What’s in an Heirloom?!

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In the industrialized food system that dominates our food market there has been a serious reduction in the diversity of the produce we eat. Hybrids and genetically modified varieties have been created to make commercial production easier, create more uniform crops, increase yields, resist disease, and have a more dependable crop.  While in some ways these are good for large scale food production, the preservation and cultivation of heirlooms has come from the desire to maintain valuable biodiversity among crops, which is threatened by industrial methods …and some just find the taste superior! But what really is an heirloom?
You’re used to seeing the perfectly round and rosy red tomatoes in the store, but heirlooms tend to be a whole different story. Sure there are typical red varieties, but heirlooms can come in a breathtaking range of colors, shapes, sizes, and designs. Heirlooms are varieties that were being grown before WWII and were open pollinated. This means pollination, instead of being controlled, was done by insects, birds, wind, etc. This created very diverse seeds and plants that were well adapted to area they were bred in. These seeds have been passed down by families, travelers, and there are even some commercially bred heirloom varieties.

One of the most popular stories about heirloom varieties is the mortgage lifter tomato (which we have in the garden!) In the 1930’s, Marshall Cletis Byles, a man with nearly no experience with growing tomatoes, created a breed that allowed him to pay off his mortgage in 6 years. He cross pollinated a variety of tomatoes including German Johnson, Beefsteak, an unknown Italian variety, and an unknown English variety. For six years he cross pollinated the strongest seedlings of these cross pollinated varieties, and thus the Mortgage Lifter was born. His goal was to create a tomato that could feed families – they are big and meaty with few seeds, the plants produce many tomatoes, and have disease resistant qualities. Come try them out at our next stand!

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The Zen Life

After 3 years, it's blooming beautifully.

After 3 years, it’s blooming beautifully.

Now I know what you’re thinking, I might give a whole sh-peal about Buddhism, but contrary to the title, it’s more about gardening than anything. As my first post, I’ll tell you this journey I was on today called, Life. As I awoke sluggishly this morning, 6AM sharp (the earliest I have EVER woken up in the summer), to tend to the garden, I was going through a whirlwind of emotions because the realization of my internship is coming to a close hit me.  

When I parked my car on campus and slowly walked to the garden, I was and still in utter awe every time I see and walk through the garden. It’s really amazing to think how far this garden has come. Now this part might seem philosophical, but the best part of gardening for me, is the miracle and science of a plant. It starts out as a seed and through nature’s endeavors, it fights to survive and bloom into a magnificent plant. Just like people. Starting this internship, I was a seedling, ready to grow and learn and through my short duration, I have learned so much and met some amazing people and I think I’m ready to bloom and be in season once I leave to spread my wisdom onto others. 

You’re probably why this title is called the ‘The Zen Life’, and here’s why. I hate waking up early in the morning, especially during the summer, but when I woke up and started watering the plants, I had a sense of peace and tranquility.  If we stop what we’re doing for 15 minutes, or even 5 minutes, and just go outside and listen. Don’t talk. Listen. Like realllly listen to your surroundings and embrace it, you’ll probably notice things you never heard. It’s called Life. I think we get so worked up with our every day lives it’s easy to forget the things around us and how beautiful life is.

Nature always finds a way.

Nature always finds a way.

As I was finishing up watering the garden, I have noticed things I have never noticed before. I usually hate insects because all they do is attack me but this morning, it was like we both called a cease fire. Both human and insects were minding our own business and tending to the garden. What amazes me is this tomato plant that was dying. Do you know that expression ‘Nature always find a way?’. Well I truly believe that expression after seeing the endeavors that this tomato plant has went through. No matter what, it still manages to grow and it really puts a smile on my face because it shows that no matter what life throws at you, you can make it.

After putting everything away, I gave the garden one last look. I’m really glad to be a part of something amazing on campus. I hope everyone can share the same love for a sustainable and eco friendly as we have. 

If you haven’t already be sure to like Albright ECO’s Facebook here.

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Sharing the Joy!

As I work day to day in the garden, I find my childlike observance and curiosity constantly rekindled. The intricate shapes and vibrant colors never cease to amaze me while I pick and pull and play. At times I will just sit in the middle, surrounded by the fertile foliage and uncontrollably smile. I touch and smell and look at everything, feeling overjoyed by such beauty in life. And now I feel overjoyed that this experience was shared with a group of kids who came for a tour of the garden!

