Browsing Tag


Behind the Plate


July 18, 2016

Photo credit: Justen Clay

Justin Aiello @olivettefarm is the Farm Manager at Olivette Farm, a biodiverse, organic vegetable farm located just north of downtown Asheville, North Carolina. His journey to farming has taken some twists and turns—from geography to landscaping, and from Georgia to the Adirondack Mountains of New York, and finally to North Carolina.

You have a B.S. in Geography—farming and geography are strongly linked, but what prompted you to become a farmer?
I believe there’s a strong and essential link that we as humans have with the land. As a result, I’ve also always loved working in the dirt. Studying geography provided me with insight into how we impact the land for better or worse. A few years back, I saw a documentary about young farmers called Grow and was so inspired that I quit my landscaping job to take on a farm apprenticeship. This career shift turned out to be the perfect combination of getting my hands dirty, growing beautiful and nutritious things, and doing my small part to heal the earth around me.

How do you define good food?
I define good food as food that is grown or produced in a way that highly values the land, the labor involved, and the people who will eventually eat it.

You farm organically at Olivette Farm. What are your personal beliefs about organic vs. conventional farming methods?
I believe that organic should be the only option—after all, it was the original way to farm! I think that farming using organic and sustainable methods ensures that we are harvesting clean, chemical-free and nutrient-dense food. It also means that we are good stewards of the land by improving our soil health, providing habitats for beneficial insects and animals, and not contributing to hazardous runoff into our local waterways.

Big Ag says that organic farms have less yield and incur problems with parasites etc., yet we also hear that this is untrue. What are the misconceptions around organic farming, and are there any growing difficulties you face because you farm organically?
Big Ag definitely does a lot of smooth-talking to make it seem like organic farming is not a viable solution to our food system needs. I think that lack of education on how food is grown and where food comes from causes a lot of people to think that we are unable to fight off disease or pests, and therefore have lower yields. The truth is that we generally have high yields and are able to use methods to control disease and pests—like crop rotation and cover cropping—that don’t involve the heavy utilization of chemicals. I think that everyone should spend at least one week on an organic farm in order to gain a better understanding of where their food comes from.

Please tell us about your CSA. Is this the best way for people to get your produce?
We grow over 60 different types of vegetables, herbs and microgreens at Olivette. Our CSA members get a weekly bag of seasonal vegetables for either 14 or 28 weeks throughout the season. The items in our CSA bags vary each week. I think our CSA is the best way to purchase our produce if you want to try everything that we have to offer, and also get outside of your comfort zone by trying new and unusual (but delicious) vegetables. We take our CSA members on a seasonal food journey along with the farm!

What’s the most rewarding aspect of your job?
Getting to interact with our customers and see them enjoy what we’ve grown is absolutely the most rewarding part of farming. Food has the special ability to break down barriers and to connect people from every walk of life and perspective! I love how farming is a community-oriented act.

What’s the most difficult aspect of your job?
I think one of the most difficult parts of farming is the long hours that I have to work. Farming is a never-ending job—there’s always a long list of things to be done, and we just decide to find stopping points at the end of each day. This is especially true during the summer. However, I have to say that all of the hard work and long hours are well worth it at the end of the day.

Food issues have barely made it into the race for President. If you could ask the future President to consider a food issue that needs to be addressed, what would it be?
I think one food issue that I would love to hear the candidates speak more about is food security. I mean this in a few ways—creating easier and more affordable access to fresh, nutritious food; increasing funding to help small farmers grow their operations; and inspiring new farmers who hope to begin farming. I lived in Atlanta for a few years prior to moving to Asheville, and food deserts are a huge problem in so many places around the city.

If you could get the general population to change one aspect of their eating habits, what would it be?
Ditch the processed foods! I think replacing processed foods with fresh, non-processed options can do wonders for the general health of our population.

You grow a wide variety of produce. What are your three favorites?
I love them all! However, if I have to pick three I would say: sugar snap peas in the spring, Sun Gold tomatoes in the summer, and nothing beats sweet baby carrots after the first fall frost!

And how do you eat or cook them?
I put pea shoots in just about anything—sandwiches, salads, tacos… I also lightly wilt them in a pan and add them to pasta. Sun Gold tomatoes are like candy, so you can often catch me in the field eating them raw, or if they make it home I’ll blister them and make a warm BLT or a sweet broth when I have time. You can also find me eating carrots in the field, but here is a recipe from a friend of ours for Roasted Carrots and Pesto Yogurt Sauce. It’s a favorite of mine.

