Edible Omaha

LIQUID ASSETS: The Refreshing Flavors of Summer

SUMMER DRINKS The refreshing flavors of summer Hot summer days call for icy, cold drinks. We’ve gathered up some refreshing ideas to celebrate the season using local herbs, fresh fruits and ripe vegetables in your glass. RECIPES Cucumber Lemonade Nojito Strawberry-Basil Lemonade Watermelon Cooler Cilantro and Celery Spritzer Raspberry-Lemon Iced Tea LOCAL IN THE GLASS Freeze … Read moreLIQUID ASSETS: The Refreshing Flavors of Summer

Hungry to Learn

farm
How Agritourism
Can Lead to Agri-Education
By Matt Low Photography by Stephanie Nahas

In places like Miami, San Diego and New York City, tourism is ingrained into the culture. In the Midwest, appealing to tourists outside (and even within) the region sometimes requires exploring nontraditional tourism venues.

One area of tourism burgeoning rapidly in Nebraska and surrounding states is agritourism, which is visiting local farms to do everything from rummage through a pumpkin patch, going on a hayrack ride or sampling wines made from locally grown grapes. According to Shannon Peterson with the State of Nebraska’s Department of Economic Development’s Travel and Tourism Division, “Nebraska is actively pursuing, promoting and encouraging agritourism across the state,” and even has an agritourism development consultant on staff.

Agritourism serves a number of purposes for both the farmer and the community. The farmer is given the opportunity to bring consumers directly to the farm, and those consumers may then pick or purchase fruits, veggies, eggs and other produce right from the source. Going on hayrack rides or walking through corn mazes is a family friendly way to spend time outdoors and appreciate the countryside. These activities can also be an added source of income for farmers before or after the busy planting and harvest seasons. Rural communities benefit from bringing in visitors from surrounding cities, not just to nearby farms but also to small, locally owned shops and restaurants that (hopefully) still remain in town centers.

Increasing demand for farmers markets and community supported agriculture (CSA) in recent years suggests a strong desire to reestablish connections to local agriculture beyond the more familiar activities associated with agritourism. There are a growing number of people who want to do more than visit a local farm for a day of fun and recreation; instead, what more and more people seem to be craving is agri-education. While there is certainly nothing wrong with breathing the fresh farm air, snapping a few photos and going home with fresh produce, for those willing to dig a little deeper, agri-education can lead to an even richer experience.

How long does it take to grow beets? Where do blackberries come from? What does a free-range chicken look like? These are all questions that those who have lost touch with basic agricultural life—even those, like myself, who are just one generation removed from a family farm—may not know the answers to. Luckily, there are a growing number of farmers in the area who welcome members of the local community to visit their farms. These farmers provide opportunities to learn the basics, to see firsthand the real work of agriculture and the processes of getting food from farm-to-table, and maybe even offer you the chance to do a little planting (or weeding) if you are so inclined.

A recent visit to three farms in the Omaha and Lincoln area exhibited the potential that this sort of agritourism has to offer.  Common Good Farm in Raymond (just north of Lincoln), Black Sheep Farms in Bennington and Bryan Family Farm near Fort Calhoun all adhere to similar growing practices and agricultural philosophies—namely, growing food organically, paying attention to things like soil health and biodiversity and keeping our local “food shed” as safe and vibrant as possible. All are eager to impart the knowledge gained and lessons learned through years of experience to anyone who would like to come out for a visit.

Ruth Chantry and Evrett Lunquist of Common Good Farm have been bringing people onto their farm for more than a decade, and seem to have a good sense of what people are looking for when they make the trip. The farm is certified organic and biodynamic, one of only a handful in the whole country to hold both designations.  Biodynamic farms take additional measures to ensure that the work of farming has little or no negative impacts on the environment, largely by making the farm self-sustaining—things like seeds, feed and fertilizer all come from the farm itself. It’s worth a visit to Common Good Farm just to hear what Ruth and Evrett can teach you about growing food responsibly and with the whole health of the land in mind.

