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ImageThe tomatoes in my living room are doing beautifully. Right now, I have 4-6 little ones ripening beautifully and several more yellow flowers on the vines. My garlic is growing in a hanging basket of herbs. My basil, both green and red, is healthy and strong and in fact, I’ve lately noticed that it’s surrounded by a whole host of little baby basil plants. In the patches of empty spaces of my windowsill gardens, I’ve planted chili peppers from seeds I pulled from a red and green jalapeno I got from a CSA share. All and all I’m pretty pleased with my indoor garden.

 When I first decided to eat local in a more regimented way, I was worried about tomatoes. I’ve been toying with the idea of hydroponicsfor a few years.And when I’d heard about Windowfarms a few months ago, I thought it sounded pretty interesting and a good way to try my hand at hydroponic gardening. But I never managed to get it together to find the instructions, get a bunch of bottles, or figure out what else I needed to make the Windowfarms from scratch. Apparently I’m not alone.

 Windowfarms is a hydroponic system, inspired by a NASA design for hydroponic gardens in space. It’s the brainchild of Britta Riley, who founded Windowfarms in 2009 as an open source community art project inspired by Michael Pollan and Clay Shirky. In just a few short years, the project has grown to include a broad range of designers, engineers, socially-minded business people, and of course the worldwide community of 22,000+ Windowfarmers.

 Windowfarms let you grow fresh vegetables at home by taking advantage of natural light and climate control indoors. The roots are bathed in nutrients from the sea, preventing food plants from getting root bound (as they do in traditional soil filled containers). According to their Kickstarter info, you get healthier roots, and fresher, more nutritious vegetables without dirt.  It all sounds can grow all the things I grow in my window boxes, but apparently, there are some people who are growing strawberries – year round. 

I don’t buy strawberries much. Conventional strawberries are often reported to have a ton of toxins on them. Check out What’s On My Food if you want to know the dirty details.  Local organic strawberries are often prohibitively expensive. I buy them once in a while and occasionally they come in the CSA, but it’s a rarity. So, we eat a paltry amount of the berries.

Strawberries, like many berries are incredibly nutritious and very low in calories. It’s a good combo to begin with. And of course, fresh strawberries are really delicious.  The idea of growing strawberries, all winter long, well, that basically sold me.   Sure I’ll grow lettuce and arugula,  but I definitely plan to have a whole farm dedicated to strawberries.

I ordered my Windowfarm through Kickstarter. And if you order before the 30th you can get a discount on a farm. But, even more importantly you could help to make sure the farms are produced locally. 

The project has met its goal of 500 backers, which means they will have enough money to create the molds. But if they can get 2000 backers, they will be able to get the Windowfarms produced here in the US. 

Last but not least, did I mention, the design is beautiful. I might actually hang them in the boy’s rooms. The initial design was based on hydroponic garden designs developed by NASA and the final product looks pretty space age and cool.  I may even end up hanging them in each of the B and Z bedrooms.  Then, not only canmy strawberry producing beauties cut down our carbon footprint and bring us fresh fruit all winter, but they can also help filter toxins from the air my children sleep in. All and all, the whole thing is pretty sweet.

Windowfarms Links 

• Britta’s awesome talk talk on R&DIYon TED:

The Windowfarm community (I joined!)

• How to get your Windowfarm through Kickstarter. (Hurry, deadline is tomorrow. Yikes!)

 

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I have a funny relationship to my window-sill gardens. They are more like pets and less like food. Hence, my maternal pride for this lovely little beauty growing on southern-exposure living-room ledge. Last year, I grew a tomato and it was so gorgeous I didn’t pick it. It shriveled on the vine. This year, I still have my pot of chard, tons of herbs and some mint  — the mint and chard are doing very well in the shade of my sofa. I know it’s just a matter of habit. I have gotten into the habit of using my herbs — I used them all the time. But the tomato, since it’s rare, seems special. I promise I’ll pick it this year. Especially since, my other tomato plants have many other yellow flowers.

