Hudson Valley Seed Library

Have a look at a beautiful and creative endeavor: The Hudson Valley Seed Library.

In their own words, The Hudson Valley Seed Library strives to do two things:

  1. to create an accessible and affordable source of regionally-adapted seeds that is maintained by a community of caring farmers and gardeners; and,
  2. to create gift-quality seed packs featuring works designed by New York artists in order to celebrate the beauty of heirloom gardening.

Farmers Doug Muller and Ken Greene dreamed of creating an “accessible and affordable source of regionally-adapted seeds that is maintained by a community of caring gardeners.” Hence they formed a company that sells seeds from its own farm as well as those grown by other local farmers. Gardeners are encouraged to save and share their own seeds too.

If you’re a member of the seed library, you get discounts on seed packs and events, plus ten seed packs. Members also can return seeds to the seed library in exchange for a discount on next year’s membership. The seed library offers information on seed saving, classes and workshops.

In 2011, they expect to offer over 60 varieties of locally grown seed and around 100 varieties sourced from responsible seed houses. The company contracts with organic and certified naturally grown farmers in the Hudson Valley and upstate New York to grow new varieties. Most of their varieties are rooted in the history and soils of New York or are chosen because they do well in that zone, but of course they can be used in other zones as well.

They offer a  membership program to backyard gardeners who are interested in joining the cause.

The art on the seed packets is chosen from the submissions of over 70 artists. They’re from the Hudson Valley and New York City. As the website explains, artists range from “up-and-coming to world renowned. The diversity of the artwork reflects the many stories behind each variety and the genetic wonder that makes each plant unique.”

When the packets are folded, the main art piece ends up on the front, and the back is sealed with a sticker.

Viewing some of the packets is like a mini tour through an art gallery! Enjoy. (artist listed under the piece)


Art by Ayumi Horie.


Art by Lisa Perrin.


Art by Sarah Snow.


Paper silhouette by Diana Bryan.


Art by Barbara Bash.


Illustration by Arik Roper.


Painting and collage by Jacinta Bunnell.


Watercolor by Robert Morris.


Art by Christy Rupp.


Oil painting by Joan Lesikin.


Art by Sheryl Humphrey.


Photo/illustration by Michael Asbill.


Art by Allyson Levy.

Tuck one of these packages into a gift, or make a gift of an assortment.

A bonus with these fun seed packets is that when they’re empty, you can recycle them for wrapping small gifts like jewelry.

Please let us know about any seed libraries or seed saver groups in your area.

Berbere Spice Blend

We’ve introduced a new line of authentic organic seasoning blends that capture the bold flavors of regional dishes from around the world. It’s part of our quest to help you spice lovers find new ways to bring the exotic flavors of such places as Morocco, Ethiopia, India, the Middle East, Tunisia and Pakistan to your cooking.

Many of the dishes from these regions are created with a large number of spices — but with our new blends, you just need a shake from one jar to bring their wonderfully complex flavors to your table.

We were inspired by traditional recipes to create these blends. For example, we combined twelve different spices to produce our Berbere Spice Blend, which has its origins in Ethiopia. It has a very coarse, earthy texture and adds a zesty hot flavor to meats when used as a rub for grilling, barbecuing, or pan frying.

Berbere Spice Blend’s certified organic ingredients are: Organic Paprika, Sea Salt, Organic Cayenne, Organic Fenugreek, Organic Coriander, Organic Cumim, Organic Black Pepper, Organic Cardamom, Organic Cinnamon, Organic Clove, Organic Ginger, Organic Turmeric.

Imagine the possibilities. Here’s one recipe to get you started dreaming.

SPICY LENTIL STEW

Ingredients:
1 cup red lentils
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 to 4 tablespoons Berbere seasoning
3/4 to 1 pound ground beef or  mixed diced vegetables such as carrots, peas and potatoes
1 to 1/2 cup water
1 cup diced tomatoes
Directions:
Bring 2 cups water to a boil. Add lentils and reduce heat to low. Cook 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Lentils should be soft on the the inside but not mushy. Drain and rinse with cold water to stop cooking process. Set aside.In a saucepan, brown Berbere spice mix with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add in meat and vegetables and sauté until almost done.Add cooked lentils, water and tomatoes. Simmer for 10 minutes.
For info on the rest of our new blends, here’s the press release.
We’d love to know if you try this new product. Feel free to share your recipes!

An Inside Look at the LEED Silver Certified Frontier Natural Products Co-op Headquarters

As we told you in an earlier post, Frontier Co-op achieved LEED silver certification from the U.S. Green Building Council for the renovation of their original warehouse in 2010.