Local school children who visit Common Good Farm are especially interested in seeing the livestock—hogs and chickens in particular—that are kept as a food source for the farmers and CSA members, as well as contributors to the farm’s biodynamic system. In the late spring, a birding workshop is held on the farm to promote the importance of responsible farming, as well as larger concerns of biodiversity and conservation. These events, along with annual plant sales, open the farm up to visitors throughout the growing season and provide ample opportunities to see unique, thoughtful agricultural practice in action. After more than a decade of making ecological and health-focused farming accessible to visitors of all ages and walks of life, it is comforting to know that Ruth and Evrett extend the role of “surrogate farmer” to residents of eastern Nebraska looking to reconnect with a less industrialized form of agriculture.

At Black Sheep Farms, a special emphasis is placed on volunteering, including a recommended 10 hours per season for their CSA members. The volunteering fosters a closer connection between the food we eat and the real, often challenging work that goes into growing it. The farm itself is located on a beautiful property that has a deep history of organic and biodynamic farming going back nearly half a century. This will be the fifth growing season on the property for Kelly and Brian Smith, and they are fully invested in sustaining a healthy local foodshed by growing heirloom varieties and practicing chemical-free agriculture.

While Black Sheep Farms has established a strong reputation for its excellent CSA—and for being a local food source for the Grey Plume restaurant in Midtown Omaha—Kelly and Brian hope to reach our local food community in a number of ways: by opening the farm up for individual or group tours, by hosting a Chicken Academy for those interested in raising their own feathery friends and by speaking throughout the region on food-related topics.

Eventually, their goal is to have a facility on site for the purpose of holding classes on seed saving and growing flowers, an expanded Chicken Academy and to impart any other knowledge they have gained in starting Black Sheep Farms from the ground up. Given

Kelly’s background in education, it should come as no surprise that farming and teaching go hand-in-hand. For those of us who still have a lot to learn about the practice (and art) of growing food responsibly, we’re fortunate that such a willing and experienced resource exists in our community.

A visit to the Bryan Family Farm allows participants to get a good sense of how small farms get their start and to see firsthand the potential of agritourism in the region. The experience at the farm exemplifies the appeal of living simply and, as Sarah Bryan says, “the joy and peace of getting one’s hands dirty.” Currently focused on growing blackberries and black raspberries, this farm is nestled among timber in a well-shaded valley that also offers beautiful scenery and more opportunities for bird enthusiasts.  Sarah and David Bryan both grew up in the Fort Calhoun area, and after spending some time in urban locales like Brooklyn, New York, and Washington, D.C., know firsthand the benefits of living in direct contact with the land. As with Common Good Farm and Black Sheep Farms, a visitor to Bryan Family Farm will experience an eagerness to pass along the joys and challenges of starting a chemical- and pesticide-free farm.

In addition to its thriving berry plants, Bryan Family Farm is in the process of growing the size, scale and scope of its operations and offerings. Future plans for the farm include an ecologically-friendly chicken coop, a wood-fired bread oven and opportunities for area students to gain firsthand agricultural experience. Berry farms also lend themselves to family friendly activities like picking fruit straight from the tree or bush, and the farm will soon have room to accommodate these and other traditional forms of agritourism.  Right now, however, this farm might appeal most to those who desire to see a place still very much enmeshed in the land, working with—not against—its surroundings to produce healthy, sustainable food.

All three of these farms have unique lessons to teach and activities to offer, and all three are at different stages in the development and size of their operations. Yet together they represent a new wave of agritourism in Nebraska and the Midwest that is leading the local community forward, by reconnecting people to the land and by pointing the way toward smarter agriculture.

