A Natural Remedy for Those Who Are Fed Up With Flies - Part One

A Natural Remedy for Those Who Are Fed Up With Flies - Part One

By Emily Lauzon, Better Farm Sustainability Student & Intern

Up here in the North Country, it is easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of flies! You take a step outside and there they are ready to bite and it doesn’t stop there—you come in from a hard day's work only to find that houseflies have invaded your living space as well! After a while, the buzzing can drive even the most balanced person clinically insane. So in order to stop the madness I have employed the fallowing methods in fly eradication. I hope that these also work for you!

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Beyond the Garden Gates: Wild Plant Classification Part II

 By Allison Bachner
This is the conclusion of sustainability student Allison Bachner's two-part wild plant classification study. For Part I, click here.

We're continuing today with wild plant classifications as discovered on the Better Farm campus. Putting aside their pesky tendency to pop up in the garden rows, wild plants have value that make them well worth knowing. Here is the second installment of plants I discovered in the wilds of Better Farm.

The cattail is one of the most important and common wild foods, with a variety of uses at different times of the year. Whatever you call it, a stand of cattails is as close as you'll get to finding a wild supermarket. In spring, the cattail shoot has an odorless, tender, white, inner core that tastes sweet, mild, and pleasant. None of cattails' look-a-likes grows more than a few feet tall, so by mid-spring, the much larger cattail becomes unmistakable, even for beginners. They grow in marshes, swamps, ditches, and stagnant water—fresh or slightly brackish—worldwide. Finding them is a sure sign of water. Every part of a cattail has a practical use. The plant is easy to harvest, very tasty, and highly nutritious. It was a major staple for Native Americans. "Settlers" missed out when they ignored this great food and destroyed its habitats, instead of cultivating it. Before the flower forms, the shoots— prized as "Cossack's asparagus" in Russia—are fantastic. You can peel and eat them well into the summer; and will quickly discover they taste like a combination of tender zucchini and cucumbers (they're great in salads, soups, stir-fries, and sandwiches). You'll get the best yield just before the flowers begin to develop. A few huge, late-spring stalks provide enough delicious food for a meal. Some stalks grow tall, and become inedibly fibrous with developing flowers by late spring, although just before the summer solstice, you can often gather tender shoots, immature flower heads, and pollen at the same time. You can also clip off and eat the male portions of the immature, green, flower head. Steam or simmer it for ten minutes. It tastes vaguely like its distant relative, corn, and there's even a central cob-like core. Because it's dry, serve it with a topping of sauce, seasoned oil, or butter. When the male flowers ripen, just before the summer solstice, they produce considerable quantities of golden pollen. People pay outrageous prices in health stores for tiny capsules of the bee pollen—a source of minerals, enzymes, protein, and energy. Cattail pollen beats the commercial variety in flavor, energy content, freshness, nutrition, and price. To collect the pollen in its short season, wait for a few calm days, so your harvest isn't scattered by wind. Bend the flower heads into a large paper bag and shake it gently. Keep the bag's opening as narrow as possible, so the pollen won't blow away. Sift out the trash, and use the pollen as golden flour in baking breads, muffins, pancakes, or waffles. It doesn't rise, and it's time-consuming to collect in quantity, so generally mix it with at least three times as much whole-grain flour. You can also eat the pollen raw, sprinkled on yogurt, fruit shakes, oatmeal, and salads. Jelly from between a cattail's young leaves can be applied to wounds, sores, boils, carbuncles, external inflammations, and boils to soothe pain. (From Wild Man Steve Brill .)

New England Aster
Native American tribes on burning the flowers and leaves that is interesting, the smoke being used in Inipi (sweat lodge) Ceremonies, to revive the unconscious, to treat mental illness, nosebleeds, headaches, congestion, for smudging and as an additive to Kinnickkinnick smoking mixtures. The dried blossoms were also snuffed for similar purposes, or the vapor inhaled as a steam. Aster tea was used to treat earache, relieve gas pains, stomach aches and fevers. The flowers and roots were both commonly used.  (From Herb Craft.)

Purple Loosestrife
Purple Loosestrife possesses four principles: resin, resinoid, tannin, and alkaloid; and its properties are alterative, antispasmodic, diuretic, astringent, anti-febrifuge, tonic, and demulcent. Loosestrife is employed chiefly in fevers and hepatic derangements, constipation, diarrhea, dysentery, cholera infantum, cholera morbus, malignant cholera, hemorrhages or bleedings of all kinds, leucorrhosa, old wounds, sores, clouded vision, and so on. The whole plant is used either alone or combined with others of a palliative or soothing character. Purple Loosestrife may justly be considered one of the most valuable of all vegetable astringents yet known to man. It is its astringent effects on the mucous surfaces that renders it a most valuable remedy in fevers, especially typhoid; and in hepatic derangements of the liver and biliary ducts. In constipation it is a most useful herb to remedy that condition, as, by its promoting the secretive powers of the mucous surfaces and its astringent quality strengthening the muscular parts of the intestinal walls, it gives tone and energy to them, and by that means tends to remove constipation. It is also a useful agent in relaxation of the bowels, because of its powers of correcting acid accumulations in the stomach and intestines. These statements with regard to its utility in the treatment of the two opposite conditions—diarrhoea and constipation—may seem erroneous and inconsistent, but they are correct. (From Henriette's Herb.) An ointment may be made with the water 1 OZ. to 2 drachms of May butter without salt, and the same quantity of sugar and wax boiled gently together. It cleanses and heals ulcers and sores, if washed with the water, or covered with the leaves, green or dry according to the season. A warm gargle and drink cures quinsy or a scrofulous throat. (From Botanical)