Areas considered in this certification are energy use, lighting, water and material use as well as a variety of other sustainable practices. By using less energy and water, LEED certified buildings save money for families, businesses and taxpayers; reduce greenhouse gas emissions; and contribute to a healthier environment for residents, workers and the larger community.

Here’s a video that provides a visual of these upgrades and practices — and gives you an inside look at our headquarters.

A September Walk Through Our Tallgrass Prairie

by Kathy Larson

The first day of fall was a good time for September’s stroll through the Frontier prairie. It was a typical Iowa fall day – it started cool and mostly sunny and turned cloudy before I was finished taking pictures of what was in bloom.

Plants flowering at the time can be grouped in three categories – asters, goldenrods and sunflowers – all of which produce nectar that attracts bees, butterflies and other insects.

Two hundred species of asters are native to North America, many of them residents of the Midwest prairies. We planted three of them in the Frontier prairie and all three were in full bloom for my walk.

Sky blue aster (Aster azureus) is a diminutive plant – I found it hiding here and there among the taller plants and shorter grasses. The flowers, as the name implies, are a delicate shade of blue.

Heather aster (Aster ericoides) is a bushy, branching aster with one-inch flowers that have white petals and yellow centers. The flowers look like another native (and very common) aster, daisy fleabane, which is often considered a weed. It blooms in early summer.

New England aster (Aster novo-angliae) is among the largest of the asters, growing up to four feet high in the prairie (and as high as six feet in the garden) with flowers a little over an inch in diameter. The flowers are a deep purple, purple blue, or occasionally rose-colored. I tried for several years to get some pink ones started at home with no success, and then one year, almost by magic, one of the seedlings I let grow was pink flowered. These asters are showy, but the tall plants tend to fall over in the garden unless supported. In the prairie, the plants look neater because they are shorter and can lean on their many neighbors for support.

Last month, stiff goldenrod (Solidago rigida) was just starting to flower. This month, it’s in full bloom, with waves of fragrant flowers attracting many nectar-loving insects. The bright yellow flowers are small and arranged in dense clusters at the tops of the plant.

The other species, late goldenrod (Solidago gigantea), is blooming all through the prairie and also attracting a variety of bees and insects. This yellow-flowered, wide-ranging goldenrod is the state flower of our neighbor, Nebraska.

Our prairie is home to large colonies of Maximillian sunflower (Helianthus maximilliani). Its 3-inch wide, yellow flowers trail up a single tall stem that towers over most other plants on the prairie (up to 8 feet high). Blooming goes on for about a month and the display they make when they are in full bloom is stunning. Maxmillian sunflowers are also a smorgasbord for wildlife – rabbits nibble on the young plants, various caterpillars feed on the leaves and stems, nectar- and pollen-gathering bees and insects feast on open flowers, and birds and small mammals eat the seeds.

Prairie grasses are another good source of food for prairie dwellers. While the shorter grasses, such as little bluestem,

have long since finished flowering and are dropping their seeds, two tall grasses, big bluestem (Andropogon geradi) and Indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans) are at their showiest.

Big Bluestem is often the dominant grass in tallgrass prairies. Above ground, the plants grow up to eight feet tall, and the roots can extend 12 feet deep. It’s often planted for erosion control and as a windbreak, but it also makes excellent livestock forage.

Indiangrass resembles big bluestem in spring and early summer. It grows to a height of seven feet and, as it flowers, it develops attractive plumes with a yellowish-bronze appearance Indiangrass is valued for its showy appearance in wildflower gardens.

I end my walk at the wildlife pond on the edge of the prairie. It’s been very dry in this part of Iowa in the last few months and the pond is very low and most of the surface is covered with algae. But the trees and plants around the pond are filled with birds and insects, and there are fresh tracks all around the edge of the pond. This small haven is still important to the wildlife living in and near the prairie.

Thanks for coming along on my walk! See you again next month.

Breitenbush Herbal Conference, Breitenbush Hot Springs Retreat and Conference Center, Oregon

The Breitenbush Retreat and Conference Center is a worker-owned cooperative on 154 acres of wildlife sanctuary in the Willamette National Forest of the Oregon Cascades. Even the description is full of beautiful words!

An event is held at this stunning location that we’re proud to sponsor: the Breitenbush Herbal Conference, an annual gathering for herbalists, healers, and students. As the Herbal Conference website describes it: “People come from all corners to celebrate and learn from some of the most inspiring teachers in the herbal community. The healing waters and ancient forests of Breitenbush provide an incredible setting for this magical gathering. Workshops, demonstrations, herb walks, and merriment, appeal to all levels of students.”

