You must meet Mia, my favorite 11 year old entrepreneur.

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She melted my heart at the farmers market telling me the story of her chickens and how each one has a personality of their own. She and her mom have chickens on an 8 acre farm 20 minutes west of Lakeland where they also care for sheep and a vineyard full of Florida varietals.

Farm-30.jpgI saw that she was carrying eggs to deliver to one of her customers one day at the farmers market and wanted to get my hands on those sought after free-range chicken eggs.  I showed my interest in her product but I knew that they were a precious commodity because they can only produce enough for their family needs with a small surplus.  I needed something of value to them that they’d be willing to trade for the eggs.

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Bingo, fresh artisan organic bread that Adrian’s (a.k.a. #thebreadpedlar) crafts himself and gourmet lettuces from the garden.

Finally something we could agree upon as a fair trade!

When our fresh, organic, free-range eggs arrive they come carefully packed with Mia’s business cards from The Four Eggs.  On the back of each business card she hand-writes a story about her chickens from the week; what they’ve been up to, what career they want when they grow up, what they ate for dinner.  It truly is the best marketing I’ve seen in a very long time, giving each customer her personal touch.

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I look forward to see where life will take this young entrepreneur and nature lover!  Wouldn’t it be awesome if we all started trading our wares locally.  To see a community successfully trading goods with their neighbors find NEIGHBOR-TRADER D.C. on twitter @neighbortrader.  If anyone knows of any in the Central Florida area please message us with details.

 

 

 

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We had our first version of a farm to table dinner party this past weekend here at Sassakala, and I do believe fun was had by all.

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For one night we transformed our home into a sushi restaurant with guest chef, Chenyu Liu, also known as Charlie to his classmates and professors at Florida Southern College here in Lakeland.  Charlie is graduating next week so it was quite a feat to pull off a three course sushi meal for 14 local foodies during finals week.

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Charlie learned to prepare sushi when he was 18 at home in Brooklyn, NY where his parents own a Japanese restaurant.  I thought this was unusual considering that Charlie is actually from China, but he claimed that there is more money in sushi and less competition in that region so that’s where his parents chose to focus their efforts.  It paid off as far as I could tell because his rolls and noodles were as good as any I’ve tried.

Charlie came to our home 5 hours before the party so he could walk through the garden and pick out some vegetables he could use in his dishes and to give himself time to buy the freshest seafood he could get his hands on to pair them with. He said it was typically a 5 person job but he was able to complete the task with the help of his friend in 4 hours.  Wow, what a fun process to watch unfold!

The chopping, boiling rice, the rolling, and finally the beautiful presentation with sauces.  I asked that Charlie please have some rolls to prepare as guests arrive so they could see the process as well.  So as Charlie and his assistant continued to chop and roll, we all sat down for a fresh salad straight from the garden dressed with ginger dressing.egg fried noodles.jpg

Next, pots of either seafood noodles or vegetable noodles circulated to fill our bowls.  Using chopsticks to wrap around the noodles authenticated the whole experience accompanied by saki to warm the senses.  Even the soy sauce was hand selected by Charlie infused with fish oils to please the pallet.  Then, finally what we had all been waiting for, out come the most beautiful sushi rolls explained by chef himself.  Yes, they did taste as good as they look.

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Each round of sushi better than the last as the preparation and ingredients were a bit more sophisticated than the one before.  After about four or five rounds of rolls our tummies were full, our pallets pleased, and our spirits lifted.  Especially mine, because I was relieved that all our efforts had paid off and that our friends were enjoying the food that we had grown from seed, the guest chef that we entrusted to prepare a delicious meal, and the evening in general.  A special thank you to my friend and photographer, Sarah Bisesi of Gemini Portraits , and Lisa from Wish Vintage Rentals for the beautiful farmhouse table, chairs, and accessories. And of course our guest chef Chenyu Liu who came highly recommended by Dr. Catherine Eskin of FSC.  This went so well, I can envision hosting more farm to tables in the future!

