Starfruit Preserves

“Starfruit has been a very underutilized commodity. It grows like a weed and produces endlessly. The jelly is very marketable. There is nothing like it. People go somewhere just because of a sauce or jelly. How bout a glaze for fish or chicken? There is nothing out there like it.”

My neighbor shared these kind words after loading me up with a huge baskets of his starfruit, which were on the sour side this year. This was my second gleaning from his tree, and I had just dropped of a jar of the starfruit preserves I made. One of both of our favorite things about this preserves recipe is that the stars stay intact, so it’s a treat for the eyes to spoon the honey-colored sweet stars onto your toast!

It took some searching to find what looked like a promising starfruit preservation method. I suppose it is just because of the uncommonness of this fruit in nontropical regions. I finally found this Ghanaian study, which was a great place to start! The Preparation of Jam: Using Star Fruit. I modified the recipe somewhat, and I’ve made it twice. The first batch needed far less pectin than the second, so be sure to do the plate test to check that the jam will set before spooning into the jars.

Recipe

Yield: About 10 half pint jars.

Ingredients:
750 g sugar
1 1/3 c. water
1 kg starfruit
1 organic/homegrown lemon

Process:

  1. Wash all starfruit, making sure to get between ribs. I used a cloth to get any debris off of the waxy surface.
  2. Cut edges of ribs and each end off.
  3. Slice horizontally into star shaped slices, removing seeds as you go.
  4. Weigh out sugar and mix with water in a large pot, set to simmer to a light caramel color.
  5. Add 1 kg sliced starfruit.
  6. Add about 3 T. lemon zest.
  7. Add about 2 T. lemon juice.
  8. Simmer about 30 minutes.
  9. Add about 4 T. pectin. Stir in for 3 minutes.
  10. Perform cold plate test to ensure liquid is set. If not, repeat adding pectin until cold test shows accurate setting.
  11. Spoon into sterilized jars.
  12. The rest is just typical processing of jam or preserves, so it’s easy to find detailed instructions. Basically…
  13. Be sure to wipe any preserves from rims of jars to ensure the lids make a good seal.
  14. Heat lids on low to soften sealing agent.
  15. Place lids and rims on filled jars.
  16. Process in water bath canner with boiling water about 8 minutes. Leave to set for a few hours until cool.
Jasmina shows off the pre-jam bounty in our yarden!

I will be speaking at the Southeast Farm to School Conference in Greenville, SC, Sept 24, 2016!

Southeast F2S Conference Speakers

I am honored and excited to get the chance to speak with these amazing people and sharing the session with Beverly Girard of Sarasota County School Board.

Our session will be on Farm to School procurement of Florida produce in the school lunch program as well as the collaboration between UF/IFAS, local FNS office, and community partners.

“Partnering for an Amazing Farm to School Program” (intermediate)
Beverly Girard, Sarasota County Schools, FL
Malory Foster, University of Florida IFAS Extension
Learn how Sarasota County Schools have developed ambassadors for farm to school, both within the school district and in the greater community. Local chefs, health care professionals, school board members, local farmers, the local food bank, gardeners, Cooperative Extension – all are taking part in F2S, and making the long-term success of the program a priority in our community.

Usually held as the ASAP Growing Minds Farm to School Conference in Asheville, NC, this larger regional conference was supported by a USDA grant to grow to the Southeast US. Info and registration is here at the Growing Minds site.

Systems Thinking at the Florida Local Food Summit, September 9-10, 2016

I am honored to be presenting at the Florida Local Food Summit 2016 about a passion of mine: systems thinking. Here is the workshop description:

Knowing about the pieces of the food system and having a vision for improving it is one important tool; however, an imperative skill set that can help elevate our results is systems thinking. Systems theory helps us look at problems holistically, avoid unanticipated consequences, and target small successes that lead to the long-term goal instead of astray. This presentation will cover the key concepts of systems theory through the work of MIT systems theorists, Peter Senge and David Peter Stroh. It is the hope that this interactive workshop will encourage attendees to recognize the ways they contribute to the problems they are trying to solve, think long term, recognize discrete relationships, create concept and systems maps, and move forward with a clearer vision in their work with complex problems through systems thinking.

If you are a farmer, gardener, eater or otherwise involved in the food system in Florida, please consider attending the Florida Local Food Summit. Summit Info:

The Local Food Movement is alive and kicking in almost every urban and rural center around our state. Yet, there have been few opportunities for collaboration, learning, networking and sharing in order strengthen our movement and have a greater collective impact at a statewide level. The 3rd annual Florida Local Food Summit does just that. The event is a weekend gathering September 9th & 10th our state’s top food and farming entrepreneurs, policy makers, chefs, foodies and local food fans. The Summit is your one stop shop for all things local food and farming. With on-farm workshops, panel discussions, farm-to-table dining, farm hack demonstrations and so much more, you aren’t going to want to miss it.

