Thursday, November 19, 2009

LOOK FOR OUR CRAFTS AT THE QUEENS BOTANICAL GARDEN!!


You can now purchase Reincarnations' crafts at the Queens Botanical Garden Gift Shop located at the Visitors Center: 43-50 Main Street, Flushing NY 11355. Be Sure to check out all our new merchandise offerings!

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Perks of Buying Local



It wasn’t until I started working in Downtown Brooklyn, by the Courts, that I first learned what a grape was supposed to taste like. A couple of blocks from my job, there’s a farmers market, which sets up shop every Tuesday and Thursday, rain or shine. I’d walk around eating free samples of amazing strawberries and apples, smell the fresh herbs, and buy some recently picked flowers, and then I happened upon some concord grapes. At first I thought they were blueberries, they were so small and deep violet and then I popped one into my mouth. I had never tasted anything like it before. I was so used to eating the freakishly huge grapes at my local supermarket, which tended to have little flavor, it was so odd to find that such a little thing could pack such an amazing punch of sweetness, and it was then that I realized that if I wanted to eat well, I had to eat local.


I’ve lived in New York City all my life and I’ve become very used to eating whatever my local supermarket had available, which tends to be really bland foods, which make McDonalds seem much more appetizing. Lately, however, farmers markets have become ever more prevalent throughout N.Y.C., providing every urbanite with the opportunity to taste how amazing fresh produce can be.

It’s actually long over due. Believe it or not, New York has a long agricultural history. Queens NY in particular has a farming history that dates back to the 15th Century and is home to Queens County Farm Museum, which is the only working historical farm in N.Y.C. New York State however continues to have many established farms, which serve New York City residents and provides them with awesome wine, cheese, honey, maple syrup and much, much more. Shopping at local farmers markets, give residents the opportunity to support these farmers, who often times are struggling to stay afloat since it’s extremely difficult to compete with the behemoth supermarkets which most of us rely on.

There are plenty of reasons to support local farmers. For starters, supporting farmers and their farms means that a greater amount of New York State land will be devoted to the cultivation of crops, many of which are ingenious to the region, instead of using such land for commercial and real estate development. Devoting too much land for development can result in urban sprawl, which in turn can have serious environmental consequences. Yet another environmental benefit of shopping locally comes from the fact that since your produce is traveling a shorter distance to get to you, less fossil fuel is being burned, which in turn means less pollution.

Shopping locally can also have a positive effect on our current economic situation. Shopping locally puts your hard earned money back into the local economy, rather then shipping those dollars to other regions. Now-a-days, much of our produce is imported from other countries and as a result most of our produce dollars get sent back to those countries. Furthermore, since your produce must travel a long distance, by the time it gets to you, it far from fresh. It’s also pretty flavorless, since getting it to you without it going utterly rancid means that it must be picked well before it’s even close to being ripe. Now, I am not an inherent hater of globalization, it can definitely have it benefits, but if I can buy better tasting produce and help my local economy simultaneously, than it just makes more sense for me to do just that by buying from my local farmer.

One of the most important reasons to shop locally, however, is that it gives you the ability to have a greater say in the quality and diversity of your produce. Small, local farmers are more attentive to the needs and wishes of their customers. They are more likely to go out of their way to grow and cultivate their foods in a safe, clean, and sustainable manner in order to please you, the customer, as well as to protect the lands which they depend on. Most large, commercial farms, which currently dominate the produce market, often times put the best interests of their customers to the side when it comes to safety and cleanliness, with some seriously tragic results. In the pursuit of bigger profits larger farms have engaged in activities that have directly resulted in not only the death and illness of many individuals, but also in the devastation of our lands. The best way to stop such things from happening is by supporting those farmers who are responsible.

When it comes to shopping local, however, there’s no need to focus solely on local produce and foods. The growing “Handmade” movement has resulted in an explosion of new local craft and flea markets, which provide shoppers with all sorts of goodies, made my fellow city residents. In fact you can often times find yours truly selling her handmade crafts at some of these markets here in New York City. Buying more things locally allows you as the shopper to have a stronger influence in your local economy. Furthermore it provides you with the opportunity to learn how, where, and by whom the things you buy are made, which benefits all of us in the long run.

