CTG Week 15: August 10th to August 16th – Lacto-Fermentation

What is Lacto-fermentation?

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Bright Beautiful Harvest

Fermentation is as old as life itself. At some point, many thousands of years ago, humans learned to guide the fermentation process to preserve foods, and these processes have been handed down through generation after generation.  Lactic acid, or Lacto-fermentation is a biological process by which glucose and other sugars are converted into cellular energy and the metabolite lactate, a natural preservative that inhibits putrefying bacteria.  Foods that are “preserved” via this method are nutrient-dense, enzyme rich, and contain healthy probiotics.

Look at That Beautiful Cabbage
Look at That Beautiful Cabbage

It is the method used when making fermented foods that most of us are familiar with like sauerkraut, kimchi (a spicy sauerkraut eaten with most every meal in Korea), and yogurt. You have no doubt heard of many of these foods, and may have eaten a number of them yourself. Almost every country around the world uses this technique in some manner to produce their own culturally traditional foods.  Europeans consume lacto-fermented dairy, sauerkraut, grape leaves, herbs, and root vegetables.  The Orient is known for pickled vegetables, sauces, and kimchi in particular.  Farming societies in central Africa are known for porridges made from soured grains.

Denise Making Sauerkraut
Denise Making Sauerkraut

Here in the United States, pickles and relishes are a part of the American food tradition. In Alaska Inuit ferment fish and sea mammals.  Since the onset of the industrial era, most pickling is done with vinegar which offers some more predictable results, and does not employ lactic acid in the preservation process. Fermentation is like modern day pickling without all the work of sterilization. This fermentation process is reliant on the production of some good bacteria to help preserve the food. It is easy to learn the art of lacto-fermentation, with just a little patience, good instructions, and minimal supplies.

The important thing is not to be intimidated. Fermented foods are some of the safest preserved foods and they are easy for even a beginner to prepare. With just a few easy steps you will be well on your way to some great lacto-fermented treats.

Basic Sauerkraut Recipe

Ingredients
1 medium head green cabbage (about 3 pounds)

1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt

2-quart widemouth canning jar (or two quart mason jars)

Instructions

  1. Clean everything: When fermenting anything, it’s best to give the good, beneficial bacteria every chance of succeeding by starting off with as clean an environment as possible.
  2. Slice the cabbage:. Cut the cabbage into thin ribbons.
  3. Combine the cabbage and salt: Transfer the cabbage to a big mixing bowl and sprinkle the salt over the top. Begin working the salt into the cabbage by massaging and squeezing the cabbage with your hands. At first, it may not seem like enough salt, but gradually, the cabbage will become watery and limp, more like coleslaw than raw cabbage. This will take 5 to 10 minutes.
  4. Pack the cabbage into the jar: Grab handfuls of the cabbage and pack them into the canning jar. Tamp down the making sure all the cabbage is submerged under the liquid.
  5. Cover the jar: Cover the mouth of the mason jar with a cloth and secure it with a rubber band or twine. This allows air to flow in and out of the jar, but prevent dust or insects from getting in the jar.  You can also use the lid to your mason jar just make sure that you leave the lid loose to allow air flow.
  6. Ferment the cabbage for 3 to 10 days: As it’s fermenting, keep the sauerkraut away from direct sunlight and at a cool room temperature when the sauerkraut tastes good to you, screw on the cap, and refrigerate. You can allow the sauerkraut to continue fermenting for 10 days or even longer before refrigerating. If you see any mold, skim it off immediately and make sure your cabbage is fully submerged; don’t eat moldy parts close to the surface, but the rest of the sauerkraut is fine.
  7. Store sauerkraut for several months: This sauerkraut is a fermented product so it will keep for at least two months and often longer if kept refrigerated. As long as it still tastes and smells good to eat, it will be.
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CTG Week 14 August 3rd to August 9 – Learning to Can and Preserve

It’s harvest time, and many of you have an abundance of crops that you aren’t quite sure what to do with. You can always give them away, but don’t you want to enjoy your hard earned vegetables throughout the winter?   Canning and preserving your own food is fun, easy, and affordable. With a few tips, some good instructions, and a little time, you will be canning and preserving up a storm.

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Preparing for Some Pickles

I bet you remember your Grandmother’s pickles as being the best thing you ever tasted, and you probably know exactly where you put that recipe that she wrote down on a paper napkin in 1987! Your favorite family recipes and vintage cookbooks that were handed down to you from trusted family cooks might seem like the way to go, but before you get started, you want to make sure you are following food preservation guidelines that are both scientifically tested and up-to-date. Take a peek at the following websites below for some current and reputable information.

