Archive for the 'News' Category

A gardening season potentially washed away

One of the things that has been most strange to me about the Flood of 2008 coverage is that I actually recognize the landmarks. In the past, most of my flood experience has been virtual – I’ve watched the news and sympathized, even sent money for relief, but never actually recognized the locations involved. It’s a completely different experience, the recognition something akin to seeing an ex-boyfriend on the street with a new girl. It’s the same sickening drop in the stomach, no matter how glad you may have been to leave him behind.

Now the floodwaters are being to recede, but that means the recovery is just beginning. And what a recovery it’s going to be. After all, floodwater is dirty-nasty-foul stuff. Oh, toxic sediment, thanks for stopping by (not that you were actually invited to the garden party).

Yeah, speaking of that garden party, I had never given a second of thought to what happens when your home garden floods until I read the Johnson County Extension’s list of warnings and admonitions. The basics? If you had raw sewage in your garden, don’t eat the food. In fact, quit growing any more food, because now you have contaminated dirt. For 90 days.

There are some other suggestions from the Extension: Get rid of leafy greens. Don’t eat your strawberries. Discard anything that was covered with water, even if it was a root vegetable like potatoes, carrots or garlic.

I realize I’m not there to work in my old garden, but when I read that advice (wise as it is), I felt that corresponding sickening drop in the stomach. As if the flooding wasn’t bad enough already, the thought of missing the entire growing season (because a 90-day growing ban would, for all intents and purposes, cause just that) is pretty horrifying.

How you can help Midwestern farmers

Back in the 1980s, when the farm crisis was breaking America’s heartland, my Uncle Charlie got involved. He was an economics professor at Iowa State University, and he focused on Extension and public policy issues. He, along with my Dad and their four other siblings, grew up on a small dairy farm in Upstate New York, and they knew what it meant to be farmers and to be poor.

In 1988, my Uncle Charlie sat down with the good people of Ottumwa, Iowa, and started a strategic planning process to help them recover from the devastation the crisis had wreaked on the community. He stepped up. He used everything in his toolkit to do what he could for the state he had adopted as his own.

My Uncle Charlie died in December 2006, so he’s missing the mess left behind by the Flood of 2008. I’m sorry he’s gone, but I’m glad he’s not seeing the water pull back slowly—the effects of the flood are just beginning. From the towns that were underwater to formerly-submerged farmland, word from there is that now the problem is clean-up and recovery.

As I said earlier this week, the team at Edible Iowa River Valley and other organizations like Local Foods Connection are doing everything they can to help out the farmers affected by this flood. On Wednesday, they worked with Farm Aid to get a donation program off the ground. Farm Aid has done so much, starting with that farm crisis of the 1980s, to help American family farmers get on—and stay on—their feet, so it makes perfect sense that they’re involved again this time.

Farm Aid seeded the pot with $10,000, and they’ve got the venerable Willie Nelson putting his weight behind the effort. He’s playing in Tama, Iowa, on Saturday night, kicking off a several-night stretch where he performs in Iowa and Wisconsin, raising awareness as he goes.

The money will go to help the farmers who aren’t involved in ginormous agribusiness operations—although those folks are no less affected by this natural disaster. The difference? The farmers this fundraiser will help are the small and mid-size farmers who run community-supported agriculture operations and help supply the local farmers’ markets with fresh food and generally make Iowa a better, healthier place to be. But these are the farmers who don’t have flood insurance. Or crop insurance. These are the farmers who have to have their wife or husband work an office or factory job so they can get health insurance.

These are the people working on sliver-thin margins, and those margins just drowned.

If you think you can help, please visit the flood relief donation site and give what you can. I admit I’m feeling pretty helpless from here, but in the spirit of my Uncle Charlie, I’m using what I have in my toolkit. I have some money, and I have a blog. I can use those tools to help rebuild the state that let me make it home for nearly three years.

I ask for your help and your support. If you can’t give money, help raise awareness. Pass the word about this fundraiser to your friends, neighbors, and fellow bloggers. Food bloggers, I’d love it if you’d post something in support of this.

