A Hairy Cucumber: Mezzo Lungo di Polignano

There’s a crass joke or limerick to be made here but I’ll leave that up to you, our dear readers. I’ll just say that this cucumber, an Italian heirloom called Mezzo Lungo di Polignano, has done well for us this summer. No powdery mildew and it’s tasty. I got the seeds from Craig Ruggless at www.gardenedibles.com. I wrote Craig to ask him about it and he replied,

“This is one of my favorites. They are also very good when left on the vine to get larger. Be sure to peel and remove the seeds. They make a great “boat” for salad fillings Like tuna or salmon with lemon and capers in maybe a mayo or yogurt dressing.”

The salad boat idea, in our case with tomatoes and a yogurt dressing, made for one of my favorite meals this summer. As for the hairy skin–biodiversity in action–and there something to be said for variety and aesthetics even though that crazy skin never ends up on the dining room table.

Raw Milk Talk With Mark McAfee of Organic Pastures on the Homegrown Evolution Podcast

Image from the Organic Pastures website


In the second episode of the Homegrown Evolution podcast we present a talk by Mark McAfee, founder and CEO of Organic Pastures Dairy, a raw milk dairy in California. The talk was recorded on August 28th, 2010 and was sponsored by Altadena Heritage and the Arroyo Food Co-op.

McAfee had slides, but I think the talk is self explanatory without them for the most part. When he mentions his neighbor’s farm he showed a slide of a typical concentrated dairy operation: a lot of cows packed together in muddy pens. By contrast, the cattle on Organic Pastures’ land grazes on green grass. Another point that might need to be clarified is that when McAfee mentions the two kinds of raw milk he is referring to his own milk, meant for consumption raw and most other dairies whose milk is only raw for the brief period between when it leaves the cow and when it is pasteurized.

Click on the player above to hear the podcast. You can also subscribe to the Homegrown Evolution podcast in iTunes or download an mp3 of the podcast via archive.org here:

http://www.archive.org/download/HomegrownEvolutionPodcast2RawMilkTalkByMarkMcafee/HEPodcast2.mp3

A big thanks for letting us record this talk goes out to the folks at Altadena Heritage who, incidentally, sponsor some amazing events. Check their website for details. And also thanks to Mark McAfee who is open and transparent in his business and operations. Unlike his competition, you can visit his farm and see where your milk comes from.

We’re raw milk fans but realize there’s considerable difference of opinion on the subject. Let us know where you stand on raw dairy–leave a comment! And listen to McAfee’s talk.

New Homegrown Evolution Events Calendar Widget Thngy

Never mind this post. I’m in the process of creating a Google calendar for the site. Stay tuned.
I’ve created an events listing widget for events we’re either involved with or simply think are cool. You will find this widget along the right side of this page and at http://twtvite.com/hgevolve. Click on an event and you’ll get a map and the ability to add the listing to your busy calendars. You can also Facebookasize it and tweet it. Right now we’ll focus on Southern California happenings, but will consider expanding it nationally (internationally?) with the release of our new book Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World in the spring.

The fist event up is a lecture on raw milk by dairyman Mark McAfee, taking place today in Altadena. I’m still figuring out how to use this application–it shows us as one of the organizers, but that’s not the case. We just think you should go!

Thanks to Stephen Box, on whose blog I spotted twtvite. Vote for Box!

Changing Egg Habits

photo by Buzz Carter

Got the last word in an Associated Press article on the egg recall: Egg recall has some changing buying, eating habits. Basically, I said small is beautiful–better to have lots of  people with four hens each rather than a few people with hundreds of thousands. Too bad food safety laws winding their way through Washington are being crafted to favor the big guys who caused this recent outbreak. More on that anon.

Black Mission Fig vs. Janice Seedless Kadota FIgs

Janice Seedless Kadota (top), Black Mission Fig (bottom)

Who wins the flavor battle between Black Mission figs and Janice Seedless Kadota figs? The verdict: Black Mission figs are damn good, but Janice Seedless Kadotas are damn better! We’re jealous of Homegrown Neighbor who has one of these beauties.

Patented in 1993 and sold wholesale by the Dave Wilson Nursery, Janice figs are white and incredibly sweet. Ask your local nursery to order one from Dave Wilson for you. But note, this is a variety for Mediterranean climates.

For excellent directions on growing figs see this info sheet from the California Rare Fruit Growers.

Italian immigrants desperate for the flavors of home pioneered growing figs in northerly climates. See this discussion over at GardenWeb for cold climate fig strategies.

Extreme Recycling

Over at Edible Geography a post, Upgrade Excreta, on three artists and designers working with human waste. Above, design student James Gilpin, who has allegedly figured out how to turn the pee of elderly diabetics into fine single malt scotch. Now that’s what I call recycling!