Joe-Pye Weed
Joe-Pye Weed has been used for ages as a diuretic, stimulant, tonic, astringent and relaxant. This plant offers a terrific remedy for gravel in the gallbladder; and can dissolves stones while healing chronic urinary and kidney disorders. The plant can help with bed-wetting, poor appetite, dropsy, neuralgia and rheumatism. Joe-Pye is also very soothing and will relax the nerves. Combined with uva ursi, marshmallow, blue cohosh and lily root, it can help deter female troubles, bladder and kidney infections, diabetes, and Bright’s disease. The plant has also been used for headache, hysteria, impotence, indigestion, intermittent fever, sciatica, sore throat, urine retention, vomiting, asthma, chronic coughs, colds and typhus fever. Cough syrup can easily be made out of Joe-Pye Weed by steeping and boiling down blossoms and leaves, adding molasses, and boiling the whole mixture into a syrup.

All parts of a thistle plant can be used for culinary and medicinal purposes, including the root, leaves, flowery tops and seeds. According to the beliefs of many Native Americans, any object that sticks or pricks an individual will also alleviate the hurt when an ointment prepared with the same substance is applied on the affected area. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, different types of thistles are used to prepare decoctions to alleviate inflammation. In addition, an infusion prepared with the leaves and roots of common thistle is believed to heal stiff neck, seizures and nervous disorders. Common thistle roots have been employed as a poultice and a decoction prepared using the plant too is used as a poultice to treat aching jaws. A hot infusion prepared with the whole common thistle plant has been traditionally used to treat rheumatic joint pains and bleeding piles. The inner bark of common thistle yields a fiber sometimes used in paper manufacture. High-quality oil can be obtained by extracting the seeds of different species of thistles. The thistle down is excellent as firewood which can be lit without difficulty even by a spark from a stone. In addition, the Cherokee, a Native American tribe, used the down of the plant for the tail on blow guns. Tender leaves of the plant can be soaked overnight in saline water and cooked for consumption. Leaves of common thistle may also be added to salads after thorns are removed. Even the roots of common thistle are cooked and they have a flavour akin to Jerusalem artichoke. In addition to consuming the roots fresh, they may also be dried and stored for use when necessary. Some people also cook and use the young flower stems of common thistle as a vegetable. Even the flower buds of the plant are brought to culinary use. These flower buds are used akin to round artichokes, but they are comparatively small and even more difficult to prepare. The dehydrated thistle flowers are used as a rennet alternative to curdle plant milks. At times, even the seeds of thistle are roasted and consumed by some people. (From Herbs 2000.)

The species Solidago canadensis and S. odora are considered the most medicinal (and the tastiest) of goldenrod, but all species of goldenrod are safe and beneficial and can be used to help the immune system get ready for winter. Goldenrod tonics are easy to make. Harvest any goldenrod by cutting the top third of the plant in full flower on a sunny fall day. Or, respectfully pull the entire plant, roots and all, in the late autumn or early winter. Then follow these simple directions. Note: You can use any size jar when making a vinegar or a tincture, so long as you fill it full. To dry flowering goldenrod: Bundle 2-3 stalks together and hang upside down in a cool, shady room until thoroughly dry. When the stalks snap crisply, store the dried herb in brown paper bags. One or two large handfuls of crushed leaves and flowers, steeped in a quart of boiling water for thirty minutes makes a tea that can be used hot, with honey, to counter allergies (especially pollen allergies), fevers, sore throats, coughs, colds and the flu; or taken cold to relieve colic in babies, and gas in adults. Dried mint and/or yarrow are tasty, and useful, additions when making goldenrod flower tea. To dry goldenrod roots: Rinse dirt off the roots, then cut away all the stalks, leaves and dead flowers. If possible, hang your roots over a woodstove to dry; if not, place them on racks and put them in a warm place to dry until brittle. Store in glass jars. Depending on the difficulty you are addressing, goldenrod root tea may be made with large or small amounts of the roots brewed or decocted in boiling water. Or the roots may be powdered, alone or mixed with flowers, and applied to hard-to-heal wounds and sore joints. To make a goldenrod vinegar: Chop the goldenrod coarsely, filling a jar with chopped flowers, leaves, stalks (and roots if you have them); then fill the jar to the top with room-temperature, pasteurized, apple cider vinegar. Cap it tightly with a plastic lid. (Metal lids will be eroded by the action of the vinegar. If you must use one, protect it with several layers of plastic between it and the vinegar.) Be sure to label your vinegar with the date and contents. Your goldenrod vinegar will be ready to use in six weeks to improve mineral balance, help prevent kidney stones, eliminate flatulence, and improve immune functioning. To make a goldenrod tincture: Chop the goldenrod coarsely, filling a jar with chopped flowers, leaves, stalks (and roots if you have them); then add 100 proof vodka, filling the jar to the very top. Cap tightly and label. Your goldenrod tincture will be ready to use in six weeks, by the dropperful, as an anti-inflammatory, a sweat-inducing cold cure, and an astringent digestive aid. Medical herbalists use large doses (up to 4 dropperfuls at a time) of goldenrod tincture several times daily to treat kidney problems -- including nephritis, hemorrhage, kidney stones, and inability to void -- and prostate problems, including frequent urination. The colonists called goldenrod tea "Liberty Tea," for they drank it instead of black tea after the Boston Tea Party. In fact, Liberty Tea proved so popular, it was exported to China! Let goldenrod liberate you, too. Herbal medicine is people's medicine, a gift from Mama Earth to us. (From Susun Weed.)

Queen Anne's Lace
Also called wild carrot, Queen Anne's Lace has many medicinal properties. The wild carrot is an aromatic herb that acts as a diuretic, soothes the digestive tract and stimulates the uterus. A wonderfully cleansing medicine, it supports the liver, stimulates the flow of urine and the removal of waste by the kidneys. An infusion is used in the treatment of various complaints including digestive disorders, kidney and bladder diseases and in the treatment of dropsy. An infusion of the leaves has been used to counter cystitis and kidney stone formation, and to diminish stones that have already formed. Carrot leaves contain significant amounts of porphyrins, which stimulate the pituitary gland and lead to the release of increased levels of sex hormones. The plant is harvested in July and dried for later use. A warm water infusion of the flowers has been used in the treatment of diabetes. The grated raw root, especially of the cultivated forms, is used as a remedy for threadworms. The root is also used to encourage delayed menstruation. The root of the wild plant can induce uterine contractions and so should not be used by pregnant women. A tea made from the roots is diuretic and has been used in the treatment of urinary stones. An infusion is used in the treatment of oedema, flatulent indigestion and menstrual problems. The seed is a traditional 'morning after' contraceptive and there is some evidence to uphold this belief. It requires further investigation. Carrot seeds can be abortifacient and so should not be used by pregnant women. Ancient folk lore said that to cure epileptic seizures you should eat the dark coloured middle flower of Queen Anne's Lace. The flower is also used in ancient rituals an spells, for women to increase fertility and for men to increase potency and sexual desire! (From The Carrot Museum.)

Motherwort earned its nam from its traditional use in relieving trauma and tension during pregnancy, childbirth as well as motherhood. In addition to be a useful remedy for the reproductive system disorders among women, motherwort also possesses properties that invigorate as well as strengthen the cardiac system. Hence, it is also popular as a remedy that is beneficial for the heart. It has already been established that motherwort plays a vital role in the intensification of the heart, particularly during pregnancy and child birth when more pressure is forced on the heart. Many herbal practitioners recommend the use of motherwort to treat anomalies like arrhythmia and heart palpatations—both of which are closely related to nervousness and stress. On the other hand, the bitter glycosides present in motherwort have been found to possess temporary capabilities to reduce blood pressure. (From Herbs 2000.)

Lady's Thumb
Anglo-Saxons used lady's thumb as a remedy for sore eyes and ears. The leaves are edible and some members of the smartweed family possess a "peppery" flavor. Native Americans used the leaves in treatments of stomach pains and poison ivy. They also rubbed the plant on their horses as an insect repellent. (From Brandeis.)

Red Clover
Red clover is used for cancer prevention, indigestion, high cholesterol, whooping cough, cough, asthma, bronchitis, and sexually transmitted diseases. Some women use red clover for symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes; for breast pain or tenderness, and for premenstrual syndrome. Red clover is applied to the skin for skin cancer, skin sores, burns, and chronic skin diseases including eczema and psoriasis. In foods and beverages, the solid extract of red clover is used as a flavoring ingredient. Red clover contains hormone-like chemicals called isoflavones that seem to cause reproductive problems in certain animals. Experts think a diet high in isoflavones may have been responsible for reports of reproductive failure and liver disease in cheetahs living in zoos. In large quantities, red clover can cause sterility in livestock. Red clover contains “isoflavones” which are changed in the body to “phytoestrogens” that are similar to the hormone estrogen.
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Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.

Beyond the Garden Gate: Wild Plant Classification Part I

It was a day as fine as any to bushwhack through the Better Farm wilds in order to classify some native plants! Putting aside their pesky tendency to pop up in the garden rows, wild plants have value that make them well worth knowing. Here is the first installment of the plants I discovered on my romp.

Wild Plant Identification:

Staghorn Sumac
Sumac is native to the Mediterranean, but now grows in abundance throughout the Northern United States. Sumac flowers contain calcium, potassium, magnesium, citric acid and antioxidants; while the bark is useful medicinally as an astringent tea for anti-diarrhea purposes. Staghorn sumac is also antibacterial. Middle Eastern chefs dry the berries, and then grind them up into a spice powder that lasts all year without refrigeration. The spice can be sprinkled on rice, hummus, or kebabs. Sumac tastes slightly sour, tart and citrus-like, very similar to a lemon. Sumac fruit can also be turned into lemonade: Simply put the berries in cold water, rub them to release the juice, and then leave them for several hours to soak and infuse into the water. Strain and drink it. The liquid can also be frozen in ice cube trays and used year-round like lemon juice. (Information from Firstways.com)

Red-Panicled or Grey Dogwood
Historically, American dogwood has been used to treat malaria instead of the drug quinine. American dogwood is still used today as medicine for headaches, fatigue, fever, and ongoing diarrhea. It is also used to increase strength, stimulate appetite, and as a tonic. Some people apply American dogwood directly to the skin for boils and wounds.

Elderberry Tree
Elderberry juice was used to treat a flu epidemic in Panama in 1995, and has historically been widely used for its antioxidant activity, to lower cholesterol, improve vision, boost the immune system, improve heart health, and as a remedy for coughs, colds, flu, bacterial and viral infections, and tonsillitis.  Bioflavonoids and other proteins in the juice destroy the ability of cold and flu viruses to infect a cell. People with the flu who took elderberry juice reported less severe symptoms and felt better much faster than those who did not. Elderberries contain organic pigments, tannin, amino acids, carotenoids, flavonoids, sugar, rutin, viburnic acid, vitaman A and B and a large amount of vitamin C. They are also mildly laxative, a diuretic, and diaphoretic. Flavonoids, including quercetin, are believed to account for the therapeutic actions of the elderberry flowers and berries. According to test tube studies2 these flavonoids include anthocyanins that are powerful antioxidants and protect cells against damage. In Israel, Hasassah's Oncology Lab has determined that elderberry stimulates the body's immune system and they are treating cancer and AIDS patients with it. The wide range of medical benefits (from flu and colds to debilitating asthma, diabetes, and weight loss) is probably due to the enhancement of each individual's immune system.

Butter-and-Eggs serve as a diuretic, purgative and astringent. Leaf tea can be used as a laxative, strong diuretic for dropsy, jaundice, enteritis with drowsiness, skin diseases, piles, liver and bladder problems. Ointment made from the flowers is used externally for piles, skin eruptions, sores, and ulcers. A “tea” made with the plant's milk may also be used as an insecticide. (From MedicinalHerbInfo.)

Toadflax, Common Toadflax, Yellow Toadflax, Butter-and-Eggs, Wild Snapdragon -

Spotted Touch-Me-Not
Jewelweeld has been used as a treatment for eczema, insect bites, rashes, and spring tonics. It is also an effective cure for poison ivy. Flowers can be rubbed on skin as a natural insect repellent.
Burdock Root contains a number of medicinal properties that have been used for hundreds of years. Most traditionally, herbalists use it as a blood purifier. The root also overs relief from abscesses, acne, carbuncles, psoriasis and eczema. The herb increases circulation to the skin by helping to detoxify epidermal tissues. Burdock Root has additionally been reported to destroy bacteria and fungus cultures. It is a popular detoxifying agent that produces a diuretic effect on the body which aids the filtering of impurities from the bloodstream. By promoting perspiration, Burdock Root eliminates toxins through the skin. Burdock Root contains inulin, a carbohydrate that strengthens the liver. The high concentration of inulin and mucilage aids in the soothing effects on the gastrointestinal tract. The high concentration of inulin is helpful for individuals afflicted with diabetes and hypoglycemia as it provides helpful sugar that does not provoke rapid insulin production. Inulin is aromatic, stimulant, expectorant, tonic, stomachic, and antiseptic. Burdock Root can also be used as a mild laxative that aids in the elimination of uric acid or gout.  

