Author Archives: Raychel

Spring Kick-off Party: Take IV

“Out of gardens grow fleeting flowers but lasting friendships.”        –Beverly Rose Hopper


Last weekend, as we kicked off one of my favorite events of the year (one which I will be particularly sad to leave behind as I move away from Baltimore this summer), it occurred to me how much this space has evolved over the years.

Delicious food, chill tunes, hoola hooping? Of course, I cannot imagine a better way of spending a sunny Sunday afternoon (especially given that some of our previous openings were notably marked by quite cold/rainy/windy weather). However, as I watched the ~70 students, staff, and community members enjoy the musical acts performed by Sunny Suntharanund, Melissa Delgado, Bea So, Joshua Langfus, and Margo Heston; potluck picnic (all natural hot dogs/brats, SSB+J sandwiches, as well as an assortment of salads, veggie dishes, biscuits, dumplings, and even some of Dale’s hot sauce made with peppers from our own garden!); and the other fun festivities, I was moved more by how we’ve truly transformed this place from a garden into a community.

Four years ago, when we celebrated our first opening, we barely knew one another. Sure, we came together to eat and chat, but we were strangers in nearly every way possible. Students might have known one another from classes or clubs, staff from their own department, or community members from their respective groups. Now, after having spent countless hours together planting, weeding, turning compost (or sitting in a meeting planning to do all of these), I know more about many of my garden buddies than I do about some of my closest friends. Transformative childhood memories, job stresses and successes, major life decisions, political opinions, favorite recipes – we’ve shared it all.


And I think that’s what makes this garden such an integral part of my life (and, I presume, the lives of many of the others who return each and every year). It’s wonderful to grow some of one’s own food, but the relationships I’ve built up over the years have proven so much more fruitful. College (and one’s 20’s in general) is, by nature, a period of transience. Friends are coming and going every semester. Life plans (if existent at all) are constantly in flux. It seems like one has to move at least once a year. Having such a tight BJP community across generations, neighborhoods, disciplines, and backgrounds keeps me grounded in what really matters in life – deep conversations, helping hands, good food, a sense of belonging.

While it’s bittersweet knowing that this was my last opening celebration (knock on wood, as I did say this once before), I will treasure these memories forever, and can’t wait to hear about all the exciting new ventures to come from the BJP in the future!

All the best,



The Sad Saga of our DIY Turpentine Wine

When life gives you grapes, make wine.

Such was our thinking this September when we noticed the vine that Wei-ting had planted along the fence a few years ago had grown quite big. With so many grapes on our hands, we decided to try our hand at the age-old process of wine making. After all, how hard could it be?

Harder than we thought, it turns out. The first step in the process involved washing, destemming, and then crushing the grapes with a potato smasher in a mesh bag (no, you don’t just step/jump on them, as we initially imagined doing). We had about 40-50 bunches of grapes, which would yield about 2.5 gallons (12 bottles) of wine. We then let the mixture (which looked a bit like cider) sit for an hour in a sanitized bucket with a campden tablet (potassium metabisulfite), before adding the yeast and transferring indoors for fermentation.

Error #1: We forgot to measure the specific gravity at this point, which meant we wouldn’t be able to determine the alcohol content when it was finished.

Two weeks later, we checked on the wine’s progress, and it had completed fermentation. Although the color was a bit cloudy, once we filtered out some of the sediment, it didn’t look that bad. And the taste was pretty good. We racked the wine into another sanitized jug and let it sit for a few more weeks while we collected bottles.

Error #2: We used a 5 gallon jug, leaving the wine exposed to a lot of air within the partially-empty jug. This, combined with the fact that we never topped it off with a wine of a similar type when transferring into this jug (forgot to look at the instructions again!), meant that the wine oxidized during its racking phase.

When we unveiled the wine a few weeks later, we realized we had made a mistake. Although oxidation can sometimes be fixed, it was pretty hopeless when we smelled it this time around. Cheryl even took a sip (and survived!), describing the scent as something akin to that of turpentine. Not the most appetizing, to say the least.

We were a bit disappointed that our first adventure in winemaking didn’t turn out as we’d hoped. However, the best part about grapes is that they’re a perennial plant. Which means that we always have next year to try again (and use this winter as a time to perfect our process with some practicing!).

A Tribute to a BJP Pioneer, Real Food “Mom,” and All-Around Hopkins Food Hero!

