Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Ahead of the trend

For more than a year - ever since a community gardener described to me his ill-conceived experiments in canning and I wondered why he wasn't dead - I have been thinking that we need to do much more to revive canning and preserving knowledge - in a word, reskill. I wanted to do a tomato canning party in the Thanksgiving Lutheran church kitchen last year, but the produce and an opportunity just never coincided. And just last week, thinking about teaching others, I realized I need to pull together my favorite canning and preserving recipes.

Well the New York Times has caught on. If home and community gardening are booming, so is doing something with that produce. Today's suite of features focuses on Eugenia Bone, a New Yorker who has written a canning cookbook.
The advice in the article seems pretty good to me, and there are references to other cook books in the "Dos and Don'ts" article.

I'd add to them an older title on my book shelf, Helen Witty's Fancy Pantry - which seems to have anticipated by a few decades the trend toward preserving for taste, not just frugality. But hey - there's no reason to trash simple canning either. I also picked up a book last summer with lots of good ideas - The Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving.

The blogs mentioned in the articles seem pretty sound - but I've noted in the past that web preserving recipes vary widely, and some are simply not safe. If the acid content of a recipe seems low for water bath canning, compare it with a similar one in something standard and safety tested, like Putting Food By or the Ball or government recipes and guidelines on-line.

On my wish list for this summer is a rack for my 8 quart stock pot - like the one shown in the photos in the Times - so when I do four jar batches I don't need to get out the spackleware behemoth.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Legislation to watch

No, don't just watch it - try to do something to stop it.

This last week I received a couple of alerts about SB 384, the Lugar-Casey Act.

It's passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee without much fanfare or public response.

The good news is that this bill increases funds for ag development and food security abroad.

The very bad news is that it requires such aid to include investment in GMOs.

Once again we can pretend to be helping the poor while instead helping the rich - in this case the big agrochemical firms.

The research that supported the pro-GMO position was funded by the Gates Foundation. So it's Gates and G-8 on the GMO side - and the UN, any number of NGOs and most of those with either an agroecological vision, or a realistic sense of the lives of the poor, or both, on the other.

If you read only one article about this, check out this one, by Ben Burkett, a Mississippi farmer, an African-American, and the president of the National Family Farm Coalition.

Then call your Senators and let them know how you and Ben feel about it.

The Oakland Institute as usual is right on top of things. They are aggregating information on a new site, Voices from Africa.

For even more background, The Oakland Institute's reports are good. And there's this one from Friends of the Earth and the Center for Food Safety:
The executive summary is pages 5-8, if 48 pages seems too much. It did to me tonight, but I hope to read it and offer more highlights here soon.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Sometimes it's better to be illusioned

For some time I have been drinking soy milk - using the real thing in my tea, but otherwise sticking to soy beverage, or milk in fermented or cultured forms. I've developed a real fondness for Silk Very Vanilla.

I've taken care over the years to read the labels, and try to buy only organic soy products. It's not that I am so much worried about health risks - I just don't want to support the corporations who patent GMOs.

Well, it turns out, I wasn't paying attention - or thinking about the implications of organic.

There is now nothing on the Silk label which says organic, and most of their soy beans come from China. Even many beans purported to be organic (though it's difficult to assess) come from China or Brazil.

Silk is now part of Dean Foods, a large food product conglomerate. With the acquisition came the shift to Chinese soy, and, of course, the failure to continue to support organic soy production in this country, as the Organic Bytes newsletter points out. What could have been a force for market-based agricultural reform in this country became just another globally sourcing corporation, doing it as cheaply as possible.

Organic Bytes information source is the Cornucopia Institute
and there you can find a full report and a rating of all the soy products companies.
Five bean companies produce soy foods which are wholly organic, made from small farm, US grown soy beans. The zero and one bean companies got there primarily by not disclosing much.
In the middle are companies that most likely do not use GMOs, but may use dangerous solvents (hexane) in production.

Most of the private labels and brands you would recognize at any super market are disastrous. Eden Soy is the only beverage brand I recognized with the coveted 5 bean rating.

I did, though, find good reviews (you can get the full info on any manufacturer by clicking on its name in the survey) of several companies whose other soy products I buy in the 4 bean section.

I got so interested in it all that I moved on to Cornucopia's updated organic dairy survey. I was so pleased that little Loleta Cheese in Humboldt County got 5 cows! Many northern California dairies got 4 cows, as did Sunnyside Organic Milk, the house brand of several regional grocery chains. So if you go to Raley's, Lucky or Food Maxx, don't spend more for the national brand organic milk with the bucolic scene on the label. Choose the less expensive Sunnyside Brand from Stockton, California - the most transparent store brand in either study.

