The Slowcook at Spydog Farm The Slowcook at Spydog Farm

The Story of The Slow Cook

December 20th, 2010 · 3 Comments · Posted in Blog

Trellis for pole beans: by Jacqulyn Maisonneuve

I recently got a call out of the blue from someone at Organic Connections magazine, which turns out to be the house organ of a nutritional supplement company, Peter Gillham’s Natural Vitality. What followed was a long, recorded telephone conversation and this article that just appeared on the web. I thought they did a pretty good job of describing how The Slow Cook has evolved. So here’s the text:

You might have heard the name Ed Bruske. He is a prominent feature on the sustainable food landscape—a Washington, D.C., blogger, writer, chef and gardener whose articles have appeared in the Washington Post, Martha Stewart Living and Edible Chesapeake. Ed’s work in sustainable gardening has been featured in People magazine as well as in popular food blogs such as Chow and Seriously Good. He has also made numerous appearances on television and radio.

But according to Ed, it all came about quite by accident—starting with a few seeds he put in the ground.

From Reporter to Gardener 

The first part of Ed’s professional life was spent as a reporter for the Washington Post. Upon retirement from that career, he ended up running the staff of a high-end catering business—but apparently the stress was a bit much. “I did that until I drove my family so crazy that my wife said I should stop and just do something else,” he explained to Organic Connections.

One of the first things Ed did was turn his attention to the land around his home. “We had bought a house on the corner lot here in D.C.,” Ed continued. “For some reason, it had never been landscaped, even though the house dates back to 1900. Except for a couple of trees that died and were removed, we had this big space. I remembered the garden that my father had when I was a kid, and I started a little garden plot out in front growing vegetables. We were so successful with the vegetables that I just kept going and turned the lot into basically our own mini-farm.”

The garden provides a wide variety of crops, beginning in the spring with lettuces and other greens, peas, fava beans and swiss chard coming up. In summer there are green beans, pole beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and eggplants. For the family, it truly is a horn of plenty. “We’ve really changed the way we shop and the way we eat to orient ourselves around this garden,” Ed said. “We don’t do much shopping during the growing season because we’re getting so much of our food right out of the garden. We’ve learned to orient our cooking style around what’s outside rather than shopping from recipes and stuff like that. It’s been quite an eye-opening experience.”

In addition to creating much fodder for his blog, the garden has made quite an impact in the local area. “It’s a great conversation starter in the neighborhood,” said Ed. “I can’t tell you the number of people who have stopped to have a conversation over the fence about what we’re doing and what we’re growing. It’s also inspired some other people in the neighborhood to do likewise or to plant in their little spaces that they have.”

From the Garden Outward 

But it was the garden that began educating Ed in sustainability, and then led him out into the broader community.

“When I started doing this, I met somebody in my Master Gardening class who said I should start a blog,” he recalled. “I had no idea what that was, so I found out and began figuring it out. The more I looked into who was writing about food and growing food, the more one thing lead to another, and pretty soon I was just having my eyes opened to all of the different issues that were going on around food that I really had not been conscious of before. I became increasingly outraged about what was being done—or not being done—with our food system, and who was getting the money or not getting the money; just the general unfairness that’s built into the system, especially being here in Washington and kind of knowing how things work. That was news to me. So now I’m not only a food grower and gardener but kind of a ‘hair-on-fire’ gardener.”

Ed’s activities broadened. He helped start a group called D.C. Urban Gardeners, and he planted a garden at his daughter’s school. He was invited to sit on the advisory board of the local D.C. Farm to School network, which introduced him to an issue that would become integral to his life—the state of food in schools.

Seeing the Truth of School Lunches 

“I had an opportunity to observe the operation in the kitchen of my daughter’s elementary school for a week, thinking that they were cooking food from scratch,” Ed related. “The terminology being used was ‘fresh-cooked’—and what I found was anything but. These meals weren’t even made in a factory out in the suburbs and trucked in every day; the school was getting frozen components from all over the country—chicken nuggets and Tater Tots and beef crumbles and breakfast quesadillas. All they really needed was a box cutter and a steamer or convection oven, and away they went. That was the school food.”

Ed began a series of blog posts that, because of what they were revealing, got a lot of circulation. Shortly, he was led to wonder how others were solving this problem. “I was just so outraged, and my readers were so scandalized they prevailed on me to start looking around for schools that were doing things right,” he said. “That led to a project, a whole year long so far, involving school food.”

In his quest for solutions, Ed spent a week in Berkeley, California, a city which, thanks to pioneers such as Alice Waters and Chef Ann Cooper, has instituted many measures for utilizing sustainably grown food for schools. Following that he went to Boulder, Colorado, to see what changes Chef Ann Cooper had instituted in that school system, after solving many of the same problems in Berkeley. Both visits (and more to come) are documented in detail on Ed’s blog.

Parents in D.C. can now review what has been working elsewhere and begin to take steps to correct their own system. From his research, Ed doesn’t think they should wait for the federal government. “Right now the federal government is broke,” he pointed out. “I don’t think waiting for the feds is the winning strategy for school food.”

Accidental Teacher, Too

 Another job Ed ended up with was teaching cooking from scratch in an after-school program. “That was another accident,” Ed said. “Someone I knew was teaching art at a private elementary school in the district and got the job directing the after-school program. About five years ago, she called me in a panic because her cooking teacher had bailed on her just before school started. I proposed that I do it, and developed a curriculum around teaching kids how to cook food from scratch—real food, traditional recipes, cooked by hand and not with gadgets. The kids get a hands-on experience cooking with real ingredients

“It’s very cool because they learn not only about nutrition and healthy eating habits but about various cuisines and techniques. They learn some of the basic how-tos of cooking, how to use a knife and how to mix ingredients. They are so good at prepping vegetables now, they could literally open their own restaurants. I’ve let them do all the work; I just give them directions.”

Continuing On  

If you visit Ed’s blog, you’ll find plenty to keep you busy. Not only is there the latest on what Ed is discovering in the fight for decent school food, there are tales from his gardening adventures, accounts of what he is teaching kids to cook, recipes to try, and much more. It is certain that Ed will be providing us with fascinating content for years to come.

And to think it all began by accident!

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