Monday, June 20, 2011

Playing the Field

Come Along on Our Farming Field Trip, Get Summer Salad Recipes and Learn More About Harvesting Your Own Veggies!

Long before Michelle Obama turned the food pyramid into a plate, TOP NANA and her culinary team were in love with the same idea: moving fresh and more healthful foods to the forefront of every man, woman and child’s meal. We agree with the First Lady. Americans don’t eat nearly enough fruits, vegetables, whole-grains and protein; we also agree that the epidemic among our nation’s children—of obesity and never-before-seen onset of diabetes in adolescents—is something that has to stop. TODAY, NOW and FOREVER! That’s why we’re taking the official start of this summer season, to showcase veggie-rific recipes on our blog, ones that feature just the right balance of protein, good fats and carbs. As we spin the plate and rearrange/rethink our portions, we’re also spinning perspectives. This season, TOP NANA will talk to experts in the field of coupon clipping, tree-hugging, and, for this particular entry, home gardening.

Nana Network Pledge: Less Meat and More Veg Slows Global Warming and Trims Our Waistline

Because myself and a large percentage of my readers LOVE beef, pork and poultry and have no intention of giving it up completely, my recipes from here on out will celebrate (just in smaller portions) all things meaty and delicious, while heaping on more veggies, vamping up savory flavors in the act of becoming one-with-the veggie, and taking a moment to REALLY consider where our food comes from. At some point, I will talk to butchers and seafood purveyors about organically raised meat and fish, but this week I’m focusing on home grown veggies. Please leave me a comment if you’d like to learn more, or view an extensive photo album of the Nana Network’s Farm Field Trip!

Is It Easy to Grow Your Own?

To answer these and more questions, I sent a Nana correspondent out into the field—literally! Pictured with this blog, you can see kids and a guide, plastic bags covering their shoes to protect from a muddy rainy season—bent over a field of mixed greens and other crops in a fertile Missouri garden. I talked to the owner of the farm, Jane, about what kind of commitment it takes to reap what’s sown, if it’s worth the effort, and how us city folk might aspire to even a fraction of the bounty we witnessed that day. I should preface the interview by saying that in less than five minutes in Jane’s garden, yielded what would have cost about $25 of mixed lettuce from the grocery store. We took it home in baggies and prepared a giant salad to go with a big family dinner. Click these links for my most loved summer salads, featuring ingredients that were succulently abundant in Jane’s garden:

Chilled Green Bean Salad with Mustard Shallot Vinaigrette

Sweet Cucumber and Mandarin Orange Salad

New Potato Salad with Salmon and Green Beans

Q&A with Jane

Q: Jane, how long have you been gardening? Did you always have such amazing luck with your harvests?
My husband and I have been using the acres we live on, to farm, since we got married in the 70’s, and it requires loads of work—a collective effort—every single day. Still, it is definitely WELL worth it. We enjoy our garden, love how it looks and especially love how it tastes. At the same time, we see that we are in a unique position. We have a distinct advantage over a lot of people who live in a more urban set-up than we do; we’re neighbors with a farmer who does everything but dairy and have miles of open land to work with—but you can garden without it. Use a two-gallon bucket. My friend in a St. Louis high-rise grows the most beautiful tomatoes that way.

Q: What’s the best starter crop for a beginner, and what are the most important things to remember as you’re getting started?
I know it’s a long list, but you’re better off knowing it. These are the top 10 most common and easy to grow veggies—once you pick two or three to get started with, it’s critical to find out A) what kind of light, water and soil they need, B) what the planting season is according to where you live C) the window of time recommended between putting seeds in the ground and that proud day you get to harvest it!

Jane’s Top 10

Q: If I don’t have time for a garden of my own, but crave fresh, locally grown vegetables, what do you suggest?
Farmer’s Markets are the best place to go for locally grown produce—and there’s always CSA groups (Community Supported Agriculture) that will sign you up for a monthly fee and deliver boxes of whatever’s fresh on the farm.

Q: Thank you, Jane. If we have anymore questions can we call you?
Absolutely! You know where I live!

And that concludes our first installment in a series that will celebrate our Less Meat, More Veg initiative that will last all summer long. Stay tuned for more!

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