We just completed our second #NoFoodWaste campaign in June. What are some #NoFoodWaste practices that you incorporate into the farm?
I love #NoFoodWaste! One of the biggest things I do on the farm is try to use any edible parts of the plant that we can—whether that means harvesting and cooking the broccoli greens off our broccoli plants, keeping the roots on our bunching onions, or keeping the greens on our carrots and encouraging our customers to make pesto with them. Any waste we do create from harvesting and processing our vegetables goes into our compost pile which returns to our fields to help build our soil and help grow more nutritious food for the next season.


Talk to us about microgreens.
Microgreens are very young mini-vegetables and herbs. Most microgreens are only 8 to 14 days old when they’re harvested. Microgreen options are almost endless, but some of the more popular varieties are radishes, kale, arugula, broccoli and cabbage. We grow our microgreens in trays inside of our greenhouse with our own special mix of soil. They may be small, but they pack huge flavor and are incredibly nutrient-dense. They can be used in salads, soups, pasta, sandwiches, smoothies or even be eaten by themselves.

What’s one of your first (and most memorable) interactions with food?
My first food memory is throwing a bowl of split pea soup at my grandmother (sorry Grandma)! But my most memorable food interaction has been eating arepas with my extended family. My mother is from Venezuela and every time we go visit her side of the family we eat some of the most amazing home-cooked meals. It’s the first time I can really remember trying something new and truly loving it. We were on a family vacation in Venezuela when I was just 11—we sat down for breakfast in my Uncle’s house and had fresh lime juice from the tree in the back yard, fresh fruit on the table from the local roadside stands, and arepas—a huge plate of them! They were unlike anything I’d ever tasted before. I can’t remember how many I ate that morning, but I can tell you that I ate a lot of them and was sure to ask for them every morning on that trip.

If you weren’t doing what you’re doing, what would you be doing?
If I wasn’t a farmer I think I would want to run an animal rescue organization. I absolutely love animals—we have two very spoiled dogs and love being with most any animal. I think rescuing animals is so important and not just for typical household pets. There are a lot of farm animals out there that have been abused and/or neglected that need good homes.

What’s always in your fridge? How do you use it?
A few things that are always in our fridge are pea shoots, a few bags of leftover greens from market, any of our root vegetables that are in season, blue cheese, and some local beer (because a farmer needs to relax)! Our pea shoots get thrown into just about everything, including all of the pasta that we make for dinner multiple times a week. We love to roast our root veggies at home and add whichever greens we have on hand. Lately, it has been roasted carrots in a warm kale salad.

Favorite breakfast to get you through a long day on the farm?
I’m constantly eating and snacking throughout the day, but my go-to breakfast as of late is a bowl of oats with nuts and fruit, and a green smoothie. That usually gets me through the first few hours of work.

Favorite meal?
Our favorite meal lately is French Onion Tart from blogger and cookbook author Mimi Thorisson.

Your good food wish?
My good food wish is for fresh, nutritious and affordable food to be made available to everyone, and for farmers to have greater support and access to land.

Behind the Plate


July 11, 2016
Photo credit: Caitlin Riley

Photo credit: Caitlin Riley

Kristen Beddard @KristenBeddard is the queen of kale in France—she reintroduced kale to French farmers! One thing led to another, and The Kale Project is now a bi-lingual blog that teaches about kale, helps locate it in France, and provides recipe inspiration too.

Tell us about launching The Kale Project.
When we first moved to Paris, I could not find a job because my French skills were not that great. I moved only knowing “Bonjour!” I also could not find kale, and with a background in advertising, came up with the idea to grow kale in Paris. The initial goal was to find one farmer to grow it and one restaurant to use it, and then a handful of people to buy it, with the hope that the farmer would want to grow it again. I didn’t have a business plan but knew that using digital media would be important to help spread the word. I wasn’t trying to change French food culture and didn’t approach the project as if I was “teaching” the French anything about food—it was only adding another cabbage to the mix of cabbages already available.

What’s the biggest difference you’ve noticed between the eating habits of Americans and the eating habits of the French?
Le snacking! The French really do not snack except for one time a day in the afternoon. People aren’t always eating on the street—meaning there is a time and a place for meals, which ultimately makes them more enjoyable. Food is not only approached with regard to calories or with the idea of “what can it do for me?” It’s approached as something that gives pleasure. Wine, cheese, butter and bread are alright because it’s all about moderation.

Your family has an organic farm in the US—Lady Moon Farms. They grow kale. How has your family responded to your ambitious quest for kale abroad?
They have been supportive. My uncle is the founder of Lady Moon and gave me a lot of advice and tips for kale cultivation.

