Somerville Reads is a project that promotes literacy and community by encouraging people all over the City to read and discuss books on the same theme. For our third annual program, the subject is food—local, sustainable, delicious!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Thanks... everyone who helped make Somerville Reads 2012 a success! Farm City was arguably our most popular book ever, and this year's events included some provocative discussions about the role of food in our lives and in our society. To keep the conversation going, here are links to recent articles related to some of the issues raised in this year's Somerville Reads:

Here's the latest on the city's urban agriculture initiative.

And here's big news for suppliers of cage-free meat.

World food prices are up.

Ellen DeGeneres confesses how hard it was to go vegan.

New evidence suggests that eating meat played a decisive role in human evolution.

A great discussion of Seedfolks with author Paul Fleischman on NPR's All Thing Considered .

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Food Donations Drive

Just  a reminder: we are still taking donations for the Elizabeth Peabody House Food Pantry. They need canned goods, bottled pasta sauces, mac and cheese mix, canned fish, peanut butter and other non-perishables.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Potluck Recap

Saturday's potluck was great! Approximately 80 people came. Our thanks to the Michael J. Epstein Memorial Library for providing wonderful music! And congratulations to Diane Orf, whose white chicken chili was voted to be the overall favorite.  For more pictures of the celebration, click here and here.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Potluck this Saturday!

This Saturday, April 21! Join us as Somerville celebrates its third “one city, one book” campaign, Somerville Reads 2012, a project that promotes literacy and community engagement by encouraging people all over the City to read and discuss books on the same theme. This year’s theme is food—local, sustainable, and delicious! We’ve chosen two books for discussion: Farm City: the Education of an Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter and Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman. Copies of both books are available for check out at all Somerville Public Library locations.

  • Share a favorite dish (please list ingredients)
  • Vote for best dishes and maybe win a prize!
  • Listen to Somerville-based band Michael J. Epstein Memorial Library
  • Children - do a crafty kids’ activity!
  • Purchase a new community cookbook in support of the Friends
  • Eat great food and meet your neighbors
  • Check out a featured book

For a full schedule of Somerville Reads events and our wonderful sponsors and partners, please click here.

To make a donation in support of the Friends of the Somerville Public Library, please click here. Thank you!

We’re trying out the e-invitation program EventBrite. Go here to sign up for the potluck.

See you soon…..

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Mayor's Urban Agricultural Initiative

This Saturday's Potluck Celebration takes place within the larger context of the citywide Urban Agricultural Initiative. The City is hosting a series of workshops and events to inspire residents to grow food, and to gather gardeners to share knowledge and celebrate the season. You can swap seedlings, learn about urban soil, see a demonstration on container gardening, and even help to create a new farm! All of the specifics can be found here.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Community Storytelling Night at Somerville Public Library a Hit!

Shannon McDonough, a stellar library supporter and volunteer, attended Wednesday's open mic event and shared her thoughts. We appreciate her support and enthusiasm.

So we hand you over to Shannon:

In tandem with my coursework in library and information science at Simmons GSLIS, I am volunteering at the Somerville Public Library and have been attending some excellent programs there lately.

Last week, I attended a Somerville Reads discussion of Farm City which was facilitated by Jessie Banhazl of Green City Growers. It was a really good discussion that was well-attended by an encouraging number of people including several twentysomethings.

Last night the Somerville Public Library held a Community Storytelling night. This event was expertly hosted by master of ceremonies, Tom Champion. Tom also explained that the city of Somerville is offering a plan to support urban agriculture — more urban farming, more access to fresh produce and support for activities like keeping chickens in your yard. LOVE.

Set-up like The Moth — which happened to have held an event on Tuesday night at the Somerville Theatre — the theme of the night was food, which ties in to the Somerville Reads program. This year, the books selected for Somerville Reads were Farm City and Seedfolks.
“What do we think about when we think about food? Love.”

The night’s storytellers all came at the topic from different angles, all of them deeply personal, creative and humorous.

The first storyteller used his food photography to illustrate his fast-paced, witty and touching narrative about cooking at home with his kids, how food is a part of his romantic relationships and how food breaks down cultural barriers when traveling the world. He set the tone when he asked, “What do we think about when we think about food? Love.”

Next up was a mother/son team who vividly told an engaging and funny children’s story about “Hare” and “Bear” and their struggle to remain friendly while relying on each other for land and food. Then, a storyteller-musician sang a few food-themed songs (one written that very night!) on her banjo — her performances and spirit were pure, generous and delightful.

A man who has worked in the food and restaurant industries for his whole life told several stories about everything from:

training to be a waiter,
dealing with extreme circumstances at a restaurant like what happens when someone dies of a heart attack, to
a recounting of how he became an organic farmer in Maine growing arugula for local chefs to
his current work at a homeless shelter.

