Varney Farm in South Windsor CT: A Vision




I mentioned the Varney Farm in South Windsor CT in my last post. This farm, a small but remarkable farming venture that seeks to help reduce hunger, provides food for Foodshare. Foodshare is the coordinator and collector of food from farmers and stores in Hartford and Tolland counties. They  disperse collected food to various food banks, soup kitchens etc in these areas.

Sandy Varney and I met the other day so I could see the operation first hand and maybe help get the word out for volunteers. (see previous post) and see the following:


However in our discussions she asked me to highlight a dream of hers. She notices fallow land on her drives through north central CT. She envisions this land converted to grow food crops. Could retired farmers help out in some way? This sounds simple but retired farmers are an untapped resource. Maybe for various reasons they can no longer farm but could oversee, counsel those of us who want to get back to the land. How about organic growers, nurseries donating seedlings, seeds to get the farming going? Who will take over Varney Farm when she can no longer oversee and manage her own operation? Will her land go fallow too? She also reminded me that converting used land into food crops is tax deductible which can be a further incentive to considering this option. Lastly, could a person or a group step forward to pull this together?

I know of a small organic grower in VA who put up a 8 x 10′ shed for a helper to use. This young man has access to water, toilet but doesn’t want conventional work. He helps tend and harvest all that is appropriate to her farm. Young graduates cannot easily find work. Agriculture is a field that is expanding. I could add my own vision: home schoolers, a high school or college graduate wanting to use their education in creative ways seeking out this kind of opportunity, a grassroots adventure, working the land.

We do this in cities. Bette Midler comes to mind.  This well known actress put  her money to work and began to clean up four blocks in Harlem, NY several years ago of trash. This one idea has led to NYC being replanted one tree at a time, community gardens and rooftop gardens flourishing. The question is: what can we envision for our smaller farms, fallow land in smaller communities? how can we use resources more sustainably and contribute to healing our environment not just in donations, but in education, in a  hands on community approach?

We can and do think outside the box when need arises. Please send comments to Sandy at Varney Farm to her facebook page.

Comments can be added here too. Let’s get a dialogue going. . .  who knows what dreams will manifest.

Enjoy. Judith

Judith Dreyer, MS, BSN, Writer, Speaker, Holistic Health Consultant and Workshop Presenter, Master Gardener. ©all rights reserved. Including photos.

Summertime Meadow Plants: Grapevines

wild grapes 2 June 2015


Grape leaves, like mini umbrellas, hug the shrubs that make up an understory of the edge of the tree line as I meander onto the meadow’s path. Older leaves take on the color of an evergreen while the younger ones are lighter as if the sun lingers a bit here before they age. Unripe fruit peeks out from under the leaves while tendrils grab hold of any plant in their way.

rsz_1rsz_dscn0242Two years ago I had the wonderful pleasure of helping prune a small vineyard in the Rappahannock River region of Virginia for two summers. I enjoyed getting in the fields at first light before the heat became too unbearable. With pruning shears and the songs of early morning birds, I clipped and tied vines and grape clusters to wires.


White tiny flowers “bloom” and then grapes appear. As they grow and get heavy care is needed to secure them to wires. Grape vines are apically dominant which means they produce leaves from the tip of the vine which can grow over long distances. In the wine industry that is not good as the energy of the plant goes to this extended growth. We’d have to trim the vine down to 20-30 leaves to keep the growth focused on the grapes themselves which also maintains grape quality.

Morning was hardly silent as birds swooped and chatted over the fields. Mist and fog often kept us soaked which was refreshing as the heat of the day moved in. Grapes like hot dry weather and irrigation systems are really not needed at least in the part of Virginia I worked. However, the damp humid air the east coast is known for, brings in fungus’, powdery and downy mildew and other pests such as deer.

Wine has been a popular drink for centuries. When the early colonists came to North America they brought Port’s and Madeira’s from Spain and Portugal. Thomas Jefferson fell in love with the lighter wines of Europe and he, among others, attempted to grow Vitus vinifera, the species native to Europe in Virginia with poor results. Vitus vinifera is subject to black rot, phylloxera, an aphid-like root louse. It wasn’t until later years through much experimentation that hardy native grape vines came to provide the rootstock for vitus vinifera varieties. These combined vines can grow with success as evidenced by the growing wine industry in states like Virginia.

Locally there are six grape species native to North America:

Vitus rotundifolia (muscadine), aestivalis (summer grape), riparia (frost grape), labrusca (fox grape), mustangenesis (Mustang grape) and rupestris (sand grape).

Most are not really prized for their taste in the wine industry. Over the years our native root stocks have been combined and combined with the European vitus vinifera in hundreds of experiments. Norton grape is the product of such experimentation and probably one of the most recognized variety of grape and wine here on the east coast.


There is a poisonous look a- like called Canada Moonseed, Menispermum canadense. Leaves are similarly shaped but the fruit contains only one seed, shaped like a crescent moon. Our native grapes have 2 or more seeds per fruit. This plant has no tendrils like our grapes do and fewer berries per cluster. It can cause severe abdominal pain and fatalities have been reported.

Please Note: only harvest and eat those plants you are sure of. Know proper identification characteristics and/or go with someone knowledgeable.

Next post I’ll go into uses and health benefits.

Enjoy. Judith

Judith Dreyer, MS, BSN, Writer, Speaker, Holistic Health Consultant and Workshop Presenter, Master Gardener. © all rights reserved. Including photos.


How to Spot Wild Black Raspberry






I walk through a nearby meadow and delight in the black raspberries growing along the paths. My fingers are stained deep red, evidence to the juicy fruits I consume as I meander along. These purple/blue pigments typically signify that the fruit/food contains specific group of antioxidants. Did you know that black raspberry is one of the most researched berry? The specific antioxidants, anthocyanins and ellagic acid, play important roles in cancer prevention, reducing inflammation which is believed to be the underlying cause of many chronic diseases.


Name: Black raspberry: Rubus occidentalis, is known as the Virginia raspberry and one of its common names is “blackcap”. It received this common name, blackcap, due to the characteristic of picked fruit. This fruit pulls off the stem and is hollow, like a cap.

Sometimes black raspberries are confused with blackberries. Raspberries, red and black, have a distinct silver rsz_1rsz_black_raspberrycolor to the underside of their leaves which blackberries do not have. Also blackberry is a typically larger fruit with no hollow. Blackberries are higher in sugar than black raspberry which could be a problem for some. Black Raspberries are pricklier than red raspberries so it can be difficult to harvest in the wild without some form of clothing protection.

Parts used: fruit, leaves

Health Benefits: Black raspberry is known for its high antioxidant levels.   Antioxidants scavenge free radicals, the byproduct of many metabolic processes. When left alone, free radicals cause cell damage that over time can lead to serious illnesses, such as cancer. Anthocyanins, particularly high in black raspberry, contributes to its dark blue color and provides many health benefits:

  1. Research is finding that anthocyanins may inhibit the growth of tumor cells
  2. Anti-inflammatory: in part this class of antioxidants found in black raspberries, known as anthocyanins, help prevent blood vessel damage. This is significant in cardiovascular disease and diabetes for example.
  3. Diabetes: these antioxidants can help repair leaking, damaged arteries caused by poor sugar control which is thought to cause abnormal collagen production seen in the progression of diabetes.
  4. Anthocyanins are a strong flavanoid and flavanoids seem to offer allergy symptom relief.
  5. High in fiber
  6. Low in sugar
  7. Anthocyanins found in blueberries, bilberries and black raspberries help improve night vision and visual acuity.
  8. Weight loss: in mice, those fed a diet with anthocyanins showed less weight gain than those fed with no anthocyanins in food
  9. Birds eat them; supports wildlife
  10. Bees are attracted to the nectar filled flowers
  11. Provides a natural dye

Ellagic acid also offers significant health benefits. Like anthocyanins, ellagic acid has been shown to reduce inflammation and cancer prevention studies continue.

Uses: Black raspberries are used in a variety of recipes from jams and jellies, pies, to meat flavorings.

Teas:  a tea made form steeped leaves was typically used for stomach complaints such as diarrhea. Gather black raspberry leaves from young canes, dry and then place in glass jar for later use. It is an astringent herb, which means it is drying to tissues that are weepy, such as bowel tissue from diarrhea. Astringent herbs help tissues repair.

Our earth provides so many nourishing and healing foods. Whether you can talk a walk, pick your own or not, I encourage you to give thanks for the bountiful world we live in.

Enjoy. Judith

Judith Dreyer, MS, BSN, Writer, Speaker, Holistic Health Consultant and Workshop Presenter, Master Gardener. © all rights reserved. Including photos.

Summertime: Fifty Shades of Green

stones on shore

My time last year on Long Island, visiting the North and South Shores, gave me a chance to be with the ocean and its changing colors. Walking the shore line and traveling the ferry through sun and storm, watching a super moon take flight into the night sky, gave new meaning to “fifty shades of gray”.