If you haven’t done so already, consider checking out the local markets near you. For those of you who aren’t sure where your nearest farmers market is, here’s a list of some of the local markets in Queens, NY:

Astoria – Wednesday’s 14 St - 31 Ave & 31 Rd

Jul 8 - Nov 8 – 3

Jackson Heights – Sunday’s 34 Ave - 77 & 78 Sts

Jun - Nov 8 - 3

L.I.C. – Saturday’s - 48 Ave btw Vernon & 5th St

Jul 11 - Nov 8 - 3

Sunnyside – Saturday’s - Skillman - 42 & 43 Sts

Jun - Dec 8 - 4

Corona – Friday’s - Roosevelt Ave & 103rd St

Jul 10-Nov 8 - 5

Glendale – Saturday’s - Cooper Ave & 80 St

Jun - Nov 8 - 3

For more information about all the greenmarkets here in N.Y.C. check out www.ceny.org.

Happy Shopping!

Sincerely,
Maria Isabel Olivera

Reincarnations NY is on ETSY!!

Check out our store and shop online @ http://www.reincarnationsny.etsy.com/

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Take the NYAC Pledge

I hereby pledge that should I ever be in need of a gift or special item I will resist the tempation to head straight to my nearest discount Superstore and instead, I will do my best to support a local artisan by purchasing a locally produced handmade good. Furthermore I promise that should a friend, relative, or acquaintance of mine ever be in need of a gift or special item I will refer them to a local artisan whenever possible.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Guide to Urban Wildlife


When most New Yorkers think of urban wildlife the images that tend to come to mind are those of our familiar friends the overfed pigeons and the jumbo mutant city rats. Let us not forget our very near, though not so dear neighbors the roach, water bug, and bedbug. These are not the examples of city wildlife that I intend to devote this blog entry to, however. New York City is actually home to a plethora of lovely creatures, which you’d actually like to have hanging around your yard or patio, so let me start this guide with the smallest of these often inconspicuous city residents.

Pleasant Insects –
No one is freaked out by bugs more than me and yet there are a few insects that even I adore. There is of course everyone’s favorite the Ladybug. Not only are Ladybugs friendly, they don’t sting or bite, nor will they nibble on your vegetables or flowers, and they even prey on insects that do feed off plants. Beauty and utility all rolled up into one bug, what’s not to love.
At first sight Fireflies can be off-putting. When not glowing they tend to look like regular beetles, which tend to creep me out, but once the sun begins to set, these bugs are a wonder to behold. Sadly I’ve been noticing for several years now that I don’t see as many fireflies as I used to and I’ve been wondering if somethings wrong. I’ll diligently keep an eye out for them this summer and hopefully they’ll make a comeback.
My favorite city insect by far, however, is the butterfly. Here in N.Y.C. we have a myriad of gorgeous butterflies such as the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail and the Small Tortoiseshell and if you plant plenty of sweet smelling flowers and herbs you can have them visiting all summer long. Personally, I have found that the butterflies in my neighborhood love the herb Ruda. It’s a very popular herb, considered to be good luck (butterflies are also considered good luck as well) and the plant can be found in many ethnic markets throughout the City in the early months of spring. Be sure to plant it in your yard or in a container and you’ll be sure to attract many of these pleasant insects.

Song Birds –
In the summer, when I’m not hearing the sound of someone’s car alarm going off in the wee hours of the morning, I’m actually being serenaded by the various song birds that hang out in the tree in my backyard. There are several of them and they look as beautiful as they sing. In N.Y.C. you can find Cardinals which are small birds of an electric red color, as well as Blue Jays which are larger and of an exquisite blue and grey color. The best singers of them all, however, are the Mockingbirds. Though, they are not as colorful as the Cardinals and Blue Jays, being of a grayish color instead, their songs are much livelier and they can sing for hours on end. These birds, unlike the more common Sparrows, don’t like just any birdseed. These birds really prefer sunflower seeds, so if you would like to attract them, you want to get the bags of bird food which contain these seeds along with the smaller seeds. Of course bags of bird foods which cater to the sophisticated tastes of the songbirds tend to be more expensive, but trust me, it’s worth every penny.

