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An Update from Mountain Gardens

February 22, 2013

One of the farmers we profiled in Farm Together Now back in 2009 was Joe Hollis of Mountain Gardens in the mountains of Burnsville, North Carolina. In addition to some plans for the future (see below), Joe sent us an update about what has been happening at his place over the last year:

Mountain Garden Accomplishments for 2012

  • Reconstructed kitchen annex and cob oven after fallen tree incident, new pizza oven
  • Added solar panels, greatly increasing our power (now we can use a computer on a rainy day!) Bought a computer for the pavillion (communal). Got wireless internet (DSL), goodby dial-up
  • Great progress on pond, still needs cob reinforcement before filling. Used dirt for new terrace.
  • Big increase in area for food production, new cultivation and terraces on ‘food slope’ Improved sunlight by removing some shading trees around garden
  • Harvested some honey from our bees (3 hives now)
  • Hauled many pickuploads of manure from nearby ‘dude ranch’, built a small road to bring manure to new terraces on food slope.
  • Revamped wildfood beds for experimental cultivation of woodland food plants (ramps, etc.)
  • New, much more efficient herb drier
  • Mushrooms – gathered a lot, identified many new edibles, inoculated logs & stumps
  • Bare root plants sales: shipped $1000 of Chinese medicinal herb plants
  • Successful 8-day Chinese herbal medicine workshop
  • Dropped a lot of dead hemlocks and planted new wildfood garden between stumps.
  • Updated seed collection withmany new species of ‘useful plants’

And for 2013 and Beyond, Mountain Gardens hope you will get in touch and get involved in the following initiatives, Herb/Plant Studies and workshops (get in touch through their website if you are interested in participating):

Our overarching project is to develop a  ‘demonstration botanical garden of useful plants’, distribute propagating material of the plants, and generate important information about their cultivation and utilization and share it via this website and workshops taught at Mountain Gardens.  We do have some special interests; there aren’t clear boundaries (the most interesting plants are both food and ‘medicine’), but I’ve made an effort to separate specific topics below. The overarching Current project: is to expand the plant collection, offer more seeds and bare root plant sales and begin publishing our plant database online.  We offer several workshops, both half-day and all day, which are extended plant walks, in the garden and adjacent National Forest, with discussion of ID, ecology / habitat, propagation, harvest and of course uses (edible, medicinal, craft, etc.) of hundreds of native and introduced plants.
     A major theme here, as will be seen below, is ‘E-W comparative studies.’  By ‘E-W’, we mean specifically E. Asia and E. N. America.  We want to compare, and create a new synthesis from, eastern and western botany, ecology, herbology, horticulture, pharmacy, garden design and, indeed, philosophy.


Sansai literally ‘mountain vegetable’ – the Japanese word includes what we call wildfood. About 50 spp. of plants are used in Japan, mostly in the form of young sprouts and shoots and hence only available for a short time in spring. This category of food is highly prized and eagerly awaited in spring. At least 75% of Japanese sansai plants have a closely related native (S.Appalachian) equivalent.  See the article “On Beyond Ramps” [link]  Current projects:  Integrating native wildfoods and plant introductions from the far east, we have assembled probably the largest collection of sansai plants in the eastern US.  I continue identifying and searching out propagating material to add to the collection.  We will continue to supply Lantern Restaurant in Chapel Hill, NC and one or two local restaurants.  This year we’ll be offering seeds and, a new feature, bare root plants of an initial selection of 25-30 species. [links]  A goal for 2013 is to develop and post a database of all spp. present with habitat, propagation, harvest time, etc. There will be a workshop on propagating, growing & harvesting sansai plants.