Our herbal expert Tim Blakley has been in attendance as a teacher at this event from the beginning, and happily returned this year to reunite with some of his fellow conference founders. He provided us with the delightful then and now photos below.

The event served as a fundraiser to benefit our friends at United Plant Savers as well. United Plant Savers is a group of plant enthusiasts committed to raising public awareness of the plight of our wild medicinal plants. They are dedicated to protecting these plants through organic cultivation, sustainable agricultural practices, and the replanting of native medicinal species back into their natural habitats. Their membership reflects the diversity of American herbalism and includes wildcrafters, seed collectors, manufacturers, growers, botanists, practitioners, medicine makers, educators and plant lovers from all walks of life.

Teachers at the first Breitenbush Herbal Conference, 1984.

Reunion of teachers, 2011. Tim Blakley is on the left in the front row.

Let us know if you’ve visited this beautiful spot in the Cascades, or attended the conference! 

College Campuses Ban Bottled Water

Water has been playing a role in some recent weather disasters like Hurricane Irene and tropical storms in the southern United States. It’s no wonder it’s on our minds a lot lately.

It’s time to pay attention to where you get your water. In emergencies, of course, a bottle of water can be a lifesaver. But on a daily basis, a bottle of water is an expensive, environmentally destructive and potentially dangerous object.

Here are a few reasons:

  • It takes 17 million barrels of oil per year to make all the plastic water bottles used in the U.S. alone. That’s enough oil to fuel 1.3 million cars for a year.
  • In 2007, Americans consumed over 50 billion single serve bottles of water; between 30 and 40 million single serve bottles went into landfills each year.
  • The United State FDA describes bottled water in this way: “Bottled water is water that is intended for human consumption and that is sealed in bottles or other containers with no added ingredients except that it may optionally contain safe and suitable antimicrobial agents. Fluoride may be optionally added within the limitations established.”

Source: http://www.banthebottle.net/

There are many sides of this issue – pro and con. Let’s focus on the sustainability issue presented by the bottles in the landfill and the oil used to make these bottles we’re throwing away. The simple fix is to stop using them. Who better than students to take the lead in finding ways to make this happen?

College students at two Minnesota schools have joined nine other colleges in the US in banning plastic water bottles on campus.  This fall, the College of St. Benedict recently became the first school in the state — and the ninth in the nation — to ban the sale and purchase of plain bottled water on campus. Macalester College adopted a similar policy.

Many cities, including San Francisco and New York, have banned purchases of bottles of water using city money. Others may ban it from being sold within city limits. Chicago has begun taxing bottled water sales.

Hundreds of websites, including the one listed above, will give you more background information on this growing problem in the US – including which brands of bottled water are from a municipal water supply and which are from an authentic mountain spring.

You might want to take a look at your own consumption of bottled water.

Share your thoughts.

Do you drink it?

What kind do you buy?

Do you think it should be banned everywhere?

Do you have ideas on how to solve the problem of waste and expense?

Please weigh in!

An August Walk Through Our Tallgrass Prairie

The hot and humid weather of July and early August finally breaks, and I take the opportunity to grab the camera and head out to the prairie. My first impressions are of yellow – waves and waves of yellow flowers covering the prairie. As I walk in and begin looking around, I start distinguishing different yellows and seeing many other colors dotted here and there.

First to greet me are the orange-pink seed capsules of spotted St. John’s Wort. Last month the plant was in full bloom with lovely yellow, five-petal flowers — and this month’s pointy pods, fat with developing tiny black seeds, are as attractive as the flowers.

I remember from previous years where a patch of prairie gentian (Gentiana alba) is located, so next I go searching to see if I can find the low-growing plants amongst all the grasses and taller blooming plants. I find several clumps of the barrel-shaped, greenish-white flowers. The flowers are tipped with a blush of pink, and I really like their unique shape.

The green spikes of blue vervain (Verbena hastate)—with their small, purple-to-lavender-rose colored flowers—are found here and there throughout the prairie. The flowers open, just a few at a time, starting from the bottom of the spike and moving upward. The seeds persist on the spikes and provide a seed source for birds in the winter. At one time, Native Americans roasted and ground the small seeds to make meal.

Another blue-flowered plant is blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica). On the upper part of the 3- to 5-foot leafy stem, one-inch light blue flowers grow from the area where the leaf meets the stem. A showy plant when in bloom, it can be found in open woodlands, along streams and in moist areas from the Midwest to the East Coast.

