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10 Things to Know: Raw Foods

Raw foods are usually very healthy. Numerous diets center on a large portion of, or 100%, raw foods. I believe raw foods are an excellent part of a balanced diet, but there’s a number of things that aren’t ideal about relying heavily on raw foods. Probably few of my readers are inclined to a completely-raw fruit and vegetable diet, but since it seems to be the prevalent opinion that “raw = best”, there are a few things I wanted to note, as follows: 1. Raw foods are very rich in enzymes, which help to digest food and are vital to many metabolic functions in the body. Our body both makes its own enzymes and gets enzymes directly from food. The more enzymes that are in the food that we eat, the less the body has to work at making enzymes. There are enzymes in all raw foods, including raw milk and raw meat, though this discussion is primarily about raw produce. Tropical fruits are especially high in digestive enzymes, and as such are especially conducive to being eaten raw. Raw foods are alive, life-giving foods! (Interestingly, grains are the one food that can’t be eaten raw unless sprouted. Vegetables and animal foods can be eaten raw if they come from clean sources. Vegetables and meat comprise one of the best, well-balanced diets–and no, I don’t eat hardly any animal products raw, just like I don’t eat all my vegetables raw.) wholefoodscheffall2012-617-300x198 2. Raw foods are excellent sources of water-soluble vitamins B & C. These vitamins are easily lost in cooking, and are lost even in leaving produce peeled or cut for several hours. Some fruits, such as berries and citrus, are often eaten raw, which helps us to get appropriate intake of vitamin C, particularly. It has been observed, however, that non-organic produce often has much lower levels of vitamin C than organic produce does. If you are eating raw produce for its water-soluble vitamin content, it’s best to buy it organic. 3. Raw produce contains high amounts of indigestible fiber. While we need fiber in our diets for balancing metabolism, aiding digestion, and feeding good gut flora, too much fiber can be irritating to a leaky gut or compromised intestinal system. It’s hard to “digest” or pass through since it’s actually indigestible. Eating a lot of raw leafy salads can provide a lot of enzymes for a healthy body, but cooked/low-fiber foods are much easier on intestines trying to heal. Raw milk, fresh vegetable juices, or blended smoothies/shakes are prime ways to get enzymes and nutrients into the digestive system and bloodstream without the obstruction of so much fiber. 4. Raw foods aren’t the only foods that contain nutrients, by far. Cooked foods still contain all the macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, fat) and many micronutrients (minerals and vitamins). Minerals and fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E & K) are barely harmed by heat. Plant foods contain an array of other phytonutrients that remain in foods whether eaten raw or cooked. Proper cooking, not overcooking, is important to maintain the integrity of the macronutrients. Roasting or steaming are good ways to preserve as many nutrients as possible without losing nutrients into boiling water. There are a few advantages to eating cooked vegetables for at least part of your vegetable intake. Cooking reduces some of the antinutrients, or digestive inhibitors, found in some cruciferous vegetables and dark leafy greens. Cooking imparts heat to, and reduces the water content and cooling nature of raw foods. This increases the sugar content of the foods, helps to balance your metabolism, and warms your body temperature when the weather is cold. Cooking breaks down some of the fiber in raw produce, which can be easier on digestion. And lastly, cooking simply helps many vegetables to taste better (likely because they are warmer and sweeter). Of course, some vegetables taste better raw and are typically eaten that way; and the same with cooked vegetables. Roasted Winter Vegetables 5. Raw foods have a lot of nutrients, but culturing/lacto-fermenting vegetables actually increases the enzyme and vitamin content exponentially. Plus, fermentation partially “digests” the food, eliminating the issue of too much fiber and roughage. Some recommendations say to eat raw produce at every meal (not a bad thing), but traditional wisdom says to eat a cultured food as a a condiment at every meal. Cultured foods enhance the taste of other foods, whereas raw foods often benefit from added seasoning or dressing to make them more palatable. 6. Raw foods, especially produce, are generally understood to be the most health-promoting–but this is a situation where more isn’t necessarily better. We desperately need animal protein and animal fats in our diets to provide the full spectrum of nourishment. Animal foods provide essential amino acids, minerals, B vitamins, and healthy saturated fats in a quantity and manner that is most needed and most easily assimilated by our bodies. So, make raw vegetables a good portion of your diet, but don’t make them 100%. (That could never be done in Montana; we would freeze in the winter!) Vegetables and meat together, however, could alone comprise a balanced diet. salad with avocado, grapefruit, pommegranate & walnuts 7. Raw foods are very helpful for cleansing the body for a period of time and giving it a break from denser, richer foods (or processed foods, if those are still in your diet). Or, even eating all vegetables (raw or cooked) for a several weeks, is a great way to avail of the high nutrients in vegetables, and let them cleanse and heal your body. Vegetables don’t contain enough nutrients for supporting your long-term performance, but they are a necessary inclusion (or large portion) of any diet, and a helpful method of short-term detoxification. People following intense, short-term vegetable diets often report excellent results such as weight loss, better digestions, and clearer skin. However, one only has to Google vegans who have switched back to meat-eating, to realize the detriments of eating only vegetables for years on end. 8. Raw foods taste best in season, and our bodies are most prepared–in their natural rhythm that follows the seasons–to savor them at those times. Spring greens to cleanse from winter; berries and tomatoes to sweetly refresh in summer’s heat; apples and pears to give crispness and accompany fall’s root vegetables. Fruits and vegetables have the most nutrition and flavor in season. Buying them locally or regionally ensures the highest nutrient content (not lost in travel time or being picked when unripe) and best economical value (no transportation cost; supporting your neighbor farmers). Many people say and believe that raw foods are meant to be eaten in season, and when they’re not in season, it’s better to eat them canned or frozen–since they were canned or frozen at the peak of nutrition. Food frozen at its peak likely rivals or exceeds the nutrients of raw veggies from another continent, and veggies kept in a storehouse through the remaining three seasons. And as we discussed, raw produce isn’t the only carrier of nutrients. Canned and frozen foods retain many, many nutrients. Usually frozen is best, but in the case of tomatoes, canning increases the levels of one of the best phytonutrients, lycopene. Better canned than fresh tomatoes in the middle of winter! Nablus souq vegetables 9. Raw foods are not the only thing mentioned in the Bible, so that’s the best historical and theological indicator that we need more than fresh raw veggies in our diet. Following the foods that the Bible mentions–and trying to acquire foods in whole forms like they would have had millenia ago–is the best path toward the healthiest diet. We live in different regions from the Middle East, so it is wise to focus on eating foods and produce that are fresh, seasonal, and native to our own areas. 10. Links to a few of my other articles that also weigh in on the subject of raw foods can be found in the full article on Culinary Reformation.