If You Go:

Common Good Farm

Just north of Lincoln in Raymond, NE

Email: farmers@commongoodfarm.com

Website: www.CommonGoodFarm.com

Black Sheep Farms

Just northwest of Omaha in Bennington, NE

Email: farm@blacksheepfarms.com

Website: www.BlackSheepFarms.com

Bryan Family Farm

Just north of Omaha in Fort Calhoun, NE

Email: bryanfamilyfarm@gmail.com

402.533.4464

Matt Low enjoys exploring local food and agriculture throughout the Midwest with his wife and family, including his sister-in-law photographer Stephanie Nahas. Matt and Stephanie first encountered Edible Communities in Iowa City, Iowa, (Edible Iowa River Valley) and Austin, Texas (Edible Austin); both are thrilled to be able to contribute to the Edible family as part of Edible Omaha.

Read moreHungry to Learn

PUTTING DOWN ROOTS

farm_girl
Fifth-Generation Farmer
Feeds Her Corner of the World
By Summer Miller
PHOTOGRAPHY by Alison Bickel

So many moments in life teeter on the outcome of a game of tug of war. Which moment, opportunity or experience is explored depends entirely on whom, or in this case, what, has a stronger pull.

For Danelle Myer, returning to Logan, Iowa, and the land her father farms was inevitable. It is her life’s work, and everything that came before simply led her to this point. Doing it nearly a decade after her divorce and giving up a career, financial stability, health insurance, a home in Benson and an urban lifestyle to start One Farm required a leap of faith and a whole lot of courage.

Sitting at a grey, iron table in the backyard of the Benson bungalow she now rents out, Danelle absent mindedly picks up segments of her long brown hair and twists them between her index finger and thumb.

“This house,” she said, releasing her hair, tapping her hands on the table and smiling, “this is my, ‘I am woman hear me roar house.’ I had been divorced for a few years and I knew as soon as we sold our house, I wanted another one. This is where I learned how to be a gardener. This is where I started to take out grass and put in plants.  In many ways, this house reflects who I have become.”

The journey from a Benson urban-dweller to a Logan, Iowa, farmer was a slow, introspective process. During a self-described pity party at age 37, it occurred to Danelle that being single and childless provided freedom that meant she could have any kind of life she wanted—including the life of a tractor-driving, country marketselling organic farmer.

The first glimpse of how this new life might come to fruition came to her while planning a vacation to California, where she stumbled across a six-month apprenticeship in agroecology at the University of California at Santa Cruz within its Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS).

“When I saw it, I just started crying and I said, ‘This is what I need.’ It felt,” she paused for a second to find the right word, “fateful. This is what I need to do. This is what I’ve been looking for.”

The CASFS is one of the most well-respected programs in the United States. From the earliest stages of development in the late ‘60s, those who guided the program looked at ways to research, develop and promote agricultural practices that were “environmentally sensible, economically feasible and socially responsible.” This multipronged approach considers not just growing food, but the toll growing food can have on the well-being of people and the environment.

She applied for the UC Santa Cruz program in October 2009, figuring it would give her enough time to save money, rent her bungalow and transition from her desk job as the director of marketing for Lauritzen Gardens to whatever was next. As crisp fall days shifted to cold winter months, Danelle finally learned her fate in January 2010. She was not admitted. Considering how destined it all felt, being denied was disappointing but not devastating. She was still committed to becoming an organic farmer; she just had to take another route. At least that’s what she thought.

“In March 2010, I get a call from UC Santa Cruz with someone saying, ‘Can you be here in three weeks?’ I’m 38 years old. I have a mortgage, and I’m thinking how do I transition in such a short time? I called my mom and said, ‘What do I do?’ She said, ‘You go!  You go, that’s what you do. You go.’”

That night Danelle’s parents drove to Omaha to sit in the very Benson backyard where I was interviewing her. Looking out over her garden, they discussed what this opportunity might mean and how it might change the course of her life.

“My dad, the conventional corn and soybean farmer, said, ‘This is your one chance. You have to do this.’ So in three weeks I packed up this house and stored everything in the basement, found a renter, went to the doctor for everything I could think of because I was going off of health insurance, and loaded up my two-door Honda Civic with everything I thought I would need for six months and drove west.”

First Day of School

“I remember pulling into the farm in California scared to death,” she said, twisting her hair and looking back at the dead spot in the yard that was once her garden and remains her turning point. “I felt like the biggest geek in junior high. I was just this backyard gardener who didn’t know what she was doing. All of these other people had already been doing sustainable ag work, farming, social activism and I was like, ‘Hi, I’m an Iowa farm girl and want to be an organic gardener.’”

Feeling awkward at the outset quickly transformed into a deeper confidence about her purpose. Never mind that she didn’t have health insurance or even a job to return to, she was going to farm and she was moving back to her hometown to do it. With each new lesson on cover crops, crop rotation and compost, Danelle’s knowledge on the science of agriculture grew, rooting her belief of its value to her community completely.  During the program, Danelle developed marketing plans, had business meetings with her parents and wrote in her journal about what the whole process meant to her. So much of what she is doing today has to do with her family’s land. She could’ve continued her life in Benson and rented the farmland, but instead she returned home.

“I’m part of something that I was born into,” she said. “How lucky is that?” Danelle is not alone in her desire to farm. According to the most recent agriculture census data, just over 30%—more than 1 million—United States farm operators are women. This represents a 19% increase from 2002 numbers.

Also according to the census, while men dominate cattle, grain, commodity crops and overall farm size, women-operated farms dominate in vegetable, fruit, nut, poultry, egg, sheep, goat and general horticulture production.  Still, Iowa and Nebraska are in the bottom four states for female-operated farms. While Danelle is happy to be an addition to the number of female farmers, her real intention is to feed her community healthy, local and sustainably grown food. She started One Farm on about four acres of land her father had set aside for her.

Although she and her father farm differently—he conventionally, she sustainably—she said they don’t argue about food philosophies or who drives the moral high ground in the farming world.

“The truth is I wouldn’t be doing what I am doing if my family hadn’t been doing what they’ve been doing,” she said. “So I can’t be critical of the past. I just have to focus on my future and doing things in a way I believe in doing them. We all have the same intention. We all want to grow food. My dad feels like he is feeding the world. I feel like I am feeding my corner of the world. If I’m critical of anything I’m critical of the system,” she said.

One Farm

During her time at UC Santa Cruz, a friend contacted her about a possible job. It was part-time, food-related and flexible. It met all of her requirements. Before leaving California, her role as the marketing director for the Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition in Omaha was set in stone, and she had a small income to underwrite her farming business.

After staying in state parks on her return trip to the Great Plains, she moved into her parents’ basement, where she turned 40 and experienced her first year of farming. When she started, she didn’t even know if her community wanted locally grown, chemical-free produce.

“The first couple of months I was home, I kept hearing the same thing, ‘That’s a lot of work.’ And I would say, ‘Yeah, it is,” she recalled, pausing to reflect, “but there’s something to be said for having roots. I’m a fifth-generation farmer.”

Perhaps those roots are why she is selling more than she expected even this early in the year. People are finding her and thanking her for growing food for them in this way.

She would never deny that the past two years have been the most difficult in her life, both mentally and physically. She has used her body in ways she had never used it before, trusted her gut in ways that required tremendous faith and set out on her own to learn something from scratch. Even still, she never once felt like she shouldn’t be toiling in the soil by day and selling the fruits of her labor during quiet evening hours at the local farmers market.

“Planting peppers last May, I was on my knees facing west in the morning. I looked out over the valley and it was all rolling hills,” she shared. “I literally thought, ‘Oh, my God I’m doing it. I’m a farmer’ and I got a little teary.”