Friday, May 22, 2009

time to move those seedlings?

time to move those seedlings?


up here in the pacific northwest we are a few weeks behind, say, southern Arizona - the broom is blooming, not throwing allergens-rich seed....

tomatoes are the yearly challenge - finding a variety that will work well here


looking forward to the spirituality of gardening workshop with Christine Sine at Mustard Seed House ( on the 30th

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

I love the community garden

mostly because it is practical community. Right now we are all very busy getting our warm weather plants in, so most every evening someone is there working. And even when we are racing the dark to get something done, there is always time for an exchange of information, speculation, hope - gardener talk.

Tonight I got more tomatoes planted. Dan was there to check on the compost pile he built last night, and gave me some rhubarb. Robert was setting out tomatoes, too, and planting some bush beans. He and I arranged to swap some surplus plants on Thursday. I went crazy with squash starts, and he has extra basil.

Also on Thursday, Ian will be through with his finals at Santa Rosa JC, and he and I are going to start in on a plot another gardener decided to give up. We're going to plant for FISH or the food bank. I want to put up a sign on it that says "Squashing hunger, one zucchini at a time."

a sad mosey

Last Friday at noon I headed out for Rio Vista - where we were having a Celebrating Creation event on Saturday - the long way, heading down through Marin, Vallejo and Benicia, then east on 4. My goal was to find some local produce to serve at lunchtime on Saturday.

I think I must have been having fantasies about Brentwood. Probably it was the Buy Fresh, Buy Local signs the community features. I was ready!

But what a disappointment. Many farm stands simply were not open yet - though promotional materials say they are. One I found specializes in dry fruit and nuts, and sits right in the middle of a new subdivision. I asked the owner where some of the nuts - kinds I know don't grow around here - came from. She was a little vague, and I asked if nuts in the shell weren't subject to COOL? She didn't know what that was.

Onward I drove, taking in the sights. Strip malls, box store arrays, subdivisions with 2 story 2000 sq ft houses cheek by jowl, and apartment (or condo?) complexes that looked like public housing. A particularly sad sight was a van advertising "foreclosure tours". Looking around, I wondered how many of the folks who live in Antioch and Brentwood were in flight from the urban East Bay, taking advantage of no down payment, adjustable rate financing - and now are wondering just what they've done.

Then, continuing east, there was a sudden end of the subdivisions - well, maybe there was a small one here and there, old enough to have trees as tall as the two story buildings. But even here in the open space, many of the orchards seemed to be on the way out, vegetable crops, too, and horses and grapes on the way in.

I did find one cherry orchard that was open and selling - and the cherries were good - because they were all ripe. And finally somewhere between Knightsen and Oakley I found a farm stand selling strawberries, asparagus, eggs and lemons.

One hope I have is that the real estate bust will slow the rising land prices, and the encroaching housing, and leave more of the fertile land bordering the Delta for agriculture. The Brentwood Land Trust is apparently committed to preserving ag land, so the Bay Area can eat when we run out of oil - even though this wasn't apparent just driving around.
I also hope the farmers in the Brentwood area will wise up - that if you are going to advertise as an area to Buy Fresh, Buy Local, you need to have more crop variety year round. If I can do it in my little community garden plot, they can, too...

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Which to buy organic

I've been looking for the simplest iteration of which produce to buy organic, and which it's okay to buy conventional - for a pesticide residue and health perspective.

This would seem to be it:

You can download a printable wallet guide
so you don't have to come up with a mnemonic for the 12 items highest in pesticide residues, and the 15 lowest. Although it might be fun to come up with an anagram of their first initials. The dirties only have one vowel, though, so fat chance of an acronym there!

And yes, I Phone users, there's an app for that. The food lists, not making up acronyms...

Climate Change and Food - more resources

There's some hyperbole in this one

But hey - they've got Percy Schmeiser. Don't know who Percy is? You only need to watch the first minute of this video to find out.

There's more info on Bye Bye Beef.

I just took the pledge - though it's nothing new for me to be beef free.

This is an effort of Peter Kreitler, who has been involved in environmental ministry in the Los Angeles area for years.

Food Films

I'm adding a web site to the list - which needs managing, I know, I know -

It's the home of a food film festival.

Of the films they feature this year I highly recommend "Flow" - about water issues.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Something positive for the piggies

The other day, while following the stories of the dancing parrots, I ran across a note on a pub in England which barters allotment (community garden) produce for pints.

It's The Pigs, Edgefield, in Norfolk. Pub

Great web site; made me hungry for lunch, never mind longing for a winery that might barter for zucchini in a couple of months, or even fresh herbs now.

(and I don't know why my cutting and pasting won't copy the whole web address - you may need to cut and paste, too - or try this instead

CAFOs and flu - one possibility

Other blogsters have latched onto one possibility for a flu virus vector - flies that love manure lagoons near Mexican CAFOs. But they seem honest about the fact this is only an hypothesis at this point.

Pigs ARE prodigious defecators.

A vaguely related statistic to ponder from Stuffed and Starved.

In the US feedlots produce 300 million tons of manure a year.

As I recall this is about bovines, though maybe all feedlots and CAFOs - but whatever - that's a ton of s--- per person. Are our meat and dairy habits worth it?