You launched in 2012. Tell us about what your project has become, and how it has morphed over time.
The project has changed so much over time and I’m happy to say that at this point, I don’t do as much anymore because the original mission of reintroducing kale has worked! Kale, when in season, is now available at outdoor markets and grocery stores and is grown by both small and large producers. Over time, the project led to a few writing projects which is where I have focused a lot of my time over the past year and a half.

You recently wrote a book, Bonjour Kale. Did you have any idea that your quest for kale would turn into a memoir?
Never! There was a New York Times article that ran in 2013 about the project, and from there I was approached by a few literary agents. The idea of doing an American in Paris memoir appealed to me, so I decided to try it out. It has been a really challenging process, but I’ve learned so much.

How do you define good food?
Fresh ingredients that are home-cooked and eaten around a table with friends and family. And of course wine.

What was your most challenging moment as a new resident of Paris, trying to introduce a forgotten vegetable to the population?
There are a lot to choose from because there were always a lot of ups and downs. I was not always great at this but remembering that I was reintroducing kale to a different culture made sure I thought about how the French would perceive things versus how I would assume an American audience would. It seems like a no-brainer and it was a really good way to further immerse myself in their culture.

What has been the most rewarding aspect?
The people I’ve met have been amazing. I did a lot of networking for the project and it really helped create my own community in the city. I talk a lot about this in the book, but by reaching out and meeting new people, Paris quickly felt like home.

Food issues have barely made it into the race for President. If you could ask the future President to consider a food issue that needs to be addressed, what would it be?
I am really passionate about how we can make America’s youth healthier, and it is an area I would like to work in when we move back to the US. I would like to know what the plan is to continue the First Lady’s work with school lunch, and how we can get cooking back into the schools. I still had home economics in middle school, but we made things like beef jerky and Jell-o molds, which are not dishes that you actually cook for lunch or dinner. I think kids need to learn how to cook simple things with ingredients that can be bought on a limited income.

What is your favorite way to eat kale?
I grew up eating lightly steamed kale but now love kale salads.


What’s one of your first (and most memorable) interactions with food?
I didn’t grow up drinking milk, so when I was three and four, I can remember my mom letting me put watered-down grape juice in a bowl of whole-wheat Oatios while watching Mr. Rogers. I can still picture myself trying to walk from the kitchen to the living room with the bowl, trying not to spill it.

What was your biggest #foodfail?
Years ago, I tried to make turkey meatballs from a cousin’s recipe. I’m not sure what I did wrong but there was too much liquid in the mixture and it would not stick together in individual balls. Since then, I’ve successfully made patties of all kinds, but if my husband comes home and sees something like this on the stove, he reaches for the phone to order takeout.

What’s your go-to breakfast?
Oatmeal, quinoa, millet mix with almond milk and a touch of ghee.

What’s always in your fridge? How do you use it?
Hard cheese like aged comté, gruyère and parmesan. Flat-leaf parsley. Dijon mustard. We take advantage of the amazing cheeses in France and sometimes have a bite or two over a glass of wine while making dinner. I like to add a few shavings of parmesan to salads. I add chopped parsley to soups, pastas and grains. Dijon is great for salad dressings.

Top three herbs, in order of importance?
Flat leaf parsley, rosemary, cilantro.

Who is one famous person, dead or alive, that you want to share a meal with? And where?
I would love to have dinner with Cecile Richards. Her resilience is extraordinary. I would let her choose the place to be able to experience and talk about what kind of food she likes best.

What’s your favorite indulgent treat?
hocolate covered pretzels.

Your good food wish?
That every child has a healthy meal every day, filled with fresh vegetables and fruits—and that they enjoy it! Encouraging our youth to eat better is not going to happen overnight, but will take a generation, so we need to keep trying!

Behind the Plate


July 4, 2016
Photo credit: Tara Donna

Photo credit: Tara Donne

Olivia Parker is the Program Manager at Edible Schoolyard NYC‘s Public School 216 in Brooklyn. And she takes Know Your Farmer to a whole new level—Olivia’s school-aged kids are farming for themselves! Right here in New York.

For those unfamiliar with Edible Schoolyard, please tell us about the organization, and some of its history.
Edible Schoolyard NYC partners with public schools to transform the hearts, minds, and eating habits of young New Yorkers through garden and kitchen classes integrated into the school day. Our vision is that all children are educated and empowered to make healthy food choices for themselves, their communities, and their environment, actively achieving a just and sustainable food system for all.

