Emerging Trends in Fresh Produce

Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association annual meeting

This month I attended the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association’s annual meeting. There was a session on emerging trends in fresh produce. They did a great job of elucidating several trends in the produce industry. Trends that those of us who eat, have restaurants, and/or grow produce should consider.

• Food trends start in fine restaurants and are dictated by excellent chefs. If fine restaurants begin serving dragon fruit and Brussels sprouts, and make them delicious, it won’t be long before Applebee’s and Ruby Tuesday’s are serving them too, followed by some version of it showing up at fast food places, and then the consumer begins looking for them at the local grocery store. Most consumers are first introduced to new foods at a nice restaurant. This is even further solidified by the popularity of food TV, where new and unusual ingredients are utilized on a regular basis, for the whole world to watch.

• One of the hottest trends is “local food”. The opinion of the speaker was the large commercial growers feed the world, while small local growers romance the world. The thought was that if the small local growers can get more consumers eating produce in general, then the trickle-down effect will be that more and more people like fruits and vegetables, which is a good thing for everyone. These consumers will then be far more likely to purchase fruits and vegetables in restaurants, as well as pick them up in the grocery stores. Their propensity to purchase fresh produce won’t be limited to their CSA and farmers’ market. Local is good for everyone: both small and large growers, and the consumer.

• Consumers want a wider offering of healthy options, both at restaurants and in the store. We aren’t happy with burgers and fries any more.


• There is a government push to detour obesity. Although I’m not sure we can trust the government to dictate nutrition, I do believe people can’t be healthy without the focus of their diet being fresh produce. If the government wants to get involved with addressing the obesity epidemic, they should start with encouraging people to stop eating processed foods and start eating plenty of fresh vegetables. Why do I doubt this is actually going to happen?

• Food will become more and more multicultural. Did you know 45% of the millennial generation is not Caucasian? There will be more and more people asking for new and different types of produce. The savvy chef and grower will be considering things beyond potatoes and broccoli. How about some lemongrass? Maybe some turmeric and ginger? Perhaps a few poblano chilies?

• Consumers not only want food to be nutritious, they want it functional. Chefs will be the pharmacists of the next century. Wow! I like this trend because I am firmly convinced food is the foundation of health. We already see some Charlotte area chefs in this role, such as Julia at Nourish, the folks at Viva Raw, and Julianna at Luna’s Living Kitchen. You might think it sounds a little odd, but just head over to Luna’s on a Saturday afternoon, and you will see a long line of people who are already sold on the idea of “food as functional”.

• Consumers want absolute transparency. People want to know who grew it, where it was grown, what were the farming practices, if there are any GMO’s involved, and the list goes on. We already see this happening all the time. At the Farmers’ Market, people ask these questions every day. We also see a big push to label GMO products. Things like trans-fats are now listed on food labels (and are being phased out by the FDA). Grocery stores have photographs of their farmers hanging up in the produce aisle. This idea of transparency will likely continue to grow. I wonder if people feel a certain sense of distrust of the food industry. Perhaps it has betrayed us by telling us their “foods” nourish us, when they don’t… their “foods” make us skinny, when they won’t, and that their “foods” make us healthy, when they don’t. I’m not surprised at this trend of demanding transparency.

• Millennials eat six meals per day. This basically means they are snacking and not eating full meals. It implies they don’t cook. However, they want these six meals to be healthy, nutrient dense, fast, delicious, and easily available. They also want to be able to pre-order it, take photos of it to post on Facebook, and have their meals personalized exactly the way they want it. This is going to take a marketing genius to meet these needs, however, I’m sure it is going to happen, so we should start trying to get our brains around it, because these will be our customers. Did you know this generation now has buying power that exceeds the baby boomers?

I listened to all of these trends, and realized that selling produce to today’s consumer is going to be challenging. They watch the food network and want beautiful meals. They want fresh, nutritious, functional food with absolute transparency. They want many different ethnic types of food. They want all of this in a fast and convenient way, that requires minimal preparation, because a good percent of the population doesn’t cook. Alright, this is going to be difficult.