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So, since January 2014, I have been volunteering at my daughter’s school, working with the students to plan, plant from seed, and transfer their edibles and florals into their organic garden right there on the school grounds. This project has been more rewarding for me and my family than I ever could have imagined. As part of attending Magnolia Montessori Charter School in Lakeland, FL each family is required to contribute 20 volunteer hours to the school each year. My background with our hydroponic micro-farm and art education naturally led me to want to volunteer in the school garden.

Each week I take small groups to the garden to write in their garden journals, complete discovery and sensory lessons, as well as learning how to identify, classify, and take care of the garden.

Montessori education focuses on child lead curriculum and self discovery, so the garden is the perfect environment for students to journal, experiment, research, and tap into sensory skills.

http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu has been a great reference for our school garden. IFAS offers Florida planting guides, pest management suggestions, soil testing, composting info, companion planting, etc.

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Currently the students are growing broccoli, corn, bush beans, herbs, sunflowers, kale, lettuces, squash, potatoes, strawberries, zucchini, collard greens, and tomatoes.

 Just before spring break, the students held their first produce sale!  During carline parents pulled over and purchased the organic produce that students harvested from the school garden.  The students handled everything from harvesting, to bagging, pricing, making signs, manning the stand, and counting change.  It was so cute to see how proud they were to sell produce that they had nurtured and grown themselves from seed.  They used the proceeds to go towards purchasing a hydroponic growing system for the school, with plans to expand.

To find out more on how to start a garden at your school visit Florida Ag in the Classroom: www.faitc.com  .They have information about gardening grants, container gardening, raised beds, soil testing, composting, in-ground organic gardening, hydroponics, etc.

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Here are a few pictures and a little more detail of the Living Wall we just completed at the Catapult Entrepreneur Center in downtown Lakeland Florida.

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This has been such a fun and rewarding project to be involved in. Creative, entrepreneurial ventures are a serious passion of ours and we have relished the opportunity to get involved in helping the Catapult Entrpreneur Center open it’s doors to the areas entrepreneurs. Jarrid and Robyn of The Poor Porker have pulled together the overall concept and design of the space with unique, one off, creative pieces of art/furniture. I overheard a prospective tenant that was touring the center prior to it’s official opening remark recently that ‘…if you can’t be creative here then it’s just not going to happen anywhere’.

So when we were asked to create a Living Wall for Catapult we knew we wanted integrate into the overall design of the space and so chose sustainable, healthy plants and materials. We wanted to include plants which are proven to clean the air so we chose the best air-filtering houseplants that according to research from NASA, can help improve indoor air quality by removing pollutants known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

“Plants’ ability to help us breathe easier indoors was first demonstrated in a two-year study conducted by NASA in the late 1980s. At the time, the agency was looking for houseplants to help clean the air in space facilities. The study examined the ability of 15 houseplants to remove three common indoor pollutants — the VOCs benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene — from the air. Benzene is emitted from paints, synthetic fibers and plastics, among other sources. Formaldehyde is released from many sources, including foam insulation and plywood, and sources of trichloroethylene emissions include paints and varnishes.”

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Three of the most prevalent plants in our living wall at Catapult that were found to be effective at removing VOCs in the NASA study are:

*Peace lily (Spathiphyllum wallisii) – This plant can remove both benzene and trichloroethylene.

*Golden pothos (Scindapsus aures) – This vine proved adept at filtering formaldehydek.

*Philodendron (Oxycardium) -This climbing vine is particularly good at battling formaldehyde from sources like particleboard.

Other plants included in the design are the round leaf Pepperomias, burgundy Begonias, and star-shaped Bromeliads.

Specifications

The Living Wall holds approximately 275 plants in a 96 sq ft space. The wooden frame was built using aged reclaimed red cedar that was sourced locally, and the planter fabric is made from recycled plastics (PET).  As it is a living wall it will change size, shape, color, and texture over time making it “living art.”

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wheatgrassWhat’s the magic behind wheatgrass and why it’s sudden increase in popularity?