Squirrels –
I tend to have a love-hate relationship with squirrels. I think they’re adorable, but they WILL EAT EVERYTHING you plant in your garden or in an outdoor container. They’ll eat tulip bulbs right from underneath the ground, they LOVE eggplants and peppers and I haven’t met a plant seed they won’t dig up and eat. With that said, if you do enjoy having them around, place a few nuts (still in they’re shells, squirrels love a good challenge) in a pile in your yard or patio and keep an eye out for the ever elusive Black Squirrels. I’ve only seen two of these; one that lives in Forest Park and another one that lives in my Parish yard. They might be the same squirrel, however, since I’ve never seen them both on the same day…the jury’s still out.

Outdoor Cats –
Well keeping an outdoor cat isn’t really an option unless you have a warm place somewhere on your property where he/or she can live in during the cold winter months. I, however, always have a cat living in my backyard shed. Right now we’ve got Pancho, a black cat whose been living in our yard for about 3 years now. Pancho is one of several cats we’ve had and he’s certainly lasted the longest. We had a few tail-less cats, but one of them was found run over by a car close by our house one day and another one left the yard one day to run an errand never came back. Pancho, however, is practically family now. He has his own bed and an insulated box for the cold winter months and we feed him everyday. Some things to keep in mind if you decide to go this route: If you have a cat that you’ve set up an outdoor home for, beware of other cats who might try to beat your cat up and take his/her place. In such cases, be sure to have a trusty broom in hand. Also if you have a male cat (like I do), you definitely want to keep an eye out for any lady felines that are looking to shack up with your male cat and start popping out kittens. Once again keep a trusty broom handy and listen for the unmistakable sounds of a cat in heat (trust me, you can’t miss it). He might be bummed out at first, but he’ll thank you for it later.

- Sincerely
Maria Isabel Olivera

P.S. If you’re the sort of person who likes lizards and wants to see them somewhere other then at a Zoo, head to Queens College. They have tiny green lizards that like to hang out by the water fountain. Rumor has it they were lab lizards which escaped from the Science building. I also saw a jumbo mutant Praying Mantis heading towards Jefferson Hall, which I also assume escaped from the Science Building…but you didn’t hear it from me.

