rose bushes die, the poison ivy and mustard garlic come in, the black walnut and maple seedlings growing towards the sun and the elderberry bushes drinking the creek dry.  The tree frogs have joined the chorus and lightning bugs, like stars falling out of the sky, still light this secret little spot. A spot that is so simple and complicated at the same time. A little patch of nature that will forever bring me joy and memories of young girls.

I don’t recommend you prune yourself a little house in our parks, or pick the flowers, or take what belongs to all of us, but do go out into nature. Be observant, listen to the frogs, the birds, enjoy the quiet and the noise, savor the views, soak up the sun and the rain, get scratched up by the branches, and be fully immersed in its beauty.

If you are lucky to have a yard, explore your natural place, garden in it and create spaces and habitats for many creatures. Let (or make) your children go outside and be part of the natural world. They will surprise you with their creativity and strength.  Growing with love and understanding for nature is important because clean air, clean water and clean food depend on our interactions with nature.

This is just the kind of outdoor exploration that we have planned for our Summer Farm & Science campers who will begin visiting Crown Point next week.  Our energetic teachers have been busy preparing a wide range of adventures for children ages 7-11, including plenty of space in the day for independent discovery and imagination.

This will be Crown Point’s 24th season of Summer Farm & Science Camp, and this year we’re also carving out a unique opportunity for teens to explore the world of natural food and farming in northeast Ohio. Taste of Farming for Teens will provide high school age students with a chance to explore careers by visiting sites in our local and sustainable food system: small farms, a natural food grocery store, a local food processing facility, local chefs, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), urban gardens and scientists from the Ohio Agriculture Research & Development Center (OARDC).

Spaces are still available in both programs and you can register here:

Summer Farm & Science Camp

Taste of Farming for Teens