Mini Farming, Self-sufficiency on 1/4 Acre

Mini Farming

 

I admit to being a little skeptical when I started reading Mini Farming, Self-sufficiency on 1/4 Acre. I’ve seen a few books that were written by people who didn’t have a clue what they were writing about with titles similar to this. Some of these books have unworkable ideas and make claims that are just not true.

This book on the other hand has much useful information and ideas that can help you gain a greater level of independence on fairly small areas of land. I think a better and more accurate title would have been “Mini Farming, How to Gain a Greater Level of Self-sufficiency on 1/4 Acre”. Obviously, no one can have total self-sufficiency on a 1/4 acre but the author of this book grows 80% of his family of three’s food on just that much land.

The author has developed a system of gardening that takes the best of the Biodynamic, Grow Bio-intensive and Square Foot Gardening methods. He utilizes double dug raised beds, vertical gardening, compost and organic growing techniques. His “mini-farming” system also includes raising chickens for eggs and meat.

I appreciated one area that Markham covered in the area of economics and “mini-farming”. He shows how the two income family is much better off by having one spouse stay home and raise food and children. He runs through the numbers and proves that in all actuality families are further ahead financially by doing this. I think that his argument will wake up many working mothers to fact that they are running themselves into the ground for very little return.

If nothing else, this book shows how to grow a substantial amount of a family’s food on a very small amount of land. Granted, the average Christian homesteading family is much larger than the author’s, but it still drives home the point that you don’t need a huge amount of land and if fact you probably haven’t even begun to utilize the land you already have.

