Monday, June 7, 2010

Selling Like Hotcakes

In case I'm not the only one who has lost sight of this blog's original purpose, last Friday marked our third time vending mushrooms at the Walpole Farmers' Market, and I'm delighted to report that we sold out three weeks in a row despite having only one variety of mushroom available. Thanks to everyone who has come out to support Walpole's farmers and food producers!

Liz loves the market
Long view
Sold out!

We've received a lot of great feedback from customers on our Gray Oyster mushrooms, all of which has been positive, and it's been a pleasure to get to know both the market-goers and other vendors over the past few weeks. Everyone has been extraordinarily supportive and friendly, and we've especially enjoyed the bartering opportunities that have arisen. We've exchanged our mushrooms for heirloom tomatoes and grass-fed beef so far, reinforcing the notion that the barter system is alive and well in New England.

We'll be adding another variety of oyster mushroom soon—the firm and hearty King Oyster—which will be followed by the delicate, heat-loving Pink Oyster shortly after. Our hope is that this collection of Pleurotus fungi are well received by the mushroom-loving public and that we're able to offer all of them by the time Terra Fructi celebrates its first anniversary in August.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Rite of Spring

I'm not sure that there's anything to say about the verdancy of spring that hasn't already been said, but when I look out the kitchen window into the garden I get a feeling of sheer amazement that is only paralleled by the awe that autumn brings. Of course, wedged between these magnificent seasons lies summer, my least favorite of all; I really don't mix well with heat and humidity. Luckily there's still some time to enjoy the lush, temperate simplicity of spring.

Happy spider

As if the garden being in full bloom weren't enough to make me smile, we have new neighbors at the edge of the yard—a family of robins! One baby has already emerged and there are three eggs left to show signs of life.

A secret life

In addition to the wonders that are taking place outside, our kitchen offers its own springtime delights, including morels, asparagus, and fiddleheads.

Liz, Andrea and I gathered the morels on a recent foray with the Monadnock Mushroomers Unlimited, a local group of friendly fungi enthusiasts that goes out weekly to hunt down whatever mushrooms are in season.

Welcome home, Rady!
My first morel

The asparagus and fiddleheads came fresh from Harlow's Farm Stand in Westminster, VT. We incorporated all of these lovely ingredients into a light vegetarian entree that was topped with a lemon butter sauce...brilliant!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter on the AT

I was in Harrisburg over Easter weekend to celebrate my mom’s birthday and the weather was unusually warm and clear for early April, so my dad and I headed out on Sunday for a hike on the slow and winding portion of the Appalachian Trail that meanders through Pennsylvania’s Cumberland Valley. We met up with Gary Fleeger, a friend and coworker of my dad’s, who was just getting back into hiking after suffering from a herniated disk in his lower back. The relative lack of grade on the trail was perfect for Gary to ease his way into exercising, and though I would have personally preferred a more rigorous hike, our 5-mile walk in the woods gave me a good workout, lasting the majority of the morning and culminating in sharing beers on a fallen log next to the Conodoguinet Creek.

Pronunciation hint: kinda go in it

We had a lovely time on the Trail, happily plodding along, listening to bird songs, the majority of which Gary could identify. We heard Belted Kingfishers, Downy Woodpeckers, Cardinals, Northern Flickers, and more. We stopped periodically to admire the scenery and regroup, as I was hiking faster than my companions. We also had Bailey, Gary’s Pit Bull/Basenji mix, to contend with. A sweet and curious dog, Bailey enjoyed the hike as much as we did, stopping to smell unfamiliar scents and charging ahead when we met other dogs on the trail. All in all, it was a glorious way to spend a Sunday morning.

Stopping for a sniff
Happy Bailey

Sunday, March 28, 2010

First Harvest

After months of toiling with the construction of our incubation and grow rooms, hanging plastic, acquiring supplies, cutting straw, boiling large quantities of water, and inoculating bags of Gray Oyster mushroom spawn, we have finally harvested our first crop! On Tuesday we culled about four pounds from the bags that we had worked on a little over a month ago, selling our first pound to a local chef the very next day. I cooked up the remainder in some olive oil, adding rosemary, oregano, garlic and salt, then finished them with fresh lemon juice and served them up to my coworkers. The dish received a lot of compliments and my little sampling experiment yielded another sale, this time to our friend Amie.

Things are chugging along at a snail's pace at this point, but we hope to be able to put more energy into inoculation as the weather warms. In the meantime, we are feeling great about our accomplishments and look forward to the upcoming onslaught of fresh mushrooms!

Here are some pre- and post-harvest photos of our first crop of Gray Oysters:

Ready to pick
In the kitchen
Time to cook 'em up

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Town Meeting

We just attended our first-ever town meeting, where we spent three hours with our neighbors, selectmen, and town moderator discussing various budgetary matters. Liz and I were lucky enough to land in front of what appeared to be the only Libertarians in town. They were a loud and outspoken couple, who spent the majority of their time bitching about spending taxpayer money on frivolous things like police salaries, with the wife receiving instruction from the husband about when and what to say publicly, since he had attempted to air his views as a non-registered voter only to be silenced by our skilled and steadfast moderator (and full-time chicken farmer), Ernie.

