Daily updates, press conferences, mandates and now unbelievably, protests, fill print ,digital, audiovisual and social media platforms relentlessly during this pandemic. During these unprecedented times, daily briefings on new antiviral medications , vaccine development, convalescent plasma clinical trials diagnostic tests, immunomodulatory therapy and epidemiology are visible in real-time for a global audience to watch as scientists learn, discover , collaborate and hopefully, end the spread of SARS-CoV-2 and the reign of COVID19.
The public health messaging remains clear- Stay At Home, Mask Up, Flatten the Curve and We Are All In This Together. The hard work of unsung heroes- public health professionals and epidemiologists- is visible to all who value individual and community health. And for now, public health messaging continues to aim for a flattened curve and downward slope in COVID19 cases .
In the midst of this new state of uncertainty, anxiety and at times, conflicting information, finding a piece of peace is self care- something we all need.
Juxtaposed with this uncertainty is the reliable routine of the upcoming Maryland growing season. Spring is a time of excitement, planning, anticipation and hope for gardeners and farmers. Grow lights, seedling heat mats, potting mix and seeds cover tables -inside and outside. The weather remains unpredictable but midday when the sun shines, amending the soil, preparing garden beds, removing weeds, and carefully nurturing seedlings brings a sense of peace and purpose in these trying times.
This is our second year on the farm in Highland, Maryland, and while the deer enjoyed some of our harvest last year, this year the deer fence is up and the warm weather so far has brought some welcome and flavorful return guests- lemon oregano, chamomile, mint, broccoli raab, lavender, arugula and red mustard greens.
There is nothing like walking around a farm or garden on a sunny day and finding fresh leaves from a perennial or annual that self seeded from the previous year. And finding the first ladybug is a welcome sign and part of our pest control team.
And this year, unlike last year, earthworms are everywhere working to increase water penetration, decompose plant matter, increase water drainage and root penetration for our seedlings. The castings from the soil earthworms and the compost worms in our vermiculture bin, will help nurture our soil into the black gold that plants, bacteria, and mycorrhizae love. Along with the aged compost from three neighboring horses, our soil regeneration plan remains on track to grow nutrient dense crops for kitchens and tables in the suburban DC area.
In the midst of unsettling times, nature and Mother Earth will always offer a piece of peace and calm.
It's not for the faint of heart.
Homeschooling.After one year of high school homeschooling, my son returned to his local high school with such anticipation, motivation and focus that the experience was a win for both of us.
Between online courses, and homeschool courses at museums in the DC area, he met new students and traveled independently throughout the DC area as part of his coursework. The experience increased his confidence, independence, and introduced him to business owners, artists, and educators from all background throughout the Washington DC area.
Part of the homeschool experience coincided with my new interest in farming- the scale, variety, infrastructure and as always, the relationship to health and wellness. Farming offers an unparalleled experiential opportunity for students of all ages to learn and practice math, science, botany, agronomy, nutrition, engineering, solar energy and business to start.
Hands on experiences brought both of us an growing knowledge base on hoop houses, greenhouses, drip irrigation, ethnic crops, aquaculture, and fertigation while we volunteered at a research farm that distributes farm grown produce to local hunger organizations. And with our CSA, we traveled to food deserts in DC to offer locally grown food in partnership with local organizations and businesses.
The school day usually started with a handful of strawberries growing in the greenhouse or strawberry patch. Local chefs visited the farm and piqued his interest in cooking and the culinary arts.Before I knew it, our kitchen was filled with cakes and cookies and his love for kale salad ,in big bowls, began. Walking around the farm, lifting tables for farmers markets, pushing wheelbarrows, and harvesting a variety of berries and fruit for our CSA , in all seasons, and in the great outdoors , was at least 4 hours of functional and physical fitness.
Coincidentally, our local high school offered a culinary arts program and operated a small cafe for students and staff. When he presented the information brochure to me along with the registration papers, I knew our homeschool experience was ending as his self advocacy and educational focus blossomed. I just had to sign my name on the dotted line.
Wins All Around.
Fast forward to today, after a part time job in a restaurant, his career goals changed from working in the back of the house to the business side helping local restaurants increase their reach and revenue. The desire to become a chef came to a screeching halt but his interest in farming continues. Now, he's a young adult , continuing to learn on and off the farm. Hot composting, cold composting, solarization, Eisenia fetida, vermiculture, and building a trellis for snap peas inoculated with Rhizobium leguminosora- the lessons never stop.