Energy Producers of the Future

The dietary preferences of populations play an important role in the energy efficiency of food systems. Several times per day we decide whether or not we will eat something nourishing to our bodies, but there are always so many factors that can play into that decision: cost of food, time available for preparation, one’s mood, and present company just to name a few. Perhaps not so surprisingly, yet again, that which is good for us is also better for the planet. When we choose whole foods instead of processed foods like candy bars, fast food, and anything that comes in a box or bag, we make a healthier choice for our body and also choose a product with a smaller carbon footprint. Processed foods require more fossil fuel energy to produce, process, and transport than whole locally-grown foods, and they also create non-recyclable or compostable waste such as plastic wrappers (Pimentel et al. 2008, 468).

Unfortunately, currently the food system in the United States is powered “almost entirely by non-renewable energy sources,” and only two percent of the population works to produce energy in the form of food (Pimentel et al. 2008, 468; Fridley 2012, 75). Contrast that figure to the year 1870 in which seventy percent of the population were farmers (Fridley 2012, 75). The recent trend is bent toward more people living in cities, globalization, and demographic changes which lead to fewer people living as energy producers and more people consuming energy at a faster rate (Pelletier et al. 2011). On average through our food system, Americans burn through 2,000 liters per year in oil equivalents, nineteen percent of America’s total energy use (Pimentel et al. 2008, 459). In order to create thriving local food systems, we need to train and recruit at least forty-five million more farmers (Ackerman-Leist 2013). Among many school garden initiatives and farm to school activities which encourage students to steward the land and grow up food literate, the USDA (2015) also launched its beginning farmer programs to help support new farmers. The National Young Farmers Coalition is working to support young farmers in overcoming the barriers to entry into farming such as land acquisition and student loan forgiveness (National Young Farmers Coalition 2015). It is my hope that these cross-disciplinary collaborative efforts will help Americans to become the energy producers of the future.

Eating less processed food, more fruits and vegetables instead of animal products, and locally produced foods all help to reduce energy inefficiency in our diets (Pimentel et al. 2008, 468). When we choose local, that economic impact has a ripple effect in our community by staying many times longer in local hands. “Whenever possible, taking advantage of locally grown foods and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs will conserve energy” (Pimentel et al. 2008,468). We can support the budding farmers (energy producers) in our area by being regular customers for fresher produce. Not only is this food healthier for our body and healthier for the planet; it’s healthier for our body because it’s healthier for the planet. Healthy food comes from healthy food systems. You don’t need to read a label to know it is nourishing.

References:

Ackerman-Leist, Philip. 2013. Rebuilding the Foodshed. White River Junction: Chelsea Green.

Fridley, David. 2012. “Alternative Energy Challenges.” In The Energy Reader Overdevelopment and the Delusion of Endless Growth, edited by Tom Butler, Daniel Lerch, and George Wuerthner, 69-76. Sausalito: The Foundation for Deep Ecology.

National  Young Farmers Coalition. 2015. “Our Mission, Vision, and Guiding Principles.” Accessed December 13. http://www.youngfarmers.org/about/our-work/.

Pelletier, Nathan, Eric Audsley, Sonja Brodt, Tara Garnett, Patrik Henriksson, Alissa Kendall, Klaas Jan Kramer, David Murphy, Thomas Nemecek, and Max Troell. 2011. “Energy Intensity of Agriculture and Food Systems.” Annu. Rev. Environ. Resour. 2011. 36:223–46.

Pimentel, David, Sean Williamson, Courtney E. Alexander, Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, Caitlin Kontak. Steven E. Mulkey. 2008. “Reducing Energy Inputs in the US Food System.” Hum Ecol 36:459–471.

USDA. 2015. “New Farmers.” Accessed December 13. https://newfarmers.usda.gov/.

You Can Affect Change, if You Reach

While all sectors of the US food system are in need of energy use improvement, there is one sector, the household level, that has a unique power. There are several reasons for this strategic angle. According to Canning et al. (2010, 20) households are consistently the number one energy user in the food system. Households consumed twice as much energy as the agriculture and the wholesale/retail sectors and about eight times as much energy as the transportation and the packaging sectors in 2002 (Canning et al. 2010). Successful education geared toward household level energy consumption would probe residents to reduce their household’s consumption in a variety of ways: reviving the old fashioned ways via human labor or purchasing smaller and/or energy star appliances if new ones are needed, switching to more renewable products, and practicing energy saving techniques (like using proper fridge temperatures and reducing food waste) are just a few examples.

Demand could also spur change in people’s interest in finding out more about the products they touch in their daily lives. Residents acting on this curiosity helps build a community’s value chain. Value chains “are strategic collaborations and business relationships between farms, processors, distributors, and retailers that operate on the basis of explicitly conveyed values – shared values that create a collaborative business opportunity and, ideally, customer allegiance” (Ackerman-Leist 2013, 190). However, people only maintain the power of the purse if they are not living in poverty and have food access and energy choices. So, targeting the household sector also should ensure that people have adequate affordable housing with which to leverage choices (Jon Thaxton pers.comm.). Per capita use of water drops by over half in apartments and condos compared to single family homes (Pierce Jones pers.comm.). These types of resource savings are yet another reason affordable community enhancing housing can affect value chain improvement.

Now, I am no proponent of the “CFL light bulb solution to climate change,” or so they say in reference to household level changes. Policy and industry have a major hand to play in systemic positive changes in our society. The bridge is this: citizens influence policy and industry… if we decide to. So, in order for a household targeted approach to be effective, it must go beyond the ways in which residents treat the area directly under their roofs. We must also take our place in the drivers seat by acting as catalysts toward greater change in our communities through activism, political engagement, improving access, and ultimately affect cultural change of acceptable standards for the types of products and practices available or not available to us. Let’s hope we see ones with stories.

After today’s Sustainable Communities Workshop in Sarasota County, I am, more than ever, thinking about the holistic change that needs to happen in order to reach a renewable energy, equitable, accessible, healthy food system. It exists in cultural change. It exists on all levels and in all sectors. It affects all types of people. Mainstream demand at the individual and household level for better food is vital… and I think it’s happening.

References:
Ackerman-Leist, Philip. 2013. Rebuilding the Foodshed: How to Create Local, Sustainable, and Secure Food Systems. White River Junction: Chelsea Green.

Canning, Patrick, Ainsley Charles, Sonya Huang, Karen R. Polenske, and Arnold Waters. 2010. “Energy Use in the U.S. Food System.” United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service Economic Research Report Number 94, March.

Jones, Pierce. 2015. “Built Environment.” Presented at the annual Sustainable Communities Workshop, Sarasota County, Florida, December 3.

Thaxton, Jon. 2015. “Planning for a Sustainable Future: A Local Perspective.” Presented at the annual Sustainable Communities Workshop, Sarasota County, Florida, December 3.

Growing Regional Procurement

Thank you to Meredith and Hannah for the opportunity to write the blog post below for The Edible Schoolyard Network!

While it is often challenging to venture from the daily demands of running a school food service operation to begin something new or develop an existing program, regional procurement is one improvement that is well worth the effort! The resulting improvement in the quality of school meals, participation, and employee job satisfaction are just the beginning. Local procurement also boosts the local economy, can reduce environmental impacts related to long distance transport, and potentially decreases cost through supply chain simplification.

When considering buying regional foods, first realize that your district is completely wonderfully unique. No two districts are exactly alike and no two approach procurement in the exactly same fashion. There are many ways to procure from local producers. Smaller districts might connect directly with farms, while others might partner with nonprofits who source from local producers or work with a regional distributor. Key practices that will help all districts to procure more local food include creating a more seasonal school menu, developing the relationship and communication with your distributor, and encouraging food service to get involved in the local food and farming community.

Creating a seasonal menu would be daunting for the concerned citizen who has a healthy budget and a family to cook for, but it is even more challenging for school districts with limited budgets, strict federal nutrition guidelines, and thousands of mouths to feed every day. But you can do it! Creating a seasonal produce chart organized by vegetable subgroup, shown below, can help. Per federal guidelines, school districts must provide a variety of vegetables per week, and this chart helps menu planners maximize seasonal foods by their subgroup and their corresponding color, and nutritional benefits. Your nearest land grant university likely has a list of crops in season. Start there and cross-reference the list with the varieties your distributor is able to find. Remember, you are the customer, so let your distributor know what your needs and priorities are with local procurement.

Florida Seasonal Produce Availability Chart

Florida Seasonal Produce Availability Chart by Vegetable Subgroup

Record-keeping of local purchases can provide valuable metrics to leverage procurement in subsequent seasons or years. Distributors are more frequently able to provide a weekly or monthly report to the food service department showing which produce items are sourced within the state or region. Mapping local farms also helps track from what regional areas foods are coming and serves as a great educational tool!

Opening the lines of communication between integral farm to school players, such as farmers, distributors, local food nonprofits, and food service is invaluable to making local procurement a success. A great way to do this is to organize a farm to school focus group. Furthermore, involving food service personnel in the local food scene in your town helps to further efforts to improve school meals. Such efforts could include Chefs Move to Schools events, garden-to-cafeteria initiatives, and cross-disciplinary partnerships with local nonprofits like Slow Food chapters or the US Green Building Council. When food service staff is embraced in the food community, the teamwork that results produces nothing short of awesome results!

Growing regional procurement is just like building the relationships imperative to making it a success: a little at a time. It’s fine to start small with pilot schools or with one local farm. Challenges will arise, so be sure to stay focused on the myriad of long-term benefits that come from reorganizing procurement to invest in your very own regional food supply.

Florida House Summer Garden Success

The Florida House on Beneva in Sarasota held space this summer for demonstration gardens. Camille Vansant, along with volunteers, planted permaculture style kitchen gardens around the house as well as a larger demonstration plot canopied by shade cloth. Despite the heat, the gardens are absolutely thriving, and the Florida House plans to make its first delivery to All Faiths Food Bank next week.

I find this initiative inspiring not only because the Florida House is showing that gardens can be productive and beautiful in the summer, which is usually known as the off-season in Florida, but also because they demonstrate such abundance can be produced to be shared with the food bank as well. Camille, a chef, is teaching others how to utilize these less common crops, another opportunity for expanding our palates for seasonal flavor and increasing dietary diversity. If you’re a Floridian interested in relocalizing your diet, you can eat well in the summer on yummies such as malabar spinach, katuk, papaya (green and ripe), pumpkins, okra, melons, pigeon peas, Okinawan and Chinese longevity spinach, early avocados, late mangoes, basils, and mints.

Check out the luscious gardens below to get inspired to visit the Florida House and plant your own summer garden!

Papaya planted less than six months ago loaded with huge fruits!

Papaya planted less than six months ago loaded with huge fruits!

Squash and melons enjoy the shade.

Squash and melons enjoy the shade.

Sweet potatoes creep under okra.

Sweet potatoes creep under okra.

Kitchen garden displaying papaya, sweet potato, lemon grass, lemon basil, and more.

Kitchen garden displaying papaya, sweet potato, lemon grass, edible hibiscus, okra, and more.

 

Starfruit and Avocado Season

Today was another abundant harvest of starfruits and avocados (a green variety this time!). On my bike ride home from the downtown farmers’ market, I stopped by my favorite starfruit tree to harvest and then noticed down the street some big green avocados on the ground, so I scooped them up too. I also harvested some Ilex vomitoria var. pendula (Weeping Yaupon Holly), the North American cousin of Yerba Mate, which has the highest caffeine levels of any North American plant. The red blossoms are sweet edible Turk’s Cap Hibiscus. Finally, I also harvested moringa from my yard to dry the leaves and put in my smoothies.

IMG_2003-001

To report back on the Mexicola avocados from last week – they are by far my new favorite! I didn’t think I would enjoy eating the skin, but it’s really delicious. I can only imagine the antioxidant levels in that black skin. However, I have noticed that they need to be completely ripe before the skin is really good. When they’re ripe, they get slightly wrinkly and soft – with no stickers to peel off!

This Week’s Local Eats

What a booty we received from our local fruit bike ride meanderings today! The starfruit tree is fruiting again, and these babies are so tasty dripping ripe right off of the tree. My friends and I also visited an avocado that I have not met before, a beautiful variety with black edible skin called Mexicola. We got to meet a neighbor who lived by the tree and shared some of the starfruit with him. Finally, I learned today that strangler figs actually make edible figs – and they’re quite tasty! I collected some of the tiny brown seedy sweet fruits and made some fig oatmeal cookies. The strangler fig in our yard is a grandfather tree and as the wind blows you can hear the tiny figs dropping to the ground to join the millions lying on the Earth. Abundant. (By the way, what you see in the photo is probably about a third of the amount we actually picked.)

It truly seems as though each week a new plant is fruiting and there are edible things all around. It is so intriguing and satisfying for me to get creative and find ways to make new dishes from funky fruits, or simply host a huge basket of fresh fruits on the counter that was picked in my neighborhood. As summer culminates this mid-August, I look forward to late summer plantings of vegetables, but I can’t help but be so grateful for those plants that fruit in this heat and I feel so provided-for.

As of today, we have quite a collection of small fruit trees in our urban homestead yard – mango, loquats, avocados, strawberry fruit tree, tamarind, papaya, starfruit, key lime, grapefruit… They aren’t producing yet (except the awesome strawberry fruit tree), but someday, they will be a huge source of food for whoever cares to climb their limbs and shake their branches. Who knows how some of the fruit trees we harvested from today got there, by planting or accident, but it is quite miraculous to live in a neighborhood with so many mature fruit trees. To me, it seems like every day should be arbor day. A high quality fruit tree costs anywhere from $50 to $100, and often less than that. Truly the best kind of investment, many families spend more than that on one trip to the grocery store. A fruit tree will give you more fruit than you and your family can eat at least once a year. I love the idea my parents practiced by planting a tree with the birth of their children: a maple for me and a holly for my brother. If they’d have known me better then, they might have planted a mango!