Bupin literally ‘repair substance’ – about 75 spp. of Chinese herbs, in the form of dried roots, seeds, fruits,etc. which are combined with food (meat, rice, vegetables) to “adjust or tonify a person’s physiological imbalance.”  Bupin “revitalize the strength” and “replenish one’s natural power of immunity.” The Asian supermarkets which are appearing in most large cities feature an entire aisle of bupin.  Most bupin  plants can be grown in E. N. Am., and there are probably a number of native plants which could be included in the category- certainly American ginseng and other Araliaceae.  Bupin are frequently consumed as soup, and there are many classic recipes involving 4, 6 or more herbs.  Current projects:  We now grow almost all of the bupin spp.which it is possible to grow in our area, but a there are a few valuable plants for which we are still seeking propagating material.  We are expanding our offerings of seeds and bare root plants.  We will be setting out several beds of spp. which grow well here, for sale to restaurants or in value-added products.  I hope we will post more instructions and photos on the subject on the website.  There will be a workshop on growing & using bupin.

Perennial vegetables – I have been collecting and propagating and growing these for over 30 years; only one or two of the hardy spp. from Eric Toensmeier’s excellent Perennial Vegetables continue to elude me.  Current projects:  Offer more spp. as seeds or bare-root plants.  Incorporate propagation, cultivation and harvest information in overall MG plant database and publish web.  Continue ongoing experiments with cultivation methods for efficient harvest of roots and tubers, fertilization and spacing trials for native perennial wildfoods, seed germination methods trials – keep records and share.  Try to get Dioscorea figured out.  Teach a workshop on perennial vegetables.

Tonic / longevity herbs and formulas from China & India – these are another long term interest.  I got a piece of advice when I was 30: “chart your course to intersect with the future.” So I’ve spent 40 years on this topic, figuring to meet up with the post-war generation right about now.  Yes, both Chinese and Indian herbal medicine have devoted considerable energy to developing anti-aging, rejuvenative herbs and formulas.  (Curiously, western herbal medicine has little to offer on this topic).  These herbs and preparations are called ‘tonics’ in Chinese medicine and ‘rasayanas’ (rejuvenatives) in Ayurveda.  Many of the Chinese tonic herbs are the same as bupin (above), but the tonic formulations, which can be prepared as decoctions, pills, wines, tinctures, syrups, etc., are much more elaborate and precisely targeted than the bupin soup recipes.  Rasayanas, coming from S. Asia, are unfortunately mostly, but not entirely, not-hardy.  Mtn Gdns has devoted considerable effort, over 30 years, to collecting any reputed ‘longevity’ herbs which will grow here, and learning to grow them (1) and collecting formulas (2), and now we have quite a treasure trove to share. Current projects: Offer more of these species as seeds or bare-root plants.  Summarize cultural, propagation, harvesting and utilization information on MG herb database. Make wines, tinctures, pills and other classic longevity formulations incorporating our fresh, organically-grown herbs. Share on line the most interesting usages and formulations from some scarce texts which we have acquired (ben cao gang mu, Pharmacopoeia of the P. R. of China, , Ishimpo, etc.).  Since we no longer sell tonic preparations on line (not GMP), begin offering packets of herbs so folks can make their own preparations (tincture: just add alcohol!).  Begin planting beds (a couple square yards each) of most important spp.  Teach workshops on growing and using tonic herbs

Medicinal herbs (other) – In accordance with our generational mandate, Mtn Gdns collects (plants & their usages, literature) and explores the herbal aspects of ‘sex, drugs and rock & roll': CNS stimulants and depressants, libido (vital essence) tonics, calming / anti-stress / sleep.  Also brain / memory tonics (E.g. Calamus varieties and formulas ).  Also, herbs to promote immune fuction (adaptogens – we grow all possible adaptogens), anti-allergic, anti-arthritic, vision, hearing, etc. herbs and formulas.   Current projects:  Not so many of these plants are easy to grow in this area; a goal is to explore processing, combinations & formulas for those we can grow.  Teach a workshop on psychoactive herbs

Pao zhi – refers to a number of herb processing techniques used in traditional Chinese medicine to alter the energetics, reduce side-effects, increase palatability, etc. of herbs.  I have been practicing and teaching pao zhi for 10 years, and continue to research the topic, currently exploring the newly available ben cao gang mu – a treasure-trove of information. Current project: Continue to develop techniques and accumulate ancient and contemporary information.  Application to Western herbs?  Teach paozhi workshop.

