Monday, August 31, 2009

Supergrains harvest time go!!!

Over at the Botanical Gardens "secret" garden site, we are harvesting the quinoa we started from seed in May. No one on the Cultivating Community team has experience with harvesting quinoa so we delved the internet for answers. When the quinoa plant leaves are dried and the plant itself looks dead the quinoa should be ready. The seeds are mature when you can no longer make an indent on the kernels with your fingernail.

The quinoa stalk in the above photo is ready to harvest. In fact, we were late on collecting the seed because many of them started to germinate while on the plant!

We collected the seed by rubbing up the stalk and angling the seed head into a bowl we used to store the quinoa. The collection process left us with a bowl full of quinoa seed and the dried "chaff". We used a technique called wind winnowing to remove some of the "chaff" from the quinoa. Wind winnowing is a simple method of grain processing that has been used for thousands of years.

Many cultures developed simple contraptions to accomplish winnowing. We are substantially lower tech at this garden plot, so we simply would wait for a light breeze and take handfuls of the mixture and drop it back into the bowl. The wind would blow away the unwanted plant parts because they were so light while the seeds fell right back into the container. We also did this for amaranth seed. A photo of those plants can be seen below.

Both of these grains have their roots in the Andean region of South America. The Incans cultivated these plants to fuel their empire. After the Conquest several indigenous groups kept the strains alive despite Spanish government prohibitions. The Rodale Institute considers them "supergrains" because of their high protein, fiber, and iron content. Quinoa contains all twenty essential amino acids for human nutrition. North Americans grew Amaranth for years, mainly for its asethetic appeal, but now it is gaining popularity as a food crop. There are detailed Wikipedia articles on both plants if you want to know more about these wonder foods.


Hope everyone is ready for school to begin! Be sure to check out the Cultivating Community table at Festifall and at Northfest!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

We have worms!

Two weeks ago the Cultivating Community team recieved a package containing a wrigging mass of worms. We ordered four pounds of red wigglers (Eisenia fetida) from Flowerfield Enterprises which is based out of Kalamazoo. The worm woman, Mary Appelhof founded the business to further educate and provide people with the means to start vermicomposting for themselves. She wrote Worms Eat My Garbage a comprehensive how to guide for people desiring to start "worm wrangling". We use her book as a reference guide on the handling and housing requirements for the worms. We followed her bin specifications to handle the scraps of a single person as well as a small group of individuals. The smallest bin volumes were reserved for those that lived on their own while the larger bins were for two to three people, maybe more if the group did not produce that much food scraps that the worms could eat. We made up containers and divided up the worms by weight into the bins that we then gave away at the vermicomposting workshop we held last Wednesday. The bed preparation went as follows:

We used shredded computer paper for the worm bedding and lined the bottom of the bins with it. Other materials that can be used for the bedding are newspaper, leaf mold, animal manures, coconut fibers, woodchips, and peat moss. We picked computer paper because it was already shredded and in amble supply in the Garden's recycling baskets. The bedding functions to hold moisture, and provide a medium for the worms to move and eat.

We then added small rocks and sand to each bin to give the worms "grit". Worms do not have teeth and because of this they need a hard and fine material to use in their gizzard to break down food so it is digestable. We put finished compost into the bins to increase the bedding volume and to inoculate the containers with the microbial community found in the soil. The worms work in tandem with other organisms in the soil to decompose food scraps.

Many came for the workshop, and took bins for themselves. If you are interested in starting your own worm bin or have a bin, but lack experience Worms Eat My Garbage is a fantastic reference. Be sure to visit Appelhof's website here for tips and as a source to order your own crawly critters.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Jam making: berries not beats

Last week Wednesday the Cultivating Community team and students made jam! We hosted a jam making workshop to instruct participants on one of the more famous methods of food preservation. Everyone brought fruit to jam. Because time and equipment was limited, one jam including all of the fruits was made. The fruits used to make this "monster" jam were: plums, grapes, raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries. They mashed the fruits until it was a thick paste.

