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They say is takes 28 days to form a new habit.  It’s true – I can’t imagine eating any other way after this month of purchasing and preparing all local ingredients for my meals. Not only is it a joy to know exactly where and by whom my food was produced, knowing my dollars stay in my community and support people who are loving the land, but I feel physically healthier and have even dropped a few pounds as an added bonus!  Can’t forget how fun it is to be creative in the kitchen – April consisted of some of the best meals I have ever eaten. Along with the food challenge, was the time challenge – April is my busiest month of the year, but I was still able to pull this off on the go.

Some highlights:

Breakfast every morning consisted of a smoothie with rotating ingredients of Strawberries, foraged Loquats, Green Grocer Raw Milk, Anson Mills Oats, Honey, Pecans, Frozen Blueberries and Blackberries from last year’s harvest, homegrown Spinach and Romaine and Sol Haven Farms Kale. Greens in a smoothie, you say? Yes, you can hardly taste them! A great way to get more veggies in your diet. Can’t forget the Charleston Coffee Roasters Coffee with Raw Milk and Honey.

Lunch on the go: again, a rotating combo of Normandy Farms Bread, Meathouse Smoked Ham, Glass Onion Pimento Cheese, Kurious Farms hydroponic Tomatoes, homegrown Spinach and Lettuce, Meathouse Bacon (BLTs!), and seasoned, thinly sliced, roasted Rutabegas as a bacon substitute (RLTs!)

The RLT

The RLT

Snacks: homegrown Sugar Snap Peas, Carrots, Raw Milk, Nicole’s Nutty Goodness, Kale Chips, Boiled Peanuts, Hard-boiled Eggs and whatever roasted veggies were leftover from the previous night’s meal.

Dinners in House: Thankfully I have a wonderful boyfriend who helped me out preparing beautiful meals of wild SC game from Venison to Doves and SC seafood from Oysters to Shrimp along side Anson Mills Grains, Rio Bertolini’s Pasta, and an abundance of fresh vegetables – Asparagus, Greens, Onions, Peas – from Rosebank Farms where he works the fields daily, and the Dirtworks Incubator Farm – Sol Haven Farms, Fiddle Farms, Spade & Clover Farms, and Compost in My Shoe – Fava Beans, Carrots, Spinach, Swiss Chard and Kale.

One of my favorites was a Sunday meal prepared for friends and family:
homegrown Sugar Snap Peas (appetizer)
Cajun Boiled Peanuts from the Farmers Market (app)
Pan-seared SC Venison tenderloin
Spade & Clover Braised Fava Beans
Roasted Beets, Carrots and Spring Onions
Homegrown Romaine Salad brought by my Garden Clients and dear friends Helen and Steve
Homemade Artichoke Relish
Strawberry and Loquat Crisp
WOW!!

My second favorite was the Oyster Chowder:
Johns Island Oysters
SC Shrimp from the freezer
Green Grocer Raw Milk
Happy Cow Creamery Butter
Rosebank Farms English Peas and Spring Onions
Sol Haven Farms Green Garlic
Meathouse Bacon
Kurious Farms Tomato
homegrown Oregano

We also dined out on the town: Stars, Ordinary Oyster Bar, EVO Pizzaria, Chez Fish and the Glass Onion.

With food this good, why go back to the box stores? Each week, I brought my cash to the Farmers Market in Marion Square and stocked up. Once I figured out what to eat and where to get it, the stress of my next meal went away. Suddenly the fridge was stocked and it was time to get cooking!

Farmers Market Haul with Ground Cherries from a friend's garden, foraged Loquats, Coutry Pate and Pork Rinds

Farmers Market Haul with Ground Cherries from a friend’s garden, foraged Loquats, Coutry Pate and Pork Rinds

I love this challenge and I encourage people to try it, no matter what month it is!

April 1 started out a little dreary. I was behind in my food sourcing and found myself eating grits, eggs and greens for the first part of the day – not that I mind those, it’s actually a favorite, but I didn’t know where my next meal was coming from just yet… I was feeling food insecure!

Luckily, Lowcountry Local First was having the Dirtworks Incubator Farm launch that afternoon and the reception was catered using local ingredients by Cassique and the Beach Club on Kiawah Island. Amen, I was saved…at least for the evening.

I dedicated April 2 to driving all around town to gather my sustenance for the next little while. My day consisted of:

A trip to Ambrose Farms on Wadmalaw Island yeilding – U-pick strawberries, beets, asparagus, Spring onions, carrots and the first (literally) Spring broccoli, offered straight from the farmers hand. Thanks Pete!
IMG_0831

My journey carried me back to Johns Island for a stop at Blackbird Market where I picked up:

– 10lbs carrots grown on their farm plot on Wadmalaw
– Rio Bertolini’s Split Creek Farm Goat Cheese Ravioli (convenience food!)
French Boule baked at Normandy Farms Bakery
– 2 jars of pickled SC peaches – we are in a fruit shortage at this time of year, so I was really excited to find these!
Nicole’s Nutty Goodness snack bars (more convenience food – hooray! – I need all the help I can get)

Crossing Main Rd., I found myself at the Piggly Wiggly scoping out their local dry goods selection. I came up with:
Charleston Coffee Roasters whole bean organic dark roast coffee, and
Charleston Bloody Mary Mix mix to be used with the Firefly Vodka I pick up at the ABC next door.

