Arkansas Made, Arkansas Grown: raising locavores

I was raised by some serious gardeners. I’m talking, the garden took up a large chunk of the front yard, we had chickens and ducks, there was a brief stint with a pig, and I know my way around hot water bath canning. I knew from a young age how to pull weeds, make cut worm collars for young tomato plants, how to identify a squash bug, and that zucchini and squash plants make me itch. I guess you could say my parents were slow food before most people knew slow food was a thing. I got to college, somehow, without ever having had a frozen vegetable, and called my mom soon after my arrival wanting to know why the green beans in the cafeteria tasted so…weird. “Oh honey, they’re probably frozen,” she said, laughing a little bit at both me and herself for raising me this way.

As I became an adult cooking for myself and then for a family, I strayed a little bit from those slow food values. Big bags of frozen chicken breasts were a major staple, and I mostly shopped at the nearest grocery store. Then we saw the movie Food Inc. and got serious about changing the way we were eating. We largely gave up factory farmed meat, electing to eat less of it and save our money for the “good stuff,” sustainably-raised, pastured, humanely-processed beef, chicken, and pork. We realized that not only was eating less meat and more vegetables, with as much of it raised locally as possible, was better for our bodies and for the planet, but also better for the farmers and workers who grew and made our food, too. We joined a CSA and I found myself with a weekly Iron Chef challenge to use up an enormous bounty of often unfamiliar produce each week. I learned to love greens and accepted that I may never like beets. This weird way of eating became our norm. We even got into urban gardening and ran a community garden for a time.

Arkansas Made, Arkansas Grown: raising locavores and Farm2Home

Arkansas Made, Arkansas Grown: raising locavores and Farm2Home

Arkansas Made, Arkansas Grown: raising locavores and Farm2Home

Then we became parents, and we knew we wanted our kids to be raised eating the same kinds of food I grew up on: local, sustainable, whole foods. We did baby led weaning with Etta (not so much with Claire because she had some serious feeding issues related to spina bifida and ate only purees for a long time, before she got some amazing help from a speech therapist who helped her learn to eat), and from the start, she ate like we did, albeit with her meals often made from deconstructed components of our food. We just kept eating family meals, kept giving our kids real food, and now we have three year olds who constantly impress me with their palates and their willingness to try new things, and also with their curiosity about where their food comes from.

Arkansas Made, Arkansas Grown: raising locavores and Farm2Home

This summer, my husband has taken our urban container garden to the next level with a fancy self-watering system he built. It’s only the beginning of June, and we’ve already been eating peppers, tomatoes, lettuce, and herbs from our garden. I believe there have been some strawberries, too, but the girls snatch those before I ever get a chance to have one. We have several baby cucumbers, eggplants, and peppers on the way, and our tomatoes are so covered with green tomatoes that their cages have been reinforced with rope to keep the plants from toppling over. Every day, the girls run outside to check the progress of our garden, point out new “babies” on the plants, and ask us a million questions about everything. As weird as I once thought my super-gardener parents were, my heart now bursts with pride to see my girls picking cherry tomatoes warm from the sun and popping them right in their mouths– and knowing they can, too, because our tomatoes have never been sprayed with pesticides.

Beyond the food we grow, the girls participate in procuring other local foods with us, too. Often we walk to our local Hillcrest Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings, where we pick up our groceries for the week and enjoy breakfast from local food trucks. Increasingly, I’ve been using an online market, the Arkansas Local Food Network, to order our Arkansas Grown, Arkansas Made goodies in advance for pickup on Saturday. This allows me to make a meal plan for the week a little easier. We all take our bags to a church downtown and pick up our order on Saturday morning where everything is waiting for us, and then I can fill in with any components we might need from the grocery store.

Since local food is such a huge part of our life, I was super excited to go to the Farm2Home event at P. Allen Smith’s Moss Mountain Farm last week. The event was sponsored by the Arkansas Agriculture Department and Farm Credit and existed to help raise awareness about the Arkansas Made and Arkansas Grown programs. The AAD knows most people would love to shop local, and would do more of it, if identifying locally grown, locally made products were easier to do. The Arkansas Made and Arkansas Grown logos can appear on products and in restaurants and businesses that sell products grown or made in the state, and they are also listed on the Arkansas Grown website to help people find local producers and growers near them. And this program will help reach people who might want to shop local but who aren’t scouting out new vendors at farmer’s markets on weekends– I’ve seen the Arkansas Grown signage at Walmart and other large retailers.

