Sprouting Growers Workshop #1

This past Monday the first in a six part series of Sprouting Growers workshops was held at the Ag. Campus here at UT Knoxville. This was the Business Planning workshop and was led by UT Extension area farm specialist Alice Rhea. There was a good turnout of about 25 people from a variety of backgrounds, from students to new farm owners to older farmers who were trying to figure out how to pass their farm onto the next generation. Alice had an impressive wealth of information and the 3 hour workshop was very in depth. Luckily we were given pamphlets, business cards, a book and a great business planning binder that discussed everything from making a business plan to farm budgeting procedures. I have to say, I was overwhelmed by all of the information but only in a good way. It is always more fun to think of looking at acres of tomatoes or of the future satisfaction of working your own land but the not so much fun things like financing and investment have to be given their time, too, if success is what you are  looking for. Alice also told us about amazing services that UT Extension either offers now or will be offering in the future. For instance, if you are thinking of starting a farm, you can contact your county’s Extension area farm specialist and they will sit down with you and crunch every number you have ever dreamed of to figure out how much you need to borrow, what you will profit from growing and how much of it you need to grow to turn a profit. Also, Extension is currently assessing the potential for a program which pairs older farmers who want to keep their land in agriculture with younger people who want to farm but cannot afford to buy a large chunk of land. This way the younger crowd gets to farm and profit from their efforts and the older crowd has the comfort of knowing that their land stays in production and they don’t have to sell their farm to retire. As a future Extension agent,  I am constantly amazed by the wide scope of Extension, especially when it comes to thinking of the future of Tennessee lands.

If you are interested in starting your own farming operation soon or far  into the future I strongly recommend attending the next Sprouting Growers workshops. The next part in the series is about Production Planning. These workshops are FREE! But registration is required. So sign up and come get some great information. Here’s the link for future workshops, http://vegetables.tennessee.edu/sprouting_growers_workshops.html.

Hope to see you there!


What we are using

In the world of organic fertilizers I know about nothing. In my very short growing career as a child I had a few plants I tended to in the summer after 3rd grade. Fertilizing consisted of my dad mixing up some miracle grow, I remember the bright blue tent it added to the water, and me drowning the plants in it. Now that I am farming organicly the miracle grow is out and organic fertilizers are in. The past couple of times out to the farm I have been applying some Neptune’s Harvest Organic Fertilizer. It is processed fish, but not emulsions. The directions are on the back of the jug we have, and pretty self explanatory. We mix 2ml of liquid fertilizer for every gallon of water, usually mixed in a five gallon watering can, and just apply it as you would a routine watering. The website for some reason states there is no unpleasant smell, but if you have ever worked around fish you know that is not true. However the smell is tolerable and the results so far are good ones for our seedlings. You can check out Neptune’s Harvest products at NeptunesHarvest.com.

Eatin’ and Compostin’

Well, with that refreshing period of beautiful weather, I think we’re all ready to grow some food! Unfortunately, it is cold again, but hey… Spring Break is around the corner, which means so is SPRING!

I thought I’d give a quick update on a couple of environmental initiatives underway on campus having to do with food and food waste for anyone who’s interested. Ever since some folks from the environmental club (SPEAK) and I attended SYFAS (Southeast Youth Food Activist Summit), there have been a good number of people interested in starting a campaign for fair, local, and organic food in dining halls and around campus. So, we decided to start getting a feel for support on campus. Our first event (you should come!) is a showing of the movie Food, Inc. in Hodges Library rm. 213 on Tuesday, March 2nd at 7pm. There will be free food from Three Rivers Co-op and some more info on the campaign at UT.

Some of the tentative goals of this food campaign are:  dedicating at least 1% of the food budget at UT to fair, local and organic foods; getting the student voice involved (petitions, comment cards in dining halls, meeting with representatives of dining services); and having fun events like the one above to educate people about the importance of food and where it comes from. We’re planning on having an eat-in sometime in the Spring right outside of a dining hall with a potluck-style buffet for students to enjoy. You may ask, “You crazy! How the heck are you gonna do that with Aramark on your back?” Well, the University of Florida has actually been pretty successful with Aramark on food initiatives. Just take a look!