NEXT INSTALLMENT: De-plastic-ifying your life

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Urban Indoor Gardening



Urban Indoor Gardening

I will offer no excuses this time as to why it took me such a while to write this blog entry other than sheer idleness. I’ve finished writing it, however, and I did it just in time for the first day of spring. Granted it’s snowing outside right now (and I should add that all the meteorologists this morning said it was going to be a “passing flurry”), but I shouldn’t be all that surprised considering the kind of winter we’ve had.
I guess I should start this, by talking about the inspiration for this particular entry. It was just a little over a month ago that my cousin invited me to a get-together over at her house in Long Island. It was yet another frigid winter day and we were barely going to make it into the thirties. When I got to her house, my aunt told me that I could place my coat and bag in her bedroom. As I walked in a caught a glimpse of what was a pretty delightful sight. She had nothing short of a mini-farm growing at the foot of her bed. There was a massive avocado plant, a couple of tomato plants, and several pepper plants all grouped together and growing very nicely, especially considering that her bedroom only has one small window and not that much light. She told me she grew all the plants from seeds that she had gathered from vegetables and fruits she bought at the market.
It was amazing to see how she managed to make the most of her small bedroom space. It really made me realize that just because many of us live in cramped and possibly dark N.Y.C apartments with no backyard; it doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy all the perks that come with having your own garden. What perks exactly? Even a small indoor garden can help clean up the surrounding environment by absorbing CO2. An indoor garden can also provide you with naturally pleasant herbal scents as well as be a source of organically grown produce which will taste infinitely better than anything you buy at the local grocery store since you get to taste it at its ripest and freshest. Best of all the variety of plants that grow well indoors is quite extensive so you can try out different plants each year, completely changing your home d├ęcor look at a very small cost, especially if you grow your plants from seeds.
There are lots of starting points. One of the most convenient and economical is just taking the produce you bought from the supermarket and getting the seeds from them. In doing this you’re definitely getting the most from your trips to the market. If you’re going to get your seeds this way, you might want to splurge a little to get some organic produce, either at your local grocer or a farmers market since most of the produce you find at larger supermarkets are hybrids or have been genetically modified and as a result their seeds won’t be that great for growing. Once you’ve gathered some seeds you have to let them soak for about 48 hours in a shallow dish of water. Discard the dried up seeds that float to the top and take the seeds that sink to the bottom and place them on a towel to dry out. Be sure NOT to throw away the produce container since they make for really good planters for planting the seeds in.
If growing plants from a seed isn’t quite what you’re into than an even easier process starts once again at your local grocer or farmers market. Right about now many local grocers and farmers markets are starting to bring out various herbs and vegetable plants for growing at home. If you want a really easy, low maintenance and very useful plant to start with, definitely go with the herbs. They are beautiful, grow very quickly, are great for adding to recipes, and can leave your house smelling amazing. Better yet, herb plants love a good trimming and will actually grow more vibrantly as you use them in dishes and aromatic bouquets. BE WARNED, HOWEVER!! I learned the hard way that you can definitely go overboard when it comes to cutting your herb plants as I did with a poor dill plant which I cut beyond repair. Some popular herbs to consider growing indoors are Rosemary, Thyme, Spearmint, and Lavender, just to name a few.
There are also several vegetable and fruit plants that are easy to grow at home, my favorite being strawberries. This particular plant grows like crazy and from all directions, so be sure to have a really large planter ready for it. You can also let it grow in a hanging container and let the vines flow downward. It looks beautiful. Best of all they’ll give you the sweetest berries from the very first year. By the way, you can snip the runners and give them to your friends to pot in some soil so that they can grow strawberries of their own. I can’t compliment this plant enough! But many other fruits and vegetable are a pleasure to have as well, so you might also want to consider tomatoes, peppers, lettuce (they grow in low planting beds), and eggplants (your actually better off growing eggplants indoors, since experience has taught me that squirrels can’t resist them and they will eat the flower buds before they even have a chance to produce a fruit).
Once you start growing you plants it’s really important to develop a plan for ridding yourself of some nasty plant pests. It won’t take long for all sorts of harmful insects to appear and attack you growing plants, but luckily there are many natural bug repellants out there. For starters you might want to consider growing some bug repelling herbs like Rosemary, Bay leaf or Lemon Basil next to your more vulnerable plants. The smell these plants give off will scare the bugs aware. Another option is creating an organic bug repellant spray made with water and a few drops of herbal essential oil (try citronella,rosemary, or cinnamon, just to name a few) placed in a spray bottle. Doing this should help keep the spider mites, aphids, and white flies from nibbling at your plants.
It’s never too late in the season to start bringing plants into your home, but the best variety of plants can be found right about now, so they’re no day better than today to start working on the indoor urban garden.

NEXT INSTALLMENT: A Guide to Urban Wildlife

Urban Home Composting

The Urban Recycler:

