Saturday, September 29, 2012

Coincidence, or Anticipation of Change?


I sometimes wonder if The Universe is trying to tell me something. Two years ago my yard became infested with chickweed, which is edible. 

Now just in the last 6 weeks or so, my lawn is sprouting Yellow Dock in quite a few places. Yellow dock is also edible. It's best when the leaves are no larger than 2½-3 inches. Caution: The leaves usually contain high levels of oxalic acid. In very small quantities they can be eaten raw; eating large quantities means that the oxalic acid can lock-up other nutrients in the food, especially calcium, thus causing mineral deficiencies. The oxalic acid content is greatly reduced if the plant is cooked. (Cook like spinach.) Even the seeds are edible: Yellow Dock Crackers.

Broadleaf Yellow Dock

I've been leaving all the dandelions in place, since they draw up minerals from the deep. One narrow bed along the walkway is almost solid in dandelions now. Half a cup of dandelion greens contain more calcium than a glass of milk, and more iron than spinach. The leaves have more vitamin A than carrots. And, they’re also packed full of protein and fiber. The flowers make great fritters!

Plantain seeds

There is also a lot of Plantain coming up in the edges of the gravel driveway. Sesame and Wilted Greens Recipe. My sorrel has managed to spread itself into several plants, and it regrows quickly after being cut for soups or greens.

Jerusalem artichokes in bloom (Click to enlarge)

Three years ago I planted 5 Jerusalem Artichoke tubers. Last year they began to multiply a little, and grew to about 6 feet tall. This year they have grown like crazy, with most being over 10 feet tall. I suspect there are hundreds of tubers underground. I'll dig some tubers to transplant along the fence, try to sell or trade some tubers, and leave the remainder in the ground for winter storage.

There are a few other wild edibles coming up here and there but I'm not very knowledgeable about them yet. Nor am I fully informed about the medicinal values of the plants above; it's my "winter job".


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Institutional Food and Pink Slime

I had the unfortunate experience for 2-3 weeks of "Meals on Wheels" about 5 years ago when I was recuperating from surgery. It was disgusting stuff, like all institutional food, whether for nursing homes, hospitals, or school cafeterias. I hope to die quickly so never have to eat that crap again!

I read Water for Elephants last week while sitting in waiting rooms for medical appointments. The main character Jacob says: "I am ninety. Or ninety-three. One or the other." At the beginning of Water for Elephants, he is living out his days in a nursing home, hating every second of it, but especially the institutional "food". (The book is mainly flashback stories about his days working in a circus as a young man, and is an interesting look at circus life.)

Remember Pink Slime (lean, finely textured beef)? Well.... it's coming back, sort of anyway, possibly from a new player: Cargill. When the reports about it from ABC News surfaced last spring, many institutional customers stopped buying the stuff, forcing one of its main makers, Beef Products International, to shut down three of its four plants.

"But now pink slime, or at least the company most associated with it, is back yet again, and with a vengeance. The Twitterverse is atwitter with news that BPI is launching a $1.2 billion defamation suit against ABC News and three whistleblowers—two federal employees and a former BPI worker —who spoke to the news network. 

ABC News is calling the suit "frivolous,"  AP reports, and that seems right. All ABC and the whistleblowers did was to describe in detail how the stuff is made. You can't convincingly blame the messenger because you don't like how the message went over with the public.

Meanwhile, Cargill, the vast agribiz company, is quietly contemplating ramping up its own production of "lean, finely textured beef." A company spokesperson recently told the trade journal Food Navigator (registration required) that it had done focus groups on the stuff shortly after the media storm last spring, and found that concern over it was already "in consumers' rearview mirror and fading fast." The spokesperson added that some of its customers—big institutional buyers of ground beef—have expressed interest in buying pink slime again. Cargill is even prepared to start labeling products containing the elixir with the phrase, "includes finely textured beef," it told the trade journal.

Whereas BPI famously uses ammonia to kill the pathogens lurking in the meat scraps that go into pink slime, Cargill uses citric acid, Food Navigator reports. That strikes me as a bit more palatable than ammonia." Source

Sunday, September 23, 2012

California Homemade Food Act Passed

Last week, the Governor of California signed the California Homemade Act, A.B. 1616 into Law. That sounds like great news, but my sentiments run more along a bloger's post written on the subject back in July, where he said " thanks... for giving us what we should already have...?"

Here's the text of his post; the bold emphasis is mine.

"The legislation is meant to offer people a bit of freedom taken away by the Department of Agriculture that decided moms and sweet little old ladies who fed their families for generations aren’t as smart as the closed-door factories producing our food on conveyor belts, soaking foodstuffs in preservatives, irradiating and pasteurizing to the point of needing “natural flavors” to make the food product taste like eating.

How ludicrous is the current state of food prep and selling due to restrictive regulation? As of right now, my wife could make a loaf of bread and some blackberry jam. A friend could offer to buy that loaf of bread and jar of jam. But if that bread and that jam are not produced in a professional kitchen, that purchase would be considered a misdemeanor in California. Never mind that both parties know each other. Never mind that Rachel is certified by Sacramento County as a Master Food Preserver. Nor that she is an engineer and “wired” a bit more to the, er, meticulous side. Nor mind our kitchen is as spotless as any professional kitchen. Doesn’t matter. The friend who wishes to buy that jam and bread- no matter how much trust there is in Rachel’s food prep, no matter how confident in Rachel, no matter that the friend sampled a loaf and jam from the same batches- that food is ”bad” and cannot be legally sold. My wife, food bootlegger. Of course, she can give it to the friend, that’s ok. But exchange $10 for it, and the food is unfit to eat because it hasn’t been given the Department of Agriculture’s stamp of approval. Snap on the cuffs. Go to jail. Do not collect $200. (Actually, pay a fine, you incompetent and unsanitary food producer, you.)

It makes you think, “Hey, we need a law that would make such a sale legal.” Hence the The California Homemade Food Act, AB 1616. Many are excited about this. I’m not as excited for the simple reason that I don’t feel grateful to the powers that be for “giving us” (through this legislation) a reduced portion of the naturally held right we once had- the right to sell what we make.  I’m not excited about the CDA holding the underlying assumption that we need to be protected from ourselves and our neighbor’s poor sanitation in the kitchen. It’s insulting, patronizing, if not outright degrading. In its way, such over-reaching regulation has made people frighteningly uneducated about what they are eating- its health and quality.

While I half-heartedly support the spirit behind the bill, the other half of my heart holds onto the outrage of being patted on the head, handed a crouton, and told I should be grateful for the fine loaf of bread I’ve just been given." Source

There are similar laws in at least 33 other states (including my state of Virginia), none of which have reported a food-borne illness from non-potentially hazardous foods. In Virginia, home kitchens have to be inspected, and must have a separate food storage area for all the ingredients used in a product, including refrigeration. 

If a product requires a teaspoon of salt, you cannot use the regular box of salt in your kitchen, but have a separate box in a separate area. Further, each and every product must have the exact recipe submitted for approval, and have a USDA approved label. It is a very tedious process, and probably the fees are high. As much as I might have a market for my biscotti, I'd fail going through the hoops.

I'm all for Food Safety, particularly in my own kitchen for my own consumption. However, I would never buy home canned goods like green beans (which are not allowed by Law anyway) because I'd never know if they were properly canned to prevent botulism.

"Prior to the California Homemade Food Act, outdated statutes and local ordinances strictly prohibited everyone from home-based, artisanal bread bakers to small-scale, jam and preserve vendors from selling their products. Now, cottage food producers will be permitted to produce and sell every-day foods such as breads, tortillas, dry roasted nuts and legumes, cookies, granola, churros, jams, jellies and other fruit preserves to their communities. 

Producers choosing to sell directly to consumers will register with the local health department, and those choosing to sell to local retail shops, such as the neighborhood coffee shop or corner store, will be subject to initial inspection and permitting by the local health department. All producers will also be required to complete a food processor course, verify that the home kitchen meets specific standards, and disclose on the product label that the product was made in a home kitchen." Source

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Speaking out of both sides of the mouth

The most important opportunity to affect the control the Corporate Agribusiness has over our foods is Proposition 37 on the California ballot in November. Prop. 37 is the Right to Know (what's in our food), mandating GMO labelling.

All Proposition 37 does is require clear labels letting consumers know if foods are genetically modified. We already have food labels showing nutrition, allergy information and other facts consumers want to know. This measure simply adds information telling us if food is produced using genetic engineering, which is when food is modified in a laboratory by adding DNA from other plants, animals, bacteria or viruses.    

I think the California vote on Prop. 37 is perhaps even more important that the Presidential vote. After all, no matter who is elected President, he will still have 535 Voting Members of Congress to deal with anything he wants to change or accomplish. However, if Prop. 37 passes, it will ultimately inform every one of us in the U.S. who purchases food because it will be too costly and cumbersome for corporations to have different food labels for foods sold in different states.

Most of us imagine that anything "organic" (by Law non-GMO) would automatically be on the side to defeat the proposition, yet many large corporations that produce or market organic foods have helped put over $26 MILLION into the war chest to defeat the initiative. How can these corporations market some foods as good for us, yet refuse to label what's in the other foods they market?

        Kellogg’s (Kashi, Bear Naked, Morningstar Farms);
        General Mills (Muir Glen, Cascadian Farm, Larabar);
        Dean Foods (Horizon, Silk, White Wave);
        Smucker’s (R.W. Knudsen, Santa Cruz Organic);
        Coca-Cola (Honest Tea, Odwalla);
        Safeway (‘O’ Organics);
        Kraft (Boca Burgers and Back to Nature);
        Con-Agra (Orville Redenbacher’s Organic, Hunt’s Organic, Lightlife); and
        PepsiCo (Naked Juice, Tostito’s Organic, Tropicana Organic).

On the other hand, there are many smaller organic leaders supporting the Proposition. By enlarging the poster above, you can see the companies donating to the cause. Please support them and their products when possible!  
The current Administration has deregulated more genetically modified foods than ever. From plums to alfalfa and even sugar beets. But it's not just that so many crops are modified (93% of all soy, 86% of corn, and 93% of canola seeds are now genetically modified) it's that there's currently no labeling system in place so that we know what we're buying. 

We are one of the few industrialized nations that doesn't require labeling of GMO foods. In the past year alone 19 U.S. states have attempted to pass GMO labeling laws, but each time Monsanto and biotech lobbyists have threatened to sue. Only Alaska, with its huge wild salmon industry, has passed a biotech seafood labeling law.

Most of us would like to believe that our foods come from nature, but that's far from the case. In 40 countries, including Australia, Japan and all European Union nations, there are significant restrictions or outright bans on the production of GMOs because they are not considered proven safe.

Update: Giant pesticide and big food companies have so far donated more than $37 million to defeat Yes on 37 to label GMOs in California. Earlier this spring, the Grocery Manufacturers of America (GMA), of which Monsanto is a leading partner, declared that defeating Prop 37 was its single highest priority for 2012.

Monsanto just funneled another $2.9 million dollars to defeat California’s Prop 37 to label genetically engineered foods. This comes on top of their $4.2 million dollar pledge only weeks ago and brings Monsanto’s combined total to more than $7.1 million dollarsThat’s a huge pile of cash and it’s dedicated to only one thing – denying us the Right to Know what’s in our food.

My Question: Did Monsanto just kick in more $$ because they are concerned the People might actually WIN??


Monday, September 17, 2012

Homegrown Spirituality, and Core Beliefs

I need to get this "religion and manners" thing off my chest, so please ignore reading it if you are so inclined.

I was raised in Southern Baptist churches, although I quit them 40 years ago thanks to a differing belief in prejudice, compassion, understanding and caring. Since then I have explored many of the world's religions, and none entirely fit the bill. So for many years, my spirituality has been homegrown, taking in bits and pieces that resonated from diverse world religions.

I'm quite content with the beliefs and serenity I have found, for they sustain me.

However, my point in this post is NOT about a belief system, but actions by the people and institutions that profess them, and how (or not) they act on them. 

In the common urge of mankind to want to meet like-minded people, I recently decided that I'd explore the local Universalist Unitarian Church because they accept and honor people of all faiths, and individually they practice (much as I do) in adopting bits and pieces of each.

