Modern Farmer Farm. Food. Life. Fri, 31 Jul 2015 19:32:02 +0000 en-US hourly 1 How to Make Compost Tea Fri, 31 Jul 2015 19:00:56 +0000

It’s warm, frothy and chocolate brown. You wouldn’t want to drink it, but for your plants, it’s a special treat.

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It’s warm, frothy and chocolate brown. You wouldn’t want to drink it, but for your plants, it’s a special treat.

Compost tea is simply compost in a liquid form. Just like a fine oolong, you take a pinch—or in this case a shovelful—and steep it in water. The nutrients leach out and you shower your plants with them. The roots drink them up and even the leaves can absorb them through their stomata, the tiny pores in leaf tissue.

But the real excitement around compost tea has less to do with nutrients (which occur in very low concentrations in the liquid) and everything to do with the microorganisms it contains, especially beneficial bacteria and fungi. It’s a bit like the concept behind the probiotics you would take for intestinal health, but applied to plants. By coating the roots or leaves of a plant with beneficial bacteria, the theory is that the bad guys—diseases like root rot or powdery mildew—can’t gain a foothold.

Enthusiasts say it is the secret to organic gardening success and can even wipe out serious diseases that have already gained a foothold. Skeptics say the claims about compost tea are based on anecdotal evidence and that scientific studies fail to show such positive results. For the final verdict, you’ll have to try it for yourself and see.

How to Brew Your Own

Brewing up a batch of compost tea is a fun weekend project that can only do good in the garden, even if it’s not a miracle cure. According to the experts, the key is to create an aerobic environment that will cause the best types of microbes to multiply in your tea (it’s also less stinky). The easiest way to oxygenate the brew is with a basic aquarium aerator (the type that connects to air stones with poly tubing) that can be found at any pet supply store.

Step 1: Place three or four air stones in the bottom of a five-gallon bucket and connect the tubing to the aerator. You may need to pick up a splitter valve (also called a gang valve) along with the aerator that allows several stones to run off of one device.

Step 2: Fill a five-gallon bucket one-third of the way with finished compost. Use the best quality compost possible—there should be no identifiable chunks of kitchen scraps, manure or other organic waste in it, just the crumbly brown stuff. The bottom of a compost pile is often the best place to find fully ‘finished’ compost.

Step 3: Add water to the bucket to within 2 or 3 inches of the top. It’s important not to use chlorinated municipal water, as the chlorine will kill the microbes. Rain water or well water are good options, but you can also dechlorinate city water by leaving it out in the sun for 24 hours. If you run the air stones in the water with the aerator, the chlorine will dissipate within an hour.

Step 4: Run the aerator in the compost slurry for two to three days, stirring the mix occasionally with a stick to encourage the substances in the compost to leach into the water.

Step 5: Filter the solids from the tea before using. If you’re applying the compost tea only on the ground, a filter with large holes is sufficient (a burlap bag will do). If you want to spray it on the leaves (if, for instance, you want to treat or prevent foliar diseases), you’ll need a finer filter, such as panty hose or an old pillow case. Simply hold the filter over another five gallon bucket and pour the mixture through it.

Step 6: Dilute the tea before applying at a ratio of one part tea to five or 10 parts dechlorinated water.

Step 7: Apply within several hours of turning off the aerator to prevent the mixture from becoming anaerobic and losing its potency. A spray bottle is sufficient for applying the tea to individual plants, but you’ll need a backpack sprayer (sold in garden centers for applying pesticides) if you’re going to apply it to the entire garden.

Compost Tea Tips

    • The best time to apply compost tea is in the early morning since the plants’ stomata close up once temperatures rise above 80 degrees. Stomata are concentrated on the undersides of the leaves, so make sure to spray from above and below.
    • Compost tea connoisseurs actually brew the tea differently depending on whether it will be used for annual and perennial plants versus woody shrubs and trees. The former prefer a bacteria-dominated tea, while the later prefer fungal tea. To encourage high concentrations of bacteria, add an ounce of unsulphured molasses to the bucket when you start the brew. For fungi-dominated tea, add a quarter cup of flour instead.
    • Kelp powder, rock dust, fish emulsion and other specialty amendments may be blended into the final product for an extra punch of nutrients. Serious compost tea makers may want to invest in a brewing kit, which automates the entire process with single prefabricated device. These range from five gallons in size for backyard gardeners to 500 gallons farm-scale units; costs range $75 to $10,000.
    • Or, for the convenience-minded gardener, many nurseries and garden centers now offer compost tea by the gallon. They do the brewing for you—just bring your own jug and take it straight home to your plants.

