Each week, one of Locavore's education directors will share insights and lessons learned to encourage readers to get out and experience the land and the food it provides. Our educational experiences reconnect people to the good work of stewardship and growing food.
April 23, 2023
Look around and you’ll see those beautiful yellow polka dots popping through the fresh green grass. It’s dandelion season! Weed? No way! These are not only the first meal for all of those pollinators that have been hibernating, but are also potentially your first harvest from your yard (or somewhere that has not been sprayed for chemicals). Every part of the dandelion is edible! Not only is it edible, it is highly nutritious and can be used as an ingredient for delicious meals. According to Cleveland Clinic’s website, dandelions have nutrients, vitamins, and compounds that provide antioxidants, reduce inflammation, manage blood pressure, control blood sugar, and reduce cholesterol. You may be a little like me and feel like you’re late to the dandelion party. Even though I knew dandelions were edible and nutritious, I’ve never set aside time to actually harvest, prepare, and cook these things. But, that ends now. Oh, wait. I broke my leg… Time to get the kids! Seriously though, if you have children or know any children nearby, they will gladly harvest dandelions for you. This gives them a sense of purpose, gets them out of the house, and can help build their appreciation for nature. When they harvest, have them dig up the whole plant. Also, only harvest places that have not been chemically sprayed. Oh, and make sure to leave some of the dandelions for the bees! So, now that you have your bounty of dandelions, what should you do with them? Here are some ideas: Incorporate dandelions into your smoothies, or make dandelion bread, tea, jelly, salad, or even wine! Cook the greens like you would kale or spinach. Me? I started with smoothies. I cut off the flower stems (they’re a little bitter), and then rinsed the leaves, roots, and flowers. Next, I added vanilla greek yogurt, ice, one banana, some frozen strawberries, a little honey, and some filtered water. The kids loved it, and so did I. Yum! Next, I plan on making this dandelion bread. So, get healthy, put your kids to work, and enjoy the first harvest of spring!
April 30, 2023
As April comes to a close, and the soil temperature starts to warm up, so much life is springing up that it may be hard to appreciate all the fantastic happenings if you don’t stop to look and study. What a wonderful world we live in! One’s appreciation for nature increases with education, and so I’ll do my best to help others tune into the wonderful things going on around them. One amazing thing is that the mycelium network of certain fungi, which has been in stasis over the winter, is now starting to detect that the conditions are right to produce their baby making factories… AKA, mushrooms! That’s right. Mushroom foraging season has begun! Morels, turkey tail, dryad’s saddle and puff balls are fruiting. If you’ve never gone mushroom foraging, I’d highly recommend it. It’s a treasure hunt while hiking in beautiful forested areas. Even if you don’t find anything, it’s still fun just to be outdoors surrounded by the beauty of nature. However, eating mushrooms that you forage can be very dangerous if you don’t know how to properly identify them. So, always quadruple check with an expert, mushroom identification guidebooks, and apps before eating any of these fantastic fungi. Speaking of mushrooms, we are now cultivating mushrooms at Locavore Farm. Hopefully in the next three or four weeks, we will have our first batch of homegrown mushrooms. If you’ve never foraged for mushrooms, or grown your own, I want to invite you to attend our mushroom workshop. One is Friday, May 12th and the other is June 10th. Visit Locavorefarm.com to reserve your spot. Until then, keep your eyes peeled. So many beautiful and complex things are happening all around you. Intentionally set some time to enjoy a nature walk to see it and appreciate it. Who knows? Maybe you’ll find the perfect morel patch. If you do, make sure to let me know and NO ONE else! Vince McClenahan Education Director for Locavore Farm
May 7, 2023