So, if you are home because of COVID19, attempting to work and homeschool one or more students. Relax. Take a walk. Grow something. Stay safe, Stay home. Learning is not limited to a computer screen , or whiteboard.
It started in 2019.
The resolutions to eat better, quit smoking, exercise more ,and stress less. And then you pass the pint of ice cream in the freezer aisle, the bakery with donuts or the coffee shop with pastries and coffee drenched in a flavored syrup. By April Fools Day, in most years, New Years resolutions have ended.
Resolutions-To Do or Not To Do
Not this year. Sidewalks and parks are filled with people of all ages walking, running, biking, and hiking. The produce section in your favorite store can't keep up with the demand for fresh vegetables and fruit. Building a cigarette quit plan is a serious intention, now. Farms and farmers markets are designated essential businesses, in most states ,and no one questions why.
And business is booming for seed companies!
2020 started with a literal big bang lit by a virus, SARS-CoV-2, originally found in bats. A virus with a global reach that now affects thousands of households indirectly or directly.
Today, SARS-CoV-2 , with its spike protein, sits on center stage under a spotlight. While the race to find a vaccine or cure continues, scientists in Europe and Asia have identified a few risk factors. In China, age, smoking history, diabetes and hypertension were risk factors for developing COVID19- the primarily respiratory infection affecting thousands of patients around the world. Viral shedding continued for a median of 20 days in some survivors of COVID19 from Wuhan, China. Dr. Shawn Vasoo, clinical director at the Singapore National Center for Infectious Diseases, noted COVID19 disease progression in patients with a history of chronic diseases especially poorly controlled diabetes.
The Exceptional American Landscape
The US infectious disease landscape is especially colored by unique patterns and risk factors for COVID19 infections. Preliminary review of US cases notes that younger patients are at risk for developing COVID19- an unusual finding relative to other countries. The presence of significant risk factors - cardiovascular disease, hypertension ,diabetes, and obesity in patients of all ages places the majority of Americans at risk for developing COVID19.
Obesity alone has been identified as a risk factor for viral infections, disease progression and poor health outcomes. In 2009, obesity was identified as a risk factor for H1N1 flu infection severity and mortality due to "delayed and blunted antiviral responses". In the US, almost 43% of American adults are overweight and have a BMI > 30. In the UK, a BMI >40 alone, warranted a recommendation for self-isolation; the same recommendation given to patients with sickle cell, HIV/AIDS, chronic heart, kidney, pulmonary and neurological diseases.
Another fact that differentiates the US from the rest of the world is the presence of traditionally adult diseases-hypertension and Type 2 diabetes- in children and young adults. 1 in 3 Americans are prediabetic, a preventable chronic health condition. Ten percent of Americans are diabetic and over 1.5 million Americans are diagnosed with diabetes every year. Cardiovascular disease affects almost half of Americans adults and heart attacks are on the rise in young adults.
As more data is released , disturbing healthcare disparities are noted. In Chicago, 70% of COVID19 patients that died were Black, even though only 29% of the population. is Black. In D.C. , where the Black population of all ages are disproportionately affected by hypertension, diabetes and stroke, a disproportionate number of COID19 cases are also Black.
And the absence of adequate personal protection equipment(PPE) for healthcare team members endangers their lives and the lives of family members. Continuous exposure to SARS-COV-2 droplets in emergency rooms and ICUs across the country continues to increase the risk of front line professionals developing COVID19.
How long will this pandemic last? Will it end and recur every year until a vaccine is found? Will warm weather slow or stop the spread?
So much is till unknown. So much to learn. Ongoing clinical trials will evaluate the role of a variety of medications and therapeutic interventions.
Flatten the Curve
Until definitive answers are available, flattening the curve is critical to prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2. Practicing good hygiene is needed now more than ever- hand washing with soap for 20 seconds- before food preparation, before meals, after touching common areas, and bathroom breaks. Who knew that some people don't wash their hands before leaving the bathroom?Safe physical distancing- at least 6 feet- is also an effective action to limit viral exposure and community spread. Masks protect others from droplets formed with coughing, sneezing and even, talking. And stay at home.
Always, Nourish Well
For many, the COVID19 outbreak has been a wake up call to focus on health and eat more nutritious meals, not supplements, that can boost the immune system. Vitamin C is found in hot and sweet bell peppers, hibiscus tea, and kiwi fruit, not just oranges.. Zinc , a supplement used in some hospital COVID19 medication protocols, is found in oysters, lobster, crab, beef, poultry, sprouted beans and nuts. Daily zinc intake helps maintain a sense of smell and taste and possibly helps protect against neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's disease and also, pneumonia.
