Cascadian Farm Organic Goodness



Why do you grow organic?

It makes me feel good! I love to eat, and organic foods not only taste better, but they're better for you. They contain more nutrients and knowing that they've been grown without chemicals that are harmful to me and the environment makes me feel like I'm doing my part.

What is your best organic tip?

Read labels! Many products claim to be organic or "all natural" when they're not. Look for the USDA Organic label to be sure. Oh, and you don't have to go all organic or not at all - small changes make a big difference.

What is your favorite book on organics?

"Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver. Her family's goal to live off of only what they could grow on their small organic farm (or purchase locally from neighboring farmers) inspired me to start an organic garden and try to live a more sustainable lifestyle.

What is your favorite quote?

"One's philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes... and the choices we make are ultimately our responsibility." ~Eleanor Roosevelt

If you had to decide, what would you be: animal, plant, or mineral?

Animal - I enjoy growing and eating plants way too much to be one!

Now is the perfect time to start planning for your garden. And I love planning. Seriously! It may be my background as an interior designer or just my (sometimes obsessive) desire to organize all the thoughts in my head, but creating a plan is fun for me. It can be for you too! The first step is to create an exciting concept for your garden that is uniquely yours – try these steps to get started.

  • Find Inspiration

Look through home and garden magazines and blogs; tour and photograph botanical / community gardens. Notice what draws you to a particular garden. Is it the color, the layout? Try to incorporate these things in your garden plan.

  • Consider a theme

Do you love Italian cooking? Why not design a garden full of Italian herbs, tomatoes, and peppers? Love to be surrounded by bold color? How about a cutting flower garden featuring yellow, orange and red flowers to fill your home?

  • Focus on what’s important to you

Conserve water using drought tolerant plants and rock. Create a butterfly and humming bird sanctuary with feeders and fragrant flowers. Create a resting spot in your garden to read, rest and reflect. I love the idea of having an outdoor dining spot in the middle of the garden – being surrounded by food growing as we eat!

  • Sketch up a garden plan

To create a rough blueprint of your garden first measure the area you want to plant. Determine the approximate size and spacing necessary for the plants you want to grow. Then draw out the area on graph paper or using drafting software. (This one on Better Homes and Garden is free and easy to use). This will help ensure you have room for everything you want and allow you to make any necessary changes before you start digging.


Photo by MyArtfulLife

As soon as I woke up this morning I knew it would be a soup day. It was cold and rainy and I was feeling a little off, groggy. After a full morning of chasing my enthusiastic toddler, I was exhausted and achy. As much as I wanted to lay down when he did for his nap, I knew I would be happy come 5 o’clock if I had dinner already made. I always crave hearty soups and stews on “cold days” - either cold outside or when I feel a cold coming on and today was both. So I decided to make one of my stand bys – lentil soup. It’s easy, delicious and calls for ingredients I always have on hand. About an hour later, I sat down to enjoy a bowl and recharge…just as my son woke up. But that’s okay, later we enjoyed a bowl together and it gave me the fuel I needed to get through the rest of the day.


Lentil Soup

  • 1 large organic yellow onion, chopped
  • 4 organic carrots, cut in half lengthwise then chopped
  • 2-3 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons organic tomato paste
  • 1 1/2 cups lentils, picked over and rinsed
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme or 1 tablespoon of chopped fresh thyme
  • 3 ½ cups of reduced-sodium free range organic chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon red-wine vinegar
  • 3 strips bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (can be omitted for vegetarians, substitute 1 tbsp of olive oil to cook onions & carrots)


  1. In a large pot with a lid, cook bacon until browned and crisp, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain grease, reserving 1 tablespoon in pot.
  2. Add onion and carrots to bacon; cook until softened. Stir in garlic. Add tomato paste, and cook 1 minute.
  3. Add thyme, lentils, chicken broth, and 2 cups water. Bring to a boil; reduce to a simmer. Cover and cook 30-45 minutes until lentils are tender.

Stir in vinegar, season with coarse salt and fresh ground pepper. Serve with crusty bread – I love it with multi-grain sourdough.