And then put all of the mashed fruit into a large pot and cooked the fruit using a gas stove.

The jamming group poured the fully cooked jam into several sterilized Ball jars. They then placed the jammed jars into a rolling boil water bath for about ten minutes to seal the jars from the outside air. Dana removed the jars from the water bath using tongs.

The jam making team left the jars at the Trotter Multicultural Center overnight to cool. The Cultivating Community team and the other participants picked up their share of the jam the following day. I recently tried the jam and it is one of the best jams I have tasted...ever. So myself and the rest of the Cultivating Community team encourage you all to experiment with canning, and jamming!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Detroit Urban Ag Tour: Farming in the D!

Last Wednesday night the other interns, myself, and a CC member went on the Detroit Urban Agriculture Tour. The tour had three separate buses going to different parts of Detroit (east side, central, and west side) as well as two bike tours. Our group went on the east side bus tour which visited Earthworks Urban Farm, Farnsworth street neighborhood, Peacemakers Ministries, and Georgia Street community gardens.
The full history and origins of Earthworks Urban Farm can be read here. The farm looked amazing with native wildflowers interspersed with massive eggplants, beans, and tomatoes. The Farm has youth outreach programs that teach entrepenuership, and healthy eating so there were many young volunteers explaining different parts of the farm to us as we moved through. There was a hoophouse on the property showcasing one of the main methods for farms in Michigan to have a longer growing season. This farm used to be a vacant lot of open grass, but now feeds the soup kitchen patrons as well as supplies the Gleaner's Food Bank with fresh produce. There are several other initiatives around Detroit that are doing similar things to combat poverty and hunger within the city.

The next point of interest we saw was the Farnsworth neighborhood. We drove by many quaint houses that were teeming with plant life, both ornamental and edible. The neighborhood is home to Paul Weertz, the science teacher at Catherine Fergueson Academy that founded the farm program at the school. Himself and others in his immediate community fully embrace the joys of gardening as evidenced by what we witnessed.

The next stop was at Peacemakers Ministries International which is a non-profit that offers transitional housing, and food organizers grow in adjacent lots, for people suffering from substance abuse. This visit was especially intriguing because one of the garden spaces is in an old abandoned building that no longer has a roof. Within the building, there is a chicken coop and several raised beds that have flowers and vegetables.

The final stop on the tour before the reception was the Georgia Street Community Collective. This organization is right in the middle of the community it serves with its garden in close proxmity to a great number of houses. They are also starting an orchard on an adjacent lot to the garden. I especially admired the garden because it had a great deal of artwork in the signage which is great to see because gardens are spectacular community art spaces.

The tour reception was held at Catherine Fergueson Academy, where the tour organizers, local chefs, and volunteers provided a taste of Detroit's harvest with small samplings of various dishes made from Detroit grown produce. After the meal we explored Catherine Fergueson's fields, which were filled with vegetables, fruit trees, bee hives, goats, rabbits, ducks, geese, and a horse!

Overall I really enjoyed the tour and it was exciting to see all the dynamic things that are happening in this post-industrial city. The blending of urban and rural elements within the city helps to establish a greater ecological balance because Detroit is not currently experiencing pressures to develop land, but instead has vacant land that can be farmed which produces a harvest that is every more closely approaching food self-sufficiency.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Mini herb gardens!

On July 15th, the Cultivating Community team hosted a mini herb garden workshop outside the Ginsberg Center. We provided the containers, seeds, soil, and water. First step in the workshop was the punching of drain holes into the window box containers. Then we filled the containers with organic potting soil and each participant chose which seeds and/or plants to put into their herb gardens. The herb seeds we had to offer were chives, lavendar, basil, oregano, thyme, and mint. Also we brought some cilantro plants to offer as transplants. Herb plants do not take up that much space, therefore many plants could fit into one container. So everyone selected and planted their plants, watered their container, and carried it home to watch it grow. We would love to hear feedback on how your herbs are doing so email me at to let us know, maybe even send pictures so we can post them to the blog!