** New Recipe Video for A COMPLETE RICE COOKER CHICKEN DINNER **

A COMPLETE RICE COOKER CHICKEN DINNER
My latest video can be found, by clicking the photo, above!

Whether you’re in the process of moving, or just don’t feel like getting a lot of dishes dirty,  in this video, I am going to show YOU how to prepare a deliciously flavorful curried chicken dinner that can be 100% prepared in YOUR rice cooker!

Did you create this dish? What do ya think? Please let me know in the comments, below! ;D

P.S. Expect a new video from me every Wednesday on my YouTube channel. Subscribe to my channel for the latest content!  <3

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** New Recipe Video for 100 MINI RAINBOW PANCAKES **

My latest video can be found, by clicking the photo, above!

As a way to celebrate my special 100-subscriber milestone on YouTube, in this video, I will show YOU how to create 100 miniature RAINBOW pancake cereal using easy-to-make colorful homemade purees. Thanks for the inspiration, TikTok! ;D

Did you create this dish? What do ya think? Please let me know in the comments, below! 😀

Share this post with your favorite #pancake buddy!

P.S. Expect a new video from me every Wednesday on my YouTube channel. Subscribe to my channel for the latest content!  <3

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** New Recipe Video to Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth **

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My latest video can be found, by clicking the photo, above!

It’s still blueberry season in Florida. And for many, blueberries mean DESSERT! In this video, I’m going to show you how to make a really simple yet scrumptious blueberry crisp that uses everyday ingredients. I would like to thank Keel Farms for these amazing blueberries. If you live in or around the Plant City, FL, area, check them out! If you’re gluten-free, please feel free to swap the flour for your preferred substitution. Did you create this dish? What do ya think? Please let me know in the comments, below! 😀

Share this post with your favorite #dessert buddy!

P.S. Expect a new video from me every Wednesday on my YouTube channel. Subscribe to my channel for the latest content!  <3

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**New Recipe Video to Satisfy Your Brunch Cravings **

My latest video can be found, by clicking this photo!

Just because you may be staying at home, doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a tasty brunch! In this video, I’m going to show you how to make an incredibly easy & delicious dish: Savory turkey & blueberry croissants! In the spirit of utilizing local seasonal ingredients, the blueberries for this particular recipe were sourced from Keel Farms , a local Plant City-based winery, blueberry & farming operation. These are so tasty, that this dish will surely be a hit during your next brunch meal. Even your mother-in-law may approve of these miniature bites! 😉

Share this post with your favorite #brunch buddy!

P.S. Expect a new video from me every Wednesday on my YouTube channel. Subscribe to my channel for the latest content!  <3


Baked salmon cakes served with sauteed asparagus and local squash

Baked Salmon Cakes

WARNING: These baked salmon cakes are so delicious and scrumptious, that you will probably wind up eating the whole batch. Don’t say that I didn’t warn you…

Sweetheart’s First Birthday Gift

Back in December, my husband and I adopted Sweetheart from our local county animal shelter. I’m not just saying this because I’m her cat mamma, but she really is the sweetest and spunkiest Tabby cat you will ever meet. She’s also been one of the greatest blessings we’ve had. So to celebrate this very special day, I baked her a tiny little salmon birthday cake…a promise I made to her, since day 1. Let’s just say that being a foodie runs in our family, and my cat definitely picked up on this!

A picture of a gray and white tabby cat eating a miniature salmon cake on her bowl of cat food.
Sweetheart enjoying her little gift on her first birthday

Baked Salmon Cakes for us, too! 🙂

Even though I made a pinky promise with Sweetheart that I would bake her a tasty salmon cake, I knew that we had to join in on this feast with her. Who enjoys eating alone?!?! From the moment I made that vow, I knew that I was going to prepare something really special.

A batch of baked salmon cakes that came fresh out of the oven!
A batch of cakes that came fresh out of the oven!

As a result, I decided to make a batch of Salmon cakes for my husband and I to enjoy. And boy was my batch tasty! I don’t mean to brag or anything, but these savory baked salmon cakes were so tasty, that I knew that my fellow Funky Spork community would enjoy this recipe, too. Without further ado, let’s move onto that darn recipe, shall we?!

Three baked salmon cakes served with sauteed asparagus and local squash.
Baked salmon cakes served with sauteed asparagus and local squash

Baked Salmon Cakes

WARNING: These baked salmon cakes are so delicious and scrumptious, that you will probably wind up eating the whole batch. Don’t say that I didn’t warn you…
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time30 mins
Course: Appetizer, Breakfast, Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine: American
Keyword: Brunch, Salmon, Seafood
Servings: 4 servings
Calories: 414kcal

Equipment

  • Skillet
  • Muffin/cupcake tin (12 count)

Ingredients

  • 20 oz. fresh salmon
  • 2 eggs
  • ¾ cup bread crumbs
  • 1 onion medium
  • 1 bell pepper medium
  • 4 garlic cloves finely minced
  • 1 lemon (all of its juice)
  • 1 tbsp. vegetable oil

