Sunday, January 9, 2011

Getup, Raise a Greenhouse & (How to) Increase Joy!

As noted in Tree’s January 4th blog, several of us recent graduates from the Gardening and Composting Educator Training Program (GCETP aka “Getup”) are beginning our 40-hour community outreach project here at The Free Farm. We each will take turns to blog about our experiences at the Farm so you’ll get a fresh perspective each week!

Prior to my participation in GCETP, my experiences in gardening and composting took place outside of SF. As an apartment dweller in SF, I don’t have easy access to land on which to grow food. However, I can do vermicomposting in my kitchen and gardening in SF community farms.

With my interest in local food security and whole plant-based nutrition, I’m here to support The Farm’s mission to grow organic produce to give away free to the community in an effort to combat hunger, aid health and nutrition, and increase resource sharing and care for one another. It was great to re-connect with Finn (also a GCETP graduate, whom I met last June when I initially came to The Farm for a composting toilet workshop) and Tree (whom I met in the Victory Garden outside SF City Hall during the 2008 Slow Food Nation Conference).

Yesterday’s activities at the Farm included reuniting with Getup classmates (Sophie, Stanley and Zoe), harvesting and giving away over 20 pounds of produce, carrying 80-pound bag of cement mix, laying the foundation for the two 20’ x 30’ greenhouses, and enjoying a delicious vegan lunch with an awesome group of volunteers. Tree’s Nothing but Blessings cartoon inspired me to count my own blessings:

1. Resourceful construction methods

During the greenhouse construction, Griff and Page had a spirited discussion on whether cement should be mixed on the bare ground or in a wheelbarrow; we opted for the former as Griff reminded us that most people in the developing world can’t afford wheelbarrows, and it worked out great! Earlier, I worked with John using an electric-powered driller to make holes in the wood frames and buckets—so grateful that we could afford this time-saving technology.

2. Bolted lettuce

When Finn suggested that I pull out the bolted lettuce, I asked her if she could show me where to find it as I was not familiar with that variety. I could identify oak leaf, swiss chard, arugula, etc.—but what does bolted lettuce look like? Finn pointed to patches of long-stemmed lettuce with small leaves and many flowers, explaining that a lettuce has bolted when it produces seed prematurely and abandons leaf growth. Bolting happens when the weather gets too sunny for lettuce, which prefers to grow in the shade and moist soil. Finn said bolted lettuce tastes bitter so it was best to also pull out its roots and toss the entire plant to the compost pile.

3. Bitter

My project at The Farm includes nutrition education so I’d like to discuss how bitter foods support overall health. Before agriculture, our ancestors gathered native, wild greens that tasted bitter. The bitter taste is associated with a plant’s naturally occurring toxins, which are a defense mechanism to repel predators. Bitters, which are perceived as poison, stimulate organs for protection, with a beneficial effect on digestion. Edible bitters stimulate all digestive secretions and peristalsis to aid bowel transit time and nutrient assimilation.

Many of today’s health problems, caused by poor digestion, may be due to a lack of bitter flavor in the modern American diet (the bitter flavor in many natural foods is diluted in cultivation or removed in food processing). Our gut is known as our second brain because mood-related hormones and transmitters (serotonin, dopamine, endorphins, etc.) are produced not primarily in the brain, but in the gut! Therefore, bitters that act to improve our digestive health can also improve our emotions or state of mind.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, bitter increases joy, the emotion associated with summer, the fire element, and heart and small intestine functions. Bitter functions to dry dampness, drain heat, move blood and send qi (energy) down. Bitter helps one to let go of anger, or stagnant liver energy, the emotion associated with spring, so one can transition to the next phase.

Briahn Kelly-Brennan, L.Ac., who teaches Everyday Healing Foods and Herbs at CCSF, notes that most Americans today have to work at getting bitters in their diet, except in drug forms—chocolate and coffee, strong herbs which can be draining. Briahn suggests an easy and better way to get bitter taste into our diet is to eat leafy greens.

Finn was right about the bolted lettuce tasting very bitter. But instead of tossing it into the compost pile, I ate the bitter greens as raw salad to increase my joy. So let’s grow plants, eat plants (bolted or not)! I’m looking forward to the Farm’s One Year Celebration and Greenhouse Barn Raising next weekend and I hope you can join us!

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