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Why Shop at Virtual Markets?

The kitchen garden series is one of many small businesses and market organizers including virtual, livestreamed markets as a way to offer goods for sale during the pandemic. Virtual markets help us to stay connected to all of you, our lovely customers, while keeping our communities safe and healthy. Love them or hate them, there are lots of good reasons to shop at virtual markets.

First of all, shopping virtually supports your favorite shops!

The loss of live events during the pandemic has threatened our financial survival. Virtual markets offer another way for you to support the small businesses that you care about. Shopping with us virtually helps strengthen local supply chains and keeps our communities resilient. Whether you purchase or simply browse, virtual markets are an opportunity to see what new items and ideas your favorite small business owners are working on these days.

Scoring one of a kind finds and new products

Lots of creative shops, including my own, are finding virtual markets a fun way to showcase one of kind items not offered regularly. It is similar to how shop owners sometimes have limited edition finds at live events. In my business, I have been using virtual markets to roll out new products for the first time and taking the time to learn from customer feedback about what works and what doesn't.

Customer feedback and interaction

Without the social connection of brick and mortar retail gatherings, we need to find other ways to interact with our customers and clients. Because it's sometimes difficult to engage socially with our customers right now, we are finding ways to use virtual markets to get socially active. During virtual market times, we have our full attention focused on our messages and chats because we want to interact with you! So, please share your thoughts, feedback and ideas. This helps us grow as creative businesses.

Social support

Retail stores, booth markets and pop-ups are normally important gathering places that foster social connections, so you can help when you shop our virtual markets instead, send us chat messages, let us know what you think via email, or simply say hello online. For a business such as mine that offers a mission of sustainability alongside fine and elegant goods for your home, I want to know how you are doing right now and how I can help make your world a bit brighter. Next time you see a virtual market, stop by!

The Labor of Love

I’ve been reluctant to talk about making masks here as all my energy is going to keeping my business running during this global crisis. While I feel it's beneficial that so many small textiles businesses like mine have been able to redirect their resources and provide non-medical grade, reusable cloth masks during this pandemic, the production of masks can place a hefty strain on business owners like myself. In my case, making masks consumed me for two weeks in March, taking my focus away from other production needs of my business during a peak moment of my financial year. It was a time consuming process as I set aside some fabric remnants for mask making, developed a pattern I thought was most functional, and looked at best practices for production and distribution. In early April, it became obvious that positioning the business to survive this pandemic needed my full attention and it was difficult for me to split my time between making fine linen products and making protective face coverings in volume. In order for me to fulfill the many masks requests I had waiting in my inbox and all my other orders, I realized I needed to hire some help. Thankfully, I was able to hire two people I was in touch with before lockdown that are able to safely work from their homes. This small, hard working team has helped me redirect my creative energies back into the rest of my business. I feel good that my business structure is able to provide income to a new crew, to offer our work to others, and to continue to produce sustainable products for your home and kitchen. 

 

Initially, I resisted offering masks for sale on my website because the need for masks is so great that I was only able to fulfill orders for friends and family. Now, I’m able to offer masks more widely because of the newly hired members of my team. The masks we are making are made entirely with remnants from our other products. They are two layers of linen, one layer of cotton shirting, and they tie around the head with eco-friendly cotton ties. Each mask is one of a kind, so we cannot take color request orders, but they all are beautiful, sustainable and practical. Masks are available for a sliding scale of $15 - $18 apiece, but for $21 - $24 (only an extra $6!) we will provide a mask to someone in need free of charge. For now, we are prioritizing free masks to people who are working hard on growing, preparing or distributing food in Philadelphia. It is important to me to place value on the time it takes to manufacture textile products and to recognize the importance of those helping to feed us. Please support our business during this difficult moment and know that when you are ordering a mask, you are helping grow a small, but mighty community.

Straw into gold, agriculture and textiles.