The National Center for Home Food Preservation

http://nchfp.uga.edu/index.htm

USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning

http://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/publications_usda.html

The second tip is to be sure you use the right equipment for the types of food you are canning. For example; a good pressure cooker is a must to preserve low-acid vegetables like green beans, potatoes, and corn; or for meat, fish and poultry. Make sure your jars are free of chips and that your lids are in pristine condition.

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Slicing & Dicing

Using improper canning materials and methods will leave you susceptible to the threat of botulism. Botulism is a rare, but serious illness caused by a germ called Clostridium Botulinum. The germ is found in soil, and can survive, grow, and produce toxins in a sealed jar with low oxygen conditions. Consuming a small amount of food containing the germ can affect your nervous system, cause paralysis, and even death.   Sure, it is important to follow guidelines, and take the proper precautions, but this blog post is not meant to dissuade you from getting into the kitchen to preserve some vegetables.

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Mixed Vegetable Pickles

Take a look as this basic pickle brine recipe from the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving to get you started. Check out the book for more great recipes and instructions for getting your pantry stocked with delicious canned goods.

Basic Pickle Brine

Ingredients:

  1. 1 cup of vinegar that is 5% acidity. (It’s the acidity that helps protect and preserve your canned vegetables. Your standard grocery store vinegar is fine. Just be sure to check the label to make sure you are working with the right stuff). 
  2. ½ cup of water
  3. 1 tablespoon sugar
  4. ½ tablespoon of canning salt
  5. Bring the mixture to a boil. Cook for about three minutes making sure that all the ingredients have dissolved.

Canning, pickling and preserving is not only delicious but it is a whole lot of fun too. So read up a little, get in the kitchen, roll up your sleeves, and start canning. Come next January, you’ll be glad you did.

New Farms for New Americans Program – A Student Project by Bart Beeson

Amid the vegetable plots near the Ethan Allen Homestead in the Winooski Valley Park District, just north of the VCGN garden plots, you’ll come upon what first looks to be a random jumble of sticks and branches.  But look closer, and you’ll realize that it’s actually very carefully and intricately arranged trellising for the plot’s tomato plants.

Trellesing
Some of the distinct trellising at the New Farms for New Americans plots

The plots in these gardens are part of the New Farms for New Americans (NFNA) program, and the innovative trellising is example of some of the farming techniques that participants have brought with them from their home countries.  The Burlington/Winooski area has a very active refugee community – many of whom are individuals that have been resettled here through the US refugee program.  As of last year, since 1989, at least 6,300 individuals had come to Vermont through the program. That total includes 1,705 Bosnians, around 1,400 Bhutanese, and about 1,000 Africans from countries such as Burundi, Congo, Rwanda, Somalia and Sudan.

And while that total is impressive for a small state like Vermont, it represents a tiny fraction of the world’s refugee population – a population that keeps increasing as new conflicts spring up.  The United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees reports that there are there are more than 15.4 million refugees in the world, and over a million globally are now in need of resettlement. If you add in asylum-seekers and internally displaced people worldwide, that number jumps to over 50 million people, the highest number in the post World War II era. Many refugees spend years or decades in camps, and each year less than one percent of the world’s refugees get the chance to leave a camp and resettle in another country.  The United States welcomes over half of these refugees, more than all other resettlement countries combined, according to the State Department.

The NFNA program, which is part of the community-based organization the Association of Africans Living in Vermont (AALV), was started in 2008.  It was originally intended as a way to get refugee women with children, who were not leaving their homes due to lack of transportation or a language barrier, the chance to get out, socialize and farm, NFNA program manager Alisha Laramee explained to me on a recent visit to the farm.

But in the seven years since its inception, the program has grown and evolved. The program received some grants and became more of a social enterprise, with the New American farmers starting a CSA and selling crops to restaurants and farmer’s markets.  The idea was that farmers would learn the skills to start an independent farm and go off on their own. But that was rarely happening, according to Laramee. And because the grant program limited participation to 5 years (refugees are eligible to apply for US citizenship after 5 years), some participants were disappointed that that couldn’t continue to garden there.

Today, the NFNA program functions more as a community garden, with participants paying for the use of a plot over the summer.  The fee charged covers the direct cost of running the garden – the water bill (the program recently switched to using city water, having previously used water pumped from the Winooski River), tilling, and soil amendments.  The program also accepts donations, and those funds can be used to help purchase a plot for families that can’t afford one.