Knowledgable about all aspects of farming and feeding, his observations about the intimacy of eating together and cooking meals at home underscored his larger message about the disparity between the haves and the have nots — the wealthy who drop thousands of dollars at 5 star restaurants and the thousands of people who die in this country from hunger.

The final storyteller of the night delivered two stories, the first a rant delivered in the style of a Shakespearean ode, ‘An Anarchist’s Ode to the Nabisco Oreo Cookie,” and the second an extremely funny piece he wrote about the occasion of his 10th birthday in 1972 when he was hoping to start his special day with a treat of four bowls of sugary cereal in preparation for a cartoon marathon only to be accosted by a well-meaning, yet brainwashed mother who force fed him “pep-up” milk and “industrial” grade granola. Trust me, you had to be there. It was hilarious.

In fact, you should be there next time. Telling a story, laughing your head off, and wiping a tear. Don’t miss the next Community Storytelling event at the SPL!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Report on a Potluck with a Mystery Theme

Guest blogger and long-time Mystery Book Group member Rona Fischman has this to say about the mystery-themed potluck that took place at the Central Library on April 4th:

The Mystery Book Group, which generally meets on the first Wednesday of each month at the Central Library, joined into the spirit of Somerville Reads by reading mysteries that had food themes. We had a pot-luck for our April meeting.

There are several authors who write mysteries that include recipes. We read a few of them including A Catered Valentine’s Day by Isis Crawford and Butter Safe Than Sorry by Tamar Myers. One member made blue cheese/cranberry/rosemary cookies from Butter Safe than Sorry. We didn’t much like the book, but we loved the cookies. Another member baked a chocolate cake from The Carrot Cake Murder by Joanne Fluke. We all could die and go to heaven for the dark chocolate that was served as well!

Overall, we preferred mysteries where the food in the story was part of the story, and added to understanding the character or the setting. Among our favorite food books were the Donna Leon mysteries, where the main character, Guido Burnetti, goes home for a multi-course lunch with his family on most days. Even his coffee-break food was interesting to us. To honor the Leon mysteries, pumpkin ravioli was served at the potluck.

Other mysteries with great food are those by Louise Penny. They are set in a small town in southern Canada, where there is a to-die-for bistro and the home cooked meals are also wonderful. We won’t tell you how many people die in the bistro - you’ll have to read the books!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Hunger Amidst Plenty

As we continue our month-long conversation about food, it's important to remember that the food issues many of us have—what to buy organic, whether to start a home garden, should we stop eating meat—are luxuries. According to the most recent Project Bread Status Report on Hunger, in 2010 10.8% of Massachusetts households were "food insecure." To put it bluntly, if you start knocking on doors in this state, there's at least one person living behind every tenth door who doesn't get enough to eat.

Giving won't fix such a systemic problem, but it can help some people enduring hard times, and give some children a better chance at getting the food they need to grow up healthy. Hunger affects not just a child's height and weight, but their ability to learn and their emotional well-being, and can have negative health consequences for the rest of their lives.

We've set up a box for donations to the food pantry at the Elizabeth Peabody House. It's in the lobby of the main library by the auditorium door. A library staff member will take it to EPH whenever it gets full. Please do not bring any perishables. Pantries need foods with a relatively long shelf life. Examples of items to donate include:

Parmalat (milk processed so it can be stored without refrigeration)
peanut butter
canned meat & vegetables
canned stews
canned soups
dried beans
fruit juice and other shelf-stable beverages
canned tuna
mac and cheese mixes

Thanks to all who contribute.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Discussion of Farm City

The Somerville Public Library and the Somerville Reads team are pleased to introduce guest blogger Sarah Wolf. Sarah is a library volunteer who attended last Thursday night’s book discussion of Farm City, led by Jessie Banhazl. Many thanks to all who attended and especially Jessie and Sarah.

I turn you over to Sarah:

Oakland, California seems like the last place on earth one might find a farm. In her memoir Farm City, Novella Carpenter makes a case for it being one of the best. When she and her boyfriend Bill decide to make their home in “Ghost Town,” one of the rougher neighborhoods in the area, they immediately see its potential and apply their urban farmer instincts to their new plot of land. Establishing a “squatters’ garden” in an abandoned lot that flourishes into a community garden of sorts is only the beginning. Carpenter takes up beekeeping and raises and slaughters livestock, including a turkey called Harold and two enormous pigs. Cataloging the struggles and triumphs of her endeavors, Farm City is the story of a woman who wants to see sustainable life even in a place long-abandoned by society – she wants to prove that even the ghetto holds promise.