Urban Home Composting


I was planning on starting my compost heap a few weeks ago, but unfortunately my backyard has been covered in snow and ice all this month, which wasn’t really conducive to composting, or anything else for that matter. It’s all thawed out now, so I can now begin my first step to recycling my kitchen waste.
Now ideally, I’d be the owner of a sprawling estate, and I’d have plenty of free land to dedicate to my gardening, and of course I would reserve a chunk of space for a large compost heap which I would just leave out in the open at the mercy of the elements and regularly dump more of my trash on… I don’t have that. I have a petite backyard which also serves as a parking space for my brother’s car, a pepper-growing patch for my dad, and an outdoor party space for all of my relatives, so I don’t think a smelly massive compost heap would be practical. Most New Yorkers don’t even have this, so I should count my blessings. This compost heap will therefore have those with some serious space restrictions in mind.
Since we are on the topic of waste, it should be good to mentioned the fact that the amount of food waste N.Y.C. households produce on average is nearly double the National household average, measuring 7.1 pounds a week compared to 4.1 (2004-2005 NYC Residential and Street Basket Waste Characterization Study). This is a real shame since this number can be easily reduced through composting along with changes in household habits. I think I really ought to take a second to stress the latter, since I should admit that I sometimes tend to buy and cook more food than I’ll ever be able to eat and ultimately end up throwing it away. So by just taking the time to make sure I’m only buying and cooking the amount of food that I know I can eat, I’ll be doing quite a bit to reduce the amount of food waste I produces. Doing this should also have the wonderful effect of saving me plenty of green, which certainly comes in handy in these times when money is so tight and food prices continue to skyrocket. Who knows, maybe the money I save over time can be used as a down-payment for that new hybrid car I’ve been hankering for, which will definitely help the economy as well as the environment J
So OKAY, I’m aware of my wasteful food habits and I’ve begun altering them, as for the food scraps that I’m still creating, I shall return my attention to that compost heap and the small backyard. Well my compost heap won’t be a heap since I don’t have the space for that. It’ll have to be a bin, and I don’t have the space for a massive bin, so It’ll have to be a petite bin. When it comes to petite compost bins, just about any relatively large container can do. A trash can with some holes drilled into it, a large laundry basket, or my favorite a milk crate which I got from my local grocer. It’s tiny but extremely functional and didn’t cost me a thing (do ask your grocer if they have a crate to spare before you go and grab one, cause they might just start disliking you if you take one without asking). If you do decide to make your own compost bin you might want to cover it to keep the squirrels, pigeons, rats and other critters out of it and be sure to drill some holes into the cover to let rain water in, otherwise you’ll have to remember to add water to your bin to keep the compost moist.
These bins might seem fairly small and to be honest, they are. Like I said most NYC residents don’t have much space, so a large compost bin is just not feasible, it’s either a small compost bin or none at all. With a compost bin of this size, however, I most likely won’t be able to compost all the kitchen scraps I produce, but I believe every bit helps, so I’m not going to give in to an “all or nothing” mentality and give up on this endeavor. I’ll compost as much of my kitchen and household waste as my bin allows and once the compost is ready I’ll remove it from the bin to make room for more composting.
With that said, what are the requirements and needs of my mini-urban compost bin. I’ve already noted that every compost been needs water. It’ll also need plenty of food. With the exception of meats, fish, and fatty foods, such as cheese and butter, I can put just about any kind of kitchen waste into my compost bin. This includes used tea bags, coffee grounds, egg shell, fruit and vegetable scraps, as well as other household waste such as shredded newspaper, dried leaves and grass clippings. When I place my kitchen scraps into the compost bin, I’ll definitely cover it up with plenty of leaves and dirt (I don’t have any grass in my yard, so no grass clippings for me) in order to minimize any odors which might attract some extremely unwanted guests like those mutant NYC jumbo rats that are always roaming around my neighborhood looking for an easy meal.
As soon as I catch one, I’ll also definitely throw a worm or two into my bin, since they aid in the decomposition process (I’m happy to say I recently completely removed worms, slugs, and snails from my list of bugs which I am deathly afraid of… roaches and water bugs, however, are still very much on the top of that list and they’re not going anywhere anytime soon!). Stirring frequently to aerate it, I should have plenty of great quality compost within 6 to 12 month which I plan to use for both my indoor and outdoor plants. I’m specifically looking forward to slathering some on the bottom of the Roma Tomato plants I’m planning on growing in the yard this summer next to my dad’s peppers. If this has made composting seem remotely alluring to you, there’s plenty of more information available at: http://www.dec.ny.gov/docs/materials_minerals_pdf/compost.pdf
You can get valuable tips as well as troubleshooting advice from the NYC Department of Environmental Conservation Guide’s “Everything You Have Ever Wanted to Know About Home Composting”.

