Deep Roots helps celebrate the tomato

Published 4:47 pm Monday, July 29, 2019

By Stephanie Williams Dean

Bless Your Spoon

 

If we’re open to it, our children have a thing or two to teach us – and they often inspire us, too.

Such was the case for Diane Salmon.

Giving her daughter, Wendy Payne, credit for the inspiration behind the original concept for Deep Roots Community Garden, Diane said: “I had never heard of the phrase – a food desert.”

In 2012, Diane traveled down to Huntsville, Ala. to visit Wendy and while there, went to see the community gardens her daughter had established – a total of 14 – most of them connected to schools. It was on that trip when Diane first heard the words, food desert. The phrase describes a location where people are not able to walk and obtain fresh food but instead, have to travel by car to get there. The people who need it most don’t always have access to what’s fresh.

Wendy came to Mocksville, where she visited her parent’s church and gave a presentation to a group of about 30 members about how food deserts impact communities. Part of her talk focused on how issues of food insecurity can be lessened by growing community gardens. Some people don’t know the difference between organic food and food off a grocery shelf.

As a result, Deep Roots Mocksville Community Gardens began in 2013 and formed as an organization interested in making healthy foods available to the general public and those in need.

“Our idea was if we developed a community garden, then people could come and grow what they wanted and learn from each other. That would be one way to get more healthy foods in their diets.”

The group was told to start small. When looking for land, they divided into two groups. While thinking it would be difficult to find property, both groups came back with an offer.  With more land than she initially thought would be available to them, Diane recalled worrying, “Which group would have to tell their people that they no longer needed the land?”

The answer was neither. As things turned out, the group didn’t begin small at all, but instead, got off the ground with two gardens.

From the beginning, Deep Roots has offered free programs to children and adults. People can come and participate without worry of fees or costs. Those who attend classes are engaged in a hands-on experience. The concept was to be a garden where people could come and learn alongside their neighbors with whom they’d share ideas. Over the years, it’s evolved more into a teaching garden, but Diane looks forward to the hands-on part of the experience to continue to grow in the future.

Now in the sixth year, Deep Roots continues in its quest to get the word out to the community with a focus on reaching more underprivileged people. Diane feels confident the gardens will continue to grow through targeted advertising, and people will continue to gain knowledge and experience, which will increase the ability to grow their own food. “I hope to see more robust teaching of those who don’t know how to grow their own food so that they can learn,” said Diane.

The Clement garden is across from Deano’s Barbeque on Clement Street and consists of 35 beds. Five are for children. The beds rent for $15 a season. Gardeners get a raised bed for planting and growing food.  A portion of the food has to be given to a worthy cause – at least 10 percent of what’s grown.

“We have a basket to put the vegetables in that are to be given away. If you don’t know who to give it to, then we’ll distribute it for you.”

“There was one fellow who picked 31 pounds of tomatoes. We only count what we give away and not what people keep for themselves.”

From 2014-2018, Deep Roots donated 8,000 pounds of freshly grown vegetables. The garden at Storehouse for Jesus is also part of Deep Roots. Director for Storehouse, Marie Collins, originally planted the garden but was willing to let it be part of the program. Much of the teaching that takes place there is through Boy and Girl Scout programs and other organizations. Storehouse has classes on planting seeds, how to take care of plants, and the harvesting produce, so children get hands-on experience.

A teacher in agriculture at the high school, Jesse Ledbetter and his students planted about15-20 beds. Deep Roots started donating to the backpack buddy program so kids can have fresh food in their backpacks. Also, a woman comes every Friday and picks up fresh produce to take to the food pantry in Clemmons. While wanting to spread out, Deep Roots wants to keep food grown here to remain local and benefit the residents of Davie.

Those at Deep Roots realized that the next generation of kids is who they need to reach, so that’s where a great portion of efforts are focused. Surprising is the fact that many of the younger generation have no idea where their food comes from.

Diane shared a funny conversation she had with a little boy who asked her, “What’s that?”

“That’s a carrot. It comes from the ground.”

He responded by saying, “I’m never going to eat a carrot again.”