But most of all, if you’re at a farmers’ market this weekend, stop and take a look around. Be grateful for what’s there. Imagine if it was all gone. Then decide what it’s worth to you and help out these farmers. You never know when the good people of the Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois and Missouri might just need to return the favor.

Your stories and pictures can help Midwestern farmers

By now, unless you live under a rock, you’re probably aware that Iowa is suffering from some of the worst floods in memory. I’ve been watching the news from Iowa City with my mouth hanging open, and have mostly relied on reports from the Iowa City Press-Citizen and the Cedar Rapids Gazette to keep me in the loop on the latest news about what’s under water.

Both newspapers are keeping unbelievable photo galleries, both from the ground and the air, up to date. And I’ve been hearing from friends who are sending their own photos around. For example, check out my friend Kelly’s round-up of photos from inside the Alliant Energy Corporate Communications department offices—I worked for almost a year and a half in the cubicle right next to Kelly’s, and can’t even imagine how long it’s going to take before she and the rest of my former co-workers can return to the office. The Alliant Energy tower, for those of you not familiar with Cedar Rapids, is right downtown, about a block from the Cedar River.

But the story that has not been told, that I have not seen reported, is the story about the small, local farmers that provide all the food I wasn’t able to grow in my own garden. These are the farmers that rely on the summer farmers’ markets to keep them going, the ones who aren’t involved in big, commercial agribusiness, the ones who don’t get a bunch of government subsidies or crop insurance to cover their flood-damaged produce.

They are not forgotten. There is a movement afoot to raise money for these folks, and for anyone in the Iowa farming community affected by the flooding. I’ll have more information on how you can help, from wherever you may be, as soon as there’s information to share. In the meantime, though, I’d like to put out a call for photos, videos and stories about farms and farmers in Iowa and Wisconsin affected by the flood.

I’ve volunteered to be one of the collection points for this material, which will be used only for purposes of fundraising and possibly in an upcoming issue of Edible Iowa River Valley. There is no compensation available in return, but your contribution of your material will help raise awareness on behalf of these struggling farmers and those who work for them. In addition, while the details are still being worked out, any material submitted will be forwarded on to the appropriate organization for archival and historical purposes.

Please email anything you have (or links to where the material is located online) to genie (at) theinadvertentgardener (dot) com. Please include in your email a statement that notes you give your permission for the material to be republished without financial compensation.

More information will come as soon as I have it. Thanks so much, in advance, for your help with this project. And please feel free to forward this to anyone you know in the Midwest. The more stories and pictures we have to illustrate the devastation as it has affected farms, the better we can tell the story and, in turn, help the folks who have nowhere else to turn.

This summer, I will buy tomatoes

Tomatoes are OK with meAs one might expect by taking a look at this blog’s header graphic, I’ve been getting quite a bit of email about the tomato recall. I have been reading the stories, the analyses on various listserves and blogs, and the lists of precautionary measures.

I’m going to be honest with you. Banning spinach is one thing entirely. But tomatoes? Them’s fighting words.

The reality is this: the tomatoes that have been banned are the ones that, to be quite blunt about it, suck. Not that the ones on the “OK” list are all that great. I have bitten into more nasty-foul grape tomatoes from the grocery store than I care to count, and finally stopped buying them because I was so tired of the pop-bite-spit-into-trash-can routine I’d mastered in my office at lunchtime. There are amazing tomatoes and there are bad tomatoes, and life is too short for bad tomatoes.

But what I fear is the backlash against the good stuff. What’s going to happen this summer, when tomato season in the U.S. peaks, and people go to their local farmer’s markets and turn up their nose at the selection of Brandywines and Juliets? Because, to be honest, while I feel terrible for the 167 people (and probably more who have yet gone unrecognized) who have suffered from salmonella because they ate a bad tomato, I’d bet good money on the fact that they ate a bland, pale-red slice not worthy of the name TOMATO.