Burdock root helps the kidneys to filter out impurities from the blood very quickly. It clears congestion in respiratory, lymphatic, urinary and circulatory systems. Burdock  releases water retention, stimulates digestion, aids kidney, liver and gallbladder function.  It also functions as an aperient, depurative, and antiscorbutic. Decoctions of Burdock have also been historically used for soothing the kidneys, relieving the lymphatic system, rheumatism, gout, GI tract disorders, stomach ailments, constipation, catarrh, fever, infection, fluid retention and skin problems. An article in Chemotherapy identified the chemical arctigenin contained in Burdock as an “inhibitor of experimental tumor growth.” European and Chinese herbalists have long considered burdock root's "lightly warming, moistening effect an excellent tonic for the lungs and liver.  It reportedly stimulates toxic waste through the skin and urine, improving digestion and is good for arthritis and rheumatism.
A recent study showed that Burdock blocked dangerous chemicals from causing damage to cells, suggesting to the possibility that burdock may help decrease the risk of developing cancer from toxic chemicals. And finally, despite Burdock’s reputation as a noxious weed, it is the source of several very palatable foods. Edible components of the Burdock plant are its roots, seeds, and its young stems. Young stalks are boiled to be eaten like asparagus, raw stems and young leaves are eaten in salads. Both the root and leaves are used in herbal remedies, but most recipes call for the root which has a sweetish and mucilaginous taste. Fresh burdock root also has a distinct aroma. It has been used, after chopping and roasting, as a coffee substitute. Originally cultivated in China for medicinal purposes, this unique root has become a sought-after specialty in Japan. Flavorful and crunchy, burdock is an excellent source of fiber, along with the vitamins and minerals. Its nutty taste is delicious sautéed in combination with carrots or just some soy sauce and a bit of sugar, or it can be deep-fried in a tempura batter. Avoid rinsing this brown-skinned vegetable until you're ready to use it.  In markets, it's sold with the dirt still lingering on the roots because it is quick to wilt when washed. The white flesh immediately discolors once peeled. You'll want to soak it in a mild vinegar solution until you're ready to cook it to maintain the color. Its hearty flavor is a little like that of potatoes, although it’s related to artichokes. Mashed roots can also be formed into patties and fried.  The white pith can be added to salads or simmered in syrup to make candy or soaked in vinegar  to make pickles. (Information from Herbal Legacy.)

Chicory as a homeopathic remedy is used for sluggish digestion that may lead to headaches. Herbally, chicory is a bitter used to increase appetite and promote digestion. As a culinary herb, young chicory leaves are used in salads. Chicory root is best known as a coffee substitute. (From Holistic Health Careers)


Milkweeds secrete latex containing cardiac glycosides that are medicinally valuable in the treatment of heart disease. This same latex is an old home remedy for warts. These compounds are also part of a chemical defense that the butterflies deploy against birds who would prey on them, explaining in part their fascination with these plants. Milkweed serves as a major nectar source for butterflies and bees; both of which have been in rapid decline in large part because of herbicides like Roundup, which kills virtually all plants except crops genetically modified to survive it. As a result, millions of acres of native plants, especially milkweed, an important source of nectar for many species, and vital for monarch butterfly larvae, have been wiped out. One study showed that Iowa has lost almost 60 percent of its milkweed, and another found 90 percent was gone. The agricultural landscape has been sterilized. You can help! Become an active participant now. Make a difference today. It all starts with one seed...and you to plant it. (From Annie's Remedy)

To read Part II of this study, click here.

In Retrospect: Sustainability Student Xuan Du

What an amazing two months it has been. When I pulled up to Better Farm’s driveway for the first time, I expected an immersive crash-course in sustainability initiatives. What I didn’t expect was how close I would become with the people and area around Redwood.

Better Farm is a testament to how easily anyone can implement green practices. From indoor aquaponics and hydroponics to rainwater catchment systems, it doesn’t take much to reduce your carbon footprint. Better Farm’s initiatives may be on a small scale, but its impact spreads. Community members and visitors who wouldn’t otherwise care about sustainability are exposed to all of our various initiatives, whether through conversation, workshops, or tours of the grounds. I’ve heard so many guests marvel at the uniqueness of this place and what a lovely respite it is from city life. After staying on the property, it’s hard not to share what you’ve learned with your own friends, family, and community.

I’ve never felt more connected to the land than during my time at the farm. Working in the garden gave me a whole new relationship with my food, and I derived so much satisfaction from harvesting the vegetables. Even though I picked snap peas nearly every day, I was always excited to see a new pea tucked under the stalks and leaves. It was really quite something to witness the growth of a crop every step of the way.

A passage from What We Leave Behind by Derrick Jensen and Aric McBay, one of my assigned readings (and now favorite books), stuck with me: “Any working definition of sustainability must emerge from and conform to a particular landbase – to what that landbase can freely give forever – and not be an abstract set of principles, or rationalizations, imposed upon the landbase. The landbase is primary, and what we do to it (or far more appropriately, with and for it) must always follow the landbase’s lead.” The land comes first. Whatever industrialized society we have permitted can only go so far as what the land allows. At Better Farm, we work in tandem with the landbase. Pesticides and fertilizers are never used, and we do everything with the understanding that everything goes back to the land. The food scraps from the kitchen go to the chickens, whose soiled bedding is used to mulch the garden, which provides us with our meals. “You feed me, I feed the soil, the soil feeds everyone, the soil feeds me, I feed you, you feed the soil, and so on” (Jensen and McBay).

Everything about Better Farm seems to come full circle, which is at the root of sustainability. “For an action to be sustainable you must be able to perform it indefinitely” (Jensen and McBay). Better Farm’s goals are fully aligned with this idea. During my internship, I have been hyper aware of the life cycle of everything we use, be it old wood planks repurposed into the exterior of a sauna or the compost used in the garden. Modern society has been trained to throw things out and never think about them again, but life begins with death, decomposition, and decay.