Much of this business is built on the connections to be made between textile manufacturing and agriculture as ancient human practices. I began making cloth napkins in 2012 and committed to setting aside some portion of purchases to support urban agriculture. I quickly realized that I craved a more transparent supply chain to source my fabric. As my business grew and I figured out my market, it became clear to me that I was still interested in this bigger dream weaving together textiles and food production. Five years later, as I clarified my mission around supporting sustainability and local farms, I scribbled on a torn envelope the words: “My success lays in the food movement. Restaurants. Farms.” My connection to these words guides my business to this day. As KGS grows, all our fine products remain richly associated with farms and food. We offer beautiful goods for the home, elegant textile rentals to restaurants, fruitful collaborations with other artisans, and we still strive to continue our support of urban small farming. And at long last, we are working to grow our very first flax crop in Pennsylvania and exploring the many-hued possibilities of fiber farming in our region.
Our human culture is deeply intertwined with enterprises that produce fabric for us to wear alongside the food for us to eat. Lately, I’m reminded of the Rumplestiltskin story as collected by the Brothers Grimm. In the story, the king demands that the miller's daughter perform the impossible feat of spinning straw into gold. I can connect the story to my own interest in linen as the flax we planted begins to germinate at the farm. In my research, I am learning how flax straight from the fields resembles straw, and that flax plants must be rippled, retted, broken, scotched, hackled, spun, and finally, woven before becoming linen. So maybe there is an element of truth in this Rumpelstiltskin story after all as I continue to follow the threads of this relationship between fiber and farms. I can see how with hard work, and a little magic, our Pennsylvania grown linen will be worth its weight in gold.

Kneehigh Flax Field

The day after Earth Day 2020, during the April new moon, Emma and I planted flax seed on her farm in Pottstown. We gathered our cross back aprons in front of us to form carrying pouches and filled our makeshift sacks with the sweet smelling seed. Next, we dipped our hands into our seed bounty and broadcast the small, precious kernels by casting handfuls in one direction, then tossing more handfuls in the other direction, until the entire field was covered. The flax seeds were glossy, impossibly smooth to the touch, and scattered gracefully when released before falling steadily to the ground. I could already envision them growing into a glorious field of flax for future linen making. What a joyous activity!
Besides planting flax, it is exciting for me to connect Germantown, the neighborhood in Northern Philadelphia where my parents lived when I was born, with our newly germinating flax field. Germantown was an important flax producer as early as 1700 when German settlers brought their knowledge of flax and linen production to the United States as they emigrated to America. Each family grew roughly two acres of flax that would produce all the linens they needed for clothing and home goods. I love imagining that the view from my studio, which is just two miles from Germantown as the crow flies, likely included flax fields whispering in the wind and people working the fields.

Although I do not have a direct line of sight to the Kneehigh Flax Field as I gaze out my window while I work, I am already picturing the many potentials of our flax project. This 1/8 acre is the beginning of what we hope will become a much larger farming venture. Inspired by the work of the Rustbelt Fibershed (The Cleveland Project), the Chico Flax Project, and other fiber shed affiliates striving to build a sustainable textile future, we look forward to contributing new knowledge about this traditional industry to others. Among other benefits, we hope that local flax crops could eventually help sequester carbon and help revitalize our local fiber industry. Plus, this first flax field will be our chance to get familiar with the plants and see how they thrive in our locale. We’re excited to learn how the local bees, pollinators, and other beneficial insects take to the flax flowers and help bolster the farm crops. And of course, we look forward to reaping a bountiful harvest!
This is a true community undertaking and we are working on the details of how to invite all of you to join us in supporting our Pennsylvania flax field! Look for an invitation from us here and keep an eye on inbox for more information on how to support our endeavors.

 

 

- photo by  Zoe Schaeffer/@dirtjoy

My bright spots under quarantine

Driving Less

By this point in your state lockdown, you may be missing social outings like going out to dinner, or to the movies, or, well, anywhere at all. The upside of less cars on the road means improved air quality and less traffic, so your daily walk, run, or bike ride (wearing your mask, please) probably feels a lot quieter and less stressful. I plan car trips more efficiently now by reducing stops to collect supplies in one loop. I am starting to feel I can keep this habit of driving once a week and enjoy the positive environmental impacts, forever!