My love of Walpole grew exponentially at town meeting, which immediately took me back to the famous scene from Footloose, where area teenagers quote scripture to reckon with the local pastor on the issue of holding a school dance. Our townsfolk prudently addressed a variety of town matters, carefully weighing the pros and cons and fully informing themselves before voting via a vocal "yea" or "no". Motions were made and seconded, amendments were suggested, minor arguments ensued—what a great time!

Liz and I stuck around for the whole meeting so that we could be sure not to miss the vote on Article 18, an underhanded, right-wing attempt to undo the recently enacted gay marriage law in New Hampshire. Article 18 reads: "To see if the Town will vote to approve the following resolution to be forwarded to our State Representative(s), our State Senator, the Speaker of the House, and the Senate President. Resolved: The citizens of New Hampshire should be allowed to vote on an amendment to the New Hampshire Constitution that defines marriage."

This article, brought by special petition to town meeting (normally reserved for town, not state, business), caused a hushed silence in the hall. The originator of the petition went up to the podium to spew his misinformation and biblical nonsense, at which point he was tactfully and decisively shut down by the townspeople! The motion was made to move to the vote on the article and the vote was a resounding "NO!" This, of course, does not mean that gay marriage in New Hampshire is not in jeopardy. It does, however, signify that the town of Walpole has its priorities in place, choosing to embrace, not discriminate against, diversity.

Just one more reason to love calling Walpole home.

As a strange aside, we ran into an old friend from Pittsburgh (!) on our way to town meeting. Renee Piechocki happened to be driving by with some friends as we were walking to the meeting. I only wish that we had some time to spend with her. Hopefully one day she'll return and we can bask in the glory of our small New England utopia.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Let It Snow

Just back from a romp around town. It's the Northeast's turn for winter storms and, man, I can't get enough. It finally feels like winter! Today's snowfall is heavy, wet, and beautiful, dampening the sounds that typically move through town. The male and female cardinal who visit our bird feeder are the only creatures I can see through the window. Does February in NH get any better than this?

We've had some fabulous walks lately; last week we saw a Pileated Woodpecker—a first for me! Here are a few shots from today:

Old North Main

Sunday, February 21, 2010


Who knew that the typical human body is overloaded with a variety of environmental toxins? I did, but I never knew how much of an effort it would take to detoxify my body.

I've been following Teri Kerr's Ultimate Detox Diet on the advice of my dietitian at Sojourns, a wonderful yet expensive resource just across the river from Walpole. The diet consists of three phases: phase one is two weeks long and involves deep cleansing with lots of beets and dark leafy greens; phase two is a slightly less intense cleanse that also lasts for two weeks; phase three is essentially the rest of the participant's life.

I've successfully made it through phase one, eating only legumes, vegetables, fruit, nuts, poultry, fish and a little tofu, and drinking only water, herbal tea, and a fruity but complexly flavored breakfast drink. I'm now moving into phase two, where I get to add small amounts of gluten-free grains—amaranth, quinoa, millet—and eggs.

During the first few days of the diet, I noticed a marked change in my energy levels. It's been easier to wake up in the morning (so easy that I've been getting up around 6am almost every day, which is something that would have been exceedingly difficult before the diet), I've had more energy throughout the day and have noticed that I'm more mentally alert and focused. I also have more energy for exercise, which, coupled with the healthier eating, has led to twenty pounds of weight loss.

Once phase two is complete, I will start to add back potentially problematic foods, like cheese, milk, gluten, wheat, sugar, alcohol, and so on. I choose one food, eat it three times in a day, monitor myself for potential reactions, wait 2-3 days and if there's no problem, I move on to the next food. Sounds easy enough, right?

In spite of all this good eating and exercising, I have seen a slight decline in my energy levels. I met with Stacey, the dietitian, late last week to discuss this trend and she determined that I might have an overgrowth of Candida yeast in my system. Everyone has this fungus in their gut, but an overgrowth can lead to symptoms like fatigue, depression, bloating and gas, yeast infections, weight gain, rashes, sensitivty to certain smells (like cigarettes and automobile exhaust) and the list goes on. My meeting with Stacey ended with a few brief mentions of how to fight Candida, which thrives on carbohydrates and sugars, so I bought some oregano oil, grapefruit seed extract, pau d'arco tea, and highly potent acidophilous—four proven remedies—and left feeling fairly positive about ushering these organisms to their imminent deaths.

Then I got the letter.

Stacey wrote to tell me that she felt that we hadn't had enough time to talk about the Candida and that treating this particular ailment was one of her specialties. Included with the letter was this printout about Candida and MS, which I made the mistake of reading last night. Stacey cautioned me about the source, saying that she didn't know much about it. Still, I think anyone who reads this would feel pretty freaked out afterwards. I am pretty freaked out. To be sure that I had cause for alarm, I looked up Candida in my copy of Prescription for Nutritional Healing, a trusted source of health information that I've consulted for years. The information in this book backed up that of the printout. Great.