On a tour through the garden Laramee pointed out that you can see that the plots of farmers from the same region or country are generally grouped together.  She said it wasn’t intentionally set up that way, but that it ends up that way as it’s easier for them to be able to communicate with their neighbors and tell them if there’s a new kind of pest or fill them in on a missed class.

It’s interesting to note that you can usually tell where the gardener is from depending on the different crops he or she has planted. People from Africa generally plant a lot of corn and beans, as well as amaranth greens – also known as lenga lenga — which is often cooked for roughly 30 minutes and eaten with tomatoes and onions.  Laramee said that amaranth was often a common staple in the refugee camps where most of the farmers lived before being resettled to Vermont. Here, they have learned they can harvest, blanch and freeze the amaranth, something they wouldn’t have done at home.

The plots cared for by the Bhutanese and Burmese almost always have mustard greens (used to get mustard seed) and daikon, the latter of which is used in the Bhutanese national curry (and also happens to be good for aerating soil).  They also grow roselle– a bitter green that can be cut back several times over the summer and used in stir fry.

According to Laramee, almost all the participants had some farming experience from back home – either they farmed or their parents did and they grew up in refugee camps.  But farming in Vermont can be very different than farming in Africa or Asia, so the NFNA program provides workshops once a week where gardeners can learn about local pests to watch out for, or when it’s warm enough to start planting and when to watch out for frost.

While the gardeners do pay for the plots, the NFNA program also receives donations that help sustain it.  The Vermont Community Garden Network (VCGN) donates seeds, and Green Mountain Compost donates much wanted compost – something program participants were especially appreciative of.

And while being able to plant and harvest their own vegetables is a great reward, the program has additional benefits for participants.  For one thing, it’s an ‘intergenerational family building experience” says Laramee.  There will often be several different generations talking and working their plots together.  It also provides an opportunity for individuals who now live in apartments, but who once had land and had it taken from them, to have access to land and feel some ownership of it.

Finally, many of these individuals have lived through extremely difficult times in their countries of origin, having been forced to flee due to persecution war or violence.  Being able to work the land, to do something familiar in a new country far from home, has to have some therapeutic value says Laramee.  “It helps them find purpose and meaning.”

Garden
A New American Farmer Tends His Plot

A New American Farmer Tends His Plot

Links: New Farms for New Americans: http://www.aalv-vt.org/#!farms/crjk

Association of Africans Living in Vermont: http://www.aalv-vt.org/

Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program: http://www.refugees.org/about-us/where-we-work/vrrp/?referrer=https://www.google.com/

CTG Week 13: July 27th to August 2nd – Garden Potluck & Permaculture Talk from Claire

Activities:

  • Permaculture Talk from Claire
  • Garden Potluck
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The Tomatoes are Getting so Close…

Permaculture is a system of agricultural and social design principles, centered around simulating or directly utilizing the patterns and features observed in natural ecosystems.

The concepts of permaculture were originated by David Holmgren & Bill Mollison. Last week our very own Claire Madden, one of our VCGN Teaching & Education Interns, took us through the 12 basics principles of permaculture, as articulated by David Holmgren in his book: Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability. (Below). Condensing these twelve principles of permaculture into one definition is no small feat, but ultimately, it’s about caring for the earth, caring for people, and the importance of a return of surplus.

  1. Observe and interact: By taking time to engage with nature we can design solutions that suit our particular situation.
  2. Catch and store energy: By developing systems that collect resources at peak abundance, we can use them in times of need.
  3. Obtain a yield: Ensure that you are getting truly useful rewards as part of the work that you are doing.
  4. Apply self-regulation and accept feedback: We need to discourage inappropriate activity to ensure that systems can continue to function well.
  5. Use and value renewable resources and services: Make the best use of nature’s abundance to reduce our consumptive behavior and dependence on non-renewable resources.
  6. Produce no waste: By valuing and making use of all the resources that are available to us, nothing goes to waste.
  7. Design from patterns to details: By stepping back, we can observe patterns in nature and society. These can form the backbone of our designs, with the details filled in as we go.
  8. Integrate rather than segregate: By putting the right things in the right place, relationships develop between those things and they work together to support each other.
  9. Use small and slow solutions: Small and slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones, making better use of local resources and producing more sustainable outcomes.
  10. Use and value diversity: Diversity reduces vulnerability to a variety of threats and takes advantage of the unique nature of the environment in which it resides.
  11. Use edges and value the marginal: The interface between things is where the most interesting events take place. These are often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system.
  12. Creatively use and respond to change: We can have a positive impact on inevitable change by carefully observing, and then intervening at the right time.