Knowing the Essentials

We've been forced to examine our needs carefully under new rules of socially isolating. As a consequence of sheltering in place, I've had a great opportunity to notice what's essential to my well being. I can choose what's vital to my mental health and I can use the skills I've gained to re-examine my choices from time to time. I am still looking forward to indulging in many things as soon as it's safe again. I'm also going to let go of some of the things that aren't essential to for good.

Nature's Song

Lots of people are wondering if the birds are singing louder this spring. I see more people quietly spending time outside. Everything seems more peaceful with less plane and automobile traffic, so we can hear more clearly. Birdsong is magical, especially in the waking spring. Let's go forward a little more quietly from now on so we can hear our friends sing.

How to plant a kitchen garden in small spaces

Spring is a great time to plant a kitchen garden, quarantine or no quarantine. In most areas right now in the Northern hemisphere, community gardens, nurseries and plant centers are among some of the essential businesses that are able to remain open for shopping during quarantine. Many such garden supply hubs in my community are offering online ordering and curbside pick-up so that we can all stay well and keep growing plants such as vegetables, herbs, and flowers. Here are a few tips to inspire your stay-at-home kitchen garden no matter the size of space.

Have a window ledge?

Plant a tiny herb garden!

Choose the appropriate containers. Make sure your containers will sit well on a ledge, won't get knocked around by pets, and have good drainage. Any container will work! You can choose fancy pots, simple pots, or even make your own pot by drilling or poking holes in the bottom of something the right size for your space. The pot doesn't have to be the main attraction because it's all about those plants! Don't forget to consider a tray underneath your pots to catch water.

Choose a good potting soil mix. There are several varieties out there making great organic mixes. You want something with a good balance of materials. Organic Mechanics and Fox Farm are good brands.

Choose plant starts grown in a nursery if you want immediate plant gratification or go for packets of seeds if you are feeling patient and want to watch sprouts grow. Four herbs that do well inside near a sunny window are oregano, thyme, sage, and dill. Give each plant its own container and remember most herbs like 8 hours of sunlight a day!

Have an outdoor patch of concrete or a small backyard?

Make a milk crate garden.

If you don’t have milk crates lying around, ask a local orchard or co-op or wine store if you can purchase a wooden crate. Line the crate with burlap or gardener's felt. Most local coffee roasters have extra burlap sacks, so ask your roaster if you can get some burlap sacks for pickup curbside!

Line your crate so that the fabric covers the sides and bottom then fill it with garden soil (not potting soil) from your local nursery.

If you have 6 to 8 hours of full sun, you can try growing tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and squash! Squash and tomatoes like to climb, so just keep that in mind when  you are planning

Plants that like 4 to 6 hours of sun include peas, beets, radishes and beans. Peas and beans are good climbers as well.

If you have a shady spot that only gets 2 to 4 hours of sun, try luscious, low-growing greens like arugula, lettuce, mustard greens, and kale.

 

 

What's in a name?

What is a 'kitchen garden'? A garden where plants for use in the kitchen are cultivated for everyday use. I chose the name 'the kitchen garden series' because it represents a sense of place to me. Kitchen gardens are an important part of the history of the city I call home and the name connects me to the vital urban gardens and farms I strive to support. The name has come to mean so much more as I lean into new ideas and projects around my brand.
I have written about linen in other blog posts as one of our favorite material resources for the kitchen garden series products. Linen is made from the flax plant and is a naturally pest resistant, low water-use crop. When I learned that flax grows well in my region and opened a dialogue with growers like the Rust Belt Fibershed, ideas began to coalesce and spark. I now believe that flax plants have exciting possibilities if grown alongside the vegetables and herbs cultivated for use in the kitchen. As I step into this uncertain spring of 2020, I’m setting my sites on growing small plots of flax, experimenting with what it means to make local linen, and deepening my commitment to the kitchen garden series community.

