Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Subtle sweetness of winter squash...A fall treat

If you are a pumpkin pie lover, don’t miss the opportunity to taste other types of winter squash this season. While pumpkin is the most popular, other varieties have a subtle sweetness that pleases even fussy eaters. Acorn, Spaghetti, Butternut, Blue Hokkaido, Hubbard, Kobocha, and Delicata are types that grow well in the High Country and are abundant at farmers’ markets.
Go ahead and buy more than you can eat. Winter squash may last up to three months if stored in a cool, dry place.   
Like other orange colored vegetables, it’s an incredible source of beta-carotene, which has been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer in pre-menopausal women. Most kids enjoy this great source of vitamin C, known to boost the immune system and help protect them from fall pathogens.
For safety, scrub squash with a vegetable brush under running water just before cutting. Upper body strength and a very sharp knife are assets. A vegetable peeler makes removing the skin easier.

This acorn squash recipe is the easiest, fastest way that I’ve found to prepare winter squash. No peeling required.

Baked acorn squash
1 acorn squash for 2 people
1 tablespoon butter

After scrubbing with a vegetable brush, cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Place ½ tablespoon of butter in the concave of each squash half. Place in a ceramic baking dish with a lid. Add ¼ inch water to the bottom of the dish. Sprinkle each squash half with cinnamon and cover with lid. Microwave until meat of the squash is tender, about 3 minutes for each squash. Mix the tender squash with the butter and cinnamon. May serve in the skin.

This stew recipe is perfect for cool autumn days. I like to double the recipe and freeze half to serve later on busy evenings.

Butternut harvest stew
2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
1 ½ pounds boneless chicken or lean pork, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
Heat fat in a large pan and add all ingredients, sautéing until meat is no longer pink.

3 cans chicken broth
1 bay leaf
Add, cover and simmer for 10 minutes

1 medium butternut squash, peeled and chopped
2 medium apples, chopped
½ teaspoon dried rosemary
½ teaspoon ground sage

Add and simmer until tender, 15 minutes or so. Discard bay leaf.
Serves 6.

Monday, September 17, 2012

WNC AgOptions Announces Grant Program for Regional Farmers

Mountain farms will soon benefit from N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission's recent funding of WNC Agricultural Options. With support from the Commission, WNC AgOptions will award area farmers a new round of $3,000 and $6,000 grants, for a total of $145,000. WNC AgOptions is accepting applications until November 16.

WNC AgOptions, a program of N.C. Cooperative Extension and WNC Communities, continues its nine-year history of helping farmers diversify their businesses. "I am excited that the N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission funded this program again this year," said Ross Young, Madison County Extension Director and WNC AgOptions steering committee leader. "There is no doubt that agriculture in Western North Carolina has become stronger because of WNC AgOptions and we expect the 2013 program to continue with outstanding applications from farmers hoping to keep their farms strong in these ever-changing times."

WNC AgOptions awards farmers who propose diversification projects that will help their businesses grow and succeed. The seed money offsets the risk of trying something new and gives farmers the chance to demonstrate new farming techniques and marketing tactics to the agricultural community. Applications are available at www.wncagoptions.org and at local Cooperative Extension Centers. Interested applicants should contact their local Extension Agents by October 12 to notify them that they intend to apply. The application postmark deadline is November 16.

Eligible farms are in: Avery, Buncombe, Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Henderson, Jackson, Macon, Madison, McDowell, Mitchell, Polk, Swain, Transylvania, Watauga and Yancey counties as well as the Cherokee Indian Reservation. The WNC AgOptions steering committee strongly encourages eligible farmers who have never received grant funding to apply.

The administrator of WNC AgOptions is WNC Communities, a non-profit organization that has roots as far back as 1947 and hands in the development of such influential regional projects as the N.C. Arboretum, the WNC Agricultural Center, and, most recently, the WNC Regional Livestock Center. WNC Communities is dedicated to providing a unique forum for leaders in western North Carolina to carry out innovative programs to improve the quality of life for rural communities and to enhance the agriculture economy.

Members of the WNC AgOptions steering committee include: representatives from N.C. Cooperative Extension, N.C. Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services–Marketing Division, WNC Communities, Appalachian Sustainable Agricultural Project and other leaders in agribusiness. RAFI-USA's Tobacco Communities Reinvestment Fund manages a similar grant program for farmers in the Piedmont, Central and Coastal regions of North Carolina. For more information, see the following: WNC Agricultural Options: www.wncagoptions.org; N.C. Cooperative Extension Centers: www.ces.ncsu.edu; N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission: www.tobaccotrustfund.org; WNC Communities: www.wnccommunities.org.