Meanwhile, Chicago artist and activist Nancy Klehm has completed her Humble Pile humanure project, releasing a stunning t-shirt in the process.

Lastly, designer Tobias Wong has created little glittery pills that make your poop sparkle.

Thoughts On the Egg Recall

An AP reporter just called to ask for my comment on the recent egg recall. He asked if I thought more people would start backyard chicken flocks. I said yes, adding that I believed that a “distributed” form of agriculture, i.e. many more people keeping small numbers of animals rather than small numbers of professionals in charge of tens of thousands of birds, would lead to greater food safety. Backyard flocks can get infected with salmonella. But if my birds get infected only two people get sick rather than 2,000. I can also keep a better eye on my flock’s health and rodent issues than can a minimum wage employee in charge of 10,000 hens. A small farmer has the same advantages–literally fewer eggs in one basket.

I went on to get up on my high horse and suggested that our current agricultural system goes against nature. As Heraclitus puts it, “Though the logos is common, the many live as if they had a wisdom of their own.” By the “logos” Heraclitus means the underlying, ordering principles of the universe. Applied to a chicken those underlying principles are that a chicken is a bird and that birds in nature have access to dirt, bugs, sunlight and vegetation. To keep them in battery cages under artificial light is a kind of arrogance, an assumption that we humans know exactly what a chicken needs, that we have a “wisdom of our own.” Admittedly, a chicken is domesticated animal, but that doesn’t give us the right to make the kinds of sudden, radical changes in animal husbandry that have been made in the past hundred years. To go against the logos is to court catastrophic failure.

All is Fire

Photo by Olivier Ffrench

Scholar, former Wall Street trader and author Nassim Nicholas Taleb is in his native Lebanon this week shopping for olive groves, according to an article in today’s Wall Street Journal (enter “Taleb’s Pessimism Lures CIC” in Google to get around the pay wall). Taleb explains, “Healthy investments are those that produce goods that humans need to consume, not flat-screen TVs. Stocks are not a robust investment. Make sure you have a garden that bears fruits.”

Amen to that. Taleb’s book, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable along with Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic and the fragments of Heraclitus are what I point people to when they ask, “so why do you do these things, gardening, pickling, brewing etc.” Invoking these stoic philosophers both ancient and modern is along winded and perhaps pretentious way of saying that I believe, along with Taleb, that the “highly improbable” is more probable than we think and that it’s best to do the things within our power to do and not worry about what’s going on beyond what we can change.

That China’s Sovereign-Wealth Fund is considering investing in the bearish (to put it mildly) investment fund Taleb advises worries me. Time to turn that RiteAid parking lot into an olive grove! I’ll rent the jackhammers–any volunteers?

Seltzer Works Doc Screens on PBS

Photo by Film First Co/ Ben Wolf

Seltzer Works, a seven minute mini-documentary about one of the last seltzer fillers, Kenny Gomberg of Brooklyn, will screen Tuesday August 24th at 10 p.m. (check local listings) on PBS’s Point of View series. Filmmaker Jessica Edwards, directed this engaging short.

Photo by Film First Co/ Ben Wolf

The thick glass bottles Gomberg uses allow him to carbonate at much greater pressure than either store bought or home carbonating systems. And the valve on those old bottles allows for dispensing seltzer without the entire bottle losing pressure. As Gomberg points put it in Seltzer Works, good seltzer should tickle the back of the throat when you drink it. And, of course, those bottles get reused over and over again.  

A publicist for PBS sent me a copy of Seltzer Works, and the shots of Gomberg’s beautiful old machinery alone are worth making sure to catch this short, which screens along with a feature documentary The Edge of Dreaming (which I have not screened).

I fondly remember seltzer delivery here in Los Angeles. Every week a deliveryman would drop off a case at the photo lab I worked at in the early 1980s. But, as far as I can tell, Los Angeles no longer has any seltzer delivery companies. As Gomberg says, “It’s not just a drink, it’s a piece of history.” I suspect that this piece of history may make a comeback. We’ve seen a cocktail renaissance of late. What about the decent seltzer required for those cocktails?

Seltzer Works website: http://www.seltzerworks.com/

Raw Milk Talk by Mark McAfee of Organic Pastures Saturday August 28th

Mark McAfee, founder and CEO of raw milk dairy Organic Pastures, will speak Saturday August 28th at 2 pm at the Altadena Community Center, located at 730 E. Altadena Drive in Altadena. McAfee is a compelling and lively speaker and the owner of the first raw dairy in California with certified organic pasture land. I heard him speak before and some of the stories he tells of raids by overzealous government agents are right out of a Western. This talk is simply not to be missed. The event is open to the public, free and Organic Pastures milk will be availiable for tasting. For more information contact [email protected].

To read more about McAfee and his dairy, see this article by the Rodale Institute, “Simple, complex and raw: the amazing success of Organic Pastures Dairy.