Food - A Comfort, A Feast, A Force
So while you are staying safe at home, fill your small plate with whole foods that will always deliver. A bowl of Gumbo Z'herbes , " a sauce of leaves", filled with leafy greens, carrot tops and the meat of your choice. A bowl of red beans and rice, or/and lentil soup spiced with curry and scotch bonnet pepper. A comforting bowl of chicken pot pie with a golden brown crust hiding carrots, shelled peas and potatoes. Or how about short ribs with carrots, celery, onions and garlic mashed potatoes with chives. Eating a rainbow of vegetables and fruit opens the door to an endless amount of possibilities limited only by your culinary creativity.
And don't forget to hydrate with cold or hot tisane- water flavored with local herbs like mint, hibiscus, lavender, and lemon balm- and sweetened with/without local honey. Control your daily added sugar intake and you can help control important numbers-blood glucose, blood pressure, BMI and waist circumference.
Our growing season is just beginning.with direct and indirect seeding of leafy greens, root vegetables, and herbs for the spring. Root vegetables like leeks and onions contain quercetin, and prebiotic fiber to keep your gut microbiome healthy. And as the seasons progress, beans, sweet potatoes, okra, watermelon and raspberries will color your plate and maybe, help lower your waist circumference, HgB A1c, LDL/triglyceride levels, blood pressure and risk for viral infections.
Join us as we help you feast and maybe, transform your life.
As soon as you walk through the door, in some homes, the questions start, especially my favorite: What's for dinner?
And just like that, the second shift, an unpaid shift, begins before your shoes are off. "Bringing home the bacon and fry it up in the pan" was a great hook in a 70's commercial, but for home chefs with an 8 or 12 hour work schedule, finding time to prepare a home cooked meal remains challenging.
Enter food delivery apps that can deliver a meal before you get home for a small delivery fee.
But with some these delivery apps come hidden and sometimes astronomical numbers. Some restaurant meals contain over 1200 calories per meal with more saturated fat, salt and sugar needed for a day. The latest food apps and food trucks deliver fully cooked meals in under an hour, give or take, but what else? How much salt, added sugar , food dyes?
For some Americans, most of their sodium intake, — over 75% -- is found in packaged and processed food, and restaurant food, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And dining in restaurants can lead to an extra 200 calories more per meal.
Now, switch up the chefs. You in the kitchen, with the right ingredients, in the right portions, can help prevent or manage common chronic health diseases like Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease. And with time, create a entree on par with most restaurants.
The medicine cabinet may be in the bathroom, but the real command center at home, when it comes to health and wellness, is in the kitchen.
Every meal or snack has numbers attached- calories, fat , sodium and sugar content- that hyperlink to these numbers- blood pressure, glucose ,cholesterol, and pounds. A holistic approach to disease prevention or management that includes diet modification and home cooked meals can serve up the necessary numbers for a healthier household that saves money in the household budget ,and maybe, reduces valuable time spent in the physician's office, hospital or emergency room.
The DASH Diet- Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension- , Mediterranean diet, or African Heritage Diet, can help manage or prevent prehypertension, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, prediabetes and some cancers. The MIND Diet- Mediterranean- DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay- may even offer protection against dementia and cognitive impairment with meals filled with berries, dark green leafy vegetables, fish, lean meats, olive oil, nuts and beans.
But who has time to cook? These days there are so many options for home cooked meals.
If you are a foodie that pins recipes, or consumes cable food shows religiously, you make time for home cooked meals. A weekend prepping, labeling , packing , and storing weekly meals neatly in the refrigerator may be part of your weekend routine. If not, personal chefs are just a click away to prep and cook personalized menu selections based on food preferences, allergies, food intolerances or medical conditions. And then there are the subscription meal kits that include recipes, herbs, spices, veggies and in some cases, a meat or seafood selection.
And if you like farm fresh and local food, CSA memberships and farmers markets serve up a variety of vegetables, herbs, cooking demonstrations and recipes. What happens at home with your CSA share is easy. Grab a glass a wine ( or herbal tea) , put on some music and relax. Home cooked meals with local and fresh food doesn't have to be stressful.
First, you wash.
The leafy greens need a good rinse and soak to remove the clingy critters that sometimes accompany your veggies from the farm to your kitchen. You never know when you will discover a tiny snail, ladybug ( let these fly away please) or aphid. Not to mention the occasional corn worm clinging to that ear of bicolor corn.