Where to find One Farm

Logan, Iowa

Website: One-Farm.com

Email: onefarmer@one-farm.com

Follow on Facebook

Where to find the food

You can purchase food from One Farm at LocalDirt.com/ OneFarm or visit Danelle through October 18 every Thursday evening from 3:30pm–6pm at the Harrison County Welcome Center Farmer’s Market between Missouri Valley and Logan, IowaDanelle offers Thanksgiving boxes for those interested in having a local feast for the holiday of gratitude. Boxes will likely contain dried and fresh herbs, storage onions, bunching onions, red and sweet potatoes, winter squash, pie pumpkins, one Long Island Cheese Pumpkin, braising greens, kale, Swiss chard, mustard greens, spinach, bok choy, beets, turnips and mulberry jam. Cost per box is $50 and must be preordered by October 1.

 

Summer Miller is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in Every Day with Rachel Ray, Eating Well, AAA Living, The Reader and more websites than room to note. She lives with her husband and two children in Elkhorn, Nebraska, where she spends most of her time thinking and writing about food. You can contact her at miller.summer@gmail.com.

Read morePUTTING DOWN ROOTS

NEIGHBORHOOD DIRT: Friendships and Valuable Lessons

teen_market

Friendship and Valuable Lessons
Teens Thrive in the Garden
Story and Photography by Mike Brownlee

On a warm spring evening, Ana Carlson indiscriminately picks at weeds in her plot at the Teen Market Garden in Omaha. With fickle determination, she casts aside unwelcome guests from her rows of ornamental flowers. Despite the arduous task, she can’t help but flash her big smile. “This is the most pleasant environment imaginable,” she said.

Ana is one of four members—along with her sister Elena and siblings Emma and Maureen Kalkowski-Farrand—of the Teen Market Garden, an entrepreneurial program that teaches teenagers about gardening as well as business. Founded in 2009, the program is an offshoot of the Gifford Park Community Garden and the Gifford Park Youth Garden, both located near 35th and Cass streets in Omaha. The Gifford Park Teen Market Garden takes up about an eighth of an acre at 3208 Cottage Grove Avenue. Along with the plots, the area features three compost tumblers, a shed, water drums and a fire pit for monthly hotdog cookouts.

The program is the brainchild of Cynthia Shuck and Kate Bodmann. The neighbors were part of the community garden and youth garden—Kate started the children’s program in 2004—and thought a next step was necessary. “We needed something for the kids to graduate to,” Kate said.

Cynthia continued, “We wanted to figure out a way to engage teenagers in a productive way.” Kate became pregnant shortly after launching the teen garden and has taken a lesser role with the program. Cynthia now runs the program with her boyfriend, John Barna, as assistant director. “These kids are worth the investment,” Cynthia said. “So I donate my time.”

Within the group, the teens have paired up: Ana partners with Maureen, while Elena and Emma work together. The later pair grows vegetables, and their plots feature onions, carrots, lettuce, tomatoes, peas, beans and radishes. Maureen grows herbs, while Ana raises ornamental flowers including strawflowers, zinnias and white daisies.

Long before flowers bloom and vegetables sprout, the group meets weekly in February to devise a business plan that includes projections of costs, expected profits of their crop, marketing and market research. They discuss what they’ll grow and where they’ll sell their produce. Each must present ideas and concerns in front of the group, creating dialogues on how to run the business. Cynthia, cofounder and director of the program, goes with the teens to area grocery stores to, “find out who the competition is; what they’re selling.”

Both sets of sisters have participated in the Teen Market Garden since the beginning. The four were part of the youth garden and said they excitedly moved on to the next challenge. “The small business aspect sounded like something that’d be a good idea to learn about,” 18-year-old Ana said. “I’ve always liked gardening, and I thought it’d be nice to have a plot of my own.”

Her sister agreed. “I wanted to become more independent with our gardening,” Elena, 16, said. “I wanted the opportunity to learn for myself—have some say in what I plant and what I do with it.”

