This Year’s Harvest: Benvenuta Piccolina Leona

This June we welcome the newest and most important member of our HOGS family: Leona Lark Licopoli. For the months before she arrived, we noted to all who asked, that she was due in the midst of our busiest season, right around June 1. We laughed about harvesting during planting and worked to get what we could done before our lives would change dramatically.

In the weeks leading up to Leona’s arrival, Dylan worked hard at the community garden to get all that he could into the ground. Spring was quite late and cold this year, and planting schedules across Long Island were pushed back. As as we got closer to the due date, Jesse came down to plant seeds and work on her squatting. Our baby would be here any day...any day.... any day. As it was, Leona took her time and allowed even more to be put in the ground.

On June 16, she joined us and melted our hearts.

Not surprisingly, this summer, there were far more weeds in the garden plots, the basil went to seed before we made our yearly supply of pesto, the flowers wilted, and many of our beans got tough on the vine. Jesse has barely made it down, keeping Leona, for the time being, out of this summer’s heat wave and at a remove from the mosquitos. Dylan did the best he could, bringing home boxes of vegetables and making sauce in the heat. Still so, the pressure-canner we received last year for Christmas still sits in the box in the basement and some of our vegetables never made it through to be processed. We did though, make sure to eat a beautiful dinner home each night with Leona in our arms. We slept well and were rested, able to give her all the attention and comfort she deserves. This first summer has been a magical one. 

IMG_5591.JPG

In the garden,  we weren’t as productive this year. But as gardeners, we grew. The arrival of a baby is its own force of nature --  a beacon of new relation and possibility. New balance needs to be found and identities necessarily transform. Ultimately, productivity exists in relation to flexibility and adaptability. The power of gardening lies beyond the work in the earth, but extends as a metaphor to our relationships. We get out what we put in—and care is the essential virtue. When we think about the health of our baby, we also think about the health of our place. Our work today extends into her future, and the future of other babies like her. Leona will witness a century of continued environmental change and awareness.  We hope it will be one that nurtures community and compassion -- and continues to nourish a healthy relation to the earth. We hope her life is full of wonder. And so, this first photograph of her with a harvest is a special one. May our little one continued to be surrounded by abundance, generosity, and of course, tomatoes.

Many thanks to our lovely community for your support and kindness these past months. We feel very fortunate to be surrounded by gardeners of all kinds. 

 

To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.           

                                                                                                    -Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

HOGS in Winter: On Collaboration and the Creation of Local Ecologies

For years, we have been hoping for local/seasonal food options in our beloved Northport. It is an essential part of village life that we walk into town to exercise our community membership, support our local businesses, enjoy the beauty and history of our town, and share in a meal. Often though, we are saddened to see the same choices on menus day in and day out.  And while in places like the Hudson Valley, Vermont, Maine, the Adirondacks, California, Colorado, and in fact much of the rest of the world, local/seasonal choices are more common than not, here in central Long Island, many are still awaiting such options.

The benefits of local/seasonal food are abundant. Not only do farm-to-table restaurants provide healthy and delicious dinging options, but they also help strengthen local economies. They require less energy in-put, in the form of fossil fuels (refrigerated trucks driving across the country, fleets of giant diesel machines to run large scale factory farms, etc.) as well as reducing the need for preservatives and packaging. And perhaps what is most important, are the ways in which eating locally grown food can help to shift attitudes toward how we eat, what we eat, and when we eat it. It is pretty simple ecology. Locally grown food, as a matter of course, teaches us about the diversity of our places and what those places naturally have to offer. In this sense, farm-to-table restaurants educate as much as they satiate.

And so, Dylan started talking to some restaurant owners in Northport, to see if any of them would be interested in integrating some seasonal/local choices onto their menus. It is a tough sell. The economic realities of small businesses, which must compete with large corporate chains and interests, dictate that if, somehow, they are able to squeak out a living, they are reluctant to change anything that may upset their carefully balanced business formulas. Lucky for us, Danyell, owner and chef at Campari Ristorante (soon to be renamed Danyell’s Kitchen) was interested in the idea. Dylan had also been in conversation with Toby Tobias, a local musician and music producer, who was interested in creating an original, world music venue, where people could enjoy a libation and bite to eat. For the past couple months, Dylan, Danyell, and Toby have been in conversation, sharing their ecological, culinary, and artistic visions, in order to create “The Sweet Spot at Cucina ‘D’,” (http://sweetspotvenue.com), which represents the coming together of some passionate and creative people who are also deeply invested in nurturing community spirit and resilience here in Northport.

