Tag Archives: jim ewing

Come See Me in Kissimmee

I’ll be moderating a panel discussion on soil health at a small farms conference in Florida Aug. 2.

Rachel (right), daughter of longtime friends Nick and Margie Pikarsky, and her friend (and now my friend) Nicole Fiori, were great to be around at the Florida Small Farms and Alternative Enterprises Conference in Kissimmee, Fla, Aug. 2-4.

Rachel (right), daughter of longtime friends Nick and Margie Pikarsky, and her friend (and now my friend) Nicole Fiori, were great to be around at the Florida Small Farms and Alternative Enterprises Conference in Kissimmee, Fla, Aug. 2-4, 2013. While it may appear all fun and games, I’ll be back again this year working hard – operating the booth for the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SSARE) program, promoting and educating about sustainable agriculture for ATTRA, the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, and moderating a panel discussion on cover crops and soil health featuring experts in the field from the University of Florida and other organizations.

Here’s the who, what, where, why, when:

Conference: Florida Small Farms and Alternative Enterprises Conference
Topic: Soil Health in the Subtropics and Tropics
Presenter: Jim Ewing, Moderator
Location: Kissimmee, Florida
Date: 2014-08-02
Registration Info: Learn more about farming as well as alternative enterprises, through farm tours, a trade show, networking opportunities, live animal exhibits, and hands-on workshops.
Registration Link: http://www.conference.ifas.ufl.edu/smallfarms/registration.html

I went to the conference last year, operating a booth for NCAT’s ATTRA (National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service) program. If you are an organic grower or interested in sustainable agriculture in Florida and the region, it’s definitely the place to be! I wrote about it on this blog, outlining some of the offerings, including detailed information about aquaponics.

Already, the talk I’ll be moderating is quickly filling up. If you are interested in cover crops and soil health, it should be quite informative, with experts and farmers who are actively growing cover crops available to share their knowledge.

I’ll also be operating a booth for the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SSARE) program. I’ll be handing out lots of free information about sustainable agriculture.

Come see me!

I’ll be on Twitter @OrganicWriter

A Delightful Evening with Michael Pollan

 

Last night, I had a wonderful time visiting with Michael Pollan, American author, journalist, activist, and professor of journalism at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

There also were about 600 other people in the room for “An Evening With Michael Pollan” in the Music Building at the University of Mississippi at Oxford. Judging by their rapt attention and applause, I’d say they had a splendid time, too! If you care about food (other than stuffing it in your mouth), its history, its social importance, and health effects, then Pollan is an expert worth heeding. The fact that his six books on the subject have all reached bestseller status is testimony that plenty of people are interested in heeding him.

Author Michael Pollan speaks at the University of Mississippi at Oxford, May 21, 2014. (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

Author Michael Pollan speaks at the University of Mississippi at Oxford, May 21, 2014. I was thrilled to sit on the third row in the packed auditorium. (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

The event was sponsored by the Southern Foodways Alliance and Square Books of Oxford. Pollan’s latest book, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, has just come out in paperback and Pollan was on a book-signing tour.

His talk, which lasted about 70 minutes, started out with background and stories from the gathering of information about the book. He regaled the audience with humorous stories about his immersion into the making of barbecue — and the audience laughed at his tales, which included pork aficionados’ crack-like desire for “skins” or crackling.

The Southern Foodways Alliance had two short films that illustrated the cooking of pork and places featured in the book that were located in North Carolina.

Pollans’ talk vaguely paralleled the layout of the book: Fire (barbecue); Water (soups); Air (bread); and Earth (fermentation). It’s a superlative book; but I’m not an impartial observer. I’m a big fan, and it really made my day to briefly chat with him afterward and give him a signed copy of my book, Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing: Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press, 2012) while having him sign my copy of Cooked.

Regular readers of this blog will recall that my reading the hardcover copy of Cooked last year led me to start baking my own bread. I figured, if Michael Pollan can do it, I can, too! Baking bread – particularly sourdough bread – is now one of my favorite hobbies. I have three different sourdough starters bubbling in the fridge, even now. (Might have to pull one out and bake a loaf this weekend!)

Readers of my book, Conscious Food, will remember that a central question is: How did we become so distanced from the making and appreciation of our food, including its spiritual aspects?

It’s a puzzling and disturbing quality of modern life, and Pollan also brought it up, saying that only a generation ago no one would have bought his books explaining where food came from because it was so tied to daily life. There would be no mystery, no question. Now, of course, that’s not so.

In fact, as Pollan pointed out, there are laws being enacted and proposed to actually prevent people from seeing how food is made, making it a crime to photograph a slaughterhouse or chicken factory farm. The highly processed food we eat, composed of highly refined sugars, starches and carbohydrates often can only truly be called “food products” rather than food. That processed foods also almost certainly contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is also a cause for alarm among many.

That’s how far we’ve come in making something which should be wholesome and good (making food) into something that is feared, insulated, even secretive.

A long line snakes down to author Michael Pollan in the Music Building at the University of Mississippi, May 21, 2014, where he appeared for a speech and a book signing.  (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

A long line snakes down to author Michael Pollan in the Music Building at the University of Mississippi, May 21, 2014, where he appeared for a speech and a book signing. (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

While Pollan seemed to get the most interest by the audience in his tales of making barbecue, he also explored the other foodstuffs in the book. He discussed the making of bread – not nearly enough in detail for my avid interest, of course. But he did point out in great detail how sourdough bread, and other fermented products such as cheese and krauts are healthful when done in traditional ways.

Illustrating the benefits of probiotics (good bacteria versus bad bacteria) he told of one experiment that showed that raw milk processed into cheese in stainless steel vats and injected with e. coli became toxic while the same milk in reused wooden barrels did not because they contained accumulated beneficial bacteria that held the e. coli in check.  So much for our theories of anti-bacterial cleaning!

He even often insights that what we usually eat – for flavor, texture, etc. – is aimed at only 10 percent of us; the part that tastes food. Ninety percent of real food feeds the “gut” – the microorganisms that do the work of digestion, absorption of nutrients and health protection. Mother’s milk, he pointed out, is 100 percent food. A pizza or cheeseburger or “Supersized” cola would be 10 percent.

Soups, he noted, extended the lifespans of humans since, generally, people lose teeth when they age; it allows nutrients to be obtained with a minimum of chewing. Taking a swipe at raw foods, he said that cooking unleashes myriad nutrients and chemically changes food; but he also said that raw food enthusiasts can obtain premium nutrients by processing their food with a mixer. I love my Vitamixer!

I know I’m not doing him justice here. His talk was insightful, interesting and not only repeated some information in the book but provided his thinking behind it and revealed his zeal in pursuing and promoting a healthier society that exalts good food. He was singing my song, for sure!

If he appears anywhere near you, and you care about these subjects, I’d highly recommend you go hear him and, of course, buy the book. The talk was three and a half hours away from me by car — I didn’t get back home until after midnight. But it was well worth it and I would certainly do so again!

Before the "Evening with Michael Pollan," I spent a few moments in one of my favorite places: Square Books in the courthouse square in Oxford, MS, having a cup of coffee and a couple of cookies! (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

Before the “Evening with Michael Pollan,” I spent a few moments in one of my favorite places: Square Books in the courthouse square in Oxford, MS, having a cup of coffee and a couple of cookies! (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

I also got to visit for a while beforehand at Square Books in the courthouse square in Oxford — one of my favorite independent bookstores. Naturally, I bought a couple of books while there and since I had a few moments before the talk started, I also had a cup of delicious fresh-brewed coffee and a couple of homemade cookies.

What  delight!

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, and former organic farmer now teaching natural, sustainable and organic agricultural practices. His latest book is Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press). Find Jim on Facebook, follow him @EdiblePrayers or @OrganicWriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Quick Organic White Bread for Grand Baby

I’ve really been enjoying this first day of Daylight Savings Time, spending it in the kitchen, baking bread.