So now I have a parasitic overgrowth and feel fairly grossed out and concerned about eating anything, really. As I mentioned earlier, the detox diet calls for a fruity beverage for breakfast, something that my Candida love. Oh, and the best part is, according to the printout, that I'm not supposed to eat mushrooms or spend time in damp or moldy places. This is great news for our new MUSHROOM FARM business.

I woke up today, skipped the beverage, drank three cups of tea and had some leftover root vegetables for breakfast. Pardon my language, but I really want to starve those little fuckers. I made an appointment to see Stacey again in a few weeks and plan to call her later today to inquire about my state of dismay regarding the fungus. This is a huge blow to the progress I've made, but I'm trying my best to not let it get the best of me.

If only the Candida didn't love beer, too.

Monday, February 15, 2010

How Time Flies

When I did my study abroad in Germany back in 1997-98, I made a great friend along the way. At first, Krista and I didn't seem to have a lot in common, but the time away from home brought us closer together, and we're, thankfully, still in touch today. We plan an annual camping trip together, usually to one of Pennsylvania's many state parks, though we missed the outing last fall, which is why it was a particularly nice to host her in Walpole over the weekend.

We took a hike up Wantastiquet on Saturday, accompanied by Andrea, our new friend, Jesse, and her dog Kaiser, a rowdy and rambunctious pit mix. The weather was cool and crisp, the path icy and hazardous at times, but we managed to make it the entire way without anyone wiping out.

Ice flows
Winter in Vermont
Krista loves New England
Candid at the top

It was quite windy and cold at the top, so we didn't linger for long. On the way down, Liz managed to drop my camera, which we didn't realize until we were in the car and ready to leave. We had about fifteen minutes of daylight left, so Liz and I jogged about a quarter of the way back up the mountain, where she found the camera lying on an icy patch. A little extra exercise never hurts!

On Sunday, we were eager to get over to the mushroom palace to try, for the second time, our hand at inoculating. There was a lot of waiting around because we had to heat 40 gallons of water, in which we would submerge a large basket of chopped straw. The straw is our substrate for the mushrooms and it must be sterilized before it's mixed with the spawn. Needless to say, this took a long time because it was about 27 degrees outside.

To kill some time, I chatted with Susan, a reporter from New Hampshire Magazine, who had stopped by with her husband to get the skinny on our business. Terra Fructi will be featured in the April issue as part of a sidebar column called "Field Notes." We talked for about 45 minutes and I answered all of the questions they had about us personally and mushrooms in general. We look forward to seeing the article, though we're just as excited about the upcoming feature-length piece that Andrea composed for the spring issue of Local Banquet, an ag/local foods publication produced by our friends Meg and Barbi. Here they are on their visit to Terra Fructi, dutifully working, as most guests do:

Removing the protective layer from the stainless table

Once the water boiled, we were able to sterilize the straw and move forward with the inoculation. We had only enough straw to fill 6 bags, but at least it was a start. And the support we got along the way was priceless. Krista helped out with various tasks and kept us positive and on track; Julia, John, and Effie came by, along with their guest Griffin, and they all contributed in one way or another. Most notably, John performed a Buddhist fertility ceremony for the mushrooms, quite possibly the most interesting thing that's happened since we started the business. All in all, the inoculation was a success. Of course, there's still the matter of the process actually yielding mushrooms. We have only a few short weeks to wait on that...

Inoculation ingredients
Liz removes the sterilized straw
Draining and cooling
John and Effie wait patiently
Liz with what will be the first bag of gray oyster mushrooms

Friday, January 1, 2010

Positivity in Ten

I have a ridiculously positive feeling about 2010.

Forgive me for being a bit narcissistic, but this is not big picture positivity; I have no idea what will happen with the economy, the wars, global climate change, or any other relevant social issue, though I hope for the best possible outcomes all around. Rather, I feel in my core that the new year is going to be very good to Liz and me. I envision us accomplishing everything we set out to do, and as we grow with the year, I see us working hard and succeeding, not only with our mushroom enterprise, but with everything else that comes our way.

2009 brought several personal highlights, namely, completing graduate school and getting the hell out of Dodge. Liz and I made major changes in our lives—changes that have already begun to pay off. And more changes that will have a positive impact on our health, happiness, and success are on the way.

We bid adieu to the past year by celebrating with friends at Boccelli's in BF. This wonderful Italian delicatessen hosted its last hoorah by serving up delicious eats and boozy delights to a cacophony of guests and assorted musicians. Surrounded by friends, we toasted the past and the future—laughing, dreaming, and ultimately welcoming 2010 with open arms.

Randy's last stand
Awesome accordian lady
Awesome accordian lady and cowbell dude
Leigha, Liz and the band

Happy New Year! May 2010 bring everything you're hoping for.