However, I've now given some thought to the experience of the UU church I attended recently, and whether my experience was just limited to church. The very few (less than a dozen) congregation members there on a holiday weekend seemed to know each other to some degree, and surely my face was unfamiliar to all of them, and stood out in such a small gatherting. Yet not a single person came up to me with a smile and an introduction, or thanks for being here, or please come back... yada, yada... NADA. (Nor was there any recognition of visitors during the service.)

How can people make us feel like pariahs (or at least feel invisible) when they've never even spoken to us, and yet acclaim they are open and accepting?

Do you think it was my werewolf costume? (Just kidding!)

In the churches of my youth, no visitor would have gone without being greeted and acknowledged, but was that because of the actual beliefs of the congregation, or simply how people acted back then?

I don't know if all my core beliefs about behavior are based solely on my spiritual beliefs, but I don't know that I could separate them, either. Many are just how I was raised. They are all a part of who I am.

My question is: Does this recent experience speak of a general (global) trend away from being friendly and welcoming to folks we don't know (in our houses of worship, in our community, in our immediate neighborhood, and in public gatherings)? Have we become so frightened of Strangers? And, am I guilty too, on some level? Are we truly living in a society so self-absorbed that nobody cares?

I was living in this house I now call home for 2 years before a neighbor brought a (welcoming?) gift of some home-canned tomato juice, and I think that was only because I had left some cut flowers on her doorstep 2 weeks before. The only neighbors I know well have never invited me to share a meal, even on holidays like Thanksgiving when they knew I was living alone with no family nearby (before my sis and her grown kid arrived), and they always had gobs of family AND friends coming off and on all day for the feast. 

When I moved here, I really expected that despite being rural (or maybe because of it) in the first 1-3 months of being here, someone would stop by with a casserole or a pie and welcome me to the neighborhood, since there are almost never any newcomers. It never happened.

I've hosted many a Thanksgiving dinner where I invited all the strays I knew, whether college students who couldn't go home for the holiday when I lived in Boone, or single people with no family when I lived in Atlanta. It always made me feel good to share.

What has happened to us?

Friday, September 14, 2012

Eat Carbon Credits or Carbon-based Foods?

We all have read or heard about Carbon Credits, and other Environmental Credits accruing to Big Business... but I don't really understand all the logic in them. If an industrial plant produces too many greenhouse gases, it seems they can simply buy carbon credits from someone doing a better job for the environment, and continue polluting. I think partly it's just another shell game in financial manipulation, because it surely hasn't improved the air quality, ozone layer, global warming and greenhouse gases that I can see. 

There's a lot of talk encouraging us all to reduce our "carbon footprint" (and some of us do) but somehow I don't think we will run out of carbon based fuels (wood, oil, coal and natural gas) before mankind makes it almost impossible to grow anything edible on this lovely blue planet. Human beings are carbon-based, and our foods are carbon-based. How does buying and selling carbon credits help us grow more and healthier foods and live a healthier life?

On the other hand, burying small bits of carbon (natural charcoal, NOT charcoal briquettes) in my garden certainly improves the health of the soil, and lately I see many more earthworms and other visible organisms. (I can't see the gazillion others without a microscope.) I'm also beginning to see more and healthier production in the very earliest beds I amended with biochar 5 years ago, and I finally feel like I'm getting to be a better steward. Bits of carbon in the soil sequester carbon dioxide, which plants need to grow and produce fruit, grain or flowers. Sometime back, I wrote a piece on Biochar for Reading it will give you some background if biochar is unfamiliar to you.

Our nearby land grant university got a grant of several million dollars to build a pyrolysis unit to burn factory (CAFO) chicken house waste into biochar about 3-4 years ago. The problem for me is that the biochar they made was such fine powder that most of it blew away during the demonstration I saw, long before it could be incorporated into the topsoil (even on a day with very little breeze). Plus, it was dirty and nasty to breathe that black dust while it was being applied.

