Many of the items that are part of the weekly Fresh Stop Market shares would not be possible without the work of bees, so it’s important for both farmers and those who support their work to promote behaviors that help keep bees healthy.
Dave Keal, who runs organic farm Field 51 Produce in Goshen, and his wife Meg Shea, who operates Dropseed Native Plant Nursery, said this area has not seen the issue with Colony Collapse Syndrome that has been in the news in recent years, but said bees are still struggling.
“They’re suffering from chemical use and there’s some things I’ve read about cellphone towers” among other issues, he said. “Nothing (definitive) that you can point to, but it’s also just degradation of habitat; bees don't have as much to feed on because people are planting things like grasses that don’t get pollinated by bees.
“In the country, it’s a little bit different because it’s more of a thing that farmers mow and don't let any flowers grow up around their soybean fields or things like that. Like I said, there is a degradation of habitat.”
Keal said diversity of species is something we should all be concerned about.
“Diversity of species is something that we need to maintain because bees are doing things that we really don’t know they’re doing,” he said. “We do know they’re doing a lot of things, like pollinating our food. Almost all squashes, all cucubrits – which are the melons, winter squashes – need to be pollinated by bees. Tomatoes, too, and anything that has a flower, it has been pollinated by a bee.”
Carson Nation, who operates Carson Nation Produce in Fisherville and Finchville, said organic practices helps promote bee health.
“We don't spray any harsh chemicals,” he said. “If we do spray any insecticides or fungicides, we like to do it early in the morning when the bees aren’t feeding.”
Nation, a sixth-generation farmer, said his family practices what they call “farmganics,” which is clean, mostly organic practices learned from and passed down through the generations.
“We try to be clean. I tell everyone that they can go to anyone of our fields, pick something and eat it there without having to wash it first,” he said. “If we grow in a clean way, we are promoting healthy bees.”
Nation and Keal both plant flowers on their farms to help bees and other wildlife.
“We have native beds in our gardening system so there is something always flowering for the bees to take advantage of,” Keal said. “They flower at different times throughout the season. You can also plant your cover crops in the winter and summer and let it go to flower, that really will help your bees as well. A good example of that is buckwheat.”
He also encouraged all farmers to refrain from mowing flowers around their fields. “That would also help birds in the winter months, there's all kinds of things it’s helping,” he said.
And planting a pollinator garden of perennials is a way for anyone in the city or suburbs to do their part for the bees and other wildlife.
“It has a bunch of plants in it that are native to Kentucky that flower at different times,” Keal said. “What you are doing is providing a nectar source for bees. You are also providing a nectar and food source for birds in the winter, butterflies for caterpillars, all kinds of things. It’s a multiple effect when you plant a pollinator garden.”
And don’t use harsh chemicals if it can be avoided. “The other thing you can do as a city person is don’t spray chemicals as much, especially if something is flowering, don’t spray around that,” Keal said. “The insects are drawn to (the flower) and if you spray that, you’re going to kill the insects, too.”
Winter is coming…what do we eat?
As the Kentucky growing season winds to a close, the taste of those spring strawberries and hot summer peppers will soon be a distant memory. Some of us have put up some of our food in the form of pickled okra, naturally-fermented beet juice (kvass), and frozen blanched greens. But for all our shareholders and farmers, the approach of the colder fall weather also signals the end of a 22-week local food access extravaganza. Some of our higher income shareholders can easily access fresh conventionally-grown produce at their neighborhood supermarket. But for others, the road to keeping their diet rich with fresh food is rocky and often extremely frustrating and even dangerous.
“The only thing you can do is to go to ValuMarket, WalMart or Krogers. I will not be able to get organic vegetables. It is out of my price range, remarked Old Louisville Fresh Stop Market site leader and farmer liaison. “I usually buy things that I know are going to last that I can make soup or stews out of, like carrots, potatoes and cabbage. Something that will go a long way. Or vegetarian chili. But since fresh tomatoes in the winter taste like cardboard I’ll probably use canned.”