Onward up Maybank Highway to Earthfare Health Foods Market who has a lovely display of local produce right as you walk in the door.  They receive most of their local fare from the all-local food distributor Grow Food Carolina.  My findings there:
Sweet Potatoes from Care Farm in Orangeburg- they look a little rough, but they taste divine – sweet and silky texture, bright orange flesh. Needed nothing but a little sea salt.
Tomatoes – Hydroponic from Kurios Farms – they are pretty darn good for being grow indoors in March.  I’m really thankful for a local tomato right now…
Zesty Salad Mix from City Roots in Columbia – beautiful microgreen mix with pea tendrils, beets, brassicas, and sunny shoots.
BeerWestbrook Brewing CompanyWhite Thai 6-pack o’ cans.

Earthfare's Bounty

Earthfare’s Bounty

Kurios Farms Tomatoes

Kurios Farms Tomatoes

The Glass Onion off 17 keeps a stock of the Green Grocer’s AMAZING raw milk. Celeste Albers is one of our finest producers in town – a hero of mine. I also grabbed some homemade pickles and pimento cheese.

Heading through downtown, I made a quick u-turn into Crosby’s Seafood to pick a local catch –
Flounder filets

And the farthest journey of all – to Our Local Foods off of Clements Ferry – but worth the trip to acquire Happy Cow Creamery’s Butter and Cheese. Can’t forget the sweet tooth – Split Creek Dairy’s creamy, delicious Fudge.

I head home to find a freshly delivered package waiting on my doorstep – from Anson Mills in Columbia – a most precious and holy box of the finest in South Carolina Heirloom, organically-grown grains…various Flours for bread, tortillas and dough, Farro, Carolina Gold Rice, Popping Corn, stone-cut Oats and Grits.  Spectacular.

The amazing array of Anson Mills products.

The amazing array of Anson Mills products.

The pantry and fridge are stocked with the most beautiful foods in our land.  I have found the food security I was looking for with a little hunting and gathering.  I’m thinking this challenge will be more than possible – healthy, delicious and conscious.

Now to begin cooking…

The month of April has arrived – part of the busiest season in our area for agriculturalists and gardeners alike – preparing the soil for planting, clearing the greenhouse of transplants and moving them to their permanent homes, gearing up for the farmers market, and feeling the buzz of go-go-go…the growing season is on!

So why not add another challenge to an already challenging time?  Eating Local Food for a whole month.

Lowcountry Local First, a non-profit in the Charleston area committed to supporting local businesses and sustainable agriculture celebrates April as Eat Local Month. They provide us with the challenge us to take our love for local foods and producers to the next level.

check it out: The Eat Local Challenge

As I have been involved in local foods and agriculture for 9 years now (almost a third of my life – wow!), the next level for me is Local All-the-Way. I know what’s in season, who grows it, where to find it and how to prepare it.

My original intent was in the raw foods with local ingredients only, but let’s be reasonable here. I’m busy, your busy and we all need to eat.  Supporting local businesses is just as important, and its impossible for them to source all of their raw ingredients from the state.  Meaning, we have lots of opportunity here.

So, the parameters for my challenge:

1. Foods produced in South Carolina, with a priority on seasonal produce, dairy, seafood, meats and grains, including wild game. This also includes goods from local bakeries and home-made items from local producer-supporting restaurants.

2. Foods that I have canned, frozen or dried from the farm over the years.

3. Meals at restaurants that really and truly support our local producers.

4. Kitchen staples such as oils, vinegars and spices are allowed from outside of SC – we just don’t have them here.

5. Dinner invitations or gifts of homemade foods are fair game. After all, local is community, and sharing food is community in its purest form.

Follow me on my journey through our Foodshed for the month of April as I explore and honor our Tenders of the Earth and others who celebrate Her bounties in the form of food.  And please please let me know of any hidden local gems I have missed!

Now, off to the Strawberry Farm!

Greetings!
Our organic farming endeavors have taken a turn into your backyard! Rita’s Roots went from South Carolina, to Virginia and back to Charleston where we are settled for a good long while. Instead of plowing up a large tract of the Earth, we are running our business to help YOU – the homeowner and lover fresh produce – learn how to grow a garden in your own back yard. Our goal is to get as much food production into your yard as possible, so you have the opportunity to feed your families, neighbors and friends.
With 15 new gardens established in 2012, we are gearing up for an even busier 2013. We are responsible for any and all aspects of your garden and edible landscape, large or small:
– site selection
– landscape design
– garden bed construction
– soil amending
– plant variety selection
– irrigation installation
– month by month garden lessons
– garden maintenance
– fruit tree installation and care
– hydroponics
We even make full farm plans with crop rotation and fertility management strategies!
January through March is the prime time for getting your garden set up for Spring – Please let us know how we can help so you can enjoy a bountiful garden this year!

