A unique and viable approach to establishing local food self-reliance and building stronger communities.

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Kale joins the "Dirty-Dozen' list: and How to Grow Your Own Kale

Kale - a generous plant!
Every year, the Environmental Working Group publishes the findings of their analysis of concentrations of farm-chemicals in popular produce. This CNN article goes into more detail about this year's study. Unfortunately, kale and collards - two of the most nutrient-dense foods available, have made it onto the list again.
Below is a  a re-post of an article we published back in 2019 with other useful links on the topic of farm chemicals in food and some tips on growing your own garden-greens. If you're local and have some garden-space to add some kale, chard or collards, let us know soon so we can start some "starts" for you.

The re-post:
In recent weeks (April 2019) we've seen several headlines announcing that kale has made it onto the "Dirty Dozen" list for the first time in ten years.  The "Dirty Dozen" list is compiled each year by testing thousands of samples of fruits and vegetables from different sources to see which have highest concentrations of herbicides and pesticides LINK. And the farm chemicals are not just showing up on the vegetables themselves, studies have shown that, people being tested have increasingly been found to have these chemicals show up in fluid samples such as blood and urine (see links below). 
It is unfortunate that kale has returned to the "Dirty Dozen" list as, in the past few years, it has shown a surge in popularity. Its recent following is not surprising as it tastes similar to broccoli and it is at the top of another list - The Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI), that rates foods by their nutrient density. Kale (and collards) have the densest concentration of nutrients, per calorie, of a wide range of foods tested. (PDF of 72 tested foods) (explanation of chart). On the positive side of things, people who have switched to an all-organic diet have been able to reduce these chemical residues by as much as 90% in as little as two weeks (see links below).

Kale is the most nutrient-dense plant tested! (PDF of 72 tested foods)(explanation of chart)
So, if you'd like to incorporate more organically grown kale into your diet  and you're on a budget (we've noticed that prices for organic kale have really risen in the past few years...) perhaps you'd like to try and grow your own!

Kale is very easy to grow! Here's our POST on growing kale.
Grow your own kale: Kale is super-easy to grow and 2-4 plants will easily keep a family fed over the course of the summer. If your climate isn't too harsh you can grow a second crop that will produce food through the fall and winter too (though at a much slower rate). Here's our POST on growing kale.
Home grown veggies, freshest and best!

How we grow our food at the Sharing Gardens: Because we are not a commercial farm, all our labor is provided by volunteers and we are under no pressure to produce food on a forced timeline to get it to market ahead of the other farmers in our area, our food is slow-grown, with less water-weight and hence more nutrient-dense. We fertilize primarily with compost derived from leaves, grass, weeds and food scraps, wood-ash from our wood-burning stove and with worm castings we harvest from the paths of our greenhouses LINK. We do not use commercial fertilizers. The wood-ash and the composted tree-leaves both provide re-mineralization of our soils because the tree-roots pull up minerals from deep within the soil. Without forcing our plants to grow fast with high-nitrogen fertilizers, or animal manures, they are more resistant to diseases and insect infestations that are caused, in part, by the thinner cell-walls of plants forced to grow unnaturally quickly.
Sign posted at the Food Pantry to encourage more kale-eating.
Related links:

Thursday, January 5, 2023

A Wintery Summary - News from the Gardens Jan. 2023

Howdy Folks - Well the 2022 garden season has finally come to an end. Actually, it never really ends but the autumn clean-up, seed-saving, food preservation and the harvesting of all the compost we've generated in our greenhouse paths are done.

This post has some reflections on the 2022 season as well as a look forward into how things are changing at the Sharing Gardens.

Our house, workshop, Oz-greenhouse and garden shed - 2022.
One big change was that we dropped the CSA (weekly boxes of fresh-farm produce provided on a subscription basis) which meant we had a rebound in the amount of surplus fruits and vegetables we were producing. At the same time, our volunteer crew  was the largest and most committed group of share-givers ever. Some weeks we had 10 helpers (besides me and Chris) spread over the week. Since all share-givers receive as much produce as they can use in a given week and this year we also converted about 20% of garden space that had been used to grow annual crops into orchard (due to an invasion of bindweed) the garden's surplus was probably the lowest since 2018 as well.

