Farm to Spork: Meet Olivor Farms

Chrysti (left) and John Roberts (right), owners of Olivor Heritage Farms

You can have your meat, and eat it too! This became evident, as I had the chance to become acquainted with the husband and wife duo John Chrysti Roberts, owners of Olivor Heritage Farms.  Olivor Heritage Farms is a Dover-based farm which specializes in the raising of pasture-raised poultry, and eggs. The farm also specializes in the production of grass-fed beef, heritage pork (such as Berkshire hog), cheese, butter, wild game meats, and pasture-raised duck. At the end, The Roberts’ mission is to encourage the public to eat more humanely-sourced and raised meat and animal products. This couple also believes in the importance of transparency, by informing consumers about where and how their products are sourced.

Aside from their products, this couple is very intentional about placing their family at the epicenter of their lives. Even their company name Olivor, was a hybrid between the names of Jon’s two grandkids: Olivor and Ivor! Before the farm began raising a wide array of livestock, the Roberts’ thought about their own family’s needs, and the value of wholesome foods. This couple wanted to make sure that they knew at all times where and how their food was being sourced, and wanted to not only instill these values upon their family, but to share this passion with the community at-large. Hence, Olivor Farms, as we know it, was born.

Pasture-raised chickens. Photo courtesy of Olivor Heritage Farms.

The following is a portion of an interview that I recently conducted with John Roberts. Please note that this interview has been lightly annotated and edited, for clarification purposes. Interested in the delicious Spicy Honey-Baked Chicken Thigh recipe I created, using their chicken? Click here.

[The Funky Spork] How long have your been farming, and what inspired you to go into this venture?

[John Roberts] My wife and I retired back in February of 2016, and began raising chickens and eggs back in 2015. We had started the farm a year beforehand and were primarily served as a source of retirement income. My former work consisted of 30+ years within the produce sector.  Since my wife and I were already retired, our intention was not to start a full-time business. My interest in establishing Olivor Farms generated as a result of my frustration with meat coming from factory farms, and the inhumane treatment of animals in the process. So I originally raised beef for me and my family to consume, as a result.

We should be responsible in our supply chain. If you’re rising your animals in a healthy, clean environment, not only are they happier, but the quality of the meat will be better. It just makes sense on both sides: It’s not only good from an ethical stance, but it’s also good for our food supply. Its healthier food, its cleaner food, and the animals are more humanely raised. It’s just better all the way around, and raising livestock in this manner is completely sustainable.

A selection of some of the Olivor Farms meats available at Chucks Natural Fields Market in Brandon, Florida.

[The Funky Spork] What differentiates your operation from a more conventional produce and meat operation?

[John] I’ll give you one example: In the space that we raise two of our Berkshire hogs, the conventional or factory farming type of situation would have 200-300 pigs in that area. Or, similarly to a space size where we would raise 25 chickens, a factory farming operation would raise a couple hundred chickens. So, factory farming is not as sustainable.

What we are also doing is good for everything around us, including the supporting of other farmers. For example, we work with other local farmers that grow row crops and berries. We can put our chicken tractors in their fields where they may be growing a crop, such as strawberries. As a result, our chickens leave fertilizer, and also till the land, which regenerated the land. We are getting with other farmers in the area to create a complete cycle: We will have our chickens go behind the cattle of a host farmer. As a result, the grass around the chickens begins to grow, and we can then place the cattle back in that area to consume the grass. We are therefore helping to create a sustainable cycle.   

[The Funky Spork] Are there any other types of sustainable practices that you are utilizing in your operations?

[John] We use Non-GMO feeds. We also don’t use any pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides on our land, at all. We stray away from using products, like Roundup. We don’t use any of those products or chemicals on our property or on our animals.

[The Funky Spork] What would you recommend look for, ask for, or consider when purchasing meat?

[John] Don’t be afraid to ask questions: Definitely, ask about its source. Country of origin matters, because they don’t necessarily have to label the country of origin. Most meat sources also do not have to label whether or not their products are genetically modified. So you would want to ask your vendors where does the meat come from, where is it processed, and was it genetically modified.

Labels matter: We can look at grass-fed beef, as an example. Grass-fed and grass-finished piece of meat. The finishing during the last 90 days is where all of the bad stuff takes place. If the beef is grass-finished, it’s going to more likely be sustainable pasture-raised cattle. USDA only requires that a ‘grass-fed’ label be applied to cattle which have only eaten grass for duration of 30 percent of its lifespan.  Therefore, as a consumer, you will want to ask whether or not the beef you are about to purchase is grass-finished. Don’t be afraid to search the company brand online to find out where and how their meat is sourced.

Never-ever antibiotic: The antibiotic-free label is also a joke, because it’s illegal to use human antibiotics in animal production. In the meat industry, we have to different categories. Antibiotic free just means that the meat was tested antibiotic free, where most antibiotics take about 30 days to get out of an animal’s system. As a consumer, you want to ask if the product is never ever antibiotics, which means that the animal was never given antibiotics in during the course of its life. 

There is economic value in locally-sourced meat: For example, if you went to McDonalds and purchased a value meal for one person, you could pay anything from $8-$10. With that same amount of money, you can buy a pound of grass-fed finished beef, hamburger bunds, and toppings for about the same cost, and feed four people. With smart choices, good shopping, and complete (heat-to-tail) use of the animal, you can have a good economic value. If the livestock is raised, and consumed properly and ethically, you can actually have a good system.

Get to know your farmer: One of the best ways to source quality meat is by supporting local farmers. You can not only get to learn more about the person farming and raising the livestock, but you will get to build a relationship, as well. We want to build a trusting, relationship with our customer, who becomes part of our family. Our customers value that we are giving them truthful information.