I have a wood burning stove as my back-up emergency heat, although I seldom need it much. The small bits of charred wood left among the ashes are filtered out later and scattered across my garden. (I break them up with a hammer if they are larger than a walnut, but it's dirty work.) Since I don't till anymore, I cover the bits with a thick layer of compost and within a year or two it all becomes part of the soil, loose and fertile. Eventually that soil will be many inches deep, rather than the scant layer of topsoil that hasn't washed into the creek over many, many years! I don't walk on much of my garden, so it's not compacted other than on the paths.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Rice Cowpeas

Another newbie in my 2012 garden: rice cowpeas (click the link to see a photo of them after drying and shelling.) I've never grown any cowpeas, aka Southern Peas before, so how they grow off the top of the stems was a big surprise to me!

I bought the seeds because the dried tiny white cowpeas aren't much larger than rice, and said to cook in 40 minutes. I think this might be a nice quick-cooking staple for the pantry.

The cowpea (Vinga ungulculata) is considered nutritious with a protein content of about 23%, fat 1.8%, carbs 67%, and water 8-9%. As in most legumes, the amino acid profile complements cereal grains.

Cowpeas are fun to grow, tasty and a great choice for novice, expert and children gardeners!


Monday, September 10, 2012

Winter squash 2012

Winter Squash 2012

This year I grew a couple of winter squash varieties that are new to me, Red Kuri (also known as the French Potimaron squash), and Spaghetti squash. It was a bad year for my garden, between the drought and high summer temps, so I'm okay with the scant harvest.  The vines are all cut down now (except one) so this is the sum total of my winter squash.

The orange squash in the photo are Red Kuri and the long white one is a spaghetti squash. I only got 2 spaghetti squash off 4 plants, and one of those split and got buggy. Even with just one edible squash, the price of the seed packet was less than half of the price of one spaghetti squash in the stores.

Also in the wheelbarrow are what I didn't plant, and they are not volunteers either, since they were in new garden areas.

On the right are 2 white acorn squash, and there's still one on the vine. They are not seeds I ordered, so they must have been in a mislabeled or mixed seeds packet. The two pale yellow orbs at the bottom of the photo are unknown but look more like a melon of some sort to me, althogh it has been suggested they could also be immature spaghetti squash. They possibly came from the same mis-marked or mixed seed packet. All came from a reputable heirloom seed supplier.

The spaghetti squash is not a long-keeper in the root cellar, but the Red Kuri and the Acorns should keep for several months. Plenty of squash for just me!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Thinking about The Oath Keepers

I'm slightly aware of this group, but truthfully I know nothing about them except their stated premise of keeping their oath to the Constitution despite whatever other commands they are given. I've simply run across them in researching survival stuff a few years back. I'd like to think what they say is exactly what they mean, and not a guise for yet another paramilitary group.

With the increasing turmoil in the US, and our governmental making laws distancing itself from the Constitution, I've wondered a lot lately about the oath our military men and women take, and what it really means to them deep in their inner core

"Oath Keepers is a non-partisan association of currently serving military, reserves, National Guard, peace officers, and veterans who swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic … and meant it.

Our oath is to the Constitution, not to the politicians, and that oath will be
kept. We won’t “just follow orders." Source

There are detailed specifications of what the Oath Keepers have sworn NOT do to the American people, fully spelled out on the source page above. It's rather interesting.

I've wondered if we might ever have to depend on the Oath Keepers someday. Would my 3 brothers and 1 sister, all who were in the US military and swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign AND domestic, actually defend the Constitution in the face of peril?

I remember that US military troops were armed and told to shoot citizens if necessary during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. No, I'm not talking about criminal looters or thieves during that time, but shooting citizens who refused the confiscation of weapons. Seizing weapons was a violation of the right to bear arms, the Second Amendment, and lack of protection against unlawful search and seizure was a violation of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments.

I don't remember how bad it got at the time, but I do remember reading later the conflicting emotions of the soldiers involved. All of them obeyed their orders, but none felt at ease "making war" on American citizens.

But, they didn't stand up... will The Oath Keepers actually stand up?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

My Cherokee "Trail of Tears" beans

I'm a believer in saving seeds, and keeping the heirloom varieties going. We have lost so much genetic diversity with "modern agriculture". This year I decided to grow the Cherokee 'Trail of Tears' bean.

My harvest will be smaller than I hoped, because a man doing some weedeating for me managed to cut the pole beans off at their base! Fortunately most were far enough along that they should dry on the vines; I'll add those to the pods that dried sooner. I should have enough for a pot of soup beans and still save a few beans to replant next year.

The pods start out green

and then turn purple

This variety has been given a ticket on Slow Food USA's Ark of Taste.The Ark of Taste is a catalog of over 200 delicious foods recognized as of cultural and culinary significance as well as being in danger of extinction. By promoting and eating Ark products, we help ensure they remain in production and on our plates.

The Cherokee Trail of Tears bean memorializes the forced relocation of the Cherokee Indians in the infamous winter death march of Cherokees from Georgia, North Carolina, northeastern Alabama, and Tennessee to what is now Oklahoma (1838-1839). They carried this bean throughout this infamous walk, which became the death march for thousands of Cherokees; hence the ‘Trail of Tears.’

In the face of its poignantly dismal history, the shiny, jet-black seeds are used with pride in many traditional American Indian dishes. The seeds are encased in six-inch, greenish-purple pods. These small attractive beans are often dried before being consumed, and have a delicious rich flavor.

This bean was first offered to the SSE (Seed Savers Exchange) back in 1977 by the late Dr. John Wyche of Hugo, Oklahoma. He shared that his Cherokee ancestors carried the beans over the infamous "Trail of Tears" in the winter of 1838.

The vines reach about eight feet producing six inch green pods with purple shading.  The seeds are a shiny, jet-black color.  They can be used when young and tender as green snap beans or left to maturing for dry beans. seeds

Sharon's Natural Gardens (Delmar, Delaware) had this to say:
"The fresh beans have a real bean flavor missing in modern beans. It is very resistant to any insect damage and has no disease problems. It also makes a good soup bean. We like to grow it on a fence, interplanted with cherry tomatoes and heirloom cucumbers."

The Red Wing Farm is a market garden and homestead in the Swannanoa Valley (near Asheville, NC). They grow this bean, and had this to say about growing it:

"A Cherokee man in Oklahoma donated seeds from this bean variety to the Seed Savers Exchange and so we are able to bring a few back to the mountains to plant in our river valley, where Cherokee people and their ancestors lived for thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans.

The Cherokee people, and the other peoples of the decimated cultures that remained after the European invasion of the Americas, saved the seeds that had been planted by their ancestors: corn, squash, herbs and flowers, grains. And beans: hundreds, maybe thousands of ancient varieties of beans.

How do we retrace the steps of these ancestors and recover the intimacy with the natural world that was at the core of their systems of living? By planting a bean, covering it with dirt, giving it water and sun. By encouraging all of the life in the soil and air and water that nurtures the seed: worms, beneficial insects, microscopic life forms. By cultivating intimate relationships with the plants that feed us and the earth, air, water, and light that feed them. By preserving the seeds that sustain human life for another generation.

Nurturing the small bean plants in my garden, I honor the lost, forgotten, fragmented, and violated cultures and people that stand at the beginning of an unbroken chain of life between the tiny green plants in my garden and the plants grown by peoples of the Americas before European invasion.

Harvesting the beans in the fall, I invoke and offer gratitude to the people who stewarded, protected, and cultivated the bean-ancestors of my garden plants. I say a prayer to the earth for the restoration of human relationships with the natural world. Planting beans in my garden, I give thanks

Seed Sources
Seed Savers Exchange
Victory Seed Company

Or find Producers on LocalHarvest

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Happy Holiday weekend!

I'm sure in this jobless economy most people don't remember WHY we have this holiday. Labor Day is an American Federal holiday observed on the first Monday in September (September 3 in 2012) that celebrates the economic and social contributions of workers, but it only came about with a lot of contention, particularly amongst the trade unions and the government. See this link for detailed information.

Labor Day is supposed to pay tribute to the contributions and achievements of American workers. It also symbolizes the end of summer for many Americans, and is now only celebrated with parties, parades and athletic events totally unrelated to the original reason.

Have a safe and fun-filled long holiday weekend. 

See y'all next week!