Supporting small business in a pandemic and why it matters so much

Small business and resilience

Small businesses are important to our local economy because they strengthen local supply chains and are a part of keeping our communities resilient. Being able to produce goods locally and provide for basic needs means more resources are available during tough times. Small businesses also create gathering places in our communities by fostering social connections that help protect our most vulnerable members. We can also pivot business practices to meet the needs of our community quickly because we are nimble and more flexible than larger chains.

Resilience in action

I have seen this play out in so many ways in our community in the past week. From shopkeepers encouraging folks to shop directly online with makers and other boutiques, to offering curbside pickup or home delivery, to direct messaging check-ins with each other as makers supporting other makers, and even freely sharing perishable goods that cannot be sold due to suddenly having to shutter their doors. This is happening all over the country!

Shop small

We are all pivoting our small businesses online right now and shifting gears away from in-person interaction for the moment. So, please shop with us online and together we can help keep our communities resilient.

 

Here are some of my favorite sustainable brands offering creative solutions:

    • vault and vine for floral subscriptions
    • sabbatical beauty for skin care, and new line of hand sanitizer
    • Cadence Restaurant, transitioned to a fine dining farm to table take out menu!
    • Isabella Sparrow, for an online course on planting a kitchen garden and local delivery of plant starts.
    • terra luna herbals is developing online basic apothecary and gardening courses.
    • the resource exchange, is a nonprofit reuse center, diverting valuable materials from the waste stream, including many fabrics I use. Donations to them are tax deductible!

Can't shop right now? You can still help!

Here are some excellent ways to support small businesses even if you cannot shop right now. This list is cribbed from Danu Organic.

  • Leave a positive review for your favorite local and small businesses so other people can find them online.
  • Follow them on a social media channel and share their posts, photos, and videos with your friends and followers.
  • Share blog posts they write.
  • Like, comment, and use their hashtags!
  • Consider long-term ways you can shift your spending from big corporations to the local economy.
  • Watch their online events and plan to show up to their live events in the future.

How to support local food producers if the farmers markets are closed

 

Strengthening the local food supply chain has always been part of my mission here at the kitchen garden series. Local growers inspired me to begin this business and I continue to connect to their work through my business.

This is a critical time for local food producers and farmers who sell at open markets. The temporary closures and limitations put on markets due to COVID19 social distancing come at a particularly difficult time in the growing season. Through winter, many producers use their reserves from the end of last summer season to prepare for future markets. With markets now closing, those producers and farmers are left scrambling to figure out how to sell product and refill their depleted reserves.

How can you help?

  • Shop with your producers that have created online ordering systems and are making their products available either for delivery or for pick-up in local communities.
  • Check with producers if they are planning to create CSA-type (community supported agriculture) signups or ask them to add you as a CSA member.
  • Ask producers who make shelf stable items (jams, cookies, dry goods, pickles, tea, coffee, etc) if they will ship directly to your house.
  • Check the website of your farmers markets' sponsors and follow your favorite producers.
  • Check social media for news on how to purchase from them.
  • Share social media posts, photos, and videos with your friends and followers to expand their reach.
  • Share blog posts they write.
  • Like, comment, and use their hashtags!

An easy journey to a plastic-free kitchen, tips to get you started.

I’ve always been a plastic bag re-user, a choice founded in environmentalism as well as frugality. Reducing, reusing, and recycling plastic is a naturally easy mindset if you are economically concerned and interested in sustainable living. While making the most of the many plastic items that cross my doorstep is almost second nature by now, it was not until recently that I began my journey in earnest towards a plastic-free kitchen. 

