Friday, April 22, 2011

Celebrate our soil, our earth, on Earth Day!

The following essay "Organic agriculture: deeply rooted in science and ecology" written by Maine farmer Eliot Coleman (one of our farmer-heroes) is a very good read and perfect for Earth Day. It is lengthy but clearly and succinctly explains and celebrates the farming techniques that both preserve and renew our soil, i.e., our earth, which produce the healthy food that nourishes our communities.

My husband and I first majored in biology during college before pursuing graduate degrees in other related areas of study. We are completely committed to organic agriculture as being 'applied biology' rather than 'applied chemistry'. This essay will help readers understand that terminology.

However, I also hope when you read this essay that you will appreciate (and love as much as I do) how and why Eliot Coleman plays with words trying to explain our lack of language that describes 'plant-positive thinking', our lack of having even a word let alone a widely-respected (i.e. well-funded) field of study at the university level that emphasizes health within the soil, the healthy food that soil produces, and the healthy individuals and communities nourished by that food and soil. I won't spoil it - I hope you'll read the essay and then chuckle, cry, and think about alternatives to current majors!

I am going to print this essay to keep where I can re-read it often, just as I frequently re-read Aldo Leopold's essay 'The Land Ethic' within his classic book A Sand County Almanac. My husband has bought, read, re-read, high-lighted, and ear-marked every book Eliot Coleman has written, so perhaps, I'll print out two copies of his essay, one for me and one for Dick, and tuck them in as an appendix to his books.

I collect quotations about soil. I'll end with a few of my favorites. I may have shared them in this blog before. I was reminded of one of them today while sorting through my bookshelves and reading a section of Walden by Henry David Thoreau.

Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.
 ~~ Henry David Thoreau

To forget how to dig the earth and to tend the soil is to forget ourselves.
~~ Mahatma Gandhi

No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth,
no culture comparable to that of the garden ...
But though an old man, I am but a young gardener.
  ~~Thomas Jefferson, Garden Book, 1811

If you have a favorite soil quote, please add it to the comments. I'll add it to my growing collection and find a place to include it in a future blog post.

"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Spring is coming - really!

We are still wearing turtle-necks, layers, and gloves here in MIchigan, and the sun has not seemed to break through those heavy clouds very often recently. A few flowers are blooming but most are still tucked away waiting for more warmth and sun before bursting open to finally say with a definite point of emphasis that 'spring is here to stay!'.

There have been spring bird sightings in the area; today someone in SE Michigan saw the first Baltimore oriole in her yard as just one example (time to get out the grape jelly, one of their favorite foods!). So I keep my eyes and ears open, looking and listening for my own birds that tell me spring is really coming.

Two days ago now when we had our overnight snow, I glanced out of the windows first thing in the morning to peek at my bird-feeders, expecting to see the usual crowd, and there was a CROWD (good thing I had filled the feeders the night before). However, as my eyes swept through the birds at the various feeders, in the adjacent trees where they hang out to wait their turn at the feeders (or where some take a seed to eat), and on the ground under the feeders, I saw two birds that immediately registered in my brain as "NEW".

Along with the cardinals, tree sparrows, juncos, goldfinches, downy woodpeckers and other 'usuals', there were two new birds on the ground under the feeders, kicking at the snow sending dirt, old sunflower plus thistle seed shells, and leaves flying behind them as they uncovered feeding possibilities. I confess that my heart skipped a couple of beats with excitement because I knew immediately what they were by their strikingly bold coloring (black, rufous, and white) and unusual behavior, being Eastern towhees (formerly called rufous-sided towhees, a name I still prefer). Eastern towhees are not rare birds in the eastern US, at least not for areas like mine that are overgrown, shrubby, tangled, etc, etc, i.e., their preferred habitat, but they are more often heard rustling around in the shrubbery versus seen, especially once the leaves emerge.

Not only are these birds beautiful (complete with a red eye) with interesting behavior, they also have an easy to identify song ('drink your tea') and call ('chewink!'). I have heard them on our farm (yes, still lots of areas of secondary growth, which I enjoy for the scrubby habitat it provides birds like the towhee) for the past two summers now. I especially enjoy their companionship when I am weeding.  I do not need to go looking for them since they are singing close enough for me to hear without looking up.

I did manage to get a few photos of the two towhees under our feeders on the snowy day. I don't know if they would have come to the feeders without the snow, but I know that without the snow, they surely would not have shown up or looked so handsome. Look for yourself at my photos and then feel free to go the the following link at ( to see some much better photos and hear their song and call. I know once you hear their song/call on the web, you'll want to also hear it outside. Find a nature area with lots of secondary growth (or a fallow farm is perfect!), and I'll bet you won't be disappointed if you're in the eastern part of the country.

(Photo: A male eastern towhee, kicking under the snow for food opportunities - see all the bird seed shells behind him?)

(Photo: Male eastern towhee and male northern cardinal looking for food underneath the feeders after a late spring snow - 4/18/2011)

(Photo: Two male eastern towhees scratching for breakfast on a snowy spring morning outside Ann Arbor, MI on 4/18/2011, their first appearance on our farm this year)
Please be sure to look at better photos on the link above. I took these through a window and just shot quickly to make sure I got something before they spooked and flew away.

So yes, spring is coming - really! - which is hard to believe (2011 has been a long winter in Michigan), but these towhees are here to tell us it is almost time to pack away those turtlenecks and gloves until needed again in September. Just kidding (!!), but they'll come back out in early October as the towhee is sensibly flying south for a steady food supply and we start planting our garlic for 2012.

Another day of falling into bed after lots of sorting and hauling stuff (stuff, stuff, and more stuff!) up the stairs, down the stairs, carrying it out to the car, from the car to its drop-off point, and on and on. It is hard to sort and make decisions, but I don't want to move anything that we no longer want/need and could be used by someone else. Time to enjoy the memories, share the stuff, and move it along.  We still have plenty!

Enjoy the photo at the top of my blog of our garlic in snow now, because as soon as we have a sunny day (and I see a beautiful photo-op), I'll get rid of that gloomy picture!

(Photo: Garlic fields at The Dyer Family Farm on April 18, 2011 - all 15,000 are up waving their green leaves, but winter just won't quit this year!)
"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Setting up Home

A bit of normalcy and something new as we continue to make the transition from our old home to our new home:

I hate to admit it, but the following are normal:

1) Too tired and distracted with so much to do that we had a simple supper last night of nachos, which we do with fat-free organic black beans as a base.
2) 9:30 pm on a Saturday night - The Dyers are not out doing the town but nodding off .........

Something new!

1) All our phone/cable/internet service got transferred without any problems on Friday so now we have internet service at the farm, including a wireless signal that actually can be picked up at the barn (boy, is my husband excited about that!).

2) We are using one of the bedrooms on the main floor to combine my office and my husband's. Right now it looks like a mini-tornado touched down, but I don't think it will take too long to sort this all out. It will be so much fun to finally be in the same vicinity when we need to be doing desk-work.

3) I can't remember or explain why we were never able to figure out how to have our printer work wirelessly in the past, but it was pretty easy to get it set up this time. It will be great to be working on my laptop in one part of the house (like in my favorite corner chair where I can also see my birdfeeders) and then send off something to print, like......

4) Shipping labels for the first book order to come in while living at the farm! I'll have to get all of that stuff moved over to the farm now.

Back to normalcy, I don't mind collapsing and enjoying nachos once a week, but I like variety with what I eat, so I rummaged around this morning to see what I could find in the freezer, root cellar, pantry, and refrigerator to whip up some soup for supper tonight. It was actually pretty easy to come up with something delicious.

Early Spring-time Fish Soup


~ 1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 medium yellow onions (peel then dice)
8 cups water
1 head of garlic (a hard-neck variety that is long past its optimal storage time but not molding)
1 # frozen halibut
3 small/medium size sweet potatoes (peel then dice)
3 small/medium size white potatoes (I did not peel, scrubbed well, then diced)
3 cups cooked white beans
1 bunch fresh Swiss chard (about 8 stalks with leaves)
1 Tbsp. Fish seasonings (make sure salt is not the first ingredient or even included at all)
1/2 teaspoon salt
Fresh-ground pepper to taste (I used about 4-5 grinds)


1) Peel and dice the onions (I put the peelings into the bag I keep in the freezer for future soup stock)
2) Sauté the onions quickly (do not let them burn) in a large soup pan
3) Add water to soup pan
4) Peel garlic and add to water (I put the cloves into a small organic cotton bag tied shut so I could retrieve them when the soup was done, however if using fresher garlic, peel, dice and sauté along with onions.)
5) Add frozen fish, warm with stock and then use a fork to separate into smaller pieces
6) Once fish has started to thaw in stock and water is warm, add diced potatoes and sweet potatoes
7) Bring up the heat and cook all together (this did not take very long - maybe 10-15 minutes)
8) I found the frozen pre-cooked beans late and added them after the potatoes were cooked but I think they could be added along with the frozen fish to thaw together in the heated water
9) Add seasonings
10) Add Swiss chard a few minutes prior to eating, so it does not overcook (chard is far more delicate than kale or other sturdy greens, so I always cook it less to keep both color and crispness).
11) Recheck seasonings.

