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Sunday, November 4, 2012

What's Growing at Johnson's Backyard Garden

CSA members touring Johnson's Backyard Garden with owner/farmer Brenton Johnson on November 4, 2012  

It's been nothing short of incredible to see how has Brenton Johnson, the farmer/owner of Johnson's Backyard Garden, has grown a 1000+ member CSA farm offering 400+ varieties of vegetables in the time that I've known him. When we met in 2007, he was still working full-time for the Department of Agriculture, where he was an engineer specializing in water conservation. There's no doubt that his years of experience managing water resources has played a critical role in his ability to successfully cultivate and irrigate 70+ acres in the midst of Texas' record drought.

Today I tagged along as Johnson led members of the CSA on a walking tour around the farm. I learned a ton as he spoke with a gracious sort of joy about his growing practices. One of the things that struck a particular chord with me was when he answered the question about how he prevents crops from being overtaken by weeds and pests. To paraphrase his response: Just like when we nourish our bodies with all the nutrients that we need to maintain a healthy immunity, Brent makes sure that the soil has all the nutrients and trace minerals that his plants need to build up their immunity so that they are naturally less prone to disease. 

To build up my immune system this flu season, I am eating something green and farm-grown with every meal. Tonight was a delicious salad with some kohlrabi and kale from JBG tossed in a Tuscan white bean dressing. 

On the ANDI scale of 1 to 1000, kale ranks a perfect 1000 for its nutrient density.
ANDI stands for "Aggregate Nutrient Density Index." An ANDI score shows the nutrient density of a food on a scale from 1 to 1000 based on nutrient content. ANDI scores are calculated by evaluating an extensive range of micronutrients, including vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and antioxidant capacities.


Sunday, July 22, 2012

what's luck got to do with it?

As part of his hiring process, the founder and CEO of Zappo's, Tony Hseih, asks candidates, "On a scale of one to ten, how lucky do you think you are? With one being, 'I don't know why bad things always happen to me, I stubbed my foot this morning'. And ten being 'I don't know why great things always happen to me'."

The reason that Tony asks that question is based on a research study where participants were asked that exact question. The participants were given the task of going through a newspaper and counting the number of pictures in that newspaper. When they were done counting, they were told to submit their answer to the researchers.

The people who considered themselves unlucky in life, went through and did the task of counting and came up with the right answer of 39. What none of them knew is that it was actually a fake newspaper, and sprinkled throughout the newspaper were headlines like, "If you are reading this headline right now, you can stop counting, the answer is 39, and plus you get an extra hundred bucks from the researcher." Whereas the people who considered themselves lucky in life, caught the headlines and collected the extra hundred dollars.

The take-away isn't so much that people are actually lucky or unlucky. It's that people who consider themselves to be lucky are actually just more open to opportunity and aren't so focused on just what is the actual task at hand, which is why Zappo's asks that question as part of their hiring process, because they want open-minded people who are opportunistic.

Tony goes on to apply the same principle to how he embraces opportunities to meet random people without any agenda in mind. He say's "It's not just about meeting people who can help your business right now. Just meet them because they are nice and interesting without worrying about what the angle is or what you can extract from them. Get to know them because you are truly interested, and you'll be surprised how you'll find ways that you may end up working together in a lucky turn of events that you never could have predicted when you originally met." 

This is just one of the nuggets of wisdom that I transcribed from Tony's 80 minute talk at Underground Online Seminar, http://www.undergroundonlineseminar.com/zappos/thanks.php about the innovative practices that compose the fabric of their company culture renowned for integrity and service. 

This anecdote caught my attention because it was the first time I have heard of a study that unpacks luckiness, and the conclusion drives home just how much our ability to be present in the moment plays into the opportunities that we encounter in life

How lucky in life are you?


Saturday, July 7, 2012

Hausbar Farms

Gordito, a sweet bundle of a baby bunny who has a snug shady place to call home at Hausbar Farms.

The interconnectedness of living things is joyfully evident at Hausbar Farms, a 2-acre establishment in East Austin where farmer/owner Dorsey Barger lovingly tends to a bounty of plants and animals all the while looking to nature for cues on how to improve common agricultural practices. Dorsey is the first farmer who I have met in Austin implementing principles laid out in One Straw Revolution, a memoir by Masanobu Fukuoka, Japanese farmer and philosopher celebrated for developing natural farming techniques that "eliminate the need for pesticides, fertilizer, tillage, and perhaps most significantly, wasteful effort."