Herbal Preparations – We like to make preparations from the herbs we grow. For ideas and inspiration we draw on  both traditional Chinese and late 19th century American pharmacy.  We practice the best (that we have discovered, so far) pre-industrial extractions and formats for medicinal herbs, utilizing the best Eclectic and standard pharmaceutical texts and Chinese information gleaned from a variety of sources including Li Shizhen and unpublished notes from Andy Ellis.  Current projects: Continue to expand our repertoire of herbal formats, internal & external.  Making alcohol from herbs, rather than adding herbs to alcohol.  Continue developing longevity liqueurs, incorporating more herbs that we can grow and harvest.  Expand repertoire of topical and skincare preparations.  Distill more essential oils and make use of the hydrosols (in tinctures and other preparations).  Offer herbal CSA?  Teach workshops on traditional Chinese and American / Eclectic pharmaceutical techniques and preparations

Native wildfoods – Our work with spring wildfoods is mentioned above (sansai), but of course there are wildfoods at every season.  Two recent books by Samuel Thayer: Nature’s Garden and The Forager’s Harvest  constitute a quantum leap in the quality of information on ID, harvesting and preparation of more than fifty of the best native wildfoods.  Current projects: The only problem with wildfood is the gas you have to burn to get to where it is. Our contribution to the movement is to offer seeds and bare root plant starts, and information on appropriate habitat, propagation, etc., so that you can naturalize these plants near your house.  Well also offer several workshops on this topic.

Li Shi-zhen’s forgotten herbs – Li Shizhen’s ben cao gang mu is a massive encyclopedia of natural history which treats almost 2000 minerals, plants, animals, insects, fungi, artifacts, etc., with details of harvesting, preparation and utilization (thousands of formulas and combinations are given) not available anywhere else.  Fortunately: it has been translated into English!  Unfortunately, it lists for $1600, there are deals online but it’s still about $800.  Also few libraries seem to have purchased it.  Fortunately, I have a copy!  It only took about $60 and 10 hours of turning pages at the copy machine.  Unfortunately, the ‘editorial apparatus’ (indexing, explanatory notes, etc) is minimal, the text is riddled with typos and who knows how many errors in translation.  Current projects: Begin to supply some necessary study aides such as a table of contents by latin plant name (the only table of contents given is in pinyin, and often it’s an obsolete pinyin name).  Continue reading through the text, highlighting its unique information, esp. on preparations and longevity formulas & techniques, edibility, propagation and cultivation, etc.  Compile a list of herbs not included in modern TCM (E.g. Bensky), then develop a list of new spp. to acquire.  Incorporate much Li Shizhen information in the series Chinese herb workshops.

Positive identification of Chinese herbs:  E-W herbal comparisons – There are at least 50 ‘east-west herb pairs’ (genera embracing both an E. Asia and an E. N.Amer. medicinal species), and a question of great interest is to what extent can our native plants be used in place of the imported species?  We have assembled all available published information (four books and assorted information from the internet), and are assembling the pairs of plants (ginsengs, black cohosh, dioscorea, solomon’s seal, hawthorn, etc.) affording a unique opportunity for comparative study.  Current projects: Continue filling out the plant collection; utilize new spp. suggestions from Li Shizhen.  Organize the extensive collection of reports which my students at Daoist Traditions have prepared over several years, each comparing the native and oriental species of a medicinal genus (a bulging file-drawer full)..  Incorporate info on ‘equivalent spp’ in Chinese herb workshop series.

Heirloom vegetables:  One of our major Current projects is food self-sufficiency.  Not just kitchen garden vegetables, of which we grow a good supply, but starch and protein crops like corn, beans, squash and potatoes.  My former apprentice, Dr. Jim Veteto, recently purchased land just over the ridge from Mtn Gdns on which to establish his Institute for the study of S. Appalachian food crops.  We’ll be partnering with his Southern Seed Legacy project to grow out heirloom corn and bean varieties collected right here in Yancey County.  What a thrill! We look forward to working closely with Jim on his projects, sharing apprentices and workdays and assisting in the preservation of local heirlooms.