Today, I'm in the kitchen baking bread. And, yes, I'm listening to "The Splendid Table" on my headphones from my MPBOnline app while I do this. (Selfie Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

Today, I’m in the kitchen baking bread. And, yes, I’m listening to “The Splendid Table” on my headphones from my MPBOnline app while I do this. (Selfie Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

You know about my first loaf today: the no-knead sourdough bread (see previous post); but now I’m whipping up an organic white bread for my 16-month-old grand baby Nathan.

My 16-month-old grand baby Nathan Ewing, perusing a book. (Photo by Ross Ewing)

My 16-month-old grand baby Nathan Ewing, perusing a book. (Photo by Ross Ewing)

Intelligent looking chap, isn’t he?

Some months back, my son Ross said that Nathan loved the white bread I made and hinted that it would be welcome to do a repeat. I’ve been busy since then, but thought that today, since I was in the kitchen anyway, why not?

A few preliminaries: I’m using a blend of three quarters Gold Medal organic all-purpose flour and one quarter Gold Medal whole wheat flour. I’m using Newman’s Own Organic Olive Oil with home made honey from hives from my own bees, a smidgeon of iodized salt and Fleischmann’s Rapid Rise Yeast. (These are for informational purposes, not product endorsements; everything was paid for in a grocery store.)

A mister to spray olive oil for cooking - or eating - is a nice device. (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarm blog)

A mister to spray olive oil for cooking – or eating – is a nice device. (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarm blog)

I will say that a couple of things seem to be helping; one is using a mister to apply olive oil. I found this one at Kroger and it works great. That way, I can lightly apply oil, like spraying Pam, but with a higher quality oil. Also, you can spray the bread slices with olive oil and eat them! (Which I’ve been doing since I made the first loaf!) And for any salad you have, also. Nice gadget.

I keep my oven clean to prevent off gasses from flavoring the bread; and also use a cooking stone to even out the heat. (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

I keep my oven clean to prevent off gasses from flavoring the bread; and also use a cooking stone to even out the heat. (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

Also, I actually clean the oven before I cook in it. It doesn’t take but a moment to wipe it down and keep off gases from flavoring the bread. I also only use filtered water, to keep chlorine out (more important with kefir sourdough, maybe), and I use a cooking stone on the rack to give an even heat.

I’m sure any veteran baker knows a lot more than I about all of this; these are only a few things I’ve found useful.

Personally, I find kneading dough very pleasurable. It seems to come alive in the hands, and there is a sensual quality to it. (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

Personally, I find kneading dough very pleasurable. It seems to come alive in the hands, and there is a sensual quality to it. (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

To be honest, I like making regular bread, as opposed to sourdough. Sourdough is a lot of work, and I manage to mess it up quite often. White bread is pretty easy, and quick. And I like the tactile experience of kneading the dough. It feels alive in your hands, very sensuous.

Just mix it up, let it rise for about 30 minutes; then shape it and pop it in the oven.

And here you go, after 35 minutes in the oven at 350F  degrees, a fresh loaf! (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

And here you go, after 35 minutes in the oven at 350F degrees, a fresh loaf! (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

It’s been a great day! Puttering around in the kitchen, listening to The Splendid Table (“The Show for People Who Love to Eat!” http://www.splendidtable.org), and nibbling on homemade sourdough bread garnished with olive oil.

 

And now, I have something good to give my grand baby!

In my next book, I might explore the cooking aspect more, beyond growing an organic, natural and sustainable garden.

It’s a lot cheaper and enjoyable than watching TV!

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, and former organic farmer now teaching natural, sustainable and organic agricultural practices. His latest book is Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press). Find Jim on Facebook, follow him @EdiblePrayers or @OrganicWriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Urban Ag: Backyard Market Gardening

Just a short note: I’ll be speaking on Backyard Market Gardening on Thursday (Nov. 14, 2013) at the Mississippi Fruit & Vegetable Growers Convention.

Even a small plot can make big dollars if done right. I'll be speaking at the Silver Star Resort in Choctaw, MS, Nov. 14, 2013 on Backyard Market Gardening. (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

Even a small plot can make big dollars if done right. I’ll be speaking at the Silver Star Resort in Choctaw, MS, Nov. 14, 2013 on Backyard Market Gardening. (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

Held at the Pearl River Resort’s Silver Star Conference Center in Choctaw, MS, near Philadelphia, the conference features a host of experts on various agricultural practices.

Specifically, my talk will be on how to turn your home garden into a profit making enterprise, or take a small garden and expand it into a small farm — complete with marketing tips.

It’s an honor to be asked to speak. Some may recall that I’m a former president of MFVGA; I look forward to seeing old friends and making new ones!

Those who read this blog regularly probably will recognize some of the information — and photos! — from my writings over the years here. Nevertheless, you may not have seen all the info presented at one time.

So, you if get a chance, come on down. Here’s registration info:

http://www.msfruitandveg.com/

See you there!
Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook, follow him @edibleprayers or visit blueskywaters.com.

First Loaf of Bread – A ‘First’ for Me!

I’m so excited, and surprised, I couldn’t wait to share this: I just baked my first loaf of bread, ever!

My first loaf of bread baked from scratch, ever! (Photo by Jim Ewing)

My first loaf of bread baked from scratch! (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Now, maybe for longtime cooks – maybe even everybody, for all I know – it’s no big deal to bake a loaf of bread. But for me, it’s a big deal. I just made it from scratch.

I actually have ordered a bread maker, but it hasn’t arrived yet. And I got to thinking: Hmmm, maybe I could try making one loaf from scratch. If it’s too difficult and I can’t do it, then I’ll have the bread making machine.

So, I bought some flour and some yeast. I followed the directions: well, sort of. My first attempt ended up being a big, gooey mess. I threw it out and tried again. And, voila!

Actually, this is part of a process that started last summer when I read Michael Pollen’s book, Cooked. In it, he goes to great lengths to explain how “iffy” is modern bread bought at the grocery. He also details his odyssey toward making his own bread.

First, I thought, gosh, I didn’t know there was that much to making bread!

Second, I started exploring new breads – their taste, texture, and various types. (At Kripalu, I think my friends thought I was crazy: they make three or four different breads for each meal, and I was snarfing down slices from all of them!)

Third, I thought, hmmm, I could do this!

My initial thought was that I would buy a bread making machine and then, if it wasn’t too hard to learn how to do, then I would try baking from scratch. But, somehow, that got turned around.

As I’m writing this, my next loaf is on the kitchen table, rising, before being put into the oven.

For these loaves, I used store bought yeast and ground organic whole wheat flour. At some point, I want to cultivate my own (sourdough) yeast, and grind my own flour. I also plan to make my own butter. And, of course, I already have my own honey (thanks to my sweet bees!).

Some thoughts….

I have to admit, kneading bread is quite a sensual experience. The dough seems to come alive in your hands. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

I have to admit, kneading bread is quite a sensual experience. The dough seems to come alive in your hands. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Making bread is quite a sensual experience. If that sounds strange, well, I don’t know what to say, except that when you are rolling the dough on the board and in your hands, it feels quite alive! I started thinking of the dough as a person; a living being that required tender care, caresses. It felt alive in my hands. When I put it in the oven, I apologized to it; hoping that I had done everything right, and it would mature into the substantial, healthy, nutritious bread that it could be in the right hands, with the right cook. I felt a sense of responsibility, and some worry.

So, when it came out of the oven and, after it had sufficiently cooled, I was able to slice it and look at its texture, and taste it, and saw that it was good — just perfect! — I was elated!

Yum! Fresh Bread! That I baked from scratch! (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Yum! Fresh Bread! That I baked from scratch! (Photo by Jim Ewing)

So, now, I’m enjoyed fresh made bread, from scratch! Loaf number three is in the oven, filling the house with the delightful scent of fresh-baked bread!

