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Fall for Ugly Veggies!

Filed in Gardening, General, The Skinny Gut Diet, Uncategorized, Vegetables | Posted by Brenda Watson on 11/15/2016


Ugly Veggies - brendawatson.com

I’d like to think that farmers are smiling across America (and hopefully receiving a bit more profit from their labor intensive work!) A new craze I read about in the Wall Street Journal takes a second and third look at previously discarded ugly veggies!

As you walk down the produce aisle of your favorite grocer, have you ever wondered what happens to all the fruits and vegetables that are misshapen, had a blemish, or were otherwise not picture perfect? If you’ve ever had even a small garden you must realize that not all of the offerings look as though they are “ready for their close-ups”! True life just doesn’t look perfect, although produce in most grocery aisles might lead you to believe otherwise.

Steve Lutz from CMI Orchards in Washington was thrilled to get a call from Walmart! They were piloting an “ugly-apple” project and wondered if he had any contenders. His unattractive apples, blemished by hail, might previously have been sold for a loss on the juice market. Although he’ll not receive top dollar for his misfits, the produce would be purchased at a reasonable price. I’d say that call was a blessing!

I didn’t realize that farmers in Minnesota report that roughly 20% of their produce is deemed cosmetically imperfect by industry standards! That’s a huge amount of waste and loss.

Good news for the consumer – the “homely” crops will generally cost us less. And even better news is that their taste will be as good, sometimes even an improvement over their gorgeous counterparts. Once truly ripe, we’ve all experienced that although seemingly “ugly veggies” may be less visually appealing, their flavors can often be rich and wonderful.

Meet “spuglies” which are potatoes considered too big, too small or blemished, a mangled heirloom tomato with the tagline “a scarred heart can still be a beautiful one”, or perhaps a three legged carrot or plums with proboscises. Grocers are getting creative with names, hoping that the “Hip-Hip Carrot” that has extra arms wrapped around its trunk might inspire customers to give an ugly vegetable a try. You may be seeing relatives of these and other offerings at a Walmart or Whole Foods near you~

It was reported in an August Nielsen/Harris Poll of more than 2,000 adults that most customers still aren’t particularly excited about buying ugly produce, even thought they said the produce “looked cool”. Eight percent said they might buy a twisted cucumber out of pity.

Pity! Some of the most delicious cucumbers I’ve ever eaten were twisted like they had macaroni in their genes. I guess I’m just blessed to have experienced gardens where I’ve learned to love the myriad differences that Nature provides.

I’m with Kathy Means of the Produce Marketing Association when she says “We don’t care if it’s a mutt or a purebred or small. It can be ugly or conventional or whole. We just need people to eat more produce.” I’m sure she’s speaking from a financial perspective, however I’m thinking of the health of Americans! Rule #2 from Skinny Gut Diet – “Eat living foods every day to balance your gut!”

I can see it now. Someone is going to come up with “Fermented Uglies” and make a fortune!

Chris Tantau, a California peach grower, says it best – “All my children are beautiful”. I couldn’t agree more~

Soul Food

Filed in Diet, Gardening, General, Recipes, The Skinny Gut Diet | Posted by Brenda Watson on 07/01/2016


soul food-brendawatson.com

Here on our farm at Vital Planet black-eyed peas abound – perfect makings for my family soul food recipes! We are grateful that they are a flourishing part of our experimental summer crop.

Hot Florida summers aren’t terribly kind to many of our crops, however. Worms found our delicious cucumbers extremely delicious as well, so we’ve removed their tired limbs to the composter. Too hot and too late in the season had our tomatillos without fruit. Yes, in the composter too.

However our black-eyed peas, some lima beans and bush beans are continuing to produce, along with dandelion, baby lettuces, some parsley and arugula, all grown through hydroponic farming. The okra plants, fancy with their gorgeous flowers, are bursting forth mightily. You can almost stand and watch those babies grow! And we’ve even decided to plant some more mature peppers to see what might materialize.

