62 Mail Order Chicks Later…

So, we’re raising 62 meat chickens.

After finishing up evening chores yesterday, I walked into our make-shift greenhouse (the room below our kitchen area where I’ve been nursing various seedlings) to find a whole new set of tender challenges. In a metal incubator set on the seeding table were 62 tiny chicks peeping and scuttling like 1st graders let out for recess after a week of rain. The owner purchased them online and they arrived during the day with only one chick DOA (a good turnout).

The chicks are Cornish crosses, so they’ll quickly lose that adorable yellow-fluff and transform into dirty white little monsters. Their legs will forever be too bulky for their bodies; their breasts will grow heavy and tip the pullets toward the ground. Cornish crosses are the meat industry standard: their modus operandi during their short lives is to eat – constantly and furiously – as they mature to processing weight within six to eight weeks. Past that? They die off by ten weeks.

Totally crazy, right? After working with both Heritage meat birds and some gorgeous layers, I’m a little apprehensive to work with these franken-chicks. Plus, this will be the first time I’m raising something solely for slaughter. I’ve been on most sides of the animal industry equation (distribution, retail, slaughterhouse, dairy), so I guess it’s about time that I take on the system as a whole.

{Beautiful and healthy layers, a far cry from a mature Cornish cross}

My newest venture notwithstanding, I’m definitely not eating meat anytime soon; I’m viewing these next eight weeks as an experiment in sustainable meat production. To begin, I picked up a copy of Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens. Until next time…


Our Brooklyn Balcony Summer Garden – Some Advice for Container Farming on a Budget

After two months of construction, our balcony garden finally lives! It’s been a saw-dusty, frustrating road to get here – we’ve been keeping our seedlings on a folding table under the one window in our crowded kitchen as a blue tarp has covered our balcony since we moved in. We did lose a few seedlings along the way, including a few beans, lettuces, basils, and some anticipated cosmos. But the wait has paid off, and for the first time in over year, I’m finally struggling to get all of the dirt out from under my nails on my way to work.

My new writing post! *note on the table and chairs – we found that awesome workstation on craigslist and the two chairs on the sidewalk at various times outside our old apartment. Oh, the joys of gleaning.

So, what’s in the garden? Well, we have four bean plants, a ton of lettuce, three tomato plants (a hanging cherry, Mr. Stripey heirloom, and an un-identified variety acquired from a sidewalk sale in Williamsburg), one kale, four basil plants, two peppers (a medium chili and a red bell), mint, and lemon verbena. And, my favorite part of our garden of sorts, we have a compost bin! 100 worms and counting!

We started a few things from seed, including the beans, lettuce and basil, and bought the rest of our plants from a combination of a random sidewalk sale in Williamsburg, Silver Heights Farm Nursery at the Union Square Greenmarket, and Red, Rose and Lavender Flower Shop.

This is all very exciting, but it’s kind of a lot of stuff – think of all the soil, plants, fertilizer, containers, and other accessories necessary for a start-up garden. The sad reality is, when working with a meager budget like ours, a container garden can easily run your finances into the red. Noah and I encountered this problem in planning for our set-up, but with some out of the box thinking and a creative reuse/recycle mentality, a healthy and productive container garden is within your reach!

TIPS! on container gardening on a budget
1. Look around your apartment and kitchen for anything that can hold soil. We used old Steve’s Ice Cream containers (perfect for herbs!) and just cut a few drainage holes in the bottom. Even the pint lids serve as water catchers to place under the pints. Some other options are: cut off the tops of old milk or juice cartons, add some holes in the bottom, and voila, a perfect bean planter! Don’t forget old take-out containers (thoroughly cleaned, of course).

2. The next time you’re in a flower shop or garden supply store, ask the clerk if they have any used or as-is containers. Stores won’t typically advertise used pots, but if you ask, they might be happy to get some of their less desirable pots off their hands. We got some of our pots this way: $2 for two medium sized clay pots! One of them has a large chip in the rim that’s been super-glued back on, but the pot works just fine.

3. Craigslist! People are moving and giving away stuff for free all the time, don’t rule out free garden supplies! That’s how we found our nifty watering can.

4. Keep your eye out the next time you’re walking around your neighborhood. As they say, one person’s trash is another’s treasure. In our case, we found some great drawers on our way to the Bushwick farmers market. We lined the flatter, square one with a garbage bag. Perfect for any pots without water catching dishes! We’re going to fill the other two, deeper drawers with some potting soil and transfer our lettuces.

5. Finally, compost! It’s a great way to put kitchen scraps to good use.

A bit more on composting – Composting isn’t for everyone – before we had our balcony/any outdoor space at all, we kept our kitchen scraps in the freezer for drop-off at our local greenmarket. Considering that we didn’t really have any use for compost dirt at the time, a compost bin didn’t make too much sense. But kitchen scraps are a great resource, and if you’re not afraid of a reasonably sized plastic bin with some worms and dirt, then you’re in the clear. We got our bin from Nextdoorganics, a Rhode Island based farm that has a stand at our local Bushwick Farmers Market.