Eat your veggies,

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September on the Farm

I love September. I know most people think of spring and summer when they think about farming, but growing fall crops really does it for me! When September comes around, I feel the cool breath of fall right around the corner, and am energized with the anticipation of the cool farming season. By September, most of the summer crops are starting to look pretty ratty. All the lower leaves on the tomatoes are brown with blight. Still they grow, with green leaves at the top, but they sure do look ugly. The squash is covered in mildew, and the squash bugs have done their damage, leaving only tattered sad plants in the field. Summer is looking hot and sad by September, but a fresh start is coming.


The reason I love this time of year is that I get to pull all these ugly sad crops out of the ground and start fresh! Out with the old. In with the new. I yank those tattered tomatoes and squash out, and till the fragrant soil with new compost. Then, all the fun new seeds get planted, that just scream of cooler times approaching. I love the look of the fresh new rows with dark rich soil. I walk all around the farm every morning, looking for the first emerged plants. It does my tired summer soul good. Although we plant many of our fall crops in August, September is when it is the most fun. We replant anything that didn’t survive the heat of August, and finish up the rest of our winter season planting. The weather is perfect for germinating seeds, and the cool evenings are perfect for growing cool season crops. You don’t have to fight Mother Nature too much in September.

Some of the crops we planted in August, and nursed through the heat, are already starting to mature. The first to be ready are kale, mizuna, pac choy, and arugula. The third Saturday in September, we were able to bring a small amount of kale to the market, as well as arugula. Kale and mizuna have been going in our CSA bags, and everyone seems to be so happy to see these new leafy crops. Amazingly, beets and turnips are also ready in September. Beets are ready because, if you water them enough, they easily can germinate and grow in the heat. The white sweet turnips are ready because they grow at the speed of light. In only 45 days small turnips are ready!


Once our fall crops are up and growing, we lay a walkway of straw between the rows. This keeps the soil cooler, keeps weeds from growing in, provides much needed organic matter, as well as keeps the soil covered so soil microbes and worms are happier. I like it because it seriously cuts down on the amount of time we spend hoeing weeds. Interestingly, this year the wheat straw we bought seemed to have a lot of seeds in it, so now our straw walkways between the rows have wheat growing in them. I am trying to decide if I should leave it there, to be a winter cover crop between the rows, or if I should take some steps to get rid of it. My concern is that it might begin to outcompete the crop, or it might become so established I can’t get rid of it in the spring. This would be a problem. For now, I’m leaning toward just watching it and seeing how it goes. Maybe I have stumbled upon a whole new method for weed control and cover cropping.

September and October are the final months of our Summer CSA. To me, and I think to most of our members, it is a relief to move away from the summer tomatoes, peppers and eggplants, and on to the fresh leafy vegetables. Our summer CSA was totally sold out this year. When people asked about joining, I told them the best idea would be to join the Winter CSA, where there is normally more room. That also would give them priority sign up opportunity for the Summer 2015 CSA, because we allow our existing members an early sign up window, before we open for new members. This worked well, because now our Winter CSA is also sold out! I love that so many Charlotte and Union County families are committed to fresh and local produce! The more I learn, the more I am convinced the life and health of our families depend on it. I read the next generation is now expected to have a shorter life expectancy than the baby boomers! They are expected to die from degenerative disease such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. These are all directly related to nutrition and lifestyle. I can’t say it enough: PLEASE hit the Farmers’ market, join a CSA, or grow your own, and let healthy local food replace the processed “food” that is too easy to grab.


Eat your veggies,

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You Can Grow Plenty in the Winter in NC


One of the best things about farming in North Carolina is, with just a little cold protection, you can grow crops almost all winter long. We have a winter CSA that lasts from November until the end of January. It has produce that rivals any summer CSA. Here are some keys to winter farming.

Choose cold tolerant varieties: This should be the first thing you think about when you are sweating it out in August, considering what seeds to order for the winter. Don’t just automatically pick what you have always grown. Pay special attention to the description of the seeds you are considering. Be sure to choose varieties that have the best cold tolerance. Johnnie’s Selected Seeds and Territorial Seed Company both do a very good job of highlighting which varieties have the best cold tolerance. Look for the best cold tolerant varieties of kale, mustards, arugula, beets, turnips, cabbage, carrots, onions, leeks, radish, broccoli, and cauliflower. Give up on the tomatoes. Good genetics for cold weather should be your first step when planning your winter crop.