Yum!

New adventures await!

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook, follow him @edibleprayers or visit blueskywaters.com.

More and More Pursuing Sustainable Farming

Got back late last night from Baton Rouge, La., where I gave a talk to beginning farmers on how to market your crops.

Nationally, grim statistics are saying that farms and farmers are dwindling, spelling a dire future.

I’m finding that it’s just the opposite: Average people, in rural and urban areas, are thronging to learn how to grow their own food, share it with others and even make a little profit at it. And I’ve been giving these talks all over the South, in urban and rural areas.

Jim Ewing speaks at the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center in Baton Rouge, La., Oct. 23, 2013. The subject of his talk was "Beginning Farmers: Marketing Your Crop." The one-day workshop was sponsored by the LSU AgCenter, the Southern University Agricultural Research and Extension Center, the Southern Sustainability Research and Education (SSARE) program, and the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT).

Jim Ewing speaks at the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center in Baton Rouge, La., Oct. 23, 2013. The subject of his talk was “Beginning Farmers: Marketing Your Crop.” The one-day workshop was sponsored by the LSU AgCenter, the Southern University Agricultural Research and Extension Center, the Southern Sustainability Research and Education (SSARE) program, and the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT).

I guess it depends on how you define “farms” and “farmers.”

In preparation for my talk at the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center, I did a little research on this. According to the USDA Census of Agriculture, most farmers in Louisiana are “small farmers.” About 50 percent earn less than $5,000 per year; 66 percent of farms earn less than $10,000/year; 83 percent earn less than $49,999/year

Most farms are “small farms,” too: Only 3.5 percent of the farms in Louisiana have 2,000 acres or more and only 6.3 percent make more than $500,000/year.

The averages are about the same in Mississippi, give or take one or two percentage points either way, and nationally.

So, when politicians talk about “farmers” and “farming,” they really aren’t talking about the majority of farmers. They’re alluding to big farmers swallowing up smaller farms — the same as big corporations in other sectors of the economy are swallowing up others, even becoming “too big to fail.”

They’re talking about and appealing to the big money farmers: those with big incomes and tight ties to corporations. They aren’t talking to the majority of average people who like to farm, or have a small stake (in either rural or urban areas), or want to expand to serve more people.

They aren’t talking to or about people who grow local food for local people. Or people who prefer sustainable farming methods, or grow organic, or practice permaculture, or ecofarming. They are speaking to and about those who are into industrial agriculture and ship their food and fiber off to feed the big agribusiness multinational regime.

There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s part of the dance politicians play between the interests they serve and those who serve them. And those who are growing for the major markets are doing just that; there’s nothing sinister about it. It’s just how our economy/business/government works. But average people — voters — should also see it for what it is.

Those politicians aren’t speaking to, about or for the people who are putting food on your plate locally — who don’t use chemicals and who plant with the taste and nutrition foremost in mind, and not just profitability over size and shape and ability to withstand long shipping times without rotting.

Those politicians aren’t speaking to, about or for the moms who want to buy chemically free, healthful and nutritious food for their children and be assured that it’s safe and take the time to know who is growing their food locally and how they are doing it.

Those politicians aren’t speaking to, about or for the thousands of young people who are turning to small, local, urban and rural farming in order to ensure the people around them and those they love have healthful, safe food grown in a caring way as an act of passion and joy. Grown from the heart; for the community; as an act of compassion, giving and sacrifice.

Nor are those politicians speaking to, for or about the average people who have no clue about what chemicals are being sprayed on what they  eat, or how the seeds are concocted from GMO genetic cocktails that ensure they actually grow in a soup of poison but who knows what it’s doing to humans.

No, the people who are now clamoring to grow their own food and for others — who are definitely new and beginning farmers, just not big, industrial, chemical farmers — have to speak for themselves, and to and for each other. The politicians apparently don’t care much about them. They don’t “count,” with money, clout or influence regionally, nationally or globally. Statistically, they’re as invisible as their influence in Washington and state capitols across the U.S.

But I suspect, as the food movement continues to grow, and more and more true farmers — the majority of farmers as the Census of Agriculture attests — begin to see that what they believe, think, say and do actually matters, and that in aggregate they have the numbers and “clout” behind them, that politicians will begin to take an interest.

And I think that as more and more consumers reach for the non-GMO label on their food, and as more voters get savvy about the dangers of GMO, its attendant flood of poisonous chemicals to keep it afloat, and its downward spiral of sustainability depleting both farmland fertility and fossil fuels, that even more small, local ecofarmers will appear.

That wasn’t the subject of my talk at LSU. Just some musings the next day.

There’s a new “dance” between local individual consumers and farmers nationally that soon could reconfigure the whole dance floor. The politicians just haven’t picked up the beat yet, still lost in another era doing the funky chicken!

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook, follow him @edibleprayers or visit blueskywaters.com.

Count me as a ‘Treehugger,’ too!

Treehugger? Author Logsdon one of them and so am I

“We’re all treehuggers.”
So writes farmer, author and journalist Gene Logsdon.
With  his latest book, A Sanctuary of Trees (Chelsea Green, 2012), to be released April 27, Logsdon, who has published more than two dozen books,  has
truly outdone himself.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a  longtime fan. The only book I had some difficulty with was his Holy  Sh–t: Managing Manure To Save Mankind, and that
objection wasn’t due to  the subject matter, but the title: I don’t approve of using swear words  (if I can help it!).
To get the gist of the man, Wes Jackson  (founder of The Land Institute) is probably right in describing Logsdon,  as “one of only three people I know who
are able to make a living  exclusively out of writing what should be common sense.”
Presumably,  the other two are revered Kentucky farmer-philosopher Wendell Berry and  Virginia “grass farmer” Joel Salatin (author, among others, of The  Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer).
To say Logsdon is “down  to earth” is an understatement (with Sh-t!, who else writes a whole book  dedicated to the intricacies of manure?). Hence, the
singular impact of  his calling himself “a treehugger.” Often used in derision,  Logsdon turns it around – exercising that uncommon common sense, again.  How could someone who loves the outdoors, depends on the largess of  farming, and even on the grace of clean air that trees produce, not
be  an unabashed lover/hugger of trees?
Humans have always depended on  trees for food, shelter, livelihood and safety, he notes. But trees are  even more important now, in helping to halt climate change by  sequestering carbon.
A simple fact, he observes: “A tree in its  lifetime produces oxygen and consumes as much carbon dioxide as it will  release when it is burned. Fossil
fuel such as coal or oil releases  carbon dioxide and thermal energy withdrawn from circulation millions of  years ago.” That simple math has profound
implications.
It is his  gift of seeing old things anew and new things in new ways that makes  Logsdon’s books an evergreen delight. Count me in with Gene Logsdson;  I’m very happily a treehugger, too!

Check out Logsdon’s blog: http://thecontraryfarmer.wordpress.com.

Last column: This is my final column with The Clarion-Ledger.
I am among those longtime employees given a buyout.
Not near retirement age, I am eagerly investigating new projects and employment.
I have a contract with Findhorn Press for a book on organic food, farming and gardening. Look for it Sept. 1.
You can follow me on Facebook at http://bit.ly/cuxUdc – or on Twitter @edibleprayers.
Thank  you, dear readers, for 22 years with The Clarion-Ledger and before that  with the Jackson Daily News. I can’t thank you enough for all the kind  words and support over all these years.
It’s been fun!

(Note: I intend to continue this blog.)

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Planting by the ‘signs’ so old, it’s new again

March 30, 2012
Planting by ‘the signs’ so old, it’s new again – and timely!