Last month the milkweed was in bloom, and this month, seed pods take the place of the fragrant purple flowers. Like lots of kids, I used to open these pods and pull out the silky strands attached to each brown milkweed seed. If they were ripe enough, even a light breeze would scatter the seeds and fill the air with the soft milkweed down.

The importance of milkweed to monarch butterflies is well known. The females lay their eggs on milkweed plants, and the caterpillars that emerge spend their lives eating and growing on the milkweed. The “milk” of the plant is somewhat poisonous to other animals, a gift that helps protect the monarchs from predators.

Speaking of butterflies, there are many sizes and colors dancing across the flower tops in the prairie. I notice that when they stray to the bordering soybean field, they don’t stay. The soybeans are tall, lush and green, but not a weed, a flower or any other bit of life is seen to mar the orderly rows. The juxtaposition of rich, noisy prairie diversity against the quiet, sterile, conventionally farmed bean field is striking and a testament to biodiversity.

Culver’s root (Veronicastrum virginicum) is a plant valued by Native Americans and settlers alike for its medicinal properties. The spike-like white flower heads dot the prairie, often growing next to the still-blooming echinacea.

There are only three yellow-flowered plants blooming, but the height of the two of them cause them to dominate the parts of the prairie where they are flowering. Cup plant (Silpium perfoliatum) grows up to 8 feet tall and has showy 3-inch yellow flowers at the top of the plant. Cup plant is so named because the large, paired leaves clasp the stem in such a way as to join together and form a shallow cup that collects rainwater.


Compass plant (Silphium lacinatum) also grows up to 8 feet tall and has 3- to 4-inch yellow flowers like those of the cup plant, but they are located on tall flowering stalks. The plant is also sometimes called rosin weed due to the gum-like material formed in the upper part of the plant during flowering. Native Americans and pioneer children chewed this “gum.”

The third yellow-flowered plant, stiff goldenrod (Solidago rigida), is just starting to open and is not as noticeable as the towering Silphiums.

It’s so easy to move through the prairie from one flower to the next, but the Frontier prairie is, after all, a tallgrass prairie, and that means grasses – big bluestem, little bluestem, switchgrass and sideoats grama grow happily among the many flowering forbs.

See you in September!

by Kathy Larson

Tree Frog

Our Kathy Larson, who writes our popular prairie posts, took this stunning photo of a tree frog hiding for the day in a lily in her garden. As she explains, “This is a lily in my garden. Tree frogs are not water frogs and as name implies are often found in trees and elsewhere. Because of their size and coloring, they are hard to spot. I am lucky I saw this one.”

We’re lucky she saw it too, so we could share it with you.

Creating the Perfect Pickle

Maybe you’re one of the lucky ones who’s never forgotten the fun of canning and pickling the bounty from your garden. Or you’re one of the many new people joining in this time-tested way to enjoy your crops all year long.

A symbol of both thrift and abundance, the pickle jar is a staple in every well-stocked pantry. If growing your own pickles doesn’t strike your fancy, you’re still a pickler if you enjoy mixing up that lively relish recipe or gourmet side dish of spicy pickled mango.

Using an array of spices and a variety of produce (think outside the cucumber patch), you can easily make your own signature pickles.

You’ll find it easy to experiment when making pickles, because the basic ingredients and processes are similar

If you’re going to make pickles, good spices are essential to good pickling. If you have fresh spices in the garden, like stalks of graceful dill, include those for visual interest and fresh taste.

But dried spices — whole, ground, and crushed — are really all you need.

For ease and dependability, you might want to keep a ready-made pickling blend on hand. You can have some fun concocting your own custom spice combinations, too. One person’s favorite pickles might highlight the warm sweetness of cardamom and allspice, for example, while another cook’s favorite blend might pop with chili peppers and garlic.

Here’s our favorite blend to get you on your way.  This is where the bulk section can really be your friend – buy a pinch or buy a pound of these ingredients, depending on the size of your project.