Pick a good location: When you are considering where to put your winter crop, look for a location with full sun, wind protection, and good water drainage. You don’t want your crop in a cold shady bottom area that doesn’t warm up until afternoon. That will be a recipe for disaster. Wind protection is important because many crops can survive a freeze, however, they can’t survive being frozen and beaten to death by the wind. If you have ever walked out into a collard greens field in the winter, you will see the leaves can be frozen solid in the morning, then thaw out and be just fine that afternoon. When plants are frozen, the cells are very fragile and you can easily damage them. Actually, no one should even walk into a frozen field because simply touching them can cause damage. Imagine the problems that can be caused by frozen plants being whipped around by the wind. Wind can also drop the temperature by several degrees, and conversely, a sunny protected area can be several degrees warmer than an open area. Good drainage is important because, in the winter, plants often grow slowly, so they are not taking up very much water. Additionally, it is cool, so water evaporates more slowly. The area has to drain well or the crop will be languishing with wet feet. Cold wet roots lead to poor growth, plant diseases and death.


Have some row covers: There are many winters in North Carolina that have only a few hard freezes. If your crop is in a warm and protected location, and has good genetic cold tolerance, you might be able to harvest produce nearly all winter, if you have some row covers. We use Agribon covers. They come on a roll in several sizes. You just roll it over the crop and secure the edges. It adds several degrees of protection for those super cold nights. The key to success with these row covers is to make sure the edges are secured, so they don’t blow off and destroy produce! Frozen plants are extremely fragile, and moving around the row covers, while things are frozen, will cause damage.

If you want to get fancy, you can make some simple hoops out of PVC pipe and make low tunnels with plastic. We do this for some of our taller crops. It can be a pain because these low tunnels love to blow off. Also, these tunnels can get very hot on a sunny day, and you can actually kill the crop with heat if you are not careful. If you go this route, be sure to place the tunnels in an area you can “babysit”, because it takes a lot of care to ensure they don’t blow off on the coldest night or heat up too much in the middle of the day. Managing row covers is an art. We have both killed and saved many crops with covers.

Growing in the winter is challenging and rewarding. Give it a try!
Eat veggies all year!

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What is Leptin and Why Should You Care?

leptin via wikipedia

photo credit to Wikipedia

Over the past several years, I have become convinced our society consumes way too much sugar, grains, potatoes, and process foods, resulting in something close to a metabolic melt down. All of these foods are loaded with carbohydrates and raise the blood sugar. This requires the release of insulin to bring the blood sugar back to normal levels. Over time, our bodies can begin to have a hard time dealing with this constant assault, and begin to become resistant to insulin. When this happens, the blood sugar and insulin levels become chronically higher and we get fatter. Not just any kind of fat, the dangerous type of fat around the belly. This belly fat is the hallmark of Metabolic Syndrome, which can be the beginning of a slow degradation in to obesity, high blood pressure, high blood lipids, and eventually heart disease, diabetes, and even Alzheimer’s disease. I used to think it was a simple equation that involved carbohydrates and insulin. Now I am learning there are other things in play here as well.

Have you ever heard of leptin? Let me go to the authority on everything, Wikipedia, and define it for you. Leptin (from Greek λεπτός leptos, “thin”), the “satiety hormone”, is a hormone made by fat cells which regulates the amount of fat stored in the body. It does this by adjusting both the sensation of hunger, and adjusting energy expenditures. Wow, surely this plays into the equation. If leptin is doing its job correctly, we are satisfied when we eat enough food, hungry only when we really need more food, only have the right amount of fat stored, and have all the energy to expend when we need it. For most Americans, something must be wrong here.