What do you grow in the garden? How is it used at the school?
We grow over 80 varieties of fruits and vegetables, annuals and perennials, in our half-acre garden. We have an herb garden, an orchard, a medicinal garden, and several vegetable beds. We grow some pretty interesting crops, including artichokes and edible weeds like lamb’s quarters and burdock. The majority of our produce goes to garden and kitchen classes. We teach all 700 students at P.S. 216 twice a month in garden, and once a month in kitchen. Extra produce is sold at our farm stand and we do our best to also feature it in the cafeteria.

If you could get the general population to change one aspect of their eating habits, what would it be?
These days, we aren’t as connected to one another as we used to be, especially now that technology has taken over and consumed our lives. I think if everyone shared meals with other people, we’d be taking steps in the right direction. It seems like a reasonable start.

How have you seen ESY impact the Gravesend community?
Where do I begin? Our students are so knowledgeable! They take ownership of the garden and the kitchen classroom. Students who may struggle in their regular classroom settings come to garden and kitchen classes and demonstrate a level of focus and attention that I sometimes don’t even see in adults! Grandparents pick up their grandkids after school and come hang out in the garden. They tell us how the garden and our chickens remind them of their childhoods and the countries they emigrated from. They feel more connected to their grandchildren who have a garden that they can call their own. That multigenerational connection is heartwarming.

Our farm stand and events have also influenced the community. Students and their families visit us every week to buy produce from the garden. Local restaurants purchase our produce too. We host free community events four times a year for our students, their families, and everyone else in the community (including children who attend other schools).

What’s one of your first (and most memorable) interactions with food?
I was the kid who brought leftover wiener schnitzel and a lemon wedge for lunch in elementary school. I had a pretty good idea early on that I was eating different foods than my peers. It was embarrassing at the time, but now I’m proud of it!

How did you come to work at ESY?
I grew up in Marin County, California—very close to the Edible Schoolyard Project in Berkeley. I have known about the program for quite some time, and, like many others, was inspired by Alice Waters. I have always loved working with children and have enjoyed eating and cooking from a young age. It seemed natural to bring the two together. When I was in high school, people asked me what my dream job was, and my response was, “I’d like to work for Edible Schoolyard.”

Food issues have barely made it into the race for President. If you could ask the future President to consider a food issue that needs to be addressed, what would it be?
It’s hard to only pick one! I’ll keep it very broad… Big business has ruled the food industry for years. The government should take responsibility for the nation’s declining health by disallowing lobbying of government officials and marketing to our children.

How do you define good food?
Good food is clean, nourishing, and prepared with love.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
Interacting with our students and their families is the most rewarding part of the job. Knowing that our students are asking for more fruits and vegetables at home, showing an interest in gardening and cooking, making our recipes at home, and are more engaged in school because of it, is amazing.


Watching seeds turn into food is a powerful experience. What’s it like to work with children and see how inspired they become?
Working with our students is incredibly gratifying. We do this work every day, yet we forget how amazing it is that we can plant some seeds, take care of them, and watch as they produce delicious fruits and vegetables. Our students remind us just how unbelievable that is. Their inspiration inspires us! That’s the beauty of the job—we get that kind of gratification every day.

We just completed our second #NoFoodWaste campaign in June. What are some #NoFoodWaste practices that you incorporate into your business?
We have a big composting operation and teach our students the importance of recycling our food scraps. Our students know that our fruits and vegetables are strong and delicious because they are rooted in good soil. That soil is healthy because it is made up of the nutrients that come from our food scraps. We also taught our students how to make stock from our food scraps when we made potato leek soup this winter!

What’s always in your fridge? How do you use it?
I always have eggs and jalapeños in my fridge. No matter the season, I always need my jalapeños. I am obsessed with spicy foods and love the flavor of them. They go with everything! Eggs are also very versatile. I love them soft boiled, hard boiled, and fried. I put them on top of vegetables, salads, and bread.

What was your biggest #foodfail?
I am so bad at baking. My mom and I have tried to make pies on several occasions. The filling ALWAYS separates from the crust. What’s the deal?!

Who is one famous person, dead or alive, that you want to share a meal with? And where?
Julia Child, without a doubt. I need to perfect my impersonation of her. It would only be appropriate to dine together in the south of France.

What’s your go-to breakfast?
Lately, oatmeal with sesame seeds, nori, and soy sauce. I love simple and savory breakfasts!

What inspires you to teach about food and gardening?
In school, we learn how to read, write, and do math, and we use those skills every day. Another important element of our lives that we don’t learn in school is how our food grows and how to prepare it. We do not know where our food comes from or how it grows, and do not have the tools to make good, healthy choices when it comes to our diet. I aspire to change that.

If you weren’t doing what you’re doing, what would you be doing?
I’d probably be a therapist. I enjoy working with people!

Your good food wish?
I wish that every child had access to clean and nutritious food.