Pine Barrens – An international gem right in our own backyards!

And they’re having a festival!!Pine Barren photo

Sources: SEMPBA, MSSF & Edible South Shore & South Coast Magazine

Myles Standish State Forest (MSSF) in southeastern Massachusetts lies at the heart of the second largest unbroken tract of globally rare pitch-pine barrens habitat remaining in the world. Spanning over 12,000 acres, MSSF is the second largest publicly held land in the Commonwealth. Pine Barrens occur throughout the northeastern U.S. from New Jersey to Maine, as well as in the Midwest and Canada. Dry pine forest with oaks (in MSSF they are white, black, and red oak) is the matrix forest of southeastern Massachusetts. It develops on acidic soil formed on sandy glacial deposits: moraine, till, and outwash. The forest structure is rather variable, ranging from open canopy with a dense shrub layer of black huckleberry and scrub oak (together with some dwarf chestnut oak) to close canopy with only scattered clumps of shrubs.

Pitch-pine forest is fire-dependent, supporting more and more white pine and red maple, as the time since the last fire increases. The ground cover is rather sparse, with wintergreen and bracken fern being probably the commonest plants. Pine/oak forest surrounds coastal ponds. On the perimeter of the ponds there is a dense continuous belt of different shrubs, many of them from heath family. Pond beaches are an important habitat, supporting many otherwise uncommon plants adapted to drastically changing water levels in ponds. The so-called frost pockets or frost hollows are depressions devoid of tree vegetation, with a continuous shrub and herb layer of sun-loving species, which cope with harsh temperature regime here in order to avoid competition with trees for light. These unique plant communities resemble tundra fragments and harbor such uncommon plants as dwarf upland willow, creeping cherry, wood lily, pasture-thistle, and black oatgrass.

MSSF (in addition to being the second largest unbroken tract of pitch-pine barrens remaining in the world) is home to a number of rare species of plants and animals. Such rare indigenous plants as New England blazing star, New England boneset, Plymouth gentian, pondshore arrowhead, broom-crowberry, and others occur in the Forest. It is a breeding ground for bluebirds, whippoorwills, and prairie warblers. Redbelly cooters are rare throughout Massachusetts, but they have found refuge in MSSF. Many common and rare moths are dependent on oaks and pines, and the MSSF harbors the state’s second largest aquifer, which contains an estimated 500 billion gallons of water.

So, to recap: They are a pristine, yet fragile resource. Their globally unique eco-region contains trees, swamps, and ponds that support rare plant and animal species that cannot be found anywhere else in the world.

To raise awareness of this heritage site, South Eastern Pine Barrens Alliance is once again hosting the very successful PINE FEST, a multi-cultural event offering outdoor activities, educational and interactive play. A day full of fun for all ages; ethnic food, music, and dancing. You can try your hand at archery, kayaking, or artisan crafts. If you are really brave you might try cooking over an open fire, navigating trails with your phone’s GPS, or learning how to raise worms. Where else can you blend appreciation for the environment, respect for native peoples, history, and archaeology?

SEMPBA Pine Fest (South Eastern Massachusetts Pine Barrens Alliance)
May 30, 2015 10:00am to 4pm
Charge Pond Campground Pavilion,Myles Standish State Forest
Cranberry Road, Carver MA 02330


Harbingers of Spring – Ramp, Fiddleheads and Morels

By Hazel Bacigalupo for South Shore Organics

is the harbinger of spring? It is the sight of daffodils, crocuses or rabbits but it is also that wonderful time of year when three of nature’s bounties appear:

sm ramp

RAMP – One of the first things to arrive amongst the avalanche of green are Ramps (a.k.a. Wild Leeks). They are in the same family as chives and scallions. They appear from one day to the next and scatter themselves across south facing slopes all over the countryside. Ramps are a spring treasure because they are one of the first forageable edibles of the year. They have a wonderful aroma of garlic and taste of tender onion. Chop them up and add them to soups, salads, egg dishes and potato and grain sides. Ramps are loaded with vitamins A and C. They also contain significant amounts of the trace minerals selenium, which may help to prevent prostrate cancer, and chromium, which is necessary for properly metabolizing fats and carbohydrates.