Olivor Farms at  the Downtown Lakeland Farmers Market

If you live in Hillsborough County, you can purchase Olivor Farms meat at the Brandon location of Chuck’s Natural Fields Market, located at 114 N Kings Ave, Brandon, FL 33510.

To learn more about Olivor Farms, visit www.olivorheritagefarms.com

‘Like’ and follow on Instagram: @olivorfarms


Mesquite Cauliflower and Lentil Bowl

Mesquite Cauliflower and Lentil bowl: An Earth-Friendly Meal

This mesquite cauliflower and lentil bowl is a dish that is delicious, and planet-friendly!

Mesquite Cauliflower and Lentil Bowl
Mesquite Cauliflower and Lentil Bowl

You’re probably like me, in the sense that you are trying to live your best life possible. Maybe this effort includes giving back to the community by being physically active, and trying to eat as healthy as possible-on top of every other responsibility you may have.

What about this planet? Where does being a good environmental steward come into play with you trying to live out your best life? What steps are you making in order to make sure that your actions, and decisions have a good impact on the Earth, and everyone else who lives here? Then the effort of living your best life shifts to living our best life.

A Global Perspective

Let’s take a step back and think globally, for a second. According to a 2017 study conducted by the United Nations, by the year 2050, Planet Earth’s population will surpass 9.8 billion inhabitants-all fighting for the same diminishing resources. Trying to live your best life, while also trying to live healthily and being a mindful steward to our ever-crowding planet may not only seem heavy, but can also become an extremely overwhelming effort.

What if I told you can take the first step of living an equally healthy and sustainable life by choosing what and how you eat? It’s definitely a great place to begin. While attempting to adopt such a golden diet may seem daunting, there is one team of scientists and researchers which may have one solution to this dilemma. In 2019, The EAT Lancet Commission was formed as an effort to address this dichotomy. The EAT-Lancet Commission comprised of over 37 leading scientists and researchers from over 16 countries who work in the arenas of agriculture. Human health, environmental science and political science who worked together to develop scientifically-backed global targets for healthy diets and a sustainable food production system (“Summary Report of the EAT-Lancet Commission”, 2019).

A Planetary Health Plate

So what and how does the EAT-Lancet Commission reccomend we eat? The Commission developed a planetary health plate that consists of roughly half a plate of fruits and vegetables. The Other half of this plate would primarily consist of whole grains (such as rice and barley), plant-sourced protein, and unsaturated plant oils (such as olive and sesame). The Planetary includes minimal consumption of animal-based foods (such as meat, dairy, and eggs), sugars, and even includes a significant limitation of starchy vegetables and (“Summary Report of the EAT-Lancet Commission”, 2019).

A diagram of the EAT Lancet Commission’s Planetary Health Plate

Ever since I found out about the Planetary Health Plate, I have been intrigued. I definitely fall within the camp of folks who is trying my best to eat in a healthy manner while also being environmentally conscientious. I wanted to accept the challenge of eating in a way that complies with the principles of the EAT Lancet Commission, as best as I could. With that being said, I bring you my first Planetary Health Plate Dish-or should I say bowl, in this case?

An Earth-Friendly Meal?

With this, I bring to you a very delicious and hearty Mesquite Cauliflower and Lentil bowl. This delicious bowl has a very rich set of flavors, which combine the natural meatiness of Lentils, with the versatility of rice. The roasted cauliflower with the homemade mesquite marinade gives this dish a burst of subtle smoke and heat-packed flavor. The incorporation of onion, garlic and generous amounts of kale help to ensure that at least half of this bowl comprised of vegetables-a recommendation of the Planetary health plate guideline. I will admit that while the guidelines recommend a minimal amount of starchy vegetables, I did incorporate a small sweet potato into my recipe, since I wanted to clean out my fridge in the process-therefore, reducing food waste. The incorporation of the sweet potato is entirely up to you! All in all, this dish took about 40 minutes to prepare, excluding the time you are preheating your oven. This may seem like a long time, but the dish was actually simple to prepare, since most of these ingredients cooked themselves, with minimal effort to watch over.

Planetary-health plate-complaint ingredients for the Mesquite Cauliflower and Lentil Bowl

Ready to get cookin’?! Let’s move onto the recipe!

Mesquite Cauliflower and Lentil Bowl

This mesquite cauliflower and lentil bowl is a dish that is delicious, and planet-friendly!
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time35 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Keyword: gluten-free, vegan
Servings: 4 Servings
Calories: 407kcal

Ingredients

Black Rice

  • 1 cup Black rice (*or whatever other rice you have)
  • 2 cups water

Roasted Mesquite Cauliflower

  • 1 cauliflower large
  • 3 tbsp. maple syrup
  • 1 tbsp. chili powder
  • 1 tbsp. smoked paprika
  • 2 tbsp. cooking oil
  • ¼ tsp. salt

Lentil Stew

  • 1 cup lentils uncooked
  • 3 cups vegetable broth
  • 4 oz. can tomato sauce
  • 2 cups kale or spinach
  • 1 onion diced
  • 4 cloves garlic minced
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. turmeric
  • 1 sweet potato diced (optional ingredient)
  • 2 tbsp. cooking oil

Instructions

  • First, before moving forward withany other step, preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Cooking the Rice

  • [Method 1: Rice Cooker] Load the rice cooker with the rice and water, press the startbutton, cover, and allow for the rice to cook for about 25-35 minutes, or untilthe cooker indicated that the rice has finished cooking. Afterwards, fluff withfork.
  • [Method 2: Stovetop] in a medium pot, combine the rice and water, and heat onmedium-high and allow to boil. Once the rice reaches a rolling boil, reduce theheat to low, cover, and allow to cook for 25-35 minutes or until you see thatall of the water has evaporated. Afterwards, fluff with fork.