I think that the book is ideal for beginners because it covers everything from seed selection to harvest and preservation. Not an exhaustive treatment of any subject, but very informative. I thought that the section on soil health was very well done. Considering how inexpensive this book is, I think that anyone who is trying to utilize a small holding of land to raise food should own a copy.

Read full article on North Country Farmer

Happy National Milk Day! What are You Drinking?

milk bottles on the doorstep
This post is excerpted from The Entwife’s Journal.

Today, January 11th is National Milk Day. When milk started being delivered in sterlized glass bottles in 1878 that was a big deal. National Milk Day was established to commerate this event every January 11th. I saw this in an email put out by Milk Unleashed for their shelf safe milk- you know the kind you buy in cartons that can stay on your shelf for months and months and still be absolutely fine to drink. How is that even possible I wonder and maybe you do too.

Well it is because the milk is ultra pasteurized and packaged in special cartons. What is ultra pasteurization and how does it differ from pasteurization you wonder? Regular milk bought at most stores is pasteurized-the milk is heated to 161-167 degrees Fahrenheit for 15-20 seconds and then cooled. In ultra pasteurization the milk is heated to 275-284 degrees Fahrenheit for about 3 seconds and then cooled. The UHT treatment is a continuous process in a closed system that keeps out all possibly contamination from airborne microorganisms. This is why UHT milk can be kept for long periods of time.

The down side-the milk is dead. The enzymes and cultures are changed, the calcium is changed and the protein structure is damaged. This milk will not be able to be used for cheese and probably not for kefir or yogurt.

Pasteurized milk is also altered, albeit not as severely as the ultra. Many people have trouble with dairy these days and much of that comes from the pasteurization which alters the proteins and changes the composition of the milk.

Continue reading on The Entwife’s Journal

Hungry for Change? Start with a Detox this Weekend

Ingredients for Extra Green Sour Apple

The New Year brings opportunity to make changes to your lifestyle, and what better change to implement than to eat better?  There’s a great new educational film called Hungry for Change that provides both the why and the how for eating healthier.  It exposes the truth about the diet industry and the dangers of food addictions, and enables you to take charge of your health and strengthen your mind and body.

Get your copy of Hungry for Change

 

The folks the produced the film have shared some great actionable plans to help people get started, including a 3 day detox program that you can implement on a weekend – why not start this weekend?  Here’s an overview of the program.

Day 1, 2 & 3

  • UPON RISING – Ginger Lemon Detox Drink
  • BREAKFAST – Super Detox Green Juice (or optional Super Simple Green Drink)
  • MID MORNING SNACK – Cucumber, Celery & Carrot Sticks
  • LUNCH – Sushi Salad (or optional green salad)
  • AFTERNOON SNACK – Activated almonds
  • DINNER – Potassium Balance Soup
  • DESSERT – Chia Pudding
  • AFTER DINNER – Calming Chamomile Tea

You can get the details for this three day detox program, including recipes and helpful educational info, on the Hungry for Change website.

To help get this extremely helpful video into the hands of as many people as possible, we’re offering Hungry for Change for only $20 for a limited time.  That’s a 43% discount!

Hungry For Change movie

Get your copy of Hungry for Change today!

 

The Pilgrims in 1621: Agriculture

First Thanksgiving by Brownscombe

As the American holiday of Thanksgiving is celebrated we often will hear some bit of the story of the Pilgrims and their “First Thanksgiving.” Regrettably, their story is often boiled down to the basics and we lose some of its fullness. Here I want to flesh out a small part of the story concerning the Pilgrims’ work in agriculture.

In the spring of 1621 the Pilgrims and the Indian tribes planted and worked in the fields of agriculture. We can see that both the English and the native tribes had skills and abilities the other lacked. We read in William Bradford’s book Of Plymouth Plantation, “Afterwards they…began to plant their corn, in which service Squanto stood them in great stead, showing them both the manner how to set it, and after how to dress and tend it.” Squanto and the Indian tribes had great experience with the land that the English lacked. They had a history of learning from mistakes and finding what worked. They knew the right seeds to plant. Squanto taught the English to fertilize their corn with the fish that would spawn in the river nearby at just the right time. If they didn’t, the nutrients in the land would get used up.