When Beth Krumholtz, curator of education and community plot holder, presented me with this opportunity I couldn’t wait, but in reality the event snuck up on me! Alyssa and I talked about it a few times and  had a relative script to follow but man I was nervous! I would think that talking in front of a bunch of kids would be far from intimidating but my feelings were otherwise. And so the morning came and I meandered my way to the garden, awaiting the arrival of the Art and Garden summer camp tour and Alyssa, their counselor. We began the tour with warm welcome and started to present the points from the script…introducing different aspects of the garden, talking about the science and benefits of our practices, and how things grow . BUT! then we started smelling the leaves in the cool lookin’ herb spiral…the tour took on a whole new form. It became a jungle exploration with awe inspiring sights at every turn. I couldn’t contain my happiness for having the ability to share my excitement for the lovely colors, interesting shapes, weird veggies, extreme growth and much more. But it wasn’t only me that felt this joy. The children were amazed by the garden. We naturally split into separate groups between Alyssa and I, giving everyone an intimate experience with the tour. They jumped for joy as I did upon seeing different aspects of the garden’s beauty, but what really impressed me was that they asked me questions and shared their beautiful personal experiences with gardens and food. It was incredible how much these children knew and how excited they were to share this knowledge. Upon talking to Beth Krumholtz after the camp was over, I was told the garden tour and a healthy cooking day were their favorite activities! Its great to see that even in a world of technology and general disconnection from our food supply that there is passion, knowledge, and interest in gardens and veggies among younger generations. The garden is a project that inherently creates and shares beauty, but it was by far the best, most important, and joyful experience to share that beauty with the children who will become the future of our world. Now here’s some pictures to show you that kinda beauty I’m talkin’ about!

Eggplant!

Eggplant!

Cucumber Flower and Spiral!

Cucumber Flower and Spiral!

Lil' tom

Lil’ tom

Tomato potentials!

Tomato potentials!

The ever lovely swiss chard

The ever lovely swiss chard

HUGE raspberry bush

HUGE raspberry bush

Just hangin' out

Just hangin’ out

Climbin spiral

Climbin spiral

Blackberries are gettin there!

Blackberries are gettin there!

Climb away

Climb away

Echinacea with Fibonacci Spiral

Echinacea with Fibonacci Spiral

Echinacea

Echinacea

Vibrant!!

Vibrant!!

Super cool kohlrabi

Super cool kohlrabi

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RASPBERRIES! RASPBERRIES! RASPBERRIES!

The first day of summer began as any other warm June day until I went into the garden and saw two red berries on our raspberry bush. Mother Nature gave us two sweet little gifts for the beginning of summer. I spent a few hours outside tending to the various plants and also noticed that our strawberries and blackberries aren’t far behind! I can’t wait to see the next round of produce this season. We have squash, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes and beans coming up very soon! It’s beautiful to see something that you planted months ago grow into a provider of nutrition for many weeks to a lot of hungry people. What we have in this garden is more than a few plants, but we have a home to many organisms. Our garden is full of microclimates that are delicately balanced within the biosphere. Our human society is just one of thousands of these ecosystems that live with in each-other. In order for us to survive we depend on other ecosystems go support us and vise versa.
The environment has billions of interwoven parts that are all so important that if one event happened to break a cycle the whole ecosystem could collapse. this goes for our society as well. This is why it is important to be eco-friendly and caring to our planet. We depend on it’s survival as much as it depends on us.
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Stayin’ Sustainable

Stayin' Sustainable

Found this little jem! It’s a way to refrigerate food without any electricity. Even if you use this only for your fruits or veggies its a great first step towards a more sustainable lifestyle!

“Refrigerate foods without using electricity -this mode of refrigeration goes back at least 5000 years. It uses a porous outer earthenware pot, lined with wet sand, contains an inner pot (which can be glazed to prevent penetration by the liquid) within which the food is placed – the evaporation of the outer liquid draws heat from the inner pot. The device can be used to cool any substance.”

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Swiss Chard Heaven!

Last week’s garden stand was a welcomed success! Our charismatic community members came to the stand bright eyed and excited about their vegetables!…mostly for the candy of veggies, Amish snap peas. The stand was bursting with colors last Wednesday now that this season is really getting started, and we quickly sold out of the peas, beets, and radishes!  One thing that surprisingly didn’t sell was swiss chard, but not to my disappointment. Extras were given out to some of my veggie lovin’ friends and family, and the rest gave me the opportunity to make awesome food! Swiss chard is a foreign green to some so hopefully these following “recipes” inspire some exploration into the yummy world of swiss chard!