Seasonings

  • ¾ tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 tsp. oregano dried
  • 1 tsp. parsley dried
  • 1 tsp. thyme dried

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 375 Degrees F. While your oven is preheating, dice the onion and bell pepper roughly to the size of ¼ inch cubes. Then,  heat your skillet to medium-high on your stove top. Once it begins heating up, add cooking oil to the skillet, and then gradually add the onion and bell pepper mixture. Cook on medium high, stirring frequently, and allow to cook for about 5-7 minutes, or until the onions turn translucent. Once finished, immediately remove cooked veggies form the heat and allow for them to cool for at least five minutes.
  • Gently remove the salmon skin from the salmon with a knife, and set skin aside. Then, in a medium bowl, take two forks and begin to break the salmon meat apart until the pieces are about the size of a grain of rice.
  • Once the salmon has been flaked, add in the remaining ingredients to the mixture, which will include the veggies, breadcrumbs, lemon juice, garlic, and seasoning, stir until all of the ingredients are well-dispersed.
  •  Assembling the cakes: Lightly grease your muffin tin, and set that aside. Afterwards, divide the mixture into 12 parts, and roll each part until a fairly compact ball. Then, place each of your ‘salmon balls’into one of the muffin slots, and (optional step) lightly spray the top of each salmon cake with a touch of cooking spray or cooking oil. Place in the center rack of your oven, and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the cakes reach an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • (Optional, but HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!!) If you still have your salmon skins, place them on a separate greased small oven tray,place a dash of salt and pepper, and have them bake with the salmon cakes. Salmon skin is so tasty!
  • Enjoy!!

Nutrition Information per Serving:

414 Calories/ 38g. Protein/ 19.5g. Fat/ 20.5g Carbohydrates/ 1.6g Fiber

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Farm to Spork: Meet Shawn Steed (UF/IFAS Extension Program)

Are you interested in improving your gardening or horticulture abilities? Have you had an itching desire to learn more about lawn care? Are you looking for a place that can offer you services regarding matters, ranging from your soil quality, to managing your household finances? Well, did you know that you can access all of these resources in one place?

If your answer to any of these questions is a resounding ‘yes’, then today will be the day for you! In this segment of Farm to Spork, I speak with Shawn Steed, and the integrative community-based work that him and his colleagues are doing through the University of Florida’s Institute for Agricultural Sciences Extension program (further referred to as UF/IFAS).

Video interview with Shawn Steed

[The Funky Spork]: Tell us a little bit about yourself, your background, and how you got into this field of work

[Shawn Steed]: Well, I got a degree in Horticulture in College, and I always liked being outside. I love science. I kind of melded all of those likes into the horticulture field. When I looked through course catalogs, Horticulture kind of seemed to float to the top. I got a Bachelor’s degree, and then went to receive a Master’s degree. I then went to work in the industry growing plants for Speedling*, one of the largest transplant producers in the world.

I eventually went into propagation, and worked at a tree farm doing tree liners, which are small trees for the Tree Industry. And then I started doing my own propagation. And then I started doing my own farming, from there.

I just had a passion for growing things.

[The Funky Spork]: It really started from this passion you had where you were getting your hands dirty, really, and immersed in that soil.

[Shawn Steed]: Yeah, I just love being outside. Love the outdoors, love nature, love science, and it all kind of came together. Did a lot of prayer, trying to search my way through things. Horticulture seemed to have the answers. I do feel like it’s a calling.

The Perennial garden at the UF-IFAS Seffner Extension Campus
The Perennial garden at the UF-IFAS Seffner Extension Campus

[The Funky Spork]: One of the hats you wear is with the University of Florida. First of all, can you tell us more about this division of The University of Florida (further referred to as UF), and the work you’re doing?

[Shawn Steed]: So this Seffner location is a part of a cooperative extension. It’s a cooperation between local government (Hillsborough County Government), and UF. Each county in Florida has an extension office. Some even have multiple extension offices. We are tasked with bringing science information to the general public at a local level. We are public servants who work in a variety of different areas. We bring research from UF to the local body. Generally, if you’re a faculty from UF, you’re either appointed to do teaching, research, or extension. You’re either one of or part of those three categories. The extension component is delivering that information to local clientele.

We are also a bridge for the researchers. We see problems at the local level. And we say ‘We need answers to this problem.’ There may not be information there. So, we would bring that up to researchers at the University of Florida or beyond. Then researchers would try to find answers for us to deliver back to local clientele.

[The Funky Spork]: Now I know that, being here in Hillsborough County, from what I know, we have an office in Plant City. But we have this location in Seffner. So what is the Seffner location focused on?

[Shawn Steed]: Seffner is our main office location. And we kind of radiate out from there. We have different footprints of UF. We also have the Gulf Coast Research and Education Center in Balm, FL, which also has that three-part mission. But Balm is more focused on the research areas. They specialize in vegetables, strawberries, and entomology. The Seffner branch partners with them to deliver that information to local growers.

We also have a tropical research aquaculture lab in Sun City Center. We (UF) also have a branch campus in Plant City that is part of the Gulf Coast Research Education Center.