fiddleheadsFIDDLEHEADS emerge as miniature dervish dancers around the first week of May. In lowland forests from the Great Lakes to the Maritimes of Canada the Ostrich Fern emerges in profusion. Tiny gray-green spirals reaching into the first really warm days of Spring. Each of them wearing their own little fur overcoat to protect them when it was chillier weather. Snapped up and eaten by whoever has the sense and taste to do it. How do you cook them? They can be used just like any other firm, green vegetable, such as asparagus and broccoli. Their flavor goes well with Asian-inspired dishes such as a stir-fry or paired with cheese and tomato in a pasta dish. They should be cooked as they have a bitter taste when raw.

Morels MORELS are spongy fungi belonging to the same species as the prized truffle.  Like truffles, they have an intense, earthy flavor that adds depth to so many dishes, particularly those with creamy sauces, such as pasta and risotto.  They also pair well with game birds such as pheasant.  These woodland treasures are rich in vitamin E, an antioxidant that helps prevent cellular damage, and potassium, a mineral that helps to lower blood pressure and may help promote bone health.


Never Miss a Monday – Count Down to Wellness

Count Down DaysI don’t know about you, but I am excited for July 4th to get here to kick-off the summer. That means I have almost 2 months to get ready for beach season…pass the ice cream! Well, actually it’s in 7 weeks (uh oh…I’ll get to the gym next week). Hmm, really, it is only 49 days away…eeek…I’m going for a run!! When people have to choose between something tempting today versus a benefit in the future (ie, sleeping in versus going to the gym), those who choose the temptation today are often thought to be thinking of themselves as two people…current me, who is much more important, vs. future me, who can totally wait. A recent study in Psychological Science (…/20…/04/23/0956797615572231.abstract) tested this out and found that when people felt more connected to the future self, they were able to delay today’s gratification.

How did they get more connected? You guessed it, just by changing the time metrics on their goal to smaller units the goal felt “closer” and therefore more relevant to the current self. Find a future goal, for example, run a 10k in six months, and reduce it so now you have 180 days to prepare. Put up a big sheet of paper, and start crossing out and counting down as they days go by. As you see the time flying by daily you’ll be much more motivated to get out there and train. Apply this strategy to any deadline, wellness or not, and see yourself procrastinating less and hitting those goals!
Be well,
May 18, 2015

Asparagus Capital of the World!

asparagusThere is a lot of energy around asparagus in the spring. Aside from fiddleheads, ramps, and morrels, which are foraged, not cultivated, it is the first edible thing out of the ground. You can imagine the appeal of this little veggie to our ancestors, who had likely been eating turnips for a few months! Asparagus in Massachussetts was really only established in the 1920’s, and Hadley now has an estimated 200 acres that have been devoted to growing asparagus. Hadley’s fertile soil produces generous asparagus bounty, and at one time, Hadley was crowned the Asparagus capital of the world – not only for volume, for there was once far more than 200 acres under asparagus crop, but most certainly also for taste. Hadley is deemed to produce some of the highest quality asparagus in the world, and is shipped East Coast to West, and even as far as Hawaii.

Fondly known as Hadley grass, the flavor and quality of asparagus grown in Western Mass is credited to the soil. The area is blessed with deep, sandy loam, the sediment of a glacial lake that once covered the valley, and this, combined with the cool New England weather provides a sweetness that’s incomparable. The asparagus had longevity too, the crowns sent down deep roots feeding the plants for 30 years or more – which was important when you consider it can take three years to establish an asparagus bed.

From the 1920’s to the 1970’s, Hadley grass was the mainstay of the local Hadley economy, and an important source of community spirit. Townsfolk, young and old would gather to pick, sort, trim, and bunch around 50 tons of the vegetable each day – that’s a couple million spears. The asparagus would then be trucked to Boston for distribution, proudly sporting colorful labels proclaiming its origin. It was distributed to restaurants throughout the North East, and sent to London and Paris and Germany, and was even on the menu for Queen Elizabeth II’s annual spring breakfast.