Leptin is made by fat cells, so if we are fatter, we often have higher leptin levels. Generally, higher levels of leptin tell the body it does not need food, thereby reducing hunger. For example, leptin levels rise during the night and early morning, possibly so that we sleep well despite 12 hours without food. The problem is that, although higher leptin should reduce hunger, levels tend to be chronically high in obese individuals. The reasons for this are not completely understood, but it may be a case of leptin resistance, similar to insulin resistance in type 2 diabetes. As we get fatter, the fat makes more leptin than we need, and our bodies begin to be less sensitive to it. So, although it should cause us to be less hungry, when we don’t get the message from the leptin, we are hungry all the time. Bummer!

According to the book Mastering Leptin, Your guide to permanent Weight Loss and Optimum Health, by Byron Richards, there are five rules to managing leptin.

Mastering Leptin

  1. Don’t eat after dinner and don’t go to bed on a full stomach. Our bodies need this short fast between dinner and breakfast to regulate leptin levels.

  2. Eat three meals a day and don’t snack in between. Don’t graze all day on small meals and snacks. Again, our bodies need the regular rhythm of food and fasts. Try to go 4-6 hours between meals.

  3. Eat normal sized meals and not to excess. Not gorging is important. Eating a little slower might help.

  4. Breakfast should contain protein and not be high in carbs (sugar, grains, starches)

  5. Reduce the amount of carbs you eat at all meals, while increasing the amount of colorful vegetables, fat and protein. Cutting back on carbohydrates helps reduce the amount of insulin produced and settles down leptin resistance. Most people eat more carbohydrates than they are able to metabolize, which is why more than fifty percent are overweight.

Let’s break this down into “grandma’s advice” and just use common sense. How have we ever strayed so far?

  1. Grandma always said to let your food digest a bit before you go to bed. Makes sense to me. Also, grandma normally shut down the kitchen after dinner. There was no sitting around watching TV grazing on popcorn, chips and ice-cream.

  2. Grandma offered three healthy meals a day filled with nutritious foods, and then the kitchen was closed. She would never have permitted people to be plowing through the kitchen cabinets and fridge between meals. Wait until dinner!

  3. Be polite and don’t shovel your food.

  4. Eating a good breakfast starts the day right. Captain Crunch and Pop-Tarts are ridiculous. Have some fresh eggs.

  5. Eat your veggies! Historically, vegetables have always been the mainstay of nutrition. In the summer, grandma prepared all kinds of fresh vegetables from the garden and then canned, dried and froze them for the winter. Now many people only get French fries and a slice of lettuce as their daily vegetables.

I am convinced we have strayed so far from eating real foods, that our bodies simply can’t handle it. We were never designed to nourish ourselves on Chick-Fil-A, Doritos, Cliff bars, hotdogs, Gatorade, and Captain Crunch. Even if the label says it is “fortified” with a full day’s supply of vitamins and minerals, it does not nourish! True nourishment requires colorful vegetables, healthy fats, and unprocessed meats, not processed foods, sugars, and excess grains and potatoes. Now, I am learning it also requires good eating habits, such as not snacking between meals, digest before bed, and eat a little slower and enjoy it! Didn’t we always know this? I think Grama did.

Eat Your Veggies,

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Grow Brussels Sprouts In The South


Everyone loves Brussels sprouts! They please CSA members, chefs clamor for them, and we can never grow enough to meet the demand at the Farmers’ Markets. Wow, this is a farming dream! Sadly, there are problems. Most Brussels sprouts are extremely long season crops. That means there is a long time from planting to harvest. Many varieties take more than four months. This is a problem for southern growers because Brussels sprouts also don’t like hot weather. So, if you want a spring crop, you would have to plant at the first of February, in order for the crop to be ready by the first of June. In NC, February is too cold to be planting anything, if you want good results. Additionally, Brussels sprouts can be harvested for a month or more, if you handle them well. However, they can’t survive the summer heat in the south. This basically means spring crops are not possible, because you can’t plant them early enough to mature them before the hot summer. Fall crops are a problem because, in order to have a crop ready for Thanksgiving, you would need to plant in late July, when it is too hot. Then, by the first part of November, it gets so cold that growth slows and often only a quick small crop is possible before it freezes out. What should all of us Brussels sprout lovers do?

