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.

Southern Sustainable Agriculture Conference

What an inspiring event! I highly enjoyed the conference and learning more strategies for Farm to School, policy, community building, and edible mushroom cultivation.

I was happy to present my first poster, with Zach:

"Procurement Tracking in Sarasota County Schools Farm to School Program"

“Procurement Tracking in Sarasota County Schools Farm to School Program”

The trade show was interesting, and I met a lot of great people and exceptional businesses! My favorite three trade show exhibits were:

Common Wealth Seed Growers, Virginia.

Common Wealth Seed Growers, Louisa, Virginia.

Sapphyre and Edmund and other farmers started Common Wealth Seed Growers cooperative about a year ago, and they specialize in breeding downy mildew resistant seeds. As you can see in the photo above, they grow beautiful gourds and pumpkins – that’s what attracted me to their exhibit! I brought home some of these to try:

Thai Kang Kob Pumpkin

Thai Kang Kob Pumpkin

I also had the great pleasure of meeting Tradd Cotter of Mushroom Mountain!

Mushroom Mountain

Mushroom Mountain, Easley, South Carolina

Tradd’s presentations were SO interesting and inspiring. It’s been a while since I grew my bag of oyster mushrooms, but I definitely feel empowered to give it another go after listening to his talks. I also highly recommend his new book, Organic Mushroom Farming and Micoremediation.

Finally, one of my favorite parts of the conference was the seed swap. I brought a variety things – okra, Seminole pumpkin, tulsi and some others. I met the folks from Sow True Seed there as well, and I was able to swap for some calendula, Corsican gourds and other goodies! It was a wonderful week, and I hope next time to see some new Florida seed companies!


Sow True Seed, Asheville, North Carolina

City Love

What is it like to be in love with a city? Thinking about it, dreaming about it, talking about it, missing it. Many of us have experienced it. City-pride. For me, love involved a combination of great friends, delicious restaurants, kitschy thrift stores, bike-ability. But looking deeper, beyond all the “stuff to do,” I was literally in love with the city itself: the centenarian brick buildings, the rolling hills this Florida girl wasn’t used to, the mossy sidewalks, and the seasons, oh the succulent seasons. The river. Canoeing its many sections, lying in its shallows for hours of conversation, skinny dipping after dark in the heart of the city, knowing the shortcut to get down to its shores – under the bridge, down the muddy clay too-steep path, over the tilted wooden bridge, down some more, and through the parking lot.

I remember biking home to my tiny 1911 apartment building one day in April. It was an overcast, wet, but bright day. The trees were all a budding light green, the bulbs were in full bloom: pinks, reds, whites, and deep purples edged every sidewalk and tiny front yard. The color after winter was breathtaking. I thought to myself, “This is spring.”

I admired the purpose embodied in the city. It wasn’t, like many of the surroundings in Florida, sprawling, strip malling, suburbia. Perhaps this is the nature of most downtowns versus suburbs. Each building had its reason for being: selling its wares, serving its food, even if it were just a dilapidated ancient structure fit for punk shows or an abandoned gem with open windows telling the story of its history of peeling paint and tile, proudly standing in the city center as self-assured as the arms-wide oaks.

Well, I can’t go back. It’d have changed too much or be too much the same. A visit might be nice, but life moves on and new loves are budding around me here, now. Sealing my love in words might help me move on, but there will always be a place in my heart for a certain old, dignified city: Richmond.


Summer Reflections and Looking Ahead

After the long drive back from North Carolina to Central Florida, catching up with family and friends (some still yet to see), unpacking, resting, and taking care of overdue obligations, I catch my breath and think, “What now?”

Without much perspective yet, looking back on my adventures this summer, I am so glad I did everything I did with wwoofing, traveling and being a “wexer” (work exchanger) at the Southeast Women’s Herbal Conference. I feel I’ve learned so much, clarified my goals (somewhat), and appreciated even more what Mother Earth provides. I’ve rerouted my life, checked wwoofing off my bucket list, and while some things are still ambiguous at the moment (“What do I do now?”), I feel I’m headed in a more authentic direction.