Pilgrims with Samoset

Here we can recognize that God provided the Indians with fish that would spawn at just the right time to fertilize the land so they could eat and live. As Matthew 5:45 says, God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” Here the Pilgrims reaped the benefits of working with the pagan tribes by learning the good things God had given them. This was a very providential blessing as their own seed did not do well, but thanks to this help they had enough food.  But despite God’s blessing on the native tribes, they were not exactly prosperous and thriving. The help was not all one sided, as we can see from an event that happened two months later.

It had been a little time since the English had seen Massasoit and so they sent two men along with Squanto to meet with him. This expedition had several objectives. First, to reaffirm peace with Massasoit and to keep a good relationship with him. Second, to exchange for seed for experimentation. The Pilgrims wanted to make sure that had a variety of things planted in case some failed. Third, to find out which tribe it was that they had taken corn from in the winter, so they could pay them back for it. Fourth, to explore the area around them. And fifth, to limit hungry visitors. It is this last objective that shows something about the Indians’ work ethic and food production. What was happening was there were many Indians that were taking advantage of the Pilgrim’s hospitality and staying there eating up their food. The Pilgrims wanted to be hospitable, but did not want to run out of food and so asked Massasoit to limit visitors to the amount they could handle. They were generous with gifts and hospitality, but did not want to become welfare providers, especially when they couldn’t afford it.

Pilgrims with Wampanoag

As the small expedition went out they could start to see why many Indians preferred to get the food from the English. The Indians, despite having a great abundance of natural resources, still struggled in having a stable food supply and clean habitations. As Edward Winslow (one of the two men on the expedition) says in his book Mourt’s Relation, describing a meager meal they had with Massasoit, “this meal only we had in two nights and a day, and had not one of us bought a partridge we had taken our journey fasting…he was to have us stay with them longer: but we desired to keep the Sabbath at home: and feared we should either be light-headed for want of sleep, for with bad lodging, the savages’ barbarous singing (for they use to sing themselves asleep), lice and fleas within doors, and mosquitoes without, we could hardly sleep all the time of our being there; we much fearing that if we should stay any longer, we should not be able to recover home for want of strength.”  Bradford remarks concerning this lack of prosperity among the Indians, “For the Indians used then to have nothing so much corn as they have since the English have stored them with their hows, and seen [the Englishmen’s] industry in breaking up new grounds therewith.”  On their trip some Indians desired that the Englishmen kill some crows, because they had been ruining the corn. There the two Englishmen with their superior weapons killed 80 crows in an afternoon.

We can see that the Indians benefited both from observing the English work ethic, and the technology it produced (such as guns and hows). This work ethic had come from the long history of Christendom where it had been taught that work is worship to God, that work is a blessing, that we are created to work and produce to the glory of God, that our first command from God is to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion” (Gen. 1:28).

Even the monks in the Middle Ages were taught this and spent much of their time in working and agriculture. The Protestant Reformation continued this and expanded it with its teaching of vocation, that the farmer and the pastor are both doing God’s work. The Pilgrims understood the importance of work and produced great things. When my family and I were in Plymouth in 2009 we saw a mill built only fifteen years after the Pilgrims first landed. It was amazingly intricately designed with all sorts of wheels, gears, stones, and levers–and it’s still working! We can see that the Christianity of the Pilgrims made them hard-working, productive, and a relatively prosperous society. It was this culture that built America.

Read more at The Christian Philosophy of Food

There’s a Food Crisis and You are the Solution

 

Food is not what it used to be, at least not the food found at the supermarket. The modern world boasts of a bountiful harvest provided by technology – the wonders of industrialization applied to agriculture.  But the result of this production system has largely become one of turning a few crops into commodities and engineering a vast new sea of “foods” from them.  The modern western (and especially U.S.) diet largely consists of highly processed food products, far removed in form and nutrition from the original life form that they came from.

 

The Industrialization of Food

This commoditization of food has been greatly aided by government subsidies for corn and soy, to the benefit of the food processing and fast food/junk food industries.  The creation of very cheap inputs into factory foods by government policy is a foundational contributor to the change in the nature of food in America over the past several decades.  This, combined with the cultural changes valuing mobility and convenience over family time and traditional cooking, have led the sea change in the way that Americans interact with food.