It all started with this email over two years ago…

From: Wei-ting Chen <>

Date: February 3, 2011 12:08:40 PM EST

Subject: Feb 9: Homewood screenings of food system documentaries


The Graduate Environmental Network, the Graduate Representative Organization and the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future are screening two short documentaries on the food system, one focuses on Baltimore while the other contrasts various meat production methods. The screenings will take place on Wednesday, Feb 9 at the Arellano Theater in Levering Hall. Doors open at 5:45 PM, screenings begin at 6. The films will last approximately an hour in total, followed by an hour of Q & A with the producers and filmmakers.   Refreshments will be served immediately following the Q&A. We are reaching out to all Homewood faculty and student groups that may be interested in the topics and help promote the event.  A flier is attached.

Thank you in advance for helping us spread the word. 


Wei-ting Chen

Graduate Student, Sociology

Graduate Environmental Network

…and a unique graduate student who was actually interested in working with our undergraduate student group, Real Food Hopkins, after meeting me at that momentous movie screening in February 2011. And when I say work, I mean, show up at all of our somewhat disorganized and almost entirely freshman-led (aka we had no idea what we were doing) meetings, offering helpful organizing and strategic advice from day one.

From: Wei-ting Chen <>

Date: February 17, 2011 3:53:55 PM EST

To: Raychel Santo <>

Subject: Re: Meeting tonight: Note one-time location change

Hi Raychel,

It is really unfortunate that I have to miss the meeting again this week, but I am going to the meeting with Ian and Larry.  So I will learn more about the garden today.

I do have a few questions for RFC: Do you think it will be divided into plots or will it be set up in rows?  Would RFC entertain the idea of having group-sponsored plots? I think some graduate students may be really interested in that. I used to live on an agricultural campus, and  I have seen friendly small vegetable gardening competitions where different groups take up responsibilities for maintaining their plots, and that actually led to a really well-maintained garden. However, this doesn’t mean that some plots will become neglected, once people become involved with community gardens, they always end up sharing responsibilities and efforts.

Also, I suspect that many members of the JHU community (particularly graduate students, faculty and staff) don’t really participate in the Homewood campus ‘food system,’ do we know what the ‘state of campus dining’ is as it pertains to the entire Homewood community? If not, would it be worthwhile to create a survey(unless this is what the Real Food Calculator does)? I would be happy to work with folks on that.

These are two ideas that came up in a discussion between GrEN members, so I thought I would bring them up with you/RFC crew.



2000+ (no kidding!!!) emails, later, I sit here reflecting on everything that has happened since these initial exchanges, and all I can say is wow.

Without Wei-ting, there would be no BJP. Yes, a group of five of us spearheaded the official launch of our garden. However, prior to receiving the current parcel of land on which the BJP rests, we had to demonstrate that our group would be able to upkeep (to Hopkins beautification committee standards) the garden throughout the growing season. As none of us students were here that first summer (or even the next, in fact), Wei-ting nearly single-handedly kept our smaller original garden alive in our absence, thereby earning us the respect of JHU admins.

Even if we had somehow secured this plot of land on our own, we would never have been able to attain the level of interdisciplinary, community-wide support without Wei-ting’s incredible networking ability and visionary motivation. Wei-ting has pushed us to new heights throughout the way, a fact that surely led us to earn the Baltimore City Master Gardeners’ Best New Community Garden Award last year and the JHU Office of Sustainability’s Three-Legged Stool Award this past spring.

Without Wei-ting, our three-year-strong 100 Mile Meal may have been a one-time failure. How else would a bunch of naïve 19 year olds – mostly vegetarians – figured out how to source our first entirely-local, chicken-containing three-course meal for 85 people and proceed to cook it in a one-range kitchen? Did I mention that this all occurred DURING exam season? (Wei-ting received the affectionate title of “Real Food Mom” after she led that hectic cooking spree to success).

Wei-ting has stuck with us while we went through many garden leadership transitions over the years – both at an administrative and student level. She suffered the scrutiny of her dissertation advisor after spending an exorbitant amount of her time occupied by garden-related meetings, phone calls, and (endless!) emails. She put up with frustrating legal, financial, administrative, and logistical hurdles to getting the garden started and keep it functioning. She came with the practical knowledge of how to actually grow food, which many of us who were involved admittedly knew nothing about beforehand. Moreover, Wei-ting fueled our potluck garden-planning sessions with delicious homemade dishes while serving as a pseudo-counselor listening to complaints about our trivial undergrad problems (from organic chemistry midterms and kitchen-less-dorm rooms to postgrad plans and senioritis). Overall, Wei-ting contributed AT LEAST 15-20 hrs/week on the garden over the past two years!

And remember… she did all of this for FREE!