Arkansas Made, Arkansas Grown: raising locavores and Farm2Home

I left Farm2Home excited and inspired– worn out by traffic on my way home, I almost pulled through a drive through, but I came home and made pasta with local kale instead. I’m even more committed to buying local and raising our girls to love local foods, and I’m excited about programs that will help more folks buy local. I’ll be sharing more of what I learned at Farm2Home in other posts, too, so check back for those soon!

*Note: I attended an event to learn about the Arkansas Grown program, but was not compensated for this post.

Little House… in the City

Where have I been lately? Apparently in the 1800s.

Our life is looking a little bit Little House on the Prairie these days. For one thing, our garden is suddenly thriving! We started (well, actually we started the seeds indoors months ago) with this about a month ago:

This year, we’re doing a Square Foot Garden. Jon built the bed, we started most of the plants as seeds inside, and we planted them and hoped for the best! In the little red pots are bell peppers. Now, about a month later, our garden looks like this:

The squash plant is going crazy, the peas are happily climbing their net (after I spent several hours spread out over several occasions wrapping their little tendrils around the threads), the beets seem happy, the carrots actually need thinning, the beans are blossoming, and the lettuce and chives are hanging on. The eggplant seems happy and so do the bell peppers in their little pots. We also have a pepper patch for the hot peppers across the yard to keep them from cross-pollinating with the bell peppers:

Jon made the pepper bed out of an old bookcase. We also got inspired to make a little “terrace” garden for herbs and more peppers:

And we have more herbs going on the windowsills:

Not pictured is the tomato patch (we have two baby tomatoes already!) with 14 plants, and the cukes, cantaloupes, okra, eggplant, tomatoes, and strawberries which are planted along the side of the house. I’m hoping when all these plants start producing veggies and fruit, I won’t be missing my CSA from Charleston as much anymore!

The other component of my Little House on the Prairie life is that I’ve started sewing. I’ve been wanting to learn how to sew so I can make myself some cute summer dresses and maybe stop lusting after the ones I see from Anthropologie, which I can never afford (though I occasionally indulge when they’re on sale half off). I took Foods and Clothing class in high school, so I wasn’t entirely unfamiliar with how to use a sewing machine, but we only made aprons, boxer shorts, and pillows, so I’d never made anything I could wear in public. My mother came to visit, and I told her about my sewing wishes, and she bought me a cute little Janome machine that isn’t at all intimidating, and helped me make my first-ever skirt, a simple circle skirt that didn’t even have a waistband or pockets:

I made a second skirt entirely unsupervised, and used the leftover fabric to make pillows for our porch swing: *ignore the fact that I appear to only have one foot.

Feeling brave, I got myself some more fabric, a more challenging skirt pattern, and made myself a skirt with pockets and a waistband, just in time to wear to the Wizard of Oz themed birthday party of one of my favorite four year olds:

Though I made the size indicated by my measurements, the skirt is a little bigger and sits a little lower than I’d like. I’ll be making at least one, maybe two sizes smaller next time. It was definitely a learning experience, and I had to rip out some seams, cursed the gathers a few times, and ended up with a wonky zipper in the back. But, I’m learning! And it’s still wearable, even if Michael Kors would tell me it looks “Becky Home-Ec-y” if I were a contestant on Project Runway. I’m going to make at least two more skirts before I attempt a dress, but I’ve got 5 dress patterns on the way thanks to an awesome sale this weekend. I’m really enjoying making my own clothes, and aspire to one day be half as cool as my new blog crush, Gertie, of the New Blog for Better Sewing. Last night I turned the red rose fabric into another circle skirt, and practiced some better seam finishes and tried a hand-picked zipper for the first time. I’m still figuring out fit, and might need to get a book on the subject.

Between the gardening and the sewing, some friends are asking what my next pioneer-ish move will be. Churning my own butter? Canning? I’m thinking maybe knitting, but that will have to come after the sewing. I’m supposed to be working on my Master’s Comps reading list, after all!

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