Wednesday, December 30, 2009

12 Things You Can Do To Be Healthier

Each year during the holidays, Dr. David Eifrig publishes a list of his top-12 tips for dramatically improving your health – and life – in the coming year. In brief, they are:
1. Enough sleep
2. Sun on your body every day
3. Movement
4. Massage
5. Eat more fruit
6. Meditation
7. Aromatherapy
8. Aspirin –one low-dose aspirin/week
9. Wine – small doses
10. Don't share items that carry germs
11. Take an antibiotic once a year
12. Music

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Hierarchy of Food Waste

Our friends at Love Land Local posted this wonderful blog about food waste. I learned from reading the story and I hope you will too. Visit LLL's site for more informative articles.

To do your part to reduce food waste, you need to do some planning. First, make plans of what you would do with extra food of various types rather than landfill it. This is particularly important for perishable food such as meat, dairy products, vegetables, and fruits.

Plan A: Do what you can to preserve the food for your family: freeze meat before it turns, or cook into soups, stews, casseroles, etc., and freeze them (be SURE to use wide-mouth freezer-safe jars or plastic tubs). Can soups with a pressure canner. Mildly freezer-burned meats can be cooked in stews or braised; you'll probably never know the difference.

Vegetables can be canned, lactofermented, frozen, or dried. BE SURE to do this while they're still fresh, before they get wilted, discolored, or slimey. Fruits can be cooked into desserts, dried in pieces or as rollups, frozen, made into jams and jellies... well, you get the picture. Milk can be made into fresh cheese; fresh cheese can be frozen successfully. (Look for a post on this subject soon.) Same for cream or half-n-half, if you ever have such things left over. Or you can use milk or cream in soups, casseroles, puddings, etc.

If your storage is full, your freezer is full, you know you'll never use the food if you stored it (frozen and canned foods don't keep forever), no one in your family likes the food (buying mistake), or you feel that you have enough, then go to...

Plan B: Give the food to other humans. This includes family members, friends, neighbors, the less fortunate, food banks, food drives, and other charities. The best use of human food is for humans. Food banks probably won't take fresh meat and dairy products, unless truly fresh and unopened, for obvious reasons. Check first. But in general they are happy to take surplus vegetables and fruits, including fruits from your yard that are in excess of your ability to use them. Be sure to do this while the produce is still attractive and useful.

Sometimes, however, food items just get away from us; we turn our backs and they wilt, go sour, turn brown, etc. Not fit for human consumption. Now you can go for...

Plan C: Give the food to animals. If you have chickens, they're perfect! I give my chickens anything except chicken; they're omnivores like us, and will happily eat meat that is starting to turn, old dairy products, mushy fruits, etc. (Actually, chickens would eat chicken perfectly happily, but it's evil to feed animals their own kind.)

Perhaps you have friends with chickens, or even pigs. Don't feed pigs raw meat of any kind, to break the cycle of disease. But the meat could be cooked. Meat slightly past its prime or freezer-burned could also be given to dogs or cats, in modest quantities. Tired old casseroles, freezer burned vegetables, it all looks good to a pig.

Perhaps you don't know anyone with chickens or pigs. And that food is definitely over the hill. Next step:

Plan D: Compost it! If you have land, or even a neighborhood garden spot, get a compost heap going. Non-meat food scraps, outside leaves of cabbage, rotting apples, you get the idea, mixed with fallen leaves, grass clippings, and similar stuff. You can find numerous books with information on composting. Put it in, then let it work. Next year, add it to your gardens or flower beds. It is suggested not to put meat-based foods into compost unless the bins are secure, to keep down problems with skunks, bears, raccoons, the neighborhood dog, etc.

Plan E: The last useful stop on the food waste bandwagon is biogas generation. I don't know of any around here, but in Britain they have loads of them, using all kinds of food waste from "post-consumer" to factory wastes. Methane (natural gas) is generated--very useful stuff. The residue is a good soil amendment. The challenge is getting the icky stuff to the biogas plant, but the British are figuring it out.

Plan F (for failure): The worst thing to do with your food waste is to send it to the landfill. There it rots underground along with the rest of the stuff, producing methane and other greenhouse gases which make their way to the surface and into the atmosphere. Many communities are having problems with overly-full dumps and landfills.

This is waste of the worst sort--human labor and fossil fuels used to grow the food, which is now not of any use to any living thing, and increases the greenhouse gas and waste disposal problems.

BTW have you thought about the term "fossil fuels"? Fossil fuels were laid down under the ground along with the fossils. The natural cycles which make these things take millions of years. But we're burning through it as if there is no tomorrow....