Every day at Better Farm was a new adventure, and I’ll miss every person and animal associated with this place (even Kiwi, the obnoxious rooster). I’ll never forget how lucky I was to be in such a beautiful environment. Every evening when I closed the farm stand, I took my time carrying the unsold produce back to the house, because the splendor of the property at sunset never failed to mesmerize me. No cars were on the road, the chickens roamed freely in the yard, and everything basked in a warm glow. This is what life should be like, and I’m so glad I got to experience it.

I’ll be back, Better Farm.

Zucchini Relish!

Best. Relish. Ever.

The zucchini is coming in hot this week in the Better Farm garden, leading to a rainy-day decision to put it to good use and can up some sweet zucchini relish! Based on what we found in the kitchen cabinets, Xuan and I cooked up a fresh batch, forged from two different recipes we found online.

The recipes came from Food.com and Taste of Home sites.  Borrowing some tips from each, here are the steps Xuan and I took to make the (truly, absolutely delicious) relish.


  • 5 c. finely chopped zucchini
  • 2 medium onions
  • 2 Tbs. pickling salt (we used sea salt)
  • 1 ¼ c. granulated sugar
  • ¾ c. apple cider vinegar
  • ¼ tsp. curry powder
  • 1 tsp. celery seed
  • ¼ tsp. black pepper
  • ½ tsp. turmeric
  • 1 tsp. water
  • 2 tsp. cornstarch


Xuan Du chops up some heirloom zucchinis.

  1. Finely chop the zucchini and onions, and add them to a large bowl.
  2. Stir in the salt and let the mixture sit for one hour.
  3. Drain the mixture through a sieve, rinse, and drain again. Press out as much water as possible.
  4. In a large saucepan, combine mix with granulated sugar, cider vinegar, curry powder, celery seed, black pepper and turmeric.
  5. Bring everything to a boil on high heat, then gently boil for about 15 minutes.
  6. Stir blended water and cornstarch into the pot and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring frequently until the relish thickens and clears. 
  7. Transfer the sweet zucchini relish into a hot, sterilized pint Mason jar (heat the jar and lid in the oven for five minutes).
  8. Wipe the jar clean and seal with the still-hot lid and ring.

Braiding Isn't Just For Hair

Native to central Asia, garlic is one of the world’s oldest cultivated plants. Throughout history, it has been cherished in many cultures for its culinary and medicinal uses. The sulfur compounds in garlic are especially beneficial, with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Garlic is also a great source of calcium, copper, manganese, phosphorus, selenium, vitamin B1, vitamin B6, and vitamin C. Its bold, aromatic flavor is guaranteed to transform any meal, and soon, my taste buds will be thanking me, because the garlic from our garden is ready!

Once Mollica and I saw the tops of the bulbs start to emerge, we dug around the sides of the bulbs to loosen them up, avoiding the roots to prevent damage to the garlic.

We brought them to the kitchen and washed off the dirt.

Now onto the fun part—braiding the garlic. Using six at a time, I braided in pairs, starting at the bulbs and making my way down to the ends.

Ever the resourceful person, Mollica attached the braided garlic to a clothes hanger and hung it from the kitchen arch. Once the garlic is dry, I'll try to restrain myself from using it in everything!
For further information about Better Farm's Sustainability Education Program, click here.

Soap-Making for Rainy Days

Have I entered the world of Little House on the Prairie? On a rainy day last week, I decided to make soap. No, I didn't use animal fats—I'm not that hardcore—but I did pick some fresh lemon balm, oregano, and sage from our herb garden to add to the concoction.

chopped herbs

I cut off a piece of soap brick from our handy soap-making kit (Life of the Party: Moisturizing Clear Glycerin Soap) and melted it using a double boiler method (put a glass bowl over a saucepan).

 I added the herbs to bowls...

...and poured the melted soap into them. After they dry, I have the perfect gift for my parents :)

Enrollment Open for Sustainability Education Program this Winter

Photo by Kristen Harker
Better Farm's Sustainability Education Program offers a premier education in organic farming, alternative building, permaculture, and green living—and the program isn't limited to just the summer months.

Winter at Better Farm is a surreal experience: nestled in the foothills of the Adirondacks and just 10 miles from the stunning Thousand Islands along the St. Lawrence Seaway, the natural landscape is wonderful for exploring year-round. Cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, ice fishing, and more are all available to the avid outdoorsmen and women. At the farm, students will study indoor farming methods including hydroponics, aquaponics, vertical gardening, container gardening, and vermiculture. The winter also brings with it the necessity of mapping out the outdoor gardens for the upcoming spring, selecting and ordering seeds, harvesting wood on the property, tending to the flock of Better Farm chickens, and mulching all winter long in the outdoor gardens.