Dylan, Danyell, and Toby (photo credit: Maggy Kilroy) 

Dylan, Danyell, and Toby (photo credit: Maggy Kilroy) 

The first celerbration will be on Feburary 21st. Gregory Greene, a celtic-inspired musician. Danyell’s menu choices that night will correspond. Winter in NY is a good time for root vegetables: potato, carrot, beet, parsnip, garlic, onion, and proteins such as fish and lamb. And we can look forward to the full array of greens and early season veggies such as escarole, cauliflower, broccoli, kale, and rabe as we move towards the spring.

Danyell and Dylan are currently in dialogue with local farmers, such as Makinajian Farm, and food suppliers, such as Baldor's, and as we move closer to springtime, more and more choices on the menu will be locally and sustainably sourced.  The cooperative efforts extend further through offerings of Blind Bat Brewary’s wonderful beer, which is brewed locally here in Suffolk County (many ingredients locally sourced and purchased through a grassroots Co-op effort in Centerport), delicious, homemade, desserts lovingly prepared by Rosemary of Caffe Portofino, and a selection of unique teas and tisanes provided by Melissa of The Clipper Ship Tea Company. Additonal relationships are in the works to offer some of Long Island’s local wine as well. Rather than a revolution happening over night, the transformation at Campari (Danyell’s Kitchen) is an ongoing process, experiment, dialogue, and collaboration between friends, neighbors, and like-minded folks. And the more people that participate, the stronger that process becomes.

Often we think of ecology as being something to do with the natural world, but the word itself ultimately suggests the condition of interrelation; ecologies are found not just between members of an eco-system, but also between members of a community, as well as between people and their places.  And so, when you buy a ticket to one of these upcoming events at The Sweet Spot at Cucina ‘D’, you’re doing more than just enjoying some great food and music with friends; you are actively supporting an ongoing collaborative process of manifesting hopes and ideals into practical solutions and transformations. Indeed, by dining with us at Danyell's Kitchen, you’re helping to strengthen a resilient ecology here on Long Island.

 

 

Nitrogen-Fixing, Biochar, & Compost Tea – Hallelujah!

This season, we implemented some new (well, actually these processes are quite old) permaculture techniques to our gardens here on Long Island. First off, in several gardens, we planted nitrogen-fixing cover crops. Nitrogen fixing plants (usually legumes, but also alphafa, clover, etc.) help re-build the soil, and the first rule of gardening is that healthy plants have everything to do with healthy soil. The cover crop helps “fix” nitrogen from the atmosphere into the legume plants. Then, we turn back that cover crop into the soil, amending the soil with the nitrogen-rich material. Instead of chemical fertilizers, which easily run-off and have adverse effects on the larger ecosystem, planting a nitrogen-fixing cover crop is low-impact, low-cost, and highly effective. 

nitrogen-fixing ...

nitrogen-fixing ...

At Punta Mona, Stephen and Itai taught us about the wonders of biochar (and Stephen recommends one enthusiastically says, “hallelujah!” every time we say the word to celebrate its wonders). Biochar (hallejuah!) is organic material that has been pyrolyszed, or has been burned with restricted oxygen. In other words, it’s organic material that’s reduced to un-burnt carbon form. These forms become homes for micro-organisms and help enrich soil structure, biodiversity, and food production. It is believed that Pre-Columbia Amazonians used biochar to sustain their civilizations for thousands of years. 

biochar (hallelujah!) 

biochar (hallelujah!) 

And finally….compost tea. Compost tea is another highly effective, organic, and sustainable way to fertilize. We took a burlap sack and filled it with our finest compost. Then, just like a tea-bag, we placed the compost into a took a fifty-gallon barrel and let it steep. With this round, we followed Itai’s advice to “super-charge” our biochar (hallelujah!) with the compost tea by soaking the pieces in the tea. 

Sometimes it can be challenging to ascertain precisely why a garden does well in a particular year, due to an array of interconnected variables. This year we had a dry "California" summer in New York, and many of the vegetables thrived. However, we also suspect that they did so well because of the time put in at the beginning of the season with the cover crops, biochar, and compost tea. As we begin to move into fall, it's a good time to start thinking about next season and planting a cover crop to keep the nutrients flowing this winter -- remembering that there is nothing more important than doing what we can to help create healthy soil. 

August: The Flowering, the Fading, The Coming Fall

August is one of the most exciting times of the gardener’s year. The beautiful nightshades are abundant—tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants—and demand both appetite and attention. When the tomatoes start come, it’s always a bit bewildering. We wait all year for them, and then they arrive with flavor, force, and fire. It’s time for sandwiches and saucing, for dinner parties, for canning salsa and roasting them with peppers. 