GET-YOU-STARTED PICKLING SPICE BLEND

Use this recipe as a rough guideline, and vary amounts and spice choices according to taste. Simply combine all ingredients to make about 1/4 cup of blend. Make small batches of several blends and use your assortment on pickling day.

one 3-inch cinnamon stick, broken up

3 bay leaves, torn into small pieces

2 small dried chili peppers cut into small pieces

2 teaspoons yellow mustard seed

2 teaspoons dill seed

1 teaspoon black peppercorns

1 teaspoon coriander seed

1 teaspoon whole allspice

1/2 teaspoon fennel seed

1/2 teaspoon whole cloves

1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon fenugreek seed

Finally, here are a few key things to keep in mind:

  • Use soft water, or distilled or bottled water. Hard water interferes with the curing process.
  • Use vinegars—cider, white, or others—with 4 to 6 percent acetic acid. Commercial vinegars meet this requirement, and you can buy a ph meter to test homemade vinegars.
  • Use pickling salt—not table salt that contains iodine or anti-caking agents or sea salt, which contains trace minerals. Pickling salt (and kosher salt) is free of additives that might discolor ingredients.
  • Use pots, pans, and bowls that are unchipped enamel, stainless, or glass. Galvanized, copper, brass, or iron pans or utensils can react with the salts or acids and change the color and taste of the pickles or even form toxic compounds.

Please visit our Facebook page and post a photo of your pickle or canning project – we’ll randomly choose one of you to win a great batch of canning accessories and spices!

New Twists on Everyday Spices

As we seek healthier eating habits while dealing with tighter budgets, cooking and eating at home is more attractive than ever. If you’re an at-home cook looking for an easy way to expand your culinary horizons, you might try creating some new taste sensations in familiar dishes by using new versions of your favorite spices to liven up family favorites.

Here are some to consider:

Cinnamon is an especially popular spice that comes from the bark of an evergreen tree. For an even sweeter seasoning, try Vietnamese cinnamon. Compared to the more familiar Indonesian types, Vietnamese cinnamon has a distinctly sweet flavor and exceptionally high volatile oil content, the key flavor component. Gourmet cooks rate it as the highest-quality cinnamon in the world. Try using it in everything from oatmeal and baked goods to desserts, beverages and savory dishes.

If you love heat in your food, you’ve probably learned the ways of cayenne. Cayenne adds color and flavor to Southwestern salsas, Indian chutneys, Thai curries, Mexican enchiladas, Chinese stir-fries, Texan chili con carne, Cajun hot sauce and many other recipes. But for a smokier flavor, try chipotle peppers, which are actually dried, smoked jalapeno peppers. Their smoky-sweet flavor is often used in Southwestern and Mexican dishes. Add a dash to liven up everything from chili to barbequed fare.

Freshly ground black pepper is popular in a wide variety of foods, works well in combination with other herbs and spices and is commonly found in spice blends. To change things up, try using Sichuan (Szechuan) pepper instead of black pepper to add an exotic twist to recipes. Gourmet Sichuan pepper is grown in China and offers an unusual, pungent flavor that begins as warm and lemon-like with woodsy overtones and finishes with a more intense bite. It intensifies the flavor of fish, poultry, cheese, and vegetables.

You’ve probably been using vanilla extract to flavor all kinds of desserts, beverages and other dishes. One way to ramp up the flavor is to switch to vanilla beans instead of using the liquid extract. Simply substitute one vanilla bean for each teaspoon of extract, cooking it with the liquid used in the recipe and then removing it. The most common type of vanilla, Bourbon vanilla beans, are grown in Madagascar and are very aromatic with a full, rich taste. But to bump up the flavor, try Papua New Guinea vanilla beans, cultivated in the lowlands of the Pacific Basin. They have a fruitier taste than that of the Bourbon beans, with some notes of cherry that add a deep, longlasting flavor to ice creams, frosting, and many beverages.

Nutmeg is the dried seed of the fruit of an evergreen, which most often comes in ground form. However, nutmeg, like many spices, loses both flavor and aroma after it’s ground. Instead, buy whole nutmeg and grind it yourself using a special nutmeg grater or a fine grater. Grinding it fresh produces a much more robust and fresher flavor. Warm and sweet, nutmeg adds depth to desserts, cheeses, savory dishes and a variety of vegetables. Don’t forget to sprinkle it on eggnog, mulled wines and punches. Mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes are delicious with a light dusting of nutmeg, too.

With just a few simple substitutions like these, you can go beyond the everyday with your spices and create a whole new meal experience. You’ll be amazed at the difference small changes like these can make — and you’ll have fun bringing new, creative flavors into your cooking.

Don’t forget, it’s easy to try these spices by buying from the bulk section, because you only buy the amount you need.

Here’s an easy recipe that allows you to experiment with some varieties of the spices above.

Pumpkin Parfait

Ingredients:

1/2 cup pumpkin purée
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons milk
2 teaspoons sugar
6 ounces lowfat vanilla yogurt
1/4 cup granola with raisins

Directions:

In a small bowl, stir together pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, milk, and sugar. In 2 small bowls or ramekins, layer the pumpkin mixture and yogurt. Sprinkle with granola.

Layer in a parfait glass for a fun visual treat.