On Friday, we discovered this grapevine dangling next to Robert Jackson’s new office — the sign said it was also the Washington Heights Chamber of Commerce. First mulberries. Now grapes.  I guess the point is that many of us want to make things grow, despite the fact that we live in this highly urban concrete jungle. On the Fourth of July my friend Jamie and I bemoaned the fact that we couldn’t turn our roof into proper gardens — we all agreed that it would be mutually beneficial to both our landlord and ourselves. But we also agreed, it wasn’t going to happen so quickly.  I guess we need to continue to push to make it happen. And in the meantime, we will continue to fill the nooks and crannies of the city with soil to make things grow.

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Saturday morning, bright and sunny, we went to Inwood and the boys wanted a few bucks for treats. “I’ll give you a few bucks if you pick some mulberries.”They groaned a little. But only a little. Then they started to pick.

“We can go to our good tree,” Z said to B. Then to me, “I’ll show you.” He led me down the path that runs parallel to the Isham into a grove of fruiting mulberries.

I am still amazed that these prolific trees grow all over NYC and for the most part, the only beings who indulge in their sweet-sweet fruit are the pigeons. Now that I know they exist, the birds have competition. From me and my bucket. But from Z and his insatiable appetite. We picked together for a while, Z eating more than he dropped in our recycled yogurt container bucket. Then I left them to continue while I shopped on the street.

You have to remember, we live in the middle of NYC. When I was their age I had a secret imaginary world of fairies who lived in a patch of violets in the back of my parents. backyard. Sometimes I worry that they are not having that experience of the world being filled with hidden secret places. But clearly they are.

That’s another thing I love about going to the farmers market in Inwood on a Saturday morning. They can actually go off by their own — run and play on the hill and the thicket behind Isham Street.

The way they reacted to my request to berry-pick said a lot about where we have come as a family. Mulberry picking, even though we only started last year, is now a tradition. And like any 11 and 9-year-old boy, they are experts.

“This is the best tree,” one chided.

“No, look you have to pick it this way,” the other reprimanded with great authority. I sent them off with two yogurt containers and they came back with one ¾ of the way filled. Then I sent them back to fill it – John and I helped

“What will we do with the berries this year?” Z asked.

“We could make a pie like last time,” B said.
“Maybe we’ll try jam,” I suggest.

My mother used to make microwave jam. I am sure a microwave strips food of nutrients, but in case you haven’t noticed, I’m pretty tired these days. I perused some other recipes that called for boiling and pectin and I just wasn’t up for it. This recipe is basically how I remember my mother doing it.

And the mulberry jam – it’s to die for. Although I tried to send them out again today with the babysitter to pick more berries and I couldn’t get them out to the woods without me. I guess it’s a lucky day for the pigeons.

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Microwave Mulberry Jam

2 cups of crushed mulberries
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. butter.

Remove the stems from the mulberries. Crush in an 8 cup glass measure with a spout. 
Let stand until juices forms – about thirty minutes.

Cover with a piece of wax paper. Then 
microwave on high for 10-14 minutes, stirring every 2-3 minutes. 
Spoon out 1 tbsp. of jam, refrigerate for 15 minutes and test consistency. 
If the  jam is too runny, re-heat it in microwave for intervals of 2 more minutes until it has the consistency you’re looking for.

Makes a jam jar full.

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Last weekend, I didn’t make it to the green market. I went to yoga instead. Last week I blogged about how the overabundance of veggies is overwhelming. This week, I admit it, all my life is overwhelming. It’s true a lot in my life has changed and is changing and I’m having a harder time that usual getting more than the basics done. I’ve written this blog three times this week (on paper)and never managed to type it up.I haven’t baked bread in over two weeks. And I even got take out twice and threw out the plastic containers. I admit it, I’ve slipped a little bit.

