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Harvest by Michele Morris

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I’ve been a gardener for as long as I can remember – not because I thought about it would be good for the environment or my health, not because I was worried about food politics, and wanted to start eating local foods, but merely because I loved seeing the fruits of my labor rewarded in the harvest. That first sweet cherry tomato that I pluck and eat right in the garden, warm and kissed by the sun, is pure inspiration. Every year I am still amazed that I can create, with not all that much effort I must confess, such a bounty of crops in a small square right in my own backyard.

Not everyone is so lucky. Too many kids today don’t have a grasp on where their food comes from – or for that matter what constitutes real food. I fretted as I watched my own kids growing up, more intent on grabbing bagged snacks and eating junk fast food than helping me in the garden or trying a new vegetable. I teach cooking lessons to adults who, sadly, never learned to cook with real food from their own parents. And too many adults and kids don’t understand that there are seasons to food, harvest season being the most rewarding. Thankfully, it seems our communities are waking up to the idea of fresh, local foods, perhaps initially spurred on by books like The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, but now generating plenty of their own momentum around growing fresh foods and eating locally and seasonally.

When I left corporate America a few years ago to pursue my culinary dreams, I knew that I wanted to find a way to give back to the community, using my cooking skills as a foundation. I began working as a volunteer Chef Educator for Operation Frontline, the part of Share Our Strength that provides nutrition and cooking classes to those with limited financial resources, helping them make healthy and affordable food choices. One of the most important concepts I teach is to look for what’s in season, best illustrated during harvest season. This is the time when food tastes best and costs the least, and personally I love putting some food up for over the winter. I’m lazy about it, and tend to freeze things because it’s easy, but last year I made it through most of the winter without having to buy any canned tomatoes. I also love how everyone shares as they harvest their gardens. I’ll be taking some of my plums to my cooking class tomorrow because there’s no way I can eat the 300 plums ripening on my tree – and I’m tired of the squirrels stealing them! I’ve been donating zucchini for the past month to friends because I’ve already eaten and frozen tons of it. In return, I have a friend who always makes strawberry jam during the season and another who makes green chili to freeze for winter, and they always share with me.

While I clearly understand the beauty and the bounty of the harvest, I really feel it’s critical for kids to experience this, both in the garden and in the kitchen. I got involved with Slow Food’s Seed to Table school gardens program this summer, working with a Denver elementary school to cook with their student gardeners. What a thrill to watch them as they witnessed the actual transformation from seed to plant to harvest to meal. We cooked right in the garden on Monday mornings and ate our meal together under the shade tree. Nobody was more surprised than the kids themselves at some of the things they tried and liked – radish sandwiches, zucchini soup, eggplant dip, and squash pasta. I’m convinced it was because they were intrigued by what they created and felt a connection to the food.

As the harvest season wraps up I have a whirlwind schedule of guest chef appearances at various Youth Farmers’ Markets across the Denver metro area. To see the pride these kids have in what they’ve grown in their school gardens is a beautiful thing. But to hear them ask their parents to buy some of the squash so they can make the squash salad at home that I’m offering as a sample really makes me smile – especially after a parent looks shocked that their kid not only tried it but liked it!

Relish the harvest season in your community – go to a local farm, visit a school garden, buy from a Youth Farmers’ Market, and share the bounty with your friends. I promise you’ll be glad you did.Visit my blog for recipes using Colorado produce:

BBQ Green or Wax Beans

Zucchini Salad with Lemon, Feta and Dill

Garden Vegetable Salsa with Black Beans & Avocado

Quick Zucchini Soup

Squash Blossoms Stuffed with Goat Cheese

Eggplant Marinara Bake 

Farro with Cucumbers, Tomatoes and Mint

Basil Corn and Citrus Pesto Fish

Fried Shoestring Zucchini

Summer Vegetable Orzo

Roasted Red Pepper Soup

This week’s guest blog presented by Michele Morris, Chef and Owner of Cooking with Michele®


Beet Street’s Homegrown Blog

Inspired by the Harvest Season, and our upcoming Homegrown Fort Collins program, we will be featuring the Homegrown Blog for the next couple of weeks.  Look for daily stories, comments and recipies about community harvest, and cooking with local food.  We are opening this special edition of the Beet Street Blog to our community, and will feature a different guest blogger everyday.  Let’s celebrate the bounty of Northern Colorado!

Homegrown Fort Collins celebrates the harvest season and its contribution to community and local culture. The goal is to educate, celebrate, and enjoy food with a focus on local. The old adage, ‘you are what you eat,’ resonates stronger than a parent’s stern warning to their children. The harvest of a community in many ways reflects the essence of the community, and has been at the center of festivals throughout history. Beet Street’s Homegrown Fort Collins will help us take a closer look at what’s around and develop a stronger sense of place and appreciation for our local harvest.

For a full schedule of events, please visit Homegrown Fort Collins!

