Back to the Ranch

Ranch photo from the Huntington’s Ranch blog.

I’ve never had so much fun at a symposium as I did at the Huntington’s urban agriculture blow-out this weekend. The two day event launched the Huntington’s new experimental urban agricultural station known as the “Ranch” and featured a diverse bunch of speakers. The Ranch will provide much needed information on edible landscapes and food forestry, particularly for those of us in the southwest. Designed by Scott Kleinrock, the Ranch, with its combination of fruit trees, intensive vegetable plantings and California natives is already stunning–by next year it will be a paradise. The Ranch has a blog at http://huntingtonblogs.org/theranch/.

Some highlights from the symposium after the jump:

Coming Home to Eat: The Pleasures and Politics of Local FoodAuthor Gary Nabhan presented “Adapting Food Production to a Hotter, Drier World: Using Agricultural Stations to Train Future Farmers.” Nabhan stressed the dire situation those of us living in arid climates face with climate change and the importance of experimental stations such as the Ranch in figuring out next steps. You can read some of Nabhan’s articles on his website at http://garynabhan.com/.

Dr. Susan Mulley of Cal Poly Pomona presented the results of her research in a surprisingly engaging and amusing lecture, “Are Vegetables Private?” and Other Questions: Belief and Perception and Their Impacts on Urban Agriculture.” Mulley’s work involves surveying the general public and landscaping professionals on their aesthetic likes and dislikes. The data she presented during the lecture involved perceptions of residential and institutional edible and native landscapes. Not surprisingly, the general public tends to favor landscapes that are orderly and neat while landscape professionals are more comfortable with “wildness.” The take-away for me is that those of us in the “urban farm” movement need to be more cognizant of aesthetics. As Mulley put it, most people prefer landscapes that show, “the human touch.” I think it would be best to work with that human touch rather than fight it.

Tara Kolla of Silver Lake Farms told the story of her journey to make a living as an urban farmer growing and selling cut flowers. Kolla began by emphasising something most people don’t know, that most cut flowers you buy at markets are drenched in pesticides. Kolla’s entrepreneurial efforts were soon thwarted by NIMBY neighbors whose complaints to local inspectors resulted in the birth of the Urban Farming Advocates. The UFA went on to craft, along with the city’s planning department, the “Food and Flowers Freedom Act” which made it legal in the city of Los Angeles to grow fruits, nuts and flowers and resell them.

Kelly and I spoke next in a rambling and bizarre lecture that involved vegetables, barefoot running and humanure among other topics. Kelly kept things on track, as usual, and headed off my tendency towards pretentious quotes. I did get to use my favorite Marshall McCluhan saying, “If you don’t like that idea, I’ve got others.”

Darren Butler presented a talk entitled, “Food Forestry and Living Systems” that echoed Nabhan’s call for for food forestry research in our arid climate. I’m looking forward to taking Butler’s grafting workshop this winter.

Edible LandscapingThe day concluded with a dazzling presentation by Rosalind Creasy whose groundbreaking book Edible Landscaping has just been updated. As Mulley’s research proves, if we want to get more folks to replace their lawns with more useful plants we’ve also got to pay attention to aesthetics. Creasy, through her gardens and writing, has proven that useful and beautiful can be one and the same. My other thought on hearing Creasy’s lecture is that perhaps we’d be better off not using the phrase “urban farming.” “Edible landscaping” or “edible landscapes” would be more accurate and less likely to bring up bad associations some people have with agriculture.

I’ve left out a lot of details on this amazing conference and may write a few more blog posts to unpack what I learned. Congratulations to the hard working staff of the Huntington for pulling off an auspicious debut for the Ranch.

Growing Home: Agriculture in the City

We’re pleased as punch to have been invited to participate in this fantastic symposium hosted by the Huntington Library & Gardens in Pasadena.  It’s a full day of presentations, tours and practical breakout sessions. We’re generally slow to open the wallet for events, but we’d gladly pay the $25 admission for this one. 

Check out the line up below! Homegrown Neighbor will be there (Full Circle), as well as Tara of Silver Lake Farms–she who knows everything about soil and helped us redesign our garden. Our buddies from Backwards Beekeepers will be there, too.  Food Not Lawns, Fallen Fruit…all these people are so amazing , its hard to even choose highlights.  Seriously. If you live in So. Cal, you have to come. Come and say hi.


