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Archive for July, 2009

One of the things that got me interested in growing food was the desire to find ways to make healthy, sustainable foods accessible to people living with low incomes. There is a expectation that you have to be affluent in order to eat real, organic foods.  I mean, they don’t call it “Whole Paycheck” for nothing, right?  If a person is living on a fixed or low income they are likely spending 20-30% of their income on food where as a person living in the upper-middle, or upper income brackets are paying only 5-10% of their income on food.  Those living with disposable income have the ability to buy food that has the true cost attached to it, however for those living on low or fixed income the food marketed and available to them is often hyper-processed and heavily subsidized.

There are programs available for food-based financial assistance such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, used to be the federal Food Stamps Program) and the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program.  Both of these programs, as well as others offered through the private sector, offer assistance to people based on financial and nutritional needs.  People who are using these programs are given a debit card linked to an account that is filled each month or week depending on the program, then they are able to use the card to purchase the food that they need.  Each program has a list of food and drink that are a person is not able to purchase while using the card.  This ensures that the money in the account is going toward actual (and somewhat healthy) food.

Last week I read an article on the Green Fork blog that talked about a new program that the WIC is promoting:

An especially exciting aspect of the new WIC package is the inclusion of cash value vouchers (CVVs) for fruits and vegetables, ranging from $6 (children) to $10 (breastfeeding women) monthly. States have the option of authorizing farmers to accept the CVVs at farmers’ markets and roadside stands, making it possible for mothers on WIC to feed their families nutritious produce and bolster their local economies at the same time.

The article does recognize that $6-10 a month isn’t that much on it’s own, but there are other programs like this that help to supplement healthy foods into the diet of those using these programs.  My initial research led me to believe that Colorado isn’t participating in this program yet, but many Farmers Markets accept SNAP cards as well as Colorado Quest cards.

I think that the more opportunities that people living off of assistance have to fresh, local foods the more the myth of healthy=expensive can be corrected.  Of course, purchasing real, minimally processed foods means that you will need to prepare the food at home.  One of my goals is to be involved with people and helping them learn how to plan weekly meals, cook simple foods, and provide healthy meals for thier families.  I think that the CVV is another step in the right direction.

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Yesterday was the CSA pick up day.  We spent the morning harvesting lettuce, extra kohlrabi, and basil then loaded the truck up and headed off to the pick up location.

full truck

The pick up was pretty smooth.  We experienced our usual rush of people right around 5.  I’m really hoping to be able to serve some sort of food next week.  I think it would be really fun to have something to offer people cooked up right from the field.  We aim for bringing just enough produce for all of the shares, but somehow we came up short on squash.  The few people who came closest to 6 were offered extra broccoli in place of the missing squash.

After 6, when the pick up is done, we were still left with a bunch of produce, so we filled our bags.  I didn’t realize how many veggies I had grabbed until I got home and started to unpack.  I had 4 heads of lettuce, 1 bag of spicy Asian greens, 3 small heads of broccoli and a bag of single broc shoots, 2 kohlrabi, 1 onion, 2 ox heart carrots, ruby red chard, rhubarb, 4 cucumbers, and 2 too-beat-up-to-give-to-members squash.  I’m really excited to make a salad tomorrow afternoon with all these veggies.

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Last week I left the farm for a few days and headed off to Seattle to attend the wedding of two good friends.  I haven’t spent much time in that part of the country, and I was excited to be able to wander around a bit the day and a half I was there before the wedding.  I knew that if I was going to only have a few hours in Seattle I needed to stop at Pike Place Market.  It was early and we were a bit jetlagged, but my wife and I wandered past stall after stall of fresh fruits, veggies, and seafood.  It was quite overwhelming.  The morning before the wedding I had the opportunity to play tourist in Port Townsend (just a bit north-west of Seattle).  When I saw a sign for the farmers market, I knew I needed to check it out.  Two blocks were sectioned off and filled with people lingering at tables, talking with farmers, cooks, ranchers, and fishermen about the food they had available at their stand.  I spent some time talking with a guy who was selling “Sea Beans” (Salicornia virginica), Chanterelle mushrooms, wild blackberries and black raspberries, and currants.  All of the things that he was selling were things that he had foraged.  He told me about the incredible bounty of wild, edible fruits, veggies, and herbs available in that part of the country.  I was all but ready to call Frank and tell him I wasn’t coming home.  I bought a pint of blackberries from him and continued to wander through the market.  With berry-stained lips and fingers I found myself in peaceful wonder; people everywhere are celebrating food.
It’s easy for me to forget that in cities and small towns all across the country people are seeking out real, healthy, sustainable foods.  I can become so enveloped in harvesting radishes and squash for our CSA that it can surprise me that there are farmers all across the country (and world) doing the same thing for the people in their local community. We can relish the uniqueness of the CSA program that we have with CSU.  We can be proud to be in a position to run variety trials and other experiments for the purpose of sharing the information with other farmers throughout Colorado.  But don’t ever think that we are alone in what we are doing.  We are a small part of a growing community of farmers, ranchers, fishermen, and— most importantly—eaters, who are making choices to find food closest to the source and sustainably grown.
I cannot tell you how encouraging it was to be able to get back out on the farm after my vacation.  I walked down the rows of kale and broccoli, onions and leeks, tomatoes and peppers, and melons and felt a growing excitement for the opportunity to be a part of this community of food-celebrators.  Thank you for being a part of this community, too.

