08 September 2008

exploring, gathering

With no immediate intentions other than eating our lunch, my bf and I went to Prospect Park yesterday afternoon. The weather was amazing -- sunny but not too hot, perfectly comfortable in the shade -- it was like the storm of Saturday hadn't happened.

After polishing off some rigatoni (with heirloom tomatoes, goat gouda, basil, chives, and fresh chili pepper, yum!) we sat for a bit. We noticed an unusual amount of little children in the park, as if the rain had sprouted them like mushrooms out of the ground. We watched as dogs pranced by, commenting on their coats and gaits, and guessing their breeds, one of our favorite past times.

Then we got up and went over to dog beach for some more canine commentary. Despite recent reports of contamination by rat excrement (more here and here), the little section of the pond that's cordoned off for doggy frolicking was jam packed with puppies.

[Image: Lane Johnson, AM New York]

Aside from the pups, some rose hips poking out from behind a fence caught our attention. Knowing exactly what they were by their leaves, thorns, and telltale fuzzy tops, we picked a bunch.

[The rosehips we picked]

This little discovery-in-plain-sight sparked my newfound fire for finding wild edibles. So we headed into "the woods." Right on cue, as we passed to the right of the pond, we saw a cute little rat feasting on some hawthorne or some other apple-like fruit. Another passerby labeled him "local fauna."

We took a trail we usually don't go down, towards the Center Drive and Nethermead. We walked along the drive, to the southwest, eyes peeled to the ground. Burdock, pokeweed (poisonous at this time of year), jewelweed, and goldenrod -- we identified them and walked on by. Along the drive is a bridle path, and we ended up walking in it (paying heed to horsey landmines). Then we spotted a seemingly less traveled mulch- and leaf-covered path. As close as we were to the road (which generally isn't open to car traffic), I felt strangely transported. It was so serene, apart from the rustling of leaves by robins, squirrels, and a couple of speedy chipmunks.

To the right of this path ran a chainlink fence which I didn't think much of until we came across this sign (on the other side of the fence):

[Image: Noelle D'Arrigo, Brooklyn Paper]

I thought I remembered hearing about a cemetery in the park where Montgomery Clift was buried. For some odd reason, I forgot about this fascinating info. The Quaker Friends Cemetery isn't open to the public, except on rare special occasions or on volunteer clean-up days. But I just love knowing it's there, the little bit of it we could see from the trail. (Learn more about the cemetery.)

[Image: Rikomatic]

We continued up the trail, now heading north-northwest. Caught another view of the cemetery (though not as revealing as the one above) and continued on.

At the bottom of the trail we collected spicebush berries, more to add to last week's collection which have been drying on the countertop (I just put the dried ones in the fridge).

[Fresh vs week-old picked spicebush berries]

Under the spicebush we saw what at first we thought were potatoes, then pears. After further inspection we realized they were some kind of nut. We looked up and realized that high up in the trees there were many more (Please don't fall on my head!). After an inquiry to my go-to foraging expert, Leda Meredith, I learned these were probably horse chestnuts, and therefore not edible.

[Most likely poisonous horse chestnuts]

At this point we were by the baseball fields, behind a big pile of mulch. We walked back to more familiar territory and found some more tree nuts, this time (potentially) edible ones, black walnut.

[Hopefully black walnut... gotta crack it open to find out]

I've lived here for over 5 years and have been to this park countless times, yet there are still new things to discover. (I'm sure the woman who writes A Year in the Park would whole-heartedly agree.) I just have to remember to take a step off the usual path to find them.

world of good (shopping)

When I spend my hard-earned dough I'd like to know where it's going. Who is it benefiting (or harming)? What kinds of resources were used? Is it really worth the price (in terms of labor, effort, materials, etc)?

So in recent years, I've become really selective about where I shop. As I've said before, I avoid the big box and big name retailers (whenever possible) in favor of local, indie biz. Think Etsy vs Banana Republic, eBay vs Crate and Barrel. Of course there are times when it's really difficult to completely ignore the big boys, like when you need a paper towel holder or new toilet seat.

Thankfully it's getting easier and easier to find alternative sources for goods. Like the new responsible marketplace by eBay, World of Good. They've got a pretty big range of fair trade and/or eco-friendly stuff, from clothing and jewelry to furniture and toys. What's really great is that they break it down in terms of the impact your purchase has. They call this a Goodprint and these are the categories: people positive, eco positive, animal friendly, and supports a cause.

It's feel-good shopping, certified by third parties with their Trustology verification system. Many of their verifiers and sellers have been in the fair trade game for years, including Co-op America and Ten Thousand Villages.

Here's a random selection of fun things you can get from World of Good:

PeaceKeeper Nail Polish
Proceeds go to people positive charities

Telephone Wire Bracelet
Eco-friendly repurposed wire, benefits South African artisans

Baby Llama Toy
Benefits Peruvian artisans, made with energy conservation in mind

Where does your hard-earned dough go?

feel-good farming

EcoSalon reports on sustainable family-run farms, specifically 3rd generation Tramar Farms in Iowa.

They clearly state that they are stewards of the land (and they intend to leave it better than they found it) and that their animals are to be raised ethically and humanely, with access to fresh air, green grass and clean water.

Contrast that to a typical factory farm, which treat animals like
unfeeling meat-producing machines, routinely use chemicals and cruelty, and leave the surrounding lands destroyed by huge polluting pools of manure.

It may cost a little more to get your meat, milk and eggs from a healthy family farm, but you are what you eat, and your money supports whatever you spend it on. What’s it worth to you?

I couldn't have said it better myself.