TEAM BAD SKUNKS
The core team, top row from left: Sonita, Steve, Pannonica.Middle: Sean, Kristi, Noel. Bottom: Tino, Freddie Mae, Max.Team Bad Skunks? These charming gardeners (and pets)? Max Wong, team leader and a film producer, explains: “If you live in Los Angeles, this name is a no-brainer. Because if you've ever smelled our city at night, then you know that the skunk is practically the totem animal of Los Angeles. In our neighborhood, with its proximity to the L.A. River, no bungalow is complete without a family of skunks living in the crawl space.”
Team Bad Skunks is a group of food exchangers who like to have fun. Max herself raises bees and is in the middle of a yearlong commitment to make, every week, a different kind of preserve from produce her neighbors forage from the area and bring to her. Then she delivers the jars to them as thanks. Everyone in the group grows food—interesting things like nopal cactus, loquats, and burdock along with standbys like beans and peppers, and lots and lots of fruit. “It was a cinch to convince them that a summer’s-end block party challenge was a good idea,” says Max. “Who doesn’t need another excuse to have a party?”
Here’s how she won the case for her team:
• I live in Los Angeles, a city famous for its urban blight and car-induced alienation. And 40% of my neighborhood lives below the poverty line. Using my awesome neighbors as an example, I would like to showcase the fact that even in cities, even in poor neighborhoods, people can grow a tremendous amount of food for themselves…if they pool resources with their neighbors. ... We’ve forgotten how much food came out of victory gardens during World War II. I am a firm believer that helping people garden is an important link to ending hunger in this country.
• I think my neighbors, with their mix of incomes and cultural backgrounds, will be good at mitigating that annoying class argument that pops up in the comment section of every sustainability blog—that only elites can line dry their laundry/scratch cook/grow their own food.
• If Sunset Magazine selects my team, my horticulturalist mother can die a happy woman.
We hope Mama Wong—long may she live—is smiling. We also liked this group’s zest for living, its plan to use homegrown figs to make fig newtons (the rest of the menu sounded good too), its determination to raise food in tiny spaces, and its ability to laugh at predation:
Max writes: “Last week, in preparation for the One-Block Party Contest...or something,the skunks proceeded to dig out just about every plant in our herb gardenexcept for the Italian parsley. Apparently tabbouleh was not on their menu.”
TEAM BEES’ KNEES
Front, left to right: Ella Mae held by Thomas Keller, Tina Keller with Ethel Mae Potter We Never Forgot Her, Herta Hoggatt. Back: Lizanne Oliver, Fred Oliver, Stacey Smith, Trisha Cartmell, Nate Cartmell. Not shown: David and Katie Arken. We first got to know Tina Keller, captain of the Knees, when she stepped in and rescued our doomed rooster, Nugget, a few years ago. A seasoned beekeeper, she’s been a champion advice-giver to Team Bee, too. She and her group, including her mushroom-hunting husband, Thomas, are the kind of people who say what they mean and mean what they say. So when their entry arrived, we knew it represented much thought and care and that its intentions would soon be actions.
In Tina’s words, here are the Bees’ Knees:
“Our team is comprised of food hobbyists and home cooking enthusiasts and fromagers [cheesemakers] with interests in gardening, poultry raising, bee keeping, mushroom hunting, brewing, and exploring the making of cheeses. The team's objective is to dedicate the time to share expertise and create local, homegrown, homemade, thoughtful, crafted food.”
Their crop list looks well-rounded and abundant, with all the fruits and vegetables you want in summer: corn, tomatoes, potatoes, beans, berries, plums, plenty of edible flowers. Their menu bursts with homemade goodnesses like cheeses and Belgian-style beer, pâté, lemon curd, and crème brûlée. A certain European sensibility shines through—but there’s also kimchi and a South Asian-style chili paste. It all sounds delectable.
In naming themselves, the Bees’ Knees set the bar high, but they have energy and experience—and we’re looking forward to seeing them take off.
TEAM FOUND FRUIT
Left (from left): Jamie Vasta, Michele Senitzer, Kitty Sharkey, Nola Martin. Right (clockwise from top left):Kim Di Giacomo, Oletta Reed, Kate Voyageur, and Todd Voyageur (with son Jonah).
