20 May 2015

Getting Ready for Urban Grown

I'm really looking forward to the Urban Grown tour this summer! The girls and I went two years ago and we had such a nice time. The first time I went was 2009, back before Cultivate KC was even called Cultivate KC! Now the organization is celebrating their 10 year anniversary, and I was asked to write a piece for their Urban Grown newsletter that went out in March. Here it is...

Looking Back, Looking Forward: Ten Year of Local Food 
By Emily Akins, Kansas City Food Circle.

This year will be my 10th season with my Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm, which was my first step down a long and winding path of amazing people, delicious local and organic food, and incredible connections.

Along that path I found out about the Kansas City Center for Urban Agriculture, which was renamed Cultivate Kansas City in 2011. I signed up to take a class at Whole Foods, taught in part by Katherine Kelly, co-founder of Cultivate Kansas City, which included a farm tour of what is now called the Gibbs Road Farm. By then I had already begun working as a volunteer for the KC Food Circle, a non-profit that connects eaters with local, organic, and free-range farmers and was beginning to find my way around the great resources available in Kansas City. And I had already learned to appreciate where my food comes from.

When I heard about KCCUA’s Urban Farms and Gardens Tour I decided to sign up to help. It was winter. The days were short and the vegetable crispers in my fridge were empty, but I began meeting regularly with the amazing volunteers who were planning and preparing the 2009 Urban Farms and Gardens Tour. Before I knew it, it was a hot summer day, the growing season was in full swing, and I was driving around from farm to farm helping to keep the tour running smoothly. I was also enjoying my opportunity to learn about urban agriculture. I went to small farms, large farms, urban farms and backyard farms. Each one provided a wealth of food and information.

I wasn’t the only one who responded so positively to the tour. It has grown each year – as I think much of the local food movement has in Kansas City. With the KC Food Circle, we’ve seen a steady increase of farmers and eaters who want to become part of our organization, and great support from our volunteers and our community partners like Cultivate Kansas City.

I’ve learned a lot and enjoyed food so much in the years since my first season. And I inadvertently became much healthier. I hadn’t set out to eat more whole foods, but buying directly from our local farmers encouraged me to do so. I think this makes my family and me healthier but I also think it makes our community healthier.

This is the beauty of food grown so close to home -- I know the people who grow my food. They have taught me how to store, prepare, and preserve all the delicious produce that comes to me fresh from their farm every week. I can even visit the farms and see with my own eyes where my food comes from. Best of all they have provided me with confidence. I know that their sustainable farming practices both enrich the earth and make for delicious, fresh produce. And I know that each crop and each farmer and each urban farm is enabling Kansas City to grow stronger every year.

I am excited to see the growth that has already happened in Kansas City and I am even more excited to see where Kansas City will be in the next 10 years as more farmers farm, more eaters eat, and as the efforts of Cultivate Kansas City continue to fill our urban core full of delicious food.


Here are some of my favorite pics from the Urban Grown Tour in 2013. All the pics are HERE.

11 May 2015

Mother's Day

Me and My Mom - about a week after I became a mother
First and foremost, here's to my mom. She taught me everything I need to know to be a good and happy person. I know that is no small feat and I know that not everyone is quite so lucky.

I will share here the tribute that I shared with the friends and co-workers who were all gathered at my mom's retirement party earlier this spring and who all seemed to be in agreement about what a remarkable person she is ...

Mom is patient, Mom is kind.  
She does not envy. 
She does not boast. 
She isn't proud.
Mom does not dishonor others, 
she is not self-seeking, she is not easily angered, 
she keeps no record of wrongs.
Mom does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 
Mom always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres. 

And secondly, here's to my babies. I couldn't have imagined a more delightful pair. They are distinctly amazing, each in their own lovely way. I am grateful for them every day.  

My first born on her first day - Julia - 9/19/10
My second born on her first day - Clara - 8/17/12
Here I will share the wonderful way that Julia made me feel better today. I had promised to speak to a small group of college students today, but hadn't realized it would interfere with the Mother's Day event at the museum that I'd wanted to take the girls to. I was feeling guilty (mom guilt!) that I'd chosen to do a bit of work instead of being with my little family for that brief window of time, and on Mother's Day to boot. Then Julia asked if I wanted to hear a Mother's Day song. She sang the first line... "Mothers. They're so good. They help people - even strangers they don't know." And without even realizing it, Julia made me feel much better about my decision to take time out of my Mother's Day to help a few people I don't even know. Thank you, Julia. You have no idea. 

Happy Mother's Day

My first Mother's Day - 2010
My third Mother's Day - 2012
My fourth Mother's Day - 2013

05 May 2015

Visit from Honey and Papa

Last weekend my parents came for a long awaited visit. Since my grandmother moved in with them two years ago, they haven't been able to visit us as often as before. The girls (and let's be honest - me too) were ecstatic for them to come.