The results have been devastating.  We now have widespread (if not epidemic) rates of obesity, heart disease, cancer of all kinds, food allergies, and behavioral problems linked to poor digestion and gut health.  It is not coincidental that these changes have come with the change in the American diet and lifestyle.  Causal is a better term to describe it.

Industrial Agriculture
Industrial farming has leveraged economies of scale to produce for the mass market through factory farming, but the land, animals, and humans have suffered the consequences in falling nutritional quality and illness caused by chemical farming techniques.  And industrial farming is petroleum based farming, turning oil into food.

 

The era of cheap food is over. 

Even before the great American drought of 2012, rising oil prices have combined with third world nations’ rising incomes and increasing demand for more meat and other higher-cost food, to drive food commodity prices ever-higher.  Food has traditionally gone down in price, at least the trend had been that way for the last 100 years. According to Global Financial Data, food prices have dropped over the last 100 years by 82%, and looking at the economic business cycle for food, it would seem this would just be another “bust.”

FAO food price chart Oct 2012

But two important factors reveal that this may be a more long term trend. First, oil is now more than ever a critical input to commodity crops, and therefore food production. According to a study by Cornell University, it takes 140 gallons of fossil fuel to grow and harvest one acre of corn. This fuel is not just for the tractor; this includes all the petroleum used to make the pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers, and this number does not include the cost of transporting the corn to a market, or the petroleum used in the packaging of the food. As volatile geopolitical situations arise, and as sources of oil continue to diminish, the price of food will rise regardless of regional food price differences. Ill-conceived government subsidies for ethanol that is turning food crops into fuel have only exacerbated this trend.

A second factor at play is the diminishing amount of farmland. The demographic trend continues to be individuals gravitating towards large urban population centers, and not out to the farmland. The American Farmland Trust estimates that American farmland is disappearing at the rate of 2 acres per minute. As farmers and their land become more scarce through industrialization, the system becomes more susceptible to shocks and rising food prices.

With a severe global economic downturn setting in and millions of families worldwide facing difficulty in figuring out how to feed their families, we have now entered a global Food Crisis.  The “Arab Spring” was one of the many indications that the global food system is precariously balanced at the edge of a cliff.

But the crisis caused for millions due to the increasing price of food is a lagging indicator. More fundamental is the drastic way that food production, distribution, and consumption has changed over the past few decades.  With increasing urbanization has come the loss of productive farmland and the decline of family farming around the globe.  This makes the modern food system much more susceptible to risks of various sorts, everything from weather and crop failures, to market conditions in oil markets and global geopolitical events.  The 2012 drought in America’s heartland – the worst ever – is an important recent example.  Even local disasters can produce serious problems with respect to food availability due to the long supply lines in modern food systems.

 

What is the Solution?

With so many systemic problems in our food system, what is the solution?  The solution to all of these problems – to our depleted soil, shrinking and aging farmer population, our toxic environment, diminishing nutrition, chronic health problems, and rising prices – is YOU. You are the solution!

Learning early
As much as you are able, grow your own food.  Being productive with what you have is an essential first step.  Buy fresh and buy local. Know your farmer and support your local economy.  Buy from a farmer you can trust, one whose farm is not entrenched in the factory farm system.  Join a CSA or community garden.  Localization is a key to transforming the food system.

Top Tomato receiving from Farmer Matt

Know the risks associated with buying chemically-produced food, and choose to buy organic and sustainable products.  Self-education is a critical foundation for transforming the way your family deals with food.  Don’t rely on someone else to do it all for you.  Further, research and implement traditional food preparation methods, which will help you maximize the nutrition that your family receives and keep them healthy.

Plan ahead and buy in bulk from trusted suppliers.  Join a food co-op or buying club to get better deals on whole foods, buying in bulk  to utilize aggregated purchasing power.  Build up a food storage supply – the larder of olden days – to be prepared for emergencies and ready to share with neighbors in need.  Forward thinking is required to get out of the rat race that comes with “convenience”.

 

Is It Really That Simple?

