Tag Archives: Local food

The Secrets of Growing Great Tomatoes

By Carol Rossi, The Bounty Garden’s Seedling Instructor

The best thing about home-grown tomatoes (besides their delicious flavor of sweet sunshine) is that they can be grown pretty much anywhere you have a patch of reliable sunlight. You just need to know the attributes and requirements for your particular growing situation.

If all you have is a couple large pots on a balcony you are still set to produce some beautiful tomatoes. Just ensure the pots are located so they receive a minimum of 8 hours of direct sunlight – this is one growth requirement where tomatoes will not compromise. Next, replace the soil in the pots every growing season with a fresh batch of potting soil that is rich in nutrients and organic matter. Tomatoes are nutrient gluttons so you can use a mix that is high in nitrogen and phosphorus and without worrying about over-feeding them. Now select the proper variety for your pots. Look for dwarf (or patio) size, or small-fruited “determinates” such as cherry, grape, and pear tomatoes. Determinates grow to a certain size and then stop so they are perfect for small spaces and also don’t require much support. The small, cone-shaped tomato cages should suffice but instead, I recommend the heavy-duty kind instead of the spindly wire type. Train determinates to support their stems on the cage but don’t prune them. They will reward you by covering themselves with wonderful, tasty tomatoes.

If you are a lucky gardener with lots of room you definitely have more options!  Tomatoes come in early, mid-season, and long (or main) season varieties, so for an extended harvest period all you have to do is mix up the varieties. Choose early cultivars for half your plants, one intermediate, and the remainder long season. Because the early varieties put a lot of energy into quick production, the fruit tends to be smaller and less flavorful than the long season types that luxuriate long summer days on the vine. But put in some Early Girls and you can be eating tomatoes in late June or early July while looking forward to the August arrival of Big Boys, Mortgage Lifters, and Brandywines. You can also choose “paste” varieties, such as Black Plum and San Marzano, which make great sauces, but are less juicy and tangy than the “table” or “slicing” types. Just be aware that while small and intermediate size tomatoes can be grown in 8 to 10 hours of direct sunlight per day the standard and big sizes require a minimum of 12 to 14 hours daily.

With all that room you may select indeterminate cultivars which, theoretically, can grow as large as conditions allow. They will require a strong trellis where vines can be tied, or a heavy-duty cage 5 to 6 feet high and 2 feet around. Google “tomato cages” and get some inspiration, but don’t skimp on support because broken vines result in far fewer tomatoes. Pruning an indeterminate will also reduce the amount of the crop, although some gardeners still trim them back to increase the size of individual tomatoes and keep the vines manageable. The choice is dependent on your philosophy!

Tomatoes like their space. You can plant dwarfs and cherry tomatoes 18” apart but all the others need at least 24” between plants. Don’t crowd them because they are heavy feeders and compete for soil nutrients. They are also sun lovers and sun blockers so you must ensure each plant gets the sunlight it needs.   They will produce well if grown in a single row (never in a block) where they each get an equal share of sunlight and nourishment.

Care and cultivation are the same for potted or in-ground tomato plants.  Tomatoes don’t need (and don’t like) a lot of water. Water them well at planting and you should not have to water them more than once weekly. One weekly deep watering is MUCH better than regular shallow watering. Uneven watering will also promote a condition known as blossom-end rot—consistency is key. Don’t get water on their leaves because this promotes disease.

Tomatoes are also the nutrient gluttons of the vegetable world, so you will need to supplement their feeding throughout the long growing season. Spray plants with compost tea, seaweed extract, or a similar fertilizer two weeks after transplant. Spray them again at flowering, after first fruit is set, and then weekly when plants start producing. You can use a foliar feed or a soil-soak to keep them happy. The mid to late season varieties should produce until the first rains of fall start in October. Then you can clip any remaining vines with green tomatoes and hang them in your garage to ripen.