They arrived about an hour earlier than I expected so we were all minding our own business - the girls were having a kazoo marching band around the house - when I saw their car pull up. I told Julia to look out the window; when she saw that it was them, she squealed loud enough to break glass.

Breakfast with Honey and honey.
The dance class. It's a small class. 
Reading the New Yorker with Papa and wearing new
"Owl Be Up Late" jammies, a gift from Honey.
And it was true.
They were up very late each night - too excited to sleep. 

We packed the weekend full ... we visited the farmers market (love me, love my farmers market), we observed Julia's dance class, we visited the art annual, and we gardened - oh, how we gardened. 

We ripped up a strip of grass on the side of the yard
(and by we I mean mostly my mom)
and replaced it with a flower bed, rose trellis,
and transplants from my grandmother's rose garden.
There was a lot to tend to, here in the freshness of spring and the newness of this moment in time. It had been such a long time since their last visit.

A weekend together is never enough - no matter where we spend it.

26 April 2015

"I am doing the best I can."

Julia and the small clay globe she made at school for Earth Day.
She also learned the following song sung to the Farmer in the Dell tune ...
We love the Earth, our home -
Its oceans and its trees.
We eat the food and breath the air,
(inhale deeply)
So no pollution, please!

Several things coincided with Earth Day this week: one was the Table of Faiths dinner sponsored by the Greater KC Interfaith Council and one was AIDS Walk KC.

I celebrated Earth Day by increasing my understanding of watersheds during an informative presentation by the Blue River Watershed Association and by watching a striking film called “Chasing Ice,” which follows the work of James Balog as he tracks and photographs the rapidly melting glaciers that are the dead canaries in our coal mine earth. The long list of contaminants in our water and the startling statistics on how rapidly our climate is changing motivated me to redouble my actions, even as they also left me feeling discouraged. Will I and my efforts really make enough of a difference?

A few days later, on Saturday, I attended AIDS Walk KC for the first time in my many years in this city. I was so moved to see so many people gather for the same cause. Many people walked in memory of those they’ve lost; others walked simply in solidarity. Each person there put a drop in the bucket of support. It is a bucket that needs filling and that can only fill one drop at a time. 

In my mind I went back to the night before Earth Day, to the Table of Faiths dinner that Sergio and I attended. During the closing remarks, Reverend Kelly Isola invited everyone in attendance, which is to say people from a wide variety of faith traditions and people who represent a broad spectrum of religious expressions, to “do the thing that is yours to do.” Which, of course, means different things for different people.

I decided that maybe the things that I do - the actions I take to combat hatred or environmental degradation - are the things that are mine to do. And maybe it doesn’t matter that they are small. They are mine and I am compelled to do them.

Maybe it is my job to be a hummingbird ...

19 April 2015

Stinging Nettle

"Stinging Nettle" - such an "Eye of Newt" kind of name

This is stinging nettle. It's a wild edible, I suppose, although you can't eat it when you find it in the wild. I didn't actually find it in the wild myself - I found it at the Eat Local and Organic Expo. It was my farmers who found it growing wild on their farm. I bought it out of curiosity.

It's stings your skin when you touch it (hence the name) but it's safe to eat if you cook it first. ("Really?" I asked the farmer. "Really?" Sergio asked me when I told him. "Really?" You might be asking yourself.) Really it is.

I followed this recipe which instructs you to steam it for 20 mins, which I did and which takes away the sting. This site also says that nettle puts kale and spinach to shame. ("Really?" I wondered, having long since been convinced that kale is the "valedictorian of vegetables.")

Low and behold it is rich in antioxidants. I wonder, are all those nutrients cancelled out if I cram my stinging nettle into a hot mess of eggs and cheese? Even if it's local/organic/free-range eggs and cheese? Maybe. Maybe not. But it tasted good. The recipe worked almost perfectly apart from the fact that I don't know how to make an omelette; any shortcomings of this dish were due entirely to my ineptitude. The stinging nettle was great. Spinachy-tasting in the omelette, though it gave off the most complex minty-potato-ish kind of smell while it steamed.

I wondered why it is I've made it this far in life and haven't learned how to make an omelette. I guess it's because I don't like them all that well.

But I liked this one for sure.

Looking forward to the leftovers tomorrow.

Stinging Nettle Omelete (or Omelette?) 

03 December 2013

Thanksgiving in Nashville (a photo essay)

So glad that one of us actually had our iPhone on hand to capture the great memories from Thanksgiving in Nashville. 

Caramel apples!
Like kids in a candy store. 

Our family + downtown Nashville


Grocery shopping with cousin Ainsley!

