R u t a b a g a R a p |S p r i n g 2 018
T H E
RUTABAGA RAP FOOD:
Jay Stratton talks about the antique fruits here at abundance. B OA R D TA L K :
Peter House discusses the importance of shopping locally and eating healthy AG R IC U LT U R E :
Elizabeth Henderson helps us plan for an ecological New York ENVIRONMENT:
Jack Spula tells about climate change threat to Sugar Maples
ABUNDANCE FOOD CO-OP
5 7 1 S O U T H AV E ROCHESTER, NY 14620
JIM’S MUSINGS by jim deluca
Ge n e ral Ma n-
As we approach our first anniversary in the new location, I am feeling proud of what we have accomplished. The planning, negotiating, financing, construction, and moving were quite challenging. All of the staff worked hard under the stress to get us to this time. We still have much to do to make Abundance a real community anchor in the South Wedge, but we continue to inch ahead. Part of the stress has been the shortfall of expected sales. We anticipated average sales of $90k per week and we are just getting up to about $60k per week. We have adjusted our staffing and other variable expenses so that we now believe that we can be sustainable at $65k in sales per week. CONTACT
In order to improve our opportunities to increase sales, we brought in the marketing expert from the National Grocers Co-op as well as including a local marketing expert. Both of these folks said we need to make our instore experience more rewarding, exciting. Our merchandising is pretty weak; we don’t have many colorful presentations around the store. The good thing is that the facility has plenty of space for us to improve into. We also get feedback that while we do pretty well greeting at entry and thanking at exit, we could be more interactive with shoppers in the aisles. Our Community Room/Classroom has begun to book more. We have had several successful events with music and art as well as community groups using the space for meetings. We have a sliding scale for use starting at donations for local, non profits or other small groups that are not charging or promoting something to sell up to $20 per hour for more commercial usage. The room can hold 15 people reasonably comfortably.
Karl Abbott Karl47@frontiernet.net
571 South Avenue, Rochester, NY 14620 tel: 585-454-2667 mail: email@example.com website: www.abundance.coop
Chris Whitebell firstname.lastname@example.org
BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Katie Malarkey email@example.com
Paula Hansen, President Paulah1@rochester.rr.com
Maria Coles firstname.lastname@example.org
Max Gianniny, VP and Treasurer email@example.com
Beth Garver, Secretary firstname.lastname@example.org
General Manager Jim DeLuca, email@example.com
Leah Feldman, STAFF REPRESENTATIVE firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com
Administrative Debbie Loo Anderson, Financial Manager Francis Barrow, POS Coordinator Richard Rowley, Financial Assistant Richard Sauvain, IT Coordinator Center Store
Peter House Housepeter171@gmail.com
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Speaking of our upcoming anniversary, we are working with Sun Common again this year on the RocWorthy Earth day celebration which will be taking place in front of the store on South Avenue on Saturday, April 28. Should be fun. Personally, as most of the shareholders have heard via email, I have given notice that I am going to leave Abundance in the next several months depending upon the GM replacement search. I have been working since the summer of my 15th year and am ready to chill for a while and just follow my heart. I am in my tenth year with Abundance, which is longer than I have worked anywhere else and am very grateful for the opportunity to work with wonderful people: boards, staff, owners, shoppers, vendors, bankers, government officials and neighbors. It has been challenging and rewarding. And I look forward to whatever comes next. Thanks.
Kathy Peters, Merchandising Manager Diane Banks, Bulk, Refrigerated & Frozen Foods Nazareno Runfola, Senior Grocery Buyer Emily Snyziek, Beer Buyer Alex Fairchild Stephen Standhart Rawson Duckett Deli Allie Push, Deli Manager Dan Standhart Andy Hoag
WANT TO GROW YOUR OWN FOOD? Need some help getting started? Learn easy growing methods. Find hidden growing spaces. Maximize production. Call today for mentoring, classes, private consultations & free Meetups about Permaculture, Edible forest gardening, Homesteading, Ecological gardening, Edible landscaping, and more. Patty Love, MALS, PDC. patty@barefootpermaculture. com 585.506.6505 www.barefootpermaculture. com
Marketing Torin Washington, Marketing Manager Tahkiah Burrs, Marketing Assistant/ Graphic Designer Produce Caitlin Holcombe, Produce Manager Saqrah Houck Don Hyatt Newsletter editorial team: Margie Campaigne, Co-editor & Advertising; Tahkiah Burrs, Co-editor & Design
Front End Payton Marovich,, Front End Manager Leah Feldman, Front End Supervisor & Cheese Buyer Jacob Snell, Front End Supervisor Seb Sanger, Front End Supervisor Jes Munk Wade Bradshaw Dave Daunce Richard Rowley Steph Terwillinger Erin Cavellier
The Rutabaga Rap is Abundance Food Co-opâ€™s quarterly newsletter. With articles, notes, and recipes, we explore the food, values, and way of life that matter most to our co-operative community.