Pick the right varieties: When considering Brussels sprout seeds, I have two strategies. I either choose the shortest days-to-harvest variety, or else the longest with the best cold tolerance. For example, Churchill variety is ready in only 90 days. If it is planted in August, it will be ready three months later, which might make them available for Thanksgiving, if everything goes right. Another option is to find the most cold tolerant variety you can find and try to overwinter it. All Brussels sprouts are fine with a frost, however, some varieties of Brussels sprouts are better able to survive freezing weather than others. Diablo is a variety with pretty good cold tolerance. The goal with cold tolerant varieties is to nurse them along all winter, with the hopes that in early spring they will produce a crop. I have had better luck with buying shorter season varieties and hope for a fall harvest.

Buy transplants: Planting transplants instead of direct seeding can also help with a fall harvest of Brussels sprouts. Brussels sprouts take about 3-4 weeks from the time they are planted in trays, to the two leaf stage when they are ready for transplanting. This means they can be seeded in a greenhouse the first of August, and be ready for transplanting by the first of September, and hopefully ready for harvest by the beginning of November. I like this idea because planting can save money on the cost of seeds. Direct seeding uses much more seed than growing transplants, because you can’t be nearly as precise with seed placement when you are planting seeds in the field. You can also get really aggressive and see if your transplant producer can seed your transplants in July, so you can plant them in August. This means they will be ready by October! This is a little risky since Brussels sprouts don’t like heat. If you try this, you have to be ready to provide adequate water, as well as manage the barrage of summer pests. It also might be possible to build some shade covers for your new babies, to help with the summer heat, however, I have never tried it. Maybe next year!

Get some frost protection: Protecting the plants from hard freezes is an important part of growing Brussels sprouts. Although they can tolerate frost, many varieties can’t survive a hard freeze. It is so sad to nurse the crop along all through August, September, and October, only to have a hard freeze come in November and damage a crop that is almost ready to harvest. I use Agribon row covers. These are big rolls of white cloth that you can roll out over the crop to provide some frost protection. The problem you will find is that the plants are over knee high in November, and not so easy to cover. It will take some creativity. I have done it several ways. I have created hoops out of PVC pipe, that go over the crop and then covered it with Agribon. I have also gently laid it over the top of the crop, and secured the ends by laying bricks on it. Although this method isn’t perfect, it can work. The honest truth is that neither method is perfect. The hoops are expensive to build and a lot of trouble, but simply laying the cloth on top of the plants doesn’t provide as much protection. You just have to give it your best shot and pray. In any case, remember that frozen or frosted crops should never be touched at all. They are very fragile when frozen, and easily damaged. You must resist the urge to go out and check them until they are thawed out in the afternoon.

Brussel Sprouts

Growing Brussels sprouts in the south is not easy, but it is well worth it. There is high demand for them, which is not common with cool season grown crops. It provides the customer with something rare and yummy, and provides the grower with a much needed source of winter income. You can do it!

Eat Your Veggies,

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Veggie Frittata Breakfast


Jay and I work hard to get several servings of healthy vegetables at every meal. CSA members, Jonathan and Laura Olson, are also very committed to eating plenty of veggies, and shared this simple but delicious frittata recipe with me. It really isn’t a recipe because the ingredients change depending on what I have in the garden, but the main idea and method is always the same. I get the bacon and sausage from What’s Your Beef Butcher in Charlotte because their meat is from pasture raised animals, and they make their own sausage with no chemicals or preservatives.


• 5 Eggs
• Cream
• Three slices of bacon chopped into pieces
• Three breakfast sausage patties
• Onions and garlic (chopped)
• Lots of veggies chopped small. My list this morning included the following:
• Half a zucchini
• One fingerling eggplant
• Six grape tomatoes
• One large red banana pepper
• Two big kale leaves
• Your favorite cheese. I used feta and cheddar this morning.
• Your favorite raw greens. I used mizuna this morning, but any will do.
• Your favorite chopped herbs such as parsley, chives, mint, basil or cilantro



• Preheat oven to 400
• In a cast iron skillet fry the bacon and sausage until it is browned and mixed well.
• Add the onions and garlic and cook until fragrant.
• Add all of the other veggies except the kale and cook about 5 minutes until softened
• Add the chopped kale and mix with the cooked veggies and meat
• Beat the eggs with a bit of cream.
• Remove the frying pan from the heat and add the beaten eggs
• Mix well. The eggs will begin to slightly thicken but shouldn’t be cooked.
• Add the cheese on top
• Pop into the oven for 10 minutes
• Turn on the broiler and barely brown the top. This should only take a few minutes. Watch it closely.
• It is done when the eggs are firmed up and the cheese is bubbly and barely starting to brown.
• Take out of the oven and cut like a pie.
• Serve on a bed of your favorite raw greens.
• Toss with chopped herbs

This hearty breakfast will stick with you all morning and it also contains at least three servings of vegetables. It is oh so yummy!