A few weeks ago, I encouraged you all to harvest dandelions. My kids liked the smoothies, but they LOVED the dandelion bread. Here is a link to that recipe. We keep making more and more and my kids can’t get enough. The honey butter we use might have a little to do with it as well. As I was walking around Locavore checking on the sunflower seeds I planted, I noticed a pretty large of these lovelies. Sweet violets are in bloom! Other than cheesy love poems about violets being blue, I didn’t know much about violets growing up. I wish I had someone teaching me about these amazing and delicious flowers. Now that I’ve learned, I put the kids to work again. They enjoyed gathering up a few handfuls of the flowers and then went into the kitchen. Some of the kids started on the pancakes, while the others helped my wife make the violet syrup. Here’s how: Ingredients: 1 loosely fitted cup of violet petals 1 cup of water 1 cup of granulated sugar (or other sweetener) Use just the petals, kids are good at separating the petals from the calyxes (the green parts). Then rinse. Add the flowers and the water to a pot. Heat the cup of water to a slow rolling boil. Watch how the beautiful blue and purple color leaches from the petals. Remove the pot from the heat and strain out the flower petals. Add your cup of sugar and reheat the mixture at a simmer for 5 minutes. Continuously stir it. Allow it to cool and enjoy your violet syrup. Yum! Our violet syrup turned a beautiful teal color. We loved the color and decided to leave it like that for our pancakes. But, then we wanted to do some chemistry! The reason for this teal color is that our well water is slightly alkaline. If you also have alkaline water, you can add some lemon juice to it and watch as it transforms into a deep purple. Now, you're not just making violet syrup, but you’re doing chemistry. How cool is that? Now the big question is if you want a teal syrup, what alkaline liquid could you put in to make it turn from purple to teal? Test it with the family and let me know what you found out! Have a great week! Vince McClenahan Locavore Farm Education Director firstname.lastname@example.org
May 21, 2023
For the past few weeks, I’ve encouraged the readers to do some foraging and backyard exploration with their family. It is still mushroom season, and there are plenty of other wild edibles out there that can be turned into tinctures, salves, or that you can just add to your dinner plate. While part of me wants to tell you all about those wonderful mysterious “weeds,” it is also the perfect time to do some backyard grilling and bonfires. So, I want to teach you about Rocket Stoves! I was introduced to Rocket Stoves during a class taught by Midwest Permaculture and run by Bill and Becky Wilson. I have a ten year old boy, and when you ask a ten year old boy if he wants to build a rocket stove, the answer is obviously YES even if he doesn’t even know what a rocket stove is. Ever since we built one, he has been in the backyard every night cooking a few marshmallows, or heating up a small pot of beans. He loves it, and it’s very easy to do. It has many other benefits too that we’ll get into. A rocket stove is useful for the following reasons: It’s smokeless. The combustion of the fuel is so efficient that it does not give off smoke. It uses twigs not logs. Collect some twigs around the property and you have everything you need to cook a meal. If you don’t have twigs, then maybe you might consider doing some coppicing and growing your own twigs quickly and efficiently. It is cheap to make. I made mine out of 3 cinder blocks, 2 pavers, and one brick. It cost about $20 for materials. A design on Amazon. Here is a video of someone making one. It’s cool. It actually makes a rocket sound when you get it going. Putting a little cooking grid on top of the rocket stove makes a perfect stove top that can be used for lots of backyard cooking ideas. How it works: Rocket stoves are designed to give a steady flow of oxygen to the fuel (twigs). Even though the diagram of the rocket stove is not the same design that I use, it still works the same way. Twigs enter into a fuel chute. After giving the fuel enough heat (lighting it on fire), and allowing air to flow through the L or J shape of the rocket stove, the fuel will begin to combust and create a flame. You can think of it like when you blow on the embers of a bonfire to get it to light up again. Except in a rocket stove it is always getting that amount of air flowing through it. So, try it out. Look up rocket stoves and either buy one or build your own. They are a lot of fun and the kids love gathering the sticks around your yard to put it into the stove. Win-win. They clean up your yard while they have fun doing it. Stay safe and enjoy the backyard fun with your family!