The point of this post was that the point of eating local, healthy food is to be healthy and keep the planet healthy. But keeping up with everything I need to do had really kicked my butt, not to mention added a few pounds to my thighs. (Have I mentioned in this post how delicious local, home-made chocolate chip cookies are!) So getting exercise back into my life is a new priority.  So if finding balance — and yoga is not just about exercise, it’s about both.

Luckily, biking is also green. So on saturday, after yoga the kids and I biked down the west side bike path to the 72nd street pier. We played a pop up piano on the pier and had a drink with a friend. Then we biked over to Central Park. The whole time B kept saying, “This is great! Can we do it again next week?”

In the words of our illustrious prez, I told him, “Yes, we can.” But the cost of not doing my sustainable chores on the weekend was that during the week, our meals have been thrown together with whatever we could find in the fridge. Even with the CSA, the larder was a bit bare and we ran out of a lot of the basics because I didn’t go shopping on Saturday. But truthfully, we ended up with a few pretty delicious dishes. Sure, the mushroom and barley stew was ok but my favorite creation was spelt with oven roasted cauliflower, goat cheese, basil and mint. I’ll probably even make it again and even post it when I’m more up on my game.

Figuring out the right choices is a task in itself. Keeping up with it all is even more exhausting. So this week’s post barely happened. There are no pictures. Not even a real recipe. But in this case being ok with what I had and could manage was actually delicious and when I think about B and Z biking down to Central Park, totally worth it.

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My eyes are bigger than my refrigerator. Right now it’s packed with greens and other fresh from the farm goodies. It was pretty stuffed for starters and then the first delivery of the CSA came. There seems to be a green market on every corner. It’s strawberry and rhubarb time. And the spinach is sweet and in season. If I truly want to eat local next winter shouldn’t I be starting to package and freeze some of that abundance. But I don’t feel like I have the time.

Everything in my life is shifting right now. My job. My kid’s school. My health insurance. My childcare solutions.  I feel like I’m walking on a rubber raft in the middle of the ocean, I have to work so hard to hold myself steady, otherwise I’m going to fall down flat and drown. No wonder I’m exhausted. I’m too tired to even write a proper blog. So instead here are a few random pieces of good new. Enjoy!

Random good news:

  •  They’re taking out the Styrofoam take out containers in CA! California Senate  has voted to ban Styrofoam containers  “Restaurants and other vendors will no longer be able to package food or drink in the material starting January 1, 2014.”  Hopefully this will be a trend the rest of the country will follow. via ecogeek http://www.ecogeek.org/preventing-pollution/3523
  • Paper straws! Today at Whole Foods I got an Agua Fresca and they gave me a paper straw. It was definitely a one slurp item. It got soggy by the time I was finished. But it wasn’t plastic, so who cares!
  • I’m getting my meat delivered!  I finally started to use the CSA extra section. I’ve been running around like a pastured chicken with it’s head cut off. And for some reason I didn’t realize I could get grass-fed beef right from my CSA via Lewis Wait  Farm. http://www.csalewiswaitefarm.com/default.aspx.  Next Tuesday, they will literally deliver my roast, steak and a dozen eggs practically to my doorstep. Ok, it’s across the street from my house. (Sorry Fleishers) I think I eliminated this option because the first time I investigated it felt expensive. But in reality, it’s very affordable. In fact, using London Broil as an example,  it’s cheaper than the Inwood Greenmarket by a few dollars a lb.

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It started with a quest for an egg. Not just any egg, a Knoll Crest Farms egg.

Knoll Crest Farms has been my go-to egg farmer since I went local. In a world where everything is confusing and difficult –it’s local, it’s organic, will it make garbage, when can I get it — the Knoll Crest Farm eggs are my simple solution. They are pastured and local and I can get them every week in Inwood.

Probably my first case of sustainable sticker shock was around the cost of pastured eggs. When you think about how often places like Target give eggs away for free, $4.50 a dozen seems pretty exorbitant. My friend Cathy, also a Knoll Crest Farms enthusiast always said that she got her eggs upstate for less  – I thought she had meant at the farm. So when she invited us upstate for a Memorial Day barbecue I knew I had to make a visit to the actual Knoll Crest Farm .

