Monday, November 17, 2014

Winter Has Come

Like most of you in the Northern and Eastern US, we got hit with snow this weekend, bringing to an end the fall that we thought would last us at least through Thanksgiving. Unlike our usual first snows in Minnesota, this snow (and ice) has stuck, with daytime temperatures hovering in the high 20s at most.

A picture of my walk into St. Paul campus taken from my phone.

Despite this, things are heating up in my Plant Production class and being able to work under the sunlamps a few days out of the week is a godsend. I definitely picked the right major for that reason. My crops are doing well now that I've learned what I need to do in order to fertilize them properly and our lettuce crops are about ready to take home for salad. Now I just need to find a way to get my boyfriend to actually eat salad...
I've also got an eggplant, two cucumbers and some cherry tomatoes that I'll be taking home next week. I'm not a huge cucumber fan so I'll have to find something creative to do with them, or just find a person who likes cukes more than me to take them. If I have the time, I'd love to try frying the eggplant that I have with my roommates deep-fryer.

For my World Food Problems class, my end-of-term paper is looming ever larger on the horizon and I'm still torn about what I want my topic to be. I have to have it finalized by next Tuesday so I'll have to dive into some research this weekend. My original idea is researching the importance seed-saving has in African cultures and how that relates to food security... But if I can't find enough written on that I might have to change to something else. I have a lot of strong feelings about GMOs (although not in the normal hell-bent against them sort of way) that I could write a paper on... Speaking of which, I will probably at least post something here about my opinions on them soon. Regardless, I need a topic that I can research and write about easily because I want to make this paper actually meaningful.

The last few things that have been happening lately have all been reminding me that I'm almost done with school. I met with my academic adviser to finalize my class schedule for next year, I register for those classes tomorrow and, after next week, I'm done with the regular season of marching band for the last time. I don't really know how to handle all of these emotions because there's just a huge, jumbled, confused mess of them. I'm happy and sad and nervous and everything else all at the same time. As many of my friends would say "#SeniorProblems".

And speaking of being done, yesterday was my last home football game as a member of the University of Minnesota Marching Band. Symbolically flipping my uniform overlay to the maroon side of a graduating member at the game was so bittersweet and leaving the field after my last halftime show was one of the hardest things I've had to do. This group has given me so much over the course of my college career and I've made some of the best memories I think I'll ever have of college as a member of it.

Me and my family who came down to see my final show.
I think that's what this winter has mainly brought with it: the realization that I'm going to be done with this stage of my life soon and I have this huge stretch of uncharted territory in front of me. It's not really like the rest of life where I have a set system to work inside of. There's no school where I can just work my way through a more-or-less comfortable set of hoops. Basically I have to be a real person and that's sort of terrifying. Exciting, yes, but definitely terrifying.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Hermit Thrush in the Garden

Yes, it's another post about birds on my gardening blog. This is slightly related to gardening, however, because I saw this cool bird in the University's Horticulture Display and Trial Garden. A couple mornings a week I like to sit on the bench by the water feature, drink my tea and watch whatever birds happen to be around. They like the water feature, so it's a great place to spot things.

Yesterday morning seemed really quiet, with not many birds flying around in the crabapple trees like normal. But as I was about to leave early, a bird slightly smaller than a robin fly right by me into the brush next to the bench. It hopped out the other side and into another bush where I could get a picture of it. It seemed to look at me, wondering why there was a giant creature sitting by it's water source. It was also bobbing it's tail up and down the whole time.

I had a vague notion that it was a thrush of some sort, based off of it's similarities to a robin in size, reddish tail, and in the white eye-ring it had. I pulled up the Cornell site on my phone and decided that Hermit Thrush fit my bird just right. 

Note the reddish tail.

In the meantime, the real bird had decided I wasn't too much of a threat and had hopped over to the small pond to get a drink. After, he rooted around in the leaf litter under a shrub for a while, looking for food.

Success! A tasty morsel for breakfast.