Come early May, seeds are in the ground and from there, “it’s just weeding, watering and picking vegetables and flowers,” Cynthia said. “And then, later on, going to the market.” During the season Ana, Elena, Maureen and Emma, along with Cynthia and John, stop by the plots for an hour and a half most Tuesdays and Thursdays to work in the garden. They water their plots almost every day. The Teen Market Garden selections are ripe by August or September. The last two years they’ve been at the Saturday Midtown Crossing farmers market, but plan to move to Wohlner’s Midweek Market on Wednesdays in Midtown this year.

In their time with the garden, the four girls said they’ve learned a number of valuable lessons. Documenting goals—writing something down—is a must. Business partners have to communicate. The more time spent plying a trade, the better the outcome. “The more work you put in the better it’ll come out,” Ana said, discussing the hours spent pulling weeds, laying mulch and examining the business plan. She’s also learned, “If you put 50 tomatoes in one plot it won’t turn out well.” Ana flashes that big smile and laughs—she found that out firsthand in 2009. Elena has developed social skills in her work at farmers markets. At their booth, each girl must interact with people, making the pitch that their products are desirable.

Emma, 15, pointed to the benefits of financial literacy, weighing the cost of an improvement against the expected revenue from their product. “And I’ve learned gardening is a lot more work than it appears to be,” she said. Kate said the entrepreneurial work gives the teens resources that will benefit them for years to come. “This isn’t just something that kills their time but teaches them a skill,” she said.

“We hope this is a program that can affect life change now and in the future.”

The Carlsons will be gone next year off to college. Maureen, 17, will be a senior at Central High School in the fall and likely has just one more year left at the garden.

Cynthia and John agreed they had hoped the program would have a few more kids by now, but they continue to recruit and hope to attract more teenagers to the garden. Until then, Ana continues to pluck weeds with her friends. The sister pairs have known each other for a decade.

“As we got older, it became harder to see each other because of schedules,” Maureen said. “But now we have a regular time to see them every week. We can talk and catch up while we work. And when you’re out there weeding on a 100°day, it’s nice to have your friends out there with you.”

Despite those warm summer days and the sometimes difficult work, the friends agreed the end result makes the work worth it. “It’s a really nice feeling to look over your plot and see the plants living, thriving and know it’s because you took care of them,” Maureen said. “The best thing is, after working so hard, to see the garden flourishing,” Ana added. “It looks so beautiful.”

Mike Brownlee is an award-winning reporter for The Daily Nonpareil in Council Bluffs, Iowa. He and his wife are growing bell peppers this year, their first foray into gardening. Wish them luck.

Info

Find the Teen Market Garden on Wednesdays 4pm–7pm at Wohlner’s Midweek Market and Fridays 4pm–8pm at the Gifford Park Neighborhood Market.

To volunteer or donate, contact Cynthia Shuck at 402.980.4190 or Dalilabush@cox.net

To learn more join Teen Market Garden on Facebook

Read moreNEIGHBORHOOD DIRT: Friendships and Valuable Lessons

GROUND CHERRY PIE

Serving 12

1 recipe of your favorite double crust pie dough

4 cups ground cherries, husked

½ cup granulated sugar

2 teaspoons instant tapioca

2 tablespoons flour

Juice of a lemon

2 tablespoons butter

Preheat the oven to 450°.

Line a 9-inch pie plate with pastry and set aside. In a medium bowl, mix ground cherries, sugar, tapioca, flour and lemon. Pour into pie plate and dot with butter.

Cover with pie crust.

Decorate with pie scraps and cut steam vents.

Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350° and continue to bake for 40 minutes or until golden brown. Cool before cutting.

Variation:

Raspberries are a good match for ground cherries, and

2 cups of raspberries can be substituted for 2 cups ground cherries.

From

Harmony Valley Farm

Read moreGROUND CHERRY PIE

NATIVE EDIBLES: A Misunderstood Neighbor

ground_cherry
A Misunderstood Neighbor
The Ground Cherry
By Liz Granger

If a weed is a plant out of place, Physalis specializes in making new homes for itself, wanted or unwanted. Older Nebraskans recall ripping the vines from their fields, where they choked the soybeans or fouled the combine head or from gardens where they strangled the day lilies. These veiny husked globes spelled trouble.