A few things that you should not skimp out on – good organic soil and fertilizer. We use Tasty Tomato and Veggie fertilizer by Bradfield, and potting soil from Red, Rose and Lavender flower shop.

TBECC Round-Up: Recipes, Crafts, and Books, Oh My!

“Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.” This is hands down my favorite quote from a novel ever. I’m a huge Virginia Woolf fan; there’s something about female, high-society writers that I can’t get enough of. (Edith Wharton, anyone?) I’m definitely no literary buff, not even by a long-shot, but I’ve always identified that simple sentence with my own notions of feminism and femininity (beyond the larger context of the book of course, I’m not married to a politician, nor do I have servants). So in preparation for TBECC, a celebration of domesticity and feminism of sorts, I just had to buy flowers…myself.

TBECC was more than just flowers and aesthetics, of course, and it lived up to its name: friends, women, eating, talking about food issues, sharing knowledge and just enjoying each other’s company. We had SO MUCH food. Meg baked a banana cake with chocolate sea salt caramel ganache (which she baked in a toaster oven!); Marlie brought salad (thankfully, some lighter fare) and bread from Hawthorne Valley Farm where she’s a market worker; Julia brought buttermilk pie and honey and jam; and I baked some honey whole wheat pound cake and mini cinnamon rolls. (More recipes to follow!) To drink, I sorted my out-of-control collection of Harney and Sons tea, and pulled out my bag of Counter Culture Jagong coffee (arguably my new favorite, although Crop To Cup’s Burundi is still up there).

Dani Walsh, the wonderful woman behind www.WomenEatNYC.com  (and Grub Street intern!!), a bee-yoo-ti-ful blog that includes recipes and pictures of women enjoying food, stopped by and helped out with some necessary lighting in my living room (no natural light, boo!). She also shared some really cute recipe cards (Dani, let me know where you found those little guys!). We discussed our favorite baking books including, The Pie and Pastry Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum (who also wrote the Cake Bible!) and The Bread Bakers Apprentice by Peter Reinhart.

Eventually (it was inevitable) the knitting needles came out and Meg, knitter extraordinaire, shared her go-to book for knitting: The Complete Guide to Needlework edited by Readers Digest. Meg’s copy is ancient, but it’s a gem of a reference book. The pictures are painfully 80s, but the instruction is invaluable, with pictures and clear descriptions of a bajillion patterns and stitches for all kinds of stitching crafts from knitting to quilting to needlepoint to embroidery.

We’re hoping to host another TBECC before the school-year lets out. My hope is that TBECC will encourage more women (men too!) to get together, share domestic knowledge and take back our food system!

Reclaiming the Domestic: tonight! at the TEDxGallatinSeniorSymposium

{image courtesy of TEDxGallatin.com; words courtesy of me *note my awkwardly large hand…21 years and I still haven’t figured them out}

Tonight is the TEDxGallatinSeniorSymposium (wow, that’s a mouthful) where I and some other amazing fellow seniors are giving presentations on topics related to our concentrations at Gallatin. My talk is called “Reclaiming the Domestic: farm women’s invisible feminism and sustainability.”

If you’ve never met a Gallatin student, then let me explain a little something about ourselves; we’re nerds. HUGE nerds. (Obviously that can’t be said for all Gallatin students, but I think it’s a safe assumption having spent the past two years immersed in Gallatin student culture.) Because Gallatin students create their own concentrations and curricula, Gallatin students are incredibly passionate about what they study, and they’re also really interesting people. Unfortunately there is an assumption around NYU that Gallatin students are the overly-ideal, hippie-dippies who have no sense of reality or structure; we’re the Hufflepuffs of NYU. Outsiders think we’re just floating around NYU, taking courses in jewelry making or “women’s textiles” (yes, I’ve taken both) and wasting a $200,000 degree. I’ve even over-heard NYU student ambassadors telling prospective students on tours as they point to the Gallatin building, “You can major in anything you want, like Bob the Builder.” Of course, parents and students scoff at so obviously a stupid choice of schooling. Well, let me tell you something Mr. Know-It-All NYU Student Ambassador, that kid majoring in “Bob the Builder” was probably looking into the cultural significance of a children’s cartoon character, questioning our assumptions of masculinity, how they relate to child psychology and neuroscience, and what ‘Bob the Builder’ implies about blue-collar professions within a white collar society. What now, Classics major!

For the record, I don’t know anyone majoring in Bob the Builder, and I have nothing against Classics majors. But if you find yourself among this incredulous cohort, then attend tonight’s TEDxGallatinSeniorSymposium and witness first-hand the genius of Gallatin students. Don’t forget to check out the TEDxGallatin site to read about the other awesome seniors presenting at tonight’s event. See you there!

Home Farming Day, Brought to You by Triscuit

{image courtesy of ChicagoNow.com; inflammatory text courtesy of me}

Today, Madison Square Park is hosting “Triscuit Home Farming Day.” From 11:30 to 6:00, New Yorkers can stop by the park to get their hands dirty and take home a free Home Farming Kit to kick-start any fantasies of self-sufficiency into a reality. The event is part of the larger Triscuit “Home Farming Movement.” If you’ve purchased any Triscuits lately (which I haven’t, but some friends of mine showed me their box), you’ve probably noticed the seed starter squares on the back of the boxes. Beginning your own home garden is now as easy as purchasing a box of Triscuits.