I was sad I had to leave to make it to my class on time and couldn't stay to watch this neat bird, but the fact that a quiet morning had turned into a life bird for me.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Duluth Adventure

To celebrate three years of being in a relationship, my boyfriend, Michael, and I took a day trip up to the lovely city of Duluth, situated on the shore of Lake Superior. It was my first time visiting the city, but my boyfriend had a small amount of prior knowledge, having visited several times with his family. Despite this, he still hadn't been there for several years so I had to do a little bit of research into where we should go and what we should do. I knew right away I wanted to go up to Hawk Ridge to try to see some of the spectacular views of the raptor migration they get there, and Michael wanted to visit Gooseberry Falls and Canal Park, places he and his family had been several times before.

With these ideas in mind, we set off on the two and a half hour drive to Duluth yesterday morning, excited that the day promised more beautiful weather than we could've wished for. Sunny and mid-60s, the day was starting off good before we even got there.

Upon our arrival around lunchtime, Michael suggested we get sandwiches from a place he'd been during past visits, Sir Benedict's, so we enjoyed some hearty French Dip sandwiches before heading up the hill to Hawk Ridge.

We hit the dirt road on the way up the ridge and knew we'd found the right spot when we saw the cars lined up along the road. Unintentionally, we got there during the times recommended on the signs posted at the ridge for the best viewing times. This time of year is also best for seeing larger raptors migrating, as the smaller species had mostly made their way through the area earlier in the fall. I had brought along my own binoculars and Michael picked up a pair from the Hawk Ridge station where they had loaner pairs for those who needed them. We already had seen several Sharp-shinned Hawks fly over us as we got there, a smaller species that was having a harder time battling that day's winds out of the south. Michael is not as into birding as I am, so I was hoping we'd see some larger bald eagles and red-tailed hawks to catch his interest. I knew that we were in range for Golden Eagle migration, a species I had never seen in the wild before, but wasn't expecting to see them at all that day. They weren't as common as the other species, so I didn't want to get my hopes up. 

But boy was I wrong. About 30 minutes after we got there, one of the birders taking the official counts from the platform up on the ridge said "Looks like we've got some Goldens coming in from the lake." My heart started racing as I eagerly scanned the area they indicated. I could see several specks waaaaay far out that I could tell were soaring birds, but not much more than that. Were these the Golden Eagles? I couldn't tell for sure yet. But luckily for me, Michael and the other 20 or so birders up on the ridge, one of the adults was going to give us a spectacular flyby not long later. In he (or she? I never actually heard if they knew the sex or not) came, soaring around and around and finally flying the length of the ridge right along where all of the birders stood in awe. It was beautiful. Huge, with a golden head, almost like a mane of feathers. The second that came in decent range of us still stayed off in the distance over the treeline. This one was a juvenile, with prominent white spots under his wings and a white band on his tail. We even got to see this one in comparison to a juvenile bald eagle that came into the same viewing range. 

Not a great photo, but here's one of the Golden Eagles!

Besides the Golden Eagles, we saw lots of Sharp-Shinned Hawks, several Bald Eagles, several Red-Tailed Hawks and one Northern Harrier. And this is just in the hour-fourty five minutes we spent there! Michael was thoroughly impressed with the Golden Eagles and the other raptors we saw (he kept bringing up how cool it was throughout the rest of the day), and I was happy he'd had such a good time birding. It was also really great that the nature guides up at Hawk Ridge gave a running commentary on what was flying over and information on the species we were seeing. It was both helpful and educational.

After Hawk Ridge, we drove down to the highway out of Duluth, still basking in the glow of our Golden Eagle sightings, and headed the 45 minutes to Gooseberry State Park. This was another place Michael had been before with his family, so he knew generally where to go once we got there. We spent an hour climbing and walking around on the rocks near the falls and taking pictures. The leaves were almost completely off the trees except for a few smaller maples that were still clinging to their fall colors. But the trees in this area were primarily evergreens and birch that had shed their leaves already. It made for a really neat scene with the birches starkly standing out against the other colors of a fall landscape.

Heading back to Duluth, we decided to head over to Canal Park to look at the lift bridge, walk out along the wall of the channel the large boats go through to get to the bay and just generally poke around. The lighthouses by the canal stuck out enough into the bay to get some really nice views of downtown Duluth. The bridge itself is also pretty neat, with a center section that doesn't split apart and lift like other lift bridges, but complete lifts up to the top as one section. In my pictures it's down because there were no boats going through at the time.

We had some time to kill before dinner, so we headed to a brewery situated right on the boardwalk area. Canal Park Brewing Co. had a large selection of craft brews and, thankfully, another couple who had been there before and arrived around the same time as us, offered their recommendations on which ones to try. Nuthatchet Brown turned out to be our favorite, and the others I sampled were good as well. I'm not a huge beer person and I still liked everything I tried. The day was so mild that we could still sit outside on their patio area comfortably at 5pm in the evening. There was only a slight, southerly breeze so the temperature was incredibly pleasant. Turned out they also serve food as well as beer, although we were planning on dining somewhere else that evening, but I'd like to try their food another time. It's definitely a place we'll be visiting again on return trips to Duluth.

We left to walk up the boardwalk to the restaurant we'd chosen for dinner just as the sun was setting, which turned the sky pink and gold.

Just up the boardwalk a ways was Fitger's the restaurant that we ate dinner at. Fitger's is a huge complex of stores, a hotel and restaurants, but we ate at their main restaurant. They also brew beer here so Michael tried one of their brews as well. The food was delicious (I had the Friday fish & chips special while Michael had one of their burgers) and I probably over-ate, but we left to walk back down the boardwalk to the car content. We even got to see the lit-up lift bridge in action as one of the large ore boats went through the canal. It's amazing how someone could pilot a boat that huge through such a small channel. Once it was through it honked it's massive horn, which echoed off the city. Since Duluth is basically situated on the side of a huge hill, it was a pretty impressive echo.

It's cliche, but the day was pretty much perfect. I can't think of a single thing that could have been better. We both had so much fun, the weather was amazing, all the food we ate was great and all the outdoor experiences we had were awesome. I'm definitely excited for the next opportunity I have to go back.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Farm Internship Reflections

It definitely crept up on me, but Monday was my last day out on the Cornercopia Student Organic Farm as an intern. It was definitely a bittersweet day because I'm really going to miss working there. I have learned so much and I'm so thankful I was given the opportunity to work their this growing season.

Panoramic view of a storm rolling away from the farm.

There have been so many parts about this internship that I have loved, it's hard to list all of them. I really enjoyed working with the other interns, many of which come from different majors and backgrounds. It made the job interesting when I got to hear about the different perspectives on food and farming that everyone had. My boss has been incredible in teaching me a lot about what it takes to run a farm. She also was super understanding when I and the other interns would goof up on something (like putting tomatoes in the cold cooler or picking the wrong leafy green vegetable) which made our mistakes much more of a learning opportunity than something to be ashamed of. I have learned so much from her and I really hope that, eventually, I will know as much about plants, organic farming and organic food as she does.

All of us goofy interns and our boss, Courtney.

But more than anything I have learned the importance of food and the importance of appreciating where our food comes from. I can eat a tomato any day I want and not even think about it, but after seeding, planting, weeding, and harvesting the tomatoes I ate this summer, something about the fruit just tastes different and better. Maybe it's the emotional connection to the food, maybe it's simply because it's organic, but knowing more about your food definitely makes it more special.

Tomato picking party!

I now also hugely appreciate those that work with food as their profession who make it a point to use local and organic food. University Dining Service chefs and the chef at our on-campus restaurant Campus Club, have been huge supporters of the student organic farm and buy large amounts of our produce to feed to their customers. I specifically remember hearing from the head chef at Campus Club who talked about how a carrot soup she makes just doesn't taste the same unless the carrots she uses are organic. The flavor just isn't there with conventional carrots. I'm also very glad that we are a produce source for the food eaten by students on our campus. As the University of Minnesota works toward a more sustainable future, I think that food has a huge role to play in that shift. I'm hoping that buying produce from us is just the beginning of the U starting to source it's food more locally.

Coupon for lunch provided by University Dining Services.

And, of course, I have learned that food certainly creates community, whether that be here at the University or with other groups in Twin Cities area. Seeing how good food makes people happy was another thing I loved about this job. I hope that I can contribute to these food communities and continue connecting people to good food even more in the future with the knowledge that I gained at Cornercopia. 


