A Summer of Food: Thinking About CSAs, SNAP, and Cooking

It started out so innocently.

Steven and I decided to split a CSA farm share from Zenger Farm back in March. We’re both vegetarians and had been interested in trying a CSA but previously didn’t have anyone to split it with, so it seemed like a good opportunity for both of us. There are plenty of CSAs in the Portland area, but Zenger Farm is just a couple of miles from my house and I was well aware of their great work.

Little did I know how much I would be thinking about, obtaining, processing, and consuming food over the next several months!

Zenger Farm’s Farm Share Program

Zenger Farm is located in a part of Portland with many economically disadvantaged neighbors. Often deemed “felony flats,” the neighborhood and its citizens struggle economically. There are many recent immigrant communities and more recently, the people who have been gentrified out of north and northeast Portland have been filtering in.

Zenger staff have found opportunities to help their neighbors—first, they helped start the Lents International Farmers Market in 2007. When the organization obtained more land in Furey Field, they started a CSA program—and that program was one of the first in the state to accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, commonly called food stamps), to pay for shares.

What does this mean? It means that Zenger Farm is helping their neighbors by opening doors to quality food. SNAP benefits generally average about $4 per person per day, which prices many recipients out of being able to afford actual nutritious food, in sufficient quantities. Instead, to stretch those dollars SNAP recipients will buy the cheapest foods, which are frequently high in sugar and fat, and low in nutritive value.

Speaking of money, here’s the economic breakdown of the farm shares. Each regular share costs $650 for the season, and feeds between two and four people. (Steven I split it in half but it is still a LOT of food.) My portion was $325, divided by 23 weeks is $14.13 per week. There are roughly 13 items in each week’s share, meaning each item you receive is averaging out to $1.08. Okay, so that’s a little pricey for, say, a bulb of garlic, but not for many of the other items—say, the Bob’s Red Mill product we get each week(!), the big stalk of Brussels sprouts, or the beautiful squashes currently sitting in my fridge.

SNAP shares cost slightly less and some scholarships are available. The Lents farmers market also matches the first $10 spent at the market each week by SNAP recipients, stretching their dollars even further!

Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4/day

GoodandCheapCookbookNPR published an article in August that piqued my interest: “Cheap Eats: Cookbook Shows How to Eat Well on a Food Stamp Budget.” This article, and the cookbook being covered, made me think more about the SNAP aspect of the farm share program.

Leanne Brown created Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4/Day for her master’s thesis at NYU. Essentially the guide, which is being distributed for free via PDF, is a tool SNAP recipients can use to create healthier meals and still keep within their budget. She also builds flexibility into the recipes so if one thing isn’t in season or on sale, you can experiment with something that is. She indicates price per serving on each recipe, based on average ingredient prices she recorded in neighborhood markets in less prosperous neighborhoods of New York City.

I’ve tried a few of the recipes and plan to try more. What interested me in trying this collection myself was that they use a lot of basic ingredients, they are vegetarian or can be easily adapted to be, and the photography made all of it look fabulous. I was also curious about the reality of the SNAP figure of $4 per person per day. All the recipes have been great, and so far I’ve only found one to be disappointing in terms of portion size—which I think is due to supermarket eggplants being larger than our farm share eggplants.

Expanding My Horizons

Leading up to our weekly pickups at the Lents farmers market, I scrutinized the previous year’s information on the Zenger Farm Shares blog. The anticipation was killing me! Then June came and we started our weekly visits. The season began with a lot of kale and radishes. After just a few weeks I said I was a little kaled out, but I’ve since grown to look forward to our greens, whether they be kale, chard, collards, or raddichio.