-Sincerely,
Maria Isabel Olivera

Next Installment: Urban Indoor Gardening

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Finding Nature in a Concrete Jungle

The Urban Recycler

Finding Nature in a Concrete Jungle

I can’t say I was ever close to nature. Though both my parents came from places that are known for the natural beauty and landscape (my father is from Puerto Rico and my mother hails from Nicaragua) my 2 older brothers and I grew up in the comparatively lackluster boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens. My mother, despite her upbringing had a deep-rooted dislike of the outdoors and always preferred city life. My father romantically spoke of his life on the family farm in Puerto Rico and would attempt to rekindle his attachment to agrarian living and his farming ancestors by planting tomatoes and peppers in our backyard every spring. Apparently, he didn’t inherent the green thumbs of his ancestors because he’s never had a good harvest to date. In fact I’ve never met a man with a more rotten thumb since he seems to kill every plant he touches.
Oddly enough it’s my mom who has a natural talent for growing plants, and though she’s apprehensive of the wilderness, she adores having plants all around the house. So much so, in fact, that our kitchen and den looks like a mini botanical garden with large, vibrate plants wildly dominating every widow-sill and corner. I grew up surrounded by mom’s little patches of self-made wilderness and it fostered in me a profound love and admiration for nature, though there was very little of it outside my house.
It was lucky for me that I inherited my mother’s green thumb and everything I planted tended to grow with an unbridled wildness, from my rose bushes to my herbs. They seemed to completely engulf whatever space they could and while some might consider my garden extremely unruly I consider it quite exquisite. My garden, like the abandoned cemetery near my house, whose vines and trees have completely overpowered the tombstones and burial chambers, project a kind of “Wuthering Heights” quality to them which is always enchanting. Considering how lovely such small patches of nature can be in an urban dwelling, regardless of how well or unwell kept they are, it always confused me as to way most urbanites still accept being surrounded by trash instead. Their own trash I should add.
Empty food containers, discarded coffee cups, and floating bags of potato-chip bags are the main entities which litter my urban landscape rather than vines and ferns. I suppose its just par for the course. Dense populations of people and pristine open landscapes are mutual exclusive and irreconcilable. I suppose it’s the uncompromising nature of this relationship that makes many urban dwellers somewhat indifferent and at time outright antagonistic to nature and its well-being; if we can’t enjoy it for ourselves, than to hell with it. So instead we’ll drive our cars to the grocery store, which is only 3 blocks away, rather than walk it and we’ll chuck a used napkin on the ground rather than place it in a trash bin which is 2 yards away. There’s no use to going out of ones way for the benefits of something which is out-of-sight and in turn out-of-mind.
I must admit, I may never get the chance to live a truly natural life surrounded by the beauty of the outdoors as my ancestors once did (I have a crippling fear of bugs and everything gives me a rash), but I still have a profound love and respect for nature. I feel for it, much in the same way I would feel for a distant friend, who though I have left and am forced to perhaps never see again, I always hold on to my feelings of affection and always have her/his best interests at heart.
So where do I begin. The fact is that though I may have had my friends best interest at heart, my actions haven’t always matched my intentions. I could do better. Much better, actually. I do have plenty to work with. Here in Queens, we still have wild dandelions, scallions, birds, and squirrels (although apparently all the chipmunks now reside in New Jersey, or so I’ve been told…). I’ve got this little plot of land, though looking fairly sickly, I can take better care of it. So let me start today. I’ll recycle, I’ll compost, I’ll change my habits and share everything I’ve learned and perhaps if enough little patches of wilderness pop up throughout the city a renewed attachment to nature might grow within this concrete jungle.

-Maria Isabel Olivera
Owner
Reincarnations
Reincarnationsny@yahoo.com