As with all good things, this boom was to come to an end when in in the 1970’s a soil born fungus destroyed much of the asparagus variety that was being grown at the time (Mary Washingtons), farmers suffered and as production dwindled, the asparagus was plowed under and newer, disease resistant varieties planted. However, this investment proved too expensive and time consuming for many farmers, who opted to rather try their hand at potato or tobacco crops. One farmer in particular, Wally Hibbard, has never known a spring time without asparagus, his father, Ernest, planted the first asparagus in North Hadley in 1910. The fungus shriveled the Hibbards’ crop from 40 acres down to just six. Back in 2001, Wally planted a one acre asparagus bed, it took 7’000 asparagus root crowns of King Jersey hybrids that had been started on the farm from seed the year before, it would take three more years of careful nurturing for the field to yield a full harvest – and if the crowns produced for 8 to 10 years, the field would only generate a profit into its sixth or seventh year.

When the asparagus industry collapsed, the character of the valley changed. Asparagus wasn’t just a vegetable, it was a way of life. But a glimmer of the asparagus lifestyle still exists today. Asparagus is still a rite of passage, it is still grown on family farms where it is picked, bunched and sorted by hand, and they still have ‘the asparagus supper’ at the First Congregational Church each year where the menu is buttered asparagus, baked ham, potato salad and strawberry shortcake. Once thing is for certain, for every farmer who is still passionate about growing Hadley grass, there are countless locals who are equally passionate about eating it. With its short season, large upfront investment of money and time, and long delay before a full yield, it is unlikely that Hadley will return to its glorious former asparagus producing history, and it’s future may be uncertain, but Hadley grass is still one of the great blessings of spring in this corner of New England, and it is still the best darn tasting asparagus in the world!

Source: Hadley Grass published by Saveur in 2007

Never Miss a Monday – Exercise Add It Up

Exercise“If I could save tiiiime in a botttllle…” and sell it for $1 each, boy would I make some money. Unfortunately, I don’t have that extra time to give you (and for my N2F friends I would totally share!), but when it comes to fitting in the all-important weekly aerobic activities, today’s NMAM Tip of the Week will help you make the most of those finite hours.

Novice exercisers are often challenged with finding the initial 30 minutes in their day to fit it in consistently; and more experienced exercisers have their time blocked off for their routine but often level out as they don’t see how they can possibly add on any more. This happens because we often view exercise as one 30-60+ minute chunk of our day. But here’s the great thing about exercise and improving our health…it doesn’t have to be done all at once. You just need to do a minimum of 10 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity at various points during the day (and only 3-5 days per week…please be sure to take time to rest those muscles!)

My suggestion is to break it down to just two points during the day. If your’re new to the exercise game, you’re just looking for 15 mins each, or a 20 min and 10 min sessions. For example, wake up just a tad earlier and do 15 mins on the treadmill; at night, take a 15 min brisk walk after dinner. Those of you with an exercise schedule already, find that 2nd point in the day where you can add in another 10 min session. Already running 40 mins after work? Take 10 mins in the morning to jump rope.

As you progress and start to see your stamina increase, you can up the 2nd 10 min session to 20 mins, etc. Go to the attached link for a smorgasbord of both moderate and vigorous activities to help keep up your interest level (…/physical/pdf/PA_Intensity_table_2_1.pdf). The key is to be sure the activity gets your heart-pumping and you break a sweat, and of course, make it fun!

Be well,

May 11, 2015

Proprietor Interview: The Grateful Garden

By Pam Denholm

Proprietor:                                  Todd Breitensteingg

Small Local Business:              The Grateful Garden

Years in Business:                    This is the first one!

How did you discover your passion for gardening and growing food?

It’s just in me, I am amazed by the Earth and the incredible number of things that had to be just exactly perfect for life to arise, and arise in such spectacular fashion that it makes me grateful to be witness to it, and want to care for it, and defend it.

