Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Urban farming and fresh food in the city

Welcome to the August 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Farmer's Markets

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have written about something new they've learned about their local farmers.

Sometimes I wax idyllic about farm life … and then I remember I'm no good at manual labor. Ah, but don't worry — there are ways to bring the farm into the metropolis, so that even we city slickers can enjoy fresh produce! Here are the top ways we find a slice of farm life in urban areas:


There are often farms closer to a city than you might think — sometimes even within city limits! Check around to see. Seattle has farms nearby as well as at a pleasant drive's distance. If you visit a farm directly, you can ask questions of the farmers (for instance, you might find, as we did, that many small farms are organic in practice but not certified since thats an expensive process), buy produce fresh from the fields, get deals on large quantities of meat or other items, have the opportunity to obtain products that would otherwise be unavailable (such as raw milk), interact with animals, and even pick your own harvest!

That's what we decided to do when we went berry picking at Remlinger Farms:

Blueberries and raspberries were in season (strawberry picking was over),
so we chose raspberries.

Yup, breastfeeding baby during berry picking. It was HOT, so I didn't question why Alrik wanted to nurse constantly. I was only sad I didn't have a refreshing drink at hand!

At first we thought it would be hard to find ripe berries, because the bushes seemed picked over, but we eventually got more than we'd intended!

At first, this was all Mikko was interested in: this fascinating portapotty and outdoor sink. I swear this is true. He even came in with me to pee to show me all the features, including a urinal!

Fortunately, he eventually got interested in the berry picking as well. And then we couldn't stop him from picking! He picked until the field closed.

Even Alrik helped pick! He honestly wanted to ("unh unh unh" and lunging for the bushes), though he mostly squooshed the berries.

Our growing haul

Can you see how many berries that is? Total bill: $4.76 for over 2 pounds of fresh-picked berries. You can't come close to that for organic berries in a supermarket! That's the savings when you provide the manual labor, hey?

But here's what we mostly learned from our one-hour stint on a farm: We don't want to be farmers. We live in the city for a reason. It was hot, as you can tell here, and we all got sweaty and exhausted pretty much immediately. I have exceedingly high respect for farmers and farm workers.

As for us, clearly we needed one thing after all that wholesome berry picking: ice cream!

See? Proof from our car's thermometer! (Slightly exaggerated…) So…no farming for us, but I'm so glad we live close enough to visit!

Farmers' Markets

If you don't want to make the trek out to a farm, farmers' markets bring the farm to you. Farmers' markets are scattered throughout the neighborhoods of Seattle, and the one nearest us is open weekly year-round. Obviously, in the winter it's geared more toward overwintering produce, dairy products and eggs, and local artisan items. In the summer, you can find fresh produce heaped in bins so that it looks like an organic, heirloom garden exploded. But in a good way. Farmers' markets also often feature music and events, making them a community gathering place, which is very cool. You can ask questions of the vendors and get a sense of where they're coming from (literally and metaphorically) and get to know the products they're selling — not possible when you're at the grocery store!

Here we are at a North Seattle farmers' market. I'll let you look at the tons of pictures our participants have up today for other photos!

Fruit Stands

Fruit stands are a similar convenience to farmers' markets but generally a smaller, more concise operation. We have a favorite one in our neck of the woods (no woods involved) that's less of a stand and more of a big tent. I do find that we have to read signs to make sure we're getting something local instead of just whatever fruit they had to sell, but there are some great deals on fresh and nearby produce if you look. Ours also offers other local goodies, like honey and salsa. Many smaller fruit stands are run by farmers themselves on tourist routes. We happily get caught when things look promising!

Stopping by the roadside on our way back from Remlinger Farms! We picked up a juicy assortment of peaches and cherries. I asked the guy at the booth what farm he's from, and he muttered something about Yakima. I gave up at that, because I'm a blogger, not a journalist, dangit.

Community Supported Agriculture

CSA shares are a way to bring the farm to you! When we belonged to a CSA, we drove to a neighborhood location every week to pick up our box of produce and drop off the last week's box. Some CSAs deliver, and you can generally choose how big a share you want. The produce comes from a small, local farm that needs community support (hence, the name), and as the people buying shares, you help fund the farming and even influence what crops are grown. Having a CSA box for us was a great way to get in lots of servings of veggies and try out new favorites (garlic scapes! kohlrabi!).

anktangle csa box
Amy of Anktangle shows off her CSA hauls in these two pictures.

anktangle csa box
I love the variety that comes from the farm directly to you!