A recycled yard waste compost demonstration at the UF/IFAS Seffner Extension
A recycled yard waste compost demonstration

[The Funky Spork]: What work are you specifically doing with the Extension?

[Shawn Steed]:  I work with ornamental plant production. I work with the nursery growers, tree farm growers, and sod growers. I’m also a multi-county agent. I also work in Polk County’s Bartow office Extension division.

[The Funky Spork]: What are some projects you are currently working on?

[Shawn Steed]: One of the things that we have worked on during the last few years is working with tropical plants. We have some tropical plant producers, locally. They were trying to control weeds out of containers, a very labor-intensive process. So many of these growers try to use preemergent herbicides, which is applied over the plants to help keep the weeds down for multiple months, a labor-saving strategy. 

There was no good information at the local or university level on pre-emergent herbicides for tropical plants. That was one of those local needs that we brought up to the researchers at the Gulf Coast Research Education Center. We got a grant to put out several different trials. Through that, we found some good pre-emergent herbicides for them to use locally. Now that information can go throughout the state of Florida, and will be presented at the Weed Sciences Society of America. That’s a local need that we were able to get funding for, and deliver that information to other local tropical growers. So now, we are saving local growers money, time, and helping them work in a more efficient cost-saving manner.

An information table for the University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service
An information table for the University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service

[The Funky Spork]: From what you have described, the Extension really serves as a forefront of some of the research and integrative work you are doing as a public service entity.  With that being said, what ways do you do regularly connect to the everyday Hillsborough County resident and stakeholder?

[Shawn Steed]: Me and some of my other colleagues work on home landscapes. For instance, a resident may be trying to figure out what is the best lawn to put down, or different fruit trees they could plant. Other residents may be curious about determining what the best time to plant for their gardens. We have specialists who deal with these types of concerns. We test soil, which is helpful for those do not know the pH or nutrient levels for their gardens. Residents are able to bring soil samples for us to test. This type of service can save residents money and time and can help to increase the home value of their property.

We also help landscapers if they have a landscape operation. One of my colleagues specifically deals with landscapers, and can help them with nuances, such as providing input regarding appropriate types and levels of sod and fertilizers for different landscapes. We also help with regulations, in terms of licensing people to apply fertilizers.

Our extension office also has a division that helps residents work on their finances. If you want to do your taxes, we have staff that can assist you with that type of information. We also offer cooking and nutrition classes. We are also suited to meet the needs of farmers and the agriculture industry. Additionally, we also have 4H programming for local youth.

Winning works of art from a recent recycled art contest
Winning works of art from a recent recycled art contest

[The Funky Spork]: So being that I am a food blogger, could I hypothetically bring in my dying pepper plant and its soil for you folks to examine?

[Shawn Steed]: As public servants, yes. That is a service we can assist with. We have Master gardeners, which is our volunteer core of Extension. They receive intensive training, and then they go out to help us with our mission throughout the county. You can bring in sick plants, pests, weeds or soil to our help desk. We can then assess the issues and determine proper control. While we charge a minimal fee for the soil testing, we offer the rest of our consultations as a service paid via tax funding.

[The Funky Spork]: Wow…these are your tax dollars at work!

[The Funky Spork]:  I understand that for a long time, Citrus greening has been an issue. For home owners who want to grow or maintain their citrus trees, is this type of inspection a service that can be offered at this Extension office?

[Shawn Steed]: Sure. We actually have an agent on-staff that strictly works with the citrus industry. The backyard residential gardeners can be supported by our Master Gardener Help Desk service. But if you have acreage and are selling (or plan to) sell citrus, our commercial citrus agent can assist you. Our citrus agent attends trade shows and does morning juice breaks, where he talks to growers about the Citrus Industry and relevant industry topics.

[The Funky Spork]: Are there opportunities here for people to get involved and volunteer?

[Shawn Steed]: Yes there are. We offer internship opportunities for high schoolers and college students. We do offer a direct internship program for UF students. We offer volunteer opportunities for 4H youth programming assistance. Our Master Gardeners program requires that participants contribute so many hours to different types of projects. Some of those projects can involve maintaining our beautiful campus, here. It could also involve working the phones or the helpdesk, soil-sampling, or other types of things. We offer something for everyone.

[The Funky Spork]: What would be the best way for someone to contact you, if they wanted to learn more about Horticulture, or wanted more general information about this division?

[Shawn Steed]: Here at this extension office, we have classes, we have vlogs, we have newsletters and other social media platforms to help residents and stakeholders with whatever they would like to achieve.

We do have an open door policy here. You’re always welcomed to walk in to see who’s here, or talk to the receptionist. I would encourage anyone who is interested in one of those segments of Extension to find that agent’s vehicle of information to learn more about their projects or programming.   

[The Funky Spork]: What are two-three words of advice you would offer to a household who may be interested in living or eating in a more sustainable way?

[Shawn Steed]: First, I would say that Information is very important for me. So I would say that it is important for one to keep up with the latest information regarding sustainability practice. Second, I would challenge one to act upon those practices. It’s one thing to have information about sustainability. But we all have to take our part to take small steps to live more sustainably.