Photo by Kari Burks

This weekend at the Farmer’s Market I came across the most stunning vegetable, the “Romanesco Cauliflower”. This broccoli/cauliflower hybrid with its pale chartreuse color is hard to overlook.

Apparently it’s been grown in Italy since the 16th century, but it’s new to me. The mesmerizing spires called out to me. I can’t help but think what a beautiful still life painting they would make. I had to take a picture - maybe the next time I have a day without the baby I’ll actually paint it!

Being a fan of broccoli and cauliflower I knew I would love it so I purchased a few heads to try with our roasted vegetable dinner. Great raw, I think it tastes like both veggies, with its texture slightly more like cauliflower. We dipped it in a creamy mint yogurt dip we picked up at the market as well. I then quickly tossed the rest on baking sheet with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, before we ate it all! I’m so glad I did. Roasting it brought out a slightly buttery delicious flavor – yum!

I sometimes think of the whole hybrid vegetable thing as just an unnecessary novelty, but this organic combo of broccoli and cauliflower really was great together. Plus it’s really fun to say Romanesco. I’ll definitely have it again.

Do you have a favorite hybrid vegetable or fruit?

My recent post about composting got me wondering how much of the trash in landfills is comprised of food waste. Well, according to the Department of Agriculture, it’s approximately 100 billion pounds every year. The average household alone ends up throwing out 14 percent of their food purchases. It’s pretty shocking. Many people assume that food waste is not a big deal because it is biodegradable, but a single carrot can take up to 40 years to fully break down. An even bigger issue is the methane (a greenhouse gas) that is released from rotting food. Our households are not the only source of food waste; it comes from farms, supermarkets, restaurants – check out this interesting article in the Wall Street Journal about of the cycle of food waste. However, there are some easy things we can all do to reduce the amount of food that we personally throw away. Since the life of most of your food usually begins and ends in the refrigerator, it’s important to take a closer look at our kitchen’s most used appliance.

  • Check the temperature settings. Food should be refrigerated at 39 degrees, frozen at zero; warmer than that will encourage your food to go bad sooner.
  • Keep it neat and organized! A messy fridge makes it difficult to see what you have and easy to over look leftovers. Store them and very perishable items at eye level in clear containers so you see them at first glance. Try to always keep condiments and sauces in the same location so you don’t end up with multiple, half empty bottles.
  • Freeze large quantities in single servings in freezer safe bags or containers and label them with the date and contents. If you really love organization, you can print these pretty labels from Martha Stewart on adhesive back paper. Since most recipes only call for a small amount of stock or broth at a time, freezing the leftover portion in ice cubes trays (then transferring to freezer bags) is a great way to avoid waste and save money – organic, free range chicken stock is not cheap!


Try those easy tips to reduce the amount of food wasted in your home. And I challenge you to be conscious of all the food you throw out this week. Keep track of which veggies are going bad in the crisper and what goes stale in pantry. Chances are, buying smaller quantities and shopping more often will make a big difference.


Photo by petrr

I love thyme. And rosemary. Oh and sage. The bright scent of fresh cut herbs is heavenly. Any meal cooked with fresh herbs is bound to be flavorful - especially cold-weather comfort foods. With winter weather already showing up across the country, growing organic herbs indoors is a great way to get your gardening fix. It can also be a great place to start if you’ve never grown anything before. An indoor herb garden can be as simple as a few small pots on a sunny window sill. The important thing is to select the herbs that you will use most often. My three favorite herbs to have on hand in the winter are rosemary, thyme, and chives. They’re versatile and hardy and all you need to create amazing dishes. Here are some gardening tips and recipes for each herb.

Rosemary grows best in an area with a lot of sun and good air circulation. As with all plants in containers, it is important to have proper drainage to keep the soil moist but not oversaturated. Rosemary is a wonderful compliment to grilled meats, roasted vegetables and is delicious baked in breads. These Garlic Rosemary Dinner Rolls sound perfect for the holidays.

Chives are so easy to grow and you only need trim them back to keep them from toppling over. Chives can be used in every meal – think chives and cheese added to scrambled eggs, a baked potato or pasta. These Mascarpone Chive Mashed Potatoes are definitely worthy of a special occasion!