Good Friday – April 6 – is traditional planting time. Some people go by the calendar when they plant, some by how the weather feels. Like now: It’s
(freakishly) warm, right?
But the old folks used to take into account the moon and stars.
Maria Thun, who lives in Germany and has been putting her guide together since the 1950s, is the internationally recognized expert on this, known in
biodynamic farming circles as the voice of planting by “the signs.” Thun’s guide is published in 18 languages.
Such calculations can also tell the best time to work with bees, Thun contends. As the bees live in darkness in their hives, their rhythms are along
the lines of root crops, which have their own cycles she calls “root days.”
The best time to plant flowering plants is on “flower days,” she says, when the ascending moon is in Libra, Gemini or Aquarius. Fruit plants grown from
seed such as beans and tomatoes are best planted or tended on “fruit days” when the ascending moon is in Leo, Sagittarius or Aries. Cabbages, lettuces and the like are best tended on “leaf days.”
Thun’s guide for 2012 shows this week to be a good time to plant, with leaf days Sunday and Monday; fruit days late Monday and all day Tuesday; and a
partial root day Thursday.
From April 8-14: Partial root and flower Sunday (Easter); partial flower and leaf Monday; leaf Tuesday; partial leaf and fruit Wednesday; fruit Thursday and Friday; and root Saturday.
The Best Southern U.S. transplanting time is April 11-25.
Her North American Biodynamic Sowing and Planting Calendar 2012 (Floris Books, $13.95) is available from Steiner Books: P.O. Box 960; Herndon VA 20172-0960; (703) 661-1594; or http://www.steinerbooks.org.

Worms not so icky, huh: My column on earthworms was a big hit.
A caller said his late wife used to order worms through the mail and sprinkle them around her garden. It was less messy than raising worms, he said. You can buy red wigglers by the pound at bait shops, or order them online. (Here’s one place we have bought worms: http://www.unclejimswormfarm.com/. You can buy 1,000 for $18.95 plus shipping.)
The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality has a web page devoted to vermi-composting: http://bit.ly/HmxboE .
The “Worm Woman” lives on: Although Mary “Worm Woman” Appelhof died in 2005, her writings live on: http://www.wormwoman. com.
World Wide Worm Web?: For all worms all the time, commentary, forums, etc., see: http://www.wormdigest.org.
The definitive book on worms: The Earth Moved by Amy Stewart – a New York Times best-selling author, no less – with 213 pages on worms, just reissued in
paperback: Algonquin Books; $12.95.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Foraging for ‘Farm-aceuticals’ a healthy pastime

Foraging for ‘farm-aceuticals’ provides a healthy pastime

With warm weather playing “hide and seek” with winter, lots of  “weeds” are popping up, but don’t be quick to pull them up from the  organic garden, as they can provide “farm-aceuticals.”
According  to renowned herbalist Susun Weed (Healing Wise, Ash Tree Publishing,  2003, $17.95), here are a few “weeds” with medicinal properties:
•Chickweed (Stellaria media) dissolves cysts, tonifies the thyroid and aids in weight loss.
•Daisy (Bellis perennis) relieves headaches, muscle pain and allergy symptoms.
•Dandelion (Taraxacum officinalis) relieves gas, heartburn and indigestion.
•Dock, also called yellow dock, curly dock and broad dock helps “all women’s problems.”
•Plantain, also called ribwort or pig’s ear, speeds healing, relieves pain, stops itching.
•St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) relieves muscle aches, is useful with shingles, sciatica, back pain and headaches.
For details, see: www.matrifocus.com/BEL07/wisewoman.htm.

Reader response: Are genetically modified foods really a problem?
I’ll answer with a couple of quotes from Food Inc. by Eric Schlosser:
•”Animal  genes and even human genes are randomly inserted into the chromosomes  of plants, fish and animals, creating heretofore unimaginable transgenic  lifeforms. For the first time in history, transnational biotechnology  corporations are becoming the architects and ‘owners’ of life.”
•”With  little or no regulatory restraints, labeling requirements or scientific  protocol, bioengineers have begun creating hundreds of new GE  ‘frankenfoods’ and crops. The research is done with little concern for  the human and environmental hazards.”
•”An increasing number of  scientists are warning that current gene-splicing techniques are crude,  inexact and unpredictable – and therefore inherently dangerous.”
I  think that sums it up: It’s unregulated, possibly unsafe for humans,  certainly a danger to the environment, morally questionable, and likely  to make developing countries even more dependent on hand-outs or subject  to starvation.

California may vote on GMO: Polling shows  80 percent of California voters support labels on GMO  foods. And they  are starting a petition drive to put it on their Nov. 6 ballot.
Organic and food safety interests will be watching; it’s likely, as goes California, so goes the nation. For more, see: http://organicconsumersfund.org.

Come see me: I’ll be speaking Feb. 25 at the Gaining Ground Sustainability Institute  of Mississippi conference at Eagle Ridge Conference Center in Raymond  on Organic Backyard Market Gardening. For more information, visit www.ggsim.org

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

‘Edible forest’ can supplement organic garden

Feb. 3, 2012

‘Edible forest’ can supplement veggies for organic produce
When we think of “organic” or growing food, we naturally think of veggies. But with February tree planting time, what about “edible” forests?
Next Friday is Arbor Day in Mississippi (each state selects its own date to coincide with the best planting time).
Why not plant a fruit or nut tree?
Why not incorporate your plantings as an “edible arbor” alongside, around and through garden plots?
Mississippi farmers and homeowners have been growing blueberries for years. But edible forests may include apples, pears and other fruit-bearing trees. Some are adaptable to Mississippi’s hot, humid climate.
Some fruit trees don’t do well in the South because they require a certain number of “chill hours” or temps below 45 degrees. For example, apples are best suited for the northern third of the state, but some root stocks can be planted statewide.
For additional information on preferred fruit varieties in Mississippi, see Fruit and Nut Recommendations by the state Extension Plant and Soil Sciences Department, online, at http://msucares.com/pubs/publications/p0966.pdf.

Plant chestnuts: There’s something of a movement under way to replant chestnuts across America, too.
There probably aren’t too many people who remember when chestnut trees lined many boulevards in the United States – before they were virtually wiped out by an Asian fungus called chestnut blight.
But they may be coming back.
The American Chestnut Foundation is promoting the planting of new trees.
According to Paul Franklin, TACF director of communications in Asheville, N.C., at one time, the American chestnut stretched from Georgia to Maine. An estimated four billion trees were lost to the disease during the first half of the 20th century.
“We will need to plant a lot of trees if we are to eventually restore the American chestnut to its former range,” TACF President and CEO Bryan J. Burhans said recently.
The American chestnut grows quite large – up to 100 feet tall – with a wide canopy. It’s good for meadows, Franklin says, and excellent for wildlife, including deer, turkey and bear. There are also Asian-American hybrids that are smaller.
For more, see the TACF website, http://www.acf.org, or the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (www.sfiprogram.org), or read the chestnut planting guide:
http://www.acf.org/pdfs/resources/GrowingChestnuts_BMP.pdf
Or write The American Chestnut Foundation, 160 Zillicoa St., Suite D, Asheville, NC 28801; Phone: (828) 281-0047.

“Edible Forest” in Jackson: The Mississippi Urban Forest Council is a state leader in promoting “edible forests.” An example of an edible forest in Jackson is at Wells United Methodist Church, see:
http://www.msurbanforest.com/edible_forest.html.

Fruit and Vegetable Growers: I was recently elected president of the Mississippi Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, the statewide nonprofit for commercial growers.
While most of the state’s produce farmers are not organic, I think it reflects a commitment by the state’s growers for environmental stewardship and recognizes organics as a viable option.
It’s a great honor, and I’m grateful for this opportunity to serve small farmers, the backbone of the state’s agricultural community.