Backyard, Shared, and Community Gardens

If you have land of your own, I heartily recommend using it to grow your own little (or big!) patch of garden! If you have even a sunny spot, you can always container garden — tomatoes and lettuces can do quite well in enclosed spaces, for just a couple examples. If you have a friend with a yard, share the labor and the harvest — that's what we've done! And don't forget community gardens. Seattle has a series of gardens called P-Patches; you can sign up on a waiting list and get your own lot in a neighborhood near you once a spot comes available. Using a community garden often comes with some responsibilities to keep the whole space clean and to donate some harvest to a local food pantry (which is a great idea, anyway!). I've also heard of people doing guerrilla gardening of public or unused spaces, in a hope to transform urban wastescapes into community bounty.

Happy tomatoes in a pot

Lettuce varieties sprouting in a container

anktangle container garden
Amy of Anktangle's substantial container garden.

And here's Amy's newly begun actual garden. Hey, I know that baby who's helping!

Mikko helping me water our current garden in our friend Sybil's yard. And by helping, I mean digging a hole in a clear section and hosing in a bunch of water to make a mud pit.

But he really was a wiz at cutting off the carrot tops!

Freshly watered green tomatoes. Will they ripen? Will they?

125: Sinkful
For instance, here's Shannon of Pineapples & Artichokes' eventual harvest of buckets o' green tomatoes a couple years ago. Fingers crossed this summer has been better for tomatoes in this region!

However, this is my most recent garden harvest! Pretty substantial haul, huh? Who needs tomatoes when you've got lettuce, cabbage, carrots (two varieties!), celery, scallions, garlic, sweet onions, kohlrabi, artichokes, and strawberries?

A truly terrible picture I took out the car window of a P-Patch in West Seattle.

Tulsa Oklahoma community garden by momma jorje
Here's a community garden in Tulsa, Oklahoma, as captured by Momma Jorje.

Guerrilla Garden - progress
Here's an example of a bold and thriving guerrilla garden in Brunswick.

Wild Harvests

Want to get truly raw with your fresh urban produce? Go find a wild patch and harvest your own edibles! Many herbs and weeds are beneficial, if you know what you're looking for. Sometimes public spaces will have fruit or nut trees. In Seattle, we can always find wild brambles of blackberries in the summer. Warmed in the sun, they taste like a blackberry pie going straight into our mouths! Yum!

We found a jumble of blackberry vines next to the fruit stand we stopped at. We had at them.

Mikko was a pro berry picker by this point, scoring handfuls of ripe ones. In case you're wondering, blackberries grow (and grow and grow) like weeds around here, so anyone who actually cares about the land they're on will just cut them down or severely back; no one has ever been upset we've picked some growing wild — or even noticed we had.

Our haul from the fruit stand and blackberry picking. It was a sweet, sweet day!

If you don't live on or near farms, how do you bring fresh produce into your kitchen and connect with the land? Is there any new resource you want to try?

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be live and updated by afternoon August 14 with all the carnival links.)


Laura said...

So tiny moment of jealously! My goodness your region allows for great produce and year-round experiences! I used to pick berries faithfully prior to having children and even when Liam was really little, but now, I'll admit I pay the farmer's children to pick my berries for me. Because I'm not juggling 2 kiddos, crawling around in the strawberry plants, I'm ok with the extra 50 cents spent. And I'm told, the money they earn in the summer pays for their school activities, so lookie there... I'm helpful in my own city-slicker way!

Lauren Wayne said...

@Laura: Brilliant! I didn't know it was possible to pay the farmer's kids — that's what I'd do next time for sure, especially if there's another heat wave. ;)

Emily said...

Wonderful, wonderful photos! You made my mouth water : ) There aren't any farms near us where kids can pick but when we got to visit my family in the northwest it's on our to-do list! Thanks for all the inspiration!

Dionna @ Code Name: Mama said...

I am determined next year to talk some experienced gardener into sharing my yard so that I can learn from him/her. I have the desire, but I need help!
Also, I need to figure out a u-pick place to take the kids this year. Kieran and I have gone every year to our local blueberry patch, but the weather discouraged that this year. Your raspberries look delicious!! I'm sure we've missed that season too.

Justine said...

We loved blueberry picking so much that we went three times this year. The kids love the u-pick farms. My younger daughter ate all of what she collected, and I was surprised how long they managed to entertain themselves hiding between the rows of bushes and chasing each other. I am looking forward to apples this fall!

sustainablemum said...