Eat your veggies,


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Book Review: Farmacology by Daphne Miller, M.D

Book Review: Farmacology by Daphne Miller, M.D


I first heard about this book as I listened to NPR’s People’s Pharmacy on the way to the Farmers’ Market early on a Saturday morning. They were interviewing the author and it sounded intriguing enough that I went straight to Amazon and bought the book. The book describes Dr. Miller’s hypothesis that our health is intimately connected to the farm. She traveled to seven different types of farms and tried to make the connection between health, the food we eat and how it is grown and prepared.

The book started strong with her visiting Lane’s Landing Farm and Jubilee Farm. She observed that healthy soils are teeming with life. Soil is not just dirt. It is full of microbial activity that works in conjunction with plants to keep them healthy and growing. It is important for farmers to tend the land in such a way that soil life and diversity is preserved. The use of fumigation, chemicals, and pesticides tends to destroy soil microbial life. She asserts this also may be true in the human body. Our bodies depend on a huge diversity of microbial life to be healthy. As with soils, it is all too easy to compromise this diversity of microbial life with antibiotics, strange foods, antimicrobial products, and even lack of contact with nature. The food we eat from farms that focus on soil health contains microbes specific to the soil it came from, and this is a good thing! These microbes all may become a part of our own microbiota. They play a role in keeping us healthy. The soil microbes also help move nutrients into the crop, which also may make the food rich in diverse nutrients gained from the land. She used a patient named Allie to make this point.

Allie had been sick with fatigue and a host of vague debilitating symptoms that no doctor seemed able to cure. Allie had been eating frozen dinners, take-out meals, energy bars, and handfuls of supplements. Dr. Miller had Allie begin shopping for seasonal produce at a local farmers market as well as join a CSA. She also began buying local sustainably raised meats. Dr. Miller encouraged Allie to not be too compulsive about scrubbing the produce, with the reassurance that getting a little bit of the microbes from the soil into her system might be just fine. Over time, Allie was healed. As a scientist, I scratched my head and considered this. It is impossible to say exactly why Allie got better. It may have been an improvement in her gut microbiology or it may have been simply the change in nutrients when she started eating real food. It also may have been that when she switched to real food it eliminated a host of strange unnatural ingredients that often come in the processed foods she had been eating. Probably a little bit of all of it played into this story. In any case, eating real food from local sustainable farmers and ditching processed foods is always a great idea, and time after time results in people talking about how it changed their health and life.

From there, Dr. Miller went on to visit several other farms and it made for a fun read that generally supported her point of the connection between the microbes from the farm and health. However, by the end of the book she had wandered into some strange territory that did not seem to apply. For example, she discussed urban farms in the Bronx. Although I am thrilled the Bronx has urban farms, the connection between the health of those farms and human health was not as strongly supported. By the end of the book she had wandered afar and visited a farmer who grew plants to distill hydrosols for face and body products. It was interesting, but a little off of her original topic. What started as a very enlightening idea of synergies between farm and health eventually turned into just a fun story.

Regardless of the meandering ending, I liked the book and recommend you read it. Her main ideas are dead on, and I agree we are all too disconnected from the earth, foods and probably even a little too sterile. We need to get dirty. People need to eat real food. Farmers need to tend the soils. Right on!

Eat Your Veggies,

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Feed the Soil


This month I spoke at the Organic Land Use Conference at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. I learned quite a lot! The focus of the meeting was soil health. Did you know soil is alive? It is absolutely teeming with all kinds of microbiology! It is a dynamic living ecosystem. There are more microbes in a teaspoon of soil than there are people on earth. Soil organisms are varied, versatile, and adaptable to changing conditions. They play a central role in making nutrients available to plants.  