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Will “Contains GMO” Labels Scare Off Customers? Fri, 31 Jul 2015 16:00:21 +0000

And do we want it to?

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There are no federally mandated labels to tell consumers whether products do or do not contain genetically modified materials. At least, not yet.

It’s a fight that’s being fought across the country, with grassroots organizations demanding that GMO food be labeled and politicians just as quickly stamping out their efforts. The actual effect of a label is of great concern to farmers who grow GMO food, retailers who sell it and politicians who represent agricultural districts. The worry: How will people react to seeing a USDA “Contains Genetically Modified Produce” on their can of corn?

Though the USDA (and many other studies) says GMO products are perfectly safe, and no study has found appreciable differences in nutritional makeup between GMO and non-GMO products, there are still plenty of reasons opponents are against genetic modification in certain forms. Crops that have been modified to resist pesticides could create even tougher pests. Huge fields of identical plants, when not carefully rotated, can drain the soil of nutrients, requiring copious amounts of environmentally questionable fertilizer.

In other words, there are reasons to be wary of GMOs, and reasons to want a GMO label. It seems almost obvious: Why not have a label? What could be the harm? But there are plenty opposed to labeling, both in and outside the worlds of agriculture and science. As the editors of Scientific American put it in an editorial: “Instead of providing people with useful information, mandatory GMO labels would only intensify the misconception that so-called Frankenfoods endanger people’s health.”

Jane Kolodinsky, chair of the Community Development and Applied Economics Department of the University of Vermont, says, “The intellectual curiosity for me was, well, where’s the evidence for this?”

A new study, led by Kolodinsky and presented on July 27 at the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association annual conference, tries to fill in some of the hypothetical blanks to figure out exactly how people will react to GMO labels. The study asked Vermonters various questions to figure out their level of opposition to GMOs, as well as their level of desire to see GMO labeling. By comparing the relationship between these two data points, the study attempts to draw a conclusion about whether people react to GMO labeling as warnings.

“The intellectual curiosity for me was, well, where’s the evidence for this?”

I called Kolodinsky to ask about the study; I was confused about how you can draw any conclusion about how people will react to hypothetical future labels from merely measuring the desire for labels. “In the absence of a label, you do it theoretically,” she says. “But it has data.” What she found is pretty surprising: There was absolutely no relationship between the desire for a GMO label and opposition to a label. Says the study’s release: “Results showed no evidence that attitudes toward GMOs are strengthened in either a positive or negative way due to a desire for labels that indicate the product contains GM ingredients.”

In other words, merely seeing a GMO label won’t change your mind about GMOs; if you’re already anti-GMO, you won’t have a change of heart thanks to government approval, and if you’re already pro-GMO, a label won’t scare you off. In other other words, GMO labels won’t serve as warnings. But given that about 60 percent of Vermonters identified as anti-GMO, if you let everyone know that your product contains GMO material, you could lose some customers.

Kolodinsky thinks that labels will probably only serve as informational, the same way a label like “sugar-free” works. If you don’t want to buy a GMO, a label will help you avoid that product. If you do want to buy GMO products—and this is generally not mentioned, but genetic modification is also used to make foods healthier—a label will let you know that this is the one to buy. And if you don’t care (those who don’t care or don’t know were considered “not opposed” to GMOs in Kolodinsky’s survey), you can ignore it.

These are all hypotheticals. This isn’t an examination of how people react to labels, because there are no labels. But some studies have been done that crafted artificial labels and had people look at them. Kolodinsky suggests combining the conclusions of the two studies. “When you take the Costanigro and Lusk findings, in 2014, that said in the lab setting they found no evidence that a label would signal warning, and you put it along with my generalizable survey data that basically finds the same thing, even though it’s still theoretical, you can kind of triangulate it,” she says.

The debate over GMO labeling is a messy one, tied in with huge amounts of money, various industries, theological and food safety and environmental activism, all of which is using science as a weapon to make its point. Pick a side and you can find a scientific study “proving” it. Which isn’t to say this is a bad study; it’s a careful piece of work that adds to our understanding of GMO labeling. But it’s only one piece of a very big, very chaotic puzzle.