My colleague, Lani, a chef and farmer from the west coast, saw okra growing for the first time on this trip to Austin! 

Okra is native to Africa and thrives in our Central Texas summer heat. Hausbar's okra looked as healthy as can be and measured in at least a foot taller than me! 

David harvesting mint and fennel flowers at Hausbar to garnish a citrus cantaloupe soup to cool us down after spending an hour in the heat - superb.

Hausbar does the majority of their business with local restaurants.  You can find this rare North African green on the menu at Kome. It's definitely tough to grow greens in Central Texas' summer heat, but these do quite well because they contain an aloe-like gel that keeps them cool. Unlike some other other hearty greens like mustard and dandelion  greens which can be bitter,  these were pleasantly mild. We simply sauteed them with a bit of garlic to make a nourishing side dish. Next time we'll have to have them with some of Chef Rosa's gluten-free injera!
Thank you again, Dorsey, for bringing such a beautiful vision to life and sharing it with us!


Sunday, February 12, 2012

Beyond Measure

A behind-the-scenes peek from TedxAustin 2012. Virtuoso trumpeter, Jeff Lofton, known as the Miles Davis of our day, began the conference with a performance that filled all of Austin Music Hall with its breath-taking resonance.

Beyond Measure was not just the theme of TedxAustin 2012; It was the amount of anticipation that I felt leading up the coordination of Natural Epicurean volunteers to support the lunch service of yesterday's conference. Tedx's Jennie Chen masterfully enrolled six of Austin's most renowned restaurant chefs to each design a unique menu with access to the same 12 locally-sourced ingredients, and it manifested in this amazing lunch experience:

Swift's Attic
Mat Clouser, Zack Northcutt and Callie Speer
Roasted Chicken Bahn Mi, Broccoli Kimchee Spinach & Quick Pickle Salad

Todd Duplechan and Jessica Maher
The Chicken or the Egg - Chicken pot-au-feu with egg ravoili

Josh Watkins
Chicken Roulades, bacon, espellete, sherry emulsion
Texmati rice, dried apricots, almonds, celery, black pepper syrup
Carrots, caraway, molasses, pork jus gastrique

Jason Donoho
Smoked Vital Farms Chicken & Spinach Morcilla Blanca, Carrot Purée, Broccoli Slaw & Egg Yolk Bottarga

Philip Speer
Vital farms chicken, sweet short grain rice, candied pork belly, crispy garlic
Pickled carrots & broccoli, Spinach oshitaki

Wink/BC Tavern
Matt Taylor
Cachatorrie-Style Braised Chicken with Roasted Carrots and Spinach
Broccoli & Bleu Cheese Macaroni

When not working with the chefs and Natural Epicurean assistants to prep and serve lunch, I was on the balcony soaking in the wisdom emanating from the amazing speakers who graced the stage. Here are some of the messages that stuck with me.

I was struck by how profoundly Tanya Streeter, freedive world record holder and environmentalist, redefines limits in every aspect of her life. As she so eloquently put it, "to redefine limits is to first accept that there are limits. They're just not where you think they are."

Jeremy Courtney, the founder of the Preemptive Love Coalition, a non-profit that sets out to eradicate the backlog of Iraqi children waiting in line for lifesaving heart surgery, spoke about how by "suspending suspicion and extending trust" he has been able to bring together individuals who belong to communities that are declared enemies and support the rebuilding of the war-torn country. I was left in wonderment of how someone who is not an Iraqi and not a surgeon, could garner such compassion and such expertise to make this impactful work possible.

Craig Hella Johnson, the conductor of Austin's multi-Grammy-winning choir, Conspirare, struck me by how effortlessly flowed between song and humble yet prophetic prose about our very existence in one of the most dynamic Ted Talks that I've ever witnessed. He concluded with this excerpt of a poem from Rumi, "What Was Said to the Rose."

What Was Said to the Rose
What Was Said to the Rose
What was said to the rose that made it open
was said to me here in my chest.
What was told the Cypress that made it strong
and straight, what was
whispered the jasmine so it is what it is, whatever made
sugarcane sweet, whatever
was said to the inhabitants of the town of Chigil in
Turkestan that makes them
so handsome, whatever lets the pomegranate flower blush
like a human face, that is
being said to me now. I blush. Whatever put eloquence in
language, that's happening here.
The great warehouse doors open; I fill with gratitude,
chewing a piece of sugarcane,
in love with the one to whom every that belongs!
Poem by Jalaluddin Rumi,
translation ©2005 — Coleman Barks

If you have yet to explore the vast online database of fascinating talks on ted.com, follow this link to see one of my favorites: http://www.ted.com/talks/luis_von_ahn_massive_scale_online_collaboration.html


Sunday, December 4, 2011

An Afternoon with Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson

I just went to one of the first event's of Austin's Eat Drink Local Week, An Afternoon with Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson. It was billed as an unrehearsed, earnest conversation between two of the most influential architects of the sustainable food movement, and that it was, splashed with some equally unscripted humor between the two long-time friends and moderator, Marla Camp. The laughs began when Wendell Berry didn't know where his microphone was because he was sitting on it, and they continued with asides like Wes Jackson recalling the first time he gave Wendell one of his essays to critique. Wes said it was though "Wendell had slit his wrists and bled on it, it was so marked up". I'm convinced that its because they have incredible senses of humor that they're able to address the greatest issues of humanity with steadfast hope and unblinking clarity. Here are some of the quotes that resonated with me from this afternoon's conversation.

"If you are only taking on problems that can be solved within your lifetime, you're not thinking long-term enough." - Wes Jackson. This made me think of how important it is to foster relationships between generations so that we can successively address critical issues far into the future.

"The individuals who bring about positive change in our society are those who simply see something that needs to be done and do it. They don't wait for permission or a grant from the government. They are almost never wealthy or powerful, but they find a way to do what's right." - Wendell Berry. Amen!

"We need people who will advance ideas that increase our imagination about possibilities, knowing they'll be defeated in the short run, because the idea once it's out there will never be completed defeated, and if it's a good idea it will eventually take root... But let's just focus on this planet for now; don't worry about getting to Mars. I promise you, this planet is zipping through the universe at a pretty good clip, so if we just hang on we'll get wherever a rocket ship would have taken us." - Wes Jackson. A good example of how he segues from a profound proclamation into neighborly humor.

"The carbon in our bodies has cycled through a supernova twice at least... Developing this kind of profound awareness and appreciation of our origins starts with going outside and getting reacquainted with nature." - Wes Jackson. This gave me goosebumps.

These two great thinkers gave me plenty to think about. They also inspired me to add yet more books to my ever-growing reading list.
Has anyone read these? Or have you read other books about nature, love, discovery, etc. that you would recommend?

Ever curious and appreciative,


Friday, October 21, 2011

When in Drought

Currently, about 95 percent of Texas is in either a severe or exceptional drought status and the past year has been the worst one-year drought in the state's history. This recent drought has devastated farmers and ranchers, and officials have estimated agriculture losses at more than 45.2 billion. This summer, hundreds of wildfires erupted in Texas and burned more than 127,000 acres, the most ever, and lake levels are down as much as 50 feet in some lakes while several West Texas lakes have completely dried up.

In recent statements, Texas State Climatologist, John Nielsen-Gammon explains why he believes that this drought may last another five to fifteen years. For more, visit http://tamutimes.tamu.edu/2011/09/29/terrible-news-texas-drought-could-last-until-2020/

Or perhaps you prefer this explanation:
A cloud which was designed for rain
was home to drops (that should be plain) .
The forecast had announced some showers
thus, in the early morning hours
the signal came from higher up
that all the drops jump off the top.

Two oval shaped good looking drops
took off their speedos and their tops
and slowly went up to the edge
when one of them said 'I do pledge
to never misbehave again',
the other answered 'count to ten.'

They were afraid, that much is clear
and looking down increased their fear.
Little did each tiny rain drop know
How much they're needed for plants to grow
That without their courage and impending rain
Those below would suffer drought and pain.

Well you can guess what happened then
The number ten came and went.
Due to the drops' hesitation and doubt -
Here we are, in the middle of a drought.

Adapted from a poem by Herbert Nehrlich


Sunday, October 16, 2011

Ping & Pillows: Photos from our Ravioli Production Party

Karina and Jeff making the ping - Their Noni would be so proud!

Karina and Naoko spreading the ping on the pasta dough

Chef Jeff rolling the ravioli pin across the ping-stuffed dough to make pillows

Karina, Robert, Jeff and me taking a wine break ;)


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