Your markets sound great, I have visited one in Seattle many years ago and one on Whidbey Island they were much bigger than the ones I visit here in the UK. We have just been to a pick your own and made jam with our pickings. Our blackberries are not ready yet but we will go and pick some wild ones in a few weeks. We do grow a bit but it has been cool this year so I think my harvest will be small.

Anonymous said...

We have done the you-pick berries at Beringer farms two years in a row. Last year I was nine months pregnant. This year we had an almost one year old. It was a fun way to mark the changing seasons of life.

Momma Jorje said...

We have a berry farm in our area that has a deal where if you pick 3 containers (pounds or something), you get to keep 2 for free! Talk about manual labor footing the bill!

I've heard that our local Food Stamp program was setting it up so that you could use your food stamps at farmers markets. I'm hoping that is true, though once we get assistance I think we might be able to afford to shop at them anyway.

There was a fruit & vegetable stand at the local flea market and I was all excited, thinking it was all local food. Then I picked out some strawberries in commercial packaging and I think it was just stuff they had to sell.

I love the pic of Alrik in Amy's garden! I had researched square foot gardening when we were in our last apartment, but we were looking for a new place, wound up staying with friends, and now in a travel trailer... maybe eventually. There are actually a few such gardens around here, but I'm not sure they're food. I've seen one where the containers were all Styrofoam ice chests!

I don't think getting tomatoes to ripen is ever a problem here in Oklahoma. It seems most gardeners always wind up with an overage of tomatoes unless bugs get them first.

I hadn't really thought about the community garden across from the free store (in my pic you included) until NOW. Sometimes there is fresh produce in the free store. Doh! Of course! They grow food and offer overages, at least, in the free store for the community. I don't know why I didn't put it together, I probably just hadn't thought about it.

Holy crap, I had not heard of guerrilla gardening, but I love it!! That is so awesome! Do they have to tend it at night and be sneaky or do they just go do it whenever, I wonder...

We have some kind of berries in trees a LOT here, but I don't know what they are. We used to eat them a lot when I was a kid. My dad owned an empty lot down the street and my brother & I built a tree house there - and ate lots of berries.

Thank you for such an awesome post! I had no idea there were so many options!

Deb Chitwood said...

I LOVE all the photos, Lauren! What amazing experiences you're giving your kids! Thanks for all the links and great information. I pinned your post to my Gardening/Botany Unit Study Pinterest Board at http://pinterest.com/debchitwood/gardening-botany-unit-study/

Lorie said...

What beautiful pictures and what fun to go berry picking, even if it was hot. My son looks forward to picking apples all year, so I'm sure he'd love berry picking too. Your pictures make me want to take him right now!

jessica said...

we've done blueberry picking several times and always end up a hot mess, but I'd probably risk it again for raspberries or better yet black berries. in my experience apple picking has much better weather lol.

@mama jorje in our area not only do farmers markets take food stamps, the food stamps are doubled. it's called the beans and greens program and I think it may be a pioneer.

Lauren Wayne said...

@sustainablemum: Oo, I should learn to make jam to make it even more worth it. Lovely!

Lauren Wayne said...

@Momma Jorje: That's an excellent deal.

I've heard about different states doing that with food stamps. I think that's a great idea.

That happens sometimes at fruit stands near here, too, that the produce is imported. Disappointment city.

That's cool that the community garden gives produce away! I love that spirit.

I found an awesome blog about guerrilla gardening a long time ago and now can't locate it — boo! It was so interesting, too. She was pretty brazen about tending it, because no one ever stopped her or seemed to care. I think as long as the land owner doesn't notice/complain, everyone else will think you have a right to be there. And if you're making it prettier or useful, then people are less likely to complain anyway. But obviously, the owner (or city, if you're on public property) has the right to rip it out or tell you to stop.

Vacationland Mom said...

Can you tell me what brand the baby carrier is in your pictures? I have a 22 month old who is still nursing, and I'd like to find a good carrier for him. Thank you in advance!

Lauren Wayne said...

@Vacationland Mom: It's a mei tai. I sewed my own, and my tutorial is here: How to sew a mei tai baby carrier

If you're not up for sewing, you can buy a mei tai. I did a roundup of good places to shop for one at the end of this post: How to breastfeed while babywearing in a mei tai

Hope that helps! :)

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