Growing Home
Saturday, November 13, 8:30am-5:30pm
In celebration of all that’s home grown, is a day of talks, tours and demonstrations by local experts on topics from nurturing soil to keeping chickens to growing organic flowers and produce.  Rosalind Creasy, edible landscaping pioneer, is the keynote speaker.  Other presenters from: Silverlake Farms, Homegrown Evolution, Food Not Lawns, Darren Butler, Full Circle Gardens, Metabolic Studio, Backwards Beekeepers, Fallen Fruit, Sustainable Habitats, Master Gardeners, and Little Flower Candy Company.
And the day before, Friday, there’s an academic symposium which also sounds fascinating. Gary Nabham wrote Where Our Food Comes From, and about a hundred other books: 

Bringing Home the Ranch
Friday, November 12, 8:30am-8:00pm
Combining talks presenting a range of perspectives with a student poster session and Ranch tour, this one-day symposium brings together academics, students, and professionals interested in the future of urban agriculture. Gary Nabhan, world-renowned ethnobotanist, ecologist, writer, and grower of heritage food crops, will be the keynote speaker.  

Tickets and details available through www.brownpapertickets.com

Three Events Coming Up: Ciclovia, Huntington Plant Sale and Homegrown

This Sunday October 10th from 10 am to 3 pm, Los Angeles will host a bike/pedestrian festival “Ciclavia,” modeled on similar street festivals that originated in Bogata, Columbia. It’s a seven mile route from the Bicycle Kitchen to Boyle Heights with streets fully open to human powered transit (seems like a better way to put it than “closed to cars”). I’ll be there along with Homegrown Neighbor and Mrs. Homegrown More information at http://ciclavia.wordpress.com.

Also this weekend October 9th through the 11th the Huntington Library and Gardens will host their annual plant sale. More information here in their events listings. I’d like to go but Mrs. Homegrown is worried I’ll drag weird plants home that we have no space for. But that shouldn’t stop all of you from going!

On Saturday, October 23rd we’ll join fellow Process Media author Deborah Eden Tull and many other speakers and vendors at the Homegrown “seed to plate” festival (note: though we share the “homegrown” moniker we’re participants not organizers). According to the Homegrown website, it will be a “free event celebrating food, sustainable gardening and an ecological lifestyle.” We’ll be doing a workshop at 2pm on how you can make a self irrigating pot out of two five gallon buckets. At 12 pm Tull, author of The Natural Kitchen: Your Guide to the Sustainable Food Revolution will also do a workshop. The event will be held at Media Park in Culver City. More information at http://www.homegrownculvercity.com.

Bean Fest, Episode 7: The Home-Ec Supper Club

Mrs. Homegrown here:

Welcome back to Bean Fridays! A change of pace this week: Instead of a recipe, an idea.

Our friend Ari was hanging out with us a while back, and we were talking about how its fun to eat at a friend’s house, even if they don’t serve up anything special, how a commonplace dish for one person is a novel thrill to another. And of course,  how just being together is what makes it fun.

The problem is that we too often think that having people over for dinner means throwing a dinner party, and that you have to really put on the dog: clean the house, cook a fancy multi-course meal, deploy table runners and wine charms and strange little forks and who knows what. Even throwing a backyard bbq can get pricey and involved.

Well, maybe some people are liberated enough to not think this way, but I have deep, even genetically programmed anxiety about hostessing that transforms me from my usually lazy self into a Martha Stewart demon at the mere mention of a dinner party. (Ask Erik.)

Well, good-bye to that and hello Home-Ec Supper Club, also called the Beans and Rice Party.

This is the deal that Ari, Erik and I came up with. We’d invite over a mixed group of friends with similar interests in home-ec, home arts, bikes, brewing, bees, homesteading, whatever you want to call it. Practical people, basically.  Erik and I, as hosts, would provide a simple, cheap big pot of something. Cheap being key, because we’re broke. We made rice and beans. The Bastardized Puerto Rican Bean recipe from few weeks ago, as a matter of fact. Stew or chili would be another good option.