Types of soil microorganisms include:


Bacteria – Bacteria are simple, single-celled microorganisms. Bacteria inhabit a wide variety of habitats, including soil.  A teaspoon of productive soil can contain from 100 million to 1 billion bacteria. Bacteria that improve soil quality feed on soil organisms, decompose organic matter, help keep nutrients in the root zone, enhance soil structure, compete with disease-causing organisms, and filter and degrade pollutants in soil.

Fungi – Fungi are a diverse group of multi-cellular organisms. The best known fungi are mushrooms, molds, and yeast, but there are many others that go unnoticed, particularly those living in soil. Fungi grow as long strands called hyphae (up to several yards long), pushing their way between soil particles, rocks and roots. Fungi that improve soil quality decompose complex carbon compounds, improve accumulation of organic matter, retain nutrients in soil, bind soil particles into aggregates, compete with plant pathogens, and decompose certain types of pollution.

Protozoa – Protozoa are microscopic, single-celled microbes that primarily eat bacteria. The bacteria contain more nitrogen than the protozoa can utilize and some ammonium (fertility!) is released to plants. Protozoa also prevent some pathogens from establishing on plants, and function as a food source for nematodes in the soil food web.

Nematodes – Nematodes are small, unsegmented round worms. Nematodes live in water films in the large pore spaces in soil.  Most species are beneficial, feeding on bacteria, fungi, and other nematodes, but some cause harm by feeding on plant roots.  Nematodes distribute bacteria and fungi through the soil as they move about. Predatory nematodes can consume root-feeding nematodes or prevent their access to roots.

Many soil microorganisms are known to be directly beneficial organisms, such as rhizobia and mycorrhizae. There are also a large number of soil organisms whose activities indirectly help plants decompose organic matter, which can transform nutrients into mineral forms that plants can use. As soil organisms break down organic matter, their activities help improve soil structure, providing a better environment for roots, with less soil compaction and better water and air movement.


Wow! That’s a lot going on beneath the ground that we can’t even see. Can you see why soil fertility is much more complicated than just doing a leaf or soil test, getting the results and adding the right amount of some nutritional component to the soil? It is alive and we want to do everything we can do to keep it living well. All of these microbes can be negatively affected by chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Large scale disruption of the soil can also be a problem for many soil inhabitants. Imagine all the worms getting chopped up by the tiller, all the fungal hyphae being torn to pieces and the sensitive aggregation of the soil being broken up and washed away.

We work very hard to maintain a good soil diversity and life. We use compost as our fertility, which is teeming with microbes. Instead of destroying life, it adds more life to the soil. Not only that, we continually try to add organic matter for the microbes to feed on and turn to plant nutrition. We lay a thick layer of straw between our cropping rows which provides shade, habitat and food for the soil good guys. Lastly, we don’t even like to till our land or run a tractor over it, although sometimes we must. For the most part, we lay out our planting lines and only till a strip where we want to plant, just enough to get a good seed line. We try not to ever totally till up a field.

Soil health is an ongoing process and isn’t easy. The soil is the key to the health of the crop and ultimately what provides the complex mix of nutrients that are in the fruit and vegetables! Our bodies need this mixture of complex plant nutrients. This is another great reason to be a member of a CSA or to find a great local grower at the market.

Eat your veggies!

Thanks to Dr. Holly Little, Acadian Seaplants Limited, for her assistance with parts of this article.

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Easiest Marinara Ever

Easiest Marinara Ever

Recently Jay and I went to the lake and we brought a bunch of beautiful veggies and herbs with us. I didn’t want to spend a ton of time in the kitchen, so I dreamed up this simple and fresh marinara sauce that we served with chopped basil and fresh fish over spiralized zucchini. What a fresh veggie treat!


