Spring is Here! Get Outside and Visit Some Farms

The last two winters here in Chapel Hill have been a little rough for all you non-winter, non-cold weather people. But fear not, spring is here (no really I swear)!

Photo: "Blossom Time, Fuquay-Varina" by Universal Pops, flickr creative commons
Photo: “Blossom Time, Fuquay-Varina” by Universal Pops, flickr creative commons

The Azaleas, Dogwoods, and fruit trees are beginning to bloom and the forests are taking on a faint green hue as buds begin to turn to leaves. I love this time of year, and if the trees and bushes are awakening and growing, you know what else is…? Vegetables!

Though Orange County may be best known for Chapel Hill and UNC, farming is a large part of the culture and economy. It has over 604 farms and almost one quarter of the land is agricultural. Crops grown in Orange County include: corn, soybeans, tobacco, and a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. It also has a number of dairy farms and farms that produce beef, pork, chicken, and other types of meat.

So, how does this apply to me or health, you might ask? Great question. Many people believe that eating local is good for your health as well as the environment, and this month Student Wellness is focusing on environmental wellness. The major benefit to the environment is that if you eat local, your food has to travel a much shorter distance from field to plate, which means a lot less fossil fuels burned in the process. Did you know that the average distance food travels is over 1800 miles!

Photo: "Baby Cows!" by Jason Adams, flickr creative commons
Photo: “Baby Cows!” by Jason Adams, flickr creative commons

One of the main reasons I am bringing all this up is that the Annual Piedmont Farm Tour is happening at the end of April (April 25th and 26th), and if you want to take improving your health and the environment one step further, you could ride your bike to one of these farms—Transplanting Traditions Community Farm and Chapel Hill Creamery are both less than seven miles from Chapel Hill.

But even if you don’t do the farm tour, you should try and get out on a bicycle in Orange County. What better way to get exercise than rolling past one picturesque farm after another, with the sun shining and a gentle breeze keeping you cool?

So before you leave Chapel Hill for the summer, visit a farm, go to the farmers market, or ride your bike to Maple View Farm to get some ice cream. You will be helping yourself, getting to know the people who produce your food, and helping the environment all at the same time.

Eating Local

Looking for an easy entry into the local food movement?  Already into local foods and want more?  Wonder whether local meats can really differ from what’s in the supermarket?  Today I’m excited to talk about an amazing local foods speaker coming to UNC, navigating the local farmers’ markets and area restaurants that serve local food.

So, this past fall break, I almost drove 3 hours to buy chicken and eggs from a farm I’m enamored with, and I’ve been a vegetarian for 5 years.  This farm – Polyface, Inc. – is the farm of Joel Salatin, a third generation farmer.  If you’ve watched Food, Inc., read Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma, or been around the local food/sustainable agriculture movement, then you’ve probably already heard of Joel Salatin.  His farm is known for producing food (particularly beef, pork and poultry) that’s beyond organic.  The farming practices at Polyface are creative, innovative and animal-friendly.  If you eat meat, have ever thought about where your food comes from, or wanted to know if there’s a better way than run-of-the-mill industrial agriculture, then I hope you’re as excited as I am that Joel is coming to UNC!

The event “Local Food: Talk and Taste” features alternative farmer and local food advocate Joel Salatin and is on Wednesday April 13th at 5:00 PM. The event is sponsored by the UNC Sustainability Office as a part of Earth Week celebration.  Joel is an entertaining and dynamic speaker, and if that’s not enough, delicious local food tastings will follow prepared in part by one of my new favorite restaurants: Vimala’s Curryblossom Café.

Stuck in class Wednesday evening?  Well, you can still get into local foods by checking out one of the area’s farmers’ markets or local restaurants that serve local.   Here’s a quick guide to when, where and how to navigate a market successfully. Continue reading

Straight from the Farm

My first real adventure onto a farm was nearly five years ago.  Now, I’d been strawberry, blueberry and apple picking before and as a kid my family even went to a tree farm to cut down our Christmas tree (that is, after the disastrous year where we cut one from our yard and shared the holiday with a houseful of ants).  Anyway, this was my first time to a farm that produces organic and sustainably grown vegetables, fruits, and grass fed beef.  At my farm (I know it’s not really mine, but I kind of feel like it is) I volunteered every week from May to November and got a share of the produce in exchange for 4 hours of sweaty, but fun labor (I have to say, there’s nothing like a crazy okra fight with the overgrown pods!).  I learned to harvest potatoes, tomatoes, squash, peas, beans, corn, cucumbers, kale, lettuce, peppers, and more.  I can honestly say that meeting the farmers and being in the dirt with the vegetables changed my relationship with food.  As the weather gets warmer, I can tell it’s getting closer to CSA season and time for me to go to my farm again! Continue reading