By Charlene Rubinstein
When I set out to write an article about urban farming I had no idea I would end up on a duck hunt. Dan Larsen and Mandy Zabohne were on the street looking for lost ducks when I pulled up. Their home, also known as the Olympia Light House Homestead, is directly across the street from the Wendell Berry Community Garden. The first thing you notice, at their home, are the many garden beds and different animal houses and coops. It really looks like a lot is happening on this half-acre lot.
Last year, the Olympia City Council passed new codes that were much more permissive to urban agriculture. In addition to allowing ducks and goats, Jennifer Kenny, Associate Planner with the City of Olympia, says that other changes were made after a series of meetings in 2011 and 2012, which included input from Sustainable South Sound.
The result is an increase in the number of chickens that that are allowed and an updated definition of urban agriculture. (For complete City of Olympia urban agriculture rules, click here.) Compared to Tumwater and Lacey, Olympia is the last to make these allowances.
Back to the ducks. With a long net in hand we find the two Indian Runner ducks hiding in the bushes in the backyard of a neighbor’s home. Despite their escape antics, Mandy reassures me ducks are ideal livestock. “If I had to choose between ducks and chickens, I’d pick ducks. Duck eggs are delicious. Chickens sometimes peck their eggs or get secretive with them. And ducks are nicer to each other! They’re great, except when they run away into your neighbors yard,” she laughs. The couple also has rabbits. The City of Olympia permits lots smaller than one acre to raise five rabbits.
Another Eastside resident that is trying her hand with small animals is Heidi Bray, owner of two Nigerian Dwarf goats. This is a dairy breed and is known for high butterfat content, unlike the Pygmy, which is a meat breed. Both are considered miniature goats and the City of Olympia allows up to two in lots between five thousand square feet and one acre.
It’s hard not to feel like a rock star when you arrive at the goats’ fenced in area. The kids come running up, bleating loudly, with mom close behind. Heidi explains how she teamed up with her her friend and mentor, Ann Moelhman, who breeds her own goats.
“An opportunity arose, because we needed some brush clearing and Ann raises goats. Over the summer they sustained off what was available to them but grass becomes less nutrient rich later in the summer, so now we supplement with grain and hay. This will continue for the remainder of the winter,” she describes.
Goats also come with a fair amount of responsibility. “People need a well fenced area that’s dog and goat proof. Goats climb and can get over traditional fences,” she says. Heidi’s mentor, Ann is an award winning breeder and say mentorship is integral. “This is an important part of shopping for goats and who you are going to buy from.”
Heidi feels very positive about the impact these goats have had on young and old. “Having the goats in our neighborhoood has been a great way to integrate a working animal in our neighborhood and that’s unusual in an urban setting. It’s good for community and good for the children. Plus it’s just a lot of fun,” she summarizes.
Just a few blocks down the road from the goats sits a one story house on a modest 5,000 square foot lot. But size hasn’t kept this family of four from adding chickens to the mix. Says homeowner Suzanne Wenner, “I started reading about chickens and became kind of obsessed and wanted one of each kind – blue egg layers and brown eggs. I fell for the romantic backyard chickens.” Her family eats a lot of eggs and she’s happy knowing she can control exactly what they are eating.
Like goats, chickens need proper fencing and shelter for protection. Together with friends, Wenner built an A-Frame chicken tractor. She then realized the birds needed somewhere to go during the rainy months, so her husband, Chris, built a chicken run. Besides having a regular egg supply, Suzanne says that chickens are good at composting food waste and their manure is useful.
“We don’t have slugs anymore and the kids really like them. They know where their food comes from and understand the life cycle better,” explains Suzanne. However, Suzanne wants people to know about the less glamorous side of having chickens, “There’s lots of dust, and flies come with having chickens. And of course they will help themselves to your garden.”
The constant, soft cooing of the hens brings a quiet calm to the backyard that makes all the work required forgotten at least for a few moments.
Related Resources About Urban Farming
I have a confession. I love to mess up a perfectly good recipe, on purpose. I adore any recipe writer who is detailed and precise about their explanations and measurements. It helps me figure out how far I can veer before crashing into disaster. Becoming a decent cook is similar to any skill in life. Once you learn the basics you can begin tweaking, fiddling and meddling until you find your pulse. Your mark. Your touch. Typically, I try to follow a recipe exactly as written on the first attempt. Any attempt after, however, is fair game. Even at first attempt, I am liable to cut diagonally instead of vertically. I might add a handful of chopped basil instead of measuring it out precisely to 1/4 cup. I want to stay within the confines of the recipe without letting it confine my spirit, my passion for food. I, more than most, can become so lost in perfectly executing the details that I completely forget to enjoy myself. The final product may look and taste perfect but it will lack heart, soul and passion.