Thyme has a number of varieties (French thyme, lemon thyme) and you can’t go wrong with any of them. It grows fast and should be pruned often. I use thyme in many savory dishes, stews and sauces. This roast turkey recipe with Pear Chestnut Stuffing uses both fresh thyme and sage.

I live in a mild climate that allows me to have an outdoor herb garden year round, but no matter where you live you can grow fresh herbs. This year I am going to make a tiered herb container garden like this one I saw in Sunset. How do you grow your herbs?


Photos by ccharmon (Rosemary and Thyme)

I am sure everyone would love to pick fresh, organic produce right from their yard, but not everyone has a green thumb or the time (or desire) to learn to tend a garden. That’s where businesses like Urban Plantations come in. They not only design and plant edible, “urban landscapes”, they also help maintain the garden for you as needed. I had the opportunity and pleasure to speak with the owner of Urban Plantations, Karen Contreras, in one of their creations here in San Diego.

The home is located in a lovely pocket of North Park, where each home is more charming than the next and Karen was hard at work as I approached. She and her staffers were preparing for their winter plantings: Brussels sprouts, lettuces and “Purple Peacock” broccoli, among others. What struck me most about this front yard garden was how little it looked like a vegetable garden. The many fruits and veggies (tomatoes, heirloom “Moon and Stars” watermelon, and persimmon to name a few) are seamlessly integrated with beautiful ornamentals – including a cutting flower garden. It’s inspiring how gorgeous a fruitful garden (which, as Urban Plantations states in their mission, “provides nourishment for body and soul”) can truly be! Watch the short video interview below with Karen as she discusses the transformation of this home’s typical front yard into the unique environment it is today. You can also click here to see the before and after, I hope it inspires you to consider a well designed garden in your front yard.

One of the best things about parenthood is that you get to re-live (and reinvent) your favorite family traditions with your children. As the “grown-up” you get to decide what’s important to do as a family and what values you want to instill. I’ve always looked forward to autumn and everything that goes along with it… the changing leaves, Halloween, my birthday, Thanksgiving, baking, etc. One of things I looked forward to most as a child was going to a farm in New Jersey to pick apples and pumpkins. The lush, wide open space was a welcome change of pace from where we lived on Staten Island. I loved being able to select my very own pumpkin, I would carefully examine dozens before finding the perfect one.

I wanted to continue that tradition by taking my son to a farm to select his very first pumpkin. Although you can buy pumpkins at any grocery store or from the little “pumpkin patches” they set up in parking lots near malls – going to a farm supports your local economy and is so much more fun. We went to Oma's Pumpkin Patch at The Van Ommering Dairy Farm in Lakeside, about 30 minutes east of San Diego. Although Grayson’s not quite one, he loved it! He had a blast crawling along the pumpkins, looking at the cool trucks and tractors and petting the goats. Of course we took advantage of the many great photo opportunities. There were a number of playgrounds and a large sloped “play-pen” full of cotton seed that the older children were rolling around in and sliding down like snow! When it came time to select a pumpkin, Grayson’s approach was slightly different than mine; he grabbed the small pumpkins with the longest stems, so he could get a good grip and tossed them as far as he could. When he tired of that, he held on tight to the one that was left. Despite my efforts to examine it and make sure it was a “good one” - that was his pumpkin!

We concluded the lovely morning with a scenic hay ride to see the cows, including an adorable one day old calf – so sweet. By the end of the slow, bumpy ride Gray was barely able to keep his eyes open and slept all the way home! I know this will be a place that our family will enjoy going back to year after year.

What is your favorite fall family tradition?

Photos by Kari Burks

During my latest trip to the San Diego Zoo with my 10 month old, I visited the “Children’s Zoo” area for the first time. As expected there is a Petting Zoo and a great playground, however there was also a cool exhibit that I didn’t expect, all about composting. I was so excited – I know, excited about trash, really? But I was! Composting is an important part of a sustainable lifestyle. Reusing waste and reducing the amount of trash that goes to the landfill helps keep our planet clean. Plus your garden will thrive when you “feed” the soil nutrient rich compost. I love the idea of teaching children about composting early on. It’s just another form of recycling, and if you grow up doing it becomes second nature.