Usually it’s the younger children who are interested in the gardens. The kids really don’t know they can actually grow their own food. Educating these young folks is where the group must focus with the hope of instilling a love for gardening. With education as a primary goal, the first year after organizing, Deep Roots helped William R. Davie Elementary School establish an onsite garden.

“I think everybody needs to know how to grow a vegetable,” Diane said.

Both gardens grow berries, and they’re free to anybody. Children are allowed to pick all the thornless berries they want and can eat the food straight from the garden as the plants are grown organically using no sprays, so there’s nothing harmful.

“We have children who plant spinach, then pick it, and shove it in their mouths. They will say, ‘Mommy, you have to eat this because I grew it’.”

Deep Roots has been concerned about the climbing obesity rates in children and the sugar in their diets. The group attempts to try to turn that around by teaching kids, hoping they might decide that fresh fruit is as good as candy – and just maybe, by working with mothers and grandmothers, they can change the next generation.

“Do you think you’ve succeeded in doing that?” I asked.

“All we can do is notice how much the children love the berries. Their faces are purple from eating these berries they love so much.”

A future project will be installing veterans’ gardens.  Disabled vets will have a path where they can come in. They’ll be able to plant, as the beds will be built higher, so wheelchairs can wheel in underneath.

With a motto of, “Increasing the gardens one neighborhood at a time,” the group wants to do just that but doesn’t have the staff to grow much larger than they are now.

“We don’t want to grow too fast. We’re not big enough yet to be as diversified as we’d like to be going forward.”

Deep Roots would like to see people growing plants from their own countries. Among the new ideas are a few projects getting off the ground such as a pollinator garden that was started this year – and also a butterfly way station – little houses made for butterflies to come in and nest. There’s a plant that actually attracts specific butterflies.

An organization has to be registered to be a way station, and Deep Roots is in the process of working on completing that process. But the group has started working on the plants they need in hope of seeing that project come to fruition in the future.

Taking on new projects requires a number of additional volunteers. Needing more working hands, Deep Roots has hired two high school boys to help in the gardens. Hopefully, this will be another source of part-time employment for community youth.

Starting Deep Roots has helped Diane grow individually in more ways than one. “I’m not that good as far as directing and leading people. I’m more of a follower.”

I think many people would disagree with her.

When the group was first getting started, Diane was the one who had to go around and give speeches to the local civic organizations. At first, she labored over the information she wanted to share in her talks but discovered that when she got up in front of groups to talk – the words just flowed. “It’s so much a love of my heart; I just said what I had to say. Often, I wouldn’t even remember what I had said.”

Diane hears comments about the excellent job Deep Roots is doing, and the words make her feel like the group’s accomplishing something important – especially when she hears from those folks who can no longer work in gardens. The feedback gives her a great sense of satisfaction.

“The longer we’re here, the more people are getting to know us.”

There are many ways to garden, whether it be straw bale method, layering, or other techniques. Deep Roots had one girl who knew nothing about gardening when she started but ended up with one of the best beds at Clement Garden.

From September-May, the group organizes fundraising dinners. They conduct free cooking classes in June, July, and August. They have four women, and each picks a dish she would like to demonstrate. At the class, they usually have several other side dishes to taste. It’s often a vegetable or berry recipe that has a twist to it so folks can sample something different.

The first class in June is usually a berry class. The July class was held Tuesday night and covered fresh tomatoes. The August class will feature recipes using variations of squash. The cooking classes are free, but people can make donations.

Diane is genuinely grateful and says she’s never seen such a high level of support from the community, sponsoring garden clubs, and others. She’s continually amazed at all the donations. Just recently, a gentleman came out and took care of the cost to put up gutters. Another gentleman donated just to keep the gardens going.

If you’re interested, go on over to the garden to check it out – and see what you think. Planting a small plot is an excellent way to find out if gardening might be your next new hobby. From April 1-Oct. 31, you can rent a 4 x 12 space for $15 and learn how to have fun in the garden.

Contact Diane Salmon at (336) 492-2360.

“When you have a tough day, and you debate if you’re doing the right thing, the support from the churches and community just keeps you going. No one has ever said no.”