Whilewaiting for the rice to cook, begin preparing the roasted cauliflower:

  • Coarselydice cauliflower into pieces that are roughly 2”-3” in size. Place in anoven-safe casserole dish, and set aside.
  • Makingthe mesquite marinade: In a bowl, combine the maple syrup, the chili powder,smoked paprika, oil, and salt until well-combined.
  • Gently pour over the mesquite marinade over the cauliflower pieces, and gentlymix marinade with your hands until each piece of cauliflower is well-coated.
  • Placein center rack of oven and cook for 15-20 minutes. Afterwards, take out of theoven, flip each piece over, and place in the oven again for 15-20 minutes, oruntil each piece of cauliflower has lightly caramelized.

Whilewaiting for cauliflower and rice to finish cooking, begin preparing lentilstew.

  • In a fine mesh, rinse out lentils, until small rocks and debris have been removed.
  • In a medium pot, add the cooking oil, and let it heat up for about 10-30 secondson medium-high. Gradually, add in the onions and garlic and sauté for about 3minutes, or until the onions become translucent. At that point, add thelentils, vegetable broth, tomato sauce, turmeric, salt and sweet potato andallow to heat up until boiling. Once you see that the stew begins to boil,reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and allow the lentil stew to cook for about 20-25 minutes, or until the lentils have absorbed the broth. During the last 10minutes of the lentils simmering, mix in the kale, and cover again.  
  • Addeach of these elements into a bowl or plate of your choice, and enjoy!

Video

Nutrition information per serving:

407 calories/ 9.5 grams protein/ 11 grams fat/ 71 grams carbohydrates/ 7.5 grams of fiber


References:

Willet, W., & Rockström, J. (2019). Summary Report of the Eat-Lancet CommissionSummary Report of the EAT-Lancet Commission. EAT; Wellcome Trust. Retrieved from https://eatforum.org/content/uploads/2019/07/EAT-Lancet_Commission_Summary_Report.pdf

World population projected to reach 9.8 billion in 2050, and 11.2 billion in 2100 | UN DESA Department of Economic and Social Affairs. (n.d.). Retrieved October 30, 2019, from https://www.un.org/development/desa/en/news/population/world-population-prospects-2017.html.

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Farm to Spork: Meet Dell DeChant

Dell DeChant, Associate Chair and Master Instructor of The University of South Florida’s Religious Studies Department. 

When we examine the overall scope of our food systems, we must acknowledge the diverse array of characters involved within the equation: Some folks may be farmers, while others may be local business others. Others, in this particular case, may be academics. I recently had the privilege to meet Dell Dechant, the Associate Chair and Master Instructor of The University of South Florida’s Religious Studies Department. For the past ten years, DeChant’s work has focused on the concept of Food Sovereignty, a concept we will delve into throughout the course of this article. His work is seen beyond the classroom, and evident throughout the town of Newport Richey. As a longtime New Port Richey resident, DeChant has been involved with several local food movements, including his efforts in helping the city establish and adopt a community gardening and urban farming ordinance, both of which encourage the growth and cultivation of food.

What better way to learn about the character and breadth of DeChant’s work, than by sitting down, over a casual lunchtime chat? The following is an annotated transcript of our recent interview, which took place at Roses Bistro, a local restaurant located in the heart of Downtown New Port Richey. As a note, our interview has been annotated and lightly edited for clarification purposes.

Sweet potatoes grown by growers in the New Port Richey FarmNet

1. [The Funky Spork] Tell us about yourself, and the academic work that you do.

[DeChant]: I would like to first begin by clarifying that the study of Religion is the study of culture systems, the study of language, history, and the way cultures interact with one another. We also look at the study of the Sacred Legitimation of a culture. What do we value? What do we place meaning in? What we value and what we find meaning in is a Sacred component of our life experience.

Agrarianism or experiences within popular culture can also be considered within the examination of Religion. What I study are manifestations of the Sacred within contemporary culture: That can look like traditional expressions of what we call religion: Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and so on. But manifestations of the Sacred can also occur in seemingly secular aspects of culture: politics, economics, and the media.  For example, in terms of manifestations of the Sacred: What does it mean for a culture to embrace the acquisition of goods and consumerism as a source of meaning, value, purpose, and identity?   In other words, what are we, as a culture, willing to make sacrifices for? What are we willing to put all of our energies into for the sake of enrichment, empowerment, and for self-understanding? These are some of the nuances that attracted me to Religious Studies.

2. [The Funky Spork] How do you intersect the academic work you are doing in religious studies with the Food Sovereignty and justice movement?

[DeChant]: My study of religion and contemporary culture eventually led me to the study of Religion and Ecology, and Religion and Food Systems, two areas that I have been working on for the past ten years. I helped to establish the Urban Food Sovereignty group, at the University of South Florida.

My work in Food Sovereignty also extends to New Port Richey. In our town of New Port Richey, we have a sustainable movement called FarmNet. FarmNet is an effort to establish a sustainable community inspired by agrarian ideals – like Food Sovereignty.  FarmNet unites local farmers together with local markets and restaurants, supports locally owned and operated businesses of all sorts, hosts Farm to Table evenings, and promotes seasonal harvest festivals. As a result, more residents are learning about the local foodshed and seasonal produce, what businesses are locally owned and concrete actions that can be taken at a local level to restore community, local economics, and Food Sovereignty.  Folks are beginning to ask local businesses about the sources of their food ingredients, and these businesses, in-turn, have been listening.

3. [The Funky Spork] Can you explain what Food Sovereignty is, and what it means?