I’m really trying to remind myself of this lesson, especially lately. I fear I have gotten into a spell of looking a life as far to precise and perfect. As a set of skills I must develop and execute to succeed. As though anything in life that is executed perfectly, without heart, ever inspires anyone, including me. Inspiration is a feeling you get when you see someone else showcase a part of themselves that comes from a deep spark within. Perfection has nothing to do with that spark. This recipe falls right into that opportunity. Originally taken from Molly Wizenbergs book “A Homemade Life”, it is dictated with precision. She tells you how much to use, how thinly to slice and which way to cut and shape each vegetable. It doesn’t really matter. Really. I chopped and seeded with abandon. I measured and guessed. I threw in a bit of curry powered, garam masala and nutmeg. It still tasted delicious. In fact, I got so wrapped up in the process that I completely forgot to take a final picture. I think, in spirit, that is best. Then you never know what it was “supposed to” look like. You will only know what you created, how it tasted on your tongue and the way it made you feel when you were creating and that is all you need to know.
Position rack in middle of oven and preheat to 400 degrees. Arrange eggplant rounds in single layer on rimmed baking sheet. Pour 2 Tbsp olive oil in small bowl and brush onto eggplant. Flip slices and brush second slices as well, taking care that each as a thin coating of oil. Bake for 30 minutes, flipping slices halfway through, until soft and lightly browned on each side. Remove from oven and cool. (You can do this step a day or two ahead and refrigerate)
Warm 2 Tbsp olive oil over medium-high heat in a Dutch oven or large, deep skillet. Add zucchini and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden and just tender, 10—12 minutes. Remove it from the pan, taking care to leave behind any excess oil and set aside. Reduce heat to medium and add onion. Add a bit of oil if pan is dry. Cook, stirring occasionally until softened, about 4-5 minutes. Add bell pepper and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until just tender, but now browned, about 6 minutes. Add tomatoes, salt, thyme, and bay leaf and stir to combine. Reduce the heat to low, over and cook for 5 minutes. Add eggplant, zucchini, stir to incorporate and cook until everything is very tender, 15-20 minutes more. Taste and adjust the seasonings as necessary. Discard bay leaf and stir in basil.
Serve hot, warm or room temperature, with additional salt for sprinkling. This dish is even better a day or two later, as the flavors get time to mesh.
1 lb eggplant, sliced crosswise into 1-inch-thick rounds
1 lb zucchini, trimmed, halved, lengthwise and sliced in to 1/2-inch thick half-moons
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 large red bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
4 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
5 Roma tomatoes, seeded and chopped
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil
I will begin this post with a great deal of apologizing. It will be the kind, however, that is done by any good friend that has been gone for far too long. The kind of apology that occurs after I knock the door, you open and I thrust a delicious dessert, still warm from the oven; begging to be drenched in vanilla ice cream and consumed. That is the only way to apologize for such an unexplained absence. I am not only apologizing to you, my dear friend, but to Molly Wizenberg. Writer of “A Homemade Life”, creater of the blog “Orangette” and my current personal hero. I believe the next few posts will be a direct copy of every recipe from her book. I can’t help myself. In my defense, she really should not have written such beautiful stories and recipes to match. As with any good idea, I want to try everything she writes about because she makes it all sound not only incredible, but familiar.
Familiar in the way you feel about your best friends spaghetti sauce and the way it always fills your house with the smell of love, comfort and safety. Familiar in the way that your favorite cookie recipe automatically makes everything feel right, even if they whole day fell to pieces. I want to make every recipe in Molly’s book because I feel like I know her and thus know the food she makes. I not only want to taste it all, I want to feel the way she feels when she eats it. Powerful stuff. So forgive the next few posts as I lavish adoration and attention. She may or may not be my idol right now, but I’m sure it will be evident the former is true.
I hope, only hope, to find some way to convey that feeling to everyone here. I want you to try these recipes that I create, not only because they will feed your bellies but because they will nourish your soul. I want to become familiar with y’all. In that spirit, I’m going to make it clear that my absence has occurred due to a family move to Austin, Texas. We are simultaneously settled, settling and unsettled. I’ve been inspired and found a renewed energy around being in the kitchen. I can’t wait to share what I’ve been doing. Tonight, however, I start with Molly’s Tarte Tatin.
It doesn’t look glamorous, and isn’t even the very first thing I would choose if waiting in line at a local bakery. I would be the fool in the end. This is astounding. My husband likened it to “creme brulee but better”. It is really best warm and served with a simple vanilla ice cream. I landed on this recipe because Molly described it as “a housewife in stilettos” and “it doesn’t dally with small talk. It reaches for your leg under the table”. Who wouldn’t want to eat something that is described with such passion? I know I am first in line. In fact, bakeries should really start describing their pastries in a similar manner…I would love to see what they invent.