  • 1 fl. oz of wheatgrass juice is equivalent to 2 1 /2 pounds of the choicest vegetables
  • wheatgrass is mineral rich and contains 92 minerals needed by the body
  • it is a complete protein containing 20+ amino acids and has higher protein densities than any other food source
  • the magic is in the enzymes with more than 30 found in the juice
  • the juice is 70% chlorophyll which can help oxygenate your body and clean the air
  • it’s popularity stems from it’s natural energy boosting powers and healthy contents
  • it has a sweet after taste that compliments other juices so its easy to get down
  • you can easily grow it yourself in very little space, often indoors

-info provided by Dynamic Greens Wheatgrass

Seed starter kit and seedsSoon after I discovered hydroponics I started using these floating seed starting trays and for the past few years have been using them almost exclusively and having much more success than I ever had before. I occasionally use a ‘regular’ tray and can’t believe how cumbersome they are. These are really easy to use and removing the plant for transplanting is very easy.

seedlings in traysWe have the smaller kits available with enough space for 25 plants along with our soiless starteer mix. For those that are more serious about starting seeds or want to grow baby leaf lettuce mixes at home we have the larger commercial version available (as seen in the picture, right) that we use here at the microfarm.

Let’s start planting
In addition to the stater kit you will need a leak proof tray or container, along with your choice of seeds.

  • Fill the cells of the floating tray with the growing media included in your kit, and press down so media is slightly compacted.
  • Spray the top of media with warm water and let soak in tray of water until completely wet.
  • Lift out and drain for 10 minutes.
  • Now you’re ready to plant.  Use an un-sharpened pencil (or end of pen) to make a hole in center of each cell about 1/8” deep.
  • Plant the seeds in this depression and cover with a thin layer of leftover media.After planting return the tray to float in water again and spritz the top with lukewarm water and place in warm area.

Once the seeds germinate place in a sunny spot and float in tray during the day and take out to dry each night. It’s preferable if they sit on a table or tray with slits so air can flow underneath the tray and air prune the roots.

Single unit towerAllow plants to grow until they are strong and healthy, then transplant into towers by pushing eraser end of pencil up through the hole underneath the tray to push the plug gently out. The temptation is to remove the plants before they are ready so if in doubt leave them a little longer and when you start to push the plug out if it starts failing apart it is probably too soon or the plug is too wet.

When I’m ready to plant I will leave the trays out of the water overnight to dry out a little and this usually helps when removing the plants.

Transplant into towers or pots, feed with water and nutrients, and enjoy your harvest!

 

gowcery bagNo one says you have to spend a lot of money to grow some of you own food and veggies at home. As much as I love the convenience and consistency of my hydroponic setup I also like to experiment and test out other ways to grow herbs and veggies.

So with that in mind I set out to explore several options for you to try and will be running periodic articles featuring many of these low tech, homemade solutions using easy to find materials that you can all try out. They also make great experiments for kids.

This first one is about as low tech and cheap as it gets and uses those reusable bags you get from the grocery store – or what I now call ‘Growcery Bags’. I also tried (and actually preferred) the smaller wine bags as they have four dividers in which you can use to plant a selection of herbs.

Here’s what you will need:

  • A reusable grocery bag
  • Organic potting soil
  • Seeds or plants

I also helped my plants out with the addition of worm castings from my worm compost along with periodic feedings (every 3-4 weeks) of a little worm tea. You could use your plant food of choice such as fish fertilizer, bone meal, blood meal etc. I use worm compost as it’s basically free from my worm bin. I also added perlite to the bottom half of the bags to minimize the amount of potting soil needed and to help drainage.

I planted bush basil and chives in mine this summer and will be adding more herbs as the weather cools down (I am in Florida). I’m thinking a pepper plant  (Serrano or similar) would be fun in the larger bag and adding cilantro and parsley to the smaller wine bags will make for a good selection to have on hand for cooking. But you should plant what you are going to eat.