While summertime includes outdoor constructing projects, winter dictates a need for weatherproofing, insulating, and making indoor repairs; as well as calculating heat loss in the home, figuring out clever methods for better energy efficiency that will help to educate students in the future at their own homes and farms. Reading and writing assignments round out the hands-on education; while discussion-based classroom sessions will encourage students to think critically.

Better Farm's Sustainability Education Program runs in one- to three-month intervals. Those attending will receive daily assignments and chores all related to sustainability initiatives and organic farming, as well as the opportunity to design and implement projects on their own. Upon completion of all units and responsibilities, participants will receive a certificate from Better Farm. College students may additionally receive course credit for completion of Better Farm's Sustainability Education Program (pursuant to agreement by that individual's school).

Individuals are immersed from day one in the local culture while working alongside other residents at Better Farm and in the Redwood community. Students are expected to do their share in maintaining the condition of Better Farm as well as its peaceful environment. Those accepted for Better Farm's Sustainability Education Program are expected to work seriously—and to conduct themselves in a manner that aids fellow residents in their endeavors.

Many sustainability specialists visit Better Farm throughout the year to offer mentoring and guidance to students interested in coming here to work and gain valuable experience. Additionally, individuals have the option of taking any workshops and participating in any excursions or field trips scheduled during their time at Better Farm.

Students live on-site and communally on the Better Farm campus in shared rooms. A flat fee of $500/month is required to cover educational fees, supplies, lodging, field trips, wireless Internet, use of the laundry machine, all linens and towels, on-site parking, and use of the communal kitchen (stocked weekly with food).

Email internship@betterfarm.org for application materials, or visit www.betterfarm.org/sustainability-internship. Applicants will be notified of their status within one month of submission.


Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.

Greetings from the new 'Wintern'

Hi everyone, I'm Elena!

I am going to be popping in occasionally to Better Farm as part of my college coursework. I recently graduated from JCC with an Associate’s degree in Animal Management (now called Zoo Technology). I am currently working toward my Bachelor’s in Zoo Program Management from Empire State College while working part-time at the New York State Zoo at Thompson Park in Watertown, NY.  Nicole has been kind enough to teach me a course in sustainability. Since I am not technically a full-time intern, I only get to spend a short amount of time at the farm. But I know that there is still a lot to learn and I am very excited.

I hope to get my hands dirty and learn how to live green, even when the farm is covered in a blanket of white. Since most of the harvesting is coming to an end, I look forward to learning how to preserve food and work on indoor projects like hydroponics and vermiculture.  Personally, I have plenty of experience with animal care but when it comes to plants….well, I’m a little "green". On my first visit to the farm, I helped harvest, dry, and chop herbs. I even decided to try my hand at making my own herb-drying rack at home. I love to be crafty and make my own things whenever I can. I think it turned out pretty well, and I hope to have the finished project and DIY instructions up on the blog soon!

To learn more about Better Farm's education program, visit www.betterfarm.org/sustainability-internship.

Gardens Go Gangbusters!

Better Farm's organic vegetable patch.
After a very cold May, unbelievably wet June, and up-and-down July, the plants at Better Farm enjoyed a lovely August that encouraged abundant growth in the gardens. All the fuss the sustainability students went through to keep the squash bugs at bay, replant pole and bush beans that drowned in record-setting rainfalls, and nurture, mulch, and steward the herb, aquaponic, vegetable, and fruit crops finally paid off with a garden more plentiful, productive, and healthy than ever before.

Now the bounty's in full swing—and if you'd like to get in on all the organic deliciousness of the season, all you have to do is stop in at our farm stand or call ahead to make a custom order for pick-up or delivery. Here's a photo tour of just some of what's growing:

Rainbow Swiss Chard:

Imperial Artichokes:

Beets, Zucchini, String Beans, Cherry Tomatoes, Broccoli:

From left Kale, Cauliflower, Cabbage, Buttercrunch Lettuce, Tomatoes, Zucchinis:

Leeks in foreground, Peppers in background, and at right Asparagus and Arugula:

From left are Pole Beans, Beets, Brussel Sprouts, Cabbage, Broccoli, Kale:
String Beans:

Onions, Heirloom Tomatoes, String Beans, Cherry Tomatoes, Jalapenos, and more:

Rainbow Swiss Chard:

Cherry Tomatoes:


Sugar Baby Watermelons:





Tomatoes, Zucchinis, Kale, String Beans, Sugar Baby Watermelon, and Buttercrunch Lettuce at the Farm Stand:
To schedule a farm tour or make a custom or bulk order, please call (315) 482-2536 or email info@betterfarm.org.

End-of-July Art Show, Poetry Reading, Graduation, and Superlatives

Bob Laisdell acts as keynote speaker at last week's graduation ceremony and art show.
Last week's graduation ceremony and art show celebrated the completed curriculum for Better Farm's Sustainability Education Program students Kara Colarusso, Jacob Firman, and Rebekah Kosier; and showcased the work of betterArts residents Ashley Jones and Bradley Harrison.
Master of Ceremonies was Bob Laisdell, who has an extensive background in farming and volunteered his time throughout the summer as a mentor for the Sustainability Education students. In addition to the distribution of diplomas, presentation of Ashley Jones' paintings, and poetry readings by Bradley Harrison, trophies were given out for superlatives like "Friendliest" and "Best Chef".

