Grow $700 of Food in 100 Square Feet!

In 2007, I began to get lots of questions about growing food to help save money. Then, while working on my new book, Edible Landscaping, I had an aha! moment. As I was assembling statistics to show the wastefulness of the American obsession with turf, I wondered what the productivity of just a small part of American lawns would be if they were planted with edibles instead of grass.
I wanted to pull together some figures to share with everyone, but calls to seed companies and online searches didn’t turn up any data for home harvest amounts — only figures for commercial agriculture. From experience, I knew those commercial numbers were much too low compared with what home gardeners can get. For example, home gardeners don’t toss out misshapen cucumbers and sunburned tomatoes. They pick greens by the leaf rather than the head, and harvests aren’t limited to two or three times a season.
For years, I’ve known that my California garden produces a lot. By late summer, my kitchen table overflows with tomatoes, peppers and squash; in spring and fall, it’s broccoli, lettuces and beets. But I’d never thought to quantify it. So I decided to grow a trial garden and tally up the harvests to get a rough idea of what some popular vegetables can produce.

City urged to lift St. Francis meal limit

Gainesville planning board cites number of hungry residents in advising commissioners

It is time for Gainesville to eliminate the restrictions on how many meals a day the St. Francis House homeless shelter and soup kitchen may serve, a city advisory board says.

Monday night, the Gainesville Planning Board decided that, given the number of homeless and needy people in the community, the application before them to waive the 130-meal limit on three holidays each year did not go far enough.

Toward the end of a marathon meeting, their recommendation was to expand on that and do away with the meal limit on all 11 national holidays.

While there currently is no active application to do so, the Planning Board then went further and recommended that the City Commission consider the total elimination of any meal limit for the St. Francis House, which is south of downtown on Main Street.

Planning Board member Adrian Taylor, the pastor of Springhill Missionary Baptist Church, recommended the repeal of the meal limit, while acknowledging the debate over the shelter is a « polarizing and difficult issue » for the city’s elected officials.

The meal limit at the St. Francis House has pitted some downtown merchants and homeless advocates against each other for more than a decade. Planning Board Chairman Bob Cohen noted the conflict could stretch another 10 years if a balance between the two sides is not struck.

Walmart turns over a new leaf as it embraces local produce

MANCHESTER — Inside the cavernous new Walmart on Highlands Boulevard Drive, grocery manager Russell Davis stands with a gleaming bounty behind him. Lettuce from California, blueberries from Michigan and grapes from South America.

Then there’s the store’s hottest grocery commodity these days — pumpkins and corn grown in Brunswick, just a couple of hundred miles away.

« Our customers want locally grown products, » Davis says. « They all ask for it. They all want to know: Is this from Missouri? »

In the last several years, locally grown food has become the « it » consumable as more shoppers, concerned about the environmental impact or the safety of their food, seek out products from closer to home. And retailers, from Whole Foods to Safeway, have obliged.

 Even Walmart, now the nation’s largest supermarket chain as well as retailer, has gotten into the local scene, embarking on an effort to procure more of its produce from local growers.

« If you can get local food in there, you’ve really arrived, » said Mary Hendrickson, a professor of rural sociology at the University of Missouri Extension and advocate for regional food systems. « It’s not just a fad. It’s something that everyone’s taking seriously. »

Michelle Obama and Child Obesity

Her daughters were 6 and 9, and Michelle Obama was like any other working mom — struggling to juggle office hours, school pick-ups and mealtimes. By the end of the day, she was often too tired to make dinner, so she did what was easy: She ordered takeout or went to the drive-through.

She thought the girls were eating reasonably well — until her pediatrician in Chicago told her he didn’t like the weight fluctuations he was seeing.

« I was shocked because my kids looked perfectly fine to me, » Obama says. « But I had a wake-up call. » Like many parents, however, « I didn’t know what to do. »

Today, the self-described « mom in chief » is launching Let’s Move, a campaign to help other parents deal with a national health crisis she describes in epic terms.