We’re planning to meet with one of the Aramark folks here at UT very soon, not only about sustainable food, but about composting!

Hopefully, we’ll have composting on campus pretty soon, although it will be starting small (perhaps at Ready for the World Cafe in the UC or Ray’s Place over on the hill). The discussion of composting has been on the table with Aramark for a good 4 years now and they already have the necessary informaton about each dining hall, so the meeting with this representative will be a great step forward. The main obstacle for composting on campus will be where to put the compost. We’re looking into both the ag campus and an off-campus site not to far away. Another obstacle will be having people dedicated to picking up the compost and churning it every so often. We were thinking maybe an internship position (paid or unpaid) for a few students to get experience and some sweet street cred (and class credit). It looks like the composting deal will definitely happen. It’s just a matter of when and how.

Some cool stuff happening on campus! Hope you enjoyed the update!… Or at least got some good zzz’s by the end.



(p.s. SPEAK meets in the UC rm 227 at 8pm on Mondays)

A Full Meal

Since I was able to get some Kale this past week, I decided to utilize I recipe I use fairly frequently with Kale. Its a pretty good way to get almost a full meal and also easy and fast yet still really good for you. With Kale having such a a large amount of Vitamin A and C, I then combine it with my protein and iron, Quinoa, and Black Beans with fiber. You also get a pretty good kick from the Sriracha Sauce, a Thai hot sauce from Chili Peppers. This is adapted from my good friend, Katie Warner’s recipe.

Kale, Black Beans, Quinoa Sriracha Bowl

Kale as much as you want, leaves removed from stems

1 Cup Quinoa to 1 1/2 cup water

1 can Black Beans

Sriracha Sauce (found in many grocery stores in Asian food section)

1. Wash Kale, put in large pot with Olive Oil, and turn to medium heat to cook down. Cover lid, but check frequently to not burn.

2. At the same time, combine 1 cup Quinoa with 1 1/2 cup water in sauce pan. Bring to a boil, turn down heat, cover and let cook.

3. As the Kale begins to cook, I usually will move Kale around and place Sriracha Sauce on it sparingly.

4. When the Kale is cooked to your liking, usually about 10-15 minutes, combine drained Black beans with Kale. Mix together and add more Sriracha Sauce.

5. When quinoa is cooked, combine

with Kale and Black Beans, add more Sriracha Sauce, and turn heat down to simmer. At this point, its more your liking and preference as when to turn off.

It also comes out looking very pretty with the almost purplish black of the beans and the dark green of the Kale.

Other modifications: Use curry paste instead of Sriracha sauce; add spinach; use rice instead; cook Kale with green onions

Planning The Season

We’ve all been working hard over the past few weeks developing this years growing season. I’m pretty excited as we’ve got a lot of variety. Since this is the first year we’ve been growing produce to sell on the farm, this season is a great time to experiment with heirloom varieties and other delicious/interesting produce. We’ll be closely monitoring the progress of the crops this season and use the information for future crop plans. Season planning is somewhat of a new experience for most of us and it’s been a great learning process. Seeds will start going into the ground in the next few months and we’ll keep you updated till then.


This week many of us harvested pounds and pounds of kale from our winter gardens and were able to take some home for ourselves. Wow, ” How great!”, you’re thinking, “Free veggies!” Umm, but it’s kale. While I do love love love many vegetables and enjoy coming up with wacky recipes for them, I do not have love for many leafy greens. Lettuce, micro greens, spinach, bring it on! But I do not see eye to eye with Swiss chard, kale or collard greens. I admire people who,  like fellow intern, Mechelle, nibble on kale with delight in their eyes but I just did not see it in my future. I mean, this is a vegetable that speaks back at you when you’re eating it (referring to the squeaking against the teeth it sometimes produces). And it’s not as if I hadn’t tried to like it before. Many a time I have had kale sprinkled on my soup, turning a lovely bowl of miso into a swampy bowl of ick. But, after three hours of berating our plentiful crop, I decided that I must try one more time.

I left the farm with a little bag of mixed varieties, such as Lacinato (Dinosaur), Red Russian and others with the commitment of a weary pilgrim. Ok, maybe not that much commitment. But I had some.  I searched for recipes and eventually stumbled on Sister Slaw through the All Recipes website. I generally trust recipes from this site due to its many reviews, often with suggestions for improvement. Sister Slaw, though, had no added suggestions. It was adored by all and had many testimonies to children loving the stuff. I gathered the ingredients and went to work. This recipe has lots of red cabbage and vinegar, which I adore together so I thought there was no way that this could go anywhere but up. While shredding the kale I mused about all of the wonderful ways I could say how amazed I was by the slaw and how I was wrong all these  years about defenseless, healthy kale. 20 minutes after I had begun, my bowl of Sister Slaw was a sight to behold. It was colorful, it was textured, it even smelled green! Sitting down to a plate, I was ready to love it. I really was….but it’s kale. I just couldn’t love it. I tried so hard but my tongue just kept saying, “What are you doing to me? Did I deserve this?” I even closed my eyes so I couldn’t see the kale and maybe it would all blend. No luck. Kale just isn’t my thing. But, I am going to eat this big bowl of slaw, little by little until it’s gone because the only thing I detest more than kale is waste. And maybe, by the bottom of the bowl I can at least call a truce with my leafy nemesis. I must say that the recipe itself is wonderful and I do think than many people without my neurosis will love it so here it is. Enjoy!

Sister Slaw


  • 1 bunch Lacinato kale (dinosaur kale), shredded
  • 1/2 head green cabbage, shredded
  • 1/2 head red cabbage, shredded
  • 2 carrots, shredded
  • 1 small red onion, minced
  • 2/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon maple syrup
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 pinch ground black pepper

  1. Stir together the kale, green cabbage, red cabbage, carrots, and onion in a very large bowl; set aside.
  2. Whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, lime juice, maple syrup, salt, and pepper. Pour the dressing over the vegetables, and stir thoroughly, making sure to coat the vegetables very well. Chill in the refrigerator for two hours before serving.

Recipe compliments of Sweet Dog Farm via Allrecipes.com

Warm Winter Salad

Yes! It’s true! A green salad can be warm and in the wintertime, it’s ideal. This recipe is for a roasted Butternut squash salad with maple syrup vinaigrette. It is a fresh, crisp, warm alternative to a typical chopped salad. If your feeling adventurous, you can try the candied pecan recipe to make the salad pop, although if you don’t enjoy sweetness in your salad, you may leave the nuts plain.

  1. First you need to medium dice a Butternut squash. If you are not familiar with this ingredient, it can be a bit tuff so use a sharp knife!The best way to do this is to cut the stem off, them separate the skinny top from the base. Then you need to peel it, use your knife and be careful or use a strong peeler. After you remove the skin, and scoop out the seeds, cut into 1 inch cubes.
  2. Second, small dice ¼ of a red onion. If you don’t know how to do this, now is a good time to learn. Watch the video in the link to find out how. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2OZaKozSgn0
  3. Next, toss the onion and squash together with a little oil, salt and pepper. Then spread onto a sheet tray lined with parchment paper.
  4. Put in the oven at 375 degrees for about 10 to 15 minutes, or until softened.
  5. While that is baking you can make the Vinaigrette. Simply heat on the stove on medium low heat for about 15 minutes:
  • 3 Tbs Maple Syrup (high quality)
  • 2 Tbs Sherry Vinegar
  • 3 Tbs Vegetable Oil
  • 1 whole vanilla bean, or a dash of vanilla extract
  1. Next, wash and dry about 7 leaves per salad of Red Oak leaf or Red Leaf Lettuce
  2. Arrange the leaves in an array around a plate, after squash has come out and cooled to luke warm, scoop 1/2 of a cup of the mix and plate next to the lettuce.
  3. Top with a drizzle of the maple vinaigrette, after it too has cooled slighted.
  4. Top the salad with 2-3 whole pecans (candied if desired) and a sprig of thyme leaves removed from the stem.

Voila! Enjoy your Warm Winter Squash Salad!

This recipe makes enough for 4 salads.

For the Candied Pecans:

  1. In a large skillet over medium heat ¼ cup of sugar and 1 Tbs water until the sugar melts and syrup bubbles, about 3 minutes.
  2. Mix in one cup of pecans and stir until nuts are toasted and syrup coats them evenly, 5-6 minutes.
  3. Turn nuts out onto parchment paper lined sheet pan  (you can dust the nuts with ground clove and cinnamon if you like)
  4. Separate nuts using 2 forks. Cool completely.