[DeChant]: Food Sovereignty is the opportunity and the right for persons to determine their own food systems. This includes the farming, the gardening, and the actual production, and processing of their own foods. This allows individuals and their communities to have that opportunity and fundamental right to make decisions about how they will produce, acquire, and share their food with others.   The Food Sovereignty movement emerged several decades ago in the Central American region, with roots dating to the Via Campesina movement, where indigenous farmers and people had become displaced from their land and dispossessed of resources to produce food due to the encroachment of industrialized agriculture (link). The Via Campesina Movement began as an effort of indigenous people who re-inserted control over their own food production and food choices, so they could determine what was appropriate for them and their community independent of control from large, multi-national corporations, as well as their own government.

One nuance regarding Food Sovereignty in the US is the challenge of individuals in urban environments having the ability to produce their own food. The challenge involves food that is produced in immediate local urban environments, according to local seasons and local knowledge; a process which is clearly superior to food that is produced using industrial methods and then shipped into urban environments. In fact, to add to this argument, the contemporary scholar Wendell Berry observed that for two generations beginning with the Baby Boomer Generations, US Culture has lived with the costly luxury of living thoughtlessly about the sources of our existence: The sources of food, water, clothing, and community. The cost of this luxury impacts sources, such as distant individuals working in exploitative conditions, and the destruction of our environment’s natural resources, along the way.  US culture has largely not had to worry about where our food comes from or how it’s produced. The vast majority of US society primarily thinks about their food sources in terms of the industrialized outlets (such as grocery stores, restaurants, or food delivery services). Because of this luxury, both ignorance of and indifference to the way food is produced, the distance it travels, the working conditions of farm laborers, the treatment of animals in CFOs, the damage to done ecosystems, the decimation of wildlife, and so on.  We consume food without context or care – and we can do so because of the industrial food system.

As with other elements of our industrial consumerist culture, the industrial food system sacralizes over-production, over-consumption, convenience, speed, and low costs, and indifference to the negative consequences of production.  These patterns therefore result in large amounts of food waste. Correspondingly, because of the same forces that are at work in the industrial food system is at work throughout the industrial system of the United States and the West. Ironically, those same forces are what also result in impoverished people having an inability to purchase food.

4. [The Funky Spork] What are the intersections between religion, and food?

[DeChant]: Once again, the way I approach the study of religion as the study of manifestations and Sacred Legitimation: What do we value? What are our sources of meaning, value, purpose, and identity?  What defines us and tells us about our world?  And what are the myths and rituals that are most important to us within a particular culture or system? These questions led me to the study of new religious movements, which led me to the study of popular culture, in general, and then eventually into questions about ecology and the contemporary ecological crisis. In each of those moments of research, I was finding that there were overarching streams that lead to the manifestations of the sacred.   In terms of contemporary popular culture, examples manifestations of the sacred can be seen in holidays, sporting events, media, music festivals, logos, and consumerism, politics and other activities that relate us to government.

I eventually became interested in I eventually became interested in how our forms of sacred legitimation impacted the natural world, and this led me to the study of religion and ecology. From there, I became interested in studying Religion and food systems. The overarching correlation between all of these subjects was the study of the Sacred, and how that concept manifests into the society that we are born into. If you think about religion in a very generalized sense, all involve the consumption of food: Some traditions are explicit about the importance of fasting or adopting a particular diet, in order to live a proper religious life. Other religions may have certain foods that are symbolic of the context of their Sacred practices and rituals. For example, Christianity has a ritual meal, known either as the Lord’s Supper or Communion. Religious rituals, such as the concept of prayer or saying grace have been a Sacred method when eating.  Food has been a major component of Religion from the very beginning of humanity.

5. [The Funky Spork] What are some words of advice you would offer to someone who is interested in doing more to promote food justice within their everyday lives?

[DeChant]: Learn the sources of your existence, and act accordingly.  Grow your own food (even a single plant), find local growers and support them, buy only seasonal produce, avoid industrial food (grocery chains, fast food, convenience stores), shop local, talk to others.  While individual work may seem pointless, individual commitment is critical.  A small hinge can move a heavy door.  Rosa Parks took a seat on a bus.  Greta Thunberg sat down in front of the Swedish parliament building. The work of individuals is part of the change that is occurring and can become massive and culturally transformational.  It is important to do what we can as individuals to certainly make a difference in our own life. But it is also important to move to tell others about the importance of this type of work to the degree that we possibly can. It is also imperative to involve larger institutions, particularly government (local, state, and national), to get on board with these changes and work to share the necessity of such changes with the broader community – anyone who will listen, really.  

6. [The Funky Spork] How can people find out more about the work you or the food group is doing, if they would like to get involved?

[DeChant]: The USF Department of Religious Studies and the USF Urban Food Sovereignty groups will be hosting the Tampa Bay Urban Food Sovereignty Summit on October 22. The summit will bring together local growers, gardeners, farmers, academics, researchers, local organization, and Activists that do work pertaining to food justice and sovereignty. This free public event will take place from 5:30-8 p.m. at the USF Gibbons Alumni Center, located at 4202 E Fowler Avenue, Tampa, FL, 33620.

For those unable to attend the summit, we ask that you get involved with the USF Food Sovereignty group. You can also connect with the New Port Richey FarmNet’s Facebook page, and express your interest in joining the USF Food Sovereignty group. You can also directly contact me, by messaging me at dechant@usf.edu, and I will add you to our email list.


To learn more about the USF Food Sovereignty group, visit: https://www.usf.edu/news/2019/promoting-food-soveregnty.aspx

Full video of our interview discussion.

Farm to Spork: Meet Sustainability on the Side

Marc Santos (left) and Jessa Madosky (right), the owners of Sustainability on the Side.