Monday, October 6, 2014

Fall Colors and a Harvest Feast

Fall really started suddenly here. Probably because we had a strange warm spell a week ago when it was near 80 degrees outside and it felt like summer. But the temperatures have plummeted and now we're seeing the normal 40s-50s and even had our first frost advisory this weekend. The colors have been lovely, especially on some of the early changing trees like the Kentucky Coffee trees by TCF Bank Stadium. They really did a good job with landscaping around such a huge structure, don't you think. They definitely knew what they were doing when they planted trees that would turn one of our school colors (gold) in fall during football season.

Out at the farm we're seeing lots of fall wildflowers popping up in the perennial area. Mainly asters this week were displaying some lovely purple and ethereal-looking whites. 

We had to bundle up some of the crops for the potential frost that was going to hit this weekend. Below you'll see a picture of some of the covered rows of ground cherries. That white fabric was definitely difficult to put on in the 30mph winds we had that day.

Because of the potential frost, we also had to harvest as much as we could before the frost got to it. We went all out on what's left of the tomato patch, got the remaining winter squash in and scavenged for anything else that was left.
In my personal plot, I harvested out as much as I could. I came home with quite the bounty. My zuchetta plant was still going strong, so I picked whatever was there, small or large. Tomato yields were pretty good as well. My favorite variety for the year was Sunset Bumblebee. I'll probably do a seed saving post on those later. Otherwise, my basil plants have had good yields, but I only got one orange pepper for the whole year. Had some volunteer tomatillos in my plot as well.

Once I laid out all the produce I knew I was going to have to do something with them now or else risk letting them sit around in the kitchen where I would procrastinate on using them only to have them go bad.
Luckily I had just ran out of my preserved basil the week before, so I put another round of basil and olive oil into the empty ice cube tray and stuck that in the freezer. This is probably my favorite way to preserve herbs because they're easy to pop out and use whenever you need them. I also use a lot of olive oil in dishes, so this method is perfect for me. Preserving in the ice cube tray is also nice because usually one cube is just enough for sauteing in the size pan that I own.

With the tomatoes and some of the basil, I whipped up my favorite One-Pot-Pasta recipe. This is a great, fast meal because everything happens in the same pot so you don't have to worry about watching different things. You can make this in several easy steps:

One Pot Pasta
Step 1) Start to cook the amount of pasta you need for the number of people you're serving.
Step 2) While the pasta is cooking, cut your tomatoes into small, bite size pieces. I usually use cherry tomatoes that I halve and quarter.
Step 3) When your pasta is almost done, strain off a large amount of the cooking water, leaving a little still in the bottom of the pan. You need this for the base of the sauce.
Step 4) Add the tomatoes (and onions, garlic, basil, whatever else you like in sauce) and cover the pan.
Step 5) Cook until added ingredients are soft and have incorporated somewhat into the the water.
Step 6) Cool and enjoy!

I had several zuchetta squash that had broken ends and needed to be used straight away, so I sliced them into thin rounds, threw them in a pan with some olive oil and sauteed them until soft. Once they were soft, I lowered the heat as low as possible and covered them with shredded cheese and some garlic salt. When the cheese had melted, I served them as a side to my pasta dish. They were pretty delicious. The picture below is a bit blurry, but you get the general idea.

Overall, it was a lovely fall harvest feast. I brought the kale, tomatillos and most of the tomatoes to my parents who were in town this weekend, along with two winter squash my mom asked me to pick up from the farm. I feel like I'm turning into their own personal CSA since I seem to bring them vegetables every time I see them!

Now I'm off to the farm for work, and thankfully we have a lovely, sunny fall day to make up for the terribly cold and windy day we had last Friday.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

First Week of Classes

So I've finished up my first week of classes, and while I can't honestly say that I know for certain how busy I'll be this semester, I know that having only three classes instead of two is really nice. While the workload for the classes seems to be rather heavy, having less of them makes things a lot easier. My initial impressions of my classes are generally positive. All of my professors are engaging and seem to genuinely care a lot about the course material and the success of their students which is always a plus.

In our first Plant Production lab we planted A TON of stuff that we'll be growing throughout the course of the semester. The best part is that we get to keep any of the produce we grow over the season. We planted tomatoes (3 varieties), sweet peppers, melons, cucumbers, squash, chard, kale, several varieties of greens (bok choy, etc), and herbs. For flowering plants, we planted cyclamen and poinsettias. All of these are greenhouse grown, so they'll be flowering and fruiting into November and December. There will be many more things that we'll be planting in future labs as well. In the lecture portions we also discussed plant communication and how plants use different signals such as chemicals to signal to other plants, pollinators, and the predators of pests that might be harming them.