Like all good things, this journey to eliminate plastic in my kitchen began with getting curious. I wondered about all the little mystery plastics I encountered like milk jug tops or other tiny plastics that are too small or weird to recycle, but were ending up in my kitchen. I did research on the origins of such plastics, specifically synthetic polymers and polyester, and wanted to know more about when plastics came into common use in the household. I discovered that it was largely a Second World War era phenomena. I asked my mother, who was born in 1939, and her peers, if they remembered what they did for food storage when they were younger before plastic was so common. They had memories of eating fresh foods stored in glass in the fridge, storing unwashed eggs on the counter top for weeks on end (most eggs have a protective membrane that keeps them fresh), keeping freshly baked breads in wooden bread boxes, and wrapping fresh produce from their mothers’ kitchen gardens in damp cloth towels.

Armed with this knowledge, I set out to try to rid my kitchen of plastic. I didn’t rush to throw everything plastic away, but I started to make conscious decisions that would eliminate additional plastic items from accumulating in the kitchen. I didn't feel it was sustainable or cost-effective to just toss my non-recyclable but still usable kitchen objects in the garbage simply to achieve an instantaneous plastic-free aesthetic. Instead, I slowly began to establish steps for a  plastic-free kitchen that worked for my lifestyle. First, I eliminated buying or acquiring single-use plastics such as produce bags and cling film. Then, I made decisions to recycle my existing multi-use plastics like resealable storage containers as they reached the end of their usefulness and to replace them with non-plastic alternatives like glass jars. Today, my kitchen is approximately 85% plastic-free. My journey, which started with questions and research, has continued steadily forward as I look for creative solutions to going completely plastic-free. Believe it or not, the process to ditch plastic can be a fun challenge! Here are ten changes I have made and that you can easily make, too.

1 - Store fresh produce in damp linen towels or bags. Did you know linen is naturally anti-microbial? When you replace your single-use plastic storage bags with linen you are not only reducing waste, you are also keeping your food fresher and cleaner!

2 - Use a ceramic plate as the lid for your bowl of leftovers. This is a simple and brilliant way to eliminate cling wrap.

3 - Store cheeses in beeswax wraps, butcher paper, or even glass jars. Store meats in waxed or butcher paper whenever possible.

4 - Bake your own bread in small batches and store it in a bread box or a linen bag. Try out a slow-rise, no-knead bread recipe because it takes so little hands-on time. Buy bread at the farmers market or bakery, ask for no plastic, and wrap bread in a linen storage bag or towel instead.

5 - Buy dry goods in bulk whenever possible. Bring your own containers for bulk goods to the store. Great solutions for containers are cotton or linen bags, re-useable glass containers, or paper bags.

6 - Shop for foods that aren't packaged in plastic. This is a tough one! Look for items that don't need packaging at all or things that are packaged in recyclable or re-useable materials like paper boxes, paper bags, cans, or glassware.

7- Use less plastic in your freezer. Invest in some re-useable glassware designed for cold storage. And did you know you can freeze leftovers in glass mason jars? Leave plenty of head room in the jar and refrigerate well before putting in the freezer. Warm up the glass slowly when you remove it to thaw so it doesn't crack.

8 - Look for stainless steel, ceramic, porcelain enamel, or cast iron pans that are more durable and not coated with plastic derivatives that make them non-stick. Choose wooden or metal utensils instead of plastic items for stirring your foods.

9 - Instead of disposable paper products or polyester fiber napkins, buy napkins that are 100% natural fiber like our linen and cotton napkins. Linen napkins dress up any table!

10 - Give up single-use plastic garbage bags. Yes, you heard me! It's easier to give up garbage bags if you use a smaller garbage bin, recycle as much as you can, buy items with less packaging waste, and find ways to compost produce waste. When you're going plastic-free, you'll already notice less packaging waste in your garbage stream and you will be making choices that decrease your waste volume, so why not use a smaller can? With smaller garbage bins, you can even re-use paper grocery bags instead of buying new plastic garbage bags. You can also choose to just set the whole garbage bin by the curb and rinse it out later instead of using a separate plastic liner! And, of course, finding a way to compost makes the garbage bag dilemma even easier because you will have less messy, wet food waste to deal with (and composting is a whole separate blog post!).


Enjoy the journey! Comment and let me know your favorite tips for going plastic-free!