Polenta Topped with Swiss Chard

All I did here was cut up the swiss chard…some people de-vein chard, but that’s definitely not necessary! The veins add great color, flavor, and shake up the texture! I sauteed them in a pan with a little olive oil and put a lid over it to speed up the cooking and “steam” the chard…if it  looks dry you can add a little water too. It’s up to you how soft you want it, but I usually cook it down for about five minutes. Then you just salt and pepper it and lay it on top of some polenta! The polenta I used here is premade and comes in a small tube usually found in the organic section of the supermarket. I got mine from Echo Hill, one of the businesses on our eco-friendly local business flyer featured in the emails (I’ll paste a copy of the document at the bottom!). You can also make your own polenta out of cornmeal. Here’s some directions: http://www.bhg.com/recipes/how-to/cooking-basics/how-to-make-polenta/

Add a few veggie side dishes and you’ve got a yummy healthy meal! ( I wouldn’t recommend corn as a side because polenta is already made from corn meal..I was just using up what I had!)

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Swiss Chard and Garden Veggie Stir Fry

Now this was an awesome meal! I took all the veggies from my fridge, cut them up, and sauteed them together in some olive oil and soy sauce! I used swiss chard, kohlrabi (I learned from making this that the skin needs to be peeled), and a small amount of turnips. All these ingredients came from the garden, but I also used store bought zucchini and potatoes. We don’t have potatoes, but zucchini is growing fast so this stir fry could easily be made entirely from the Albright Garden produce!! We’ll even have strawberries from the garden soon! This morning I made the same thing but added egg in there for some extra protein and flavor and I put it all inside of pita bread that I toasted in a sautee pan with butter, YUM!

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As you can see, a lot of this is using what you have an experimenting. I hope you all discover some great meals from your Albright Garden Stand purchases and continue to cultivate a love for veggies! (I know I have!)

Enjoy the beautiful days and the bounty of the Earth!

Ellen

 

Here’s our list of eco-friendly local businesses!

Supporting our permaculture garden is a great way to make your food supply and life healthier and more eco-friendly, but would you like to do more? Here is a list of local businesses that offer products such as grass fed and free range meat, natural health, organic products, local produce, and more!

Hershey Harvest
Specializes in grass fed beef, free range chicken, raw milk & cheese, and yogurt
3337 Kutztown Rd. Reading, PA 19605
610-921-3151
Mon – Fri: 8:00 am – 8:00 pm
Sat: 8:00 am – 6:00 pm
Sun: 11:00 am – 4:00 pm

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Hershey-Harvest/143200872378748

Echo Hill
Specializes in organics, gluten free, specialty Items, bulk Foods, baking & Cooking
244 Dryville Rd. Fleetwood, PA 19522
610-944-7358
Mon-Wed: 8am – 5pm
Thu-Fri: 8am – 7pm
Sat: 8am – 4pm
Sun: Closed

http://www.echohillcountrystore.com/

West Reading Farmer’s Market
Specializes in fresh, locally grown products featuring organic produce, beef, and poultry
500 block (same side as West Reading Drug Store) of Penn Ave. West Reading, PA
Sundays from May 18th- Novemeber 23rd

http://www.wrcrf.org/farmersmarket.htm

Nature’s Garden
Specializes in supplements, natural groceries, organic meats and produce, and natural footwear & handbags
4630 Perkiomen Ave. Reading, PA 19606
610-779-3000
Mon-Fri: 9am-8pm
Sat: 10am-7pm
Sun: 11am-5pm

http://www.naturesgardenonline.com/contact_us_multi.asp?storeID=4QV7AF8NCHQT8HX4XQU61NERL9MTECUF

Blue Marsh Market
Specializes in natural and/or organic foods, local products, earth friendly household and personal care items, vitamins & supplements, organic herbs and spices
118 West Third St. Bernville, PA
610-488-5470
Sun-Mon: Closed
Tue: 10-6
Wed: 10-5
Thurs: 10-6
Fri: 10-5
Sat: 9-2

http://bluemarshmarket.com/index.html

If you know of more awesome earth friendly local businesses we can add to our list please let us know!

 

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Being the instruments of change

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