The longer I have been cooking, the deeper my interest has been in discovering where & how our food is sourced. Where is our food sourced from? Who’s producing it? What types of mechanisms are being used? Are the food cultivation methods ethical & sustainable? These are the type of questions I am curious about. As someone who is also an Urban Planner, I am especially curious about the how land use and locality connect with the food that is on our plates. For these reasons, I am proud to introduce the first feature of Farm to Spork, a new series where I highlight the players involved in the food systems process.

In this debut of Farm to Spork, I would like to introduce you to Jessa Madosky and Marc Santos. Jessa Madosky is an Assistant Professor of Biology at the University of Tampa. Marc Santos is a graduate student pursuing his Master’s in Environmental Science and Policy at the University of South Florida. Aside from their work in research & academia, these two are the owners & founders of Sustainability on the Side. From managing a homestead operation to creating jewelry from ecofriendly material, Sustainability on the Side is a Central Florida-based business that puts environmental stewardship at the center of its mission.

Some very happy chickens. 
The minute I met Jessa and Marc, I knew that I wanted to get to know this couple on a deeper level. I recently had the opportunity to interview this duo. Before our interview, I took a tour of their incredible five+ acre homestead, located in Lithia, Florida. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the practice, according to Raymond & Toner (2015), homesteading is defined as “Doing the most we can with what we have in an attempt to be as self-sufficient as possible. Growing as much food – produce and meat – on a little parcel of property is just one such example.”

At first glance, the giant solar roof panels and rain barrels serve as noticeable features of the compound. When walking around the front yard, your primary instinct may be to notice the vast array of shrubbery found along the front. On our walk, I learned that the various shrubs and plantings growing about were actually a part of a connected food forest that Jessa and Marc have been in the process of developing. This couple has been growing over 60 different varieties of produce and herbs, including cranberry hibiscus, sweet potatoes, beautyberry, lemon grass, bananas, jasmine, and finger limes. The food forest is interesting, in that it has a blend of native and foreign crops-all of which are grown utilizing sustainable and organic methods.

Beauty Berry plant from the food forest

Touring the backyard was another delight. I was introduced to more plants, including a loofah and coffee plant. I was also introduced to their animals.  This couple owns over 30 chickens, one duck, three horses, four goats, one pheasant (and three very happy dogs! J). The duck and chickens are utilized for their egg-laying abilities while the goats are utilized for their milk. All of the livestock are raised in a free-range manner.

**To learn more about the delicious brunch recipe I made using their duck eggs, check ouy my recipe blog post, here**


Once we sat down to eat dinner, it was time to chat about Sustainability on the Side. Below is an annotated version of my interview with Jessa and Marc.

*Note: This interview has been annotated and lightly edited, for clarification purposes.

(Funky Spork) Tell me about yourselves:

Jessa: I’m an assistant Professor who teaches Environmental Science at the University of Tampa (UT) in the Biology Department. I have a PhD in Conservation Biology, and study animal behavior in conservation – how conservation can impact animal behavior and how animal behavior should be taken into account when doing conservation work. I’m the past president of the North American Society for Conservation Biology, an organization I am still active with. I also do a lot of equity and inclusion work in conservation, and am currently working on a National Science Foundation grant for low-income students. I’m a teaching professor with an interest in incorporating active learning and community engagement within my curriculum. I also do service learning with my students at local farms. This is something that my students have really enjoyed. In addition to teaching, I also make & sell sustainable eco-friendly jewelry, goat-milk soap, and sell Norwex sustainable products. In terms of my role in the homestead, I’m focused on the animal side and growing veggies.

Marc: I’m a First Generation American of Portuguese descent, and originally grew up in New Jersey. I’m currently pursuing my Master’s Degree in Environmental Science and Policy at the University of South Florida. I am specifically studying orca conservation, examining the relationships between different stakeholders involved in either conservation or tourism of the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales, located in the Puget Sound area of Washington. My undergraduate background was in Urban Planning. I’m interested in helping people navigate the different policies pertaining to Environmental Science.

When it comes to the homestead operation, I come at it with a sense of appreciation for traditional methods and materials, striving to use hand tools and natural preservatives like shellac where I can for example. I aspire to up-cycle when I can, for example, when I used old studs in our walls and lichen-laden fencing boards to construct our master bathroom vanity. I also make wax canvas accessories such as book covers and coats, try to replicate Japanese wood burning techniques and joinery methods for home-improvement projects, and use a combination of livestock and scythe-work for lawn maintenance. I do a lot of construction and enjoy creative problem-solving for our homestead.
Funky Spork: What is Sustainability on the Side?

Marc: I see Sustainability on the Side [further referred to as SotS] on a couple levels. On the surface level, SotS is the jewelry Jessa makes and sells via Etsy, the SotS website, and local markets. SotS also comprises of the Norowex sustainable cleaning products sold, and our blogging platform. The overall spirit of SotS is to try to get people to see and support lifestyles that encourage accessible sustainability methods and the promotion of ecological footprint awareness to the general public.

Jessa:In general, SotS is our attempt at helping people become more sustainable, even when you have a full-time job or doing other things full-time. It’s our attempt to share how to become more sustainable. This is an important aspect to factor, because we launched SotS while having full-time jobs, and SotS was on the side where we had to do this in our free time.    
Funky Spork-How long have you both been engaging in this venture?