What is the nature of your business?

We will be offering sustainable garden supplies like soil amendments (compost, biochar, coconut fiber and more), veggie starts, sustainably sourced seeds from independently owned companies (heirloom and GMO free), design and installation for home vegetable gardeners, books on the subject, and plenty of advice (that’s free).

What are your sourcing policies, how do you choose what to offer in your store?

I choose local, sustainable, USA made and organic products. Everything we offer is selected with the best care, we choose only products that are sustainably made or sourced, they are renewable, recycled, chemical free, and from as close to home as possible. We go to great lengths to make sure you can have peace of mind when you come in, that everything on our shelves will help your garden, and help our environment.

What is a typical work day like?

Two steps forward one step sideways, two steps forward. You have to be flexible when you own your own business, you wear many hats, and you have to keep your eye on the big picture.

What gets you out of bed in the morning?

Literally the birds, then wanting to hug my children.

What do you love about what you do?

Everything, even though I find planting seeds to be a bit tedious. I feel like how I spend my time, is filled with the integrity and philosophies I live by. Not everybody can say that, it feels good to come to work in the morning and know that you are making it easier for people who care to make good gardening choices. What’s not to love about that?

You are a new enterprise, so what are your dreams and goals for the Grateful Garden?

I dream big, and set lofty goals, so I would like to accomplish everything I want to do, I want this store to be everything I imagine it can be. I’d like to make a difference.

What are your thoughts on the future of food in America?

As consumers we have made farming the train wreck that it is because we want everything cheap, I saw garlic from china at the grocery store . . . I mean, come on, really? You are what you eat.

If someone is impacted or inspired by you, and wants to learn more, where do you suggest they start?

Most towns have a sustainability group these days, where you can meet many passionate and knowledgeable people to help guide you. Start with your community, your neighbors. Many local libraries are a great resource too, and then there is the internet, where searching local food and sustainable gardens brings up many, many directories and options.

What is your favorite thing to eat and how do you prepare it?

My favorite produce is anything I grow myself, picked fresh and eating raw, right out of the garden.

The Grateful Garden
965 Washington St
Hanover, MA 02339


Never Miss a Monday – Goal Mantras

mantra“man·tra” – a statement or slogan repeated frequently.

Have you ever had a time where you needed to coach yourself through a situation? For example, before walking in to do a major presentation you repeatedly said to yourself “speak slow and clear, speak slow and clear”; or you’re in the drive-thru at the coffee shop and the person in front orders 8 Frapuccino’s, 6 hot sandwiches and a dozen scones so you need to repeatedly tell yourself “don’t ram their car, don’t ream their car”…? Either case, this is actually a form of mindfulness and it’s a great way to refocus your attention to what’s important. (like…not upping your insurance premium…)

This same tactic can be used when trying to meet any of the wellness goals you’ve set for yourself. Make it short and specific – trying to run your first 10k, how about “Run 10”; looking to up your sleep quota, try “Get 8”; increasing your fruit and veggie intake, start with “Just 5”; looking to lose a little weight, maybe 1lb/week, then go with “Down 1”. Remember, this is only for the little voice in your head to repeat, it doesn’t need to qualify for a Pinterest inspirational quote board so just pick one goal and create the mantra.

The real key is once you’ve come up with your goal-specific mantra, you now need to repeat it at various times during the day to keep that wellness goal front-and-center as you make the myriad of choices you face throughout the day. As you go to hit the snooze button, think “Run 10” to help get you up and out on the road; it’s snack time, and you’re choosing between an apple and a candy bar, repeat “Down 1”; it’s getting late and you’re trying to decide whether to watch just one more House of Cards episode, say “Get 8”. Focus on just one goal and mantra for as long as you need to until you feel you’ve created enough mindfulness around that goal that you can move onto the next one.

If anyone wants to brainstorm on coming up with a goal-related mantra, feel free to post here or PM me, I’m happy to help!

Be well,

May 4, 2015