Physalis suffers the ill repute of a vagabond, as the plant can flourish practically anywhere. Go north toCanada, south toSouth Africaor east toAustralia. Across the globe, behold: Physalis. In all of the counties ofNebraska, behold.

There are more than 70 varieties of Physalis worldwide, and many species are commonly called ground cherries. There’s Physalis philadelphica, Physalis missouriensis and Physalis peruviana. There’s Strawberry, Dwarf, Thicket, Chihuahuan, Broad-leaved, Clammy, Coastal, Cypress-headed, Carpenter’s, Southwestern, Pygmy and Love-in-a-cage.

In University of Nebraska-Lincoln textbooks, readers find Physalis. Two species weaseled themselves into the Weeds of theGreat Plains, which is an authority on the notably adaptable. According to The Flora of Nebraska, hederifolia, heterophylla, hisipida, longifolia, missouriensis, pumila and virginiana all grow here.

If my litany suggests a pest, I urge you to peel back the papery husk of an edible variety like longifolia or pruinosa. Bite into this golden relative of the tomatillo, this berry thing, and taste its jammy insides—the nutty watermelon, the mellow sugar, the dulcet vinegar finish. The Boiler Room’s Chef Paul Kulik describes the fruit’s “vegetal sweetness and overlaying gooseberry-like acidity.” I urge you to taste a ground cherry, slowly, and remember those flavors the next time that somebody calls this plant a weed.

Ground cherry: enter the cloak that this fruit will likely wear to your next gathering. You two may mingle over savory charcuterie at the Grey Plume, where Chef Clayton Chapman pickles them in George Paul Vinegar Lacrosse Balsamic. At the Boiler Room, Chef Kulik may roast them alongside tarragon and pine nuts, finishing them with a sweep of saba.

Ground cherries invite androgyny: They do sweet; they do savory. Native Americans turned ground cherries into a relish. A Native American Zuni recipe combines them with onions, chili paste and coriander. TheOmahaand other tribes enjoyed them fresh. Homesteaders preferred them with sugar. In sod homes and log cabins, pioneer ladies made ground cherry pie and ground cherry jam.

In O Pioneers!, Willa Cather’s Mrs. Bergson “made a yellow jam of the insipid ground cherries that grew on the prairie, flavoring it with lemon peel.” My jam isn’t your jam, and perhaps Mrs. Bergson found ground cherries “insipid” because she pined for the cultivated stone fruits of some longitude back east.

“If you think about the early settlers, fruits like apples, pears and cherries weren’t readily producing right away,” said Kathleen Cue, horticulture associate at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension Office. “With many plants, you have at least five years invested before they’re producing fruit.” In one season, ground cherries morph from seed to food—too easy, perhaps, for Mrs.  Bergson to esteem.

This ease renders ground cherries perfect for home gardens. Treat them like a tomato plant, and start the seeds indoors about six weeks before the last frost. Then transition them outside to full sun.

Certain care websites call for moist or dry soil, full sun or mottled shade, but remember, Physalis isn’t finicky. Ground cherries grow annually inNebraska, though they do reseed themselves. Next year, gardeners may find some unexpected Physalis sprouting up around their yards.

Most varieties are known for their sweet, calyx-encased fruits and spreading vines, though the edibility of some plant varieties is debatable. Ground cherries are nightshades like bell peppers, tomatoes, potatoes and eggplant. The unripe fruits of the well-known, orange-husked Chinese Lantern plant are reportedly poisonous when eaten in quantity. Sources concur that the leaves, stems and husks of Physalis should not be eaten because of the presence of solanine, a poison found in some nightshade species.