The UF/IFAS Seffner office is located at 5339 County Road 579, Seffner, FL   33584. To learn more about the UF/IFAS Hillsborough County Extension office, please visit: https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/hillsborough/

To contact Shawn Steed, email him at ststeed@ufl.edu

UF/IFAS Seffner Extension Office

ONE MORE THING: Just like shelter, water, and clothing, food is an essential need for survival. Because of this, The Funky Spork is dedicated to providing coverage about different players who are involved with the decisions regarding the food on our plates. Will you and YOUR friends & family do me a HUGE favor, and consider supporting me on Patreon? The Funky Spork truly is a labor of love, and for as little as $3 per month, your support helps me create more educational and engaging food systems content. It would really mean the world to me to have your support. As always, thank you!

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Plant City Communiy Garden: Co-founder Karen Elizabeth sitting on the side of a garden bed filled with collards

Farm to Spork: Meet Karen Elizabeth (Plant City Commons Community Gardens)

Karen Elizabeth, Co-founder of the Plant City Commons Community Gardens

Carrots, flowers and collards, oh my! These are some of the things you will find while wandering around the Plant City Commons Community Gardens complex. If you live in the greater Plant City area, I highly recommend visiting and becoming a member of this amazing community garden. Why is that? Well, in this Farm to Spork feature, I interview Karen Elizabeth, co-founder of the garden. In this segment, we get to learn more about one of Plant City’s best kept secrets.

[The Funky Spork]: Tell us about yourself, and your background.

[Karen Elizabeth]:  I’m originally from Ohio and moved to Florida in 1985. Prior to that, and before I had children, I did some gardening with my Grandparents. Gardening was something that ran in my family. Gardening led me to an interest in health and nutrition at that time. I put all that on hold when I moved to Florida, and did the whole ‘corporate life’!

Eventually, I came back full-circle, when I retired. I studied and became a Certified Holistic Health Coach and also helped found this community garden in 2012. The garden originally began in the Historic district of Plant City, where we leased some space from St. Peter’s Episcopal Church.  We moved to the space here at Hillsborough Community College in 2015, which was essentially a space that was…awaiting our arrival!

Plant City Community Gardens: A garden bed filled with a beautiful harvest of collards and other local greens grown by the community garden members.
A garden bed filled with a beautiful harvest of collards and other local greens grown by the community garden members.

[The Funky Spork]: What exactly is a community garden?

[Karen Elizabeth]: Typically community gardens are groups of people who come together and find a space to grow food, who support and share knowledge and resources and advocate for health. Each individual or family grows their own vegetables that they love the most during each season. Any sharing would be done individually.  

The Plant City Commons Community Gardens is a part of the Coalition of Community Gardens. Currently, in Tampa Bay, there are 34 gardens established (within the coalition). As word gets out, people understand that they can have a space where they can join friends and knowledgeable people if they need help growing things and bring their families. They can grow the foods they love to eat and supplement their meals with seasonal food varieties. 

[The Funky Spork]: How long has the Plant City Commons Community Gardens been in existence, and what was its historic evolution?

[Karen Elizabeth]: To me it was at some point prior to 2012, after visiting several community gardens; I felt that there was a need for Plant City to have its own. I wanted to have a space for the community to come together to share and grow their own food. As it turned out, I ended up being acquainted with three other folks who happened to have the same intention.

Eventually, St. Peter’s Episcopal Church reached out to us and offered space for the garden.  When our lease was up, they [the Episcopal church] needed their space back. Later in 2015, our current space came together with the help of Hillsborough Community College, their President, Dr. Martyn Clay – an incredible and very amazing space, a place everyone needs to visit.

Plant City Community Garden: Strawberry popcorn growing from a blue pot
Strawberry popcorn growing from a blue pot

[The Funky Spork]: If you were to describe this garden campus to someone who has never visited before, what would you say?

[Karen Elizabeth]: It’s going to be more than you’d expect.  There’s a whole botanical area with some beautiful pathways, and a gazebo to rest in or contemplate life. There are examples of Florida-friendly trees and other native plants. Additionally, we have a greenhouse facility here. We have a space with our community garden beds, and another space that we grow food to share with the community, like the United Food Bank of Plant City, as well as with groups that prepare meals for the hungry.

We also have a bat house and some special wetlands, on-site. The bat house, while originally on-site before this garden, is one of the amenities here on the grounds. Bats eat a lot of insects, they love mosquitos, (and do not bite people!) and are also pollinators.

We have a wetland area located on the east side of the botanical gardens (near the succulent and meditation garden). The wetlands actually became a project of a member who mapped its 49 mile journey from Plant City all the way out to the Gulf of Mexico. With that being said, it matters what gets into our water systems.

We have a lot of programs and have developed several since we have been at this location. For example, we have a permaculture (earthworm) program, a food forest, aquaponics and hydoponics systems, pollinator garden, native bee habitat, and an heirloom seed library. We also host monthly workshops

Plant City Community Garden: Oriental eggplant growing from a vine
Oriental eggplant

[The Funky Spork]: What type of produce and other food varieties are growing at the garden?