• Lots of tomatoes
• Any other summer veggies such as mixed peppers, eggplant, zucchini or other squash
• Onion
• Several cloves of garlic
• Fresh herbs (I used oregano, rosemary, thyme, chives, parsley)
• Olive oil
• Salt
• Pepper
• Basil to garnish


• Toss all the summer veggies, garlic, herbs, and the onion into a chop chop or food processor until pretty much chopped up to oblivion.
• Add a good amount of olive oil to a sauce pan and sauté the chopped veggies until fragrant and soft but not browned.
• Put the tomatoes in a blender or food processor and liquefy them.
• Add the tomatoes to the sautéed vegetables
• Simmer several hours at very low heat or all day in the crock pot.
• Add chopped basil when you serve it.

That’s it! This is super easy and rivals any sauce you will buy at the grocery store. I didn’tt even do any slicing and dicing!

Eat Your Veggies,

photo credit @organic eater

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5 Things Growers Wish Chefs Knew

5 Things Growers Wish Chefs Knew

We work with growers every week to bring the best local produce to Charlotte area restaurants. I find that most growers love the idea of selling their beautiful produce to restaurants, however, they find the experience difficult. The coordination between growers and chefs can be daunting because they live in two different “universes” with different deadlines, social structure, and business norms. I spent some time chatting with a few growers, and came up with five things chefs could do to make it easier on growers.

Farmers are at the mercy of the environment. Some things on the farm don’t happen as we planned. We really thought the eggplant would be big enough, but things cooled off and they grew slower. We wanted the pac choy to be perfect, but decided that a few holes in the leaves were better than spraying the crop. Our heirloom tomatoes taste amazing, but the shelf life is short. Eat them fast. Farming is hard, and it is all too easy for things to not go as expected. Thank you for understanding these types of challenges.

gary stegall2

It might arrive in a strange box. Most small local growers can’t manage professional packaging. We wish we could provide labeled or fancy packing, however, for most of us, it is just too expensive. Professional boxes for produce are normally sold in larger quantities than most small growers need or can afford. Please forgive the eggplants in the tomato box, or the herbs in a grocery store bag. We don’t like it too much either, but is the best we can do.

We can’t carry your money. When a farmer arrives with your beautiful produce, please pay. It doesn’t work for most growers to take their invoice and tell them you will pay them later or that your accountant will send a check. Farmers work on thin margins and need cash or check on delivery. In the past, we had a restaurant that wanted to have their head office send a check, and before long they owed us over $1000.00. We had to then wrestle with the chef to get paid, and it was a bad experience. Farmers do not have the cash flow to float the restaurant. Please pay on delivery.


Things might not look like you expect. The thing about produce from local growers is that often they are not using pesticides, and they are allowing the produce to ripen in the field until it tastes amazing. Often, the end result does not look like grocery store produce. The peaches might have spots; the squash might be shaped strange; the tomatoes might crack; the carrots might be crooked and the kale might have a few holes. Just think how great it tastes! I’ll take a cracked and odd shaped vine ripe tomato over a cardboard “perfect” one any day. The Lacinado kale with a few holes tastes great! The tree ripe spotty local peaches are far sweeter than the ones harvested green in California. Don’t expect the produce from small local farms to look like a commercial product, because it isn’t.

Stay in the game. I have eaten at many restaurants in the Charlotte area, and I can vouch for the fact that the restaurants serving meals made from local ingredients are some of the best in town! I also know it isn’t easy or cheap for chefs to take this route. Neither is it easy for farmers to sell to restaurants. It will get easier! This whole “local food” idea is taking off, and I feel sure we are on the ground floor of something big and important. Creative ideas will improve our systems. If we can all just stay in the game, many of the challenges farmers have coordinating with chefs will smooth out. Chefs, please be patient and kind to your local growers. Don’t give up on us and don’t give up on the whole concept. We want this to work. Please keep trying.

Want to support restaurants and chefs that directly support their local farming community by featuring local produce, meats, and cheeses? Give one of these a try. You won’t be disappointed. These are some of the best restaurants and food in the Charlotte area.

The Asbury
Passion 8 Bistro
Block and Grinder
Fern Flavors from the Garden
Roots Good Local Food
Halcion Flavors From the Earth
Mimosa Grill
Earl’s Grocery
The Flipside Cafe
The King’s Kitchen
The Stone Table

Eat Your Veggies,

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