Being a wwoofer for the summer has taught me so many practical skills and lifelong lessons, given me confidence in growing my own food, raised the bar on the meanings of “fresh food” and “sustainable” to me, shown me a diversity of lifestyle alternatives to mainstream society, and, among many other positive things, allowed me to spend a lot of much-needed time outdoors. My partner, Tim, met me up in Asheville for a wonderful two-week reunion. Four days of this time we spent hiking on the Appalachian Trail.

Hiking along the Tennessee-North Carolina border.

I’d like to share a couple photos of something I did get to make myself at Long Valley farm. After mentioning to the family that I was interested in food fermentation and had done two apprenticeships with fermentation author Sandor Katz in Tennessee, they asked me if I would like to make some sauerkraut. Of course I obliged! I spent a sunny autumn afternoon picking cabbage and carrots and used some already-harvested beets, garlic and cayenne to make this kraut-chi, a mixture of sauerkraut and kim-chi.

After chopping up the vegetables.

The finished kraut-chi!

The Southeast Women’s Herbal Conference was just as magical as it was at my first attendance last year. Again, I was able to secure a work-exchange position, this year as a teacher support person for the Intensive classes. This position meant I helped the teachers move their materials to the tent, set up, mic up, pass out papers and tasty samples, and anything else they might need an extra hand with. It was such a wonderful position to have! (Last year I did dishes and directed parking.) It was fun to get to interact with the teachers more and to help the Intensives run smoothly. I enjoyed each of the classes I attended and learned so much not only about herbal medicine and healing, but, like last year, felt such a sense of empowerment and sisterhood with the women there and everywhere.

The morning view of the conference grounds from my tent.

The big decision ahead for me involves graduate school. I’ve been accepted to attend Green Mountain College’s Master of Science in Sustainable Food Systems program. Green Mountain College, located in Poultney, VT, was ranked number one green school by the Sierra Club in 2010. The program is mostly online, so I would be able to continue living in Florida. On the pros side are: I’d love to study all that the program has to offer on sustainable agriculture and food policy and history, I’ve always wanted to go to grad school, and it will set me on a path more in line with my values. On the cons side… well there’s really only one con: the cost and its implications. Since I’d rather not take out a loan, this leaves me currently looking for a full time job. I plan on applying for a scholarship offered by Annie’s foods; however, the results aren’t announced until April of next year; my program begins in January. I still think it’s worth a shot. Unfortunately, I don’t think my program, since it’s distance learning, offers any graduate assistantships or teaching opportunities. If anyone reading has any ideas for garnering scholarships or paying for grad school, I’d be grateful to hear them!

It has been amazing readjusting to life in Florida. I’ve relished in seeing my loved ones more often, enjoyed feeling summer turn to fall for the second time this year, and, maybe most of all, loved getting back into the kitchen at the Beautiful Bamboo farm, where I am living with Tim. I’ll leave you today with a couple pictures of recent creations.

homemade pizza

West African groundnut stew

Finding Freedom

Hello! I’m back in civilization for the weekend after three total weeks and two weeks straight on the farm. I wanted to catch my mom before she leaves to go to Hawaii for a month. (Maybe that’s where I get my travel itch?) Next week I am going back for my final week at this farm near New Smyrna, FL. Then I’m on to Gainesville, I believe.