So I decided that it was time for an ole fashioned Southern soul food treat for us all! I shucked black-eyed peas until I was cross-eyed and decided to make my Mama’s Famous Black-Eyed Peas recipe along with Daddy’s Favorite Cake of Cornbread! There wasn’t an evening in my house growing up where that delicious cake wasn’t on the table – not if Mama wanted Daddy to be happy.

I know that black-eyed peas tend to be a New Year’s treat, but since they’re still in growing season, I just had to share these time-tested, beloved Southern recipes with you right here. Please let me know how you like them and remember, on our Skinny Gut Diet, this is a special treat, not regular fare!

 

My Mama’s Famous Black-eyed Peas

  • Approximately 1/2 – 3 cups dried or fresh shelled black-eyed peas
  • 2 tablespoons bacon fat
  • 4 strips of crisp bacon – crumbled/ham hock or a piece of salt pork
  • 1 small onion – chopped
  • 1 tablespoon garlic – chopped
  • 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper

Sautee chopped onions and garlic in bacon fat.

Add in peas and enough water to just cover the mixture.

Crumble in bacon (or add ham).

Add pepper.

Bring to a hard boil for 10 minutes.

Turn down to simmer for about 40 minutes or until peas are soft.

Add more water if necessary – makes a great gravy!

 

My Daddy’s Favorite Cake of Cornbread

  • 2 cups – Self rising cornmeal (gluten free/no flour).
  • Follow directions on bag to make batter.
  • I substitute 2 cups of buttermilk for the egg that’s suggested on the package.
  • Few tablespoons of oil.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Put about 1 tablespoon oil in an iron skillet and spread oil around the skillet, including up onto the sides. I used an oil that was a coconut and canola combo.

Pour the batter in the skillet and place on top of stove at low heat. Watch the batter closely!

When bubbles begin to form in the batter, take cornbread cake off stove and put in preheated oven for about 20-25 minutes.

Following this process will create cornbread that is crisp on the bottom as well as the top.

Once done, you’ll want to remove the entire cornbread from the skillet to cool. By the way, butter is delicious on top when warm!

Now it’s time to enjoy, and enjoy, and enjoy!

Happy 4th of July! I hope everyone has a pleasant and relaxing long weekend!

Gardening Naked?

Filed in Gardening, hydroponics, Organic vegetables | Posted by Brenda Watson on 05/06/2016


Gardening in Florida - brendawatson.com

Gardening naked. I have to be honest, it never occurred to me. Just the idea of bug bites where you normally would never get them defeats my enthusiasm.  I can imagine that you’d definitely want to stock up on natural insect repellent!  I guess that’s what makes life so interesting – people express such different ideas!

I was reading in our local paper that Saturday is World Naked Gardening Day – you can read more about that here. This celebration marks its 12th year – birthed in 2005 in Seattle by a philosophy teacher named Mark Storey. He taught social justice at Bellevue College and talked about civic activism with his students. Civic activism is mainly noted for the misery it causes in actions like roadblocks and strikes. He was interested in doing something that would make people smile and was curious if doing something good together could actually effect change.

After polling people on activities they enjoy, or dream of doing naked (bedroom pursuits notwithstanding), he found that swimming naked came in first. Interestingly, gardening naked came in second. World Naked Gardening Day was born!

Quoting Mark “Anything that makes the world more food-friendly or flower-pretty and helps get people comfortable with their bodies is good. We wanted to make it fun; no one cares how you do it and no one owns it. You can pot plants naked in your Manhattan kitchen or rake leaves in your back yard. Then tell people about it.”

Admit it, you’re smiling, so Mark’s project is a success! As for gardening naked, I really don’t think it’s my style, but to each his or her own.

Here at Vital Planet we are gardening in a much different way. Florida offers sandy soil and lots of insects (as mentioned previously), along with beautiful beaches and sunshine. Let’s just say we’re not known for ease in gardening. So we’ve decided to give our veggies the best opportunity they can have for nourishment using hydroponics.