[Karen Elizabeth]: Besides annual vegetables items that can grow within the Central Florida region we have added  bananas, lemon grass, and a couple varieties of apples and plums growing on-site. We also have golden Asian pears, mulberries, pomegranate, persimmon, loquats, sugar cane, cranberry hibiscus, pineapple, asparagus, peach, papaya, and cherries, and a variety culinary and medicinal herbs growing on-site. All plants and trees in the gardens are  for public viewing and information only.

 [The Funky Spork]: What’s your favorite thing that you have grown here?

[Karen Elizabeth]: I’m all over the place! Celery and French Sorrel have become favorite bites, and I love starting seedlings.

Plant City Community Garden: These are lettuce seedlings sprouting in special plugs that will be inserted into the aquaponics grow bed.
These are lettuce seedlings sprouting in special plugs that will be inserted into the aquaponics grow bed.

[The Funky Spork]: What are the benefits of becoming a member of this community garden?

[Karen Elizabeth]: Community garden membership is $35 per year. The membership includes a 6 by 12 foot garden bed, as well as a mix of soil created at the gardens, and irrigation! Some of the other benefits include having the freedom to grow some of your favorite seasonal vegetables, it adds to the quality of life through exercise, growing clean organic food, provides opportunities for social engagement & education, intergenerational interaction, and cross cultural connections, children learn where their food comes from. There’s something really special about being able to grow your own food and eat it right away. Membership also includes access to the Seed Library and discounts on workshops.

The Succulent Garden, located on the community garden campus
The Succulent Garden, located on the community garden campus

[The Funky Spork]: What are two-three words of wisdom you would offer to someone who is trying to eat more locally and sustainably?

[Karen Elizabeth]: First thing I would say is to find local food-particularly food that is local and fresh. You could take it to another level and find organic. Try to find folks who are growing organically, whether it is a farmer or someone else who may just have a couple of acres of produce growing. You can also eat more sustainably by visiting local farmer’s markets. In fact, in most of these market’s you will find folks who are offering fresh, seasonal produce. And fresh is key.

The Plant City Commons Community Gardens is located at 2001 E. Cherry Street, Plant City, FL, 33563, and is open seven days a week (free admission!).  To get in contact with Karen, you can reach her at 813-435-8111. To learn more, visit www.plantcitycommunitygarden.com

The Plant City Commons Community Gardens is located at 2001 E. Cherry Street, Plant City, FL, 33563, and is open seven days a week (free admission!).  To get in contact with Karen, you can reach her at 813-435-8111. To learn more, visit www.plantcitycommunitygarden.com You can also like them on Facebook, too!

ONE MORE THING: Will you and YOUR friends & family do me a HUGE favor, and consider supporting me on Patreon? The Funky Spork truly is a labor of love, and your support helps me create more educational and engaging food systems content. it would really mean the world to me to have your support!

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Farm to Spork: Meet Dr.Evangeline Linkous

Evangeline Linkous, an Associate Professor for the University of South Florida’s Urban and Regional Planning department

Meet Evangeline Linkous, an Associate Professor for the University of South Florida’s Urban and Regional Planning department. With over 24 combined years of work in academia and applied urban planning, Dr. Linkous has become an emerging voice in researching Growth Management planning policies, practices, and legislation across the state of Florida. Part of her research examines how Food Systems plays a role within this equation.

In this segment of Farm to Spork, I had the privilege of sitting down with Dr. Linkous, in order to learn more about her dynamic academic background, and the applied and academic work she has done in the inter-twining arenas of Urban Planning, Land Use, and Food Systems.

[The Funky Spork]: Can you tell us about yourself, your background and why you decided to become an urban planning professor?

[Dr. Linkous]: I grew up in Sarasota, Florida, and really did and noticed some of the changes going on between the 80s and 90s, while growing up in Florida. For example, I watched my street go from horse pasture and a place where I saw wild-life all the time. I eventually noticed that my childhood community transitioned into a place with strip mall development and poorly-maintained housing. I think my own decision to go into Urban Planning dates back to me looking at my own environment. My interest goes back to when I grew up during a time during a lot of rapid growth.

But my path was meandering. I always loved literature. I have an undergraduate degree in English and wrote my Bachelor’s thesis in New College of Florida. My thesis was about the City in Japanese novels. So there was always an urban element. Afterwards, I worked in the Advertising/ Copywriting industry in New York City. I will tell you that one valuable skill to have in Urban Planning is writing and communicating. So, I draw on those skills all the time.

[The Funky Spork] What got you interested in the study of food?

[Dr. Linkous]: I eventually relocated to Philadelphia, where I pursued my Master’s and PHD in Urban Planning at the University of Pennsylvania. I think there were dual experiences going on, where my Dissertation Chair, Thomas Daniels, a well-known planning scholar who has focused on Growth Management, Food Systems, and Farmland Preservation, in particular. I spent time learning under Dr. Daniels, learning more about food systems planning and farmland preservation. I also lived near the amazing Pennsylvania countryside, which was dotted with farm stands.  