Make use of fresh tomatoes and herbs from the garden with these easy, no-fuss recipes that include several stuffed versions – they remind me of the vine ripened, summer tomatoes my mother filled with cottage cheese or tuna fish when I was a kid. Here are some delicious variations to serve your family.

EASY TOMATO BRUSCHETTA

1½ lb. seeded, fresh tomatoes, cut in chunks

10 chopped basil leaves

3 cloves minced garlic

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Slices of a fresh, country-style loaf of bread

Combine tomatoes, basil, garlic, and oil in a bowl. Salt and pepper to taste.

Mix all ingredients, and marinate in the refrigerator for one hour. Toast the bread in an oven set on broil. Mound the tomato mixture on the toasted bread.

CORNBREAD STUFFED TOMATO

6 oz. cornbread mix

6 seeded, fresh tomatoes

6 cooked, crumbled bacon slices

4 chopped green onions

¼ cup mayonnaise

¼ tsp. salt

¼ tsp. pepper

¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

According to pkg. directions, cook cornbread. Cool and crumble in a large bowl. Cut 1 inch from tops of each tomato. Scoop out pulp into the bowl with cornbread. Place tomatoes upside down on a paper towel to drain. Add cooked bacon, onions, mayonnaise, salt, and pepper to cornbread tomato mixture. Salt insides of tomatoes. Stuff tomatoes with the mixture, and sprinkle tops with cheese. Bake in a 375-degree oven for 15 minutes.

SIMPLE SALAD OF HEIRLOOM TOMATOES

½ tsp. sugar

½ tsp. salt

2 chopped green onions

2 chopped garlic cloves

2 tsp. minced fresh oregano

1 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary

1 Tbsp. chopped Italian parsley

Balsamic vinegar

White wine vinegar

5 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

8 ripe, all colors, heirloom tomatoes

In a bowl, slice tomatoes ½ inch, and save all juice. On a platter, layer the tomatoes, and sprinkle them with sugar and salt. Then sprinkle with green onions, garlic cloves, oregano, rosemary, and parsley. Sprinkle with tomato juices, balsamic vinegar, and wine vinegar in that order. Drizzle with olive oil. Allow to stand for an hour.

BAKED CHEESE STUFFED TOMATOES

8 seeded, fresh tomatoes

1 cup chopped tomato (from insides)

6 oz. softened cream cheese

½ tsp. chopped garlic clove

2 tsp. fresh basil

4 tsp. chopped, fresh parsley

½ tsp. salt

½ tsp. black pepper

12 oz. feta cheese

2 Tbsp. toasted bread crumbs

2 tsp. chopped fresh parsley

1 tsp olive oil

Cut 1inch off tops of tomatoes. Also cut bottoms so that tomatoes can sit flat, but don’t cut through. Remove pulp and seeds. Scoop out the inside sections, and chop to make 1 cup. Set aside. Drain tomatoes upside down on a paper towel.

In a processor, combine cream cheese, garlic, basil, parsley, salt, and pepper. Add cheese and process until smooth. Fold in the chopped tomato. Salt inside of tomatoes. Fill drained tomatoes to the top with cheese mixture. In a bowl, mix bread crumbs, parsley, and olive oil, and top each tomato. Bake on a greased baking sheet in a 350-degree oven for 15 minutes.

SALMON STUFFED TOMATOES

8 ripe tomatoes

2 peeled, seeded cucumbers

¼ pound smoked salmon, cut in ¼ inch pieces

1 cup sour cream

1 Tbsp. drained capers

4 chopped scallions

1 tsp. chopped fresh dill

2 Tbsp. tarragon vinegar

Freshly ground black pepper

Cut 1-inch off tops of tomatoes. Also cut bottoms so that they sit flat, but don’t cut through. Remove pulp and seeds. Scoop out the inside sections, chop , and place in a bowl.  Drain tomatoes on a paper towel by turning upside down. Sprinkle inside of tomatoes with salt. In another bowl, cut the cucumber into ½ inch slices. Sprinkle with salt, and let stand 30 minutes. Rinse and drain thoroughly. Add the cut salmon to the cucumbers. Then add sour cream, capers, scallions, dill, and vinegar. Chill the mixture. Fill each tomato with the salmon mixture and garnish with dill before serving.

GOURMET GRILLED TOMATO SAUCE

3 pounds fresh tomatoes

1 red bell pepper

2 jalapeno chilies

4 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup minced onion

1 Tbsp. minced garlic

1 Tbsp. chopped fresh oregano

2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

2 Tbsp. Gorgonzola cheese

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Core tomatoes and cut an X through the skin on the bottom of each. In a bowl, toss tomatoes, pepper, and chilies with 2 Tbsp. of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Place all on the grill, placing tomatoes X side down. Cover the grill, and cook, turning to char evenly all over. Cook tomatoes until soft but still firm. Cool and peel the grilled vegetables. Cut tomatoes in half horizontally. Squeeze out seeds, but catch and save juices. Finely chop tomatoes. Reserve any tomato pulp and juice, and add to the chopped tomatoes. Seed pepper and jalapenos. Dice pepper and mash the jalapenos. Heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil in a pan until hot. Add the onion, season with salt, and saute 2 minutes or until soft. Add garlic and oregano and stir. Add tomatoes and juice. Bring to a boil over high heat. Lower heat, simmer 10 minutes or until thickened. Add bell pepper and mashed jalapeno. Add vinegar and stir in the Gorgonzola. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve over pasta and top with chopped parsley.

TOMATO COULIS

5 peeled, seeded fresh tomatoes

¼ bunch chopped fresh basil

2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

In a food processor, puree the tomatoes. Pour into a fine-mesh sieve, and place over a bowl. Drain for several hours. Take the puree in the bowl, and stir in the remaining ingredients. Serve immediately with seafood or other meat.

SPINACH AND CHEESE STUFFED TOMATOES

4 medium tomatoes

2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

8 oz. diced mushrooms

1 lb. chopped fresh spinach

1 Tbsp. minced garlic

½ tsp. salt

½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

½ cup grated cheddar cheese

Slice about 1- inch off tops of tomatoes. Remove seeds and core. Drain upside down on a paper towel. In a skillet, heat oil, add mushrooms and saute for 3 minutes. Add garlic and chopped spinach, cover and cook for 2 minutes or until spinach is wilted. Season with salt and pepper. Add the grated cheese and toss.  Stuff tomatoes with the spinach mixture. Bake in a 400-degree oven for 10 minutes.

PAPAYA AND TOMATO RELISH

6 peeled, seeded, fresh tomatoes

1 papaya

2 kiwis

3 minced scallions

½ cup olive oil

¼ cup fresh lemon juice

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Peel and seed tomatoes. Peel and seed Papaya. Peel kiwis. Cut tomatoes, papaya, and kiwi into ¼ inch pieces. Add scallions, olive oil, and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste. An excellent accompaniment to seafood or other meats.

TOMATO AND SHRIMP SOUP

8 seeded fresh tomatoes

3 Tbsp. olive oil

1 minced onion

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 lb. small shrimp

1 cup peeled, diced cucumber

1 diced red pepper

1 Tbsp. chopped cilantro

1 Tbsp. chopped basil

1 Tbsp. chopped chives

Chop seeded tomatoes in a bowl.  In a skillet, saute onions in 3 Tbsp. olive oil until tender. Add tomatoes and saute for 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer for 5 minutes. Cool. In a skillet, heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil. Toss shrimp until cooked through. Add cucumbers, red pepper, cilantro, basil, and chives to tomato mixture. Gently add shrimp. Serve chilled.

EASY SUMMER TOMATO PIE

15 oz. pkg. refrigerated pie crusts

7 sliced, drained, fresh tomatoes

1 tsp. sugar

½ tsp. salt

½ tsp. pepper

1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

1 cup mayonnaise

3 oz. shredded Parmesan cheese

Lay piecrust into a 9-inch plate and crimp edges. Place weight into bottom of pie plate, and bake in a 350-degree oven for 10 minutes. Slice and drain tomatoes. Arrange tomato slices in piecrust. Sprinkle with sugar, salt, and pepper between each layer. On the top layer of tomatoes, sprinkle with flour. In a bowl stir together mayonnaise and cheese. Cover all tomatoes by spreading mixture over the top. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 30 minutes.