The Scent of Erasers and Freshly Sharpened Pencils: A Nostalgic Experience

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Wonder Woman Lunch Box

Recently on routine trips to Target to buy groceries or laundry detergent, I have been easily distracted by the giant signs and bright displays in the store’s back corner. I know that there is something over there way more exciting than my basic home necessities. As I wander further towards the back, I finally get a glimpse of what I knew was coming up ahead. School supplies! Yes, it is back to school time. As I perused the section, I noticed a young girl running down the aisle with the biggest smile on her face, arms clutched around her new prize- a neon pink Hannah Montana backpack. I am sure I once exhibited the same elated behavior: for me it was a plastic Wonder Woman lunch box. In fact, it seems like children now are just as excited as past generations about the first day of school. Last Sunday I was up half the night on a visit to my parents’ house, watching my little niece strategically plan out which new outfit to wear each day for the whole first week of classes, and trying to calm her down as she claimed, “I just can’t sleep, I’m too excited!” I wonder how many late hours have been spent over the years as kids lay awake, thinking about that first day of school.

photo credit: C.A. Muller

I have to admit, though, that Hannah Montana backpack was way cooler (and likely way more pricey) than my Wonder Woman lunch box. It had near twenty pockets in it, with special compartments for water bottles and cell phones. It was difficult to think of what I had when I was a kid that was so complex. Just seeing freshly sharpened pencils was pretty thrilling, much less an entire box to store them in. I would have probably gone completely wild if someone told me I could buy markers that smelled like fruit, or better yet a calculator that could do most of my math problems for me!

As exhilarating as these things are, it would be unfair to say that these gadgets and tools are the most essential part of the school season. After all, their trendiness does not seem to detract students from being completely energetic and engaged in the experience of education both in and out of class. As if there was not enough to do (with new homework assignments now piling up), there are sports or dance practices, and endless clubs to sign up for.

If anyone is looking for a break from hanging out on campus, Fort Collins is full of fun and interesting events that provide continual learning long after the last bell rings. The Poudre River Public Library District hosts International Night, where each month you can learn the ins and outs of countries around the world. There is also a series on health and nutrition that may help your family stay healthy through the busy and sometimes stressful school season. I love that these opportunities are not limited to children or adults; instead there is something for everyone to learn. And in case your little ones aren’t quite ready for that Hannah Montana backpack, young children’s activities, like story time, pick back up in September. The Poudre River Public Library District has a great Calendar, so check it out if you want more details on their events.

Looking for more ways to entertain your brain? Here are other activities that will get you going:

Dialogue Cafe at Avogadro’s Number
Bee Family Centennial Farm Museum
Sweat for Humanity Fundraiser
Fort Collins Museum and Discovery Science Center

With so many educational opportunities for all ages, it is no surprise that back to school excitement goes beyond just new backpacks. Sure we all love the latest stuff, but there is so much more to the school season. Though we may be pretty busy right now, we always seem to find time to continually grow in our education and in our communities. With so many new things in Fort Collins to experience, there is no end to how much you can learn.

Shauna Hobson, Beet Street staff

“Be Better Today Than You Were Yesterday” – Words of Edward James Olmos

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“Education is the vaccine for violence.”

I remember at the end of a meeting, a colleague asked me once if I was an academic or an activist. I was struck by the question, for at the heart of it, there seems like there should be a separation of the two. That they are somehow incompatible or at the very least, capable of distorting each other so that neither can be truly a reliable performance or identity. I wonder what Edward James Olmos would say if asked whether he is an actor or activist? After all, do those two terms not come from the same linguistic root?

Olmos’ early life was framed by the forces of the barrio in which he lived in East LA and a passion for baseball which would teach him the values that he would need to escape a common fate of most of the barrio brothers – life in a gang. As Olmos told a reporter from Time, “Inside this world, everyone was the same. We were all poor. And the only way to survive it was through a constant struggle of trying to be better today than you were yesterday.” To improve his own chances of getting out of poverty, Olmos would form a successful rock band, attend East Los Angeles Community College during the day and study during set breaks when they played the clubs at night. He would also fall in love with acting and yet, start a business delivering antiques to make enough money to live.  Once the band broke up, he would deliver furniture during the day while working in experimental theatre at night, building his path to the TV shows and movies — the actor –he would come to be known as — Zoot Suit, Miami Vice, Stand and Deliver, The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez, Selena, American Me and others as he continues his performative work. Much of this work would reflect his values and commitments to the Hispanic community, especially its youth, and their future (the activist). By his own account, 94% of his time is spend working for free – trying to make life better for others.

Named by Hispanic Magazine as the nation’s most influential Hispanic American, Olmos is a U.S. Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF, a national spokesperson for the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, and Executive Director of the Lives in Hazard Educational Project, a national gang prevention program funded by the U.S Department of Justice. As he recently told Hispanic’s Katherine Diaz, “I would hate to look back on my life and only see myself as a person who made lots of money and was a star and made Rambo and Terminator movies. I have made my body of work something that I am proud of and that in 100 years, my great-great-grandchildren will go and see my work and say, ‘well, grandpa really did some extraordinarily different kinds of work.'”

Actor or activist? It seems more important to commit yourself to causes in which you believe and work to make your work serve them. We hope you will join us for what promises to be an extraordinary evening with Edward James Olmos entitled, “We’re all in the same gang”, on Tuesday April 28th, at the Lincoln Center Performance Hall, starting at 7pm. Tickets are $10 adult, $8 students/seniors (60+). A limited number of seats are available for a special Meet the Speaker ticket which includes preferred seating and a reception with the speaker afterwards.

Wherever you go, there you are.

Kirsten Broadfoot