On Saturday, when we went to the farmers market I stopped by the Knoll Crest stand.

“We’re going upstate tomorrow,” I told the man who gives me eggs every week.

“Oh good,” he said

They were out of eggs but I didn’t care, I knew I would get them tomorrow. He told me that the farm upstate had a store. And we smiled a lot, feeling all warm and fuzzy about my visit to his farm.

Sunday morning, we were packing to go upstate. I forgot to check the egg carton for the address. No worries, I thought, we’ll google the address from the car. It sounded like a pretty good plan but it turns out when we googled them two locations showed up.

One of the farms was very close to Cathy’s house. We called, but no one answered. Since it was on the way, we figured we’d stop by. We turned off a country road and drove up a sloping road winding around the bend til we saw a sign that said “Chicken Crossing.” It was kitsch and cute but clearly faded hanging on by a proud thread  on to a  weathered and locked down farm red building. Across the overgrown road, a line of broken down chicken coups but no chickens. We drove to the end of the road, and turned the car around in a dead-end between a graceful sweeping country house and a swamp.

“Maybe that’s where the egg farmer’s live?” one of the kids said.

Maybe. But I figured we must have gone to the wrong address. But as we drove back toward the main road, we stopped to ask a man washing his car about Knoll Crest Farm.

“Oh yes,”  he said, “that’s a working farm up there. Just up the road.”

“It looked closed,” I said.

“No,” he said, “it’s a real working farm.”

We turned the car around and drove back to the chicken crossing sign. This time we got out of the car.

The kids were anxious as John and I started down the overgrown road.

“I don’t think we should do  this,” B said, “his is like that movie Spirited Away.”

“Don’t eat anything,” Z cried, “I don’t want you to turn into pigs.”

As we rounded the bend we approached a large structure with a big garden in the back. Chicken were moving freely between the building and the fenced in yard with a garden. It was not super pretty but it was clearly working.

The not-prettiness of it sort of got to me.

“What did you think mom, the chickens were going to live in some fairytale.”

“Like Mother Goose?” John added.

I didn’t say anything, but I thought, shit yes. But happy chickens don’t necessarily have to look like storybook chickens.

We walked back up the hill and the dirt road led us back to the main road. We got in the car next to the “Chicken Crossing” sign and drove off the Memorial Day Barbecue.

Monday morning, we ate breakfast at the Schultzville General Store. Turns out that’s where Cathy gets her eggs. At $2.85 a dozen, they were a bargain. As I put my score of three dozen eggs into my cooler to drive them back to the city, I thought about those scruffy chickens. They were clearly happy. And that morning, so was I.

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My memorial weekend plans are a little up in the air — I know we will be heading upstate at some point, but not sure when or where. I do know that we will be heading toward my  my fellow blogger and friend Cathy of What Cathy Eat place for a memorial day party. Can’t wait to enjoy some of Cathy’s delicious heart – healthy recipes – without having to do the cooking.

Somewhere in my rambling I was planning on stopping at Fleisher’s in Kingston – partly to pick up a few packs of their yummy hot dogs for the BBQ, but also just to pick up some meat for the freezer. We haven’t had bacon for a long while and I am still salivating over the roast I bought from them for New Years.

But starting in the fall, I will be able to go south for my pilgrimage to my favorite sustainable butcher.  Fleisher’s Meats just announced they will be opening a store on 5th Ave in Park Slope (right across from Bierkraft) next fall.  I wasn’t surprised, co-founder Josh Applestone’s grandfather was a Brooklyn boy — according to the site — the original Fleisher’s Meats founded by Wolf Fleisher was located in Kensington at what we believe was 4159 18th Ave.

Hey Josh and Jessica, haven’t you heard that Washington Heights is the Park Slope of Manhattan? If you’re looking to open another metro NYC location, can we be next?

For more info on Fleishers in Brooklyn check out this article  on Eater. com and this Village Voice blog ForkintheRoad.

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