Backyard Produce: Wither or Whither?


Posted by admin | Posted in Community, Gardening | Posted on 08-19-2010

Some days it seems like nothing is going your way. If it is not a quarantine or some proposed legislation with possible consequences, it is something else. Given all the discussion in email over the last couple weeks, this picture (that Gail sent me) seems all the more appropriate:

But we can’t wallow in pity for long. As we come up with new creative ways to keep our community going (like having a baked swap and getting clear and verified interpretations to know how to remain legal), we can take heart also. A happier note may be struck by the momentum that the “Victory Garden” revival has been having recently – and we are part of it folks! The WWI victory garden posters are really awesome. Here is an example:

More of these can be found at the Library of Congress picture catalog (search for victory garden posters).

Last weekend, at the California Rare Fruit Growers Festival of Fruit, Rose Hayden-Smith of the UC Victory Grower site ( gave a rousing talk about how there is a new “victory garden” movement – call it “victory over type II diabetes”- and even the USDA is getting involved (in a positive way).

There are movements afoot to make it easy for schools to have their own gardens and eat what they grow (even the businesses that provide school lunches are supporting this – with their own money), and to encourage urban gardens. A great example of this is the Richmond Public Library up in the San Francisco Bay Area – where a community garden planted in front of the library has blossomed into a full fledged movement. They now have a seed bank in the library!

Looking around, I see more encouraging signs now than ever before in my lifetime that there are grass roots movements that are affecting more than a few committed individuals. How can we lose when the veggies themselves (see below) are on our side?

The Variety of it All – July


Posted by admin | Posted in Community, Crop-Swap, Gardening, Local, Neighborhood Produce Exchange, Sustainability | Posted on 08-02-2010

There are various ways of getting food. Lately, its all about local. For us it’s about Ripe from our own back yards.

Here is a scenario of how shopping and swapping are completely different cookies, er stories. Have you read the story about If You Give A Mouse A Cookie ? You may notice it’s influence on me below…

What’s different about a swap than going to the grocery store?

Going to the store you have a list. You hope you can find organic produce that is fresh and the quality you want. You come home with most of the items on your list. You are lighter by about $40.00 per bag of food. As hard as you might try not to, you pick up some processed or non-organic food. You eat and repeat, every week.

Going to a swap you first comb your yard to see what is ripe. You discover that, in reality, you have more than you thought! After harvesting, you take it to the local Ripe community crop-swap not knowing what will be there, but knowing that what will be there will be organic and just freshly picked. When you arrive you are pleasantly surprised over what you find, and you find some unusual stuff along with things that are more traditional to you. People are very friendly and willing to tell you about what they brought and grew in their yards. They share their enthusiasm and knowledge. You pick up some of the unusual produce that you have never tried before.

You come home from the swap with your traditional food and your surprises, so plentiful and so varied that you have a hard time trying to decide which to eat first. You realize that you have organic food and plants that you did not pay $40/bag for. Happiness and contentment fill you, not only because of the savings, but because you also have an opportunity to taste and experience a new food that up until this point in your life you have never tried before. You find out that some of those new foods are really really super, and that some must take getting used to. You find that you have fond memories of the people you met who grew your food. You think about them as you cook. You contact a few of them later to ask how they were able to grow their item so well. You visit their garden and get ideas. Sometimes you arrange to get seeds or seedlings of the delicious things you ate, and you now plant them too. Reflecting, you realize that you got so much more then just food, as you would have in the store.

You decide to go to all the park swaps that you can. You plant even more fruit, vegetables and other edible plants.

The whole community repeats and grows week by week.

If you came to our July Park Crop-Swap (see gallery) you may have seen and come home with any of the following 61 items:

Sweet Bell Peppers, Green, Chocolate
Egyptian Walking Onions
Yellow Onions
Cherry Tomatoes
Hawaiian Sweet Potato Greens
Yellow Crookneck Squash
Cape Gooseberries
Thyme plant
Passion Fruit plant
Celocia(Cock’s Comb) plant
tart Yellow Apples
unidentified Red & Green Apples
White Nectarines
Yellow Nectarines
White Grapefruit
Pink Grapefruit
White peaches
Yellow peaches
unknown Yellow and Green Squash
Zucchini, several varieties
Genovese Basil
Black Cherry-Tomato Seedlings
Lemon Verbena
mold-ripened Goat Cheese
Ricotta Salata Cheese
Bell Peppers
Chili Peppers
Japanese Cucumbers
Meyer Lemons
Bearss Limes
Swiss Chard
Green Amaranth
Red Amaranth
Valencia oranges
Pineapple Sage
Ein Shemer Apples
Red Cabbage
Serrano Peppers
Sour Dough Starter
Strawberry Plants
Macadamia Nuts
Tricolor Sage
Thai basil
Italian basil
Lemon basil
Cuban oregano
Green Shiso

My surprises this month included an amazing Genovese Oregano which I ate with home-grown Tomatoes; Quince which I’ve heard so much about and can’t wait to cook up and try; Egyptian Walking Onions, which I had just barely heard of the week before; now I’ve tasted Cape Gooseberries – so my newest goal is to plant those Gooseberries in a large section of my yard! Next time I will have to try Shiso:

“This flavorful herb deserves a place beside basil and cilantro in every culinary herb garden. The flavor has been described as curry-like and a combination of cumin, cilantro, and parsley with a hint of cinnamon. Leaves are a superior addition to mesclun salad mixes. Try Shiso as a garnish with sushi, and sprinkle it over cucumbers, cabbage and fish. Chop and add to pesto. Flowers are edible, and make a fragrant tea. Great in containers. Tolerates shade.”

Gail Murphy is the founder of Ripe Altadena and Ripe Communities

Walk Like An Egyptian (Onion)


Posted by admin | Posted in Community | Posted on 07-21-2010

Had RIPE been around when I first moved here in 2000, it would have saved me a whole bunch of silly trials and embarrassing errors. And the grub would have been better, too.

For years I shoved tomato plants into the hardpan of my backyard, kicked up a little dust to cover the roots, and watched in astonishment as they up and died — that is, if they bothered to up at all.  Same with eggplant, beans, cucumbers, and on and on.

Combine this with my imprudent habit of fixating on a plant –MUST HAVE IT — regardless of climate requirements or where on earth I had to send my hard-earned dollars to get it, and you can guess just how disappointing and expensive my gardening attempts turned out to be.  (Let’s not even talk about my rainforest phase).

As a gardener, up in the hills of Altadena, I was both avid and ignorant – a dangerous combination.  I didn’t know any gardeners in the area; my immediate neighbors were certainly nice, but growing things didn’t appear to be a priority. That left me to my own devices, and I became the product of self education and a bad teacher.

This story has a happy ending. I joined RIPE (COFEA, originally) about two years ago.  Thanks to members’ advice, contributions (vegetable and powdery mineral), and examples, my backyard has three raised beds crowded, laden with all the bounty that would never grow before. And though I will still read about and then fixate on a particular plant, usually it’s something edible that can be found outside of Tasmania.

The Tale of the Egyptian Walking Onion is the perfect metaphor for the change this group has brought to my gardening life, and why I now feel part of a community of generous, like-minded but smarter, spirits.

Recently a member posted a request for Egyptian Walking Onions on our community site.  Great name, right?  According to Wiki, It has this unique walking-growth habit that “makes it a favorite with kids.” Worked on this big kid – MUST HAVE IT.

I tried all the local nurseries, but not one carried the plant (“Egyptian Working Onion? No, but we have Spanish onions.”)   A couple of online sources had some available next month, and they advised to reserve it now. Just after punching in the first four numbers of my credit card, I stopped. Had I learned nothing in these two years? Why not throw a couple of $20’s on the compost pile while I’m at it.

I brought up our community site and put out a “Me, too.” Three members responded within a couple of hours (even one who was vacationing in Argentina), and within 8 hours I had the plant in my hot little hand (thanks, Ellen).

Not only that, suddenly the community site lit up with requests for, and promises of, Egyptian Walking Onions. A smelly little star is born.

That’s it really, except to say I always have something to contribute to the RIPE crop-swaps or to give away mid- swap. And that’s because, these days I get straw for the raised beds from Gloria and Steve, organic seeds from Christina, seedlings from some members, and advice from all.

RIPE member Karin Bugge is a freelance writer and regularly blogs at