With such huge challenges facing us with our broken modern food system, could it really be that simple?  Yes, it is that simple.  You are the Solution.  It requires action by individuals and families to change the system, because food choices are what support the system.  It was, in fact, only because people changed the way they acquired, prepared, and ate food – adopting “convenience” and price as determining factors – that our current system became what it is.  Stop feeding the beast with your purchases – opt out, as much as you are able.  Change what you are demanding, and the market will change to accommodate you.  In fact, it already has begun to do so.

Grow a garden.  Know and support your local farmers.  Join a buying club.  Build your food storage.  Grow community around food.  It really is that simple.  It starts and ends with you.  You are the Solution.

 

 

Sustainable Farming – The Dilemma for Young Farmers

DSC_0273The USDA announced on August 30th, 2012 that $18 million worth of aid would be distributed to new farmers and ranchers, particularly those who were “socially disadvantaged.” The program (titled the "Beginner Farmer and Rancher Development Program") is a new wave of aid enacted through the 2008 farm bill designed to entice a young workforce to enter the farming occupation, specifically to establish themselves within the developing sustainable niche.

The program sets aside money for college and university programs, nonprofits, and organizations that promote off-grid living, and collective farming operations. The USDA claims the program, “will help beginning farmers and ranchers overcome the unique challenges they face and gain knowledge and skills that will help them become profitable and sustainable,” without considering the grand irony of the federal government being involved in “sustaining” agriculture.

The Meaning of “Sustainable”

Sustainable” has a specific meaning in my agriculture worldview. It does not merely serve as a placeholder on the “progressive foodie” cereal box, and it is not just the philosophy to live by for the good of humanity. Honest advertising and moral concerns for the planet play a part in the “sustainability” label, but as a market garden manager, sustainability for me is separated into two connected categories: economic security and biological diversity. 

A farmer must budget for what his farm can sustain and what it will need, considering future projected income through crop and animal yields. How then could the farmer use government funds and still be sustainable if his farm must profit from grants? Even if the grant is just a startup investment, a marketplace unable to sustain the start-up businesses that provide for the most basic human need is a poor marketplace to be a part of, and one I certainly would avoid.

At the least, the farmer is not appropriately preparing for what the market will dictate. The aid offered through this specific grant, and other grants which the USDA pushes on young farmers, will never strengthen the market for the farmer, but will only induce a system of dependency on government aid.  It will eventually cause the loss of independent farms and farmers that the very programs are trying to prevent. 

Is the USDA Really Supporting Farmers?

Despite my previous denunciation of government funding for sustainable farming, I think most sustainable farmers would expect a farm bill to contain direct grants (as in previous bills) for individual farmers, yet the majority of the funding (after the university programs) is given to organizations that support sustainable gardening or collective programs.

One organization in Illinois, The Black Oaks Center for Sustainable, Renewable Living, is more of a working community than a farm, and is more focused on teaching survival skills in a “post-carbon” world, creating renewable energy, and on collectively farming for the common good, than on producing food to economically sustain a family.

I believe such a program would have positive effects on individuals and families weaning themselves from a consumer-heavy mindset, but at best, this grant provision show the ignorance the USDA has when it supports sustainable farming, in the context of the business of farming.

USDA Really Supports the Industrial System

The USDA has traditionally manipulated the market for farm products, turning many crops into commodities in order to enable low cost food products to the consumers, and at the same time offering aid to the farmers taking the risk so they can hedge against crop failures. Without the need to plan for the risk of losses, farmers have developed an agricultural landscape that supports monoculture, quickly harvestable and often environmentally misplaced crops.

Sustainable farming has no place in such a system, and if anything has come of this system, it has neither helped the farmer nor the consumer. The system has made the farmer dependent on debt and industrial technology, and the consumer has experienced a reduction in real food and poor nutritional quality.

It is no wonder that over the last decade we have seen a rise in the demand for organic and sustainable food products. The companies who support agribusiness are still making their profits, and one would think the USDA would support them entirely, so why would the USDA suddenly decide to help the small, limited market? I believe the answer lies with the consumer.

The USDA is no doubt noticing the impact that such labels as the organic label (a $32 Billion industry in the US) and the sustainable label have had on consumers and producers alike. These labels have been processed through bureaucratic jargon to come to mean nothing from the governmental regulatory standpoint. Organic foods can contain many different chemical agents, either applied in the field or in a processing plant.