Tomatoes define the summer!  There are no excuses not to get growing! Learn more about The Bounty Garden at https://thebountygarden.wordpress.com/  and Sustainable Danville Area at http://www.facebook.com/sustainabledanvillearea

 

Reprinted with permission from Danville Today News/Alamo Today:

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Nora Pouillon’s Visit to THE BOUNTY GARDEN

Good evening Friends of the Bounty Garden,
Today, Michael Barnard of Rakestraw Books in Danville announced that Chef Nora Pouillon, a true visionary in the certified organic foods arena, will be visiting Danville to introduce her book, My Organic Life.  
Many may know of Ms. Pouillon and her infamous Restaurant Nora in Washington, D.C.  It was the first certified organic restaurant in the United States and one can only imagine the lengths to which Ms. Pouillon had to go to find farmers and ranchers who insisted on the same qualities of production that she desired long before certification became the norm.  She is a true inspiration and her visit is sure to be educational, charming and inspiring!
The Rakestraw Books event will be an evening gathering in The Bounty Garden where a refreshing drink and light hor d’oeuvres will be served before we sit down under the soft lights to enjoy Ms. Pouillon recount her colorful life from her childhood home in Austria to the bustle of Washington, D.C.  It is sure to be an adventure.
We are honored to host Nora Pouillon at the Bounty Garden.  And, we are extremely touched by Rakestraw Books creating this fundraising event to benefit the Bounty Garden and our efforts to grow organic, nutritious and fresh vegetables for the Food Banks of Contra Costa and Solano Counties.
If you would like to learn more about this special event, please visit Rakestraw Books’ link at  http://www.rakestraw-pouillon.eventbrite.com and remember that the price of a ticket includes Ms. Pouillon’s book, My Organic Life.
With best wishes from the Garden,
The Hive 
Vegetable Beds at The Bounty Garden

The Four Most Important Resolutions You Can Make for 2015

By Cynthia Ruzzi, President Sustainable Danville Area

As I write this, we are in the midst of the wettest December in the Bay Area in history and the California drought has been downgraded from ‘exceptional’ to ‘severe’. Admiring the green hills that surround our homes, it’s hard to believe that all this water hasn’t replenished our resources for the year and beyond. The choice of descriptor says it all – we are still in a severe drought meaning we’re in grave, harsh, dreadful, terrible, seriously bad shape.  But the New Year is all about making resolutions, so I encourage you to make 2015 the year you value water for what it is – with only 1% drinkable water world-wide, its liquid gold.  So the number one most important resolution for 2015 – use water wisely.  Last month, we provided a list of ways to be less water wasteful inside and outside the home, but here’s one more way.

Central San is offering free recycled water for residential customers. While it’s not safe for drinking and shouldn’t run off into our storm drains, it can be used to water lawn, landscaping and gardens to save our precious drinking water. Recycled water has been used for years in our area to water parks, school ball fields and golf courses and now, like the Dublin San Ramon Services District, we can use free, recycled water to keep our gardens green.  For more information about the residential recycled water filling station, please call 800-646-1431.

It wouldn’t be a resolution list, if I didn’t include an item about health.  The second most important resolution for 2015 – eat organic, local whole food. US residents spent on average $2,273, or about 6.4 percent of their annual consumer expenditures according to the United Stated Department of Agriculture (USDA).  That is less than any of the 83 other countries for which the USDA tracks data.  Considering this statistic, isn’t it time to invest just a little more to protect your family’s health from harmful pesticides and questionable chemicals in the food you serve them – not to mention avoiding genetically modified food (GMOs) which have been banned in over 60 countries worldwide.  And choosing organic, local whole food, not only saves transportation dollars, protects you from pesticides, but allows you to capture maximum nutrition – since fruits and vegetables lose nutritional value as they age or are processed.

With respect to the continuing hunger problem in the US – and Contra Costa County – visit www.thebountygarden.org and learn how you can help get organic, local, whole food to those in need. The Bounty Garden is a 100% non-profit program committed to providing a source of fresh vegetables to the local Food Banks of Contra Costa and Solano Counties.  The program brings together community volunteers in a fun and friendly environment to grow for this purpose and is a great activity for the entire family.

The third most important resolution for 2015 – lose the plastic. Here’s a New Year’s challenge. Pick an average day for you and your family and see if you can get through it without touching anything made of plastic. Can you do it?  Most of us have heard about the importance of being ‘BPA-free’ (referring to the chemical identified as a disruptor to growth development in infants, children and even adults), but do we really know what other chemicals used in plastics are doing to us? Relying more on organic, local, whole food will reduce packing materials – especially if you bring your own re-usable bags, but I bet you can do more.  Look for alternatives like glass and steel for food storage and please, lose the drinking straw. Take the challenge and you’ll see there is a myriad of opportunity to replace the plastics in your life.

As we enter the fifth year of Sustainable Danville Area, our 100% non-profit invites you to participate in our activities.  In fact, please hold the date for the Town of Danville Earth Day Festival 2015 on Sunday, April 19th from 11am – 2pm.   Join us as a volunteer, you don’t have to be an environmental expert – most of us aren’t. You simply have to care about people and the planet- and maintaining an Earth that will not only sustain us today, but many generations beyond.  Learn more at www.sustainabledanville.com or visit us at www.facebook.com/sustainabledanvillearea

Oh and the fourth most import resolution for 2015 – make every choice count.

 

 

 

Just Say No.

Tip of the Month – October 2013

By Cynthia Ruzzi

I’m on a diet.  I’m not alone – according to a Colorado University study, one third of all women and one fourth of all men in the US are on a diet. In fact, the American Medical Association states that 68% of Americans are overweight or obese. The US Department of Agriculture reports that average Americans consume 150 pounds of sugar in a year – perhaps explaining why dieting is a $60 million dollar industry in our country.  We rightly promote “Just Say No” to drugs, but we forget to say no to the drugs in our food and sugar is the cocaine of food!

Sugar is in everything.  In America we are eating about 22 teaspoons of sugar a day. Some might say it’s not our fault because our ancestors were programmed to seek fat and sugar for survival and we just haven’t grown out of it.  However, do we really need our food manufacturers to ‘support’ this glitch in evolution by adding sugar to everything?  We live with so much abundance and access to food, but we are still facing a famine – a nutritional famine.  We may be overfed, but we are starving to death for the nutrition our bodies need to prevent diabetes, obesity and heart disease.

For three years, my husband and I followed a 90LOV diet.  Ninety percent local, organic and vegetarian.  I was fond of saying that the other ten percent, I ate whatever I darn pleased. While you wouldn’t find me swigging a Coke, I wouldn’t turn down the dessert menu after a meal and I never met a piece of bread or a pint of ice cream that weren’t my friends.  What I didn’t realize at the time was that allowing myself 10% processed foods led to the addiction to desire more  and before you know it 10% became  12%, 14% _ 25%.  Add this to sitting at a desk all day, excuses for not biking and well, here I am facing an adjustment.

I want to strip MSG, Aspartame, Caffeine and particularly refined sugar from my diet. I’m targeting these items because this toxic mixture is what causes us average mortals to crave more and thus gain more. Manufacturers add these chemicals to food because of the affects they have on the neurotransmitters of our brain that trigger these cravings and thus we want to eat more and buy more.  I’m targeting refined sugar because when we consume conventional foods (filled with sugar) – I actually heard my body say, “Sugar rush! Hey, Pancreas quickly produce lots of insulin so this chick doesn’t kick it”.  The pancreas is very compliant (for now) and being the fat producing hormone does what it does and turns sugar into fat for use later”.  However by now we all know, I’m not running any marathons these days and my body says, “We’ll just put it here on your thighs for use later”.

I thought I had this figured out.  But if you think Eskimos have a lot of words for snow, then try to find those find my no-no’s – MSG, Aspartame, Caffeine and refined Sugar – on your average food label.  There are so many derivatives of these used in processed foods, that it takes a chemical degree to analyze each package.  We take our cars to the mechanic for regular tune ups, but rarely do we visit a doctor before we feel ill.  I’m on a diet for life learning how much protein and other nutrients I need for optimum performance and I’m basing it on simple, natural, local, organic food.  Join San Ramon Valley High School Environmental Club and Sustainable Danville Area for an evening screening of Hungry for Change on Wednesday, October 23rd 6PM at the SRVHS Performance Arts Center 501 Danville Avenue to learn more about feeding your body.

There’s a plethora of films and books to start on the path, but I’m ready to work with a health coach that will help me optimize my nutrition and life choices for best performance. I’ll be working with Four Quadrant Living, a Danville Area Sustainable Business. Dina Colman has just finished writing her first book,Four Quadrant Living: Making Healthy Living Your New Way of Life, and will be holding a launch party Saturday, October 12, 3 – 5pm  at Rakestraw Books in Danville.  RSVP to Dina at dina@fourquadrantliving.com or to Rakestraw Books at (925) 837-7337.

Reprinted with permission from Danville Today News

It’s Time for a Picnic

Sustainable Danville Area Tip of the Month – April 2013

By Cynthia Ruzzi, President Sustainable Danville Area

Just two days past Spring Equinox and Mother Nature has spring fever.  The poppies are flourishing along with so many other colorful blooms and even after what has proven to be our driest winter, our hills are green.  The sun is warm and my concentration is so poor; I had to ask for a deadline extension for submitting this month’s tip of the month.  This month’s column has more than just one Sustainable Tip of the Month, but it’s a picnic – a smorgasbord of ‘Where to Find Sustainable Tips’.

For almost three years, we have shared tips on everything from the benefits of biking, local food, sustainable landscaping to home energy diets, eco-travel, raising chickens and eco-friendly art supplies.  These articles are still available to you online from Danville Today News/Alamo Today News and on the Sustainable Danville Area website

Often, I’m asked to describe what sustainable living is and simply it’s ‘making choices that allow our resources to continue to be available for our children and their children’, ‘living as though there’s no Planet B’ and remembering that ‘Planet Earth is the only one with chocolate’.  With this in mind and in honor of Earth Day, celebrated worldwide on April 22nd by hundreds of millions of people in over 184 countries, here are some of our favorite places for information and tips to care for our corner of this wonderful planet.

Gardening:  Hands down the Contra Costa Master Gardeners have it ‘going on’. These trained volunteers are residents of local communities that provide University of California research-based horticultural information to the citizens of California. Besides engaging local lectures, their website is filled with tips for school gardens, edible gardens and drought and native landscaping.

Composting & Recycling:  Central Contra Costa Solid Waste Authority offers terrific information on where to recycle just about anything.  You’ll also find a calendar for composting workshops, including worm composting too.

PG&E:   Saving energy in your home is not just good for the planet, it’s good for your pocketbook. PG&E has great tools to track your electric and gas usage online and they make it easy to do a self-audit of your home energy to find and prevent energy loss.

Environmental Working Group  This powerhouse site is our ‘go-to’ place for everything from their cosmetic database, the Dirty Dozen list (which recommends the best fruits and vegetables to buy organic to avoid pesticides) and guides on sunscreens, home cleaners and other daily products.

Earth Day EventWant more?  Well then, Picnic on the Green! The Town of Danville, The Danville Library and Sustainable Danville Area present the 3rd Annual Town of Danville Earth Day Event on Saturday, April 20th 12pm – 4pm on the Town Green, in  the Danville Library, at the community center and the Village Theatre Art Gallery.

The Town of Danville Earth Day event is a free, fun and informative way for residents and visitors of all ages to learn about green building, sustainable landscape design, solar power, home energy efficient products, waste reduction, recycling, water conservation, hybrid and electrical vehicles and much more!

Pack your picnic or purchase lunch and snacks al fresco from La Boulange Bakery while enjoying music from local band, Other People’s Money.  Play with our Giant Earth Ball, visit with hybrid/electric car and electric bicycle owners and participate in popular hands-on activities at interactive booths, including:

  •  Get ready to experience nature with Peanuts…Naturally! Fun, creative environmental crafts and activity stations presented by the Charles M. Schulz Museum.
  • Plant a seed to start your summer vegetable garden with The Bounty Garden and Urban Farmers.
  • Explore the Wonderful World of Worms and Composting for Busy People.
  • Make an Earth Day pledge to reduce, re-use or recycle. See how Every Choice Counts and help the Earth Day Tree grow!  Everyone who adds a ‘leaf pledge’ will be entered into an hourly raffle to win a “Get Your Green On” reusable book bag.
  • Afternoon speaker series will help you Green Your Home, Replace your Lawn with Drought Tolerant Plants and Enjoying Local, Organic Foods for a Healthy Planet.
  • Be inspired at Story Time with special tales and eco-friendly ideas to celebrate the Earth all year.
  • Measure your carbon footprint.Discover if solar energy is right for your home?
  • Be dazzled by art from local students at the Earth Day Student Art Show in the Village Theatre Art Gallery. (Students: click here for  details to enter contest before 4/5/13)
  • Try new veggies from Community Supported Agriculture Farms – Full Belly Farms & Doorstep Farmers.

Students from San Ramon Valley High School Environmental Club are hosting free bicycle parking for the event, so please consider two wheels or your feet as parking is limited for the event.  Hope to see you there!

Reprinted with permission from Danville Today News

For Love of ….Chickens

Tip of the Month – February 2013 By Cynthia Ruzzi

To everything there is a season, even food. Incorporating seasonal, local, whole foods into your daily diet provides a healthy balance for you and the environment.  Eating vegetables and fruits soon after harvest maximizes the nutrients in the food.  Besides being better for the environment, seasonal, local food is usually more cost effective and generally tastes much better.  My husband and I certainly think so.

We love trying new, local foods and so, we were delighted when Jake, our 11 year old neighbor and self-professed Chicken Farmer invited me to learn more about ‘growing’ fresh, local eggs.  Jake has wanted to raise a brood of hens since 2nd grade when he hatched chicks as a classroom project.   Roadie, J.J., Chevy, Hazel and Fluffy make up Jake’s clucking crew.  He started off with six chicks, but Scrambles was retired to a rural farm when one morning, the family heard crowing.  Apparently, crowing is the first identifier that a chick is a rooster and not a hen.  Danville keeps the peace by banning roosters within city limits.

photo (25)Jake’s brood started laying eggs when they were just under 5 months old and will continue to offer eggs for about 2 years.  It takes a chicken 24 hours to produce an egg, and production is dependent on having at least 13 hours of daylight – so maximum production is 35 eggs per week. Jake basically knows which chicken has laid which egg because he has different breeds that lay different colored eggs; including a Rhode Island Red, two Brahmas and Hazel and Fluffy his Americana chickens.  These girls lay green eggs!  Yes, there really are green eggs – just like in the Dr. Suess book, Green Eggs and Ham.  The family picked these breeds because they can handle both our hot summers and cold, wet winters with aplomb. 

photo (26)

Jake spends between 10 – 30 minutes a day caring for his brood.  The chickens greet him when he opens the screen door to give them their feed or a special treat of cantaloupe (in season of course).  The girls mostly ignore the family when they sit out in the backyard.  Jake says the chickens have a great relationship with his cat, Nutmeg – especially since the chicks have grown larger than the cat.  Jake recommends adopting chickens all at one time to limit competition (pecking order) between the hens. 

jakeJake’s chickens have plenty of room to ‘eat local’ roaming around a large part of the backyard eating bugs.  Thanks to Jake’s dad, Chris, these hens have a chicken palace to rival anything offered in the William Sonoma catalog.  Chris admits he didn’t save much money ‘DYI’ – though he used reclaimed wood for all the construction.  Chris said one of the most important architectural elements for the coop is to include lots of ventilation in the design and to secure on all sides, including underneath the coop, to protect from raccoons and other predators.

As a ‘parting gift’ – or perhaps in exchange for the chocolate chip cookies I brought with me, Jake gave me eggs that were laid that day.  Excited, I picked some spinach from my garden and cooked up a simple omelet that very night.  Can you get more seasonal or local than that?

At EMBRACING THE SEASON FOR A HEALTHY, BALANCED DIET, Sustainable Danville Area’s forum – February 20th forum 6:30pm – 8:00pm  Veterans Memorial Building  400 Hartz Avenue – you’ll learn how to savor local flavors from our guest speakers as they talk about the inspiration they gain by embracing the seasons.  Sebastian Miller, Executive Chef of Piatti’s Danville, is known for bringing contemporary flavors to the plate using seasonal, local ingredients prepared in a simple, unpretentious manner.  Sebastian reveals how he creates the ever changing ‘market menu’ at Piatti’s and how you can do the same at home.  Angela Stanford, Registered Dietitian and Holistic Food & Nutrition Advisor, Vital Nutrition & Wellness, holistic approach to eating combines 20 years of working in the food and health industries with roots on her family farm and love for cooking and organic gardening. For more information, visit www.sustainabledanville.com and join us on Facebook (www.facebook.com/sustainabledanvillearea).

Reprinted with permission from Danville Today News

Want to learn how to raise your own chickens?  Check out Papa John’s Chicken-Raising Workshops in Lafayette.

Chicken-Raising Workshops with Papa John
3d calendarFebruary & March

Raising chickens has never been easier. The popular workshops with Papa John Keifer are the best way to get started. Close to 300 people have attended in the past three years. Classes are on Sundays from 1-3:30 (2/10, 2/17, 3/2).  Free, but registration is required.See more information on our Chicken Workshop flyer or email Papa John at khkiefer@comcast.net.

Food For Thought

Tip of the Month – January 2013   By Cynthia Ruzzi

Food For Thought   Having just concluded the ‘Thanks-ukah-mas-year’ eating fest, many of us are facing the first week of our New Years’ resolution to stop eating convenience foods filled with empty calories, fats and chemicals. Perhaps our indulgence – or hard work – during the holiday makes us shy away from the thought of more family meals, but it is now more important than ever to eat together.

Eating as a family weaves the fabric of the relationship.   With everyone in the family heading in different directions during the day, family meals at home are a perfect time to work together to enjoy simple pleasures and connect on a regular basis. Family meals provide more than enhanced nutrition.  A shared family meal provides nourishment, comfort and support for those we love. Our children learn about the world every day from many sources and the dinner table is a perfect opportunity to provide a routine time to share within a family space.  Celebrate your family and come together at your table to explore family culture, food, teach your children dining and conversational social skills and get in touch.

Eating as a family is less expensive, more efficient and healthier.  Avoiding convenience foods and cooking at home is often more economical, healthy and tasty. Serving organic, fresh foods that are minimally processed and locally sourced guarantee improved nutrition and because they have more natural flavor, whole food can be prepared simply – saving time in the kitchen.  Incorporating herbs, vegetables and fruit from your garden or the farmers’ market enables a child to learn about where our food comes from.  You’d be surprised how much broccoli a kid will eat when the child has tended and picked it themselves.

Eating as a family teaches children food sustainability.  As part of the evenings’ blessing and discussion take time to recognize where the food on our table comes from to encourage understanding and appreciation of the bounty.  Few of us know where bananas come from or have traveled the distance one has to take to come to our table.  Exploring the origin of foods as part of the evening meal provides an opportunity to discuss everything from farming, to manufacturing, packaging and even disposal – or hopefully, composting.

Eating as a family takes practice.  With every new practice, there are sure to be some difficulties and adjustments.  Professionals say that the less time a family spends eating together at home, the more awkward those first few experiences will be, so first, try setting a goal for two times a week. Here’s two suggestions critical for success:

  • Turn off the mobile/texting devices.  View the family meal as a time to ‘plug into each other’ and avoid the distraction of phone calls and text messages that remind everyone of the world beyond the family.
  • Get the whole family involved in the planning, shopping and preparation.  Learning to plan, shop and cook a meal are invaluable skills for children when they leave home.  You’d be surprised how impressed girls will be when your son cooks a meal instead of going to a restaurant for a date.  Engaging everyone in the shopping helps each member appreciate what food costs.  Even young children can be helpful in the kitchen given a little direction. You’d be surprised how quickly the time flies when all hands are engaged making a family dinner.

FOOD FOR THOUGHTSustainable Danville Area feels so passionately about food that along with The Danville Library we present a three-part speaker series FOOD FOR THOUGHT to nourish our spirit, our mind, our body and the environment.  Our January talk Get Your Family Back to the Table – with Real Food – January 23rd 6:30pm at Veterans Memorial Building 400 Hartz Ave. brings you two speakers: Heather Clapp, Co-owner of Jules Organic Thin Crust Pizza who understands there’s time when you need to eat outside the home without forgoing nutrition. Heather, dedicated to educating her three active boys on where real food comes from, will provide inspiration to create organic vegetarian meals that will sustain and nourish your entire family and Lisa Evaristo, Co-owner of Back to the Table Cooking & Baking School, also a parent of three children, teaches families that spending time cooking together, then sitting down and sharing a great meal is where the magic happens.

Apple GYGSFood is also the topic of our first 2013 Green Your School SummitJoin us January 15th 4pm at SRVHS, special guest, Town of Danville Mayor Newell Arnerich kicks off the afternoon with speakers, Cindy Gershen, Founder of Wellness City Challenge and Dominic Machi, Director of Food Services, SRUVSD.  Cindy will share the importance of nourishing our children with whole, healthy food and Dom will update us on “What’s Cooking in the Lunchroom”.  For more information, visit events on http://www.sustainabledanville.com or join us on Facebook.

Reprinted with permission from Danville Today News