While it may seem to be easier said then done, transforming your backyard into a permaculture masterpiece doesn’t have to happen overnight.  It is actually recommend that you make changes gradually, observing how those changes influence and transform the natural makeup of your garden space.  So if you are considering your own permaculture project, take some time to do your research, and make changes at your own pace. Observing your own unique results will allow you to recognize which changes have been successful, as well as those that may do well with a tweak or two.

If you are looking for some additional info, check out some of these books…

     Permaculture One: A Perennial Agriculture for Human SettlementsDavid Holmgren

      Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability – David Holmgren

            Farmers of Forty Centuries – F. H. King

            Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture – J. Russell Smith

            One Straw Revolution – M. Fukuoka

            Principles of Permaculture – David Holmgren

            An Introduction to Permaculture – Bill Mollison

Yummy
Yummy

Another amazing potluck has been entered into the record books! Delicious food and great company.  The spread was amazing, and so was the weather on that beautiful sunny morning.  I can’t believe that we only have one more community meal left. Our time together as a class is speeding by, but we will all have some great memories to hold on to, even after the bounty has been harvested and our classes come to an end.

CTG Week 12: July 20th to July 26th – Urban Homesteading and Harvesting Garlic

Activities:

  • Field trip to Ethan Thompson’s urban homestead
  • Harvesting garlic
Having Fun on the Field Trip
Having Fun on the Field Trip

This week the class was lucky enough to take a trip to Ethan Thompson’s urban homestead in the Old North End of Burlington.   It is amazing what Ethan has accomplished on such a small plot of land.  The urban homestead movement is now “trendy” but what does it really mean to homestead?  It is all about taking a step back in time and living a more sustainable, purposeful life.  This can include growing your own food, reducing waste, and living a more modest lifestyle through the process of working and understanding your land and the wildlife that inhabits it. Ethan uses a variety of techniques to adhere to these tenets.  One that I couldn’t stop thinking about was hugelkultur.

Huglecuclture Mounds

Hugelkultur, pronounced Hoo-gul-culture, means hill culture or hill mound.  This is a time tested permaculture technique that creates raised beds, packed with nutrients. Ethan uses hugelkultur in his backyard homestead as a way of recycling and using materials that would normally have to be moved off site and disposed of.  He does this by turning those materials into highly nutrient rich soil.

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Ethan Talking about Huglecuclture

The hugelkultur beds are created by stacking logs, sticks, branches and leaves into a mound and covering it with soil. One of the reasons that hugelkultur is so successful is because it mimics the decomposition process that happens on a forest floor.  The benefits of this technique are numerous. The slow decay of the wood is a consistent source of long-term nutrients for the plants.  A large bed might give out a constant supply of nutrients for 20 years, sometimes even longer if you use hardwoods. The composting wood also generates heat which helps to extend the growing season.  Not a bad thing for gardeners like us in a cold climate.  The logs and branches also act like a sponge. Rainwater is stored and then released during drier times.  This gives you the freedom not to water after the bed has established itself, which usually takes about a year.  So basically you have a “no till” bed, that waters and composts itself.  Not too shabby…

Harvesting Garlic
Harvesting Garlic

After our wonderful trip to Ethan’s it was time to get back into our garden.  Lucky for us the garlic was ready. You can tell your garlic is ready for harvest when the tops start to die back, leaving the garlic leaves looking yellow and brown.  Unfortunately, this technique is still a bit of a judgment call.  If you are unsure dig one plant and cut open the bulb, if the cloves are full and developed, lucky you it’s ready!  Always dig your garlic, NEVER try and pull it. Even though you planted a small clove the bulb is now several inches deep, with a strong root system.

How to Cure or Dry Fresh Garlic for Use and Storing

  1. Brush off any soil that is covering the bulb, however leave the stalks and roots on the bulbs while they dry.
  2. Allow the bulbs to cure, or dry, for three to four weeks in either a well-ventilated room or a dry, shady spot outside. Sunlight can change the flavor of fresh garlic.
  3. Once the tops and roots have dried they can be cut off and disposed of.
  4. You can also further clean the bulbs by removing the outer skins. Just be careful not to remove all layers of skin and expose any of the cloves.