Note: I’ll be speaking on community-supported agriculture at the Urban Forest Council’s Conference Tuesday at the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science in Jackson. For additional information, see: http://www.msurbanforest.com.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Deer in the garden, and ‘Tomatoland’

July 29, 2011

Deer hate ‘talk radio,’ love organic gardens, and vote Green!


A reader was lamenting his problems with deer eating his garden produce, but said he thought he had found just the ticket for a deterrent.It’s a motion-activated device you connect to your garden hose so that that when set off it squirts the deer with water.

Sounds good to me! (I found one online called the Contech Electronics CRO101 Scarecrow Motion-Activated Sprinkler, list price $50. Ask for it at your local garden store.)

We’ve had problems with deer off and on over the years. Our philosophy is to generally plant enough to share and consider it doing your part to help the local wildlife. (I could go on and on about deer encounters in our garden. But how can you get upset with a momma and her fawn nibbling at your lettuce? Just plant more!)

But, if it becomes a problem, there are a couple of things you can do.

Foremost, build a tall fence. That’s the only surefire method.

But, in our little corner of the universe at ShooFly Farm, we’ve found that deer hate talk radio.

When we had a problem with deer eating too much, we tried putting a battery operated radio out there. Symphonic music seems to have no effect. They may even have liked it. They didn’t seem to like rock music much. But talk radio really kept them away.

Of course, it could be the political viewpoints that explain this phenomenon. I imagine a deer, if given the chance, would pull the voting lever for more wildlife preserves and cleaner air and water with their little hooves.

Some of them might even be more radical, intent on passing local zoning laws requiring all gardens to be organic, thus pesticide-free and purely tasty, and ban tall fences around them.

Yes, I’m sure, deer, if given the chance, would vote Green!

But I suspect it’s probably the radio set low, not blasting, giving an erratic modulation of human voices that scares them away.

I’m told that if a barber will allow you to take swept hair cuttings from the shop’s floor to sprinkle around the garden, that will do the trick, too.

But, for me, I’ll stick with talk radio! For the deer, anyway.

Reader feedback: A reader reports that following organic methods, his turnips from last fall reseeded themselves in his corn field where they were kept cool in the stalks’ shade. He has the best of both worlds: Summer corn and fresh turnip greens!

Sizzling summer reading: For more reasons to grow your own tomatoes specifically, and all veggies generally, read this summer’s hottest food book: Tomatoland by Barry Estabrook (Andrews McMeel, 2011, $19.99).

It’s subtitle explains why: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit.

Some of the book’s topics I’ve outlined in columns, such as why storebought tomatoes taste like cardboard (due to hybrid varieties to survive shipping, etc.). But a lot is grim news, too:

•The lengths to which industrial agriculture will go to produce “food” that’s saleable but perhaps not nutritious or safe;

•The truly frightening working conditions that are endured, including documented cases of actual slavery of farm workers, making a compelling case for better laws, more enforcement and implementing fair food practices.

For anyone interested in our food system, Estabrook’s book ranks right up there with Fast Food Nation, Fair Food and the Omnivore’s Dilemma for insightful, relevant food reporting.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Homesteading, canning, grilling

July 22, 2011
Homesteading, canning, grilling offer garden allureWith the summer heat and crops coming in, a lot of folks start thinking about what to do with all this organic produce.
Perhaps you’ve given as much as you can to relatives, neighbors friends, maybe, up to and including strangers on the street.
I’ve actually heard of people who wouldn’t leave their cars unlocked because they were afraid friends would leave bags of produce on their seats.
The solution, of course, is canning and pickling.
Just about everybody has a neighbor, mom or aunt who knows how to do this, and they often may even invite people over to have a big “can-a-thon” for preserving fruits and vegetables over the winter.
With this in mind, there are some books on the market that help with what in former years was considered just home living, but today is called homesteading – or “making do” with your garden, two hands and elbow grease.
One with a great canning section is Modern Homestead: Grow, Raise, Create by Renee Wilkinson (Fulcrum, 2011, $26.95). It’s chock full of down-to-earth instructions and plans for skills as diverse as preserving foods to building a chicken coop to caring for goats.
Filled with beautiful photos and illustrations, Wilkinson tells pretty much everything anyone needs to know to get started in sustainable living, especially in urban and suburban areas. It’s a compact resource that should be kept handy, with a valuable index for looking things up.
Another good book but more geared toward city dwellers is Urban Homesteading: Heirloom Skills for Sustainable Living by Rachel Kaplan with K. Ruby Blume (Skyhorse, 2011, $16.95).
A little “edgier” in tone, from Oakland, Calif., Urban Homesteading gives the basics of homesteading, but beyond that, it goes into areas such as ways to more efficiently heat and cool one’s home, retrofitting houses and grounds (including “cob” structures of dirt, water and straw) and even building top-bar Kenyan bee hives (more natural and inexpensive do-it-yourself versions).
It’s great for sparking new ideas for looking at your own homestead afresh.
If you are looking for more in-depth information regarding animals and homesteading, there’s yet another book that fills that bill: The Backyard Homestead Guide to Raising Farm Animals by Gail Damerow (Storey, 2011, $24.95). It’s subtitle tells all: Choose the Best Breeds for Small-Space Farming, Produce Your Own Grass-Fed Meat, Gather Fresh … Rabbits, Goats, Sheep, Pigs, Cattle, & Bees.
A great book, totally informative, Backyard Homestead will have you staring out the window wondering if maybe a few belted Galloway cows might actually improve the looks of the place, even – and maybe especially – if you don’t have a big spread.
With these three books, one could make a good start at “making do” with modern homesteading.
Canning workshops for farmers market sellers Thursday in Jackson and Aug. 2 in Hernando:The Acidified Canned Foods Training for Farmers Market Vendors is a one-day workshop to teach the basics of food safety and regulations for processing acidified foods.
This training will qualify you for processing acidified foods that can be sold in local, certified farmers markets in Mississippi.
A General Farmers Market Food Safety Training will also take place afterwards.
To register or for more information, see www.fsnhp.msstate.edu/farmersmarkettraining or call: Anna Hood, (662) 325-8056; email: annah@ext. msstate.edu.
Grilled Veggies: For a tasty treat, and to keep the house cool, try grilling vegetables outdoors. My favorite is grilled okra, peppers and tomatoes! (Try okra alone; it’s not “slimy” but with a dry texture and smoky flavor.)
We use a grill wok (stainless steel square with holes everywhere; we bought ours at Walmart) to create great stir fries with veggies that would normally fall through an outdoor grill.
From my beautiful wife Annette: You can grill a cheese sandwich or panini if you lightly brush oil on the exposed bread, cover with a small plate and weight it with something heavy (like a flat rock).
We marinate meats, chicken and fish to greatly reduce HCAs (heterocyclic amines) and other carcinogens caused by grilling (veggies don’t produce HCAs).
Be sure to use anti-oxident rich ingredients, such as rosemary, turmeric, ginger, garlic, onions, red wine, balsamic vinegar and marinate in the fridge for a few hours or overnight. Or brief pre-cooking in a microwave (one minute) brings HCAs out with the “juice,” which should be discarded before grilling. Grilled chicken has the highest HCAs, and fish also develops them.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