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I’ve been slowly reading Paul Roberts’ book, The End of Food.  Here’s something that I read over the weekend that I’ve been wanting to write about for a while.

Put another way, food companies may dispute the claims about HFCS, the glycemic index, or anything else about the quality of the food they sell, but they can’t deny that they’re doing newly everything possible to sell us greater quantities of food.

Set aside the argument about all soda being bad for you and let’s think about a few things regarding the way that soda is presented to us.  If you were interested in having 1 serving of soda (agreed upon by the “nutrition label” on the package) you could have 12 oz.  Here’s the thing that I’ve been thinking about for a while, how many places actually serve 12 oz of soda any more?  Let’s imagine that you stop at a convenience or grocery store to grab a soda, how many of those places carry 12 oz cans any more.  Of the 6 closest (to my house) places to buy a soda, only 2 of them sell a 12 oz, single, ready to drink serving.  The majority of available soda will most likely come in a 20 oz bottle, in which case the serving size drops down to 8 oz giving you 2.5 servings in a single bottle.  Fill up a cup at a soda fountain in a convenience store and you will have  a 64 oz cup available to you!  This is more than 5 times the “serving size.”  I know that the “serving size” is a relatively arbitrary number, placed on the label to show you the relation of nutritional density to quantity a container has, but tell me, who fills a 64 oz. cup of soda and only drinks 8 or 12 oz. out of it?  I have seen the 8 oz  cans that Pepsi and Coke have been selling for the past year or so.  When I looked at the can, though, I saw that the word “mini” was printed right next to the “8 oz.” label.  While the company may be offering a single serving size, they choose to use labeling to make you think that a single serving size is a mini portion!

Studies have been done (and I’m looking through my journals for the research and proof) that for some reason we will eat and eat and eat if food is available to us regardless of whether or not we feel satiated. We have gotten to a place where we subconsciously bypass our brain’s urging to stop eating and eat until the food is gone.  This is so true for me.  If I stop at a burger place and I have the option of either a single burger patty or a double, chances are I could eat the single patty and feel satiated or I could eat the double without pausing to question whether I was getting full or not.  That’s not even including the multiple options for a side order of fries and a soda.

Some people will tell you that this is an issue of personal responsibility for the consumer.  It’s the consumers job to issue restraint when it comes to how much food he/she is consuming, they will say.  I agree with that to an extent.  It is a person’s responsibility to make their own decision regarding the food they eat…unless they can not make that decision for themselves.  We wouldn’t ask our 2 year old (if we had one) what she wanted for dinner, and if she replied “chocolate cake with syrup,” serve it to her citing her “personal responsibility” to make that choice.  No, we will hold ourselves accountable for her decisions until she has learned how to make a well informed decision for herself.  This is easy to see with children, but I believe that the are many adults who are not informed about all of the options and as a result, they are making poor choices in regards to their health and the health of the people whom they care for.

What do you think about this issue of quantity?  Does the way food is presented to you affect the amount of food you eat.  I’m not intending for this to come across as “Fast food is never ok.” or “All processed food is bad for you.”  Rather, from my experience, when I pay attention to the amount of food I am consuming I almost always end up eating that is better for me.  But that is a topic for the next post.