After a couple of months of Florida summer heat, rain and humidity the bags did pretty well. One developed a tear and a little mold but that’s easy to fix by just replanting in a new bag.

Give it a try. Plant something.

“Dream big. Start small. But most of all, start.” ~Simon Sinek
 
 

I am a leafy green vegetable.

My flowers, leaves and even my roots are edible.

I am very nutritious.

In fact I am one of the top 10 most nutritious of all vegetables.

…according to the USDA…

I am the third richest source of vitamin A of all foods (after cod liver oil and beef liver)

I am also rich in fiber, potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous and the B vitamins thiamine and riboflavin.

I have been know to help people with detox, weight loss, fighting cancer and heart disease, lowering blood pressure, reducing the risk of strokes, reducing stress along with many other positive effects.

Oh, and did I mention that I am very cheap (often free). In fact, I grow almost everywhere so am also very easy to find. I am also very easy to grow. Don’t feel bad for me but I am often overlooked and ignored. In fact many householders dismiss me completely and spray me with nasty chemicals to make me go away.

Who am I?

I am Taraxacum officinale, or better known as the humble Dandelion!

Here’s a few ways to use me. But first, a quick word of caution from the farmer:

I am growing my dandelions from seed in my hydroponic tower system. You can pick some from your yard or other area but please be careful in case chemical sprays or fertilizers have been used in the area, or if your dog may have marked it as part of it’s territory. The potential for any health benefits are not worth the risk if you are not sure about how the plant has been treated. Use your common sense.

Try adding a few dandelion leaves to your juices or smoothies for an extra boost of nutrition or here’s my quick version of a Dandelion Salad:

  • Pick the leaves when tender and young.

  • Tear up the leaves chop us some red onion and a few chopped tomatoes.

  • Season with a little salt and pepper and perhaps a little basil.

  • Dress lightly with a vinaigrette, add a little shaved parmesan and your done.

The word dandelion comes from a screwed up English version of the french phrase ‘dent de lion’ and literally means lion’s tooth, referring to it’s coarsely toothed leaves. My personal favorite name comes from China where it is called, pú gōng yīng (蒲公英), meaning “flower that grows in public spaces by the riverside”.

Give it a try and let us know what you think.

 

seed trayHere at the microfarm we like to plant the best quality seeds we can get our hands on for almost everything we grow. There are only a couple of items that we don’t plant from seed and instead buy starter plugs from reputable companies (strawberries and onions are two that spring to mind). Right now, at the beginning of September, the nursery is packed full of seed trays with lots of tiny plants emerging. It’s an exciting time of year and I never cease to be amazed as those tiny seeds I planted germinate and emerge from the trays. Nature really is amazing.

Here’s a list of what we are planting right now – and we suggest you should be planting too for your fall garden. We have some great (and easy) solutions to share with you on how to start growing your own food from seeds along with high density urban gardening solutions to take those seedlings through to a successful harvest.

Get out there and start planting – or let us know how we can help you get started with your best growing season yet. If you’d prefer us to start the seeds for you then just let us know what you need and we’d be happy to help you out.

Happy Planting!

Here are some of the veggies we suggest you plant now:

Beets

Broccoli

Celery

Cucumbers

Kale

Lettuce

Okra

Green Onions

Peppers

Radish

Spinach

Squash

Swiss Chard

Tomatoes

We are also planting lots of our favorite herbs to share with you too. Basil, Cilantro, Parsley, Dill, Lavender, Oregano, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme, and Epazote to mention just a few.

 

 

We’ve noticed a chemical smell/taste left on our cups and dishes lately so in an effort to use less chemicals in our home we’ve been making our own soaps.  Here is a recipe that the girls and  I made to replace those detergent gel packs,  it is also recommended to use vinegar as a natural rinse aid:

Natural Dishwasher Detergent:

1 cup borax

1 cup washing soda

1/4 cup Epsom salt

4 tbsp lemon juice

*mix ingredients together, press into an ice cube tray, and leave overnight