The neat exhibit has colorful, kid-friendly displays that define the various types of composting and talk about “Compost Critters”, like worms. I’m sure little boys think the idea of a worm bin is very cool. It also describes (for children and adults, alike) how easy it is to make compost pile by providing a basic recipe. Start with your “ingredients”: “Browns” (twigs, wood chips, etc), “Greens” (fruit/vegetable scraps, garden trimmings), Water and Air. Layer the “browns” and “greens” as you add them to the pile; add water to keep moist. Add air by mixing the pile, then let it cook. Mix every week until it becomes black and crumbly – ready to add to your garden! It really is that simple.

Do you have a compost pile or worm bin? Do you involve your children in recycling and/or composting?

Photo by Kari Burks

We are so fortunate here in San Diego, there is at least one Farmer’s Market happening every day of the week in various neighborhoods. One of the newer additions to the Farmer’s Market scene is Little Italy’s Mercato. It started up about two or three years ago and just keeps getting better and better! I have long been partial to the Sunday market in Hillcrest, boasting lots of vendors and long hours, but the Mercato - with its 90 booths and bay views has become my new favorite! I take all my out-of-town guests to it on Saturday mornings, including my mom who was just here last week. She absolutely loved getting an espresso at a locally owned coffee shop, strolling up and down the streets, listening to the live music and enjoying the bay breezes. Once we purchased all our goods we lined up for a delicious breakfast crepe, hot off the pan. Mmmmm.

Going to the Farmer’s Market is not only the best way to get really fresh food and support your local economy, it’s also a great way get to know your community. You start to recognize the faces (and dogs) of the other patrons when you go every week. You learn the names of the farmers at your favorite stands. It becomes a social event! Besides stocking up on my fruits and veggies for the week, I also like to try something new every time I go. Last week I tried some amazing organic, raw cheese – heaven! The Mercato has such a great variety of vendors. From oysters and pastured chicken to olives, fresh pasta and sauces – they have everything a foodie could hope for.

What unique vendors do they have at your local farmer’s market?

Photos by Kari Burks



When Peter and Lynda invited us to lunch at their home so they could meet our baby, I couldn’t wait to go. Not only for the great food and company, but to see the organic vegetable garden that I’d been “hearing” about on their Facebook pages. They recently moved into a new home and had been busy make improvements inside and out, including a garden.

The garden work was a family affair; Peter built a lovely fence and arbor to define the space (and presumably keep their adorable dog out) and Lynda’s three teenage sons all helped prepare the ground for planting. They planted corn (which Lynda said “LOOKED beautiful but tasted AWFUL, don't know what I did wrong?”), sunflowers, green beans, peas, peppers, cherry and beefsteak tomatoes, lettuce, radishes, green onion, carrots and strawberries. Not to mention herbs: parsley, cilantro and basil – or BAA-ZIL, as Peter says with his neat British accent. This is not their first attempt at growing veggies, Lynda had a garden every summer when she lived in North Carolina but this was her first real garden here in Southern California. Our dry conditions are a big change from the Southeast where it rains almost every afternoon in the summer.

Drew and I were lucky enough to taste some of their harvest in the delicious Asian chicken salad Lynda prepared – and fresh picked berries for dessert. Peter and Lynda have been enjoying the fruits of their labor all summer. They especially loved the green beans and pea pods. “My boys really loved the tiny green peas straight out of the pod while standing in the garden” Lynda exclaimed. “Not one of those ever got cooked because they were so sweet and tender straight off the vine.” The tomatoes took a little long to ripen, due to an unusually cool and cloudy San Diego summer and the radishes may have stayed underground just a tad too long (they are enormous – check out the photo!) but overall Lynda and Peter’s garden is a great success. I’m so inspired by them – I’m definitely going to plant green peas next year! 

What have been your biggest successes in your garden this year?

Radish, beans and pea photos by Peter and Lynda Toner

Basil photo by Kari Burks


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