Worthwhile Cause: Community Supported Agriculture

Nearly every Wednesday The Queen and I go to Solomon Farm on Dupont Road for the weekly Farmer’s Market.  There is always a great selection of fruit, vegetables and other goods, including honey, desserts, and educational information.  Also, there are always plenty of folks who want to pet and love on The Queen, which she loves.  So, it is a win-win.

One group that is faithfully present every week is Graber Farms.  Graber Farms is Amish owned and operated.  The operation does not use electricity or modern conveniences.  A non-Amish volunteer has started a website for them that she maintains.  She also comes out weekly to sell and promote the organization.  Graber Farms is a certified organic farm that supplies produce to local markets, restaurants, and companies in Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan.  Graber also has a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) operation that provides weekly deliveries to subscribing citizens – 20 pounds of organic produce – from May 30 to October 15.  You can purchase in 10 or 20 week shares in small, medium or large sizes.  Graber also has U-Pick events and the option to purchase farm shares.

Graber produce is the freshest you can get, it is organic, and it is local.  There is no better way to support the local economy than to support such an organization.

CSAs exist throughout the Midwest and beyond.  Another favorite farm of mine is the Hawkins Family Farm in North Manchester, Indiana.  The Hawkins Family Farm also offers a CSA that includes beef, chicken, turkey, and pork as well as fresh produce and more (there will be a future post on their fabulous Between Heaven and Earth Dinner).

There are certainly CSAs and local farms everywhere, find one near you and support it.  It will make you feel good and food is pretty!

Welcome to the Big Ten

I love college football.  It is really the only sports season that gets me excited.

I have been spending my Saturday afternoons and evenings in college football stadiums since I was a little girl.  My Daddy started out taking the family to Virginia Tech football games (back with VT in the Big East and horrible but the games were fun) years ago.  It became one of my favorite things to do with my Daddy.  He never encountered a game he wasn’t interested in watching.  So, I owe my college football habit to him, not a bad thing to inherit.

I went to college at UVA where I was introduced to the treasured Southern concept of football parading as a cocktail party (but it is pretty there).  Finally, I made my way to UT, where I was introduced to real college football – the SEC.  Yes, I know, many will not agree, but we will just have to agree to disagree.

Even though I have seen football at its most rabid and crazy (SEC, particularly if LSU is involved), I still carry with me the traits of a good UVA fan.  I don’t travel.  Until now.  UVA visited Indiana University this season and I was there.  Of course, I only had to travel the 3.5 hours from FW – so I did not over exert myself.  I will not go into the details of the game, other than to say that UVA won despite giving up a 20 point lead in the second half.  I doubt any UVA fans were surprised. Sigh.

This was my first Big Ten stadium experience and I learned a few things.

Big Ten fans are nice and pretty well behaved.  I had the occasion to tailgate with a group of total strangers, we shall call them The Boys from Chicago.  The Boys from Chicago were neither Hoosier nor Cavalier fans.  They have decided as a group to see a game at every Big Ten stadium and this year it was IU’s turn.  They welcomed me to their tailgate, which featured a television, kabobs, burgers, cornhole, and comfortable chairs.  It was a good thing, because my tailgate consisted of a Starbucks iced decaf mocha.  Weak, I know.   

In the Midwest the beanbag game called “cornhole” in the South is called “bags”.  Who knew.  It kind of makes more sense as “bags”.   I am going to try to take that South.

The fun tailgates are in the grass.  Most of the non-season ticket holders are found across 17th Street in grassy lots.  The lots directly across from the stadium are filled with screaming, dancing, and beer throwing students.  I drove passed this spectacle (with my mouth gapped open) and thought it was a mosh pit at a concert.  I had not seen such.  Needless to say, I drove on and found a nice quiet lot.  Luckily, that is also what The Boys of Chicago did.  Although, they seemed disappointed that they could not get a space in the midst of the college-kid-football-frenzy.

These are the remains of the college-kid-football-frenzy. Yikes.

The only thing more odd than a slow fight song played to the tune of Auld Lang Syne (UVA’s fight song) is a first down ritual involving the mimicking of cow milking (hello IU).  Seriously, at every first down there were thousands of people performing cow milking gestures.  Interesting, but not necessarily pretty.

The Marching Hundred marching band is quite fabulous.  I love a marching band. However, it has a long way to go to rival The Pride of the Southland Marching Band at the University of Tennessee.  I especially love a marching band when there are fire batons involved.  There are lots of fire batons in the SEC.  IU needs some fire batons.

Indiana limestone is a big deal.  I had no idea.  Turns out Memorial Stadium at IU is also called The Rock and the students section is referred to as The Quarry in honor of that Indiana limestone.  There is actually a big rock at one end of the field placed there by a former coach who has since passed away.  Now the rock carries his name.  Very nice and respectful.  I like that.  The stadium is pretty and castle-like.  Of course, it is not Scott Stadium – I do love a colonnade – but it is still pretty.

Fanny packs are fashionable.  I realize this probably shows my age, but I was unaware that fanny packs were acceptable substitutes for pocketbooks and backpacks. Fanny packs were all over the tailgate area and the game. Some were sequined, some were emblazoned with IU’s name, and others were just plain fanny packs.  When I was 18 to 25 I would not have been caught in the bathroom with a fanny pack on.  I am not sure there are enough sequins to make a fanny pack pretty and I love sequins.

I really like Bloomington, Indiana.  It is a fun, open, happy little college town.  Not too far from the big city and not too far from happy hillbilly country.  You can’t beat it with a stick.  It is pretty.

My first Big Ten experience was outstanding.  I can’t help but compare the experience to the college football experience at UVA and UT, which is unfair.  It is like comparing apples and oranges.  IU and Bloomington has a lot to offer. I will go back even if UVA is not there.  It is a worthwhile and fun spot and a great first stop on my Big Ten tour.

Gold and Green Fields

The summer has started to wind down here in Northern Indiana.  While the trees are not yet showing their fall colors, the soybeans and corn have started to fade to yellow, gold and brown.

I spend a fair amount of time driving through the Northeast Indiana countryside and have noticed that yellow and gold are really prominent colors in nature around here.  Until now, I never really knew that yellow or gold was a color that should be associated with a farming landscape.  Turns out, it should.  By the end of the corn season the tops of the corn stalks are waving and sparkling gold.  LIkewise, just before the soybean harvest when the leaves drop off the bushes, these little guys turn the loveliest shade of yellow.  I love green, it is beautiful.  However, as fall comes on here in the Midwest green has a rival; and gold can hold its own.  As you might guess, I think it is pretty.


A Garden Grows in FW

Not everyone can grow things.  It seems the only thing that I can grow are peppers.  Currently, I have more jalapenos and habaneros than I can shake a stick at, as they say.  I am not sure how many that is but it is more than I can use.  My Mommy and Daddy can both grow things.  Mommy grows vegetables and flowers and Daddy germinates and grows trees and plants them up and down the holler.  He once transplanted a pine tree from Florida to the holler.  It has survived although we refer to it as the “ugly tree”.  It is 15 feet tall with a total of four branches.  It is not pretty, but it lives.

Because of my Mommy’s skill at growing plants and things it was appropriate to take she and The Princess (my oldest niece) to the FW Foellinger Freimann Botanical Conservatory.  They grow things there and grow them well.

It was Labor Day weekend and we squeezed the Conservatory in between big dinners, shopping, and church (Mommy needed to inspect and approve) and I am glad that we did.  The Conservatory is a surprising oasis in the midst of downtown FW.  In fact when you are inside or walking through the outdoor gardens it is hard to tell that you are in the middle of downtown.

The current exhibit features plants inspired by the Summer of Love.  The exhibit is complete with a love bus and a peace sign.  This is very Mommy-appropriate as she reminds us from time to time that she was in the wrong place during the summer of love.  A few years ago the family took a summer trip to California – San Francisco, Yosemite, and Los Angeles.  While in SF Mommy, Sister, and I made our pilgrimage to the Haight, the host of the summer of love.  Oh, the fun Mommy would have had if she had been there.  You do recall that she had us listening to Led Zeppelin, The Who, and The Mamas and The Papas when we were barely walking.  In fact, at four Sister was quoting lines from Nazareth tunes.  Not good.  Anyway, the Summer of Love was a good exhibit and right up Mommy’s alley.  Peace.

There is also the tropical garden area, my favorite, which features waterfalls and big-leafed plants.  It is very pretty and fun.  I recommend it.  During the summer the Conservatory hosts concerts as well as artists on site.  Also, you can easily walk from any cool downtown restaurant to the conservatory.  So get some grub and go smell the flowers.

The Big Little City

“A great city is not to be confounded with a populous one.”  Aristotle

I am a small town girl.  My lovely little hometown has a population of 1500 or so in the town limits and around 25,000 in the whole county.  To give you a little perspective, on a any given Saturday in the fall there are over 100,000 people in Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee.

So, I am used to knowing everyone and everyone knowing me.  In fact, I am gifted in license plate memory.  I can identify the cars of many friends, family, and acquaintances at home by looking at their plate.  Scary.  I know.  Being the product of a small town means that you also have to get used to people knowing a lot about you.  I went to high school with people whose parents went on dates with my parents before they were married.  There are no secrets in a small town.  And, hey, if some people do not know something for sure they probably will just make it up.

It is different in the “big city” – only a small group of people know everything about you rather than the entire town.