As an ultimate testament to her behind-the-scenes work, I was only able to find a few pictures with Wei-ting in them among all of our garden/Real Food pictures throughout the years. (She was usually the one documenting our triumphs with her handy iPhone!)

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A shout-out also goes to Baptiste for letting us borrow Wei-ting on so many weekday evenings and weekend mornings/afternoons for all of our garden efforts. We are glad you joined us in helping bring the BJP to life!

On behalf of everyone who has benefited from all of your hard work in helping us get to where we are today, THANK YOU! We wish you and Baptiste the best in Atlanta!



p.s. To all of you who would like to help us celebrate Wei-ting and Baptiste’s departure, please come out to the garden picnic party this Sunday, July 21 at 4:30 PM in the garden! Bring a dish to share and a friendly mood, as we say goodbye to some of our garden’s best volunteers.

A Place at the Table Film Screening and Dinner

All – students, staff, faculty, and community members – are invited to attend a screening of A Place at the Table this Thursday, May 2 at 5:30 PM in Bloomberg 272 on the Homewood Campus.

Screen shot 2013-04-30 at 6.57.49 AM

“A Place at the Table” (from the makers of “Food, Inc.”) focuses on the issue of how 49 million people in the U.S.—one in four children—don’t know where their next meal is coming from, despite our having the means to provide nutritious, affordable food for all Americans. The film examines this issue through the lens of three people for who are struggling with food insecurity, along with insights from experts including sociologists, nutrition policy leaders, ordinary citizens, teachers, and important food activists.

A Place at the Table shows us how hunger poses serious economic, social and cultural implications for our nation, and that it could be solved once and for all, if the American public decides – as they have in the past – that making healthy food available and affordable is in the best interest of us all.

After the film from 5:30-7, viewers are encouraged to attend our Action Fair, which will contain booths highlighting the various groups on campus that are working on issues related to food insecurity, social inequity and justice.

FREE SUSTAINABLE DINNER will be served at the event – with generous thanks to the Johns Hopkins Alumni Association, Cafe Azafran, Zia’s Catering, and The Wild Pea Hummus.

All students, faculty, staff, and community members are invited to attend.

This event is being co-sponsored by Real Food Hopkins, Health Leads, JHU Healthy Community Initiative and the Center for a Livable Future

For more information, visit


Come to the Season Two Opening Celebration this Sunday!

The Blue Jay’s Perch has come a long way over the past year and a half since its start! In our first season alone, we brought together over 200 students, staff, faculty, and community members to enjoy the pleasures of growing food and friendships. We bonded over construction projects and cookouts; hosted educational field trips for local children; and were even privy to a home-brewing presentation. We won the Baltimore City Master Gardener’s Best New Community Garden of the Year award. To top it off, we donated over 100 pounds of produce to local soup kitchens!

This year we aspire to do even more! Dedicated volunteers (of whom we could always use more!) have stepped up to plan projects, solve the garden’s water challenges, create a communal row planting scheme, and more. We are excited to see where these efforts will lead us through this year and beyond.

Thus, we are excited to invite you to help us celebrate the start of spring and the gardening season this Sunday, April 21 from 1-3 PM at the BJP.

This exciting day will feature kid-friendly activities, a composting workshop, vegetable planting, official hanging of their garden sign, and the launch of a new astronomical sculpture project. All  – students, staff, faculty, community members, kids, adults alike – are welcome!

Chef Irena Stein of Cafe Azafran will be briefly speaking about the importance of local food growing and community building, and a local musician will add to the vibe with some tunes!

Hot dogs and veggie dogs will be provided, as well as strawberry lemonade from Cafe Azafran. Attendees are encouraged to bring a side dish to share for a potluck-style picnic. Please also bring a picnic blanket or chairs.

Check out our Facebook event and invite your friends: 

Rain date: Sunday, April 28

Don’t know where the BJP is? Check out our Google map location:

BJP Supports Food Day Festivities at Hopkins

Johns Hopkins Homewood campus celebrated the 2nd Annual Food Day last Wednesday, October 24 in many exciting ways. We are thrilled to say that this year, the Blue Jay’s Perch was able to support these efforts with delectable produce, content inspiration, and much more!

The 100 Mile Meal

Presented the weekend before Food Day by one of the BJP’s founding student groups, Real Food Hopkins, the 100 Mile Meal featured Anna Lappé, bestselling author of Diet for a Hot Planet and prominent public speaker on food sustainability and climate change.