Images: Cinderblock design is the one I use. You can purchase the second design from Amazon; images of flow
May 28, 2023
The learning experiences we post each week are to equip the reader with the knowledge and skills to better nourish their bodies and further connect with one another through the world we share together. This week, my family built outdoor pizza ovens and I made honeysuckle tea. Learn more. As Kevin Gillespie from Top Chef once said, “It’s not just about being fed; it’s about communing with people, it’s about respect for nature and spending time with your family and the people that you love.” There’s nothing better than gathering around a warm fire with friends and family. Add to that experience the satisfaction of making your own pizza and cooking it in your own wood-burning pizza oven. Your guests gather the tinder, kindling, and logs; harvest the toppings from your backyard garden and wait for it to bake while the fire crackles and the smells stoke your appetite. So, how do we get there? Now, if you’re like me, this inflation in the economy has tightened your budget. This is why I only suggest things that I can afford and I can make with my own hands. The DIY outdoor pizza oven I suggest is something I built for under $50. My son, Matthew built ours. He’s 10. It’s very easy, safe, and effective. The ingredients for the pizza, if you can get most of it out of your garden, is very cheap. The memories and good times are priceless. How to make your outdoor pizza oven It requires about 50 bricks, and two 24 inch pavers. If you don’t use fire bricks then you can expect this oven to need brick replacements periodically due to cracking. That shouldn’t be a very big deal since bricks go for about 60-cents a piece. I have a thermal gun that I used to monitor the heat. It kept steady at about 450 degrees. The only warning I have is that the masonry may have some moisture locked up inside and it can be pretty smoky the first time you use it. I suggest giving it a trial burn for about 3 hours before you invite all your friends and family over for pizza. Make sure to invest in a good pizza peel with a long handle. I got mine on Amazon for $24. The wood stove picture featured is not the one we built. How to make honeysuckle tea Honeysuckle is in full bloom. They’re easy to identify, and grow like weeds. Many people call honeysuckle an invasive species. The flowers are edible, but nothing else is. So, stay away from the leaves, stems, roots, and especially the berries. Each flower has got a dash of nectar inside and it tastes like nature’s candy. Then, I wondered how it tasted as an iced tea. So, I gathered a handful of the flowers and made sure to cut off anything green, then heated up a cup of water (almost to a boil), and allowed the flowers to steep for about 30 minutes. Then, I poured the tea through a strainer into a mason jar of ice and tasted it. It’s got a subtle sweetness and floral flavor. Add some mint, sugar, lemon, your favorite herb, or a simple syrup and you’ve got a delicious summer beverage! Besides all that, honeysuckle has great medicinal uses. Honestly, I just enjoyed the flavor and watching my children recreate or experiment with their own honeysuckle summer cocktail (sans the alcohol). Hmm… but, maybe adults can experiment with adding a little of your favorite gin, rum or vodka to this iced tea to add to the summer fun. Let me know how it goes.