Have you ever noticed that it seems life sometimes hides little clues, coincidences, signs for you to find, showing you that you are following the right path through this crazy world? I don’t think I’m the most perceptive to these hints, though I am trying to be on the lookout. However, when I arrived at the farm, I took note of a very clear indication that I was on the right track. Right next to the wwoofers’ trailer and outdoor kitchen, there lived the most magnificent mulberry tree I’ve ever seen. Under its looming branches was the perfect camping spot right next to a hammock. I was told I’d missed the mulberries by a couple weeks, so I take this to mean I should have begun wwoofing sooner!

my camp under an enormous mulberry tree

I can’t express how much of a good decision choosing to wwoof was! I am completely at peace with the choices I made to quit my job three months ago, drastically minimize my belongings, cut my ties and leave Richmond, VA to wwoof around the Southeast. I am learning so much about organic farming, selling at farmers’ markets, and the work it takes to run a farm; however, I am learning much more intrinsic lessons as well. The sense of freedom I experience on the farm is completely addicting and extremely validating. It reminds me of some Broadways lyrics I used to ponder as a student and still do: “I thought about the word freedom and what it really meant for me. Because you see, sometimes I don’t feel so free when I’m stuck here in the city.”

organic sunflowers for sale!

Much of the self-led learning I’ve pursued in my adult life has been surrounding defining and discovering ways to achieve freedom. Looking back, I don’t think this was a purposeful choice, but the pieces seem to revolve around this general theme. You might be thinking, “What do you mean? We live in America!” No. I am talking about real freedom. While it is different for everyone (and I recommend everyone put some serious time into thinking about what freedom means to them), real freedom to me feels like separation from much which is mainstream today: unfulfilling work, superfluous bills, shopping habits, too much stuff, debt, unhealthy relationships and anything else that ties us down. I’m not an expert, but a fellow adventurer in this arena; I can only share what I have noticed and experienced myself. Considering what freedom means to me is an ongoing project in my life. Right now it revolves around minimal possessions, lack of a formal job, flexible “work,” friendships and relationships consciously chosen for their positive influence on my life, an ever-evolving knowledge and practice in self-sufficiency, lots of time spent outdoors, zero debt, and the bare minimum of bills (for me right now that’s car insurance and cell phone, more on that later).

basket of fresh picked veggies!

Beginning wwoofing has proved to be a huge step in my pursuit of freedom. This lifestyle has forced me to minimize materials things to be more mobile; take “work” that I want to learn about, provides flexibility, and is deeply fulfilling; granted me plenty of outdoor time; granted me time to do the things I love: reading, practicing yoga, having good conversations, spending time in Nature, cooking delicious fresh meals, meeting new and interesting people; and allowed me to travel. Besides all of these personal factors, organic farming is a cause I am deeply passionate about for the future of people and our planet, so it is truly fulfilling on that level as well. I missed the farm shortly after arriving back at my parents’ house.

Over the next few days, I’d like to share some journal entries I wrote while on the farm as well as some reflections. They’re nothing new or unique, but might give you a sense of the elation I feel out in the woods. When I told my mom about what I’ve been up to she said, “You went camping too much as a kid.” Maybe so, but maybe all that camping is what taught me to “Love Your Mother.”

How to make *Magical* Meals

Have you ever noticed that certain places are just… magical?

Butterfly enjoying bee balm.

These places are deep in the mountains where moss grows beneath bare feet and majestic grandfather trees invite an upward gaze. Something about being among ancient trees and the smell of the spongy forest floor makes us feel alive.

My friend, Mariah’s, Asheville, NC outdoor kitchen at dusk.

The connection to our surroundings can be transmuted into the foods we prepare with love. Nuances of a magical place, local whimsical ingredients, and the feelings of hope and contentment that place gives us can be incorporated into our recipes. It reminds me of a story I once heard about a Latina Abuela. (I don’t remember where I originally heard or read this story, so forgive my lack of reference.)

Abuela would make the family fresh tortillas every day, humming as she did so. One day a salesman came to the door offering to sell Abuela a tortilla-maker. Abuela kindly refused, but the salesman was persistent: “It will save you so much time. You won’t have to spend all day rolling and cooking. The tortilla-maker does it all!” Finally, Abuela explained herself to the salesman, “I cannot use your tortilla-maker. You see, it is actually my love which nourishes my family. The tortillas are simply the vehicle to get my love into them.”