‘Farm on Wheels,’ nematodes, ‘greenhorns’ helpful

July 14, 2011
‘Farm on Wheels’ offers hands-on organic food outreachRecent graduates of the Mississippi School of Math and Science have converted a school bus to biodiesel and turned it into a sustainable “Farm on Wheels.”
Based in Oxford, it’s a rolling greenhouse, chicken coop and more that will serve as an educational outreach tool.
The Farm on Wheels made stops in Jackson, Starkville and Hattiesburg in recent weeks. It plans to travel throughout Mississippi and the South and return in time for the fall school year so Mississippi schoolchildren can take a look.
The Legislature this past session passed legislation to study alleviating “food deserts,” or areas in the state where no fresh produce is available. This Farm on Wheels could be a great tool for outreach so people in underserved areas can be reintroduced to self-sufficient living by growing their own food.
I say, “reintroduced,” because within the living memories of many Mississippians, growing vegetables and having a few chickens was the norm. But, unfortunately, since World War II, the mechanization of farming, the use of synthetic fertilizers and herbicides, and elders having died off, too many rural people have lost the knowledge of how to grow for themselves.
The surging popularity of Community Supported Agriculture is one helpful method, where farmers obtain subscriptions for growing food for others by selling shares in the crops, thus raising needed money upfront to be able to afford to plant.
That is bringing fresh, nutritious, organically grown foods to ever increasing numbers. Community gardens are also springing up in urban areas of the state; for example, at Tougaloo College, operated by Rainbow Natural Foods Co-op in Jackson.
Where it’s not economically feasible to run full-time stores in rural or urban areas, such community oriented ventures can fill in the gap.
They are a benefit to everyone and are becoming popular across the Magnolia State, along with ever more local farmers markets being created under the auspices of the Mississippi Department of Agriculture & Commerce.
For more about the Farm on Wheels, see: http://msmobilefarm.com/Or, on Facebook: www.facebook.com/farmonwheels.
It’s getting a little late in the season for it, but some bug issues can be solved by using beneficial nematodes – roundworms that live in the soil.
Nematodes can be a “bad” thing – some spell death for tomatoes, for example. But others only attack insects that prey on plants.
They are most effective when ordering by soil type.
Arbico Organics (www.arbico-organics.com) sells a variety for use on sandy soil that attacks armyworm, artichoke plume moth, Asian cockroach, beet armyworm, black cutworm, bluegrass weevil, codling moth, corn earworm, cotton bollworm, cucumber beetle, fall armyworm, fly larvae, fruit fly, German cockroach, leaf miners, mole crickets, tobacco budworm, wireworm and more.
Other varieties are for lawns or high clay soils, and even attack ticks and fleas.
They can be ordered for garden sizes up to fruit growers’ orchards and full farm sizes. Check it out. If nothing else, it could disrupt the cycle for next year or help with fall planting.
•Online: Here’s a blog for young people by self-described farming Greenhorns for Greenhorns, with links to farm-related blogs by and for young people getting into farming:http://thegreenhorns.wordpress.com/
•Online: In Kansas City, there’s a food truck called The Beans and Greens Mobile to combat local food deserts; see: http://bit.ly/lQNlAc.
•Online: Farmers markets beat supermarkets on affordability:http://tinyurl.com/ylzpkwv.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Beneficial insects, bug database helpful

July 8, 2011
Beneficial insects, bug database can help organic gardens
In midsummer, the number of blights, pests and other issues that can plague the organic garden can seem overwhelming.
There are two resources we’ve used to address some of them; first is adding beneficial insects to control pest outbreaks; second is a computer database that can instantaneously diagnose the various symptoms and offer certified organic solutions.
Ladybugs are the most popular beneficial insect for the garden. We bought some to control an aphid outbreak the year before last and they are still prolific; we have also bought praying mantids.
According to Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply, which sells ladybugs, they are capable of consuming up to 50 to 60 aphids per day and one ladybug can consume many as 5,000 aphids in its lifetime.
They also eat a variety of other insects and larvae including scales, mealy bugs, leaf hoppers, mites and various types of soft-bodied insects.
Typically, ladybugs are sold in large numbers; 70,000 ladybugs per gallon, or 18,000 per quart. Use one gallon for up to three acres. In orchards, use one gallon per acre. Grain crops may require as little as one gallon for every 10 acres.
For melons and cucumbers, use one gallon for every 15 acres.
Next year, you might consider the praying mantid. It eats aphids, beetles, flies, mosquitoes, moths, caterpillars, wasps, generally, any insect it can catch. The praying mantid’s egg sac can contain up to 40,000 eggs. They usually hatch in spring.
You can buy live ladybugs and praying mantid egg sacs online (even Costco sells the latter). We bought ours from Peaceful Valley, Box 2209, Grass Valley CA 95945, phone: 1-888-784-1722, or: www.groworganic.com. And, yes, praying mantids will eat ladybugs. So, you might want to stagger them out a bit.
If you are finding strange plant symptoms, here’s a handy online resource for finding safe, organically OMRI approved non-toxic pesticide solutions at the Organic Pesticides /predators Database: http://bit.ly/g6Eqgu.
The service is provided by National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, Box 3838, Butte MT 59702; phone: 1-800-346-9140.
Treat your kitties: Try growing catnip in your garden, or in a pot. It’s easy to grow (it’s a member of the mint family) and comes back year after year. Just take a few leaves, chop them or crumble them up, and put them on the floor or in a sock or kitty’s favorite place (not in food).
Catnip also makes a nice tea for humans. It contains nepetalactone, a natural sedative, and is anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and muscle-relaxing. (Not recommended for expectant or nursing mothers.)
Fresh produce: Just a reminder for those looking for fresh fruit and veggies: The Mississippi Farmers Market, located at 929 High St. adjacent to the fairgrounds, is open on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
For more information, call (601) 354-6573, email FarmersMarket@mdac.state.ms.us or visitwww.msfarmersmarket.com.
Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

‘Tilth’ helps hold soil moisture

July 1, 2011
Check ’tilth’ in organic garden for soil moisture
I guess weird weather is the “new normal” now, with weeks of no rain, crops fried in 100-degree days, then rain falling finally, blessedly, but perhaps too little too late for many this season.
Given the heat, now’s a good time to check the moisture holding capacity of your soil. If you have adequate tilth (loamy material) and regular watering, you should have only a light crust on the top but can push in your finger without a great deal of effort.
But if it’s too hard for a gentle push of the finger, don’t despair. It can take years to build up the soil. We’ve dumped tons, literally, on our plots and they break down rapidly with acidic, sandy soil.
Remember, with organic gardening, the soil is everything, but it’s a moving target. It’s a constant balancing act between biomass and soil digestion activity.
Take this as an opportunity for future growth: Just keep adding more compost and, in fall, more leaves or other vegetative matter to build up your tilth.
By the way, old folks used to put sawdust in their gardens. That’s fallen out of fashion, as it tends to eat up nitrogen breaking down. But if you are using foliar feeding – spraying kelp or fish emulsion to feed nitrogen for it to be absorbed through leaves – I believe sawdust could help hold soil moisture. That is, as long as it’s not chemically treated wood.
It was good enough for our Mississippi forebears and Helen and Scott Nearing – homesteaders in 1930s Maine (see their book: Living The Good Life). So, if you’ve got it, I’d use it.
Growing tip: You can grow your own natural sweetener using leaves from the Stevia plant. It’s not too late to plant to get some leaves by fall.
According to WebMD, it is useful for those who suffer from obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, metabolic syndrome and other weight-related medical problems.
The leaves contain the sweet glycosides stevioside and rebaudioside, which are 300 times sweeter than sucrose (table sugar). Seeds are commonly available and can be purchased from Burpee, if not locally. It grows prolifically, like mint.
We grow it and use it. Tastes great. I like it in my tea instead of sugar.
Summer reading: I recommend: Fair Food: Growing a Healthy, Sustainable Food System for All by Oran B. Hesterman (PublicAffairs, $24.99).
Founder and head of the nonprofit Fair Food Network and a former agronomy professor at Michigan State University, Hesterman is quick to point out that he is not writing about our broken food system from the standpoint of a chef or journalist, but as someone who has experienced it from plow to plate.
The observations he makes are similar to the popular notions of journalist Michael Pollan and chef Mark Bittman, but his methods are more direct, from developing locally profitable food distribution systems in urban and rural “food deserts” to joining corporations such as Costco in developing transnational fair trade supply trains that ensure living wages for producers and reinvestment in local communities.
Fair Food is a serious book about a serious subject. It offers ideas for local communities, as well as suggestions for local, state and national policy makers (I hope members of the Legislature read this book!) It should add immeasurably to the national conversation about fixing our food – and world! – for the better.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Permaculture, Organic, Slow Gardening