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Last week was a short week on the farm for me.  I spent Monday and Tuesday (after my O Chem class, of course) out in the field.  Wednesday I did some administrative things while putting the CSA newsletter together.  Thursday and Friday I was in the Seattle area for a wedding.  Two days on the farm is not enough for me.

As I was reflecting on the week I thought about how I was 2 months into my internship and most days are starting to look the same.  The romantic visions of planting seeds and turning the soil have been reduced to the reality of pulling weeds and patching irrigation drip tape.  This transition doesn’t cause me to question my desire to do this work, rather it encourages me.  There is a great simplicity in being able to go out to the field and spend 6 or 8 hours pulling weeds.  Pick a row, put your head down, and clear the row of anything that has the potential to choke out or steal water from your crops.  A few of the interns will often be seen with head phones in, listening to an audio book or podcast as they move down a row.

It’s difficult to find interesting things to write about when the days are so repetitive.  I think that’s OK.  Shortly there will be new first harvests to write about: celebrations of the first tomato or melons and sweet corn.  But for now these seemingly mundane tasks are the engine that is powering the mid-summer farm.

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I guess I forgot to put a post together about my time on the farm for week 6, so I guess I’ll put it together with week 7.  The majority of week 6 was filled with weeding anyways, and who wants to read about that, right?  One thing that we did do was lay out plastic mulch and paper mulch in one row to test the efficiency of either method.  In the row we laid out 3 50′ sections of the plastic mulch alternating with 3 50′ sections of the paper mulch and 3 50′ sections of bare soil.  We used a tractor to lay out the plastic first.  We used an attachment that unrolled the plastic, pulled it taught, and buried the edges.  It also unrolled drip tape into a small furrow right in the center under the plastic.  It was pretty slick.

We couldn’t use the tractor for the paper mulch because the attachment’s purpose is to pull the plastic tight, and if we put a roll of paper in there it would just tear the paper.  The time that we saved using the tractor for the plastic was used up on covering every edge of the paper mulch with soil so that it would catch some wind and blow away.  I would also like to note that the guy in the picture, bent over shoveling soil onto the end of the plastic row isn’t me…it’s my boss, Frank.  He told me to jump up into the tractor and he would work the shovel.  Good guy, huh?

This past week held a lot of anticipation because Thursday would be our first CSA pick-up day.  The start of CSA days indicates a shift in the focus of the farm.  We start to see the growing plants as the food that it will become in it’s harvestable form.  Leaves of the kale and spinach are inspected to determine if they are worthy of being offered to a member.  Radishes are pulled gently from the soil to ensure that they will retain their ideal shape.  Squash are twisted from the plant before they get too big and their flavor starts to turn bitter.  It’s wonderful to be able to watch as the plants prepare themselves for the harvest.

The past two weeks were often tedious in the weeding that needed to get done, but it was wonderful to spend three hours on Thursday meeting this season’s members.

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On Thursday I scrambled to put together a newsletter for the first CSA pick-up day.  Here’s what I wrote for one of the sections.  Enjoy.

“Eating is an agricultural act.” – Wendell Berry

This quote is one of my all-time favorites.  In this simple sentence Berry reminds us that with each bite of food we take, we connect ourselves to those who grow our food.  Sometimes it’s easy to separate the two.  I mean, what sort of farming does a bite of a Twinkie connect us to?  Eating foods that are not directly found in nature, like the potato chips I’m currently eating, make it difficult for us to feel connected to the farmers who grew the potatoes.  However, when we choose to eat real, whole foods it is much easier to feel the connection to the farm and farmers.  Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a great way to encourage the connection between the farm and the table.  All of the work that we have put into the farm is to strengthen this connection.  Each seed that we place in the ground is done so in anticipation of being able to harvest something and hand it over to you, so that you can take it to your table.  As the season moves on, the anticipation grows and today we experience a celebration of sorts. We come together, growers and eaters, to share in the celebration of the harvest.  We celebrate with handshakes and introductions, smiles and laughter, and lingering in conversation with one another.
Thank you for choosing to be connected with us this season.  If this is your first experience with a CSA, welcome!  Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions.  We love what we do and are happy to share what we know.  If you are a CSA veteran, thank you for continuing to support local farmers and local foods!  Share with us some of your experiences!  Whether this is your first or twentieth season, feel free to stick around and talk with us and the other members.  Meet some new people.  Learn the children’s names.  Swap kale recipes.  And celebrate the fact that eating is an agricultural act.

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