June 18, 2023
Only 3 more weeks until our first week of camp! I am so stinkin’ excited about coming together to play, learn, create, and do good work. “Together” – What a great word and idea to remember! When campers arrive, I hope they find a place where they feel welcomed. I want all of my campers to make friends, learn a ton, have lots of fun, and “together” accomplish meaningful and genuine work at the farm. Then, after a week of togetherness, we will celebrate them and their families at a table where we can share good food, good music, good company, and good times. Locavore Kids Camp 2023- I can’t wait! See more details on our website if you’re interested in signing your child up. I came home from a week long training in Indianapolis to this- our first harvest of italian oyster mushrooms at Locavore Farm. The weekend before my trip, I enjoyed teaching a Mushroom Workshop at Locavore Farm and we had a great time together. We discussed how amazing mushrooms are for plants, the soil, and our environment. We ate some foraged mushrooms, drank some Turkeytail iced tea, and ran out of time talking about how amazing fungi really is. After learning about foraging, medicinal uses of mushrooms, and cultivating mushrooms, we finished by taking it to the kitchen where we shared a delicious mushroom highlighted meal together. Here are some quick tips if you ever want to grow your own mushrooms.Lessons I learned: Fungi pin and make mushrooms (develop fruit) when they want to pin. Don’t be discouraged if your mushrooms seem to be going dormant. Give them time, a good environment, and eventually they will produce for you. It took a long time for my first workshop participants to have fruiting mushrooms. From the last group I taught (just a week ago), Daniel shared a picture of the substrate he inoculated while he was with me and it’s already producing harvestable pink oyster mushrooms! Wildlife also loves yummy mushrooms.There’s a reason why people usually grow their mushrooms indoors. That reason- wildlife also loves that umami flavor. While, I do want wildlife to thrive on the farm. I don’t want it to be because they ate all of my mushrooms. Protect your mushrooms. After noticing that my mushrooms would fruit, and then be gone the next day before I got a chance to harvest. I learned some tricks about protecting your mushrooms. You can either bring them indoors or you can do this fun trick: Hide them under a moist cardboard box outdoors. The moist cardboard creates a high humidity environment for your mushrooms while protecting them from any pests. Mushrooms produce a LOT of spores. If you decide to grow edible mushrooms indoors you ought to make sure that their spores don’t circulate in your house. How? Harvest them before they drop their spores. Different species of mushrooms have cues that tell you when they’re going to release their spores. Share with friends. Specifically me. Thinking about some cream of mushroom soup. I’m hungry. Have a fantastic week! Vince McClenahan
July 2, 2023
When I taught 5th grade science, it was interesting that one of the science standards that is taught states that students should learn to: “Support an argument that plants get the materials they need for growth chiefly from air and water. [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on the idea that plant matter comes mostly from air and water, not from the soil.]” While this is true that plants grow from the glucose they make during photosynthesis which is made up of mostly the chemicals found in air and water, the learning standard seems to belittle the value and role of soil. But, my friends, I think any gardener would agree with me and say that it’s not that easy! Plants make their little glucose cakes all day, and eat them at night to grow. Similarly, if all we ate was twinkies we would grow too. But, just like plants that only eat glucose, we definitely wouldn’t be healthy. Those minerals, and trace minerals found in the soil are like the vitamins and nutrients we need to stay healthy. Plants, too, need a balanced diet. And they know it! This is why they send about 80% of it to the roots. Why would they send their little glucose cakes to the roots? To feed the bacteria and soil life. Are plants just that altruistic? NO! They’re actually setting little traps. Bacteria and soil life comes to eat the glucose by the roots. When they do, they defecate their nutrients near the roots in a form that is easier and healthier for plants to absorb. Smart plants! But, not only that, some unfortunate microbes get too close to the root and get sucked in. BURP! That plant just ate another living organism! The truth is that most plants are kind of carnivorous! This is why new roots are white, but old ones turn brown. It’s not that the roots are becoming more woody or stained by the dirt. They are turning brown from the dead bacteria bodies that coat the exterior of the roots. Woah! Sorry, I nerded out there. The bottom line is that soil is so stinking important to plants. They need it to be full of micro lifeforms so that they can get those minerals and nutrients. This is why adding compost and fertilizer to your soil is key. Those micro lifeforms love all that carbon based waste. The other added benefit to having soil that is teaming with life, is that those little guys hold onto and secrete a lot of water. This is why good topsoil that’s full of microbiology has the perfect percolation rate. Water flows through it at a good pace so that the roots, the microbes, and the carbon waste can get their share of the water before it drops below their grasp. So, if you want to win at gardening during a drought or anytime, maybe instead of asking yourself “What does the plant need?” Change it to “What do those microbes and fungi in my soil need?” Because in the long run, they are the ones holding the water so those plants can get a good drink. They are the ones delivering the nutrients to those roots. They are the ones keeping the temperature of the soil more stable. Until next time, Vince McClenahan