The goal: to eliminate childhood obesity in a generation.

« It’s an ambitious goal, but we don’t have time to wait, » the first lady said in an interview with USA TODAY in her spacious office in the East Wing of the White House. « We’ve got to stop citing statistics and wringing our hands and feeling guilty, and get going on this issue. »

USDA Grant Panelist

mThis has been a busy week here in Washington DC. I was flown up here as a Grant Review Panelist for USDA and NIFA’s Community Food Project grant program.  What a great learning experience to be involved in and responsible for deciding which projects will be ranked high enough to be considered for grants.

I was with 12 wonderful folks from across the country with a wide range of culture and backgrounds to form this year’s panel.  Prior to arriving we all spent 6 weeks reading and evaluating proposals at our homes, then submitting our evaluations to the NIFA project Director.  Once submitted we were all provided transportation to Washington, DC where for three days diligently discussed, evaluated and ranked all the proposals before us.  They were long days but filled with good conversation and discussion and it really felt good to all of us to have been asked to play this important role in deciding the priority ranking of over 85 grant proposals.

The review panel consisted of a great cross section of academia, food security coordinators and administrators.  I and another colleague were the two ‘grassroots’ panelists who were actual growers as well as having been involved in community food projects in our states.  Naturally he and I became friends and formed a nice relationship.  All the panelists were passionate about food security and it felt great to be apart of this group.

I will look forward to offering advice to those who are writing grants, as I now have first hand knowledge of what goes on behind the scenes in evaluating them, understanding the strengths and determining the weaknesses and how each grant could be strengthened.  Good knowledge to have!

Florida Food Safety and Food Defense Advisory Council Meeting

The date for our rescheduled Florida Food Safety & Food Defense Advisory Council meeting is Tuesday, June 29, 2010.
This meeting will be held in the Eyster Auditorium, from 10:00am – 12:00 Noon. The Eyster is located in the Conner Building, at 3125 Conner Boulevard in Tallahassee.
If you cannot attend, but would like to participate via conference call, the call-in information is as follows:
( you can email me here at Gainesville Farm Fresh for the phone number and password to participate in this event )
If you have any questions, please let me know. Thank you!

SNAP cardholders can now buy fresh farm products

Local farmers’ markets will soon have another payment option: SNAP benefit cards.

The program, paid for by a Florida Organic Growers grant, will allow low-income county residents to use their SNAP cards, formerly food stamps, to buy fresh and locally produced foods.

Florida Organic Growers will use EBT technology at the Union Street Farmers’ Market and Alachua County Farmers’ Market.

Christine Hale, the group’s education and outreach director, said she hopes access to fresh produce will change food habits.

« Obesity is just through the roof in our community, » she said. « If we can get them eating fresh fruits and veggies at a young age, we can curb that obesity. »

The High Springs Farmers’ Market is the only market in the county to currently use EBT.

The program should begin by mid-December. Florida Organic Growers will operate the EBT scanner at both markets. Users would designate an amount to spend, and the group will double it. Users could then spend their tokens on products allowed by the SNAP program, and vendors would redeem their tokens at the nonprofit’s booth.

The group also will be enrolling people for SNAP benefits.

Wal-Mart Goes Local: Good or Bad for Small Farmers?

The nation’s largest retailer announced last week that it’s going local through its Heritage Agriculture program. Wal-Mart plans to double its sale of “locally grown food” by 2015 in all of its U.S. stores and also support small and mid-sized farmers in their movement toward sustainable food production.

The new initiative will invest Wal-Mart in the local food system (“local” meaning food that’s grown and sold within the same state) and increase the company’s total percentage of locally grown produce to 9 percent by 2015. The goal by this time is to have sold $1 billion worth of food from 1 million farmers, increasing the farmers’ income by 10 to 15 percent over the next three years. Wal-Mart also promises a Sustainability Index will be made available in all of its stores so consumers have information about production methods and the products used right at their fingertips.

