.Rubus fruticosus , a member of the rose family and also known as a blackberry.
The blacker the berry the sweeter the juice AND the duller the berry the sweeter the flavor.Actually, the blacker the drupe the sweeter the drupe. Each berry is a drupe, an aggregate fruit composed of multiple drupelets with an endocarp, like with a peach, cherry or coconut, and then a seed. Just look at a dried blackberry and you will find a tiny hardened endocarp with a seed inside.
Bright and shiny is great for metals but for fruits, especially berries, a duller tint may offer a milder and sweeter flavor.
Despite their nutritional punch, blackberries don't receive the spotlight that they deserve. Native to Asia , Europe, North and South America, blackberries have been part of the culinary and medicinal history of many cultures. The roots and leaves have been used for their astringent properties and as a tonic. Naturally high in pectin, blackberries are a great fruit for making jelly , preserves or jams.
Growing patterns vary -trailing, erect, semi erect- with thorns and thornless,, and in the US grow well in USDA plant hardiness zones 4-9 where the summers are hot. For me, one my earliest food memories is eating a homemade blackberry cobbler made from wild blackberries. Blackberry cobbler is still one of my favorite desserts with its mix of sweet , tart flavors a crunchy crust and homemade ice cream on the side.
In addition to the brilliant color, and taste, blackberries are a great source of Vitamins C and K, soluble and insoluble fiber and the antioxidants ,anthocyanin, which gives them a rich and vibrant color , lutein, zeaxanthin and betacarotene .
Someone in my home loves cucumbers. Once they are washed, the spines brushed away, sliced and splashed with the special house dressing, we can forget about leftovers.
Until now. Welcome Suyo Long cucumbers to the dinner table. A long cucumber that helps fill up a teenage boys stomach for at least a couple of hours. It really is a wonderful vegetable for a snack.
Even though cucumbers are a summer crop in this area, the heat brings out the bitterness in the flavor due to the presence of cucurbitacin- a triterpene compound that gives cucumbers its distinctive flavor and protects it from herbivores. Too much cucurbutacin causes a bitter taste and resulting nausea, vomiting and stomach cramps . After tasting an English, Persian and lemon cucumber, I found an heirloom variety with a unique shape, length , crispy texture and thin skin.
Suyo Long is a parthenocarpic (small seeds) cucumber variety, native to China that thrives in the heat can produce cucumbers as long as 16 inches. The shape varies - straight vs S shaped-depending on the use of a trellis.
Cucumbers are frequently used to flavor water with lime and other flavors but you miss out of some important nutrients.
Vitamin K, beta carotene, lignans. Fisetin, a flavonoid, is one antioxidant found in cucumbers currently studied for its anti-aging, anti inflammatory, chemopreventive and chemotherapeutic properties- in a lab setting. It's a vegetable not a magic pill. As part of a well balanced diet filled with a rainbow of fruit and vegetables, cucumbers definitely deserve a place at the table and in so many cuisines are key ingredients..
Eat The Peel. Suyo Long has a thinner skin than the traditional cucumber found in supermarkets but still contains a substantial amount of insoluble fiber that adds bulk to your intestinal tract which benefit your gut microbiome. As with most vegetables and fruit high in fiber, cucumbers may play a role in the prevention and management of Type 2 diabetes mellitus and cardiovascular disease. Even the seeds contain flavonoids(plant pigments) , carotenoids, calcium, manganese, iron and zinc.
Wash thoroughly. Eat within 24- 48 hours of harvesting to preserve crispness or cut into 6 in pieces and refrigerate in water.
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"People find a sense of being, a sense of worth and substance being associated with land. Association with final roots gives us not only a history but proclaims us heirs to a future." -- Haki R. Madhubuti
BLACK LIVES HAVE, DO, AND WILL ALWAYS MATTER
Before we stepped onto the shores of a struggling band of colonies, African people built pyramids, practiced regenerative agriculture, mapped the stars and navigated the oceans.
The subsequent enslavement of millions of African people will never invalidate our value or relentless contributions to the world despite ongoing obstacles and brutality. It speaks more to the alarmingly lack of humanity, respect, compassion and decency of other groups. My grandparents settled in Paris, Texas, after leaving Wedowee, Alabama, to work and subsequently own a farm where cotton was grown, harvested and sold. The story of Paris, Texas is the story of many southern towns permeated with lynchings, and violence against men, women and children. My uncle, Essex Reese, recounted the lynching to a reporter from the Chicago Tribune, "The white doctors and lawyers could have stopped the lynchings, but they didn't do anything,".
Now we have smartphones, cameras, videos and citizen journalists. Scrolling through Twitter, recently I read a post from Attorney Benjamin Crump asking users to share the name of a Black man lying on the ground with a cop kneeling on his neck as another cop watched. Sometimes your brain just can't process certain visual images ( lying eyes) but it slowly became clear , before the video ended, that this was a lynching.Captured on a smartphone in realtime.
Four Minnesota police officers lynched George Floyd, nonchalantly, indifferent, with their hands in their pockets in front of bystanders that were filming the entire tragedy. Not one member worried about possible administrative or judicial consequences because....American judicial system.
I could not and will not watch the entire video ,which should come with a trigger warning, and only be used in court proceedings.A video that shocked the nation, temporarily. The video is now widely circulated and added to the growing volume of trauma porn that precedes the hashtag of the names of innocent Black women, men and children targeted, brutalized and murdered in America at the hands and knees of the police.
George Floyd was a father, son, brother, uncle, Houston native, former student of Jack Yates High School and member of the Screwed Up Clip, a Houston hip-hop collective founded by DJ Screw. He was a man that should be alive today. He will be remembered by some because of the actions of four members of the Minneapolis Police Department but for his family and friends, he was a loving and gentle giant .
Since 1619, Black lives have built this country from the ground up one plant, one brick, one invention at a time. The very soil that feeds us was first toiled by Native Americans and then, Africans enslaved in the American colonies. The generational wealth that ensued from our labor failed to reach generations of Black families, and in spite of this, built Black Wall Street, and many communities populated by Black owned businesses, buildings and organizations. Institutions that were torched and burned to the ground in Tulsa, Oklahoma and other cities .
The very wall in Wall Street was built by Black people, brick by brick.The same Wall Street that exploited the labor of the enslaved, funded the expansion of southern plantations and continues to fund the American economy.
Protests and marches continue to push this country forward to value and respect Black lives. As in the past freedom fights, protestors are met with armed forces intent on harm instead of help and fear instead of freedom. In this moment, like in the 1960's, young people are at the forefront of a movement to ensure that Black Lives Matter in theory and practice, in public and in private and in every room, including courtrooms.
And in voting booths. November is coming. Police reform has to follow. Performative solidarity on social media by elected officials follows a historical pattern that attempts to delay progress with advisory commissions and working groups while police budgets expand to further their militarization and compensate victims of police violence with taxpayer dollars.
It is time to reform, rebuild and reconstruct a country that delivers on its promises for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And it's time for the proverbial and literal 40 Acres and ideally, a tractor. Black farmers have a role to play in rebuilding the health of food insecure communities now swamped with fast food establishments that undermine the health of its' residents. To fulfill that goal, America must compensate the Black farmers that were denied USDA loans and forced into bankruptcy.
Black Lives Always Mattered.
“Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want the rain without thunder and lightning,They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.” Frederick Douglas
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.