ÂŠ Abundance Food Co-op 2016
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PLANNING FOR AN ECOLOGICAL NEW YORK BY ELIZABETH HENDERSON Ban Round-Up! Stop spraying pesticides in schools! Donâ€™t allow the merger between Monsanto and Bayer! As people who want to eat organically grown foods we have so many causes to protest, resist and oppose. After years of saying no, as co-chair of the policy committee of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York (NOFA-NY), I wanted to say yes, this is what I want. Instead of dreaming up the answers myself, I worked with NOFA members on an 8-year long brainstorming process with online questions and in person gatherings around the state to create a New York Organic Action Plan (NYOAP). Participants included NOFA-NY founding and new members, urban and rural organic farmers, academics and researchers, students, food activists, organic gardeners and anyone interested in organic food and farming. The NYOAP is finally ready for prime time! You can see the full report on the NOFA-NY website https://www.nofany.org/take-action/new-yorkorganic-action-plan - but since we want it to be a living plan that will continually make progress as we work on it together, it is not too late to help add ideas and to take part in making our dreams a reality. To launch the brainstorming, we sent out an open invitation to join in 2- hour sessions to help NOFA-NY set priorities for advocacy and policy to create a food and farming system that is socially just, environmentally resilient, and economically vibrant, asking people who care about organic to share their ideas about what is working and what is not working for organic farming and food in New York. Then we directed our brainstorm to a broad range of topics:
ORGANIC TRANSITION AND
CULTURAL AND SOCIAL CHANGE
RESEARCH AND EDUCATION
When we summarized the hundreds of responses, a clear overarching goal came into focus: Create an ecological New York State where healthy food and access to land are considered human rights. To reach this aspiration, we sorted the many creative suggestions into bite-sized goals for specific areas of action: there are steps anyone can take as an individual or member of a household, things to do on the local level, the county level, and a full policy program for the state and federal levels so that everyone can participate starting today. All of you reading this newsletter are already contributing by purchasing local organically grown food at Abundance and supporting a cooperative store! You can increase your participation by planting your own garden, saving seed, buying more of the food you eat from local farmers, and encouraging the Rochester area schools to plant gardens and teach nutrition. NYOAP includes a score board â€“ a chart that we can update very year. The categories are the number of certified organic farms in NYS, the percent of food sold in NYS that is organically grown in NY, the number of schools with gardens and nutrition education programs and the number of hospitals that provide local organic food to patients. ON THE STATE LEVEL, THESE ARE OUR TOP POLICY PRIORITIES: 1. Create a Healthy Soils Program in NYS: Support research to: a. Increase understanding of soil health. b. Increase understanding of the connec tion between soil health, the nutritional value of food and human health. c. Provide technical assistance and tax and other incentives to farms that build healthy soil and increase soil carbon, with disin centives for pollution and erosion. d. Ensure that organic farmers are included in any program that gives incentives to mitigate climate change through carbon sequestration. 2. Farm to institutions (hospitals, schools and others): (continued to page 5)
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Organic NY – All in This Together!
Grow your Food
Join or Start a Food Hub
Take a ClassGardening,
Windowsill to full scale - growing your own food provides fresh, healthy produce for you and your family.
Keep organic matter out of the waste stream by starting a compost pile. No backyard? Try this.
Avoid toxic chemicals and fertilizers. Learn more about organic land care from our friends here.
Become a member today and get one friend to join this year!
cooking, food preservation - make the most of the bounty of our state.
Buy Local Organic
Purchase food at farmers’ markets, farm stands, or join a CSA.
Use Local Seeds Save your
own, share with friends, or join a seed library.
Establish or join a community run, cooperative food hub to market area farm products.
Order in Bulk
Order garden, farm supplies and livestock feed in bulk to receive reduced prices, and to help support farmers, producers and agricultural educators. See an example here.
Push for school gardens with nutrition programs and food purchases from local farms!
Push Stores & Eateries
Introduce local organic farmers to your favorite chef. Request local organic ingredients where you shop & dine.
Become a Water Guardian
Your county can provide incentives to landowners who reduce or refuse the use of chemicals to protect ground water.
a. Provide incentives for sourcing NY organic food. b. Legislate that state-controlled institutions serve organic food. 3. Increase supports for low-income households to purchase healthy food: a. More double-up bucks. b. Free breakfast and lunch programs at public schools. c. Program to encourage doctors/health care agencies to prescribe healthy food. As an example of prescribing healthy food – Harlem Hospital has a farmers market and gives prescriptions in connection with Wholesome Wave – NYC Health and Hospitals program: http://www. nychealthandhospitals.org/patientstories/doc-prescribes-fruit-veggies-for-alaijah/
Know the Issues and set your Priorities
Build support for NOFA-NY’s packet of legislation to increase organic farming in New York State.
Know your State Legislators
Get to know your State Senator and Assembly member, and ask them to support our Policy Initiatives that reinforce the importance of organic!
Donate to NOFA-NY today and help us grow our reach!
USDA National Organic Program
Keep organic standards strong and ensure consistent accreditation and inspections.
Healthy Food for AllCampaign
on the nutritional value and benefits of organically grown food.
Support organic and beginning farmers and make healthy food available to all!
Know your Members of CongressFind out
who your Senator or Representative is and ask them to support our Policy Initiatives!
Markets reestablish an organic program area. a. Create a position of staff “Organic Expert.” b. Convene an Organic Summit to develop organic priorities for New York State for the next 3 years. c. Among its charges should be to calculate the size of the organic market in NYS and the pecentage of organic imports from other states and abroad and then develop a program of im port substitution to enable NYS organic farmers to satisfy NYS market demand. This organic program should also publicize the organic cost share program. If you love to imagine a more organic future for New York State, please RSVP to Elizabeth Henderson (firstname.lastname@example.org) . Look for announcements of a NYOAP session at Abundance soon!
4. Mandate that the Department of Agriculture and
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BOARD TALK BY PETER HOUSE My partner and I get together with our neighbors every St. Patrick’s Day for dinner. This year, we were supposed to bring the cabbage. We had breakfast with friends, and then stopped at Abundance to pick up the cabbage. I had to go a little out of my way, and pass another supermarket to get there, but I chose to inconvenience myself a little to support our CoOp. Once there, we found several fresh, organic heads of cabbage in the produce section, along with a few other things to add to the crock pot. A pretty mundane event, and hardly one worth writing about right? If I were not a long time board member, I might agree. However, having been on the board during the long search for a new location, and now through most of our first year on South Avenue, little stops like the one I made this morning seem quite miraculous. I know just how much work, planning, dedication, and even passion were necessary to make my quick shopping stop possible. And, I also have a deep appreciation for the fact that I live in a city where I can stop at a Co-Op, for food, rather than having no choice but to subsidize a large corporation, which works against my value system each time I needed to eat. Our food choices are, after all, deeply political acts. And while it’s true that 100% ethical eating is all but impossible, Abundance is the only store in Rochester that has as its purpose supporting a sustainable food system, educating the community about healthy food, and providing a vibrant community in which anyone can own a share of the business, and engage in a democratic method of operation. In the age of the 1%, the fact that we even exist is a small miracle.
We have now had almost a year in a new, attractive, sunny store. We have enjoyed new products that our larger size has made possible. We have a great new cheese section, colorful gift displays, and expanded choices of hot, prepared foods. We have added many “conventional” products like Jiffy baking mixes, rubbing alcohol, and ibuprofen to serve the needs of the neighborhood. We now have the wonderful, and very affordable Field Day Organic products which help us provide healthy food at low prices, as well as our FLOWER program for those on limited incomes. We have benefited from our more visible location, attracting in many new shoppers who would never have found us on Marshall Street. Many of these new folks were so impressed by what they saw, they became shareholders. Still, our first year on South Avenue has not been without its challenges. As many know, our sales are a bit under where they need to be. There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is the incredibly competitive business the retail grocery industry is. Several new stores have opened in Rochester recently, with another big chain possibly on the way to Brighton. Natural products were once the exclusive niche of Co-ops. No more. Now, every retailer sells them – and often more cheaply than we can afford to because they can buy in huge quantities. These shrewd retailers have copied our product lines, and now boast (as only Co-ops once did) of healthy, organic foods. What no other retailer has copied however, is the real heart of what sets us apart: our justice oriented mission, and our ownership model. Wal Mart is not committed to serving the inner city with
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healthy food choices, and you canâ€™t buy a share of their business, and exercise the right to vote on their policies and practices. Where we shop for food is a deeply political act. I invite each and every reader to ponder that idea the next time you need a head of cabbage or a bottle of ibuprofen. It is through daily and mundane acts that we truly live our values, and create the kind of world we want to live in.
WRITE FOR THE RAP!
Now accepting submissions for the SUMMER ISSUE. Deadline: June 8th
CARROT AND SWEET POTATO TZIMMES By Co+op, Stronger Together Tzimmes is a traditional Jewish dish made from carrots and dried fruits cooked slowly and sweetened with honey. It is often served during Rosh Hashanah, with the round carrots symbolizing gold coins and prosperity.
PREPARATION In a large pot or Dutch oven, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add the onions and sautĂŠ until soft, about 10 minutes. Add all the remaining ingredients, stir, and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce the heat to a low simmer. Cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour, stirring occasionally. The vegetables should be very tender. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
3 tablespoons butter 2 cups yellow onion, chopped 3 cups medium carrots, peeled and cut crosswise into 1/2- to 1-inch rounds (about 1 pound) 3 cups sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes (about 1 pound) 3 cups apple, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces 1 cup prunes, coarsely chopped 1 cup dried apricots, coarsely chopped 3 tablespoons water 3 tablespoons honey 1 medium orange, zest and juice 2 medium lemons, zest and juice 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon Salt and pepper, to taste
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BY JAY T. S T R AT T ON
ANTIQUE FRUIT AT ABUNDANCE No, this article isn’t about me. It’s about the book Pomona’s Lost Children by yours truly. Have you noticed Abundance’s miniscule book section at the aisle corner near the baskets? Here we have a number of interesting titles, many of which were authored by Co-op members. And we have a number of antique fruit products available on our shelves for you to try. It took me 25 years to produce this book. It is half permacultural farm memoir and half cookbook. No place else will you find as many recipes using elderberry, gooseberry or quince. It is a botany book as well which delves into mythology and the history of our most ancient fruits, many of which have fallen into near oblivion. Pomona is the ancient Roman goddess of fruit. On our shelves we have Hunter & Hillsberg’s elderberry jelly, as well as dried elderberry in the Frontier bulk spices section. Elderberry is a proven anti-viral and I have noticed that all our elderberry juice concentrate bottles disappeared from the shelves last month. “More is coming!” Let us hope that is not more flu! Cascadian Farm’s Berry Vanilla Corn Puffs also contain a bit of elderberry flavor. Quince have disappeared from our produce department, alas, but we do have Red Jacket Quince Jam which contains more of the beneficial fiber and less sugar than the usual quince jellies. Red currants are available as jelly from Hunter & Hillsberg, plus Crofters makes a delightful black currant spread. We used to carry black currant juice as well, but it was overly tart and did not sell. Fior di Frutta has a lingonberry spread that I haven’t yet tried. Pawpaws were available in season (early October) from my farm in Chautauqua County but they are best eaten fresh and not cooked into jams or jellies. Eat Me Ice Cream made a mean pawpaw ice cream last year but I
didn’t get to taste any. I did taste the Quince and Cornel ice creams and can report that they were exquisite. Amber is now at work creating some serviceberry ice cream. Let’s hope these old-fashioned fruit flavors will appear in the freezer at Abundance in the future! Persimmons are available fresh in late fall and winter. We have the flat “sharonfruit” types which are not so astringent, as well as the larger “Hachiya” types and the smaller Amer-Asian hybrids. Just be sure that these are 100% mooshy ripe (way beyond avocado) before you eat them, or you may regret it. I hope you got in on the several recent weeks of fresh blackberry sales at Abundance. We did! Bionaturae has a delicious Blackberry fruit spread and blackberry juice is one ingredient in the Wild Berry Nectar, as well as many other mixed berry products. Our MegaC Juice contains a bit of Aronia (chokeberry) which may not be that good tasting by itself but has excellent medicinal benefits. In general, antique fruits, especially berries, contain many vitamins and antioxidants that are lacking in more modern foods. Perhaps Naz can find us some gooseberry products to put on the shelves, too. The problem with jams and jellies is that the overabundance of sugar in most brands is a counterbalance to the benefits of these ancient fruits. Fresh is best, if you can find them. Abundance does sell some varieties of heirloom apples in our produce section, but what has happened to those wonderful Winesaps we had in years past? Hope we can find them again. Medlar products are generally unavailable in America and overly expensive if you can find them, but you can read all about this most ancient fruit in Pomona’s Lost Children.
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Over fifty? Not sure which end is up? All good?
Try one of our classes– 1st class free. Carl Hoffman, instructor 99 Crosman Terrace, in the Upper Monroe neighborhood www.pinnacle-yoga.com (don’t forget the hyphen)
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COOPERATIVE REJUVINATION BY JAY T STRATTON
The Co-op has been experiencing some difficulties growing into our new, larger space. For a change, things are too big and too beautiful! How can we utilize our new space better? This article will give a few suggestions on what we can do individually and collectively to make our Co-op a more vibrant and creative place. First, remember that we are more than a supermarket. We are also a social outlet and a social conscience, a group of visionaries organized around the idea that we all need food that is good for our health and good for the well-being of our planet. Don’t wait for the Board or the fearless leaders to do something sometime down the road. What can we do right now as individuals that will help to make a difference? Let me cite the example of the late Dave Halter who has just recently passed on. It was he who rented us his storefront on Caroline St. for the ABC Buying Club after we lost our original home in the firehouse in 1999. From here Abundance Co-op rose phoenix-like from the ashes of ancient arguments. Our city and our co-op are better places as a result because of you, Dave. Thank you. So here are some suggestions: - Encourage your friends, neighbors and relatives to shop at Abundance. We need our old customers back as well as new ones at our new location. - My friend Michael has created a francophone brunch on Tuesday mornings. From 9:30am to 11am or so you will find several people speaking French. Join in
if you can! It’d be nice to have a Spanish circle develop as well. Vem vill komma och tala svenska och fika på Co-operative med mig? Why not an ASL group as well? - Talk to strangers and compare notes on the many wonderful products we have here. Some may be unfamiliar with celery root or rutabagas. - Assistant marketing director Ty organized the first Open Mike Night a few Fridays back where we enjoyed poetry, prose, raps, ukulele and guitar music. Bring it on! I just ran into our former manager Jessica who said she had seen me streamed live from the Co-op. Wow! - Eat out at Abundance with friends to keep our Deli busy! I found the hot bar and salad bar to be totally delicious. On Sundays the Deli offers a brunch sort of menu with egg dishes and tofu scrambler, home fries and vegan sausage links. On other days we have Indian or Thai-inspired fare, roasted tofu or chicken with a variety of savory sauces. At present we are a more brunch and lunch oriented, but shoppers later in the day can always find an assortment of hearty soups. The grab-n-go cooler is always filled with sa-