Jessa: It’s been an ongoing process for both of us. My mom is a huge gardener, and both of my parents are big into the outdoors. While my mother was growing flowers, I was interested in growing food. I was accustomed to spending family vacations going camping, and spending time in the outdoors. My parents told me that when I was young, while on family hikes, I would stop every few feet to look at a tree or a caterpillar. It dramatically slowed down our hikes, but now my parents are happy that my fascination of plants and animals turned into a full-time career. I’ve always been into animal behavior and the environment, and in college, it became an epiphany that I could do environmental work as a career, beyond medical veterinary work, an early career option that I considered. Between undergrad and grad, I was an AmeriCorps volunteer for Heifer International, and became involved in their demonstration farms which taught people about the connection between global poverty, food insecurity, and the work the charity does to provide sustainable food sources.  I started a garden in New Orleans and later Marc and I got our first two chickens (I’d had a horse for years). When we later moved to Georgia, we acquired a goat (for milking), and then eventually acquired more chickens.    
Funky Spork- Is it safe to assume that you had the livestock before you began this particular homestead?

Jessa: Yes. We moved here (to Florida) from North Carolina with two dogs, two cats, at least one dozen chickens, a horse, and four goats. We also brought a lot of our house plants.

Marc: Yes, it was a challenge when we decided to bring many of our livestock and plants when we moved to our current homestead. Florida, being a state with a large chunk of its economy centered on agriculture, has strict statues that required us to have our goats tagged or microchipped and our chickens to be tagged and inspected by the Dept. of Ag. from our home state (then North Carolina), in addition to the normal Coggins required for our horses. In our case it was well worth of moving with the animals we already invested ourselves in.
The Funky Spork-What sustainable methods are you using in your homestead?

Marc and Jessa: When it comes to energy consumption, we have a 5 kilowatt solar panel system on our barn, which took nearly three quarters of our energy consumption off a petroleum base. Then we invested in a plug-in electric hybrid. We also invested in a high-end high efficiency AC and Energy Star refrigeration unit-two of the highest types of high energy consumption household appliances, and LED light bulbs to reduce electricity use.

Marc:We try to make as many homemade products as often as we can. I enjoy coffee a lot. So I purchase green coffee beans sourced from an organic, fair-trade cooperative in Honduras, and home-roast the coffee beans. Jessa makes our soaps, with goat milk and organic or sustainable ingredients. Since we are on a septic system, where likely some water leaks underground and eventually makes it way into the gulf, we have to be very careful with what types of products are being drained into our waterways. Even with our construction projects, we think about the full life cycle – thinking about the origin of the product, how that product impacts our ecology, and then what happens after the product has been used. It’s a philosophy reminiscent of Life Cycle Analysis but applied to our daily lives.

Jessa:We have switched to cleaning in a way that is free from the utilization of toxic chemicals. We use Norwex sustainable cleaning products for household cleaning and use ecofriendly and biodegradable personal care products. While we are not certified as Organic, we grow using organic methods. As a Behavioral Ecologist, I’m trained to think about how our ecosystems work with the intersections between both living and non-living things. With this in mind, permaculture is one of the ways in which we think about how to create landscaping that’s ecologically beneficial, a practice that we use. Our front pasture that we toured is a permaculture food forest. We also plant many native plants that serve as pollinators.  We also have a medicinal and culinary garden, where we grow medicinal plants, and culinary herbs. We also do a lot of hyper-local food: We grow a lot of our own produce and consume the eggs and milk from our livestock. A lot of the food grown that is not consumed by us may be consumed by something else, such as butterflies, bees, and birds.
The Funky Spork- So one of the themes that’s stuck to me throughout the course of this interview is that one of your goals is to show that sustainability can be attainable for anybody. Since The Funky Spork is a food-centered blog, what are three practical pieces of advice that the everyday person can apply to their lives?

Marc and Jessa: Advice #1) Form relationships with other people and begin talking to others about the importance of sustainability. We know our neighbors, and we have set up an informal bartering system, where we may trade our eggs for other items. You can be intentional about trying to source things from your local community.

Advice #2) Celebrate different cultures out there that know what the hell they are doing with these different foods. For example, take the Moringa plant, where we knew it as a super food where you eat the leaves. We had a get together with some colleagues, and one of the colleagues from Nepal and explained that in their country, the young seed pods of the Moringa plant are what’s cooked and eaten, or used as a water filtration-system once the seed pods are old.

Advice #3) Start somewhere. It’s easy to get overwhelmed. There are lots of different ways to be sustainable.  So find one that sounds interesting to you, and do it! Once that becomes part of your routine, do another one.

The goat Marc is petting is Andromeda…the brown horse is Opae


To learn more about Sustainability on the Side, please visit
www.Sustainabilityontheside.com.



Citation:

Raymond, Tasha Marie, and Carol N. Toner. University of Maine, 2015.


Platano Relleno |Stuffed Plantain

This dish is fun, delicious, and a definite crowd-pleaser. I hope you enjoy creating (and eating) this as much as I do! 🙂



For those of you who may not know, my family comes from Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic. Therefore, I am what you call a ‘Dominirican’. Both nations often intersected my household, through the collaborative sounds of salsa, bachata, and merengue filling the living room crevices. It was never a true Saturday, unless our Dominican Hair Stylist was playing an episode of Sabado Gigante on her large screen television. Family gatherings often consisted of dancing, and some fiercely competitive matches of Domino.

And…the food.

One of the joys of being a Dominirican is the rich and delicious array of cuisine our countries have to offer: We always enjoyed some crispy & flaky empanadas filled with piping hot goodness.  Yucca served with ajo (garlic) was always a delight. A party was never reallya party (fiesta), unless a giant calderon (rice pot) of arroz con gandules (seasoned rice with pigeon peas) was served.