This is the worst unkindness of all, really. I’m a risky eater. I will eat street food in places that no one would recommend the eating of street food. I have most certainly eaten meat that was probably not in the pork-beef-chicken-lamb continuum, but it was highly spiced, so I couldn’t tell the difference anyway. I used to brush my teeth with the tap water in Nigeria (and yes, I realize I put myself at great health risk, but I was 11 and petulant and trust me, my father punished me well enough on the day he figured out I had been doing that, so there’s no need to yell at me now).

I have also suffered from food poisoning so bad I thought I would die. (It had nothing to do with Nigerian water. In fact, the only place I’ve gotten food poisoning? The U.S. of A.) Like I said before, I don’t wish that on anyone.

But it seems to me that by banning salsa at Baja Fresh, all anyone’s doing is raising the panic level. Instead, why don’t we take a look at the root causes of why salmonella, which used to be in the purview of chickens and eggs, has now crossed the road to crawl into the body of a tomato? Whether the problem is spinach, or tomatoes, or Jack in the Box burgers, maybe the problem here is not a particular ingredient or food item, but a sign of a larger, more fundamental weakness in our food system.

As for me, I’m going to continue eating tomatoes the way I have for at least the past few years: purchased from regional farmers (since I’m not currently harboring any plants of my own). Local, preferably heirloom, tomatoes. As far as I’m concerned, the pleasure of that first, ripe, summer tomato will far outweigh the miniscule risk that it might make me sick.

Go west, young gardener

It’s probably no surprise to any close reader of this blog that this past year has been, well, challenging. I’m a girl who keeps her chin up, who tries really hard to make things—even the unpleasant ones—work out for the best, and who is determined to seize every possible opportunity to celebrate. But this past year had its moments. There was loss, and that ever-lasting winter. I spent more hours than I care to count trudging back and forth through O’Hare.

Spring has arrived, though, and I am most definitely celebrating. First, I’m celebrating two years of blogging – Post #1 went up on the site on May 6, 2006. I have loved every minute of it. I’ve met amazing people, made wonderful friends, and been lifted up by a community of readers and fellow bloggers just when I needed it most.


I’m also celebrating a fairly momentous announcement: In just more than a week, I’m going to pack up my car and take the gardening show on the road. I’m heading West for a job (and, no doubt, a very expensive apartment) in Oakland, California.

I had the unique opportunity to choose where I would land next, with no strings tying me anywhere, and California’s been tugging at the hem of my jeans for a long, long time. I have never felt so certain about a decision in my entire life.

So what does this mean for my little toddler blog? Well, it’s not going anywhere. When I interviewed for my job, someone asked me why I wanted to move to the Bay Area, and I mentioned the blog, and my love for slow food and sustainable agriculture and how the first time I walked into the Berkeley Bowl, I wanted to pull up a cot and move in so I could have 24-7 access to the satsumas. I’m heading to Mecca for the way I love to eat, and I’m going to want to tell you about all my discoveries. The Inadvertent Gardener is rolling on, whether I land somewhere—at first—with a garden or not.

My posts might be a bit sporadic while I make the move, but I’ll be back to a more regular course of business just as soon as I’m on the ground out there. Stick with me, folks. Even though I’m about to drive out of here, I still have some Iowa writing to attend to. There are stories I have not yet told.

I’m writing this entry out on my little back porch while the sun sets, with a glass of wine by my side, listening to the sounds of the yard and looking over the garden I’ve come to love since living here. A cardinal’s up in the black walnut tree, fluffing his feathers. Every now and then, the dangling metal moons of my wind chime ping together as the breeze kicks up. I’m barefoot, and there’s chicken roasting inside, stuffed with thyme I harvested last year and froze for the winter. I’m going to miss this—and all the wonderful friends I’ve made during my time in Iowa—terribly.

But it’s time to move on. California, here I come. I hope you’re ready for a little inadvertent gardening, third-year-style.

Getting in touch

Need garden advice? Then you probably shouldn't send me an email.

Also, please note that this site has now relocated and will not be updated. You can find me at the new and improved location.

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All words and images (unless otherwise credited) on The Inadvertent Gardener are © 2006-2008 Eugenia E. Gratto. All rights reserved.

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