With the help of our friends at Urban Oasis Farm we are expanding our garden – to farm proportions! Yesterday we were planting – beans, parsley, lettuces, cucumbers, tomatillos – the list continues (with our clothes on).

It was a beautiful spring Florida day – probably one of the last relatively cool ones we will enjoy. Starting some crops from seeds as well as others from starter plants, we hope soon to be gathering veggies from our garden for lunch and dinner on a daily basis.

Our goal is to offer an example of growing your own food in the community. In the future we may even be able to water the plants using water we filter directly from the pond behind our building! We will be able to provide fresh produce for all our employees, their families and beyond.

As our farm is located along a public bicycle path, like Mark, we too hope to make people smile as they pass by. Gentle, graceful civic activism. Naked or clothed, lets garden together!

Produce Easy Produce Anywhere

Filed in Gardening, General, Organic vegetables | Posted by Brenda Watson on 04/08/2016


Produce kale! - brendawatson.com

Today is a day for inspiration! I’m happy to share some really uplifting and heart-opening information with you about great things happening in the world of gardening and fresh produce.

In the resort town of Jackson, Wyoming two visionary women are creating not only a wonderful opportunity for the town but also a very large amount of organic produce. Veggies are a personal favorite of mine, as you know!

This exciting project began eight years ago when Penny McBride and Nona Yehia met at a party. Over time, the business Vertical Harvest was co-created.

Vertical Harvest uses hydroponic farming methods to grow various veggies in the harsh Wyoming winters, and all year round. The greenhouse itself is a three-story structure that has been constructed on a 4,500 square-foot downtown lot. Central to this greenhouse’s ability to produce a bounty of veggies is their use of the relatively new practice called vertical farming.

Construction presented some unforeseen issues, as always seems to happen when new designs are introduced. Overall, after much discussion with the town council and governmental agencies, it’s so wonderful to know that by early May greens will be growing and soon thereafter, the bountiful harvest will be sold to local grocery stores, restaurants and also in a retail shop. The perfect additional piece to this story is that the customized employment model chosen allows for 15 people with disabilities to work and be truly productive. What a worthwhile endeavor!

Of course, hydroponic growing is nothing new to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. It’s astounding to tour the Land Pavilion there and see firsthand the gardens they’ve created and the food they constantly produce. Besides providing vegetables for the restaurants on site, there is ongoing research into vegetable species and growing practices and also wonderful opportunities available for those passionate about growing to intern in this fascinating place.

I clearly understand the value and joy of hydroponic gardening. I’ve been involved with two different systems myself for a number of years now.

Our biggest producer is this stackable vertical system, which uses coconut coir (instead of dirt) to stabilize the root system. The nutrient solution is provided to the plants a few times daily through a timer system. Next weekend we’re moving it to Vital Planet Company Headquarters so everyone here can enjoy the grow experience, and the yummy veggies. We’ll just walk outside and pick our salad for lunch!

We also have a Tower Garden. It’s a different type of system that allows the roots of the various plants to hang in midair. The roots are misted regularly throughout the day and night. This particular system was invented by a gentleman who had previously managed the hydroponic gardens at Disney. The plants are so vibrant and the root system so interesting that we’ve even used them as centerpieces at big events in the past.

Hydroponic growing insures that the plants are getting the nutrition they need to provide optimal vibrancy, and secondarily, the best nutrition for us. The phrase “Beyond Organic” has been used. That’s really a blessing for us, considering the soil here in Florida is mostly sand. And I must say, our hydroponic veggies are extremely delicious and beautiful!

Recently I came across a different type of tower system, which I’m sure at some point in the future we’ll try too. To me, the most appealing aspect of this grow system is sustainability. It seems to require little maintenance and makes use of worms and your kitchen scraps to create compost and self-fertilize. And no electricity is required!

So if you find any of this information interesting, I encourage you to go for it! It’s a truly wonderful experience for the family to walk outside and gather dinner from your own patio or backyard – even right in the city!