Oh, another thing, "tomorrow", as in the next few decades, is going to be different from the last 50 years. Hate to break the news to you. The excesses that we're accustomed to are going to disappear. Somewhere between a technological paradise on the one hand, and apocalypse on the other hand, is where we're headed. If you want to read some really well-reasoned articles on these and related subjects, try the Archdruid Report.
Posted by Lynnet at 11:26 AM 0 comments
Monday, November 2, 2009
Food Waste--A Global Tragedy
I have recently finished reading Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal, by British author Tristram Stuart. His analysis features the UK food distribution system, with significant contributions about the U.S. system and other European countries. The facts are scandalous, as he says. This book is well worth the reading. Here are a few highlights.

Food waste starts right at the farm, particularly with contract growers for supermarkets. Supermarket chains order x pounds of something, like carrots, to be delivered by y date, but they can reduce their order if by that time, demand is down, they already have too many, or for any other reason.

If the grower does NOT deliver x pounds of carrots at that time, he/she is liable to lose their contract for the next year. Weather or crop failure is not an excuse, so the grower who wants to keep their contract will plant more rows of carrots than needed.

If the supermarket chain reduces its order arbitrarily, the grower is left with excess carrots. Or if there is a bumper crop, probably the other growers have one too. The residual value of all those extra carrots is probably not worth the trouble of packaging, shipping and marketing, so they are often plowed under.

Next, a tremendous amount of food waste is caused by "aesthetic" considerations. Carrots must be perfectly straight, so they all fit neatly into those bags. Non-straight carrots are dumped or sold for animal feed, or in the U.S. are sent to be milled into "baby carrots". Potatoes that are too big: out they go. Apples that are too small: out they go. Any produce item with a little mark on it, a slightly funny color, etc., out they go. In some cases they go for animal food, in some cases particularly in Britain, they are used as feedstock for methane generation. But often they are just composted or plowed under.

It gets worse.

Sell-by dates are the culprit in much meat and dairy-related waste. These are very conservatively set; most foods are good for another several days or even a week or more. This factor combines with the desire of stores to be fully stocked with every possible item, even perishable, regardless of level of sales.

Between the overstocking and the pessimistic Sell-by dates, packaged entrees, sandwiches, salads, and similar foods are usually just dumped. Stuart says that in the U.K., the dumpsters are generally locked to prevent the poor from getting their hands on the food. If not that, the foods are emptied from their packaging and stirred all together with non-food waste to make them unusable. Due to landfill fees in the U.K., more of this waste is going to methane generation, generating pennies on the dollar of their worth as food for humans.

The loss to human food by dairy and meat waste is multiplied by the tremendous amount of human food (corn, soy, wheat, etc.) fed to conventional livestock.

Other sources of food waste include eating too much (waistline as waste), general dislike of organ meats (though some of this goes into pet food), the packaging of perishable food in amounts that are too large for singles or couples to use before they go bad, and the tendency of many children to take a bite of something and throw it away. And the waste of by-catch for seafood runs up to 90% for some items such as wild-caught shrimp. Waste of seafood is particularly tragic since many species are drastically overfished.

Another cause is poor household planning: buying what's on sale instead of what the family will eat; forgetting what you have in stock; getting busy or tired and eating out instead of eating what's on hand.

Stuart has done a great deal of research, and finds that counting waste sources from farm to garbage can, approximately 50% of food production is wasted in the sense that it is does not meet its destiny as human food. The U.S. has more than four times the amount of food required by the nutritional needs of the population (some is fed to livestock). The production of surplus food is a huge contributor to greenhouse gas emissions; the planting of trees on land used for wasted food would offset half to all of man-made emissions.

The good news is that enough food is produced now to give everyone in the world enough to eat. The bad news, of course, is that we do not do that. U.S. households spend about 9% of their income on food, half of what was spent a few decades ago. Food is SO CHEAP for most people that they do not value it. Convenience trumps instrinsic value. It must be especially galling for the hungry, especially in our wealthy nation, to know that tons of perfectly edible food end up in landfills. And it is not showing respect to the animals, the farmers, the land, the Earth, when we treat these resources as unimportant.

So what can we as individuals do? I welcome you to join me in trying to reduce the food waste in your own household. And I welcome suggestions from readers for specific and general ideas.

After all, it isn't just food, it's lives. Lives of food animals, lives of farmers, lives of wild animals whose habitat has been taken away for more soybeans or oil palm or whatever. It's past time for us to consider the Earth and its dwellers as precious.