Today I explore the CT forests and meadows.  A path covered in browns, rich siennas and umbers of fallen pine needles, forms a welcoming carpet through spruces and stream. Water moves along following its path, its nature, no excuses. The wind chimes through the leaves in its very special way, creating a soft sound, a rustling I find soothing. belden meadow with stream

Sunbeams weave their way between leaves and limbs casting shadows and highlights. Bright green ferns are open and sway. Dark evergreen trees stand tall and silent as birds sing and flit among the branches. Water flows and plays its tune as it moves over rocks and around bends coloring the stream-beds greenish browns. Rocks, small and smooth, form a carpet nearby. Branches twist and hang like picture frames for this woodland scene as if a palette for the fifty shades of green of summer. Summertime greens are like no other. Some of the yellows and mauves of spring have faded and the forest leaves and needles have their own color, their own hue.

As I walk through these woods, I come into a meadow where I meet some old friends.
rsz_1rsz_milkweed_flowerMilkweed, with flowers still showing their pink, like faded 19th century wallpaper, stand tall and ready for monarch larvae. They cast a fragrance also reminiscent of old sachets.

Clovers, dainty white and sweet flowers, create a mass of sweet blooms like a prayer rug. These flowers provide a feast for their guests, the bees.  Bedstraws create a lovely lacy border, always one of my favorite meadow plants. Delicate tiny blossoms skirt the edges, fill in spaces and add a soft texture to the meadow land greens.

I nibble on wild black raspberries as they begin to ripen, their silver under leaves hidden from site. Wild grapes with leaves like mini umbrellas, put out their runners ever eager to cover shrubs and neighborhood plants and grass. They grow and reach out from their very tips wrapping tendrils everywhere before their fruit ripens.


Second year mulleins with tall stalks, proudly display their yellow blossoms.
Silver velvet leaves grace straight stems, second year mullein June 2015strong, for birds will eat the flowers and drink of their nectar.

There’s more, always more to discover on each walk. Meadow lands support so much wildlife. Birds alone feed their young, help with pests. Bugs thrive and most are beneficial and if not the meadow’s diversity will help maintain a balance so most species thrive.


Beautiful artichokes reach for the sun and sky towering over most of a meadow. Their yellow discs are part of summer’s perfection.

I encourage you to take a walk today. Even sidewalks have plant and gifts, stories to weave but for the looking. For more information on the value of meadows and how to create your own, check out: At the Garden’s Gate: go to  for order information.

Enjoy. Judith

Judith Dreyer, MS, BSN, Writer, Speaker, Holistic Health Consultant and Workshop Presenter, Master Gardener.

© all rights reserved, including photos.

Let’s Go Nuts: Acorns: Part 2

Acorns are food for many species including humans. In my last post I gave the history and species of oaks in general, and mentioned that acorn flour is tasty and worth the effort of gathering, cracking shells for the meat, leaching and drying.

I enjoyed the above video for its simplicity and practical suggestions for making flour from acorn meat. I have done this myself very crudely; using a nut cracker that was time consuming and hard on the hands. These folks mention a nutcracker I have seen advertised and really makes the task of breaking open the acorn shell much easier.

I also found this source to be practical. Once harvested, the acorn meat needs to be ground up, often referred to as acorn meal. Food processors are great here. Then they have to be leached which means soaked somehow in order to decrease the tannin content. Tannins create a bitterness that is very hard to eat and in high amounts is not recommended. Again these folks show a very handy mesh with bucket device that allows you to spread the meal out which increases the surface area. More water can pass over a greater surface which decreases the amount of time needed to decrease the tannins in the meal so it becomes palatable.

I soaked my meal for hours and changed buckets frequently. The water turns dark brown and when it lightens up the tannins are flushed out. I used acorns from pin oaks, white oaks and chestnut oaks which are larger and contain more meat. Then I placed the meal in the oven and roasted it. I put the chestnut oak meal to dry on top of my refrigerator. This is normally a very good spot to dry herbs, but the moisture content of the water soaked meal caused mold to form very rapidly. Several sources suggest that when the leaching is done put in dehydrator or oven right away. I agree as I learned the hard way and lost my chestnut oak meal.

The end result was worth it though from the white oak and pin oak acorns. Light nutty flavor and texture makes it easy to use in bread, pancake, muffin type recipes. I typically replace 1/2 cup of organic flour in a recipe with an unusual flour and get good results.

Enjoy the video from Moonwise herbs… its about 7 minutes long, but for those of you interested in harvesting your own acorns and making flour, it’s practical and a bit whimsical too.

Enjoy, Judith

Judith Dreyer, MS, BSN, Writer, Speaker, Holistic Health Consultant and Workshop Presenter, Master Gardener. 

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