Around the time I was in graduate school, I began to think about how there was not enough fresh produce readily available in Florida. Over time, as I came back to Florida, I realized that the state at-large relied more on a wholesale tradition, and large-scale farming. It was during that time that I began asking questions about why my experiences living in Florida and Pennsylvania were so different.

While working on my PHD, I worked for the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission. During that time, I was involved in a lot of farmland preservation, and rural and agricultural planning. When I returned to Florida, I ended up at the Sarasota County Extension, where I was the Director of their office. The office had various programs-many of which related directly to Food Systems. Some of the work involved overseeing sustainable agriculture programs, market farming enterprise training, local Food System education, and community gardening.

After a few years at the extension office, I ended up at USF. Now I examine Food Systems from an Academic lens. My research looks at Urban-Rural interfaces, and large areas that are growing rapidly. I look at how these rapidly growing areas are treating their agriculture and rural lands. I also examine agricultural uses and how those are changing and evolving across different areas. For example, are these areas going to be preserved or developed?

MURP Students at a produce processing warehouse for the Food Systems Planning Course, led by Dr. Linkous

[The Funky Spork]: Can you define what the concept of food systems mean?

[Dr. Linkous]: Food Systems are all of the enterprises and activities that go into bringing food to the table and beyond. So it’s the production and the growth of the food, the packaging, the manufacturing for prepared foods, and even how it gets into the compost or trash. It’s the full system of how food is handled.

[The Funky Spork]: So it’s basically examining food from seed to waste-basically the life cycle of food?

[Dr. Linkous]: It is! The reason why that’s become important is because people want to understand all the different parts of the food system. People want a better understanding of the climate, environmental, social and equity components of food. Breaking down each component of the food system has been really important, as many people want the food they source and consume to represent their values.  

[The Funky Spork]: What is Food Systems Planning, and what does that entail?

[Dr. Linkous]: Planning tries to look at the larger picture of how communities function. Food inserts itself into so many aspects of Planning, whether it is transportation of food, health, civic and the civic and social decision-making process.

For a long time, we planners looked at food systems from a land use perspective-particularly examining agriculture and rural lands. For example, when we looked at Smart Growth planning, we looked at how we would preserve rural and agricultural land. What has changed in the past few years is that you have other types of planning coming into the landscape. For example, you have small-scale local food and farmers, espesically from the lens of urban agriculture. One question we ask is how we can integrate agricultural uses into the urban landscape.

Within the last year or two, there have been some really interesting things in Florida led by some folks in St. Pete that examine whether or not the Right-to-Farm laws need to be changed, in order to accommodate farming in urban areas. There are many nuances in food and land use.

Another area of focus planners have been delving into has been within the arena of Food Sovereignty. Food Sovereignty examines a communities’ self-determination and their right to make their own decisions about food. Planners have also been looking into similar topics, such as how to address food deserts, which are geographical spaces where there may not be convenient access to fresh & healthy foods.

Health is also another area that Planners can get involved in. For example, Planners can look at and consider the ways in which people can go out become physically active in their geographic areas.

MURP Students examining strawberries for the Food Systems Planning Course, led by Dr. Linkous

[The Funky Spork]: For those who do not know, my professional background is in Urban Planning. Prior to pursuing The Funky Spork, my planning work involved municipal zoning-related matters. Some other ways I believe food can intersect in the work of planning can involve the ways in which local zoning codes can address how food growth and production occur. For example, I think of many jurisdictions trying to figure out where a grocery can be located, or how to implement urban gardening regulations into their zoning codes.

[Dr. Linkous] Yes, I agree. Local governments do hold a lot of discretion about how they deal with food systems, through zoning. Front yards, as well as chickens and rooftop gardens are nuances that localities have been trying to tackle. For example, in my hometown of Temple Terrace, backyard chickens are prohibited, while the City of Tampa, the neighboring jurisdiction, does allow chickens.

Last year, in 2018, The Florida Legislature pre-empted local governments from regulating the growth of vegetables on front yards. No longer can a local government prohibit someone from growing vegetables in their front yard. However, some of the language within the state legislation has limited  the ways in which local governments across the state  can regulate food systems.

Another challenge we look at involves addressing what the best and safest food-related uses are for differing land-uses. Traditionally, rural and agricultural designated areas, often outside of urban areas, have applied various practices and methods for their farming, including the incorporation of manure and pesticides. An emerging challenge for local planners is questioning and determining whether the use of fertilizers is safe for urban farms. For example, will the use of fertilizers become a nuisance? Will urban farming practices smell or attract animals? Will an urban agricultural use fit with the surrounding landscape? These are all issues that a local zoning code can address. Each local community will be able to best determine what is appropriate for them.

[The Funky Spork]: We spoke about some of the different ways in which planning practices, such as Land Use, Growth Management, and Zoning tackle food. But another aspect that came to mind is Economic Development. The Agricultural industry, alone, has a major economic impact on Florida’s economy.