I’ve eaten plenty of new veggies, and I’ve spent oodles of time making new recipes. At the moment my freezer holds homemade tomato sauce, three kinds(!) of pesto, potato leek soup, zucchini, herbed butter, and roasted peppers. This summer I’ve made chiles rellenos, zucchini tots, kale pie (above, for lunch with sugar snap peas and french breakfast radishes), eggplant pizza, beet brownies(!) and so much more. In the kitchen, I improvised a bundt pan for a cake, I deep fried things, learned what parboiling is and why you might want to do it, and learned how to store kale so you don’t have to eat it the same day. And more. It’s amazing, all the new territory I’ve covered in just a few months.

In fact, at the beginning of the season I decided to keep track of all the new vegetables and new recipes I’d be trying. I imagined a sort of Iron Chef scenario: okay, I’ve got onions, carrots, and a rutabega—GO! It wasn’t quite like that, but the “New Things Tried Because of Zenger Farm CSA” list has grown quite a lot. (And as I write this, I have a fridge full of veggies because of back-to-back pickups last week, and still one pickup left before the season is over…so that list will be growing.)

Notice that I haven’t yet mentioned using any of the Bob’s Red Mill products? After seeing a YouTube video where a woman talked about saving her Bob’s products for winter…that’s what I decided to do too, mostly. In addition to having a mighty full freezer and refrigerator, I have very little cabinet space because of all the half-packages of Bob’s items: wheat flour, pinto beans, black beans, quinoa, orzo, popcorn, and more.

Participating in a farm share this summer required adjusting my schedule to accommodate obtaining, planning for, and using my food each week. I learned and thought more about food insecurity in the United States. I strengthened my culinary skills. I ate better food, and more of it, and I have reserves for winter. It may have started out innocently, but participating in the Zenger farm share program this year now threatens to be a life-changing experience.

View more photos of the food obtained, grown, and consumed this summer.

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A Guide to Charitable Giving: Guest Blog Post for Ready for Zero

Ready for Zero, a website that helps users pay off their debt, published a guest blog post by yours truly earlier today. In “A Guide to Charitable Giving While in Debt (Hint: It’s Not Always About Money),” I outline the many ways people paying off debt may still catch the habit of charitable giving. Give it a read!

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Zine Round-Up: African American Vegetarianism and Eco-Friendly Feminine Hygiene

photo copyMultnomah County Library is one of the two library systems I currently use the most. Recently I found myself at the Holgate branch, one of the two branches within two miles of my house, and the bins of zines near the front entrance caught my eye. Multnomah County Library is possibly the only major city library with a sizeable zine collection (at least I’m not finding any others…chime in below if you know of others!). The collection is spread across six libraries, and they’re even patrons of mine—the library collection includes Beyond the Gate (which seems to be a fairly popular circulating title!) and another zine I contributed to a few years ago.

Naturally it was difficult to leave the library without something to take home and read, so I quickly snapped up eight titles. Two of them really stood out for me.

Real Talk Vol. 1: African American Communities and Vegetarianism
This zine encourages African Americans to work toward vegetarianism. The author begins by outlining the life expectancy rates of African Americans compared to their caucasian counterparts, and discusses some misconceptions about the history of traditional or “soul food.” She offers up some personal history, but the facts do most of the work, including a price comparison per pound of various sources of protein. The zine is sparsely illustrated, so the author can pack in as much information (and recipes!) as possible.

I’m not African American, but I have been vegetarian since 1994, and this zine seemed like an earnest effort by the author. (Unfortunately, the author did not include his or her name on the work.)

Green Blooded: An Introduction to Eco-Friendly Feminine Hygiene
Discovering the invention of menstrual cups in 2005 was an important turning point in my life—embarrassingly so. Riding a bike while wearing a pad wasn’t the most comfortable thing, so I’d just consider my bike off limits for a few days each month. Before late 2010, I believed that people just didn’t know about menstrual cups, or just didn’t talk about them. Imagine then, how amazed I was when Mooncups were a frequent conversation topic among my MPub classmates in BC! (Sadness: since moving back to the US, I find that it’s still a semi-taboo topic here…)

In Green Blooded, Cathy Leamy has written a short but entertaining piece about the variety of feminine hygiene products that you probably don’t know about. They’re far more eco-friendly than the things you can get at the grocery store, and way more pocketbook friendly. The illustrations are educational, fun, and at least once, a little gross. But the publication has great potential to reach people that may be otherwise missed…and for that reason, I’m quite excited about having discovered this zine.
(Order Green Blooded here!)