* Be a better manager. Be aware of your stocks. Use or preserve items before they go bad. Buy only what you will use. There are a multitude of ways to use or preserve food items, and I'll discuss a few in upcoming posts.

* Buy direct from farmers, through CSAs, or through farmers markets or cooperatives. This will eliminate much of the "aesthetic" waste from the supermarkets. The crooked carrot and knobbly potato are perfectly good food.

* Buy grass-fed or pastured meat, dairy and eggs when you can. This will free up more food for humans, and will reduce the need for intensive monocultures.

* Teach your children to respect food. One way is to let them have a garden. The carrot they grew is more precious than the carrot from the supermarket. Or take them to a small farm or CSA, so they can see the plants and animals. Model respect for food in your own behavior.

* If you have fruit trees or shrubs in your yard, work at putting that harvest to good use, not just letting it fall on the sidewalk or be swept into the garbage.

Don't Use Creosote

Since my last posting, I've learned that creosote timbers are treated with various chemicals, including arsenic. Please don't use creosote and please forgive my ignorance. Best to use untreated lumber or concrete blocks. The blocks are expensive, but you can sometimes find them cheap on Craigs List. Please post a response if you have used concrete blocks before. I'm loving the idea.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Now is the time to work in the garden. Seem crazy? We’re only a couple of months away from early Spring gardening. So December and January are months to build up your garden soil.

1. Put down a layer of cardboard to kill weeds.

2. Add a layer of leaves.

3. Add a layer of raw compost.

4. Cover with thick layers of newspaper.

5. I cover my beds with landscape cloth to keep everything in place.

This year we're deepening the beds so we'll be adding creosote timbers around the gardens.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

More Garden for Your Dollar

Last week I was contacted by Hometown Seeds, a new organization that sells vegetable, flower, and herb seed packets to home gardeners throughout the world. Hometown Seeds offers a variety of premium quality seed and supplies.

Most of you know I’m a real fan of seeds. They store well, they don’t take up much space, and when you put them in the ground they grow into the loveliest things. My friend Elle Bobier says, “A miracle is a few seeds sprouting in a clay pot.” I asked Scott Peterson, owner/partner (along with Jared West) a few questions that turned into a lovely interview I wanted to share with you here.

Caroline: How did you find our blog? Were you part of Sharon’s food storage group?
Scott: We are constantly educating ourselves and looking for ways to connect with our customers. Reading blogs is one way we do that. We found your blog by searching garden blogs.

Caroline: How did you organize Hometown Seeds?
Hometown Seeds is a partnership between me (Scott Peterson) and Jared West. We have civil engineering backgrounds and have worked together on several projects. We both have used gardening as a way to unwind and spend time with our family. Incidentally, Jared is by far better at feeding the family from his garden. A key to our success is our good wives who have supported us and allowed us to take a pretty crazy career detour.

Caroline: Where do the seed come from?
They come from different growers across the country. A key reason we were able to create the company was our relation with a wholesaler that has been developing relationships with a variety of high quality seed producers. We also rely on our supplier for his wealth of knowledge. He has college degrees in plant science and has spent over 55 years growing, testing, and researching seeds. We rely heavily on his expertise as a vital partner in our company.

Caroline: Are there instructions with the seed? What about instructions for starting flats indoors?
We do provide general planting instructions with the seeds such as spacing, germination, row spacing, etc. We don’t have instructions on starting flats indoors but that’s a great idea.

Caroline: What is your background as far as growing and plant knowledge goes? Do you come from a farm background? Did your parents garden?
My gardening background was not formal. I grew up in a small town of about 8,000 people. I was the seventh of eight children. We weren’t wealthy and lived on a small lot. There always seemed to be a widow with a large garden plot willing to let us rent. Rent was always the produce, so the widow always got paid a portion of our crop. I learned gardening but I think my parents understood the other benefits. I became close friends with these ladies and learned to appreciate the experiences they had lived through. I was given weeding responsibilities to do on my own so I have memories of getting half way through my job and being distracted as I ate a vine ripened tomato (my favorite), fresh peas, or strawberries.

As far as plant knowledge, I have learned it on the way as a hobby. Since we decided to turn our hobby into a business, I have learned a lot more and also found some local experts that have been gracious with their time in helping us with things such as product mix, quality standards, sourcing, etc.