World Food Problems is also very interesting. It's a night course so I only have it once a week for 3 hours, so I haven't had enough of the class to really get an impression as to what the course material will really be like. It's co-taught by an Agronomy professor and an Applied Economics professor, which makes it an interesting combination of the two subjects and gives the class material a lot of different perspectives.

Intro to Entrepreneurship seems as if it will be challenging and work-intensive, but not unpleasant. A lot will depend on the group I end up being placed in for our gigantic project that takes up most of the semester. So we'll have to wait and see on that.

I'm still working at the organic farm until the end of the season, so we're pretty much in harvest mode at this point as we attempt to pick everything as fast as it fruits. Pretty hard with the crops like the tomatoes which seem to never ever end. Not a bad problem to have, but it's a lot of tomatoes to deal with. Otherwise, we've been harvesting potatoes, cucumbers (still), strawberries (as they're a day-neutral variety which fruit later), broccoli, and apples. The best part about the strawberry research project taking place at our farm is that there's always an over abundance of strawberries, and I'm constantly going home with free quarts. Free, organic, delicious strawberries? It's the actual best.

One of the strawberry quarts I took home this weekend.

If you want to read up more about my farm, we were featured in the Minneapolis Star Tribune today. A lot of the article is focused on the research we're doing, but also talks a lot about how we provide food to several different places on the University of Minnesota campus. :)

I've also started to see a good amount of food come out of my personal plot at the farm this week as well. I took home cherry tomatoes and basil that I used to make a margherita pizza, which turned out delicious. Otherwise, I did get things into the ground a lot later than I would've liked, so we'll see what more I get besides the tomatoes and possibly some peppers. The weather has been cooling off so there might not be much more time for things to ripen up.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Beginning of the Last Year

Whoo boy, it's getting closer. T-minus 12 days until the start of my senior year of college. How insane is that??? From this Thursday until the end of the month I'll be completely occupied with the Minnesota Marching Band's pre-season training camp (can you say 12-hour rehearsal days?!) I figured I'd do my semester intro post now so that I'm not scrambling to get it done once school rolls around.
I'm only taking three classes this semester (whoo-hoo!) which is down from my usual four. This is the awesome part about senior year. I only need to take six more classes to graduate so three per semester sounds like a mighty fine option to me! I will say that technically I'm taking 5 classes because both marching band and pep band count as classes because I receive credit for them. But honestly, they're not academic classes with homework and tests and all that, so I don't generally count them when people ask me how many classes I'm taking.

So what classes will be taking my time away from blogging and gardening you ask?
First, we have my one and only horticulture class this semester: Plant Production I. This class is all about nursery operations. So I'll be learning about crop data, utilizing economic data, pest management, and governmental regulations in relation to the nursery industry. I'm a little up in the air with how much I think I'll like the class. It's a required class for the horticulture major, so I have to take it, whether I like it or not. It's not really something that's related to the focus I'm trying to take with horticulture (education/sustainable and local food) but who knows, maybe I'll really enjoy it.
Second, I'll be taking Intro to Entrepreneurial Management, another class that I have to take to finish off my degree. Because I chose the "Business Option" in my degree (as opposed to the "Science Option"), I'm required to take so many business-related classes.
Third, and finally, I'll be taking World Food Problems. This is the class I'm looking forward to the most. We'll be talking about food security, food production/storage/utilization in developing countries, and how ethical and cultural values, population and technology affect these things. This is the class I'm taking that is most related to my area of focus in my studies. This is a class that's also helping me finish off a requirement for my Sustainable Agriculture Minor.
And that's it! No fourth class to weigh me down this semester!

Besides classes, I'll be doing band (obviously), working at the farm until the growing season is over, working at the UMN Admissions Office once my farm job is done, serving as Historian for my band fraternity and volunteering time through service projects for the Mortar Board Honor Society. Yay busy life! Hopefully I'll still have time to blog, although it may not be as frequent as my blogging during the summer. But now I must get some sleep so I can have a blast running the farmers market stand tomorrow! Goodnight all!