One of my favorite dishes is what is known as platano relleno, also known as stuffed plantains, in English. Stuffed plantains usually came in the form of a few iterations. One version of platano relleno is known as mofongo, a Puerto Rican delicacy that uses deep-fried green plantain. The version of this particular recipe uses platano maduro, ripened plantain. While unripened green plantain has a more savory, bread-like flavor and firm consistency, platano maduro is much softer, and sweeter in flavor. Ripened maduros form black spots-don’t be intimidated by that, at all!  

This version of platano relleno is made with a very Funky Spork twist. To add additional mass with a lower carb intake, I incorporate cauliflower into this recipe. While most traditional recipes call for ground beef, this version is vegetarian (and with the utilization of textured vegetable protein in place of the Morning Star griller crumbles, this version can be veganized, as well!). To top things off, this baby gets baked, instead of deep fried-reducing both calories and fat!

This dish is fun, delicious, and a definite crowd-pleaser. I hope you enjoy creating (and eating) this as much as I do! 🙂

Ingredients:
·         4 ripe plantains
·         1 small head of cauliflower
·         12 oz. Morning star griller crumbles/ pre-soaked textured vegetable protein
·         1 small yellow onion
·         2 large peppers or four small peppers
·         1 tsp. adobo seasoning
·         4 cloves garlic/ ¼ tsp. garlic powder
·         2 tbsp. tomato paste
·         2 tbsp. Cooking oil
Directions:
1.    Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. While oven is preheating, preheat medium-large pot and allow water to boil. While water begins to heat, coarsely chop the cauliflower head. Once water begins boiling, gently place diced pieces into boiling water and allow to boil for 10-15 minutes, or until the cauliflower is tender with the touch of a fork. Drain and set aside.
2.    While waiting for the water to boil, coarsely chop the onion, and pepper until each piece is about ¼ inches in size. Afterwards, finely mince the garlic cloves until they form into very fine pieces, less than the size of corn kernels, but no smaller than the size of a grain of uncooked rice. Add to onion mixture, and then set aside.
3.    Take a wok or large skillet and add the cooking oil and let it heat up on medium-high for about 45 seconds. To test heat, add one piece of onion. If you see that it starts to bubble around the edge, it’s time to add in the garlic mixture. Sautee in the wok for about 1½ minutes, until the mixture becomes fragrant and becomes slightly more translucent. Gradually add and sir in the chopped onion and bell pepper mixture. Cover the mixture and let it steam for about two minutes, or until the onion begins to turn slightly translucent.
4.    Lift the lid from the sautéed onion, pepper, and garlic mixture and stir several times for about a minute, and let the veggies cook covered for about three minutes. During the last two minutes, gradually add in the plant-based meat crumbles and tomato paste, and liberally sprinkle in the adobo seasoning during this point. Once finished cooking, set aside.
5.       Un-peel the plantains and then slice them up. Afterwards, add cauliflower mixture and the diced plantain into a bowl, and mash the mixture until smooth, where most of clumps have disintegrated.
6.       Take a large flat baking sheet, and either grease the bottom or use parchment paper. Then split the plantain mixture into five sections, and take half of each section and form a flat 3 inch diameter patty. Afterwards, scoop 2-3 tbsp. of the protein mixture on top towards the center of each plantain patty. After forming and topping five patties, you will take the remaining five sections of the patty mixture and gently spoon over the entire protein mixture and patty, until they form turn into mounds: the stuffed plantains.
7.       Place the stuffed plantains in the oven to cook for 30 minutes, then allow them to broil on high for about 1-3 minutes, or until they are lightly golden brown on top. Enjoy with friends [or by yourself!]!
Makes five platano rellenos/stuffed plantains

Nutritional information per serving:
474 calories/ 19.8g protein/15.8g fat/70g carbs/ 7g fiber

Girls Night Out-With a ‘Rican Twist! (Vegan Jibaritos)

Photo Courtesy Victoria Saunders

One of my amazing girlfriends’s recently had me over for a ‘girl’s night in’, a couple Friday nights ago. It was one of the best times that I have had in a while. There was so much laughing, joking, dancing, and eating. More than that, we shared a beautiful moment of bonding. With the hustle and bustle of life, it can be really hard to for me to see my friends on a regular basis. So that particular night was really a sacred time and space for us ladies to let our hair loose, and have a good time!

Photo Courtesy Victoria Saunders

One of the highlights of our girl’s night in was getting to eat some damn good homemade Puerto Rican ‘street’ food. I wanted to show my friends how to make a classic Puerto Rican dish, called Jibaritos. Jibaritos (Hee-ba-ree-toes) is a Puerto Rican-style sandwich that uses tostones (fried green plantains) as the bread. Typical Jibaritos are simple, and traditionally contain skirt or flank steak, grilled onion, lettuce, tomato, and a ketchup-mayonnaise sauce (referred to known as ketcho-mayo).

Photo Courtesy Victoria Saunders

Since going plant-based, I showed my friends how to make these sandwiches with a healthy, vegan twist. Instead of steak, I used Lions Mane mushroom, and substituted ketcho-mayo with a garlic guacamole. To cut out on unnecessary fat and calories, I opted for baking my tostones, as opposed to frying them. And I must say that my remixed version of the Jibaritos sandwich was a delicious success!



You may be wondering what the heck Lions Mushrooms are. A good friend of mine who is launching a local gourmet mushroom farm gifted me with a couple pounds to try out for my recipes. When raw, they almost resemble miniature white fuzz balls (see photo below).

Fuzzy Lions Mane Mushrooms (left), green plantains (right). Photo Courtesy Victoria Saunders
When sliced and cooked, these fuzz balls have a resemblance akin to dark meat chicken, and emit a beautiful caramelized color and robust meaty flavor when cooked. Far from unpleasant, these delicious mushrooms make a great alternative for any recipe which calls for the use of sautéed chicken or pork (see pic, below).