“It may seem out of character for Wal-Mart to act as an agent for positive change,” writes Ari LeVaux on Alternet.org. “But remember: the only thing Wal-Mart could do that would truly be out of character would be to knowingly undermine its bottom line.”

Wal-Mart to Buy More Local Produce

The local-and-sustainable food movement has spread to the nation’s largest retailer.
Wal-Mart Stores announced a program on Thursday that focuses on sustainable agriculture among its suppliers as it tries to reduce its overall environmental impact.
The program is intended to put more locally grown food in Wal-Mart stores in the United States, invest in training and infrastructure for small and medium-size farmers, particularly in emerging markets, and begin to measure how efficiently large suppliers grow and get their produce into stores.
Advocates of environmentally sustainable farming said the announcement was significant because of Wal-Mart’s size and because it would give small farmers a chance at Wal-Mart’s business, but they questioned how “local” a $405 billion company with two million employees — more than the populations of Alaska, Wyoming and Vermont combined — could be.

A Local Non-Profit Organization Says Popsicles Can Impact the Economy…

What do popsicles have to do with the local economy? According to a non-profit organization called Blue Oven Kitchens, quite a lot!
The organization helps grow the economy by helping new food-based businesses get started. And they’ve already helped turn one man’s « cool » idea into a broiling hot business.
It’s called « The Pop Stop. »
Owner, Taylor Daugherty said, « We do handmade, natural popsicles…we have a pushcart and a go-ped. »
The Pop Stop makes uniquely flavored popsicles and takes them all around Gainesville on hot days, especially game days. Daugherty said the business wouldn’t be possible without Blue Oven Kitchens.
Daugherty said, « If we hadn’t been able to hook up with them, our start up costs would’ve been 3, 4, 5 times as much. »
Blue Oven Kitchens helps cut down expenses by connecting entrepreneurs with already established regulated commercial cooking facilities to rent. They also provide guidance until the business is self-sufficient.
The Pop Stop is still in development, but Daugherty said that the response has been great. In fact, he’s sold out every time he’s taken the carts to the streets.
Co-founder of Blue Oven Kitchens and restaurant owner, Maya Garner, encourages others to bring their ideas to the table too.
Garner said, « Anyone can come and do it….it’s about having the dream and the desire and the drive and then the rest- you leave it to us. »

Florida Organic Growers

Florida Organic Growers (FOG) is pleased to distribute the publication Community Vision for Food System Development in Gainesville-Alachua County: A Local Food Action Plan, available for download as a PDF on the FOG website.

FOG began this project in March 2009 with support from a USDA Community Food Planning Grant and the Lydia B. Stokes Foundation, bringing together stakeholders to discuss food systems planning with a specific focus on community food security for low-income residents. We would like to thank each of you for participating in this process; your ideas and concerns were taken into consideration as this planning project progressed through various stages of stakeholder collaboration.

The result was four key recommendations that provide the foundation for the attached publication. We welcome feedback on the planning process and the publication when it is formally presented to the public at the Alachua County Food Security Summit 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2010, at Trinity United Methodist Church, 4000 NW 53rd Avenue, Gainesville. We hope you will attend, and continue your contribution to increasing food security in your community.

Senate stall to blame for slow egg recall?

The Senate’s yearlong failure to pass a food safety overhaul has hampered the ability of Obama administration to quickly recall the 600 million eggs connected to a salmonella outbreak that has sickened nearly 2,000 people, experts and lawmakers say. The House approved its version of the food safety bill in July 2009 — that was more than 60 recalls of Food and Drug Administration regulated products ago, according to a report by the Make Our Food Safe Coalition. But the Senate has continued to drag its feet. The pressure is now on Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who has consistently pushed the bill to the backburner. Lawmakers, aides and analysts say Reid must bring the bill to the floor when the Senate returns in September in light of the major deficiencies in a nearly century-old regulatory system —- and one of the worst food outbreaks yet.