Here are photos from the event and after-party (all photos by betterArts' Director of Marketing, Holly Boname):

There is no way to properly thank everyone for making June and July so successful. To learn more about Better Farm's Sustainability Education Program, click here. For more information about betterArts' Residency Program, click here.

Art Show, Poetry Reading, Graduation Ceremonies This Saturday!

"A Mobile Lifestyle", Ashley Jones.
"Toolbox Diptych", Ashley Jones.
Please join us for Better Farm's July commencement ceremonies at 7 p.m. this Saturday, July 27 at Better Farm's Art Barn!

The event, free and open to the public, will feature a gallery showing of paintings by betterArts resident Ashley Jones; poetry reading by betterArts resident Bradley Harrison Smith; and a commencement ceremony for Better Farm's June and July interns Kara Colarusso, Jacob Firman, and Rebekah Kosier. Hors d'ouvres and refreshments will be provided. This is a great opportunity to see (and hear!) locally produced art, meet the cast of characters at Better Farm, and learn more about the programming available right here in Redwood.

About the Artists
Bradley Harrison Smith graduated in May with an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Texas. The Colfax, Iowa, native recently completed his first full-length poetry collection, which is pending publication, and has published a chapbook of poems called "Diorama of a People, Burning" through Ricochet Editions at the University of Southern California. He worked during his residency on new poems he seeks to develop into a second, full-length collection.

Ashley Jones is a visual artist who with a BFA in printmaking from California College of the Arts. She attended Clayworks on Columbia in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Diablo Valley College in Pleasonton, Calif. Her work has been shown extensively at galleries from coast to coast and she has been the recipient of several scholarships and awards for her art. Ashley lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. See more of her work here.

About the Sustainability Students

Kara Colarusso is a graduate of Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Fla., where she majored in environmental studies. Her experience with environmental education through a program called "Edible Peace Patch" and her volunteer work at Eckerd's campus garden prepared her to spend the past month gaining a sustainability education at Better Farm. Kara seeks to pursue her interests in sustainability, as well as become certified as a yoga instructor.

Jacob Firman is a student at Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio, where his focus is on environmental studies. During his time at Better Farm, he became particularly interested in topics he could pay forward when he returns to school in the fall; namely, compost and aquaponics. He also created his own independent study in fermentation; facilitating projects to create sauerkraut and ginger beer, among other fermentation projects. He plans to present proposals at Oberlin to initiate a compost system for food halls on-campus, and install aquaponics systems in on-campus housing.

Rebekah Kosier is a political science student at Wells College in Aurora, N.Y. She grew up in rural Alabama, where she had the opportunity to witness the process of farming and to know many farmers; but sought an education in sustainability at Better Farm in order to connect sustainable farming practices to her interest in food sovereignty. Her goal in college is to learn about ways to transform how people interact with political institutions through the use of food and farming. 

Better Farm's Art Barn is located at 31060 Cottage Hill Road in Redwood, N.Y. For further information, please call (315) 482-2536 or email info@betterfarm.org. To learn more about betterArts' residency program or Better Farm's sustainability education program, follow these links: www.betterarts.org/residencies and www.betterfarm.org/sustainability-internship.


Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.

Making Natural Plant Dyes

Image from TwispWorks.
After recently learning how to identify different types of edible wild plants, I decided to find wild plants that could be used to make natural fabric dyes. One of the main benefits of creating natural dyes is that the process is completely safe and allows you the ability to create your own colors and dye your own fabrics. To begin the process, I took a walk through the woods by the farm and picked a variety of flowers and berries, planning to identify them and determine if they would be suitable for fabric dyes. Although certain plants that are harmful when eaten remain suitable for dyeing, others can cause skin irritations so it is important to have a basic knowledge of the plants you intend to use in the dye. Pioneer Thinking’s website has a great list of different plants, including which colors and shades they make when used for dyeing.

When using plant dyes, you first need to set the fabric that you will be dyeing with a salt fixative. I used ¼ cup of salt because I was only testing the dye on a small piece of fabric, but most instructions recommend ¾ cup of plain salt. Mix the salt with several cups of water and bring to a boil, then submerge your fabric and allow it to simmer for an hour. When the fabric is through, you should rinse it with cold water and ring out. For my dye, I used about 2 cups of red berries I found in the woods, along with a handful of petals from purple clovers and purple loosestrife. If any of the ingredients you are using as dye could be harmful if ingested or irritate skin, use an old pot that you don’t use for cooking anymore when boiling the plants. For the berry and petal mixture, I boiled them for about an hour and then let the berries soak in the water for another half hour before straining them and soaking the cloth in the mixture. The berries and petals created a light pink tint on the cloth I used, although I had hoped it would be darker.