[Dr. Linkous]: You bring up an excellent point about Economic Development. One common example is bricks-and-mortar businesses. Another example looks at innovation and start-up businesses, such as food trucks. Planners can use economic development tools to promote local food-related businesses.

One example that comes to mind is how the City of Tampa has encouraged food truck rallies, as a form of local economic development. Under Mayor Buckhorn’s administration, Planners were able to account for the balance of respecting established brick-and-mortar eateries, by designating select areas of downtown to serve as allowable places for food truck service under restricted hours of operation.  The success of the downtown food truck rallies actually led to some food trucks vendors becoming local brick-and-mortar businesses.

[The Funky Spork]: Are you aware of any local or regional planning efforts which revolve around Food Systems Planning?

[Dr. Linkous]: There are a lot of ways in which local governments are already implementing food systems into their planning. For example, this could look like a dedicated section for food systems within a local comprehensive plan. For example, Sarasota was looking into whether food systems should be incorporated throughout different sections of their comprehensive plan, or if it should serve as a stand-alone section.

As far as our particular region is concerned, I think The City of St. Pete has served as a strong example of a local government being proactive about incorporating food systems into their planning. Additionally, the leadership coming out of New Port Richey has been incredible in their work to incorporate local food into their planning. New Port Richey specifically created an Urban Agricultural Ordinance. I would say that most cities are grappling with this topic in some shape or form.

MURP Students at a community garden site for the Food Systems Planning Course, led by Dr. Linkous

[The Funky Spork]: What two-three words of advice would you offer for the everyday person who is interested in getting involved within the local food systems planning process, or the local food movement?

[Dr. Linkous]: The most important thing people can do is to support their local farmers. We are not all going to be local farmers, or write local food policy, and we don’t need to. We just need to support the local farmers doing the work. Go shop at your local farm stands, and ask and find out if what you are buying is locally-grown.

Overall, one of the best things you can do is support your local food community. You can definitely get involved with your local community garden. But being involved doesn’t have to be limited to produce. Getting involved can mean drinking local beer, or wine, or eating local bread! Find the local vendors, and support them so that they can stay in business.

** To learn more about Dr. Linkous and the academic work she is doing in food systems planning, or are interested in learning more about USF’s Urban and Regional Planning Program, please visit http://spa.usf.edu/faculty/elinkous/ **

ONE MORE THING: Will you and YOUR friends & family do me a HUGE favor, and consider supporting me on Patreon? The Funky Spork truly is a labor of love, and your support helps me create more educational and engaging food systems content. it would really mean the world to me to have your support!


Sautéed Bacon-Parmesan Brussels Sprouts & Green Beans

This tasty sautéed bacon-parmesan Brussels sprouts & green beans recipe is so delicious that it will please even the pickiest of vegetable eaters!

Yesterday was just one of those days where I literally had no idea what to prepare for dinner. All I knew was that our meal would incorporate a plethora of veggies, since we stalked up on quite a bit of fresh produce in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. Since we are staying inside, why not eat as relatively healthy as possible?

After doing a little bit of brainstorming, I came up with a pretty darn tasty recipe that incorporates two of my veggies-and then some: Brussels sprouts, green beans…and bacon! In this recipe, I will show you how to whip up some very delicious sautéed bacon-parmesan Brussels sprouts & green beans. Even my very picky husband loved this dish! He is a very tough food critic, and gave this dish a high score (and wants this to become a regular serving).

The Verdict?

This recipe is absolutely delicious. If you have an aversion to Brussels sprouts, my hope is that this dish will convert you to this baby cabbage variety. The bacon and brown sugar really compliment and enhance the flavor of these sprouts and greens. The parmesan takes all the sweet and salty elements of this dish, and kicks it up several notches by adding a dose of cheesy nuttiness and tang-a combination that works beautifully. I’ve said enough, so let’s go ahead and move onto the recipe, below!

Sautéed Bacon-Parmesan Brussels Sprouts & Green Beans

Ingredients

  • 1.5 cups raw Brussels sprouts
  • 1.5 cups fresh green beans
  • 3 slices of bacon
  • 2 tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tsp. brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp. sriracha sauce

Directions:

  1. Thoroughly rinse the Brussels sprouts and green beans. Be sure to trim off the stems of the green beans, and slice the Brussels sprouts in half, lengthwise. Set aside.
  2. Finely dice your bacon slices into ¼ inch cubes. Then, take a large skillet or wok, set to medium high. Once skillet has warmed, gradually add in your bacon pieces, and cook for about 7-10 minutes, or until all of the pieces have crisped up. Then carefully remove bacon bits and place them in a napkin-lined small bowl. Set aside.
  3. Gradually add in the Brussels sprouts halves and green beans into the bacon rind, and cover with a lid for the first three minutes (this allows the veggies to steam). Remove the lid and sauté the greens for a total of 7-10 minutes, or until the Brussels sprouts begin to caramelize on the bottom, stirring frequently.
  4. Once the greens have finished cooking, gently stir in the brown sugar, sriracha, and parmesan cheese throughout the entire mixture. You can either serve the greens form a skillet or another dish, but be sure to sprinkle the bacon bits throughout the top. Enjoy!