Having that on hand, we know no one is going hungry, but for variety, we threw open the door to the guests to bring anything they want–or absolutely nothing at all—but not to spend more than 5 bucks on anything they did decide to bring. We didn’t want to cause those grim forced marches to the liquor store to buy a nice bottle of wine, or emergency trips to the deli case of Whole Foods. No. We wanted people’s surplus, or nothing at all. What did they have in the garden? What were they sick of eating? That’s a Home Ec Supper contribution.

It wasn’t hard to make some beans and rice, and it sure didn’t stress our budget. I didn’t clean the house up much beyond basic hygiene. There was zero tablescaping. We had 12 guests, more than Erik and I have ever had to dinner. It stretched our crockery to the limit. Some people had to eat out of bowls instead of plates. Others had to drink out of jam jars and novelty cocktail glasses. To seat them all, we had to bring our outside table inside and line it up with our usual table–and we borrowed 5 chairs from Homegrown Neighbor. Everyone had to squash up tight.

The guests arrived with amazing offerings from their yards and kitchens, everything from a bowl of sweet, ripe pineapple guavas to a salad with green tomatoes to homemade biscuits to an apple butter tart for dessert–and most excitingly (not to play favorites) a keg of homebrew. It pays to know brewers. We didn’t do any formal potluck organizing, but it worked out just perfectly anyway.

So we started with beans and rice, but ended up with a feast. But even if we’d only had beans and rice, we would have been happy. That’s the key to this. It’s not about the food, it’s about the company. Worry about food was just excised from the scheme. We all had a good time. No one was stressed, not even the hosts. We all pledged to do it again in a month at someone else’s house. And so–we hope–a tradition is born.

We invite you to start your own Home Ec Supper Club in your area. The weather is cooling, it’s harvest season, it’s a great time to come together with friends, make new ones, too, and share the bounty.

And if you do, please let us know how it went!

Flower Gardening Class at the Huntington

fallflowers Our friend Tara Kolla is teaching a flower gardening class at the Huntington Library and Gardens in San Marino this coming Saturday Oct. 2nd from 10 a.m. to noon. From the class description:

“Save money at the flower market by growing your own organic blooms. Urban farmer Tara Kolla of Silver Lake Farms shares tips for growing seasonal flowers that make beautiful arrangements in the home.”

I can’t say enough good things about Kolla–she’s our go-to person when we have gardening questions and, if you’ve seen her booth at local farmer’s markets, you’ll know why this class is not to be missed. Members: $40. Non-Members: $50. Registration: 626-405-2128. More information here.

Mad Hen

One of our hens will be featured in the new Coco’s Variety ad campaign. What’s Coco’s Variety you ask?

“Coco’s Variety’s primary business is bicycles. Additionally, we sell Japanese figural pencil erasers, used bike parts, old toolboxes, books worth owning, bike pumps, balsa wood gliders, pocket knives, Lodge cast iron frying pans, glass water bottles, Park bicycle tools, wicker bike baskets and Dutch bicycle cargo bags for the carting of fresh produce, the transportation of books of French poetry and the rescuing of kittens.”

If you’re not in Los Angeles, you can get a virtual Coco’s experience on their awesome blog at: http://www.cocosvariety.com/.

Via the magic of the interwebs we offer you an exclusive behind the scenes look at Coco’s proprietor Mr. Jalopy making advertising history:

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!

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.

Rooftop Garden Classes

Homegrown Neighbor here:

Los Angeles has sprouted a very cool rooftop garden. Here where January temperatures are often in the 70′s, buildings aren’t designed to hold snow, meaning that our roofs usually can’t hold much weight. So rooftop gardens are rare.

But on the border of Little Tokyo, skid row, and a warehouse district, an old seafood warehouse rooftop has been turned into a gourmet garden atop the home of artisan food purveyor Cube Marketplace.

Full disclosure: I’m the lucky gardener. And this weekend I’ll be teaching a Fall Gardening Class and a class on new ways to use common garden herbs. For more information or to sign up for the classes click here.

The classes are part of a quarterly pop-up marketplace. Even if you don’t want to take the classes, this is an opportunity to come and check out the garden. I love watching the bees pollinate the flowers and then looking out at the view of Downtown Los Angeles and the industrial sprawl down below. It is delightfully incongruous.