But the gardener’s mind navigates both present and future; her attention is to both the fading of some plants and the flowering of others. In our garden, the cucumbers have just about died back and we’ve pulled them in order to create some space for fall plantings. It’s time to start seeding the some late crops, and we are anticipating a bountiful autumn of hearty greens. Even though we are in the peak of our summer bounty, we are looking ahead to arugula, lettuces, spinach, kale, swiss chard, escarole – and more carrots and radishes. Come fall, we are planning on planting just about a thousand (really, literally) garlic cloves that we’ll be able to harvest next summer. There is still much work (and food) ahead.

It’s always a bit sad seeing the tomatoes dwindle and cutting off the last eggplant has its own sense of bittersweet finality. But it is also fascinating to think about how, as the season changes, our bodies will crave new foods and happily eat what is abundant and ready. True organic gardening is more than not using chemicals; it is an ongoing process through which we learn about how each season can nourish us. As Masonobu Fukuoka, one of our favorite agro-ecologist-philosophers writes, “It is not surprising that summer vegetables grown in the autumn or winter have none of the flavor and fragrance of those grown beneath the sun by organic and natural methods.” The old wisdom reminds us to enjoy each thing in its season, and to know there’s always new abundance ahead. 

 

Sweet Basil & The Passion of Pesto

IMG_3981.jpg

 Different regions in Italy have their specialties. Emilia-Romanga boasts its Parmigiano Reggiano and Balamic Vinegar, Tuscany is proud of its prosciutto and pecorinos, while Lazio is the place to go for a classic Pizza Margherita with Buffalo Mozzarella. Liguria is most famous for its pesto and while we were vacationing there recently, we ate it on just about everything—bruschetta, gnocchi, fresh pasta, pizza, and potatoes. Lucky for us, we also were able to experience a cultural celebration of this beloved sauce—as we caught the “Festival dal Basilico” in Corngilia, one of the small Cinque Terre Villages. We were in Corniglia for eight nights and were delighted to see neighborhood the flower pots and planters were filled with tender Genovese basil. As it got closer to the weekend celebration, more and more basil appeared, planted in some wonderfully creative ways.

 

The festival culminated with a pesto making contest. Volunteers were selected from the audience, given an apron, ingredients, and instructions through the process. There were even some kids up there, starting young and keeping up with the seasoned nonne.  

Like most good Italian cooking, the power and beauty of pesto lies in the simplicity and freshness of ingredients. Just as the basil is flooding the garden, it’s also time to harvest the aglio (garlic) planted last fall. Complementing the basil, traditional pesto calls for some local oglio (olive oil) and pecorino and parmigiano cheese, and a little sale (salt). And of course, pignoli (pine nuts), a native Mediterranean species, packed with protein and offering a sweet buttery flavor. Traditionally, pesto is made with a mortar and pestle, allowing the ingredients to be slowly released in order to maintain the delicate flavors. The word pesto comes from the Italian verb, pestare, which means to ground or pound, and a perfect pesto is truly an art.  

IMG_3981.jpg

 Lucky for us, we came home to our garden full of basil. And just like in Liguria, we’re eating it bit by bit every day. Here’s a classic recipe that’s fun to try.

1 pinch coarse salt

60 small or 30 large fresh basil leaves, wiped, stems and spines removed

1 large or 2 small cloves garlic, peeled, any green shoots removed

3 tablespoons pine nuts

2 tablespoons finely grated Pecorino Romano

2 tablespoons finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

             3 tablespoons Ligurian extra virgin olive oil

 Place the sea salt and a few of the basil leaves in a mortar.  Using a pestle, press and lightly pound the leaves and salt against the coarse bowl of the mortar, in a rotary motion, breaking the leaves apart. Keep adding a few more leaves and grinding them until you’ve used them all. 

 Once all the leaves have been added, and before they’ve been completely pulverized, add the garlic and pound it until it releases its juices. Add the pignoli and pound them into a paste. Move the pestle around the mortar to combine the ingredients. 

Stir in the Pecorino and Parmigiano-Reggiano, then gradually add olive oil, stirring it into the paste (a spoon can be used for these steps, if you prefer). You should have a thick, creamy, homogenous, bright green sauce.

And finally, be sure to share some with friends. 

Italia Sostiene.....Sustainability Italian Style

IMG_3697.jpg

For us here at HOGS, vacation means an opportunity to take some space from our regular routines and daily rhythms. We totally unplug, leaving phones and computers at home—and like to spend time in places rich in both culture and agriculture. More than just the big beautiful sites and museums, we like to sit in cafes, explore grocery stores, wander through markets, go hiking, and talk to as many people as possible.