In Perfect Health, Deepak Chopra claims that foods which are not necessarily good for us can become more nourishing if we think positive thoughts about the foods and are grateful for the nourishment. Such an interesting concept!

Mindfulness and place are powerful tools we can use to imbue our meals with magic and love. “Am I inspired by my  surroundings? Do they appeal to my eyes, ears, nose, intuition, or spiritual sense?” asks Jim Merkel in Radical Simplicity: Small Footprints on a Finite Earth. With this sentiment, I’d like to share a recipe I made quite a while ago: Carrot Cake Cupcakes.

Sprinkled with magic ~ tart wineberries and bee balm petals from the patch the butterfly is enjoying above.

I made them at a very special place in rural Tennessee while doing a food fermentation apprenticeship there in 2010. Everything about the setting and people I met was ultra-inspirational to me and pivotal in my life. The people, accepting and kind, the place, a foresty cabin in the Smoky Mountains; these are some of my most treasured memories.

In fact, unhappy at my recent job, I looked into my past to find where I was most interested, happy, hopeful and engaged, and the time I spent in Tennessee shone like a full moon in a black night sky. “Follow your bliss, go where you body and soul want you to go. The key is to identify the things that make you not just excited, not just thrilled, but deeply happy. Having discovered them, stick with them, found your life on them, for therein lies your destiny,” advises Joseph Campbell. Remembering all of the delicious foods we created in the mountains (tempeh, bubbly red bud mead, wild weeds pesto) and the satisfaction and peace I garnered from living among the plants is what led me to decide to leave the city and to begin wwoofing.

By having an open agendum and mind and feeling my way through this adventure, I hope to be better able to follow my bliss and intuition. I hope to be able to recognize the magic, follow it, and saturate the nourishment I create for those I love and those I meet with it.

Photo Credit: Simon Dale “The Hobbit House”

How can you make your setting more conducive to cultivating magic in your foods? My suggestions are below.

  1. De-clutter, give away unnecessary things, or start with a clean slate if need be.
  2. Plant a garden with native flowers to attract local butterflies, birds and bees. Flowers, especially edible ones, are a very magical garnish.
  3. Spend more time at home making your place somewhere you want to be and less time at work, however you can accomplish that. Mix well with time in Nature, whether that be Central Park or Redwood National Forest.
  4. Play music that brings you to that special state of illumination.
  5. Use more herbs and spices in your recipes; grow them yourself. Smells are powerful; let them ignite the magic in your recipes.
  6. If you know of a magical place, take an inspiration vacation and reinvent your home when you return.
  7. Or,  move to that place that has always spoken to your soul.
  8. Spend quality time with your muses.
  9. Create and produce more than you consume.
  10. Or, if you are like me, you may not be exactly sure what the ideal setting is for you. Pay attention to what makes your soul sing; try keeping a journal of these gifts. Living as a nomad for a time will give you a chance to experience many different climates and communities. After a short time, if we are paying attention, we’ll be able hone our unique ideal habitats.
  11. Do not let fear stop you from living out what you love: “Too many of us sit on the sidelines of fear and doubt, unable to contribute to a world in need of our brilliance.” – Chris Guillebeau

Fairy princess, signing off.

New Life

Since the first day after I left my job, I have truly felt like I am beginning a new life. Reflecting on my metamorphosis, I’ve realized so much change is happening all at once: I quit my 8-to-5, I’ve moved out-of-state, my lifestyle has transitioned from a static home to a more nomadic existence, I’m going from a decent paycheck to sweat equity, long hours indoors give way to time spent in Nature, and, most importantly, I am finally beginning to pursue my passion rather than biding my time. There are so many amazing changes!