Molly recommends puff pastry and I bought what I thought was puff pastry but was called Filo Dough. I’m not sure if they are really the same thing but it worked just fine. I just skipped the step where she asks you to roll out the dough really thin. I actually think I put to little dough in the pastry and would just put all of it in next time. It was still heart stopping and phenomenal…I can’t imagine how much better it would taste with even more dough. I may have just fainted from elation while writing that last sentence.
I also made a choice to buy whatever crisp, sweet apples I could find and used whole wheat pastry dough. Small changes but it didn’t seem to alter the incredible complexity of taste…as long as butter and sugar is involved…you are typically set. Since I don’t want to completely steal Molly’s thunder, I am making you go to her original post for directions. It’s the least I can do for a woman who talks about food the way a person might talk about a lover.
Juice of 1 lemon
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
5-6 large Apples
6 Tbsp (3 ounces) unsalted butter
About 14 ounces puff pastry
A friend of mine had posted a link to a recipe for home made goldfish crackers a few months ago. I tried the recipe and my son gobbled down the entire batch, along with an entire group of mom’s I meet with on Monday mornings. It was such an enormous hit I thought often about making them again. Just as I got up the motivation I saw another post by a food blogger I follow that made spinach crackers. Whoa. The two recipes began making love in my mind and made this little baby. It was born from a desire to make great crackers with even more nutritional punch. My first attempt was soggy and sticky. I added more flour and less water and got a winner.
Preheat oven to 400 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or a non-stick mat. Or just use 1 baking sheet and bake 2 separate batches like I did. In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, salt, dill). With a pastry blender (or two forks), cut in the butter into the flour mixture until crumbly. In a blender, blend the water and spinach until smooth. Now pour this into the flour and butter mixture. Stir this mixture until it just comes together and then gently knead with hands until it forms a ball. Be sure not to over handle the dough.
Split the dough in half. On a non-stick mat or lightly floured surface, roll out one half of the dough very thin (1/16th inch). Cut with cookie cutters or with a pizza roller. Gently lift off with fingers and place on prepared sheet (no need to space far apart as they don’t spread). Repeat as necessary. Sprinkle with more salt (I used Herbamare and it tasted amazing!) Bake for 9-10 minutes, rotating pan half way through baking to ensure more even baking. Crackers should be lightly golden when ready. My crackers took 10 minutes, but watch closely after 8 minutes. Be careful because they burn quickly. Cool completely on baking sheet and serve immediately. Store leftovers in a glass container.
1 & 1/2 cups (5 oz) 100% whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tbsp sugar
1/4-1/2 tsp salt (I used 1/2 tsp), plus more for sprinkling
1 tsp dried dill weed (or other herbs/spices of choice)
6 Tbsp butter
1/4 cup water
1 cup fresh spinach (30 grams)
2 Cups Cheddar Cheese, grated
I know at every post you read you deeply wish I would just show up on your door step with everything cooked and ready for your immediate consumption. I know your drool at every photo, short circuits your keyboard and you’ve bought 100 in the last two years I have been posting. I know you bookmark the recipes with every intention of trying them on some night when inspiration and energy consumes you, only to discover you end up falling asleep on the couch every night with a empty bowl of ice cream on the coffee table. Oh I know. I know because I do it to. I bookmark recipes from other blogs and tear out photos and inspiration from magazines and Pinterest. All the while wishing they would just materialize in front of me so I could eat it. Sometimes it is not the baking and cooking I enjoy so much. It is actually just the eating. I also know how excited I would be if some of my favorite bloggers were just happening to sell their baked goods. I would probably pee my pants due to complete elation if I knew I could buy these goods and the proceeds would go to benefit my local food bank. I just might have a heart attack if I could also meet these bloggers. Guess what? It’s happening. Jenni from The Plum Palate is putting together an incredible event to benefit the Olympia Food Bank. You should check out her write up for the full details but I can promise incredible food from eight local food bloggers at only 1$ per item. Seriously? You gotta do it. Oh and did I mention there will be a raffle to win gift certificates to some incredible local bakeries such as Bearded Lady, San Francisco Street Bakery, Blue Heron Bakery, 8 Arms Bakery, and Bonjour Cupcakes.
Both cash and food donations will be valid for tickets you can exchange for baked goods. And remember, the food bank accepts both perishable and non-perishable items. That means you can donate almost anything, from a package of pasta to a bunch of carrots. I will be there from 5-7 and I will be making the following:
Visit our Facebook event page. Come down. Enter a raffle. Donate and eat some food all for an incredible cause.
Friday, April 27 from 5-10
Located at Make Olympia street market at Arts Walk, 100 block of Columbia
All proceeds benefit the Olympia Food Bank
1$ or food donation for each baked good
Raffle with gift certificates from local bakeries
Bloggers that will be participating: