Blue Heron Local Cuisine

Cooking, Eating, and Drinking on the North Shore (and beyond)

Voting and other things you can do to improve the world November 3, 2008

Filed under: Agriculture — blueheronlocal @ 1:53 pm
Tags: , , , ,
(photo from

(photo from

Nov 4: Election day.  Perhaps the one day every four years where most
(ok, many) American citizens actively engage in our political system.
Your participation matters: the President sets the agenda, picks the
advisors, and influences the funding, application and even creation of
laws and the rules that enforce them.  So, please VOTE.

But you can engage beyond voting.  I’m sure some of you have called or
written your Reps and Senators about a bill– check out the websites
for the House and the Senate if you haven’t.  The most underused
system is commenting on proposed rules.  So what’s a rule?  And why do
they matter?

A rule is the method by which agencies interpret laws for action–
whether it is creating a program, ending a program, enforcing a ban,
etc.  Most laws are pretty stretchy (politically easier to pass), so
the rules are where political agendas can be acted out relativley
unseen.  But wait, transparency does exist!  You just have to know the
system: rules are required to have a public comment period (posted on
this handy website: and agencies are required to
respond to each comment and take them into account as they write the
final rule.

Right now, there is a rule about pasture and organic dairy open to
comment.  Some of it is good, some of it is bad (awful, like, what were they



Honeycrisp Apples and the Lost Cultivar September 24, 2008

Filed under: Agriculture,In Season — blueheronlocal @ 8:24 am
Tags: , ,


If it weren’t for David Bedford, there would be no honeycrisp apples. The honeycrisp trees (then known as MN 1711) were tagged for removal at the University of Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station’s Horticultural Research Center, when Bedford, head of the apple breeding program, noticed that these trees were in a terrible growing spot. He thought they would have promise in a better site, so he let them live. It was a good thing he did. The honeycrisp has become an exceedingly popular apple. It has the perfect apple texture and its flavor is subtle and sweet. The apple grows to large proportions and stores well. And the trees love the cold weather.


Creating new apple cultivars is a long process and many cultivars never make it to the stage where they get nice names like honeycrisp. It took the honeycrisp thirty years to be released as a cultivar after it was grown from a seedling at the U of M in 1961. There are many reasons for this: The trees need to grow big enough to produce significant fruit, they need to produce fruit consistently from year to year, they have to survive the harsh Minnesota winter [Ed. note: Take it from me, North Shore natives, the Minnesota winter is intense. The snow never melts and when the wind blows you can feel aching sinus cavities you weren’t even aware of.], and for this particular cultivar, the U of M was treading lightly. In the late 1970s they had three cultivars metaphorically crash and burn. The regent and honey gold didn’t survive the winter (see above) and the red baron mysteriously turned yellow and orange and stayed yellow and orange. Oops! However, the honeycrisp was a clear success.


Originally it was thought that the honeycrisp was a cross between the Macoun and honey gold; however, when the U of M folks tested its DNA, they realized that it was a cross between keepsake and another cultivar that did not survive the testing process. Apple fanatics everywhere must be wondering “What other apple varieties were grown and destroyed that I will never taste???” (That wouldn’t be me, of course.)


You can buy and pick honeycrisps at Russell Orchards in Ipswich.



(Thanks to Minnesota Harvest for the fascinating, detailed account of the growing and creating process.)


On Definitions September 22, 2008

Filed under: Agriculture,Ethical Eating — blueheronlocal @ 3:10 pm
Tags: , ,

This may be my favorite semi-wordy definition of a sustainable food system.  
From the 2025 Vision Statement for Michigan Food and Farming
Sustainability as it applies to food means that societies pass on to future generations all the elements required to provide healthy food on a regular basis: healthy and diverse environments (soil, water, air, and habitats); healthy, diverse, and freely reproducing seeds, crops, and livestock; and the values, creativity, knowledge, skills, and local institutions that enable societies to adapt effectively to environmental and social changes.

Biodiversity, knowledge & skills, ecosystem health, strong communities, self-replication across generations, and the ability to adapt.  The inclusion of creativity is particularly rare—as our surrounding and systems change, we do need to be creative to maintain healthy systems.  Growers, cooks, bankers, lawyers, and politicians all need to be able to think within and also outside “the box” in order to adapt to new conditions.  My only complaint is that it does not explicitly include economic sustainability, although you could easily argue that the last section could include fairly valuing the work of those who work in our food system.




Apples and Hurricanes September 3, 2008

Filed under: Agriculture,In Season,Regional food — blueheronlocal @ 9:12 pm
Tags: , ,
ginger gold and paula red, two early apples (thanks,

ginger gold and paula red (thanks,

One of the few redeeming things about the waning days of summer is the onset of apple season. My favorite apple, the ginger gold (available at the Marblehead farmers’ market), was discovered because of a hurricane. Hurricane Camille was one of big Gulf Coast hurricanes. It hit the Mississippi coast in 1969 as a Category 5 storm. By the time it wandered up to Virginia, it was only a tropical depression. No one thought much about it, but when it crossed over the Blue Ridge Mountains and stalled over Nelson County, Virginia, it dropped 27 inches of rain in 12 hours. Birds drowned in the trees and whole mountainsides washed away. Pretty meandering creeks in people’s backyards became thundering, murderous floods, tearing houses from their foundations. (more…)


Ikerd for Secretary of Agriculture! June 25, 2008

Recent gossip around the food sphere has been littered with proposals for who should be Obama’s secretary of agriculture (oddly enough, no one seems to care about McCain…a question for another day: Do we think he’s losing or that he won’t listen to us?). My favorite is the head of the Analyzing Agriculture from Afar program at Urban University, followed by Jim Hightower, and then John Ikerd.


Jim Hightower is a strongly opinionated Texan who would insult lots of people and possibly get a few things done. John Ikerd, on the other hand, is a fascinating philosopher academic, with experience working at the USDA on sustainable production, who might be an effective advocate for sustainable agriculture. I’ve even heard that he is charming and likable, which makes him a more realistic candidate than Hightower.


John Ikerd is a strong writer with a background in agricultural economics, and accessible to non-policy wonks like us. A great many of his essays are available online. From the basics of what is sustainable agriculture to what values should underlie rural development, Ikerd’s writing is a readable and inspiring philosophical (and somewhat applicable) primer. Go. Pick one. Read it. Post a few thoughts. Or read my ramblings.