Bryan Kliewer of Squeaky Green Organics loves to use ground cherries in his edible landscaping. The fruits are easy to collect because they fall toward earth when they’re ripe. All people need to do is “sweep their arms underneath the plant to harvest,”Bryansaid. No need for machines, thoughBryandoes suggest rain gear. Rain can degrade the husks of fallen ground cherries, so “in a perfect world, you put a little umbrella over each one,”Bryanchuckled. Although ground cherries last for many weeks in their natural wrappers, if the fruits get wet, gardeners should be sure to unhusk them before storing their bounty in the fridge.

Squeaky Green Organics is selling ground cherries at its farmers market booth this year, as is Rhizosphere Farm. Beth Matson at Honey Creek Farm sells to Wohlner’s Grocery and at the farm’s new website, NeverEndingHarvest.com. The staff at Shadow Brook Farm reports that they grew ground cherries a year or two ago but never brought the plant for public sale because there wasn’t much interest from the public. Carl Glanzman of Nishnabotna Naturals says that he has never grown ground cherries, but that he was asked to for the first time last year. None of the greenhouses that I spoke to—including Mulhall’s—offer seeds or starts at this time.

Interested gardeners can reach out to Seed Savers Exchange, a nonprofit that dedicates itself to the preservation and sharing of heirloom seeds. Last year, Seed Savers Exchange introduced Aunt Molly’s—Physalis pruinosa—a ground cherry variety in its catalog.

There are simple things you can do with ground cherries: saute in butter with garlic and basil to accompany poultry; dip into chocolate fondue; chop into salsa; or include in fruit salads, breads or muffins.

As home cooks learn to work with this ingredient and as gardeners learn to harness this plant’s adaptability, ground cherries will grow in popularity as an easy, tasty, local ingredient. Next season, reward ground cherries’ hardiness with a spot in your garden and this season, reward yourself with a spot for them on your plate.

RECIPE

GROUND CHERRY PIE

Liz Granger is a Chicago-based freelancer who swears that ground cherries followed her from Nebraska to Québec to Uganda.

Read moreNATIVE EDIBLES: A Misunderstood Neighbor

GRILLED BROCCOLI OR CAULIFLOWER

Serving 4−6

1 bunch broccoli, washed and cut into florets or

1 head cauliflower, washed and cut into florets

1–2 tablespoons olive oil

Kosher salt

Seasonal herbs

Preheat grill to medium heat. Place broccoli or cauliflower florets in large bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and spices. Mix until coated.  Place in a grilling basket and grill to desired tenderness—approximately 5−15 minutes—stirring often. Remove from heat and serve immediately.

From Amy S. Brown

Read moreGRILLED BROCCOLI OR CAULIFLOWER

TOMATO SALAD

Serving 4

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon plus ⅛ teaspoon kosher salt, divided
⅛ teaspoon plus dash fresh pepper, divided
¼ cup diced red onion
4 medium tomatoes, sliced
¼ cup fresh basil leaves, sliced
8 kalamata olives, sliced (optional)

Combine olive oil, ½ teaspoon salt and ⅛ teaspoon pepper in a medium bowl. Add onions and marinate for 10−15 minutes. Meanwhile, layer the tomato slices on a serving plate. Pour the marinade over the top of tomatoes and sprinkle with additional salt and pepper. Top with fresh basil and sliced olives, if desired. — From Julie Kolpin

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MEDITERRANEAN CUCUMBER SALAD

Serving 4

½  small red onion, thinly sliced

1 clove garlic, minced

1 cucumber, seeded and sliced

1 tomato, diced

1 red or green bell pepper, sliced

6 kalamata olives, pitted and chopped

1 tablespoon feta cheese

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Dash sea salt

Dash black pepper

Fresh dill

Combine onion, garlic, cucumber, tomato, pepper and olives. Fold in cheese. Sprinkle with lemon juice and seasonings. Stir lightly. Top with dill and serve immediately. —From Julie Kolpin

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