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Swiss Army (Kind of) Invades France to Help Thirsty Cows Fri, 31 Jul 2015 13:00:18 +0000

Last week during an ongoing heat wave, the Swiss Army caused a minor international incident by sending troops into neighboring France to collect water for their miserably hot, delicious-cheese producing cattle.

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Swiss cows are prized for making delicious cheese. The Swiss really love delicious cheese. When cows are heat-stressed, they produce less milk, and less milk means less cheese.

Last week during an ongoing heat wave, the Swiss Army caused a minor international incident by sending troops into neighboring France to collect water for their miserably hot, delicious-cheese producing cattle.

Residents near France’s Rousses Lake in the Jura mountains along the French-Swiss border were startled when helicopters belonging to the Swiss Army swooped down and began scooping up water into large containers and heading back from whence they came, the BBC reported. The army’s undertaking went on for several hours until local French officials cried foul.

A mass of warm air originating from North Africa and Spain kicked off record-setting temperatures in Switzerland and elsewhere in western Europe that have been hanging around for weeks, thus the need for extra resources.

While the Swiss Army officials had gotten approval for the project from Paris, it hadn’t been communicated to the local government, Daniel Reist, a spokesman for the Swiss Army, told 20 Minutes.

It’s as if U.S. troops had gone into Canada to snag ice to cool down American chickens without warning the provincial government first. (Except that chickens aren’t necessary for making amazing cheese.)

The Swiss government later apologized to France for the misunderstanding, according to Newsweek. But if any people should be able to empathize with their neighbors over cheese-related concerns, it’s the French.

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Even Without a Drought, We’re Depleting Groundwater at an Alarming Pace Thu, 30 Jul 2015 20:30:30 +0000

Kevin Dennehy likes to compare the country’s groundwater supply to a bank account—and we're withdrawing too much.

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Kevin Dennehy likes to compare the country’s groundwater supply to a bank account.

“Just like your bank account, you have funds coming in, funds that are in your bank, and funds that are going out to pay bills,” says Dennehy, the groundwater resources program coordinator for the United States Geological Survey. “The same concept holds for groundwater. We look at the water coming in and the water in storage, filling the space between the granules of soil and sediment, and water going out through withdrawals, into streams, or across geologic boundaries.”

It’s called depletion, and it occurs when the rate of water loss outstrips recharge (the water coming back into the system).

That’s what’s happening right now in western Kansas where some farmers aren’t able to get enough water for their crops from wells fed by the Ogallala Aquifer, which underlies portions of eight states, stretching for nearly 175,000 square miles from South Dakota to Texas. It’s part of the High Plains Aquifer system that sits below one of the primary agricultural regions in the country.

According to Dennehy, the USGS — the government agency tasked with providing reliable scientific information on the health of our ecosystems and environment, among other responsibilities — has monitored this aquifer system for “many years” and the system is continuing to show depletion. He references a 2014 USGS study, which found there was a drop of 15.4 feet in the system from predevelopment times (before 1950) to 2013, with 2.1 feet of that loss occurring between 2011 and 2013. So, that’s 13.6 percent of the loss occurring in just two out of the 60-plus years studied.

But, like a spendthrift with lackluster accounting skills, there’s too much withdrawal and not enough coming back in to keep the water account open.

Another USGS study that looked at aquifer depletion levels across the U.S., including Alaska and Hawaii from 1900 to 2008, also found the process of depletion is speeding up. The water loss between 2000 and 2008 represents about 25 percent of the total loss of 1,000 cubic kilometers that has taken place in the 108-year span. The amount of water we’re talking about could fill Lake Erie twice. A lot of that water pulled from the ground eventually ends up making its way to the oceans, since more water is coming in than can go out through evaporation and other means. This raises global sea levels.

While there are 64 aquifer systems in the country, 30 of them account for 94 percent of the total withdrawals. Dennehy says the largest amount of groundwater (56,900 million gallons per day across the U.S.) is used for irrigation, followed by the public water supply, which uses 16,000 million gallons per day. Self-supplied industrial uses come in third, with 3,570 million gallons per day.