Team Found Fruit is a group of gardeners, foragers, and slow food enthusiasts who plan to grow and find 100% of the ingredients for their one-block feast. “We’re very excited about this challenge, because it gives us the opportunity to try and learn new skills together and from each other, “ says Michele Senitzer, head of the team. The members live within a five-mile radius of one another, and are also creators and members of FoundFruit.com, a social networking website that helps connect community to local food and sustainable living practices.
Found Fruit will put lots of fruit, naturally enough, on its menu. There will be jams and a cool-sounding summer cider. Also some intriguing martinis (we won’t give away the surprise just yet). We can’t wait to find out more about the surf smelt and seaweed they’re planning to forage, and the goat cheeses and yogurt. These adventurous people are having a crack at olive-brining and recycling vegetable oil (which they'll use to fuel their cars), and they’re even tackling escargot, a project we attempted ourselves. (We documented it, with a recipe, in our new book The One-Block Feast—all we can say is, good luck with that. They are really tasty, though.)
We would like to add that this team's goats are possibly the cutest members of their entire species.
Sam (left) and Lulu.
TEAM GRAY SKY GROWERS
Team Gray Sky Growers, all bundled up. Left to right, more or less: The Stoll, Wilhelm (leaderJoellen in the red jacket), Wilson, Watts, and Suhrbier families.(Not pictured: the Salzberg-Rogers family.) Photo by Beth Wilson.Gray Sky Growers' leader, Joellen Wilhem, loves many things about her neighborhood: how close it is to downtown and parks, its general walkability, the bustling farmer’s market, a pub with local brews, and boutique coffee roasters. And the neighbors themselves are great, she says. “[They] redefine the word “neighborly”—they help us grow good food, nurture our growing families, and create a better community every day (in 2010 a group of them worked to establish a school garden a block away). We already grow and eat together often. All six families have small to medium plots of annual and perennial crops. Two families tend to their flocks of city chickens and two gentlemen are avid brewers (they even grow hops for their brews).”
What’s more, in cool, rainy Olympia, Team GSG can grow standard “cool-weather crops” all summer long. So they’re planning a fascinating mix of things like kale, kohlrabi, and strawberries right along with the cucumbers and beans. Some perennial crops grace this garden, too, like raspberries, blackberries, rhubarb, and four kinds of cherries. They're hoping for tea bushes, kiwi, and amaranth, in addition to the hops (which, as you may know, can grow 30 feet high). Wow.
Plus, they're embarking on all kinds of food adventures: brewing stout and pilsner, fishing for salmon, digging clams, making cheese—and experimenting with gluten-free baking (a challenge under any circumstances, so this should be interesting). The menu is long, lovely, and has a fun sense of place. Cascadian Zucchini Canoes? Cedar-Planked Salmon? Bring it on.
TEAM NO GARDENERS LEFT BEHIND
A team of teacher-gardeners. From left: John Paiva, Elsa Juarez, Rosaura Briones, Karen March,Anne Reiswig, Mark Malmberg, and Cheryl Beaty.In the Yolo Middle School staff room, the talk often turns to soil and seeds. A lot of these teachers like to garden—not surprising, given that they’re in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley, surrounded by orchards and fields of produce. And agriculture is a big employer in their town of Newman, population 10,000.
“The idea of a one-block feast seemed just the impetus for a celebration of gardening, and a rally point for the staff,” writes Karen March, team leader. She and her fellow teachers put their heads together and decided to share recipes, grow vegetables, herbs, and fruits in their home gardens, use hand-cranked ice-cream makers for berry sherbet, and collect fresh eggs for hors d’oeuvres and potato salad. “Among our staff, we discovered that we had talented cooks and bakers who could make everything from jams and jellies to pesto sauces, sourdough potato and herb bread, and the simple but delicious dried fruits and vegetables,” Karen continues. “Veteran gardeners volunteered to mentor the less experienced gardeners on our staff so that they too could share in the joys of backyard farming.” Then they came up with an extra-fine idea: If their team wins our contest, they’ve decided to donate the $500 to a deserving student group “in a satisfying pay-it-forward gesture.”
We love the sound of their rock-solid, crowd-pleasing menu, which will have savory casseroles, pastas, pizzas, deviled eggs, fruit salads, and ice cream, fruit crisps, and cobblers. It’s like a PTA meeting in heaven.
The coop at Anne Reiswig’s house. Guess who has to play nice with the chickens?
Karen’s future herb garden. The basil is coming soon, she says.