Speaking of Mooncups, it turns out that the best menstrual cup company is virtually unheard of in my country, because another company holds the registration to that name in the US (and with it, they make an inferior product and have abysmal customer service). Now I am a happier user of a Mooncup, ordered and delivered for a reasonable price from the UK. Here’s a great rap battle video they released last year:

Have you read any good zines lately? Let us know what they are in the comments!

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Portland: A Victim of Its Own Popularity

Edited to add: “Rewriting Portlandia” by Carl Alviani

Oh Portland, my Portland. Land of my birth.

In the 1990s, city planners took the pulse of residents. After talking to our outdoorsy, environmentally minded citizens, city officials decided that we treasure our natural areas so highly we needed to actively combat urban sprawl. Transportation planning was directed for the next few decades. We had a top-notch public transit system and major steps were taken to support alternative transportation and multi-modalism. At this point, we were essentially attempting to stem the tide of “all the Californians” that had been moving to Oregon. (Governor Tom McCall perhaps said it best.)

In the 2000s, young college graduates from around the country heard the rents were cheap and you didn’t need to have a car. Former hippie havens in Portland gave way to hipster fare. Portland got a reputation for bikes, beer, and coffee.

In 2011, Portlandia premiered. Suddenly even more eyes were upon us. The people parodied in Portlandia are apparently too cool to watch themselves, but their friends around the country can’t help but be curious. (Yes, bike moves are really a thing, although their depiction is naturally exaggerated by Fred and Carrie.) And as one of the more thriving housing markets around the country, newbies looking for a house and residents who aren’t moving have created low housing inventory for Portland.

Displacement arguably started long ago, when Jim and Patty’s Coffee People was pushed out by Starbucks. When walking along Hawthorne meant smelling patchouli or incense as you passed open shop doors, instead of the smell of Aveda products.

Earlier this year I learned the auto shop repairing my vehicle would be moving to the outer limits of the metro area. Situated around the corner from Portland’s soon-to-be newest bridge, the owner had gotten an offer he could not refuse, considering the rising land values. It was centrally located for decades, a great plus for accessing via transit when your vehicle is in the shop.

More recently, The Oregonian ran a series about demolition in Portland (“Ten Years of Portland Home Demolitions in One GIF,” “Shortage of Lots in the Suburbs Drives Builders to Demolish and Build in the City“), exploring the problems home builders are having getting land in the suburbs. This ultimately leads them to buy perfectly good houses to demolish and either a build expensive luxury home in their place, or two or three “normal” homes on the same footprint.

Not too long after seeing the series about demolition in Portland, I read “Forced to Move when Rental Home Sold for Development, Division Street Residents Mourn Changes to Neighborhood.”

And then a more major announcement: one of the more heavily visited food cart pods, Cartopia, will be closing soon for redevelopment. And a recent battle over a historic house purchased by Google executive Kevin Rose, who planned to knock it down (thankfully that had a relatively happy ending).

It’s official: redevelopment is impacting the things people love about Portland. The beautiful houses (with yards well suited for gardening), the unique counterculture of the city, a particularly popular food cart pod.

One could potentially perceive these trends two ways:

First, Portland has been working toward urban density for close to two decades now. Eventually the infill phase turns into building upward. When I lived in Vancouver BC, I saw the net result of this type of directive—the sky thick with high-rises, but snowy mountains just across the waterway. Only problem? When you’re paying $1200 per month to live in a basement, you probably don’t have access to an easy way to get out of the city and into those pristine natural areas.

Second, just like the Amish who are starting to be pushed out by Amish Country tourism, Portland is starting to be a victim of its own popularity. Our mythos of quirk keeps attracting people, snowballing into problems for the people and features who made it so popular. This has happened elsewhere: in SoHo, where struggling artists found cheap spaces to work/live until the culture attracted corporate entities who priced the artists out of their own neighborhood; San Francisco, where tech workers have exorbitantly inflated housing prices and potentially started a class-war; and of course in our own NE Portland.

It’s quite disheartening.

What’s next in this process? Disbursement. Portlanders may eventually get pushed out, fed up with the dizzying pace of change. Our lives may take us to smaller towns in Oregon, or perhaps farther afield. And ideas we picked up in Portland will go with us.

Angela may move back to her hometown of Wilmington, North Carolina, and move herself and her three daughters around town by bike. Randy may move to Chicago to advance his career as an engineer and still dress like a pirate when he’s not at the office. Nickey may move to Minneapolis for a kick-ass job in media, and still sew her own clothes.

Angela, Randy, and Nickey will bring a little bit of Portland with them, inspiring their new neighbors, until people won’t move to Portland because they can get all those great things in their own town.

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Doggy Cancer, Bad Juju, and Constructive Wallowing

About a month ago, my dog Atticus was diagnosed with cancer.

Tom, one of the vet clinic staff who adores Atticus, asked me about our visit when we left the examination room. I told him the bad news. Tom expressed his sorrow and asked, “are you totally about to burst into tears?”

Of course not, I said. I talked about how we all have to die sometime, about how great of a life Atticus has had, about how my anxiety about his health would have to be right at some point.

In other words I was completely denying any feelings I had in the moment. (In hindsight, I think I was just still in serious shock about the news.)

Over the next two days I was more or less a non-functioning mess.

What if I had continued the same nonchalant approach after leaving the vet’s office? Perhaps I might have said some of the following:
He’s just a dog, not my child.
We’ve all gotta die sometime.
No big deal.
When in fact this is a huge deal. Atticus has lived with me in two countries, two states, and accompanied me on countless adventures. Friends who know me, know my dog. I have essentially structured my life around him for the last 12 1/2 years—health issues and personality quirks and all. Raising my first dog was no small feat.

A month before Atticus’ diagnosis was confirmed, Tina Gilbertson released her first book, called Constructive Wallowing: How to Beat Bad Feelings By Letting Yourself Have Them.

In the book, Tina talks about the detrimental effects of emotional constipation—not allowing yourself to have feelings. Tina’s discoveries began when she was an aspiring actor in Los Angeles:

I was thinking about a young woman in my [acting] class who was not only a talented actress, but also smart, funny, utterly charming, and easily twice as pretty as me. She was seriously cramping my style; I wanted to be the best actress, the “phenom,” in that class…

As I drove home from class that day, I was aware of vaguely ‘icky’ emotions trying to rise up inside me. I didn’t exactly know what I was feeling, I just knew it was bad. I didn’t want to feel bothered by the situation in acting class. But I was bothered…

Spontaneously, I decided to speak my feelings aloud.

Tina then discovered that the act of speaking and acknowledging her feelings helped her feel better. When she wasn’t struggling against the feelings, they didn’t have a secret control over her. She eventually detoured from her Hollywood aspirations and ended up becoming a counselor.

Tina’s book walks readers through various obstacles that might keep them from the process of acknowledging their feelings. Perhaps you’re your own worst critic, telling yourself that other people have it way worse (#firstworldproblems!) or that whatever you might be feeling is stupid or selfish. Using insightful analogies, she walks the reader through each obstacle with kindness, and even some wit thrown in.

And anyone who may be thinking that acknowledging your own feelings will turn you into a scenery-chewing Hamlet, it turns out that acknowledging your feelings is not the same thing as choosing your behavior. If your boss has taken credit for your work, it is enough that you understand how you feel about that—this book is not advocating that you tell your boss or coworkers how you feel, or retaliate by putting rat poison in his coffee.

ConstructiveWallowingHaving feelings is quite natural, she says, and the message is even drawn out in the book design. Natural colors are used in the cover design that incorporates a rainy theme, with a raindrop-on-water motif sprinkled throughout the inside pages. Normally I’m less apt to notice book design, but the design choices in this book seemed to be supporting the overall theme.

As you can imagine, Atticus’ cancer diagnosis certainly gave me an opportunity to review and practice the book’s contents pretty quickly after I was finished reading! In the past I’ve certainly been guilty of holding things to the detriment of my own mental health, but this was one instance when it was almost a non-issue. The feelings just happened. Like Tina, I’ve found that for the most part, knowing how you feel is crucial to resolution.

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Workshopping With and Fangirling Over Kim Stafford

Lewis and Clark College, my alma mater, has a long-standing connection with the family of William Stafford. Oregon’s Poet Laureate from 1975-1990, Stafford wrote poetry about nature, pacifism, and Oregon, and had a long teaching career at Lewis and Clark.

Kim Stafford, William’s son, has had an equally impressive career. He has taught much of his adult life at Lewis and Clark, founded the college’s Northwest Writing Institute, and writes brilliantly. This winter I read his most recent work, 100 Tricks Every Boy Can Do: How My Brother Disappeared, which was nominated for an Oregon Book Award in creative non-fiction this year.

As an undergraduate student at Lewis and Clark I had the opportunity to listen to Kim close the campus’s Last Lecture series for the year. He brought his guitar and sprinkled songs between thoughts about the importance of being true to yourself—embracing all your interests rather than giving up your guitar playing, say, to become a better mathematician. Do all the things, embrace life wholeheartedly instead of being a specialist. Over a decade later, and I still look back on this evening with great fondness.

You might say I’m a bit of a fan!

That’s why, when I heard about his Introduction to Digital Storytelling workshop, I was compelled to attend. I’m not a complete newbie—after all, I did produce “The Cycling Eight” at Adventure Cycling and have racked up quite a bit of educational media experience. An opportunity to work with Kim Stafford and to glean new storytelling approaches could be rather helpful!

CollinsHall

Journeying to the new Lewis and Clark graduate campus, I arrived early to check things out. I entered the chapel, our workshop space, and before I even sat I had an entire conversation with Kim! He walked right up and asked me about myself. We talked about the Sisters of St. Francis, the order of nuns that the property originally belonged to. We spoke of silent retreats at monasteries,  how we’d like to see more radicals in the church, and I told him about discovering the wonderful Trappist Abbey. Standing next to me, he took a photo of the same dove mural on the ceiling that I was photographing. Like we were already old buddies.

PeaceBird

The workshop, as it turns out, presented a specific way of telling personal stories modeled by the Center for Digital Storytelling.

In this example, Kim tells of the day his father narrowly escaped being hanged:

Most of the workshop participants were professional educators with limited media tools, looking to take the idea to their students for classroom teaching. As a hired pen, it was hard to imagine incorporating the workshop content into my work life. And sadly, real life has time constraints that foil many of my creative project ideas. Still though, I was thinking about the class content the rest of the evening and into the next day.

One phrase Kim kept throwing around was “digital haiku.” This is the idea to make one’s digital story as succinct and brief as possible. Let the images communicate some things so you can take another few words away.

It gave me an idea:

As we filled out course evaluations at the end of the three hour workshop, Kim waited just outside the chapel doors. Students formed a receiving line, shaking his hand and I imagine covering him with praise. Eventually I headed up the back of the line, extolling my own praise and asking a question about that latest breathtaking book, a memoir about his brother’s suicide.

It was a real thrill to be Kim Stafford’s student for a few hours. He filled the room with warmth and a joyous smile, admiring so many of the deeply personal stories his students were brave enough to read out loud. He focused on drawing things out of his students rather than intimidating newbies with his own brilliant work.