June 24, 2011
‘Permaculture,’ ‘organic’ and Felder all provide surprises
A reader asked, “What you do, this ‘deep or pure organic,’ is more like permaculture, isn’t it?”
I’d have to say that’s a pretty good stab at an explanation, but only part of growing organic.
The term “permaculture” was coined by two Australians, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, one of his students, to incorporate two concepts: “Permanent Culture” and “Permanent Agriculture.” Mollison said the concept came to him in 1959 while watching two marsupials browsing in the rain forests, seeing how flora and fauna worked together to be sustainable.
Since then, the term has grown to include a lot more than agriculture or gardening, embracing even political activity and international problem-solving.
One of the leaders in the field is Portland State University Professor Toby Hemenway, author of Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture (2000, updated 2009, Chelsea Green, $29.95) which I highly recommend.
So, what is a permaculture garden? Let me say that, the clearest way of understanding the concept would be to consider alternate phrases that essentially mean the same thing, such as eco-gardening, or creating an ecological or biodiverse garden with few human interventions.
Many of the practices of organic farming, such as nurturing natural insect, fungus and bacterial life in the soil, promoting vegetative decomposition and encouraging beneficial insects to keep balance in the garden, are elements of permaculture.
But, while organic gardeners may attempt to till the soil as little as possible, disturbed ground is anathema in permaculture, since it allows nonnative invasives (or opportunistic plants) to spring forward altering the ecosystem.
In our organic garden, we rotate crops, add amendments, and are constantly working the soil with compost to return the nutrients lost in crop production.
But in permaculture, the goal is to recreate dynamic, vibrant landscapes found in nature, creating a self-sustaining ecosystem with little if any human intervention.
So, they share some processes and aim toward the goal of sustainability and natural balance, but differ in degree and kind.
It’s not “all or nothing,” however. One can incorporate elements of permaculture in one’s food or flower garden.
See Hemenway’s book for photos of some wonderful garden designs that can incorporate permaculture in your backyard.
Felder’s book to be a classic! Speaking of good reads, our own fellow local garden columnist Felder Rushing has a new book coming out in July titled Slow Gardening: A No-Stress Philosophy for All Senses and All Seasons (Chelsea Green, $29.95).
I was sent a review copy, and I’m going to tell you the absolute truth: What a great book!
It covers everything a beginning – and expert! – gardener would need to know, including such “exotic” items as growing a “green” roof, creating a backyard wildlife habitat, secrets of fertilizing and more.
Perhaps the greatest gift of this book is that it lays gardening out as not a hard-to-do chore or activity of “experts,” but something everybody and anybody can do, without much fuss or muss. The purpose of gardening, as Felder points out, is to have fun. How often we forget that!
The photos are incredible, the book laid out well, with large type, and lots of
easy-to-follow instructions. It reads like an old friend, sitting on the porch, rocking, sharing ideas.
Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Gadgets for organic dads

June 17, 2011
Organic ‘gadget’ dads can check their ERGs, ORPs, Brix and sap!
Father’s Day is Sunday and folks looking for something for Dad might consider some gadgets.
I’m not much of a “gadget guy,” but even I find myself mesmerized by some devices.
Some call the Baker Creek Seeds catalog, with its full-color, glossy photos, “vegetable porn” because the depictions are just … well, any gardener would lust for such plump ripeness! Peaceful Valley, for gadget guys, must be similar.
Just looking at the catalog (www.groworganic.com), I find myself wanting “stuff.”
I mean, what garden gadget guy could do without an Oakton ERGS Meter ($79.99)?
What’s an ERG? Why, glad you asked: that’s Energy Released per Gram of Soil – “the amount of energy available to the growing crops and microorganisms,” the catalog helpfully explains.
A reading above 1,000 means a salt problem and potential for root burn and nematodes; below 200 indicates no crop growth.
Now, presumably, you’ve got your pH level ascertained, via a soil sample, but they have meters for that, too.
But who could be without knowing how his ORP is doing?
Don’t know what an ORP is, you say? That’s Oxygen Reduction Potential (or available oxygen) in the soil. ORP and pH readings, together, provide an rH value. That Redox Value (rH) can determine the ability of humus building for the soil, or with a high reading, loss of carbon.
So, I guess you need your ORP Tester ($159) and possibly pH Test Kit ($14.99) to ensure that you’re not accidentally adding to global warming!
And, if you really want to be a hotshot, and show how your organic produce is measurably better than the cardboard stuff on grocery shelves, you need your Sap Extractor ($39.99) along with your Refractometer ($69.99) for measuring Brix.
High Brix indicates adequate nutrition, fertilization success and good immune systems in the plant; sugar content measures maturity. Take that, industrial agriculture!
The only problem with all this is that if I bought all of this “stuff,” I couldn’t afford to buy any seeds!
Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Organic practices lessen E. coli threat

 

June 9, 2011

Organic practices lessen threat of disease

The news this week that a deadly outbreak of E. coli bacteria in Germany was from an organic farm raised flags with me, as much for its improbability as for its deadly nature.

Since those first reports, the German government has backed off its claim that an organic farm produced the outbreak.

While it’s possible for any farm – including an organic farm – to have produce infected by the bacterium, and consumers should always wash produce from the grocery, regardless of source, it’s less likely for organic produce for a variety of reasons.

First, the incidence of virulent strains of E. coli is a direct result of conventional (not organic!) farming of beef, where animals are “finished” on corn.

Ruminants are not naturally equipped to digest corn and it leads to bacteria (E. coli among them) being excreted from the gut. When coupled with the common practice of conventional agriculture (not organic!) to feed antibiotics to farm animals, virulent strains resistant to treatment are formed.

These bacterium are found in the manure of conventionally raised farm animals (not certified organic!) and that manure is often used to fertilize crops.

Here is where the possibility of E. coli can enter the organic food train, depending on the producer:

In certified organic vegetable crop production, strict manure handling is required.

Specifically: The U.S. regulations for organic production require that raw animal manure must be composted unless it is applied to land used for a crop not intended for human consumption; or is incorporated into the soil not less than 120 days prior to the harvest of a product whose edible portion has direct contact with soil; or is incorporated into the soil not less than 90 days prior to the harvest of a product whose edible portion does not have direct contact with the soil surface or soil particles. See 7 CFR 205.203 (c)(1) and (2).

Residual hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, disease organisms and other undesirable substances can be eliminated through high-temperature aerobic composting.

So, presumably, E. coli would be eradicated in certified organic crops – if manure is properly composted or incorporated.

Again, I’m not saying it cannot occur, but, for producers of organic crops, the likelihood of transmitting E. coli is much smaller.And, for those (such as in our case, for example) where only composted horse manure or composted grass-fed or organic cow manure is used, not “raw” manure, or from industrial agriculture confined and corn-finished herds, the likelihood drops to virtually zero.

Me? I say: Eat organic, eat local! Know your farmer. Compose your own compost and manures from known – or OMRI verified – sources.

For the home organic gardner: Anyone who is actually growing his or her own food and uses manure would do well to read the book: Holy Sh*t: Managing Manure To Save Mankind by Gene Logsdon (Chelsea Green, 2010, $17.50).

Online: For more on manures, see Organic Trade Association Q&A: http://bit.ly/eW35Gb.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Heat, drought hard on organic garden

June 2, 2011

Be nimble to adjust to hot weather in organic garden

This hot, dry spell we are in can wreak havoc on plants, so here are a couple of suggestions tailored for the organic garden.

First off, if you are having to water a lot, remember that city water treatment chemicals can build up and also stunt microbial life in the soil. So, it would be worth your while to invest in a chlorine filter. It screws into your garden hose. Filters are available at pool supply stores or online. If you don’t have a pond that’s untreated or rain barrels, this is the next best thing.

