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Joyful Outdoor Eating

When I was a kid, the neighborhood Moms would take us to the park and we would eat our lunches sitting on a giant dinosaur, our favorite playground fixture. Our mothers would supervise from afar and enjoy a more civilized meal together on a nearby picnic blanket. I forged lifelong friendships over those PB&J meals and so did our Moms. Those lunches taught me eye opening facts about the natural world, tidbits such as a dandelion’s down are the seeds of the plant or that pollywogs will grow into frogs, and helped me realize the joy of dining outdoors.

Entertaining in the fresh air still feels special to me and it can be so easy, even when we need to be socially distanced. Outdoor eating can be as basic as opening a window and leaning out so the cookie crumbs fall down for the birds on the fire escape. Or having lunch on the front stoop with the neighbors to share the latest news. Eating al fresco doesn't have to be complicated and keeping it simple also keeps it sustainable, especially when everyone brings their own napkins and cutlery. It can also be a great opportunity for everyone to put away their phones and devices and just talk to each other and enjoy their surroundings.

Here's my advice for joyful eating outdoors:

Choose a spot where you can see some greenery, or put a potted plant or cut flowers nearby.

Include local foods from a farmstand or your CSA box for the freshest flavors of the season.

Bring beverages in thermoses and use fancy cups.

Use some of your favorite vintage tableware and linens to create an elegant outdoor space and make your meal special.

Pack your food in jars or wrap it up in your favorite tea towel or napkin or pop your dry snacks in a bread bag.

Put away your devices, listen to the birds and be curious about the world that surrounds you.

Why Shopping at Farmers Markets is The Best

The kitchen garden series is here to tell you why shopping at your local farmers market is a healthy way to do your weekly grocery run. Here are a few of our favorite reasons to inspire you to shop local this market season, even though it might look a little different this year.

Fresh air

Fresh air is good for the soul. While strolling along through a farmers market to collect your food for the week you can enjoy the weather, breathe in the fresh air, and relish a nice moment in the sun while you shop for all your kitchen necessities. Does it get much better than outdoor market shopping? Stop and smell the flowers!

Unexpected finds

Farmers markets aren’t just about fruits and vegetables. Many markets take the time to curate booths from local artists and small batch makers. You could discover your new favorite relish, or products to help you on your low-waste journey (ahem, like the kitchen garden series) or refill your glass bottle of kombucha from a local kombucha brewer. Doing some window shopping in an open air market might lead you to your next favorite artisanal coffee or home brew. 

Human Connection

Nothing beats the human connections you can make while shopping at a locally vended market. You can talk to the farmers and learn their story or hear more about the business that makes your new favorite napkins. You can learn a little history about your city. You can pet the friendly animals that people bring along. When you regularly support your local market, you can learn the faces and names of the vendors and they’ll remember you, which makes shopping a little more personal and special.

Local food

Supporting your local food chain helps decrease your environmental impact. Shopping at a farmers market for produce that’s in season and buying things locally directly sustains your local food chain! Did you know that the smaller the distance traveled between you and your food, the better? Less travel helps cut carbon emissions, and we love that! We also think it’s easier to shop plastic free at the farmers market and our products will help you on your market trips. Plus, the produce and goods you find at farmers markets is grown by people invested in the community. When you support your local food system by supporting farmers markets, you are strengthening your local economy and contributing to the health of the community. Shopping at farmers markets is more important now than ever to support your local food system even if it might be a little less relaxed this summer. 

If supporting a local, and sustainable system of community is your cup of tea, find your nearest farmers market. It can become part of your weekly shopping ritual. Things look a little different this year, your local market could be doing point-to-shop or contact free pickup or other innovative ways of ordering. But you can still shop in the fresh air, support your favorite makers, and find something unexpected.

Climate Justice & Social Justice are Inextricable.

As environmentalists we must be aware of how environmental issues affect people across the world and across social identity spectrums if we want long lasting, solid change.

Like the natural world, any human society is both a single ecosystem and a part of the larger ecosystem that is our planet. Ecological balance leads to a thriving system that supports us and ensures that no particular member is exploited or overused or driven to non-existence. Sustainability is achieved when there is balance in all the ecosystems making up the environment.

Inequities in power destroy the balance of a system. Balance cannot be achieved through exploitation, colonialism, and white supremacy. Poverty, racism and social injustice are intertwined with environmental degradation, climate change, and planetary destruction. Egregious environmental crises often go unremedied because they occur in impoverished communities. We can take action by recognizing that climate justice and social justice are inextricable.

At KGS, I’m committed to building a business culture of interdependence and support. I build business to business relationships with a diverse group of business owners. I maintain direct relationships with my producers and I continue to pledge 10% of my profit donations as unrestricted funds to diverse and inclusive groups. I also reinvest profit in my geographical area by shopping at conscientious markets and retail shops and ensure that my manufacturing process adheres to fair labor practices. I feel that it is our responsibility in society to care for one another in this way so that we can collectively care for our planet and I support others doing the same. As I say on my website, the latin origins of the word collaborate mean "to labor together" and through collaboration we deepen our impact and lighten our burdens. My hope is that the kitchen garden series can be a collaborative business space working towards a more equal, peaceful, and green Philadelphia.

 

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.