Before I left Richmond, I reread most of Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. I am by no means as breakneck as the protagonist in that book, but many of the idealistic sentiments expressed in the book make my soul sing…

By then Chris was long gone. Five weeks earlier he’d loaded all his belongings into his little car, and headed west without an itinerary. The trip was to be an odyssey in the fullest sense of the word, an epic journey that would change everything. He had spent the previous four years, as he saw it, preparing to fulfill an absurd and onerous duty: to graduate from college. At long last he was unencumbered, emancipated from the stifling world of his parents and peers, a world of abstraction and security and material excess, a world in which he felt grievously cut off from the raw throb of existence.

Driving west out of Atlanta, he intended to invent an utterly new life for himself, one in which he would be free to wallow in unfiltered experience. To symbolize the complete severance from his previous life, he even adopted a new name. No longer would answer to Chris McCandless; he was now Alexander Supertramp, master of his own destiny.  -Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild

Naming my life’s theme for this year “Getting Dirty” emphasizes my need to “wallow in unfiltered experience” and reunite with “the raw throb of existence.” Eschewing material excess has helped me to begin to reinvent myself, to show physically what is important, and I can’t wait to see how I change as I progress on my journey.

All of my belongings before packing up for Florida + bike + Arthur & Wednesday.

These types of sweeping change happen periodically in my life, whether it be unconsciously self-driven or opportunistic collisions of cosmic events. It is as if I find a cozy place to learn and watch and grow, and then, all of a sudden, I must act on what I have absorbed; I can no longer sit still and live as I did before. “There are times in life to be thoughtful and cautious. Then there are times when the only way to learn is to jump in and ‘go for it,’ take the mistakes as the lesson, call for help when you need it, look in books when you can,” as Shannon Hayes describes this urge.

These bouts of change must have something to do with my need to live in alignment with my values. Maybe I am one of “the ones who [doesn’t] have the option of camouflaging [my] individuality: [I’m] just uncontrollably [myself].” (Sasha Cagen, Quirkyalone) In my opinion, while needed for a fulfilling life, living in radical alignment with my beliefs and passions is most definitely the harder path.

The process of maturing out of this conformity and into a state of ‘cultural consciousness’ commonly leads to a disconnection between some members of the family and community. This schism happens as individuals struggle to choose between normative behaviors and expectations, and finding a way to be ‘true to themselves.’ And it can be painful. Those who choose to align themselves with their values typically experience a sense of isolation from anyone else whose outlook is defined by conventional cultural codes.  –Shannon Hayes, Radical Homemakers

Why is it so hard to break free of a life that’s good enough to pursue the life we truly long for? We like to think these things are complicated, but the root cause is pretty simple: change is hard, so we tend to put it off until it becomes urgent. When the time comes to change, it becomes an overpowering presence; something that must be resolved one way or another.  –Chris Guillebeau

The time of learning is seldom free from pain and questioning. But from these experiences and what they can teach us, we are ready to learn. We all enjoy the easy times when the sailing is smooth, when all is well, when we are feeling no pain. And these periods serve a purpose. They shore us up for the lessons which carry us to a stronger recovery, to a stronger sense of ourselves.  -Karen Casey, Each Day a New Beginning: Daily Meditations for Women

Riding the waves of change is always a precarious challenge. I find the most calming, helpful coping mechanism is to have a clear goal in mind. To avoid settling and taking the safe way during the scary times, I envision where I am going and where I want to be to keep myself moving in the right direction, wherever it may take me. Here is to the perpetually renewing chance for fresh beginnings!

End of the Cleanse

The final day of the Cleanse America event was on Wednesday, and I made it through the end! Before beginning, I thought that the hardest part would be bringing enough raw food to work with me to last me the whole day. But, as I mentioned before, the raw week I did before the 10-day cleanse boosted my confidence and know-how, and I think really prepared me for a longer period of rawness. I felt good up to the end, and even considered extending my raw diet for… two weeks?… a month?…

Well, due to the fact that it was my LAST DAY at my public health office job on Thursday, my wonderful coworkers decided to present me with a beautiful cake! Thursday being the first official non-raw day,  I had to partake. The sugary cake must have been quite a shock to my body after 10 days of living foods!