When I lived in Charlottesville, Virginia I got my first taste of anonymity.  No one cared what I looked like at the grocery store, no one knew me at the Rite Aid, and no one told me that they remember me when I was a baby.  Next was Richmond, Virginia – arguably a real city with a million people downtown.  This was a bit different.  No one knew me but I began to see how small communities developed within big ones.  I may not know anyone across town but the 100 people who I work around and go to church with know all about me, or they think that they do.  Same difference, I suppose.  Enter the home of Neyland Stadium.  I was in Knoxville three glorious years.  Of course, law school being what it is – like high school – I was back in the fish bowl.  Where everyone that you interact with on a daily and regular basis knows you.  Then I moved on to a small Virginia town to practice law (where I happily met and bonded with the Cosmic Sisters, more on that later) and we are right back to knowing everyone in the grocery store and seeing people who knew you in diapers.  But, as I said, I am a small town girl and I get it.

Fast forward to 2011, I voluntarily left my tiny little town to set up shop in FW, a city of 250,000 in a state of six million or so (I am guessing).  I knew no one.  But as you have seen I have made a bit of a life of experiencing new things and the culture of the place that I now call home.  And one of the neat things about it is, despite being overshadowed by Chicago to the northwest, Detroit to the northeast and Indianapolis to the southwest, FW really has the feel of a big city.  No, not NYC or Chicago or Houston.  The skyline does not tower and the streets are not stinking and crowded, but it has a lot of big city-ness to offer.  I shall elaborate . . .

I had the pleasure of hosting one of my Cosmic Sisters for her first FW visit.  Sunshine arrived on a Friday bearing gifts from an Amish stop and the Lehman’s Orchard (hello, tasty cider) in Michigan.  The Cosmic Sisters are adventurous too.  Shocking.

An important fact to note is that Sunshine is a city girl.  She was raised in the Bay area near San Francisco, California.  She tells of growing up with kidnapping warnings that kept kids form playing in their front yards and small lots and just general city-ness.  Basically the complete opposite of my childhood experience.  (Also note, Sunshine is now living in a house with a yard, near a park so her babies can play in grassy fields and frolic in streams – she is a convert).  I was a bit nervous of what she would think of FW.  Would it be interesting enough?  Would she have expectations?  Would she be disappointed that the interstate does not run through downtown forcing you to drive 20 minutes to downtown?  Would she be a fan of my favorite parks and restaurants?  I am high strung, please understand.

After her arrival (love her heart, she drove in from Chicago), she rested up and then we spent the weekend hitting the town to cover my favorites . . . The Oyster Bar, J.K. O’Donnell’s, Granite City Brewery.  Oh, the fun of having your cosmic sister around.  There was of course constant communications with the remaining sisters, Daisy and Ruby Falls and one random email to a random dude in Wisconsin (long story).  We also covered a long walk with The Queen at my favorite park – Foster Park.  En route to the park, driving down Broadway, Sunshine proclaimed “you DO have a panaderia”.  Huh?  What?

For days before her visit Sunshine had been counting on being able to go into Chicago and find a traditional Hispanic bakery that reminded her of the ones she used to visit as a kid California.  Unfortunately, she decided to abandon that plan when she arrived in Chicago at 7:00 a.m. on Friday morning.

I, of course, had never really been in a panaderia.  I once walked through one in San Antonio, Texas, but I did not realize it at the time.  So, Sunshine took me on a cultural experience in my own town at a place that I have driven by tons of times on the way to the park or to drive around and look at the pretty homes on Rudisil.

George’s La Baguette located at Broadway and Taylor has traditional pastries, breads, and other treats.  All are made in-house and they are pretty and pretty tasty. Here is some of the fabulousness that we tasted, me for the first time.  It was great.

Post bakery, we hit up the Firefly Coffee House (Sunshine even scored some prizes for her babies and herself) where my prediction that it would be a favorite of the Cosmic Sisters was confirmed!  Then we went to a festival.  Another shock – a festival in the Midwest on a Saturday?  Of course, we did.  The Taste of the Arts is an event hosted by Arts United and takes place in downtown FW.  You can check out cool art and taste the food from all of the coolest places in FW.  One of the fine offerings was from The Harp Condition.  Who doesn’t love artists that travel in the “Cool Bus” and play the kazoo.  Sunshine took home a shirt.   Other artists of note were Dan Gagen from Albion, Indiana.  Mr. Gagen did the most gorgeous painting of Keith Richards (my favorite Rolling Stone) that I have ever seen.  Altra Design 2000, Inc. out of Huntington, Indiana made some super cool yard art (including the corn stalks below).  Also, Elizabeth Balzer, Ph.D., the owner of 3R Gallery in FW on Three Rivers East.  All pretty and interesting work.

The weekend ended much too soon.  Sunday morning left me tired and sad to see Sunshine go.  So tired that I took a four hour nap before church.

All my concerns about her opinion of FW were answered when on her way out she happily said that she was initially scared that she would find me amongst “strip malls and chain restaurants.”  She was happily wrong.  Alas, she was pleased to find me among interesting events, fun places, cool eats, and nice people.  She was won over by FW and is happy that I am here.  That is a big deal.

The moral of this story?  There is more than enough here in FW to please a bona fide city girl and just enough to make a small town girl comfy and cozy.  That, my dear readers, is pretty.