Fortunately these factors which reduced the surplus we had to share coincided with a reduction in need by the main Food Pantry we have served with our donations over the years: South Benton Food Pantry. This is due to a variety of reasons. (other farmers/gardeners donating their surplus; other 'sharing'-type gardens making donations (SAGE Garden, Corvallis); the food warehouse that serves our local food banks contracting with farmers to grow food for distribution and, in one case, a Food Pantry partnering with a Gleaners group to collect surplus produce from the Corvallis Farmer's Market and First Alternative Food Co-op).

Though we took a year off from weighing our donations, we estimate that the SBFP still received at least 500 pounds of produce. We also donated almost a thousand pounds of produce to Stone Soup Kitchen who prepares hundreds of meals/week to share free-of-charge to people in need. Though it was sometimes a challenge to find a way to deliver our donations (a half-hour from the Gardens) we always felt good about our contributions, knowing our produce was being made into delicious meals. (See: Generosity of the Stone Soup Kitchen) But honestly, there were times at the peak of summer harvests that even the Stone Soup folks were overwhelmed with donations!

When we began the Sharing Gardens in 2009 we had one main purpose: Our mission was to encourage mutual generosity by growing food as a community (no separate plots) and sharing the harvest with those who had contributed in some way while having enough surplus to donate to local food charities. At that time the main fresh fruits and vegetables most Food Pantries received were the cast-offs that groceries couldn't sell. There were hardly any gardeners growing extra veggies to share, or they didn't know where to bring their surplus. This has changed dramatically in the 14 years since we started.

Chris and Llyn: Sharing Gardens founders at original site - 2009

Llyn with first donation: July 8, 2009

We are very happy to see that times have changed and fresh food, much of which has been grown organically, is available now to food-charity recipients. On the other hand, it has caused us to ask ourselves, "Have we fulfilled the mission we set out for ourselves," and if so, "what is our role now"?

This is part of the produce selection we donated one week to the S. Benton Food Pantry in 2017. We were still the primary donors at that time. Now, at the peak of the harvest season, the pantry has four tables of donated/procured produce each week! Some weeks we can't find room for our donations (wow!).
We have already begun to expand to provide services to a wider circle of neighbors through our leaf and grass drop-off site and wood chip pick-up sites. Here are some posts about these projects:

How we grow...Veganic Community-based gardening
: includes info on our successful leaf and lawn-clipping drop off site. (Cindy, rt. spreading donated leaves around the artichoke plants.)

Free woodchips for our town! - a new development this year that provides a mutual benefit to our neighbors as well as the tree trimming companies that use our site.

Moving forward, the gardens are still going strong. We'll continue to grow all the usual favorites (tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, beets etc) to share with our share-givers to keep them fed and healthy, and there will still always be some surplus of these annual veggies and fruits to pass along to charities. 

In addition though, we're shifting some of the emphasis of garden-plantings more towards winter-storage foods. Here's a post about these shifts:

"Squashes and grains and beans, oh my!" -  a shifting focus on what foods we grow... (Jenny, rt. harvesting sorghum).

The next few months we'll focus on pruning our orchards, weeding and mulching perennial beds and continuing to prep the raised beds in our greenhouses in anticipation of planting the early spring crops.

We also have some other ideas of how the Sharing Gardens may expand into a more comprehensive, "full circle" project in the months and years ahead. With environmental and economic issues so pressing, the need for models of locally based community-building processes that meet real needs (fuel, shelter, food etc) for humans, and habitat restoration for wildlife, seem more relevant than ever! 

We are curious to see what's next. Along with our continuance with the gardens, and the wood-chip/leaf and grass-clipping sites mentioned above, here are some possibilities we are exploring: firewood gleaning team, tool sharing co-op, construction-material salvaging parties and/or conservation "guilds" to spend time on each other's land cultivating wildlife habitat.  

Let us know if you'd like to be involved!