I have to admit, I was pretty happy to see my usual breakfast of oatmeal with tons of toppings on Thursday morning:

I did bring a raw lunch with me to work on Thursday, a recipe I created: Broccoli and “Cheese” (a mixture of Bragg’s liquid aminos, nutritional yeast, water and garlic powder).

Now, with birthday and departure festivities coming to a close, I am seeking a healthy balance in my diet. I don’t know that exclusive raw food is possible for me in the long-term; although, I think I could do it if I could slowly learn more recipes for my raw repertoire. I feel like my body is ready for a “building” period of wholesome mixture cooked and raw. Plus, I have some delicious Twin Oaks tofu to eat up before I roll out of town on Tuesday. Destination: Jacksonville, FL.

While I didn’t notice much physical change throughout the raw period, I have to trust it was a good cleanse and resting period for my body. I didn’t have a terrible healing crises or a lack of energy, I didn’t have any miraculous changes either.

Purple Morning and Raw Lasagna

I keep wondering to myself why I decided to quit my job and start wwoofing in the middle of summer. We’re enjoying what feels like the last of cool, dewy mornings here in Richmond; by 9 am, I can already feel the beginnings of the hot rays of the sun.

I went to a very inspirational Richmond Vegetarian Society meeting last night during which local foods activist, Ellie Sparks, talked to us about things we can do to help curb global warming. I found out about the Citizens Climate Lobby, which organizes citizens to put political pressure on elected officials to support “green” legislation. I am definitely going to look into getting involved with Citizens Climate Lobby.

On to the food! Good morning blueberry bear!

And I’d like to share what I made for dinner last night: Raw Lasagna!

It was crunchier than the real thing, but, I must admit, it was really good!! I got the recipe from Rawsome! It was very satisfying and had LOTS of flavor, probably due to all of the zesty Italian herbs.

On that note, I’d like to do a quick update on how I’ve been feeling. Today is day seven of the ten-day raw food cleanse, and I’m feeling great! I’m finding that I don’t need to eat nearly as much to feel full and I can go longer without eating than I can normally. (Normally I have to eat every hour on the hour, lest I feel lightheaded.) Prior research suggests that this is because when one eats a very “clean” diet of whole, easy-to-digest, organic foods with low residue, the mucousy lining in the intestines goes away. This lining is usually there to protect your intestines from bad things in your food. However, it also inhibits nutrient absorption. So, when you’re eating well, and the mucous goes away, you are able to absorb more nutrients from the food you eat, hence, you don’t have to eat as much to get the same amount of nourishment.

I feel more in tune with my body overall, and I feel like I’m getting better at listening to its subtle cues. I’ve discovered that when I’m full, I’ll almost feel a gentle “click” in my abdomen, a little cue that says, “Enough.” Like I said, it’s very subtle, but very obvious once I learned to hear it.

I’ve also tried to be more strict about my waking and bedding hours. I’m reading Perfect Health by Deepak Chopra, which suggests going to sleep between 9:30 and 10:30pm and waking at dawn without an alarm clock. I’m not quite up at dawn yet, but I have been regularly waking up at about 7am without an alarm and definitely going to bed before 10:30, usually around 10pm. While it has only been about four days since I’ve been observing these hours, I’ve noticed a huge difference! Not only do I feel like I have a steady energy throughout the day and I’m tired when it’s time to go to bed, I’ve noticed an almost magical flow about my day. I’m arriving places a few minutes early, or right at the perfect time. I’m fitting just enough activity and social interaction in my day, while still having enough relaxation and reflection alone time. Instead of brushing off half of the items on my to-do or to-be list, I’m fitting everything in without feeling overburdened. I highly suggest reading Perfect Health, or at least try paying attention to your circadian rhythm and see what a difference it makes. As Chopra posits, our bodies have only healthy desires deep down for bliss and balance!

As my yoga teacher said yesterday, “May anything that is not in line with your higher self simply fall away.”

Have a beautiful Sunday!