Serve with any whole grain bread, frozen, canned, or dried fruit, a bit of cheese, a salad, and you have a delicious, beautiful, easy meal using early spring greens and using up ingredients stored in your cold storage that are maybe a little past their prime, but are still fine to eat.

The simple grace we said before eating our soup that night:

Let us give thanks for this food
And thy blessing and benediction be upon it
May our hands so energize this food
That it supplies the needs of our bodies
And may we be moved to share with others
What they are in need of.

~~ This blessing is from the Sakya Monastery in Seattle, WA

(Photo: Fish soup showing off a hunk of halibut)

(Photo: Fish Soup showing off the swiss chard and piece of sweet potato)

(Photo: Garlic field on 4/18/2011 - look closely - it is all up through the mulch and through the snow)

(Photo: Our Hoosier cabinet, moved, and ready for use. I took out many of our decorative pieces and put in more functional pieces, so once we get our large table moved to the farm, we are ready for feeding large crowds with all of our everyday dishes! The blue soup tureen on top belonged to my husband's mother; it is where she kept her 'spare change' that she would share with her sons when needed.)
Now, I have to leave our farm and go back to our old home to help with all the painting, sorting, etc, needed to get that house ready to list for sale. My husband is already there this morning, so it is time for me to catch up. For my next post, I'll show you an exciting bird sighting (at least it was exciting to me and it might not have happened if we had not had our snow yesterday).

Enjoy the soup anytime of the year, not just springtime! However, the bounty of the growing season is right around the corner, thus it is time to get your freezer and pantry ready to receive the 2011 crops of delicious foods (fresh rhubarb and strawberries are coming up soon - oh yum, yum!)

"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Welcome to Chaos Central!

Our big stuff was finally all moved to the farm today. We have been moving boxes we packed ourselves for the past week. There is still lots to do to really 'be out' of our old house, including sorting the toys, etc, etc, but now we are also unloading boxes at the farm and setting up house!

For two years we have made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at home and taken them to eat for lunch at the farm along with some fruit and cut up vegetables, eating on the floor, on steps, and sitting on our swing or front porch when the weather was warm enough. We took everything in a cooler because we had no refrigerator at the farm.

Today we had our first lunch together at the farm, actually sitting at our kitchen table complete with a tablecloth.  We had home-made red lentil soup (made at the farm in our crockpot) and hummus with whole grain baguette. It was very simple, but completely satisfying and delicious.

Tonight we may just fall into bed (after we get it made up), but we'll first celebrate with a toast, "at last". :-)

Red Lentil & Pumpkin Soup Recipe

I made my typical vegetable broth in the crockpot using vegetable peelings, etc, but then after filtering the broth, I added a pint of locally-grown frozen pumpkin puree to the broth thanks to our share in a local winter CSA called Locavorious, heated until the pumpkin was soft, and then put the broth plus pumpkin puree (and a few hunky pieces of pumpkin) in the blender.  To be honest, I was very tempted to not use this broth for soup, but just drink it instead because it was SO delicious both warm and chilled.

I made about 6 cups of broth, added the 1# of red lentils to the broth and cooked on low in the crockpot until the lentils were soft, then added 1 quart of canned tomatoes (still finishing from our 2009 harvest), and finally added 2 Tbsp. of a sweet curry. That was it. Heat until warm enough to eat.

We could taste a hint of the pumpkin, and it was so good with this serendipitous addition, that I will always try to have some pumpkin on hand to be able to add some to this very easy recipe in the future. The blend of the flavors and the color was truly delicious.

We said our simplest of blessings, gratitude for finally eating a real meal at the farm and to all hands who helped bring this food to our table.

Still no internet service at the farm (not as easy as we were 'promised' - long saga!), so blog posts will continue to be sporadic. However, our hope is that each day from now on will be less chaotic than the past two years have been. :-) That's the vision!

"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


I could not pass up sharing this little 'birthday blurb' I saw on one of my favorite websites,

Apr 7,  Birthday of William Wordsworth (1770-1850) — British poet who, together with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, launched the romantic period in England. Wordsworth became poet laureate in 1843. He said that the best portion of our lives consists of “little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love." 

That sounds like the original version of the bumper sticker phrase "practice random acts of kindness".

So while I am continuing to pack and move (and sort and recycle) tomorrow, I'll also be celebrating William Wordsworth's life and poetry, thinking about and enjoying memories of acts of kindness and love. What a great way to spend a day! And then of course, to pass those acts on. :-)

We moved about half of our big stuff over the past weekend with the help of some college crew team members (great upper body strength!), with all the rest of the furniture to be moved next Tuesday. Step, step, step! Most steps are forward now instead of 1 forward, 2 back. We've got the finish line in sight. Yea!

"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"

Diana Dyer, MS, RD