"Bountiful

Fall 2012 Soil Revitalization - an abundant harvest for a family of 5.

Fall 2012 Soil Revitalization – an abundant harvest for a family of 5.

A daily Summer Harvest from a Johns Island Garden 2012

A daily Summer Harvest from a Johns Island Garden 2012

2011 CSA Registration

Hey there Folks!  We just wanted to thank everyone for an encouraging first season.  We struggled a bit with the record heat and drought, but had some great harvests for our Community Supported Agriculture and Farmers Market Customers.  We were able to observe what worked, what did not, what folks were interested in, and ways to make the farm better for the next year.  We are very excited to be adding Sweet Potatoes and Strawberries to the roster!

Click the link below to view our CSA information for the 2011 season.  Sign up before the holidays and receive a special rate🙂

2011 CSA Brochure

These photos are long overdue- if anyone is still glancing at the blog from time to time, here are some of our farm this overly hot and dry year in Virginia.

Photo 1:  The tomato patch-  The lack of rain gave us complete control over the watering situation of our heirloom tomatoes and the first round was spectacular.  The best I have seen and tasted in many years.  We have about 1000 plants here- half cherry and half heirloom.

Our Tomato Harvest

Photo 2:  Our gorgeous tomato harvest!

Photo 3:  Our greens and roots during April and May.  The intense heat and drought caused these to shrivel prematurely.  Lesson learned- lay drip line down on everything planted, even if it is raining all of the time when you plant.  These beds were quite generous!

Photo 4:  Our first CSA box- Bordeaux Spinach, Snow Peas, Haikuri Turnips, Swiss Chard, Toscano Kale, Baby Bok Choy, Kohlrabi, Tat Soi, Dill, Spring Onions, Lettuce and baby Daikon Radishes.

Photo 5:  The squash, melon and cucumber patch.  The plants are up to my waist now.  The squash vine borer has attacked the summer squash- we are dealing with round two of the infestation.  Our treatment is to make a slit at the base of each vine where the worm has drilled its way in and spray Bt into the stem.  The worm is killed and the squash plant heals itself- a certain check in production, but otherwise an end to the plants life.  For our next planting we will cover the plants with row covers until the plants begin to flower to prevent the borer wasp from laying any eggs.  The stink bugs should be kept off this way too.

Photo 6:  Our chickens!  They range around on our post-harvested field during the day and are secured in their chicken tractor on the right during the night.  The predators on our farm are quite active.  We found a hawk on the turkey pen today!  We scared him away from the turkeys, only for him to find the pastured chickens.  Luckily we have a rooster who sends his gals a warning to run for cover in the tractor.  The white netting more or less keeps the chickens contained, with a few strays here and there, but does a great job keeping curious dogs out.

Photo 7:  The outdoor shower- cool down and clean up time.  Haven’t used the indoor in months!

Photo 8:  Canned Heirloom Tomatoes- you won’t find these in the grocery store!  Another part of the joy in growing your own!

Our Flock

The Deceased

Roots and Feathers Farm has officially hatched its first batch of Spring Chickens!  The story began a month ago on a blustery, flurry-filled late-Wintery day when our flock was decimated in one afternoon by a frenzied fox.  We lost 12 of our 16 birds, including our rooster, in a horrendous display of predation.  The birds were not eaten by the sneaky fox, who crept in the yard through a small hole in the fence, but tossed about, broken apart and left for dead, only one being carried off to the den.  And to kick us while we were down, the next morning our “sweet” dog intercepted a chicken from the woods returning to its home and made the poor bird a nice meal for himself.  Arghhhh…..  The three hens who remained did not leave their perch inside the barn for days.

Instead of settling on defeat, we had the idea to gather the last few days’ worth of eggs, buy a $50 incubator and see what the possibilities could be.  We had no idea if the eggs were fertile, and no way of checking as the shells on the eggs were too think to candle, but we knew we had a busy rooster.  After 18 days of incubation, turning the eggs three times a day, trying to keep the temperature at a steady 99.5 degrees, plus an additional 3 days to let the chicks position themselves for hatching- a crack!  March 31 the first chicken came out of its egg to be followed by 18 more!  Out of 24 eggs, 22 were fertile, but three never made it out of their shell, but 19 did!!!  So we are now the proud hatchers of our succession flock- over one bird for each bird we lost.  We even have a fuzzy footed friend, just like our Madame Cornichon.  We could not be happier and neither could the birds.

The Newborns!

We are amazed at this circle of life, at the same time, learning not to become too attached.  These birds will have a new home on lockdown- a super secure mobile coop to be moved about daily for rotational grazing in our vegetables fields.   They shall have fresh grass, bugs, protection and sunshine.  We shall have fresh eggs, manure fertilization and insect control.   Symbiosis at its finest!

A Close-Up