 While Italy’s agricultural practices have long been a part of our hearts, more recently we have been appreciating connections to permaculture. In his book Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability, David Holmgren mentions Italy on several occasions. When his son, Oliver Holmgren, went abroad to gain experience in sustainable agriculture as a teenager, his destination was Italy.

If sustainability implies both natural and cultural endurance, Italy is certainly an incredible example. And because we believe that the future health of the planet really depends upon the vitality of small farms, Italy's centuries long tradition of small, local farming is fascinating for an array of reasons.  We spend our vacation time with open eyes, eager to observe and learn. We love looking at trellises, terraces, fruit trees, and garden designs. Check out these gorgeous terraces used to grow grapes on the steep Cinque Terre hills: 

IMG_3681.JPG

Permaculture also reaches beyond farms and into economics and commerce. One of our favorite Italian pastimes is exploring the small grocery markets. No trip to Italy is complete without a visit to the local COOP – the Italian Consumers’ Cooperative. The first COOP was established in Turin in 1854 – and they continue to grow and structure the distribution of food in Italy. COOPs are intelligent places. Their line of products use environmentally responsible packaging and they carry their own line of highly affordable organic products. COOPs don’t give out plastic bags and you bag own groceries. The stores are usually simple and are not flooded with advertisements. If you want to use a shopping cart, you need to put in a coin deposit and return the cart to get it back. Prices are great, the products are local, and the quality is always high. We recently learned that Italy has more co-ops per capita than any other country in the world. This is a small COOP in Riomaggiore: 

IMG_3743.JPG

We also came across a brilliant little shop Sarzana called La Bottega Sotto Casa, which is taking on an important experiment in sustainable packaging. This store has all bulk products—everything from herbs to coffee to beer to cereals to laundry detergent and dish soaps. Just bring back one bottle, jar, or bag and have them fill it with the amount you want. Recycling is great, but requires energy input, reuse only requires mindfulness...

IMG_3919.JPG

 This is how they describe themselves: dagli imballaggi di plasticada confezioni ingombrantida scarti inutilida costi per il contenitore, per la marcada rifiuti, montagne di rifiutida ogm, pesticidida quantità  eccedenti il bisogno realeda scadenzeda chilometri di trasporto su gommada filiere lunghe, da intermediari.

 In English: Free from plastic packaging, 
from bulky packaging,  
from unnecessary waste, costs for the container, mountains of waste 
from GMOs, pesticides in excess of the actual need, free fromdeadlinesby miles of road transport 
and by long chains, as well as by intermediaries.

WOW! Check out their website here: http://www.labottegasottocasa.it

Thank you Italy once again for providing some positive examples of permaculture in action.

 


Permaculture, School-Yards, and Mindfulness...


IMG_2866.JPG

We recently returned from Punta Mona, Costa Rica, where we completed a 72-hour Certification in Permaculture Design. Part of our certification required a collaborative group project, and so we teamed up with some great minds to develop a design plan for installing and maintaining elementary school gardens through permaculture principles. Part of the fun and challenge of our project concerned taking systems-based thinking that is usually applied to physical landscapes, and overlaying it on to a social landscape. In our case, the social landscape was a public school system. Each school system will be different, but identifying limiting factors, establishing procedures for site analysis, and developing timelines, are all important and necessary to any permaculture project.

Installing a garden at a school is full of challenges. There are many policy, safety, logistical, financial, motivational and educational needs which must be met. Our friend Ryan has installed a raised bed at the high school where he teaches. He says it is difficult to organize multiple class participation in the garden, and very difficult to maintain it over the summer. We are trying to learn from Ryan's experience. Over and over again, the same question keeps surfacing: How can a school garden, practically and theoretically, integrate with the education system and foster community development.

While our group in Punta Mona came to the table with different geographic locations for school gardens in mind, we all agreed on the importance of the language of mindfulness in framing our proposal. As our colleague Andrew articulated, “mindfulness is the ability to be aware of one’s self and one’s surroundings, as well as how these two things affect each other.” Mindfulness reminds us that what matters most is the process, and the willingness of people to think in terms of process-orientation, whole-systems, and vastly enlarged time scales. Institutional evolution takes time, patience, and fortitude. It involves team-work and building community day by day. Permaculture teaches us to engage in a virtuous process, the products of which will heal and nourish across generations. Community involvement is life work.

We are incredibly grateful for our new friends Hillery, Caitlin, Hanna, Andrew, Dan, and Kevin (as well as Stephen, Sarah, Itai and all the other amazing Puntamonians) and their passionate commitment to a thriving, regenerative future. 

IMG_2868.JPG