Flavonoid rich berries need a quick spray of water right before you use them. Rinse off the tomatoes, squash, winter and summer, and bell peppers if they're in season. And before the first bite of your sweet melon from the back of the pickup truck, rinse well under running water. Cantaloupes especially need a rinse because of the unique netting that can harbor Salmonella and other pathogens.
Next, you process.
Next step for a CSA share , depending on the season, is stripping the leaf from the tough stem , shelling peas, clipping the ends from green beans, shucking corn and , removing skins from the garlic and onions. And then it's time for the rough chop, chiffonade, grating, zesting, mortar and pestling of herbs and spices. Preparation and planning can make home cooked meals a regular part of your routine .
Here are some other tips to win in the kitchen:
1. Find your prep cook. End the "what's for dinner "questions. If everyone eats, everyone can help with the prep. Children of all ages can do more than take the chicken out of the freezer; they can wash vegetables and dishes. Your resident food critics can shell peas, clip green bean ends ,and remove garlic and onion skins like a pro. Depending on their age, kids can safely cut an onion, crush garlic cloves and peel potatoes.
2. Mise en place. No more " where is the.....? " Everything in its' place, clean, and ready to use. Your designated prep cook can even learn a little French at the same time.
3.Meal Plan. A weekly meal plan shaves off time in the kitchen, grocery store , or even on your smartphone app once you decide what's for dinner before dinnertime You can also keep track of your calories, sodium, sugar, simple carbohydrate and saturated fat intake with a meal plan that includes recipes with nutritional facts.
4. Marinades, Rubs and Sauces. Aji verde, salsa verde, dry rubs, wet rubs, pesto...Prepare and refrigerate these well before you're ready to cook. When it's time to tenderize and/or season meats and vegetables, this part of the recipe is done .
5. Prep, Cook and Freeze. Casseroles and one dish meals are great meals that you can cook and freeze for later . If it's a family favorite, double the recipe, savor some, label and freeze the rest. With a CSA membership, sometimes there's a bounty of one or more vegetables or herbs. You can freeze part of your share for the winter months. Have a surplus of green beans in your CSA share? Blanch, label, and store some in the freezer. Why buy frozen vegetables when you can freeze your own?
6.Communication. This is important. Your prep cook can quickly transform into an executive chef, and improvise a meal or snack with the ingredients already accounted for in your weekly meal plan. Make sure everyone understands that some of the ingredients in the kitchen are for everyone ,and not for just a table for one.
The peach- a symbol of renewal, youth, longevity, and immortality. Summers in Texas were filled with hand cranked ice cream made with rock salt, pound cake, blackberry cobbler , and homemade peach cobblers with a golden lattice crust. Once I moved to Maryland, Aunt June, a chef at a country club in Paris, Texas, baked and sent me home with peach hand pies that filled my carryon bag on return trips to the DMV. Peaches grew with little fuss on a neighbor's tree near my grandparent's house, and thrived in the Texas heat. We took for granted that peach trees blossomed ,and bore fruit with little need for insecticides and fungicides in some parts of Texas. At the end of the summer, peach trees were heavy with enough ripe fruit for Sunday dinner peach cobblers , and for packing Mason jars with a taste of sweetness for the winter months.
Freestone peaches, named because they are easily separated from the hard pit in the center, are sweet , fragrant, some yellow, some white ,and are in season now. Clingstone peaches cling with their last strand of flesh to the pit like cling wrap. If you've ever had peaches from a salad bar, fruit cup or canned peaches from your pantry, chances are you've tasted a clingstone peach.
And then there is the donut peach, also known as a Saturn peach. The peach that looks more like a mini jelly donut with a thumbprint in the center. The unique peach with a bespoke floral perfume that transports you to a spice rack filled with hints of vanilla, and almond essence.
The donut peach is a heirloom peach variety originating in China , ,cultivated and domesticated from its' hairy , small and sour ancestor from China. This pale yellow, less fuzzy, peach variety was introduced to the US in the late 1800's. Once scientists at the Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experimental Station cultivated and developed a frost tolerant winter hardy variety, the donut peach tree began growing successfully in Zones 5-8, and since the 1990's have slowly populated grocery store shelves and farmers market tables.
Low in calories, with Vitamin C, Vitamin A , complex carbohydrates and fiber, the donut peach is a great snack for a lunchbox, before or after a workout, or even with your morning coffee. And for parents with student athletes, after the first bite into a donut peach, your child may ask for more food in its' original packaging.
This week ,we have organically grown donut peaches in our Nourish Well farm share.