Towards the development, demonstration and promotion of a way of living on earth that is sustainable, just and personally satisfying:  this is of course the sine qua non [without this, nothing].  I put it here last, but it’s first, always.  The best philosophy we have of a sustainable, just, satisfying life on earth is Daoism.  If this is true, one would expect to find echoes (at least) in other times and cultures, and indeed similar philosophies arose in ancient Greece but, lacking a Zhuangzi [Chuang-tzu], they lost out to Plato; and, since the victors write the history, the Cynics, Skeptics and Epicurians have been grossly misrepresented and are now largely forgotten. ‘Primitive’ people understand, which is why they’ve retreated to some of the most inhospitable environments on earth rather than joining up for the ‘benefits’ of civilization; unfortunately, they don’t write books about their philosophy, writing itself being an artifact of civilization.  ‘Primitivism’ (within which I include Daoism) is the philosophy of living on earth; modernism, from Confucius and Plato on up, is the philosophy of alliance with the human superorganism, which cancerously grows by consuming its host.  We all must choose; how we live is our bet, and we are betting the survival of our (thus far immortal) genes.

Ranchers at the Whitehouse

February 18, 2013

This was sent along from Jim Knopik, one of the 20 farmers/groups we profiled in Farm Together Now back in 2010. He is involved with a group of Nebraska ranchers who have been doing activism around the proposed Keystone pipeline. This action took place on February 13th, and yesterday 35,000 people from 30 different states converged in Washington for “Forward on Climate,” which is said to have been the biggest rally calling attention to climate change in U.S. history.

Quotes from Nebraskans:

Pics of Nebraskans involved in Wed action from Mary Anne Andrei for Bold Nebraska

Randy Thompson, cattle buyer, face of the pipeline campaign in Nebraska “Stand with Randy”


“I am a Nebraska cattleman and landowner. I am fighting against the KXL pipeline for two very basic reasons. First of all, I feel very strongly that this pipeline represents an assault on the individual property rights of American citizens. There is something inherently wrong about the idea of American landowners being forced to subsidize the private enterprise of a foreign corporation with land that their families have earned through generations of hard work and determination. Secondly, I feel that the KXL presents a real threat to some of our nation’s most valuable natural resources, especially our rivers, streams and underground aquifers. These are priceless American assets that no amount of oil money, foreign or otherwise, could ever replace.”

James Tarnick, young farmer and rancher, proposed pipeline route comes within 50 feet of his house


“I started out fighting the pipeline because it was coming on my land and close to the family farm house and livestock wells.  However, through what I have learned these past 6-7 months I am against it even more because it will impact us negatively economically in the long run and there are way to many ways it can harm our environment.  Landowners have been bullied by TC as our political leaders have looked the other way.  It is time to and this is an outstanding way to rise up against big money and say ‘We aren’t going anywhere. Ever!'”

Abbi Kleinschmidt, 5th generation farmer in the route of the pipeline


“I am fighting the pipeline because I believe it is my duty to stand up for Mother Earth and the health and well-being of all human beings and NOT allow a slimy, rich, foreign oil company to come in and cut through the heart of America. I cannot think of a more heartless act!! I am fortunate to live in a society where I have the right and can speak up for what I believe in. What this situation reminds of more than anything is what our ancestors did to the Native Americans. We came in and told them lies, cheated them, and moved them off of their land. I believe that TransCanada is capable of doing the same sort of thing, especially if there was a sizable tar sands spill. That company is ruthless, relentless, has an endless supply of money and only wants what is good for them. Since our politicians aren’t willing to take the appropriate stand, then power to the people and I would be one of those.”

Susan Luebbe: rancher, featured in Pipe Dreams documentary, one of the landowners in the lawsuit against the state of Nebraska on the pipeline route and eminent domain authority

“As a 3rd generation cowgirl from the Sand Hills of Nebraska I have worked hard with others to get KXL off our ranch. I want to take this risk of arrest with many other landowners, and indigenous tribal members from Canada through the United States to end this fight. I want to make an impact in this fight for residents of Canada’s tar sands region to Eleanor Fairchild’s Texas property. TransCanada’s project cuts right through the heart of environmental sensitive land and cultural history. I want the future generation to see what it takes to fight for something so precious that our ancestors worked so hard to build for all of us.”