OPEN FACE TOMATO-CHEESE MELT

4 split English Muffins

2 large fresh tomatoes

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 cup (8 oz.) grated Gruyere cheese

1/2 cup chopped fresh basil

4 Tbsp. bread crumbs

4 minced garlic cloves

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Toast muffins. Cut each tomato into 4-3/4 inch slices and seed. Put 1 slice of tomato on top of each muffin half. Salt and pepper each tomato. Bake in a 375-degree oven for 18 minutes until tomatoes are soft. In a bowl, combine cheese, basil, bread crumbs, and garlic. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Top each tomato with the cheese mixture, and bake in a 375-degree oven for 5 minutes. Serves 4.

FRESH OVEN-DRIED TOMATO PIZZA

Refrigerated pizza dough (2 rolls)

cornmeal

5 oz. crumbled goat cheese

¼ cup torn basil leaves

1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

Tomatoes

6 large, red-yellow-orange, fresh tomatoes

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 chopped garlic cloves

1 Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves

2 tsp. sugar

1 tsp. Salt

¼ tsp.  freshly ground black pepper

Cut tomatoes in half. Oil a rimmed baking sheet. With cut side up, place tomatoes in a single layer on a greased baking sheet. Brush tops with olive oil. Sprinkle the garlic, thyme, sugar, salt, and pepper over tops of tomatoes. Bake in a 350-degree for 2 hours or until wrinkled and slightly brown. Turn off oven, and allow to sit for 2 more hours. Transfer tomatoes and juice to a bowl.

Dust a round baking sheet with cornmeal, and place dough on the baking sheet. Arrange ½ of tomatoes, cheese, and basil leaves on top of dough round. Drizzle with half the olive oil. Bake in a 450-degree oven for 12 minutes or until crust is golden. Makes 2 pizzas.

SPINACH-CHEESE STUFFED TOMATOES

4 seeded, fresh tomatoes

salt

½ pound cooked, crumbled bacon

½ cup chopped onion

1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms

10 oz. chopped fresh spinach

¼  cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese

¼ cup sour cream

¼ cup breadcrumbs

½ tsp. salt

½ tsp. pepper

Cut a 1inch slice from top of tomatoes. Scoop the pulp out, and put in a bowl. Place tomatoes upside down on a paper towel to drain. Sprinkle inside of tomato with salt. Chop pulp and drain. Cook bacon, drain, and crumble, reserving 1 Tbsp. drippings. In a skillet, saute onion and mushrooms in bacon dripping for 3 minutes. Add spinach, cover, and cook 3 minutes. Stir in tomato pulp, crumbled bacon, ¼ cup cheese, and sour cream. Fill tomato shells with mixture. Put all in an 11 x 7 baking dish. Combine remaining ¼ cup of cheese, breadcrumbs, salt, and pepper. Sprinkle over tops of tomatoes. Bake in a 375-degree oven for 20 minutes.

SUMMER’S FRESH GAZPACHO

3 lbs. peeled, seeded, pureed fresh tomatoes

4 cups vegetable broth

½ cup fresh lime juice

1 peeled, seeded, chopped cucumber

1 stemmed, seeded, chopped jalapeno chili

4 minced scallions

1 minced garlic clove

1 Tbsp. chopped fresh oregano leaves

2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

Salt to taste

1 peeled, pitted chopped avocado

Tortilla chips

Puree the tomatoes and strain. Stir together the tomatoes, broth, lime juice, cucumber, jalapeno, scallions, garlic, and oregano. Refrigerate covered for 3 hours or overnight. Before serving, stir in olive oil, and salt to taste. Spread chopped avocado on chips and sprinkle with fresh oregano. Garnish bowls of soup with avocado topped chips.

Hints: You can drop tomatoes in boiling water for 20 seconds, drain and cool, and then remove skins if desired. But there’s nothing wrong with omitting the peeling of the tomatoes, and just chop and puree with skin intact. Also, you can halve the tomatoes and scoop out the seeds into a bowl and then strain them out to use the juices and pulp only.