There are various ways to slow depletion, including conservation, increased efficiency of water use, and using alternative water supplies, like brackish groundwater (water containing dissolved solids that must be desalinated before use), says Dennehy. It’s also worth pointing out that in many parts of the U.S., agriculture relies on surface water, not groundwater, to irrigate crops, since in some places groundwater isn’t easily accessible.

So what are farmers to do when their well runs dry? Generally, they can dig more wells or deeper wells, but that means shelling out money. Eventually, they could find that the cost of trying to get water to irrigate their crops outweighs what they could get for those crops at market.

For farmers who rely on the Ogallala Aquifer, there may be a bigger problem. In the High Plains Aquifer, of which the Ogallala is part, “there’s not a freshwater resource deeper” for farmers to drill down into, says Dennehy. This isn’t the case in California’s Central Valley Aquifer and the Mississippi Abatement Area, where depletion is also taking place.

Daniel Devlin, director of the Kansas Water Resources Institute at Kansas State University, told The Kansas City Star in a recent interview that he was “hopeful for California” since “if it starts raining and snowing, their problem may somewhat take care of itself until the next drought” but the problem in Kansas “is going to be here rain or shine.”

If and when it gets to that point—a 2013 study forecasted that the High Plains Aquifer would be 69 percent depleted by 2060—the options for farmers are more limited and could include switching from irrigation farming to dry farming or substituting more drought-resistant crops for what they are currently growing.

“These will all have to be considerations for alternatives for their standard practices that they’re working now,” Dennehy tells Modern Farmer in a phone interview from the USGS headquarters in Reston, Virginia.

Dennehy is part of an ongoing project for the USGS to assess the nation’s groundwater availability in order to develop water budgets for the country’s major aquifers. The information they gather will be used to help local governments and related water agencies responsibly manage their groundwater resources.  According to Dennehy, until we know exactly how much groundwater we have, we can’t begin to plan its management. This project will go a long way toward figuring out just what the nation has to work with.

If you’re looking for ways to help conserve water, click here.

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Plants Freak Out Just Like Animals When Stressed Thu, 30 Jul 2015 17:30:34 +0000

And overcoming that stress could mean huge yields.

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More and more research indicates that plants are more like us than we ever thought. A new study shows that the specific way plants deal with stress is remarkably like the way animals—including people—do.

We’ve already seen studies indicating that plants can tell when they’re being eaten (and that they don’t much like it), but a new study from scientists at the Australian Research Council and published in the journal Nature Communications goes a step further: It shows how plants react to stress, and exactly how similar their system is to ours.

Both plants and animals produce a neurotransmitter known as GABA, which stands for gamma-aminobutyric acid. This acid is primarily produced when the organism is under stress: when it’s hungry, or scared, or exposed to pathogens or (in the case of plants) acidity or salinity.

What has only been suggested up until now is that the presence of this acid acts as a signal to tell the plant to behave in a certain way. That’s changed now. According to the authors of the ARC study, “We’ve discovered that plants bind GABA in a similar way to animals, resulting in electrical signals that ultimately regulate plant growth when a plant is exposed to a stressful environment.”

This sounds like a lot of wonky talk, but it could have huge impacts on the way plants are grown as crops, especially in environments with less-than-ideal soil or climate conditions. Say you’re growing tomatoes in lousy acidic soil. This bad soil will freak out the tomato plants, which will produce GABA. The GABA will tell the plant that times are bad and cause it to, say, grow very small or produce fewer fruits. (That’s just an example; the study didn’t actually test tomatoes in acidic soil.)

But if you know GABA has this effect, that’s one step towards figuring out a way to inhibit the production of GABA, which can then trick the plant into growing as if it wasn’t stuck in lousy soil. It could mean a way for farmers to overcome all sorts of bad conditions, which is pretty amazing.

You can read the whole announcement here.

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Now’s the Time to Think About Your Fall Garden Thu, 30 Jul 2015 13:08:40 +0000

Growing a cold-weather garden to maturity means getting started in mid- to late-summer.

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Cool autumn weather favors a long list of leafy greens and root crops, from spinach and kale to radishes and rutabagas. Planting fall crops may be the last thing on your mind during the dog days of summer, but growing a garden to maturity before cold weather sets in means getting started in mid- to late-summer, just as the first warm-weather crops start to peter out.

Cool weather crops grow best when daytime temperatures are in the 70s and low 80s and nights are in the 40s and 50s. Once evening temperatures start to dip below freezing, most growth will stop, though you can continue to harvest most fall vegetables as long as evening temperatures don’t dip into the teens. The trick is to get them to a harvestable size in time—if you wait until the weather cools off to plant your seeds, it’ll likely be too late.

Count Backwards From Your Frost Date

Each region of the country has an ideal planting window for fall crops. They need time to mature while the weather is still warm, but if planted too early they may be stunted by the heat and many will bolt, meaning they will send up flower stalks and set seed prematurely, leaving the edible portion of the crop tough and bitter.

To find the optimal time to plant fall crops, you need to know the average date of first frost in your area. Your local cooperative extension office or any local nursery should be able to provide this information, or you can look it up in an online almanac. Then, check the back of the seed packet for each crop you want to plant for the “days to maturity.” Subtract that number from the average date of last frost to find the best time to plant.

For example, if you want to grow Calabrese broccoli, which needs about 75 days to mature, and your average date of first frost is October 15, plant the seeds no later than August 1. It’s better to err on the side of planting a bit early because growth will slow as the days get shorter, so the last two weeks of July is the optimal planting window in this scenario. Plus, you never know if cold weather will come earlier than usual.

Sow Your Seeds

It’s easiest to start fall crops in flats rather than sow the seeds directly in the ground, so you can start them in a partially shaded area outdoors or in a sunny window indoors. The seedbed needs to remain evenly moist for germination to occur, which may require watering several times a day if temperatures are in the 90s. Alternatively, string up a canopy of shade cloth over a bed and start them directly where they are to grow.

Plant the Seedlings

Once your plants have two “true” leaves, which look more like the leaves on a mature plant, they’re ready to be planted. Although warm weather vegetables, like tomatoes, beans, squash and cucumbers, tend to be large, sprawling plants, most cool-weather crops are pint-sized in comparison, which makes them easy to plug into any available open space in the late summer garden. If any of your summer crops have succumbed to disease and are declining, pull them out and pop the fall crops in their place. You can even plug in fall seedlings around the base of taller summer crops that are still producing—they will benefit from the shade while the weather is still hot. Once the weather cools to the 70s or 80s during the day, however, cut the summer crops to the ground so the fall crops will flourish in full sun.

There is no need to till vegetable beds that have had summer crops growing in them before planting fall crops, but it helps to fork the soil lightly to loosen the top couple inches of soil, which may have become compacted over the course of the growing season. If you’re squeezing the seedlings in around existing summer plants, try to break up the crust on top of the soil at planting time and use a trowel to loosen the soil for each seedling to a depth of 4 or 5 inches—the larger plants shouldn’t mind the soil disturbance at this point in the season.

Assuming compost and soil amendments were mixed into the beds at planting time, there should be enough nutrients to support healthy growth of the fall crops. It never hurts to spread a fresh layer of compost on top of the soil when you plant them, however. Water the seedlings whenever the top inch of soil becomes dry to the touch. Fortunately, pests and disease are usually less of a problem once the weather cools.

The Fall Harvest

Cool weather brings out the best flavor in leafy greens and many root crops. Cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, carrots and Brussels sprouts become extra sweet as the days become shorter. In the mild winter climates of California, Florida and the Deep South, fall crops may continue to produce all winter long. Wherever freezing weather is common, they will eventually succumb to the cold. In this case, you still have the option of installing row covers or cold frames over the crops to keep them alive and available for harvest well into early winter.

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14 All-Star Chefs Revolutionizing the Way We Farm and Eat Wed, 29 Jul 2015 16:00:34 +0000

The chefs—each with a cause—gather in Louisiana to cook a free-form feast and formulate a plan.

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"Food as a single subject has more impact on human, environmental, societal, and economic health than any other topic,” says Connecticut chef Michel Nischan, founder of the nonprofit Wholesome Wave, which strives to make farm-fresh produce available in low-income communities. And no one, Nischan believes, has more impact on the food we eat than restaurateurs. (How do you think kale, bison, and “trash fish” entered the mainstream?)

In 2012, Nischan and fellow activist Eric Kessler teamed up with the James Beard Foundation to host the first Chefs Boot Camp for Policy and Change at Blackberry Farm in eastern Tennessee. Since its debut, the program has welcomed 75 culinary professionals into the fold, helping them articulate and advocate for the causes that concern them most, from genetic modification to childhood nutrition to forging stronger ties with organic farmers. “We wanted to encourage more chefs to step out of the kitchen and get involved in policymaking,” explains Kessler.

The foundation’s most recent Chefs Boot Camp brought 14 culinary stars from across the nation to Avery Island, Louisiana, home to Tabasco, for three days of intensive workshops on topics as diverse as how to shepherd a bill through Congress, harness the power of social media, and create a like-minded network of supporters. In one session, participants broke into groups to craft the one-minute pitches they’d give if stuck in an elevator with, say, Michelle Obama or the chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations.

Which is not to suggest that every moment was devoted to such serious business. On the final night of the conference, the chefs teamed up to cook dinner for some 60 guests of Tabasco and the James Beard Foundation—in just 90 minutes. Held at Marsh House, an impressive 1818 homestead on Avery Island, the collaborative feast unfolded like an episode of Top Chef on steroids. After sizing up the provided ingredients in the pantry, the group sprung into action. Seamus Mullen, owner of Tertulia in New York City, butchered a boar that had been hunted earlier in the day by Avery Island land managers, while Victor Albisu, of Del Campo in Washington, D.C., prepared an aromatic spice rub for the meat. Pastry chef Emily Luchetti, of San Francisco’s Marlowe, Park Tavern, and The Cavalier restaurants, got to work washing berries and peeling apples for a cobbler. Michel Nischan ran interference, prepping onions for one dish, searing chunks of wild boar for another. Gumbo, black-eyed peas, and a spicy boar vindaloo, thick with garlic, and okra simmered on the stove, as dumplings were sealed and fried, tag-team style, by Lee Anne Wong and Christian Thornton of Atria on Martha’s Vineyard.

james beard chefs boot camp dinner prep

After the chefs raided the pantry—stocked with crawfish, okra, black-eyed peas, and more—it was game-on in the Marsh House kitchen.

As the guests sat down to eat, many of the chefs hung back, sipping cold beers and cocktails, still a little dazed from the nonstop push that led to the meal. Connections had clearly been forged and friendships cemented over a mutual respect for food and its power to bring people together. “When the chefs come to boot camp, they don’t fully realize what they’ve signed up for,” says Eric Kessler.

james beard chefs boot camp dinner

Guests of the James Beard Foundation and Tabasco gathered at tables set beneath Marsh House’s centuries-old live oaks.

By the time they leave, however, they’re energized by the power and possibility of working collectively to make a difference. Or as James Beard Award-winning pastry chef Sherry Yard put it: “This whole experience made me realize I’m not an army of one.”


The Chefs and Their Causes

Bill Telepan, chef-owner of Telepan, New York City

Cause: promoting healthy food in schools (

Victor Albisu, chef-owner of Del Campo, Washington, D.C.

Cause: reducing hunger and food insecurity

Renée Loux, chef and cookbook author, New York City and Los Angeles

Cause: championing plant-based food and GMO labeling (

Asha Gomez, chef-owner of Spice to Table, Atlanta

Cause: working to end hunger through legislation (

Lee Anne Wong, chef-owner of Koko Head Cafe, Honolulu

Cause: Advocating for GMO labeling and agricultural land use in Hawaii (

Michel Nischan, chef and food-policy activist, Bridgeport, CT

Cause: making affordable produce available in underserved communities (

Jamie Simpson, executive chef at The Chef’s Garden and The Culinary Vegetable Institute, Huron and Milan, OH

Cause: advocating for sustainable agriculture and practices (

Seamus Mullen, chef-owner of Tertulia, New York City

Cause: encouraging health and wellness through fresh, seasonal food (

Not pictured: 

David Carson, executive chef at Bacchanalia, Atlanta
Cause: establishing and nurturing relationships between Georgia chefs and farmers (

Michael Leviton, chef-owner of Lumière, Newton, MA
Cause: promoting locally sourced ingredients (

Emily Luchetti, chief pastry officer at Marlowe, Park Tavern, and The Cavalier, San Francisco
Cause: Changing perceptions about sugar through her #dessertworthy campaign (

Kevin Mitchell, chef-instructor at the Culinary Institute of Charleston
Cause: educating children about healthful eating (