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vory sandwiches, salads and desserts. - I’ve noticed a few business and club meetings going on in the eat-in area, as well as several different book discussion groups. Could you create another one? - The Community Room is available by reservation for larger groups like birthday parties, classes, teach-ins or other sorts of events. Why not a family reunion? - The eat-in area is a bright and sunny room which doubles as an art gallery. Why couldn’t it be your art up on the walls? Why not hold a knitting or sewing circle here as well? - Tastings and product demonstrations are on-going at Abundance, some organized by the store, others by distributors or individual entrepreneurs. Cheese tastings are one offering. Did you check out the beer tastings during the first open mike night? So, these are a few ideas that I have noticed or heard tell of. What are your own? Yes, these are discouraging times. It’s time to think outside of the box (or even off the wall, in my case) to find
ways to ensure that our Co-op becomes more vibrant and healthy. Amidst rampant racism, the African-American community has created a “cultural moment” in film, the arts, BLM, collective consciousness. Women have created a hornets’ nest of change (me-too!) from the bottom up despite an adulterer-in-chief who grabs whatever he wants. Every day a new MCP (male chauvinist pig) goes down. Our Co-op must harness this sort of energy too and create a real popular cultural renaissance! Some things do not help. This is not the time to discuss water over the bridge. We must make things work the way they are now. This is not the time for sniping or gossip mongering of which I have already heard too much. Organic purists may mutter “I see the Co-op has really lowered its standards” referring to our selling of some cheaper non-organic products. We must not forget our responsibility to make affordable fare available to the non-affluent local population. The South Wedge is somewhat of a food desert. Sure, there are lots of trendy pubs and restaurants but no major supermarkets. In a similar vein, the Genesee Co-op Federal Credit Union is the only financial institution in the area. Then there are the “doctrinaire lefties,” I shall call them, who may hate our landlord or feel antipathy for our general manager or disagree with the decisions of the Board. Out of political correctness or sour grapes, some of these people are voting with their feet. By refusing to shop at Abundance, their supposedly high principles are shooting us all in the collective foot! Come on, people, get over it. It is all our faults if the new Co-op does not live long and prosper. That said, think about it, then Live long and prosper!
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BY KENNETH RICH
BAD TIE SEASON
Mix for Pad Thai Sauce: ¼ cup wine or broth 4 tbsp. lime juice OR 2 tbsp. umeboshi paste 3 tablespoons palm sugar 2 tablespoons soy sauce 1 tablespoons kelp or dulse powder 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil ½ teaspoon chili sauce
and diner food seems Fall-ish. But Spring is Southeast Asia. As I write, the snow is coming down like coconut flour and tapioca. Craving Spring, I visit Pad Thai Land. You’re reading this in the Spring, but I hope you still want Springy! Real Pad Thai is made with tamarind and fish sauce. The Co-op doesn’t carry tamarind, but I’m hoping they’ll start. We do carry Thai Kitchen Fish Sauce. Kelp can do fishy; lime or umeboshi paste can sub for tamarind. Sliver up 4 cups of vegetables, including the (1) oniony, (2) tough, and (3) tender groups, staging each group in a separate small bowl.
(1) Onion, Dab of Garlic (2) Carrot, Turnip, Collards (3) Bell Pepper, Green Onions, Baby Bok Choy, Bean sprouts And (4) the protein group: have 2 eggs handy, cut a square of What season is your favorite Soy Boy Tofu Lin into restaurant cuisine? Is it a taste of fat sticks or have ½ Winter at the ice cream parlor, or cup canned garbanzos Summer at the burger joint down rinsed and ready. by the lake? Mexican is Early Summer, Indian is Late Summer, Bring 2½ cups of water Ru ta baga Rap | 12 | Sp r ing 2018
to a boil. Add half a box (6 oz.) of Thai Kitchen Stir-Fry Rice Noodles. Stir to wet them. Turn off the heat. Poke them down into the water, cover and let sit. Heat oil in your pan or wok and cook group (1) for 1 minute. Add (2) and cook for 1 or 2 more minutes. Empty pan into a bowl, dump the noodles in a colander, add oil, turn the heat down, and scramble the eggs. Put egg to wait with the cooked veggies. Put noodles in the empty pan, turn up the heat. They’re a bit hard, but they’ll soften. Add the Sauce in stages, stirring for 1 or 2 minutes. Add (3) and (4) and stir fry for half a minute. Add the waiting cooked veggies and egg and stir until mixed. Put a lid on top, turn off the heat, and let sit for a couple minutes. Makes 4 to 6 spring-umptious servings. Serve with cilantro, sprouts, and lime wedge garnishes. Time to put on a Bad Tie and tuck into some Pad Thai! Now it’s Spring.
with our friends at
Contact email@example.com for questions, sponsorship, or tabling opportunities.
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THE SUGAR MAPLE: SWEETNESS, STORM AND STRESS BY JACK BRADIGAN SPULA
When it comes to tree species, I try not to play favorites. Healthy forests need enormous diversity. I can even have a soft spot for the occasional “invasive,” like the towering Norway maple in front of my house. But still, there’s something special about the sugar maple (Acer saccharum). This tree practically defines our native forests to the north, especially in the fall when this species’ brilliant red and orange foliage enflames the hillsides. So I find myself taking the effects of climate change on A. saccharum very personally. Rising global temperatures and resulting changes in hydrology are slowly – and here and there, more quickly – eroding the sugar maple’s health and its viability as a commercial species. This is a tree that’s more than beautiful and majestic: it’s also the basis of the maple-sugar industry, especially important in Northern New York, New England, and Quebec. And sugar maple wood is highly valued, too. The sugar maple was once valued as a street planting. But the species proved too vulnerable to automobile traffic, road salting, and other modern urban abuses. So hardier species like the Norway maple came to be preferred – and often turned invasive. But climate change… Where to start? The sugar maple is facing, if not an existential threat, a steady downward trend as a dominant species in the southern parts of its range. One recent study, a Ph.D. dissertation from the University of New Hampshire, said the species “is projected to decline and die in 88 to 100 percent of its current range in the United States.” SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry researchers, quoted by Jacob Malcomb in “Nature Up North,” said in 2015 that “the growth rates of Adirondack sugar maples have been in decline for the past several decades, despite a trend towards warmer, wetter conditions that should favor tree growth.”
Malcomb noted the crisis will have effects well beyond the sugar maple itself: “[W]hite-tailed deer and moose browse sugar maple leaves, numerous rodents consume their seeds, and songbirds, woodpeckers, and owls nest in their branches and trunks. With their nitrogen-rich leaf litter, sugar maples also play an important role in regulating the availability of nutrients in forest soil. In St. Lawrence County, more than half of our forests are co-dominated by maple, beech, and birch trees. With mature beech trees dealing with health problems of their own, I shudder to imagine a landscape where sugar maples are suffering as well.” Sugar maples also deal with attacks from the Asian long-horned beetle, more frequent and more damaging ice storms, and other insults and injuries. And many older specimens, hardy veterans of the “acid rain” years, have been weakened and made more vulnerable. Maple syrup producers, from small woodlot owners to big high-tech operators, have long known how to manage the stress that harvesting sap puts on their maples in late winter and early spring. But now with climate change, the industry is having to adapt and plan for an uncertain future. First, of course, comes an environmental defense of the maples, along with other maple species, like the red (Acer rubrum), which also produce the necessary sweet sap. Then comes technology, with attendant ironies. “The cultural mythology around maple syrup production is strong and deeply sentimental. Even brand-new books on the modern maple syrup industry have cover images of trees covered with metal buckets and plaid-shirted woodsmen toting sap behind horses and sleighs,” writes Joshua E. Brown in a University of Vermont publication. Brown notes most producers have opted for
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(continued to page 15)
“efficient networks of plastic tubing, reverse osmosis devices that quickly remove water from sap, and vacuum pressure pumps to bring sap out of trees to storage tanks.” The tendency has long been to control variables of all kinds. Thus we’re seeing techniques like “plantation maple syrup” on the horizon, says Brown. This method, being developed at UVM, entails using maple saplings, some no more than eight years old, whose crowns have been partly or completely lopped off. Very young maples can remain viable when treated this way, and their decapitated trunks can be outfitted with vacuum-pump connections to draw the sap up and away. Some researchers claim this quasi-experimental method will make it easier to respond to environmental stresses and also boost production. Researchers say they’re trying to give producers more tools, more means of addressing unpredictable weather, and so forth. Word is, in few generations, maple sugaring country is projected to have a climate like North Carolina’s today. So let the toolbox overflow. But please, let’s keep the traditional “semi-wild” sugar bush in good health, too!
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