Happy V-Day

February 14, 2013

This Valentines Day, I wanted to remember a powerful experience I had exactly two years ago when I was able to attend the National Family Farm Coalition’s annual board retreat in Washington DC and record all of these wonderful people reading the principles of Food Sovereignty:

If we all loved food and each other the way these folks do, then we would have a lot less problems.

Fair Food at 13 Years

December 13, 2012

From February 19th – March 4th in the year 200, Students from across the state of Florida and youth groups answer a call to action and walk alongside the farmworkers from Immokalee Florida in the “March for Dignity, Dialogue and a Fair Wage.” The first action outside Immokalee, the march covered 243 long miles to the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association. Marchers walked from sun-up to sunset (9-10 hours a day) for 15 days straight.

This led to the amazing social movement that became the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Student Farmworker Alliance, Taco Bell Truth Tour, Actions at Yum Brands’Annual Shareholder Meeting, McDonald’s Truth Tours, and so much more (see a timeline here). The CIW has become the vanguard of new social movements in the United States alongside the Right tot he City Alliance, the Workers Center Movement, Take Back the Land and the Domestic Workers United.

Now they are taking that walk again. On 3/3/2013: Join them in the streets again for the two-week “March for Rights, Respect and Fair Food” from Ft. Myers to Lakeland, Florida! Details are here

A Tale of Two Thanksgivings

November 19, 2012

A message from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers:



This holiday season, ask Publix to join us at the Fair Food table…

The holiday season is upon us, which means it’s time again to gather around the table with loved ones to celebrate another year of life together, of new beginnings and old friends, of triumphs and of the challenges ahead.

The holiday table unites us, and reminds us that — no matter how high, or low, our day to day lives may take us — in the end, we always make our way back to those whom we love the most, and when we are with them, the world feels right.

Love is the essence of the holidays. Love for our parents and their parents, love for our children and their children. Love for our friends, and love for all men and women with whom we share this fragile world. The holiday table reminds us that, in the end, we are all family, and that we can only truly enjoy the bounties that life gives us if we all enjoy them together, as one.

No one knows this better than Publix. Its holiday commercials are a tour de force in touching that place deep inside each of us that loves not just our families and friends, but our fellow man, too, regardless of the divisions that may separate us in our daily lives. Publix commercials never fail to remind us just how much we have to be thankful for, and how powerful an emotion our love can truly be.

But love without goodwill is an empty emotion. And, sadly, the holiday season has become an annual reminder that Publix — a company founded by a man, George Jenkins, who famously said the words “Don’t let making a profit stand in the way of doing the right thing” — is a company that has lost its way. Like any family, the families who own and run Publix gather around their holiday tables and reflect on their joys and struggles. For the families who run Publix, among those joys, year after year, are soaring profits. Yet they inexplicably continue to turn their backs on the farmworkers who make those profits possible.

Check out the CIW website  for the powerful new video, A Tale of Two Thanksgivings, and an accompanying online petition to send a holiday message from the Fair Food nation to Publix!

Gastronomica Reviews Farm Together Now!

October 2, 2012

Review: Farm Together Now: A Portrait of People, Places, and Ideas for a New Food Movement by Amy Franceschini and Daniel Tucker, with photographs by Anne Hamersky
San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2010
192 pp. Illustrations. $27.50 (cloth)

by Naomi Starkman for Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture – Vol. 12, No. 3 (Fall 2012), pp. 117-118 Published by: University of California Press. JSTOR Stable URL.

If the country’s good food movement continues to thrive, it will be largely due to our nation’s farmers—the original futures investors engaged in an often precarious practice of endless beauty and decay, triumph and loss. As the new book Farm Together Now clearly conveys, this movement for real food and sustainable agriculture is comprised not only of farmers but also of urban activists, seed savers, beekeepers, and the many other groups who are building gardens to build communities and growing food to promote justice, some on borrowed land or borrowed time. Showcasing twenty of these American heroes, artist and designer Amy Franceschini and organizer and documentary maker Daniel Tucker—aided by the arresting photographs of Anne Hamersky—create a tapestry of the visionaries who are making a new food system.