Gendler Grapevine Fresh Stop Market @ The J “day of” and outreach leader Melva Smith said, “I’ll probably get a lot of my vegetables frozen because it is cheaper. I can’t buy the fresh from Krogers. So I’ll buy mixed vegetables and frozen broccoli from Costco. I’ll miss getting my fresh greens. I wish we could get home canned veggies that are put up by our farmers during the winter.”
But what do farmers eat during the winter? According to Ben Abell from Rootbound Farm, “We are able to have enough to do a lot of canning. We put tomatoes away. We also eat a lot of the storage crops we hang onto like potatoes, turnips, winter squashes. We usually eat out of the field until the end of December, at least until we get a really hard freeze. Then after that, we hunker down as long as we can and feel miserable! But Bree loves salad. So when we get desperate enough we will either try to purchase lettuce locally or head to Costco for the 5 lb. organic California lettuce clamshell. There are so many problems with the industrial food system. But until we get more storage for root crops, more high tunnels, it [the existence of this system] can be a stepping stone for us.”
High or Polytunnels are typically made from z35 Steel and covered in polythene, usually semi-circular, square or elongated in shape. The interior heats up because incoming solar radiation from the sun warms plants, soil, and other things inside the building faster than heat can escape the structure. Air warmed by the heat from hot interior surfaces is retained in the building by the roof and wall. High tunnels have been used to grow food in the winter in temperate climates for many years worldwide, but in the United States, the utilization of high tunnel technology for the production of horticultural crops is a relatively recent phenomenon.
New Roots director Karyn Moskowitz visited south Korea in May 2015 as part of her Community Foundation of Louisville Alden Fellowship and saw firsthand how a collective vision of year-round sustainable agriculture has made local food access a full-time reality. “South Koreans eat a lot of vegetables with every meal, both fresh and naturally-fermented and pickled. The Korean Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) has invested large funds (subsidies) in the development of greenhouses and high tunnels so Korean farmers can farm and supply consumers with vegetables year-round.”
So what can we do as a collective community to help our shareholders keep eating their veggies?
Barbra offered an idea, “Food banks are great but then you don’t really get to pick out what you need. A lot of stuff they give I don’t eat, like canned fruit and cereal. Trader Joe’s, Kroger or Costco card donations would be a great idea to help some families get through the winter. Families can bring cards to the November 16th Thanksgiving Farmer Appreciation dinner and New Roots can donate them to families who need them.”
New Roots is searching for other ideas from our shareholders for how we can come together to help our shareholders who will face struggles this winter accessing fresh food. Please send your ideas to email@example.com.
Marguerite Gaither gets help bagging up potatoes at the Parkland Fresh Stop Market from her granddaughter.
When you consider the sheer number of varieties that now can be grown, “potato” has almost become a generic word.
There are Red Gold potatoes, Red Norlands, Adirondack Reds (apparently red is a good color for potatoes), Elbas, and Kennebecs, among many other varieties. Rootbound Farm in Crestwood, Ky., grows eight types, all picked for flavor, appearance, use, viability, and even long-term storage.
“Different types of potatoes have strengths that others don’t have,” said Rootbound’s Ben Abell. “Some are bred to be good storage potatoes, allowing us to have them all winter long. Others are bred to be good ‘new potatoes’ by maturing early and maintaining a tender skin.”
And not all potatoes are created equal, at least when it comes to how you plan to prepare them.
“Some potatoes are ‘dryer’ or starchier, like the Kennebecs, and for that reason they are a favorite for french fries,” Abell said. The Adirondack reds are another story; they are great for roasting and also hold a surprise inside. According to Parkland Fresh Stop Market leader and shareholder Cybil Flora, “When I first prepped an Adirondack red potato for roasting, I had no idea the flesh would be red. I thought it was a radish. I had to taste it to know what it was. Now they are my favorite type of potato and I save them for special dishes.”
As an organic farm, Rootbound also must consider what varieties will do better using those growing methods.
“The Elba potato was bred to be resistant to ‘late blight,’ which is a disease that often hits in the later summer,” Abell said. “So, by growing Elba potatoes that time of year, we have a better chance of them surviving and doing well.”
Beyond disease and pests, growing potatoes organically can be challenging.