Anna’s new mini-documentary series, Food Mythbusters, aims to debunk several corporate myths circulated in ad campaigns by big ag companies. The first video of the series, countering the myth that we need industrial agriculture to feed to world, was shown exclusively at the meal over the weekend; and was released to the public on Food Day itself. At the meal, we also screened a short film featuring local farmer, Kristin Carbone of Radix Farm, which portrayed issues of land use and biodiversity.

As illustrated in the films, despite the obstacles faced by small and organic farmers, a vision of sustainable land use is no lofty, far-off goal. According to Anna, “you can’t throw a dart at a map of the United States, and go to the place where it lands without finding a community where change is happening.” We are happy to say that the Blue Jay’s Perch provides one clear example of this galvanizing phenomenon, closely matching the nation’s and even our city’s efforts towards making food healthier for us and our planet! The BJP’s contribution of fresh herbs, sweet potatoes, and green tomatoes (which were made into a delicious tomato jam by our very own gardener Wei-ting) to our menu for the event further solidified its support!

Here are some pictures from both events:

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Garden Delights Cooking Demo

Continuing with the excitement of Food Day, Real Food Hopkins hosted an event the day after (Thursday, October 25) with many of the other sustainable food group leaders at Hopkins, including those from Campus Kitchens, Hopkins Farmhands, Healthy Community Initiative, Cooking 4 Love, and more.

The event was inspired by the success of BJP itself. As the first season at the garden has spanned out, we have donated over 100 pounds of produce to JHU student groups that then serve or distribute this produce to local food shelters. However, a common theme that has come up with these donations has shown that students are often unaware of how to prepare these vegetables in appetizing ways. After all, how many 18-22 year-olds know what do do with chard? Beets? Green tomatoes?

We decided this occasion called for the perfect learning opportunity. Thus, local Baltimore resident and gardener Victoria Day, accompanied by her helpful husband Michael, offered to come to our campus to teach us how she uses fresh garden produce to cook up delicious meals in budget-friendly ways. She prepared a heirloom tomato salad with a mustard vinaigrette (served with a locally baked Italian bread), pasta with two sauce options: fresh tomato/chard sauce and basil pesto, blackberry with a homemade whipped cream topping, and fresh cooked applesauce. She also explained how to best can vegetables, where (and why) to splurge in food purchases, and how to make one’s produce stretch to the max. One could say with conviction that students could not have left the event without a belly full of delicious food or a set of new food preparation ideas!

Not only did this cooking lesson fulfill one of our missions at building personal connections between JHU and the local Baltimore community, but it also served a practical purpose of training students in how they can prepare and use up the wonderful bounty our garden has provided. The enthusiasm and interest of students at the event only solidified its success and will surely inspire future efforts of the same sort!

All are invited to the 3rd Annual 100 Mile Meal!

Hello gardeners,

Real Food Hopkins, one of the main student groups behind the founding of this garden, would like to invite you to our biggest event of the year – the 3rd Annual 100 Mile Meal.

This year’s theme is FOOD MYTHBUSTERS
Plenty for the Planet: Sustainable Food and a Well-Fed World 

This event, part of the celebration leading up to the second annual Food Day (, will take place on Saturday, October 20th, starting at 4:30 pm. In addition to an all-local (from within 100 miles) delicious meal, the event will feature the local premier of a new animated film illustrating how sustainable food systems can feed the world by bestselling author and sustainable food advocate Anna Lappe.

The 100 Mile Meal is open to undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, staff, and other interested community members. We hope to connect members of the Johns Hopkins community and surrounding Baltimore area to those who want to institute tangible changes in the food system.

Food will be sourced from the Blue Jay’s Perch community garden and other local producers. Poultry, vegetarian, and vegan options will be available.

Sat, October 20, 2012 @ 4:30 pm
Charles Commons Conference Center, Salons A and B
$5 / person (pay at door)
Please RSVP by Mon, Oct 15 : 

Seats are limited to the first 150 guests.

This event is co-hosted by Real Food Hopkins*, the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, Corporate Accountability International, and the Small Planet Institute.


*REAL FOOD HOPKINS is a student-run chapter of the national Real Food Challenge movement ( that is committed to bringing local, sustainable, humane, and fair food to the Johns Hopkins campus and the surrounding Baltimore area through organizing food advocacy and awareness events, cooperating with the larger food movement, maintaining a sustainable campus garden, promoting community-based learning about food and where it comes from, and donating fresh produce acquired to organizations that feed the local hungry. For more information, contact or

On October 24, 2012—and on the days and weeks before and after—thousands of Americans will gather in schools, college campuses, farmers markets, City Halls, and state capitals to talk about what’s right and wrong with our diets and whole food system and how to fix them. To learn more about Food Day and to find out about other events occurring during that week, visit