In the first chapter, “Organizing Alongside Conventional Farmers,” we travel with our guides to rural Nebraska and encounter third-generation animal farmer Jim Knopik, who turned his own farm—and his neighbors—against factory farming in launching the statewide Nebraska Food Cooperative. We then meet third-generation Wisconsin dairy farmer Joel Greeno, who has been milking cows since he was ten years old and is now the president of the American Raw Milk Producers Pricing Association, an organization of dairy farmers dedicated to establishing raw milk prices that return dairy producers their cost of production plus a profit. The story of this food movement involves not only those working with the system; it also centers on individuals who are creating new structures. Take, for example, the farms the authors feature in the chapter titled “In Intentional Community”: Sandhill Community Farm in Rutledge, Missouri; and Tryon Life Community Farm in Portland, Oregon. Both groups are building communities based on biodynamic, cooperative, and egalitarian principles.

The book moves on to chronicle the “policy shapers” who are transforming the inner city. Urban farmers at Oakland’s City Slicker Farms—which sells produce for every budget— and Angelic Organics Learning Center in Chicago—one of the largest community supported agriculture (csa) farms in the country—both fit the bill. They are sprouting not only new urban gardens, but also supporting programs to improve their local food systems by changing the way their communities gain access to good food. In “Up and Out of Poverty,” we are similarly schooled in the hard work of the Georgia Citizens Coalition on Hunger, whose programs grew in response to the lack of healthful food in Atlanta’s primarily African American neighborhoods. An advocacy project cum food pantry and support group, the organization now grows its own food for sale at farmers’ markets.

The book shines a light on the next generation of farmers, such as the team at Freewheelin’ Farm in Davenport, California, who aim to shrink their footprint at every turn, including delivering csa shares by bicycle to their subscribers. In Union Pier, Michigan, we are inspired by anarchistorganizer, fair-trade coffee roaster, and avid tax-resister David Myers, whose On-the-Fly Farm csa subsidizes low-income subscribers and who shares donated farmland with God’s Gang, a nonprofit organization that provides access to good food for displaced residents of the Chicago Housing Authority.

Along the good food road, we meet farmers saving seeds in Arizona and others producing heritage wheat in New York. We meet a sixth-generation acequia farmer who irrigates his land from the oldest “water right” in Colorado, a practice heralded as “water democracy.” We follow up with the South Central Los Angeles Farmers, whose riveting story of displacement was told in the documentary film The Garden and who have since reinvented themselves in Bakersfield, California. Finally, we are invited into the rare world of a radical beekeeper in New York’s Hudson Valley, whose goal is to rebuild the dna of the honeybee to strengthen it to resist disease. They, and many more, farm together now.

With numerous digressions and detailed research, Farm Together Now offers much food for thought to readers both well versed in and relatively new to this movement for change. Its greatest strength is in giving voice to the creative solutions and myriad moving parts that comprise our food system, all of which are inspiring a sea change against the industrial food machine.
—Naomi Starkman, Cofounder of

Farm To Table via USPS

September 25, 2012

How food distribution works today with endless middle men, warehouses, distribution and packaging companies, wholesalers and grocers is not the way things have always worked. Our friends recently shared some surprising history about a food by mail system that could point to possibilities for revitalization of the postal service and the food system today! It all began in 1896 when the Rural Free Delivery Program was started and in 1913 it was connected to the postal service. The program thrived throughout World War 1 but fell victim to competition from the private sector as time moved on. Additionally, the construction of highways changed the way transportation of people and goods occurred throughout the country. As a policy experiment it was innovative, risky and bold. We need to see more of that if anything about how the food supply and distribution chain works. For information about workers who are organizing across the “food chain” check out the important work of Food Chain Workers.

[Thanks to Lisa Junkin and Heather Radke for sharing these links.]


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