Of course, as every young, collegiate liberal should be, I’m incredulous of Triscuit dabbling its pro-capitalist tendrils into a typically anti-capitalist venture such as urban gardening. There must be some evil, corporate plot behind Triscuit’s tiny seed starters – maybe they turn into consumer-behavior tracking devices once they bloom! Or maybe not…

As far as I can tell, the Triscuit campaign actually seems…pretty cool. I was snooping around their new site and they have basically all the information you need to start your own at-home garden. They even have a section that creates a personalized garden plan: just type in your zip code and then specify where you want to garden (windowsill, balcony, yard, etc.), how much time you have to spend, and then finally, which plants or herbs you’d like to grow (depending on what’s suitable for your location, hence the zip code).

Of course, the Triscuit boxes and website do not provide the physical community that’s inevitably fostered as you talk to other urban gardeners. There’s something really special about sharing and receiving farming/gardening knowledge from other like-minded individuals. In fact, I would argue that community is half of the reward of farming or gardening. But of course, I’m saying this from a place of privilege, where I have the resources to reach out to other individuals in my community about urban gardening. So for the Americans who do not have access to similar means, the Triscuit “Home Farming Movement” is a pretty competent stand-in, and a good example of a national corporation doing right by local communities.

Honey-Cinnamon Granola: how you never have to buy cereal again

Ahhh granola, let the stereotype fester. Yes, I like granola, and yes, I do realize that it carries implications of gratuitous hippie-ism, but honestly I’m ok with that. Better this stereotype than some others. Anywho, in our attempts to live as self-sufficient as possible, Noah and I have taken some small steps here and there to reduce our consumption of value-added and/or processed foods. Of course our geography (a modest NYC apartment with 2 roommates, a tiny kitchen, and no garden/rooftop) places some limitations on our ideal lifestyle, but that’s fine for now and in fact poses a welcome challenge for us to really try and think harder about our consumption.

This brings me to granola. We’ve started buying from the bulk section of our local Whole Foods and found that a pound of rolled oats is about $1.17. Add some cinnamon, honey, and random nuts and/or seeds you have lying around the apartment and voila, you have yourself a delicious, homemade breakfast. Another great thing about homemade granola is the endless options for customization: for our next batch, we’re thinking dried Turkish apricots (splurge!), walnuts, and brown sugar. Put some granola in the oven on a Sunday and not only will your apartment smell like toasted cinnamon and honey, but your breakfasts will be set for the rest of the week!

Honey-Cinnamon Granola
makes about a quart

3 cups rolled oats mix
1 cup slivered almonds
3/4 cup shredded coconut
1/4 cup flax seed
1/4 chia seeds
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1 tbls. cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg
pinch of salt
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/3 cup honey
*a little note: former baker friend Meg told me that adding some vegetable oil to the mix will create more granola ‘clusters,’ this recipe yields a pretty crumbly granola

1. Line a baking pan with shallow sides with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Mix together all the oats, nuts, seeds, and coconut in a bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the butter, honey, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt.
3. Pour the dry ingredients into the butter-honey mixture and stir until the oats mixture is saturated.
4. Spread the granola evenly on the baking sheet. Bake for approximately 45 minutes, stirring and folding the granola at 15 minute intervals. For the last 15 minutes, check the granola about every 5 minutes to make sure it doesn’t burn. We took ours out of the oven after 10 minutes when it looked golden brown and the almonds were crispy.

We put our granola into a quart-sized mason jar to use as breakfast for the week (hmm, I sense potential Christmas and brithday gifts…). What are some of your favorite granola combinations?

Baby Buch Brew Day 30: The Bottle Neck

It’s day 30 of our buch brew which means that it’s time to give our brew some new homes. Paula, our now fully grown scoby, looks thick and yeasty and all around pretty frightening, which in the kombucha world is actually a great thing. We gave our brew a quick taste and it was still pretty sweet, but had that strong kombucha bite that we love.

Noah cut our scoby into three pieces and placed each one into a jar with about a cup of our kombucha. We’re planning on keeping one as a starter for our next batch, BUT that means that we have two scoby mothers up for grabs! If anyone in NYC is interested in starting their own brew we’d love to donate one of our mothers. Just send me an email at saf366 [at] gmail [dot] com!

We bottled our kombucha into 6 pint-sized mason jars. Following the Kombucha Brooklyn buch brewing tip sheet, we’re leaving our jars on the counter-top for 3-7 days to allow them to carbonate before putting them in the fridge. So we still have another few days before we can completely reap the fruits of our labor. Noah and I wanted to flavor our brew with some fresh mango puree, but after cutting through our mango it appeared to have rotted (we seriously can’t keep anything in out kitchen beyond 3 days!). So for now, our buch will remain unflavored, but we have big plans for our second batch which we’ll begin brewing tonight. We’ve already settled on a name for our next brew: Scoby Bryant.