57th Watauga County Farm-City Banquet

The 57th annual Watauga County Farm City Banquet will be held on Thursday, November 8th, at 6:00 p.m. at the Boone United Methodist Church.
The theme for the 2012 Farm City Banquet is “Local Farms Feed Local Families” as we are celebrating our locally produced farm products and farmers, food entrepreneurs, and supporters of local farms. Also this year we welcome distinguished guest speaker Denise Cerreta, the founder of One World Everybody Eats Café’s, which helped provide vision for the local F.A.R.M. Café. Following a local food supper, we will recognize individuals for their contributions and support of our local agricultural economy. We will also have door prizes that will be given out at the end of the celebration.
Each year the public are asked to nominate outstanding people that YOU know have made a positive impact on youth, agriculture, and our community. A list of awards and application forms can be downloaded here, from the Watauga Extension website http://watauga.ces.ncsu.edu, our blog http://wataugaces.blogspot.com or picked up from the Extension office at 971 West King Street in Boone. Completed applications can be mailed or dropped off to the Extension Center or e-mailed to Kathy_Lee@ncsu.edu by Friday, October 19, 2012.
You may purchase tickets for this event at Watauga Extension Office after October 1st-November 7th. Adults tickets are $10 and children 6-12 $5. Children five and under are free. Tickets will not be sold after November 7. Please bring a canned food item to donate to area food banks.
We look forward to you being a part of this wonderful collaboration as we celebrate the bonds that unite our urban and rural communities.
If you have questions, please contact us at 828-264-3061.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Locally Grown Canteloupe...Super Food for All

With summer winding down, locally grown, vine-ripened cantaloupe will only be available for a few more weeks. Don’t miss the opportunity to enjoy this seasonal treat and super food for all. It’s so sweet, yet contains only fifty-four calories and all the vitamins C and A needed for a day in one cup of cubes.
Melon is an excellent choice for people with diabetes, satisfying the sweet tooth with only 16 grams of carbohydrates per cup.
Cantaloupes are an ancient treat, with the first cultivated by the Egyptians and later the Greeks and Romans. Legend has it they entered the “New World” via Christopher Columbus on his second voyage in 1494. Today, the North American cantaloupe has a firm golden skin that looks like it’s wrapped in netting. Some varieties harvested in other parts of the world have smooth skin.
Purchasing melons from a local source is a smart choice. Less handling means less chance of pathogen exposure from humans. A recent recall for cantaloupe due to Salmonella contamination from a farm in Indiana makes us aware of this issue. Salmonella is found in the intestines of animals, including humans and wild animals, such as deer, livestock, pets and even birds. Heat kills salmonella, but cantaloupe is not served cooked.
Washing melon before cutting is essential. Research has shown that bacteria may be pushed into the meat of the melon when cutting. Washing with a scrub brush under running water can reduce the risk of pathogen introduction. Research hasn’t shown that produce washes are effective in killing pathogens, but they are formulated to not leave a residue on produce, so aren’t harmful.     

If you would like to preserve melon for later, try this recipe:
Melon Mint Freeze
1 cantaloupe
40 or so leaves of fresh mint
After thoroughly scrubbing melon under running water, cut it into cubes. Place melon in blender with fresh mint and blend until smooth. Pour into appropriate sized plastic container with lid. Place in freezer. Take out of freezer 30 minutes prior to eating. Scoop into bowls for a refreshing, sorbet-like treat.

Cantaloupe Smoothie
2 cups cantaloupe, cut into chunks
1 cup milk
1 ½  cups yogurt
2 – 4 tablespoons honey, or to taste
Combine all of the ingredients in a blender and process until the mixture is smooth.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Celebrating Extension Master Gardener Volunteers

Watauga County Cooperative Extension partnered with the Daniel Boone Native Gardens to celebrate the vast contributions of Extension Master Gardener Volunteers in the High Country.  Year after year, these trained individuals give back to their community with horticultural experience, expertise, and invaluable sweat equity!  Volunteers enjoyed a gorgeous morning at the Native Gardens, visiting with one another, touring through the garden and observing the Bird and Butterfly Garden, a project between the Watauga County Extension Master Gardeners and the High Country Audubon Society.  

Daniel Boone Native Gardens' Chairman Rebecca Kaenzig and Cooperative Extension agent Meghan Baker address the group of volunteers.  Photo credit: Sarah Gilley

Awaiting butterflies at the Bird and Butterfly Garden.
Photo credit: Jimmy Davidson

Red Turtlehead, Chelone lyonii.  Photo credit: Jimmy Davidson