Christian Thornton, chef-owner of Atria, Martha’s Vineyard, MA
Cause: forging greater connections between New England’s restaurants and its farmers and fishermen (

Sherry Yard, chef-owner of Helms Bakery (opening 2016), Los Angeles
Cause: preparing high school students for jobs in the restaurant industry (


The post 14 All-Star Chefs Revolutionizing the Way We Farm and Eat appeared first on Modern Farmer. 0 james-beard-chefs-boot-camp-kitchen After the chefs raided the pantry—stocked with crawfish, okra, black-eyed peas, and more—it was game-on in the Marsh House kitchen. PageLines- james-beard-boot-camp.jpg
Here’s Your Chance to Snag a Farm in a National Park Wed, 29 Jul 2015 13:00:48 +0000

Think you’re ready to quit your current job for a farm life surrounded by luscious natural beauty?

The post Here’s Your Chance to Snag a Farm in a National Park appeared first on Modern Farmer.

The chickens, hogs, and humans living the farm life in Ohio's Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP) might soon have new neighbors.

Two parcels of land were added to Countryside Initiative, a long-term lease program parented by the National Park Service and nonprofit Countryside Conservancy that invites the motivated to live and farm within the boundaries of national parkland.

The two available parcels join nine farms already in action in CVNP. A tenth working farm withdrew from the program earlier this year for personal reasons, according to a representative for Countryside Conservancy.

Countryside Initiative’s nine current farms include a vineyard with wine on tap and a farm with a flower delivery service. The available parcels, both with renovated farm houses and at least nine acres of land, are suited to grow fruits and vegetables and support livestock, either via management-intensive grazing or integrated crop-livestock operations.

Think you’re ready to quit your current job for a 60-year lease on a farm, surrounded by luscious natural beauty? Those interested should check out the Request for Proposals (RFP) released last week. It’s not just a matter of applying, though: The competition is real.

“I know there were at least 20 other folks who wrote for the farm that we wrote for,” says Daniel Greenfield, owner of Greenfield Berry Farm, which was granted a lease in CVNP in 2005. “Your proposal has to be persuasive. You must show that you have the financial resources to get your operation up and running, and that if there are topics you aren’t knowledgeable about, you have a plan in place to learn. After multiple interviews, [my wife and I] were granted the lease.”

At time of proposal, Greenfield had almost no farming experience. “I was just finishing up a PhD with a focus on the philosophy of environmental education. I was writing about people like Thoreau and others who lived off the land and tried to make the most of it, for better or worse,” says Greenfield. “I started considering farming as a career option. I immediately started taking classes and volunteering on farms, figuring out what would and wouldn’t work for me.”

“I don’t think this program was meant to appeal to established farmers who already have their own land,” says Greenfield, whose pick-your-own farm focuses on educational tours and field trips for students.

No matter who the program was meant to appeal to, it was meant to preserve the long rural history at the roots of the Cuyahoga Valley. CVNP’s 41 years of protection and preservation (first as a National Recreation Area since 1974, and now as a National Park since 2000) are dwarfed by nearly 2,000 years of farming history. Although not quite that ancient, the two farms up for lease this year have documented history from the mid-1800s.

For those worried that farming national parkland might come with less authority and more work, fear not. “Nobody is micromanaging your life out here,” says Greenfield. “The National Park Service makes sure to pick knowledgeable and capable people. Every year, [Countryside Initiative farmers] write out a plan for their land and submit it. As long as you’re honest about your plan and what you want to do is good for the park, the Park Service and Countryside Conservancy will let you do it.”

You can find more info on the available farms as well as how to submit a proposal here.  You have until Wednesday, September 16 to get your application in. Maybe these farms will be up your alley (or down your valley).

The post Here’s Your Chance to Snag a Farm in a National Park appeared first on Modern Farmer. 0
Cucumber and Azalea Salad with Gin Vinaigrette Recipe Tue, 28 Jul 2015 20:37:33 +0000

No azaleas? No problem. Jamie Simpson says you can use any fresh edible flower—nasturtiums, borage, begonias—available to you locally.

The post Cucumber and Azalea Salad with Gin Vinaigrette Recipe appeared first on Modern Farmer.

No azaleas? No problem. Jamie Simpson, executive chef at the Chef’s Garden in Huron, Ohio, says you can use any fresh edible flower—nasturtiums, borage, begonias—available to you locally.