Caroline: You have a special category for survival seeds. What does the term “survival seed” mean?
Survival seeds are a familiar term these days for a long-term seed bank. These are open-pollinated, non-hybrid seeds that you can use to grow a food crop as well as save seeds to replant the same crop again the next year. If there are food shortages, you can “survive.”

Caroline: How did you get interested in survival issues?
Growing up, my parents always stored a one-year supply of food. This was for a rainy day or emergency. This was religiously motivated. They believed that if they did their part to prepare, God would take care of the rest in a time of need. A time of need could include loss of employment, a natural disaster, or in these days, a recession where earning ability may be hampered. It engrained in me a preparedness mentality so that I live below my means. There have been several times where this practice has served my family well.

Caroline: Do survival seeded plants require more care than regular seed plants?
No, even a novice gardener could grow them. We have added a detailed instruction book with each packet in case a customer has any questions. Our selection has been chosen to grow in a variety of climates and, to the extent possible, utilize shorter growing seasons.

Caroline: What do you say to people who claim you are using scare tactics to sell your survival seeds?
I don’t think we are. As I mentioned before, the title “survival seeds” is what many people would call our product, regardless of what we name it. We want to connect our customers with the product, so we go with what works. We do want people to be prepared and hopefully they consider this aspect if they know how to garden.

Caroline: Survival Gardens are very much like the Victory Gardens of the 1940s. Why not promote your product as a modern-day Victory Garden? Do you see a similarity between the two?
I do see the similarity and have read your experience about Mr. Brown’s victory garden. I agree that is a much more positive name, but the way we generate sales is when our customers search a website with terms that include emergency seeds, survival seeds, long term storage seeds, and others. I am afraid if we marketed a victory garden kit, our customers would not be able to find us.

Caroline: How are your seeds packaged? How long a shelf life do the seeds have?
They have a double waterproof package. The individual seed types are sealed in poly bags. All of the individual seeds are then heat sealed in a heavy gauge Mylar bag., which ensures a dark environment that is moisture proof. The shelf life is a minimum of 5 years at room temperature, but the cooler the better. If you freeze them, you can double the shelf life.

Caroline: Are these seeds considered GMO? What does that mean?
All of our seeds are 100% GMO free. Genetically modified organisms (GMO) seeds have a lot of unknown consequences and we feel more research should have been done before they were made commercially available. This is the reason we don’t carry GMO seeds.

Caroline: Why do non-GMO seeds cost more than conventional seed?
We provide a better value. If you compare our seeds to what you buy in a big box store, you will see the difference in the results. Our customers won’t be in the position of having poor seed germination and miss their planting window for the year. This isn’t a value. If you buy the right seeds your return is enormous. For every dollar you spend on seed, the average return is $20 of produce. This illustrates the value of good seeds. We believe we are correct in our slogan, more garden for your dollar.
As far as the survival pack, we are one of the most affordable products on the market. This is a great value for the larger quantities of open pollinated varieties. Some of the varieties such as the corn and cucumbers are in short supply this year. The pack contains enough seed to plant ¾ acre!

Caroline: How do you determine what seeds go into a survival bundle?
We considered the worst case of a family living only on these vegetables. With that in mind, we picked items that would have varying tastes, textures, and nutritional value. This was done with a lot of input from colleagues and our supplier. It had to meet our criteria and also be available in pretty substantial quantities.

Caroline: I notice you also have fun seed, like popcorn, and gourds. Will you be adding others?
We are always interested in the unusual. I like to plant something I’ve never tried each year in the garden. We are always open to ideas for new products.

Caroline: There’s a link for Discount Coupons on your site. How does one get a discount coupon? Would you like to offer a discount for people who visit you from my site?
This is a very new feature we are still working on. We will be offering a code for just these reasons, just need to work out our glitch. I will follow up with you on this.

Caroline: Is your company connected to any charity work?
We currently aren’t on a company level. Jared and I spend a lot of time working with our respective church groups but we have not yet implemented charity work into our company.

Hometown Seeds can be found at They have promised me the emergency survival seeds package that is worth $34.99 +shipping. Check it out at . I’ll report several times on the seed kit, letting you know how the seed are shipped, how I used them, photos of all stages of my survival seed garden, and finally, my personal gardener’s opinion about the seed kit.

Thanks to the folks at Home town Seeds for contacting me. I’m always so glad to hear from people who have read my blog.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Holiday Gift Wrap

Here's a cute idea for holiday gift wrap. Use brown paper bags. You can see here how my mother decorated the bags using computer-generated decorative labels and a few sheets of tissue paper. Cute idea, and the bags can be reused in everyday life. Save the tissue paper to use again.