Information, seasonal offerings and commentary on eating local foods, living a sustainable life and saving the planet.

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Beet goes on!

After a long hiatus, The Beet is back--just in time for planting season.

Since my last post, Barack Obama was elected president (yay!) and the First Family has begun the process of putting in a vegetable garden at the White House (under much scrutiny and even some controversy). A popular public figure like Michelle Obama will perhaps inspire the planting of many backyard gardens as well as lead by example in changing eating habits: she has made a commitment to see that her daughters mainly eat only fresh, local and organic foods.

I have happily just placed my own seed and transplant order with Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa. Seed Savers is a non-profit organization dedicated to saving and sharing heirloom seeds, and in the process, preserving rare garden varieties of fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers that have been passed down for generations.

It's the efforts of organizations like Seed Savers, of small organic family farms and community farmers markets, of average persons like you and me--not just famous ones like Michelle Obama--that drive corporations like Monsanto crazy simply because we are beginning to change the way Americans view their food supply. More of us are realizing that the whole circle begins to change when we eat real food from our own gardens or from neighboring farms, and spend more time cooking it and enjoying it with friends and family. It's about better-tasting food, improved health, stronger local economies, livelier communities, a safer food system and a healthier environment. Change like that is a powerful thing and it is making big-agra start to sit up, take notice, and unfortunately, push back.

Monsanto, Tyson, Cargill and other behemoth agri-businesses are feeling threatened. It's like Goliath warily eyeing David and that sling in his hand. They're seeing a small but steadily-growing market of organic, regional foods raised on small farms cutting into their hefty profits. The stone in our sling is but a mere pebble, metaphorically-speaking, compared to the strength of those Philistines, but they won't stand for competition from any upstarts, so they helped write HR 875, the "food safety bill" currently passing through Congress.

More on this bill in my next post.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Polluted water being used on crops, says U.N. report

A U.N. report says that, increasingly, waste water--often untreated waste water--is being used to grow food around the world. Locals are at risk for eating it on a daily basis. Because U.S. food imports are rarely inspected, does this also mean, with a global food economy, that America could be importing contaminated food?

At least 200 million people around the world risk their health daily by eating food grown using untreated waste water, some of which may be contaminated with heavy metals and raw sewage, according to major study of 53 world cities.

Urban farmers in 80% of the cities surveyed were found to be using untreated waste water, but the study said they also provided vital food for burgeoning cities at a time of unprecedented water scarcity and the worst food crisis in 30 years.

The study from the UN-backed International Water Management Institute (IMWI), said the practice of using waste water to grow food in urban areas was not confined to the poorest countries.

It's hard not to sound like a broken record, but it needs to be repeated: the freshest and safest food you can buy is locally-grown.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Zucchini Chocolate Chip Cookies

This recipe is from Barbara Kingsolver's book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.

I haven't made these yet, but I plan to bake some tomorrow in honor of my horse's tenth birthday. (Carrots for him; cookies for us.) Happy BD, Tio!


  • 1 egg, beaten 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup white flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 cup finely shredded zucchini
  • 12 ounces chocolate chips


  1. Combine egg through vanilla in a mixing bowl.
  2. Combine white flour through nutmeg in a medium bowl and add to liquid mixture.
  3. Stir zucchini and chocolate chips into other ingredients, mix well. Drop by spoonful onto greased baking sheet, and flatten with the back of a spoon. Bake at 350°, 10 to 15 minutes.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Hang On!

Laundry day is one that I love and look forward to. Every weekend for three seasons out of the year, I rendezvous with the clothesline. My beloved old clothes poles, freshly painted to match the house, stand a bit out of plumb next to a row of spruce and pine trees in our yard. As I listen to the wind hum through the needles and branches, I can ponder deep thoughts while I neatly hang damp tee-shirts and pillow cases on the line. Even the clattering sound of the wooden clothespins, as I dig around in the tote bag, adds a visceral charm.

My clothes come off the line sanitized by the sun and freed of wrinkles, as if someone secretly starched and ironed them. Any fragrant flowers blooming nearby freshen them naturally. Some folks like their beds made up with sheets that have been chemically-softened and scented. (In fact, chemical fabric softeners pollute the air and are downright harmful. Don’t use them, whether you dry indoors or out.) I’ll take the crisp, starchy feel of fresh sheets off the line any day.

Hanging laundry does more than simply dry the clothing and reward the senses. There are, of course, environmental and economical benefits as well. Hanging clothes on the line can be a simple but significant way for an individual to help fight climate change, not to mention save a little money. According to the Department of Energy, dryers are second only to refrigerators in energy-consuming home appliances. The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers reports that the approximately 88 million electric dryers in the U.S. consume 1,079 kilowatt-hours of energy, consuming enough electricity each year to generate 2,224 pounds of carbon dioxide per household.

It’s mind-boggling that some neighborhood associations and communities actually ban clotheslines, considering them eye-sores that lower adjacent property values. Read more about the Right to Dry movement, which thankfully, has resulted in many of these foolish bans being lifted around the country for obvious and practical reasons.

I could hang clothes on the line and watch them dry all day. It's partly because it's therapeutic, like watching a campfire, but I also see it as connecting with our past. I see my grandmother hanging laundry as part of her day's work and wonder if she found it as satisfying as I do. But maybe there's more to my satisfaction than she could relate to. I view my sheets, fluttering and snapping on a lively breeze, like a flag proclaiming one tiny step closer to moving off the grid; the symbol of a future that is independent of fossil fuels. Now that's patriotism.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

A Garden Victorious

For the first time in 15 years, we've planted a vegetable garden--what Steve calls our Victory Garden.

During World War II, when the country was called upon to make sacrifices (as opposed to going shopping), 20 million Americans planted gardens to help the war effort. They planted in backyards, empty lots, anywhere they could dig the dirt and plant seeds. They even put them on rooftops. As a result, 40 percent of the produce grown and consumed in America came from these Victory Gardens.

Our Victory Garden is more of a means to fight back at the corporate industrial food complex.

Our yard had been too shady for a garden, but last year we needed to take out a large silver maple on the south end of the house. After many days of wrestling with the remnants of the trunk and roots, we ended up with the perfect place for a garden. We purchased a tiller and, even though the soil looked decent, we amended it with composted manure. We fertilize with grass clippings and decomposed horse manure.

Some crops are planted in wide rows allowing for much greater yield from a small space and less weeding. We've harvested radishes, lettuce, and spinach so far and look forward to the rest: peapods, broccoli, brussels sprouts, raspberries (next year), celery, five types of tomatoes, including heirloom Brandywines, an unholy number of different types of peppers (thanks to daughter, Hannah), kohlrabi, shallots and purple onions, zucchini, butternut squash, beans, cauliflower and purple cabbage. We even have young hop plants started in there, but they'll need a lot more space in time. Sadly, no leeks this year.

I'll still frequent the farmers' market for leeks and other stuff I didn't plant (and because it's a happenin' place), but to have our own plot and to produce much of our own food feels like victory to me.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

An Upside to the Downside

The rise in supermarket prices is bringing more people to farmers' markets and CSAs where the cost of organic, locally-grown food is more in line with what they've been paying elsewhere--minus the added fuel and transportation costs. Now it's speculated that news of tainted food will boost patronage even further.

From an article on

Is a Gutted FDA to Blame for Salmonella-Tainted Tomatoes?
by The Littlest Gator, Group News Blog

In new big-bad-agri-business news, tomatoes are being recalled and chain restaurants are pulling menu items that use uncooked tomatoes.

As California health officials confirmed the state's second case related to a multistate salmonella outbreak, Bay Area supermarkets and restaurants on Monday scrambled to pull tomatoes off their shelves and menus.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned consumers nationwide during the weekend to avoid raw red plum, red Roma and round red tomatoes unless they were grown in certain states and countries.- By Ken McLaughlin, Sonia Narang and Sandra Gonzales Mercury News

This story continues to develop with no answers yet as to where/when the salmonella tainted tomatoes entered the market. Huge agricultural corporations, and gutted FDA funding-- not to mention the fact that many FDA officials worked previously for the very companies they should be monitoring, are the cause of these kinds of problems. We will see more of this to be sure. Consumers need to go to local sources, small restaurants, and sustainable businesses to be safe. The up side is that this will make CSA's and Farmer's markets more popular than ever. The downside is we will be seeing more sick people, made ill even as they try to eat healthy fruits and vegetables.

The FDA needs a major shake up. None of the candidates throughout this last year have taken a strong stand on food politics. This is one area where people and communities need to bring some pressure to bear, hold our representative's feet to the fire. Where does your local school district buy produce? Your local restaurants? Find out. Ask questions and get involved in promoting local sustainable agriculture. It is not only better for the environment, but seems that it is safer too.

Tomatoes are easy to grow-- and homegrown are pretty tasty. If this keeps up, DIY is going to be the in thing. Bucket-tomatoes anyone?