Serves 8

2 English cucumbers
Large bowl of ice water
1 ounce English gin
Juice of 1 lemon
1 bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley, stems removed, minced, and set aside
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ cup pecans, halved lengthwise
1½ teaspoons salt
Azaleas (be sure to remove leaves, stamen, and carpel) or other edible flowers

1. Using a vegetable peeler, shave long, even slices from one side of cucumber; when you have reached the seeds at its core, turn the cucumber over and continue shaving even slices from the other side until you are left with ribbons and cucumber cores. Transfer ribbons to ice bath; cut cucumber cores into bite-size chunks and set aside.

2. In a bowl, whisk together gin, lemon juice, minced parsley stems, and olive oil. Drain cucumber ribbons well. In another bowl, toss cucumber ribbons, cucumber chunks, and pecans with salt and vinaigrette. Spread dressed cucumbers on a serving plate; garnish with parsley leaves and azaleas or other edible flowers. Serve immediately.


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Spicy Pan-Fried Vegetable Dumplings Recipe Tue, 28 Jul 2015 20:37:27 +0000

This recipe has a peppery kick, thanks to Tabasco in the filling and dough.

The post Spicy Pan-Fried Vegetable Dumplings Recipe appeared first on Modern Farmer.

For peppery kick, Lee Anne Wong, owner and executive chef at Honolulu’s Koko Head Cafe, spikes both the dumpling dough and filling with Tabasco.

Makes 50 to 60 dumplings

3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 tablespoon Tabasco sauce
1½ cups boiling water

¼ cup olive oil
1 large onion, finely diced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 cup finely diced carrot
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and finely diced
1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded, and finely diced
8 cups shredded green cabbage
¼ cup beer
3 tablespoons Tabasco sauce
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
Juice of ½ lemon
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon minced fresh oregano leaves
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
½ cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, minced
Vegetable oil for pan-frying

1. Make the dough: Put flour in a large bowl and make a well in center. Add Tabasco to boiling water and pour into flour well. Stir with a fork until a sticky dough begins to form. Transfer to a well-floured surface and knead for 3 to 4 minutes (warning: dough will be very hot to the touch) until a smooth, soft ball forms. Wrap in plastic wrap; let rest for 15 to 20 minutes.

2. Make the filling: Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat olive oil over high heat. Add onion and season lightly with salt. Reduce heat to medium-high and cook until onions are translucent, 7 to 10 minutes. Add garlic, carrots, and bell peppers; cook 5 minutes, stirring often. Add cabbage, season to taste with salt and pepper; stir well. Cover pan partially with aluminum foil. Cook, gently shaking the pan often, until cabbage is soft and has released its liquid, about 10 minutes. Remove foil and stir in beer, Tabasco, Worcestershire, and lemon juice.

3. In another bowl, mix flour with brown sugar. Sprinkle over vegetables and stir well; cook until all liquid evaporates, about 2 minutes. Stir in herbs, cook 1 minute more; season to taste with salt and pepper. Set filling aside to cool completely before assembling dumplings.

4. Meanwhile, divide dough into 4 equal pieces. Form each piece into a 1-inch rope and cut into ½-inch segments (you’ll get 50 to 60 segments). Using a rolling pin, roll out each segment into a 3-inch-round wrapper and assemble dumplings using the technique below.

5. To pan-fry the dumplings, heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon vegetable oil to pan; place dumplings in pan lined up next to each other. Cook until dumpling bottoms turn golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Add ½ cup water to pan, being careful of steam and splatter; cover with a lid. Cook dumplings until all liquid evaporates, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove lid and cook until dumpling bottoms begin to crisp again, a few minutes more. Transfer dumplings to a platter and repeat with more oil and remaining dumplings.

Assemble the Dumplings:






1. Place 1 wrapper in palm of your nondominant hand and spoon 1 tablespoon filling into center.






2. With your other hand, fold wrapper’s bottom edge up to meet the top one, forming a half-moon shape, and pinch together in center.






3. Working from 1 corner of dumpling to the other, use your dominant hand to make 4 to 6 small pleats along top edge of dumpling, pressing gently with your thumb to seal.






4. Place each sealed dumpling on a lightly floured baking sheet and cover with a cloth. Repeat until all dumplings are formed.

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