Mouth-watering cooked Lions Mane mushrooms. Photo Courtesy Victoria Saunders
Lion’s Mane Mushrooms are not as common to find around, so if you don’t find any available nearby, you can always opt for fresh oyster mushrooms, which have a relatively similar flavor and will work just as well! If for SOME reason you cannot find oyster mushrooms, you can always use sliced portabella mushrooms. Just keep in mind that they won’t have the fibrous meaty-texture like the Lion’s Mane or oysters do. But the flavor will still be tasty!

Before I move onto the recipe, itself, I wanted to share a couple words of wisdom. Folks, no matter how busy your life schedule gets, please do yourselves a favor, and never forget to regularly carve time out to spend with your friends. Be intentional about cultivating the relationships you have with those around. Be purposeful in surrounding yourself with individuals who will uplift, inspire, challenge, motivate and accept you for YOU! We can either choose to allow the relationships around us lift us up, or tear us down. Make every moment and relationship count.

Photo courtesy Victoria Saunders
Photo Courtesy Victoria Saunders

Jibaritos Recipe

Ingredients:
  • Two large green plantains
  • Approximately 16 oz of fresh Lions Mane or Oyster mushrooms
  • Two ripe hass avocados
  • 3 large garlic cloves
  • 4 tbsp cooking oil (I used coconut oil)
  • 1 small red onion
  • 2 tsp adobo seasoning
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 cup of fresh spinach leaves
  • 1 sliced tomato (optional)
  • 2 tbsp ketchup (optional)
  • 2 tbsp veganaise (optional)
Recommended Kitchen appliances:
  • 1-8.5”x10” baking tray
  • 1 tostonera (plantain smasher), or a plate flat enough for smashing
  • 1 skillet (minimum 10” diameter)
  • 1 set of tongs
  • 1 medium bowl
  • 1 large fork or smasher
  • 1 sharp cutting knife (one you like to use for chopping produce)
  • Parchment Paper
  • 1 cutting board
 Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. While the oven is pre-heating, take each of the green plantains and with your knife, slice off both ends of each plantain, and gently slice open the peel, lengthwise on each side. The skin peel is about 1/8”- 1/4” deep, so at this point, be able to have sliced the peel open and can take each plantain out of their tough exterior skin (images below). 

Photo Courtesy WikiHow.com

2. Take each plantain and split them directly in half. Then, take each half and carefully slice down the middle, until you get two halves from each piece. Those will serve as the ‘bread’ for your sandwiches (image of slices, below).

Photo Courtesy Carribbeanpot.com
3. Take two tablespoons of the cooking oil and gently massage each of the plantain halves with the oil until they are well-coasted. Take your baking tray, and line it with a sheet of parchment paper. Once the plantains are coated, line them individually on the parchment paper and let them bake in the oven for 10 minutes.

4. While the plantains are baking, this serves as a good opportunity to begin preparing your onions, garlic, and mushrooms. Take each garlic clove place each clove on the cutting board. Gently place your knife over the garlic clove with the blade resting parallel to the garlic clove (away from you), ball your fist, and smash the knife. Doing so breaks each clove down, while also cracking open the skin. Repeat until all the cloves have been mashed and skin completely unpeeled. Set the garlic aside.

5. Take your onion, and slice into approximately ¼” thick slices. Set aside.

6. Take your mushrooms and cut into ½” slices. If you are slicing the Lion’s Mane, slice with the grain. Set aside.

7. Take your plantains out of the oven and either place them on the cutting board or another flat surface. Take your tostonero or plate and gently smash each of the tostones until they are about ¼” thick. Place each of the smashed plantain pieces back into the tray and take the salt and season them during this time. Place tray back into the oven and allow them to bake for an additional 15 minutes.

8. While the tostones are baking the second time, heat your skillet on medium-high. Place the remaining two tablespoons of your cooking oil into the skillet. Place 1 ½ of the mashed garlic cloves into the skillet and allow them to sauté for one minute, until the smell becomes fragrant. Gradually add the mushrooms into the skillet by gently placing them down flat-wise with the tongs. Sprinkle the mushroom mixture with half of the adobo seasoning and then place the sliced onions around and on top of each mushroom. Let the mushrooms cook for about three minutes, and season the top halves with the rest of the adobo seasoning. After three minutes, gently flip each mushroom and onion piece over and allow to finish cooking for three minutes, until the other side also has a caramel brown coloring to it. If the tostones have not yet finished baking, turn the heat down to low, to keep the mushroom/garlic/onion mixture warm.

9. Slice each of the avocados in half. Place the avocado halves and remaining 1 ½ garlic clove chunks in the medium bowl and with a masher or fork, mash mixture until the avocado mixture is smooth-similarly to a guacamole. Lightly season with salt (optional). To prevent the avocados from turning brown, place the avocado seeds into avocado mixture.

10. (Optional step) in a small bowl, take your ketchup and veganaise mixture and mix well until the mixture turns into more of an orange hue. Then you have created a vegan ketch-mayo! 

11. Once the 15 minutes are up, check on the tostones (the mashed baked plantains). They should be golden brown. Take out of the oven and allow to cool down for a couple minutes. Take each long half, and layer with the mashed avocado, and then take the mushroom/onion mixture and gently pile on each ‘sandwich’. Layer with some spinach, tomato, and even the ketcho-mayo mixture.

12. Eat, and enjoy the hell out of this potentially messy sandwich eating experience!! 🙂

4 servings

Nutritional Information:

397 Calories/ 7 grams protein/ 24 grams of fat/ 46 grams of carbohydrates/ 9 grams fiber

Did you try this recipe? Did you do any substitutions?? Comment below!