Where will I go with this? It’s hard to say. Inspiration’s a funny thing—sometimes it shows up in odd places…

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A Friend’s Legacy: Bryon Burruss and the Famous Tuscan Springs

BBCollage

Let’s say one day you’re at work, maybe feeling a little under-engaged with whatever it is you do. Someone you know crosses your mind, and you say, “hey, let’s give ‘im a Google!”

And about 20 seconds later, you learn that they recently died.

Last month, this happened to me. (“Local Author, Former Scribe Passes Away.”) Bryon died of a “massive heart attack” in his home on St. Patrick’s Day. He was discovered by his housemate. He was 48 years old.

Over the last few weeks since I went a-Googling, I’ve been ruminating over every detail about Bryon I can remember. Searching in my records for notes sent, remembering details, trying to make sense of how a close friend could be gone just like that. Having the random crying jag when I remember another detail of something that’s so important to me, that I may not know about if it wasn’t for him.

In Summer 2001, I met Bryon Burruss when I was in a Portland production of The Famous Tuscan Springs, a play he wrote with his friend Joe Hilsee. We started corresponding shortly thereafter, and the last time I heard from him was via text in August 2010, about two weeks before I was to move to Canada and start my graduate program. The last time I sent him a brief email was the following summer, when I was in Montana and my brain was starting to work again after a tumultuous year.

He had a master’s degree in theater but lived in rural California. Yet he managed to open a theater company and keep it running for five years. The theater encouraged aspiring playwrights each year by holding a new plays festival—submissions came from around the world. Those plays that didn’t quite make the stage were sometimes adapted for radio, which he produced.

Theater was Bryon’s love, possibly more than anything else in the world. The pains he took to keep that theater running were great.

Perhaps those are the facts that most people could tell you. What I alone could tell you is this: Bryon once suggested a medicinal tea which is still my go-to for colds, a decade later. I sent him the script of a favorite play—Killer Joe by Tracy Letts—and a year later his theater performed it. Bryon suggested I might like a Canadian television program called Slings and Arrows, which was about a Shakespeare company in Ontario. When I got the first season on DVD, I anticipated watching the first hour and then doing the dishes. Six hours later I was exhilarated, watching the final few minutes after I just could not turn the thing off. When Bryon was desperate for readers for his slush pile of new plays, I gladly helped out, reading in one case a rather large box of scripts over the course of just a few weeks.

Aside from theater, Bryon had another special project as well. The Famous Tuscan Springs, the play I was in, was a real place that existed outside of Red Bluff, California. In addition to writing a play about the place, Bryon knew pretty much all there was to know about the resort that sat there in the early part of the 20th Century. At one point, I helped him locate a booklet held in a medical library in New York City that he was previously unaware of.

BBTuscanSpringsBookCoverIt turns out that when his life ended unexpectedly, Bryon was having some success with his Tuscan Springs research. Tuscan Springs was released by Arcadia Publishing under their ubiquitous “Images of America” series.

There are plenty of other things I could say about Bryon too. At times, he seemed to be anti-feminist. Once, when I offered a feminist take on something, he snarkily asked if I would start talking about herstory. My vegetarianism also seemed to make him uneasy—he tried to convince me that in the town he lived, you just couldn’t be vegetarian. And yet, I never had any problem feeding myself when I was there.

The worst thing I could say about Bryon is, I never got to say goodbye to him.

Naturally, I purchased a copy of Tuscan Springs. I never saw Bryon’s collection of imagery and artifacts on the few occasions we visited, but so far I’m impressed by what he managed to dig up over the years.

Readers, friends, to everyone I say—you make sure and take care of that heart of yours. Treat your body well. Cherish the relationships you have, even if they’re not perfect—one day you may wake up to discover that person you’ve known for years is gone.

Goodbye, Bryon.

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