Second, frequent watering leaches nutrients from the soil. The best and easiest way to replenish the soil short term is by a top dressing of worm castings. Just apply a thin layer at the plants’ roots.

Third, the high humidity and cool nights with blazing heat during the day is stressing plants so that many may exhibit powdery mildew or blights, especially on tomatoes. You can remedy this organically by using Serenade Garden Disease Control. It is OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute) listed, approved for certified organic crops. It is not a chemical or poison but contains Bacillus subtilis, a soil-dwelling bacterium that controls leaf blight, black mold, powdery mildew and many other diseases.

Nothing beats rain water, but these steps can help your 4×8-foot Jim’s Plot weather the drought.

Another tip that may not endear you to your neighbors, but helps, is allowing the weeds to grow between your plants. In this heat and humidity, the weeds trap moisture in the soil and shade the plants’ roots. This goes against the fencerow-to-fencerow monoculture industrial farming scenario, but it works well on small plots.

Allowing buffer zones, also, that is tall grass weeds to stand between rows or at various junctures, also encourages beneficial insects and gives cover to helpful fauna, such as toads, birds, butterflies and other wildlife.

While we’re at it, don’t be afraid to allow a planting to “go bad.” For example, we had some pretty expensive lettuces we planted in early spring that were almost immediately attacked by insects. But we waited to see what would happen and were rewarded to find that the bugs went for the lettuce but left our chard, carrots, beans, peas and other plants unmolested. The lettuce patch became what’s called “a trap crop,” that is, a patch specifically set aside for bugs to feed on, so other patches are left alone.

The main thing in growing organic is to allow your crops to discover their “feet,” and come into balance. You’ll win some and lose some, but by encouraging good soil and soil nutrients, and supporting helpful methods, rather than poisoning or destroying, allowing growth will be beneficial for you and your garden.

Reader response: I planted clover as a cover crop and now it’s taken over my garden!

Boy, that’s a problem I wish I had – and am actually trying to achieve with one of our fields!

For a cover crop, we planted a mix of New Zealand white clover and strawberry clover that’s supposed to be heat tolerant and withstand drought, while also crowding out weeds. It also provides 110-165 pounds per acre of nitrogen, which is sorely needed in our field.

To “solve” the clover “problem,” just till your crop strips about 3 feet across with 3 feet or more between the rows, and cover the strips with either newspaper, WeedGuard paper or cardboard. Poke a hole in the cover and plant your seed there. Next year, repeat the procedure 3 feet over, sliding your cardboard or redoing your WeedGuard or newsprint (both of which should have biodegraded).

In this fashion, you are allowing the clover to grow except where you are directly planting.

You also are constantly replenishing the soil in old areas while also enriching next year’s plot – essentially labor free. It’s also great for honeybees!

Organic Ag Grants: On May 24, the USDA released the Request for Applications (RFA) for its Organic Transitions Program.

The goal of the program is to support the development and implementation of research, extension and higher education programs to improve the competitiveness of organic livestock and crop producers, as well as those who are newly adopting organic practices.

The deadline is June 30. For more info, see: http://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/organic-research-rfa.

Food desserts: Gov. Haley Barbour recently signed into law a bill to establish a panel to study “food deserts” – that is, rural and urban areas in Mississippi where there are no outlets for fresh produce.

They might consider what local folks in Nashville are doing. In cooperation with Vanderbilt University, grocers, local farmers and health care professionals have started a mobile market. It’s essentially a walk-in trailer with healthy, nutritious food.

They identified the major issues as distance, time, childcare and transport. So, it travels to food deserts with produce for sale and is operated by volunteers.

Good idea! For more information, visit www.nashvillemobilemarket.org.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Better food, a better planet

May 26, 2011

Growing organic makes for better food, a better planet

I had a nice email exchange with a reader about organic gardening, in which he essentially said he “sort of” did it.

As I wrote to the reader, back in the 1980s and ’90s, I was doing as he is now, planting hybrids (Better Boy tomatoes were my faves) and lightly using chemicals. I thought that if I just limited the amount of synthetics, that would be “organic” enough, and I reasoned, what was wrong with hybrids, anyway?

It wasn’t until a few years ago, however, that I found that even a “smattering” of chemicals destroyed the delicate balance of organisms that make up a truly organic garden. By using chemicals to change one issue, such as blight, or bugs, or using harsh, synthetic fertilizer, necessitated even stronger artificial methods in a self-perpetuating cycle. And, all the while, I was destroying the delicate microbial life that enriched the vegetables, ensuring nutrients were going from the ground into my body.

I had no idea that when I occasionally threw a handful of anhydrous ammonia into the compost or soil, I was killing the unseen universe that supported abundant, nutritious, healthy produce.

Further, I had no idea that by relying on hybrids that I was voting with my dollars to decrease planet’s biodiversity.

Every year, between consumers not planting rare seeds and giant Ag Biz conglomerates buying up seed stocks and either converting them to genetically engineered products or discontinuing those lines, we’re reducing food plant diversity.

What happens when we no longer have access to diverse seeds? We set up our food seed supply to be owned by a handful of private multinational corporations and open the way for potential famine when a pathogen inevitably mutates to attack those few lines of patented seeds. And, by the way, do you think that entire nations will calmly starve to death when crops fail and there are few commercial seeds available except those genetically vulnerable to disease?

So, I changed my thinking and behavior to true organic. This is the path I believe is something of a “back to the future” approach, away from petrochemicals and artificial fertility and working toward restoring the earth and bringing balance for healthy crops – and people!

Grow organic. Cultivate heirlooms and rare seeds. Enjoy the rich bounty of the earth. And know you are doing your part for better food, a better planet, for future generations.

Reader response: Ratio for applying compost?

A little bit of compost goes a long way. Apply 1/8 inch to 1/2 inch on your garden. That translates to 1-4 cubic feet of compost for 100 square feet. Incorporate that into the the top 2-4 inches of soil by digging or raking or tilling. Apply more thickly to poorer soils, more lightly to richer soils.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to lay it on more thickly if you have it. Just work it in the soil. At ShooFly Farm, we have several 50-gallon “spin” composters that we use, and they digest down to about 1 1/2 to 2 cubic feet every 90 days. We just keep filling them in sequence, so we generally have compost routinely available. You can also use windrows; that is, pile up the material and turn it from time to time until it’s digested into dark, rich matter.

Author Michael Pollan makes fun of organic gardeners’ fixation with compost, but it’s for a reason: The plants you put into your body contain the nutrients that are in soil. If your soil does not contain the full array of minerals and trace elements, along with the proper beneficial bacteria that allow the plants’ roots’ efficient intake of them, then your food and your body will be lacking essential vitamins and minerals.

It’s called “full belly” syndrome. You can buy processed food, or vegetables grown in depleted soils, and fill your belly, but won’t receive all that you need for strong muscles, bones, hair and teeth. Nurture your compost. By saving such waste as food scraps, coffee grounds, egg shells, melon rinds and yard clippings, you are turning trash into gold. Your compost is like money in the bank – in the coin of health for you and your family!

Reader response: I have a big problem with fire ants taking over my raised beds. How can I control them organically? There is an OMRI-approved fire ant bait called Garden Safe; it’s sold at some Walmarts. You may have to order it online. Although it’s OMRI approved for certified organic gardening, we usually dump coffee grounds on the mounds if they are in the garden per se, then use the Garden Safe around the garden. The active ingredient is Spinosad, which is a bacterium. You can also pour boiling water on the mound.

Online. Plants looking bedraggled? Clip this out and save it: Common symptoms of soil deficiencies: http://www.organicgardening.com/learn-and-grow/nutrient-deficiency-problem-solver.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.