Quality time with Grandma Joyce.

Quality time with (Great) Grandma Sarah.
Happy 90th Birthday!

Cousin shenanigans.


How I Went Without My iPhone for Six Whole Days and Lived To Tell About It

Love these faces. 
The day before Thanksgiving we were scheduled to fly out in the early afternoon. We had two hurried stops to make on the way to the airport: first was Costco to pick up pictures to share with family; the second stop was the coffee shop nearby to get a cup of coffee to shore us up for the long day ahead.

When I scurried into Costco, I had my phone and wallet in hand. I got the pictures, hopped back in the car, jumped out at the coffee shop, and - standing in line for coffee - noticed my phone was no where on my person. I assumed I'd left it in the car, but when I got back with the coffees we couldn't find it. Sergio called it and we heard nothing. I assumed I'd left it at Costco so we sped back. It wasn't at the photo counter; it wasn't at lost and found. Costco was so busy that day; I just assumed someone had snatched it up for themselves.

By this point we had to go to the airport or risk missing the flight (for a phone? No way!) so I bucked up, endured that fiery twinge that you feel when you realize something is lost FOREVER, and called AT&T to report my phone stolen.

I couldn't stop wondering about my phone. Finally, about half way through the flight, a very plausible theory dawned on me: perhaps the phone had been in my lap when we pulled up at the coffee shop and had dropped out of my lap when I got out of the car. I could just picture it: me sitting inside the car while Sergio calls my phone and my phone sitting in the grass just a few feet away from me on the other side of the car door, ringing and ringing, but me unable to hear it.

As soon as we landed, I called the coffee shop and sure enough, someone had turned in a light blue iPhone: "it has a lot of missed calls from someone named Sergio," said the barista. "Yep," I told him. "That's mine." He kindly offered to keep it there until I got back from vacation...

…in SIX days. *sigh* How was I going to survive for six whole says without my iPhone in my pocket like it always is?

Well now those six days have transpired and I'm pleased to report that I have retrieved and restored my phone, that I survived just fine, and that I may even be better off for having lost it in the first place. Here are...

The Top Six Things I Learned on a Six-Day Holiday Vacation Without My iPhone. 

1. I spend a lot of mental energy worrying about my phone. It wasn't until I did without my phone that I realized how much time I spend thinking about it. Where's my phone? Did I leave it somewhere? Will it fall out of my back pocket and into the bathtub when I'm bathing my kids? Did I leave it in the car? Did I leave it at my desk? Will the phone run out of battery power before I can get back to a charger? I went six whole days without having to ask myself any of those questions. That was liberating.

2. I don't read enough. Maybe you use your smart phone to read really long and interesting articles about contemporary social issues or short stories by prominent authors. Or maybe you use your smart phone to like people's pictures on Instagram. Probably we all do a little bit of both. But not having my phone made me snap out of it and pick up a magazine. I have been so addicted to this little device and its connectivity; I am embarrassed that losing my phone is what it took to pull me out of the click-click, scroll-scroll vortex of my smart phone. Why I couldn't I pull myself out with plain old will power?

3. A lot of people are on their phones. A lot. Long before my phone ever went missing, we instituted a "No Phones at the Table" policy for meal times in our family, in the hopes that we could focus on each other without distraction and set a good example for our kids. Since we adopted this policy and then have dined with other people, I have been surprised to see everyone else on their phones during meals. You've seen it before, haven't you? The folks at the table next to you, all not talking to one another because they're on their phones. Well, let me tell you - if you haven't noticed that before, the way to discover it is to leave your phone at home while you go out of town for 6 days. This video - called "I Forgot My Phone" - does a great job of describing this phenomenon.

4. I don't need to photograph something to truly enjoy it; but I do like taking pictures. For most of the trip I borrowed Sergio's phone to snap some pictures of the girls when "necessary," and I am grateful for that and for the ability to capture funny little scenes, poignant moments, etc. But one afternoon, several of us went on a hike while Sergio stayed in the car with Clara, who was asleep. No Sergio meant no phone which meant no camera. The hike was beautiful - the tall barren trees, the sunlight at just the right angle, the green moss, the brown leaves, the red blazes on the tree trunks, and of course Julia with an eager face, her red puffer coat, and her bright aqua gloves. It was picturesque. I wanted so badly to photograph it. But do you know what I did instead? I just enjoyed it. And it was good.

5. Social media can wait. Since I wasn't checking my phone (my Facebook, my Instagram, etc.) every hour or every half hour, I missed out on a lot of social media. But … I wouldn't exactly say I "missed" it, if you know what I mean. When an opportunity arose to catch up using Sergio's phone, I would log on to my email or Facebook or what not and look for something important that I might have missed. There wasn't that much. One friend's announcement; another set of great pictures; a clever post here or a funny comment there. You know what? It can all wait. I caught up later and spent the rest of the day doing something else. Like going on a hike.

6. I like being connected. Here's another video, a portion of which echoes the "I Forgot My Phone" video by asking "Is it easier to connect? Or harder to stay close?" and contrasts images of loved ones video-chatting or texting with one another from far far away with an image of a family of five at dinner, each absorbed in their own electronic device, oblivious to each other. I have felt precisely those feelings. Every time Julia chats with her grandparents on one of our iPhones, I love them. Every time someone I'm trying to talk to won't stop looking at their phone, I hate smart phones. And when it was Thanksgiving and I didn't have my phone with me to write to my family or post a message of gratitude to friends, I was a little bit sad. I used Sergio's phone to text my family so it's not like I was completely disconnected. But I did feel a little bit out of touch and I didn't like that.

Tonight when Julia saw my phone for the first time (after I picked it up at the coffee shop this morning), she exclaimed very excitedly, "Mommy! Your phone! Are you happy?" Okay, if even a 3-year-old knows how connected (addicted?) you are to your iPhone, then maybe you really are hooked.

I am tired of being mired down by the worst of my smart phone, but I think now I can appreciate the best aspects of this technology. I can already feel some New Years resolutions coming on.

Addendum 1: I have just learned a new word - "nomophobia" which is short for "no-mobile-phone-phobia." I didn't know that word existed before, but I definitely think I had that phobia and conquered it head on when I lost my phone. I'm glad to know I can survive without it.

Addendum 2: Here's a new ad by Apple that makes the case for technological immersion. It is sentimental and beautiful and represents some of the best that a smart phone has to offer. An interesting consideration in my continuing examination of how we use our phones. Apple ad

04 November 2013

Our 10th Annual ThanksVegan (TV10)

Well, to be honest, many years ago, when we realized that our ThanksVegan tradition was going to be around for a while, I sort of assumed that we'd be really well off by the time we reached our TENTH ANNUAL ThanksVegan (which seemed so far away). I figured we'd be wealthy enough to fly off to Vegas or Chicago or, come on, at least Fort Worth and have a Destination ThanksVegan like we've always talked about doing, where we gratefully enjoy fine vegan dining in a top notch restaurant prepared by stellar chefs and served to us with little or no effort on our parts.

Instead, we celebrated TV10 with these little rascals on board. And you know what? It was perfect.

Dylan, age 11 months - Clara age 14 months

Rascally Julia was around too, but she is increasingly hard to photograph as she hardly ever sits still. This was now her fourth ThanksVegan (really? No… well… yeah, I guess it is!) and with the addition of the babies, we now amount to a pretty intrusive entourage in the grocery store, and grocery shopping as a group IS an important part of the tradition. That's 7 people shopping for vegan groceries. Oh, and did I mention that Jon was in a wheel chair because he'd just had knee surgery? That's one stroller, one wheel chair, one kids' car shopping cart, and 3 very distracted adults with grocery lists. Fun for us. Perhaps less so for the other shoppers trying to scoot past us. 

the entourage
At home, while the children napped (there were about 5 minutes when I think all 3 kids were asleep at the same time) we reminisced on past ThanksVegan meals (the "tofurkey" at TV1 - never again; our all-breakfast ThanksVegan at TV9 - our most untraditional) and tried to remember what it was like to have so much time to cook and no babies to chase around. Can hardly remember!

The meal

The truth is that we are old hands at this ThanksVegan meal now and those long hours in the kitchen fly by with ease. Jon, hopping across the kitchen on one leg (Hoppin' Jon!), determined to do his part, did most of chopping while the rest of us took turns cooking, setting the table, or wrangling babies. We did outsource our main course and the gravy. Since we are just minutes away from the beloved Eden Alley, we made arrangements to get our very own Spinach and Mushroom Loaf and Mushroom Gravy; it was a perfect main dish. 

I still can't believe it's been 10 years. And yet - in some ways - I can. We have very happily come a long way since then. And I, for one, am grateful. 


The Meal
- Eden Alley's Spinach and Mushroom Loaf
- Eden Alley's Mushroom Gravy
- Mashed Potatoes
- Roasted, Spiced Sweet Potatoes (Smitten Kitchen)
- Sauteed Kale
- Asian Green Beans (a la Erin)
- Butternut Squash Soup (Teany - from this book)
- Jellied Cranberry Sauce and Whole Cranberry Sauce … yes, from a can. Don't judge!
- Fennel Raisin Bread from The New Traditionalist baker who just happened to write to me the morning of ThanksVegan and say, "Can I bring you some bread today?" Um, yes! Perfect!
- Peanut Butter Chocolate Vegan pie for dessert