On Thursday, April 5, Jessie Banhazl of Green City Growers, who’s also a Somerville urban farmer, led a discussion of the book in the Main Library. Jessie spends her day installing raised bed gardens all over the greater Boston area and thus has an informed perspective on Carpenter’s endeavors. “She wasn’t fearless, but she acted that way,” Jessie said.

The discussion began with why Carpenter could farm without too much protest from the neighbors. There are places where keeping chickens might become the heart of a heated public debate, but that didn’t ever seem to be the case for Carpenter, no matter how loud – or smelly – her animals were. Most of her neighbors were preoccupied with individual survival – and the the garden benefited everyone, since Carpenter shared whatever she grew with whoever wanted some. The land wasn’t hers, after all – and each of her neighbors was doing something either questionable or downright illegal, so everyone looked the other way, taking handouts from each other when the opportunity arose. Occasionally, Carpenter expressed frustration with her neighbors – like when she spent a great deal of time and energy growing a single watermelon only to have it lifted by an anonymous stranger –but the fact was the very land she farmed didn’t even belong to her. “Even though someone’s taking something from her, she’s taking something from someone else,” Jessie pointed out. Going on, Jessie added, “I think it’s like driving – some people are respectful and some people aren’t.” “Good neighbors” contributed seeds, helped farm or harvest or found other ways to help Novella and Bill whenever possible.

Then the conversation turned to the recurring theme of beekeeping. Bees, of course, are a wonderful source of pollination, but would you be thrilled if a beehive was on your neighbor’s back porch? Novella and Bill’s neighbors never seemed to mind. Everyone reaped the benefits of a thriving garden and endless honey. The people began talking about the joys of growing their own food and what a difference it makes to harvest fresh produce from your own backyard. One of the women in the group said, “I’m always amazed when someone says they don’t like tomatoes – they say, ‘Oh, they taste like nothing.’ Taste like nothing?? They taste like everything!” Jessie added that she’d encountered school children who believed that vegetables came out of cans and met line cooks who had no idea where the food they were preparing originated. That many people of all ages don’t know how food comes to be shocked the entire discussion group. “Food’s become about convenience, not about thought,” Jessie said. Educating people about how what they’re eating is produced is an extremely important piece of the social puzzle that is often overlooked. Jessie suggested taking children to visit farms and community gardens to make them better aware of where food comes from.

The discussion group also spent some time considering Carpenter’s frankness about slaughtering and preparing her animals for meals. “I thought it was both brave and crazy,” one of the women in the group said. Some wondered if they would be able to do what Carpenter did – raise a turkey from a day old and then eat him for Thanksgiving dinner, for example. This led to a discussion of vegetarianism and veganism. Committing to those lifestyles often comes with a certain level of economic security, whereas in Novella and Bill’s neck of the woods it was all about survival. It didn’t matter how cute and fuzzy that bunny was – when you’re hungry, that bunny just might be the thing that will keep you alive.

As the discussion wound down, Jessie praised Carpenter’s candid and honest approach to writing her book, never seeming to back down from what some might consider difficult truths about what she had to do to survive as an urban farmer.

Before the group dispersed, there was an announcement about the Somerville Reads Celebration happening from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, April 21st (the day before Earth Day.) The theme is food, so come hungry and bring a dish to share (please list ingredients) for this potluck-style event. See the Events Calendar for more information!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Want Chickens?

For those of you who, like Novella Carpenter, want to raise farm animals, check this recent New York Times article on raising chickens for eggs. Writer and farmer Jennifer Trainer Thompson surveys the advantages and challenges of raising chickens for eggs. It's also worth taking a look at this "Diner's Journal" post in which people who have raised chickens weigh in on what it's like.

My favorites:

" the coop well away from any bedrooms - because chickens ARE noisy."

" well protected is your yard? If your neighbors have dogs expect possible issues there too. We lost the occasional chicken that way, and it doesn't make neighbor relations any easier."

"Remove the eggs quickly. We collect the eggs daily for that reason — once the hens know how good they taste, they will go for them."

"...a word of warning for those people considering keeping chicken. Part of the contract we have with domesticated animals is that the end result is slaughter. There will come a time when you will have to kill a chicken....hens get old and stop laying after 2-3 years. Unless you’re going to keep those birds as pets you’ll need to slaughter those as well; you’ll need to slaughter birds that get sick or injured. It’s hard to find a vet that will treat chickens and even if you do, vet bills are prohibitive. So be advised that you should understand your responsibility for slaughter when – not if – the time comes."

If that last admonition leaves a you a little down, you might want to take a break by listening to This American's Life "Poultry Slam," the show's more-or-less annual exploration of "what happens when humans and fowl collide." It's a serious program, but it's got some light moments.

Or just kick back and listen to some music: