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

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?

Friday, June 6, 2008

Indefensible Food

I recently came across an excellent article on the real cost of conventionally-grown food and, rather than post it under my Enlightened Reading list, decided it deserved the spotlight.

The Real Cost of Cheap Food
By Will Allen, Vermont organic farmer and author of The War on Bugs (Chelsea Green, 2008).

Sometimes shoppers are confused by the differences in price between food grown organically and food grown conventionally. Usually organic loses the price war argument in comparison to what is called "conventional" food. Of course, we are all mostly aware that organic means grown and processed without chemical fertilizers, antibiotics, hormones, toxic pesticides, sewage sludge, irradiation and genetic manipulation.

But, what does "conventional" mean? Is food called "conventional" grown and processed with chemical fertilizers, antibiotics, hormones, toxic pesticides, sewage sludge, irradiation and genetic manipulation? Yes it is. And, this is one reason why the price war argument should be reframed. Instead of comparing the price of organic food with "conventional" foods (which sounds so normal and safe), let's compare organic food prices to the food price of toxic or poisonous food, which is what "conventional" food is.

The vegetables, fruits and grains that grocers and agribusiness giants label "conventional" are actually loaded with systemic chemicals, which you cannot wash off. The meat is laced with hormones, antibiotics, prions and multiple resistant bacteria that are difficult or impossible to cook out of beef, lamb, chicken or pork.

Clearly, something in our food system has gone terribly amiss since a majority of the food is loaded with poisonous pesticides, laced with antibiotics and hormones and infused with genetically modified growth hormones or genes from rats, bacteria, viruses and antibiotics and then -- through some bizarre logic -- labeled "conventional." Once one realizes how toxic "conventional" food is, it doesn't look that cheap.

Besides the food safety dangers, there are three additional costs that consumers pay for "conventional" food. Estimates are that about half of all the food that U.S. citizens eat is processed. This includes breakfast cereals, breads, flour, tofu, cheese, chicken pot pies, Lean Cuisine and thousands of other products. Most of the ingredients that make up the processed foods come from soy, cotton, corn, rice, canola and wheat. More than 75 percent of these processed foods have genetically modified ingredients. Soy (96 percent), corn (74 percent), cotton (95 percent) and canola (98 percent) are the most genetically manipulated crops.

Soy, cotton, corn, rice and wheat are also the most subsidized crops in the U.S. Those five crops receive more than 80% of all the taxpayer subsidies. In addition, many other "conventional" crops also receive government support from the taxpayers, including milk.

Consumers make cheap food cheap when they pay their taxes. "Conventional" food would be impossible without the farm subsidies -- which means that consumers pay at least two times for most "conventional" foods they buy. They don't seem so cheap anymore -- and that does not include the expenses associated with health issues that occur as the result of eating toxic "conventional" foods.

Unfortunately, everyone pays the second subsidy bill, even the buyer of organic foods, because the subsidy is a tax imposed on all of us by the Farm Bill, which is written by congress and the White House. The current version was just passed by both houses of congress on the 14th and 15th of May, 2008, and most of the current bill is business as usual: billions more for the richest farmers growing the five most subsidized crops.

The third payment for "conventional" food will also be made by the taxpayers, who will pay to clean up chemical spills, cancer-cases, injured farmworkers, injured citizens, polluted groundwater, trashed rivers, oceanic dead zones, contaminated wells, and toxified land that result from the toxins used to produce "conventional" food. The environmental clean up record for the chemical corporations is not good, so don't look for help when the time comes to repair the damage.

When faced with judgments against them, the chemical giants always find a loophole, stall the procedure with whatever tactic that works, and spend enormous sums on legal defense teams. More often than not they escape with no punishment or merely a slap on the wrist for the most egregious crimes, including willful groundwater and soil pollution, poisoned food, widespread illnesses, and death. Unfortunately, both "conventional" and organic consumers will foot this bill.

One of the worst examples of chemical corporation irresponsibility occurred in Bhopal, India in 1984. A chemical plant that produced cotton pesticides leaked a nerve gas; more than 28,000 people were killed and 250,000 blinded and seriously injured. That plant was owned by the chemical and battery giant Union Carbide. When its CEO offered to pay reparations to families of the deceased and to the injured, the corporation decided that such a move, though laudable and charitable, was not in the best interests of the stockholders, so no compensation was paid by the corporation.

The fourth payment for "conventional" food is often made at the doctor's office to treat obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, cancer, birth defects, Parkinson's and a hundred other ailments related to pesticides or poisoned food.

Pundits and scientific hacks will say anything to protect big chemical and factory farming, refusing to discuss these "irrelevant" external costs of our modern food system, including subsidies, environmental cleanup, and skyrocketing medical bills. Instead, they argue that we need cheap food to feed starving people around the world.

We have had a long history of public resistance against dangerously toxic food in this country. We have also had a long history of chemical corporation smokescreens that hide just how dangerous and deadly cheap food is.

As early as the 1870s, farmers and householders got sick from using arsenic and ingesting arsenic in their food and beer, and they began to protest aggressively. However, the FDA continued to protect the large-scale farmers and the chemical corporations from attacks by small farmers, food safety advocates, consumer protection proponents, and environmental groups through the teens, the 1920s and the 1930s.

From 1933 to 1937, the founders of Consumer Reports and Consumer Research warned the U.S. public that they were being poisoned by a steady diet of arsenic, lead, cyanide, fluorine and sulfuric acid. Those organizations continued their efforts to protect the consumers from toxic food through the 1940s and 1950s, and they continue their efforts still.

In 1962, Rachel Carson advised that we must stop damaging and degrading our natural landscape. She warned us to stop eating food poisoned with DDT, lead arsenic pesticides and other chemical sprays. Such "buyer beware" and nature protection advisories from earlier days are even more urgently needed today. Things have gotten much worse. Everything is toxic now. Back then it was just the food. Today it is almost every surface and tool around us. Our current food supply is more toxic than ever before and our environment more damaged. Many pesticides no longer work because the pests have become tolerant of the poison. So, only the most toxic chemicals kill the bugs, which have developed a resistance to the less poisonous chemicals. Consequently, today the most toxic chemicals are the most used pesticides and fertilizers.

Beyond the external costs of "conventional" cheap food, an important aspect of the real price of organic food is the care and commitment to balanced soil health that is a major requirement when transitioning to organic farm management. In organic, the goal is to restore and feed soil life. That requires applying composted manures or vegetables to inoculate the soil with microorganisms. It also means providing organic (vegetable) matter so that the soil microorganisms have plenty to eat. To effect this balancing act, organic farmers add lime, compost, fertilizer crops, gypsum, a bit of phosphorous and some potash. The fertilizer crops are the hardest element for new organic growers to include because they must take land out of production to grow the fertilizer crops. This is good for the next crop but hard for the farmer to adjust to growing a crop that he or she plows in.

Instead of using pesticides, organic farmers closely monitor their crops and release beneficial insects, plant trap or companion crops to confuse the pests, or plant when pests are not such a scourge.

While "conventional" food is usually cheaper in the supermarket, and is easier to manage on the farm, it comes with a dangerous load of pesticide and fertilizer residues that are causing cancers, illness and death. When we analyzed pesticide and fertilizer data for the book The War on Bugs, we concluded that the corporations call chemical food "conventional" to conceal the fact that the food they produce is grown with the most toxic chemicals on the planet.

If the question about the real price of food was rephrased to ask what is the difference between the price of toxic and organic foods, we would not be marveling about the high cost of organic food, nor advocating to send toxic "conventional" surplus food to the starving millions. Instead, we should be asking "How cheap would poisonous food have to be to be a good deal?"

Monday, May 26, 2008

Down with Witches' Knickers

"Witches' Knickers" -- it's what the Irish call errant plastic bags fluttering in tree branches -- a charming term for such an odious thing, the least of which is a blight on the landscape. So it's gratifying that more and more shoppers seem to be bringing reusable bags both to the farmers’ market and to grocery stores.

One, more fashionable, alternative to plastic is the Baggu. Designed by a mother/daughter team, the Baggu is a fun, roomy, well-made bag that folds up into its own pouch which then fits into your handbag or back pocket.

The St. Joseph market will be offering new lightweight reusable bags made from recycled products, beginning in mid-June, at a very reasonable price.

Hints for remembering your reusable bags: store one or two in your car or bike basket; keep a compact bag in your purse or backpack--it's handy for small amounts and also visually reminds you of your larger bags; store your bags by the back door; hang a bag or two near the spot where you keep your keys, your umbrella, or your shoes.

Whatever bag you choose to (re)use, thank you, on behalf of this good green earth.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Rhubarb Sour Cream Cake

Yesterday I picked some stalks from my rhubarb patch and tried a new recipe from Savoring the Seasons of the Northern Heartland (University of Minnesota Press), a cookbook by Beth Dooley and Lucia Watson, local chef of Lucia's Restaurant in Minneapolis. This recipe makes a thick, sticky batter that helps control the juiciness of the rhubarb as it bakes. It's a moist, rich cake that's perfect with a just a cup of coffee but would be especially good served with fresh strawberries or vanilla ice cream.

Rhubarb Sour Cream Cake
Savoring the Seasons of the Northern Heartland

6 Tablespoons of butter
2 ¼ cups brown sugar, light or dark
2 eggs
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
3 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 ½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 ½ cups sour cream
6 cups chopped rhubarb

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Beat in the eggs and vanilla. Sift together the dry ingredients and fold them into the wet ingredients alternately with the sour cream. Fold in the rhubarb. Turn the batter into a greased bundt pan or two greased 9 x 3-inch loaf pans. Bake in a preheated 350° F oven for 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes for the bundt cake, and 50 minutes to an hour for the loaf cakes. Remove the cake(s) from the oven and allow to cool 15 minutes on wire racks before removing from the pans.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Celebrate the Rhubarb!

This Friday at the market, we'll celebrate the prodigious rhubarb season with a rhubarb wine-making demonstration by Tim Kuebelbeck, and will try to round up some rhubarb taste samples and recipes as well. Elaine Davis, author of Minnesota 13, will also be on hand to talk about Stearns County's 'Wet' Wild Prohibition Days!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

At the Market

The second week into the new season unexpectedly brought asparagus to the market--thanks to two days of sunshine and warm temps. Stalks can literally spring up several inches in one day.

Asparagus is a member of the lily family and a perennial that may take up to three years before producing shoots from its underground crown.

This amazing vegetable is rich in nutrients such as Vitamin K, potassium, Vitamin A, C, and folate, which is essential for a healthy cardiovascular system. It is estimated that 10% of heart attacks suffered by Americans could be reduced by consuming 400mcg of folate daily. And just one serving of asparagus can supply 66% of the daily recommended dose.

Also present in asparagus is a carbohydrate that promotes the growth of good bacteria in our large intestines, helping to keep our digestive systems healthy. It is a natural diurectic and has been useful in treating symptoms of swelling and water-retention. Pregnant women should eat lots of asparagus because it fights birth defects with its high amounts of folate.

To store, put a damp paper towel or cotton dishtowel in the paper bag with the asparagus, close it up and keep it in the vegetable drawer of your fridge.

You can cut or snap the ends off of each stalk if you prefer, keeping the ends for soup. Asparagus is delicious lightly steamed, roasted and even grilled (be sure to coat it with olive oil first). It's excellent chopped up and cooked with scrambled eggs, omelets and pasta salad, or topped with a light vinaigrette.

Asparagus will be available at the St. Joe Market until mid-to-late June.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Seasonal Cooking

With the start of the growing season and the opening of farmers markets everywhere, think about equipping your kitchen with great cookbooks on seasonal cooking! Mother Earth News, my new favorite magazine, gives the following recommendations:
Alfred Portale's 12 Seasons Cookbook (Broadway Books, 2000).
Just as the title says, this book is broken up by month beginning in May — because May is the most bountiful month. Each month has a theme, such as “Birthdays and Barbecues” for July or “A Fresh Start” for January. The chapters begin with a short introduction and a list of recipes. Each provides some insight on which ingredients are best for that season. You can also prepare a special meal for Mother's or Father's Day with the menu plans at the end of each chapter. Be sure to try the Pancakes with Honey-Almond Butter or Asparagus Soup.

Farmer John's Cookbook: The Real Dirt on Vegetables
(Gibbs Smith, 2006).
For more than 40 years John has worked on his land. He's raised chickens and cows, fruits and veggies, and now runs Angelic Organics, a community supported farm. Six different seasons make up this cookbook beginning with spring and a short introduction to the growing season. Each section lists the in-season vegetables and each recipe features one of them, such as Baked Cucumbers in Basil Cream (early season), Carrot Apricot Muffins (mid-season) or Potato Dumplings (late season). The last two chapters focus on preparing and prolonging each season and each section also has many helpful growing tips.

Simply in Season
(Herald Press, 2005).
Five color-coded sections make up the seasons in this handy spiral-bound cookbook. The five sections consist of the four seasons, plus a section you can consult any time of year. The spring section is green and rightly so with all of the green vegetables in season during this time — asparagus, green onions, lettuce, mint, peas and spinach. Try some Marinated Radish Salad or Three Pea Stir Fry. The beginning of the book includes a small fruit and vegetable guide, with descriptions of the produce, preparation ideas, nutrients, how to select the best ones, and how to store and handle the fruit and veggies. Simply in Season also has a children's cookbook that is set up with color-coded sections and easy-to-make recipes just for kids.

The Simply Grande Gardening Cookbook (Burford Books, 2001).
This book features 68 garden vegetables. Each vegetable is categorized by season and includes a brief history or explanation, gardening tips and recipes. It even includes unusual edibles like violets, pansies and dandelions. Try the Springtime Violet Soup or Dandelion Greens. The basic gardening guide will even help you start your own garden.

Sunday, April 27, 2008


While fervently waiting for the first market to open and the first spring greens to show up there, many of us could be harvesting a nutritional powerhouse from right outside our back doors. The lowly dandelion, scourge of lawn fanatics everywhere, is about ripe for the picking--at least, for those who don't use herbicides on their yards. Young leaves picked early in the season are tender and mild-flavored--perfect for salads or on sandwiches. Mature leaves tend to be bitter and are best steamed or sauteed with soy sauce or lemon juice and garlic. Either way, dandelion greens are one of the most vitamin-rich foods on the planet, packed with potassium and Vitamins A and D. Use them as soon after picking (or purchasing) as possible; otherwise store them in the fridge with the stem ends in a glass with a bit of water, the entire thing wrapped in plastic, and try to use them within a few days. Incidentally, the dandelion blossom can be eaten in salads as well as the greens and add a lovely touch of color.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Market Cookbook Project

To further good relations among SJFM members, the board has decided to undergo the creation of a cookbook which will also serve as promotion of participating members. The book is slated to be 200 pages and we estimate ordering 200 copies by July 1, 2008. For more information, please follow the link below.

St. Joseph Farmers' Market Cookbook

New Season Begins May 9!

The 2008 market season in St. Joseph will open May 9 in its outdoor location north of St. Joe near the Lake Wobegon Trail Center. In addition to our returning market members, we'll have several new members this year. For a complete listing, see the Market Members page at our new website: St. Joseph Farmers' Market.

The first market will include many of the products that have been featured at our monthly winter markets: free-range chicken and organic eggs, maple syrup, honey, dried herbs and herbal teas, artisan breads and baked goods, and organic herbal lotions and soaps.

And soon it will be asparagus season!