“We buy ‘seed potatoes’ in the winter and then cut them into smaller pieces and plant those to become our potato plants,” Abell said. “Most readily available conventional seed potatoes are doused with chemicals to help them be resistant from bugs and diseases. While those are certainly helpful things to have, our organic practices mean we do not use chemicals and we need to buy certified organic seed potatoes, and that can sometimes be challenging. We typically order our potatoes from other states like Maine, and they travel a long way to get to us.”
Flavor also plays a role in the types of potatoes Rootbound chooses to grow, as well as color.
“The Adirondack Reds are popular because they have pink flesh,” he said. “A lot of our chef customers like those because they are very interesting looking on a plate.”
And if you’ve ever wondered why Fresh Stop Market potatoes seem dirty when you buy them, it’s not because farmers are lazy. Abell said moisture can breed disease and decay, so most potatoes are better left dry and unwashed until ready to be eaten.
“Potatoes don’t really like moisture; they prefer to be very dry and will last longer that way,” he said. “Throughout the year there are some varieties of potatoes that do better being washed and refrigerated for storage, and other varieties that do better being stored dirty and not refrigerated. We base that decision on the individual needs of the variety, and also the time of year of the harvest and the age of the plant at harvest.”
And like any other vegetable, there is no wrong way to enjoy a potato, but for Abell, he’s on the same page as Cybil: roasted is best.
“Chopped into small squares, tossed with olive oil, garlic, and herbs and then roasted at about 400 degrees for about 40 minutes,” he said. “This yields a crispy and delicious roasted potato!”
What is it that animals know that we don’t when it comes to eating GMO corn?
Noah Nolt, an organic farmer outside of Liberty, Ky., said while the science around the safety of Genetically Modified Organism crops is not settled, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that points to its problems, for humans and animals.
“There are several other farmers in the neighborhood who have cows that tried the GMO corn,” he said. “One of them had put GMO corn in the silo first, then he put regular, hybrid corn on top. The cows were eating that silage corn just fine until it came to that point (of GMO) and then they didn’t want to eat it anymore. Cows recognize that there is something that they don’t like as well.”
Nolt, who raises corn as well as sorghum cane, said another neighbor who had sprayed their feed corn with chemical herbicides noticed problems with the cows’ health and milk production after eating the feed.
“They finally concluded that the only major change they had made was the GMO corn,” Nolt said. “They switched back again and felt like the problems that had come up were disappearing. They are persuaded that there is something there that they would rather not have.”
GMOs are foods that have been genetically engineered for reasons unrelated to health or nutrition, to give them a trait they don't naturally possess, such as a resistance to chemical pesticides. For example, it enables farmers to plant seeds they can spray them with chemicals such as Roundup to kill weeds or ward off insects and other predators, so farmers can save time and money not fighting those battles.
“There is one side of science that explains that to put something in the corn, it either takes out or pushes out something in the structure of the corn,” Nolt explained. “And so the concern in that realm is, what is being taken out? Is it something nutritionally valuable or vital to the animals and humans that we feed it to? It seems like there is quite a bit of literature that says, ‘Yes.’”
Ben Abell of Rootbound Farm in Crestwood, said there are generally two schools of thought when it comes to growing GMO crops.
“From the consumer standpoint, it’s, ‘Ew, that’s Frankenfood, I don't want to put that in my body,’” he said. “From my standpoint as a farmer, it’s a terrible way to farm. You become reliant on these chemicals.”
Even naturally occurring herbicides such as the bacteria BT (Bacillus thuringiensis), which is allowed to be used in organic corn farming, begins to create problems when engineered into GMO corn seed.
“When they first genetically engineered BT (into corn), basically the BT corn had one (gene) variation in it,” Abell said. “Now, the corn seed has 20 or 30 (gene) variations of BT in it because the (corn ear worms) have developed a resistance to it. It’s the same thing with Roundup when you’re talking about the Roundup Ready corn; the weeds are developing resistance around it.
“It’s just a short-sighted way to farm.”
Nolt said if he were strictly interested in profit, using GMO would be the way to go.
“But if I’m interested in passing along my farm to my children, I would have serious second thoughts about using them,” he said. “Once I went organic, I didn’t need to think about GMO anymore.”