Makes 4 servings

Nutrition Information per serving

127 calories/ 5 grams protein/ 8.7 grams fat/ 8.5 grams carbohydrates/ 2.4 grams of fiber/ 4 WW Smart Points (green plan)


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6 Fun Ways to Break Bread with Others While Under Quarantine

Are you and your family looking for fun and creative ways to break bread with your friends, while in Quarantine? Check out these quirky ideas that will be sure to feed your belly and nourish your soul!

I have something to announce to each of you: Over two years ago, I was clinically diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety & Panic Disorder. Needless to say, this global Covid-19 pandemic has not been easy on me, or I imagine any of you. Neither has staying at home and practicing social distancing. And I am saying this as someone who is already introverted, and works from home. Folks, it has not been easy.

Nevertheless, as per the CDC and World Health Organization guidelines, one of the best ways to reduce the spread of this strand of the Corona Virus is to stay home (if you are able to, of course). For those of you who are able to stay at home, you may be starting to get cabin fever, and are trying to figure out the best ways to interact with your friends and loved ones. I totally get it. And since many of us do not know how much longer this pandemic will last, so many of us might be looking for ways to have fun, while staying sheltered.

If you are looking for some unique ways to enjoy a meal with those you love, I present you with this list of six (6) fun ways to break bread with others while in quarantine:

1. Host a Virtual Potluck

If you and your friend(s) have been trying to figure out how to connect over a tasty meal, consider hosting a virtual potluck. If you have access to digital conferencing software, like Zoom, Skype, Go ToMeeting, or Google Hangouts, know that any of these platforms have far more potential than your average remote work meeting. As the potluck host, you can contact your friends, and let them know that you want to organize a ‘themed’ meal (i.e. pizza night, taco Tuesday, brunch), and require that each friend contributes a dish. While the others in the meeting may not necessarily be able to eat that other meal that’s being contributed, each participant can describe the meal, and share the recipe with one another during your live remote potluck.

Photo courtesy of Obi Onyeador

2. Recipe ‘Secret Santa’

This idea is similar to hosting a virtual potluck, but takes things one step further. Instead of creating an anonymous list of ‘gifts’, you create an anonymous list of recipes to challenge each other to make. For example, one person can receive an anonymous recipe for a favorite pie, or their grandma’s famous pot roast. Then, like any Secret Santa, you set a date and time to host the virtual get together. During the get together, you will find out whose recipe you were cooking. You can each share stories about the recipes you passed onto one another. Hosting a ‘Recipe Secret Santa’ is not only a fun way to learn how to create a new dish, but a great way to honor oral history, as you learn about the origins and stories of each new recipe.

Photo courtesy of Social Cut

3. Enjoy a Romantic Dinner for Two…To-Go!

Is your anniversary approaching, and feeling bummed out about your favorite restaurant closing their indoor dining? No worries! Whether it’s your anniversary, or you want to treat your honey to something special, consider the fact that many local restaurants are still open for service. While most eateries may have closed dining, many are still offering takeout options. Ordering food to-go is also a fantastic way to satisfy your wonton craving, while also supporting a local business that is in dire need of your patronage. Supporting your favorite local restaurants and enjoying every bite from the comfort of your own home, while watching Netflix with your loved one? Sounds like a win-win to me!

Photo courtesy of James Sutton

4. Host a Live Streamed Cooking Demonstration

Do you have a knack for cooking or baking? Consider sharing your talent with others during this time! This quarantine time is a fantastic opportunity to showcase how you prepare your favorite casserole or apple pie. Create a Facebook or Eventbrite invitation with a date and time for your upcoming cooking demonstration, to give everyone ample time to RSVP. Then, you can choose to either stream your demonstration via platforms, such as Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, or Twitch.

For those of you who are wondering, yes! I plan to host a few live streamed demonstrations in the weeks to come. Stay tuned. 😉

5. Host a Far-Out Neighborhood Picnic

Are you the president of your neighborhood association, or an active tenant of your apartment complex? Consider hosting a ‘far-out’ neighborhood picnic. How the heck would that even work? Everyone on your block can roll out a picnic blanket or tiny fold-up table on their respected properties, or balconies, and coexist and interact with one another-all from the comfort of each of your own respected properties. This is a great way to not only break away from your screens, but to get to know your neighbors a little better.

6. Host a Digital Dance Party!

For many of us, the fun will not stop after our meals. Why not burn some calories, and consider shaking your bun-buns in a fun digital dance party? Similarly to the virtual potluck format, you can host a meet up via your digital conferencing platform of choice. Each participant can even take turns choosing the song everyone will dance to. This is also a great way to test out your DJ’ing skills! 🙂 Another may want to organize a fun choreographed set of moves to a Prince track? Oh, the possibilities…

Photo courtesy Laura Furhma

One of the safest things we can all do is maintain social distancing, as best as we can (if we are in a position that we are able to). Otherwise, don’t forget to thoroughly wash your hands, and have fun eating with one another!