The Magic Food Bus!

I thought this video from BBC News was pretty interesting. A man in Virginia is gathering his produce into an old school bus and traveling into the “food deserts” to promote and sell fresh, healthy food. Food deserts are areas that have no healthy food options, but are largely served by fast food chains. People in these areas are typically of low income and cannot afford to drive out to the nearest legitimate grocery store for their food. Nor can they afford to buy foods from local stores who bump up the prices simply because they know consumers have no other options.

So, Mark Lilly and his wife have taken the streets with their old school bus as a mobile farmer’s market. They’re going to areas in and around Richmond, Virginia to sell their veggies and fruits to communities that desperately need it! Lilly also mentions that yes, fresh food is more expensive. But, he says that sacrifices should be made in order to be able to buy healthy foods, like not buying candies, cigarettes, lottery tickets, and so forth.

The reporter segways into America as a whole and says, “But can that kind of eating ever become the American way of life?” The local Slow Food USA movement in DC is shown eating and talking about how there is a tremendous opportunity for the organic and sustainable food movement, as we can all see in our First Lady’s ambitions. The president of Slow Food USA says food is at the base of every issue in America, from climate change, to health care, to the economic crisis, to the crisis in public education.

Cool video, thought I’d share!

Happy sunshine weather,


Local food use making national headlines

I came across an article today about the Child Nutrition Act. It seems in local news lately I’ve also been hearing about a new childhood obesity initiative and the cleansing of snack machines from the hallways of Knox County Schools. A speech outlining the new act was supposed to be given earlier this week, but was canceled due to bad weather(side note: the past couple of days are some of the coldest I’ve ever experienced in Knoxville). In some excerpts that were released the next day the secretary mentioned the Farm to School program. This is a program that promotes public school cafeterias to use local produce and products from their areas. Not only is this great for local family farmers, but it also supports the new childhood obesity initiative. With candy and snack machines heading for the hills  fresh vegetables would be a great filler for the void they are going to leave. The Farm to School program has been around since 2004, but has yet to find funding for its programs. To read this article and learn more about other sustainable agricultural happenings go to http://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/farm-to-school-included-in-administrations-child-nutrition-priorities/. Stay warm.

Curious about Compost?

Last Monday was the first workshop this year of our Organic Crop Production Series.  Not only did we add new locations across Tennessee but we were joined by Neal Denton who shared his wisdom on Compost. Now you might think, as I did, that you know everything there is to compost.  That you can’t be shocked by anything and that maybe your compost is nothing but the best. Well, it’s a good thing you didn’t come then.

Neal expanded on his knowledge on the “art” of creating compost. He told us things we can’t put in, we should put in, the proper ratio of wet/dry, etc. One tip that I thought was pretty key was placing a layer of already composted material between new layers in order to get it going. I had not really considered this as being needed or if it would help assist the compost on.

My experience with compost has been making it in the beds themselves. I use a method called Lasagna Gardening in my plots and have been fairly successful this way of layering and building up the soil without having to invest in a bin system itself. It does of course take time to break down what I add to it and I think my ratio of wet/dry can be off but for me it worked well this past summer. As you can see in the picture (and please ignore the grass! and that’s not my trailer!), I continually build up the beds, layer after layer, allowing it to “cook” and break down. It is possible to still keep building it when plants are in the ground, and I think I might consider doing that this summer with my plots.

Our farm has the three bin system. It does pretty well for us. Because of the large scope of our projects, we felt the need to invest in a system. Because we want to be a paragon for sustainability, it allows produce that cannot be used to be turned into something useable. With this system, we can have different maturity levels of our compost and be able to modify and add for each accordingly. We’ve been pleased with the results so far, but all of us are still working toward being Compost Experts.

If you are interested in finding out more about compost, we have the workshop series as a compost webinar

including more links to cool compost sites. The Series continues next month with Cool Season Crops and information can be provided at the link above.

Also, if interested in finding out more about Lasagna Gardening, I highly recommend this book. It helped me out a ton on where to begin.