At the same time, this is the same agency who has shut down small farming operations across the United States because they marketed products that consumers sought, even though the products were considered unsafe for consumption or production by the USDA (I am speaking of raw milk, hemp, raw honey, etc), while greenlighting the use of GMO seeds and hormone enhanced cattle, neither of which are sustainable.

Now, the USDA seemingly wants to find a way to extend an olive branch to the new generation of young entrepreneurs who want to positively affect the food supply, yet I think it has more to do with the influence that young farmers will have on their land.

The Farming Generation is getting older, not younger

Supporting Family Farms?

The USDA will attempt to redeem themselves by pointing out that they have stood for family farmers, although to what degree? 98% of US farms are family owned.  An encouraging sign, but of those farms, only a few are true polyculture farms, growing for biological and economic sustainability. Their agricultural production is dependent upon the industrial systems used to sustain vast monocropped land.

This industrial system has created many casualties.  There are 330 "family" farmers are leaving their land every week because they aren't able to make ends meet. This statistic would be less sad if there were a new generation of farmers to fill the void left, but not many exist.

The mean age of farmers in this country now stands at 65. So, the USDA is doing their bit to provide the educational needs of the new generation of farmers, bringing them into the "21st Century" of farming. Yet, this kind of thinking produced the problem in the first place! The grants have an educational focus on how to "engineer" the farm, instead of how to let the farm produce on it's own. I am not denigrating college in anyway, or stating that it doesn't have a place in helping upcoming farmers understand the science involved in creating a truly sustainable farm, but within a system supported by agribusiness, there is no a silver lining.

What Will Really Support the 21st Century Farmer?

"The young farmer only needs a little more education" is the cry, and the USDA can be seen promoting and supplying the “socially disadvantaged” young farmer with the tools for the 21st Century. But the 21st Century has shown solutions that are not in support of the young sustainable farmer.  Although such programs exist that promote organic or sustainable agriculture, they do not give a farmer any edge over the internet-savvy individual who can mine the knowledge base of the internet, and who can invest more money into land or sustainably developing his farm. Being socially disadvantaged (are they meaning to say, "dumb hick?") does not necessarily mean technologically inept.

That is what the 21st Century has really offered the new farmer, the possibilities of infinite knowledge sharing and the verification of results. Results is what the classroom farmer will still be offering, the "slightly smudged" organic tomato which has all the outward certifications of organic, but the internal poverty of mismanagement and licensed cheating. But to the true sustainable 21st Century farmer, land becomes the resource to be sought, not costly knowledge, and most importantly, the freedom to farm as one pleases, and as the consumer market dictates.

The USDA can certainly try to sell their wares to the young generation of farmers, but I believe these strong, hard-working growers are seeing through the deceptive hypocrisy. Government cannot solve the ills that have been built up over several generations of conventional farming, supported by the USDA, and government is not the answer to the decline of American farming.

This aid is not the support young farmers should desire, nor is it the redemption the USDA craves. The solution is the farmer and his field, free from the tyranny of government regulation and unadulterated by government handouts.

Congratulations to Joel Salatin for 30 Years of Full Time Farming

We'd like to congratulate Joel Salatin, his family, and the team at Polyface Farm for making it to today: 30 years of full time farming by Joel at Polyface!

Joel is a very unique man.  He has been a visionary leader of the sustainable farming movement, a prophet of sorts, calling people back from the destructive ways of modern industrial farming to return to a sustainable agriculture model that utilizes technology appropriately while honoring God's design in creation.  Take a few minutes to read this reflective note from Joel written this morning and posted on the Polyface Farm Facebook page, and rejoice with him on this momentous occasion!

Joel Salatin

A note from Joel…….

Sept. 24, 1982 marked my first day of full time farming. It was a Monday, just like today, and the Friday previous
I had cleaned out my desk in the Staunton News Leader newsroom and waved goodbye to my fellow journalists.
Everyone thought I was making a huge mistake. Farming? Anything but that.

Even farmers thought I was making a huge mistake. And then to know that I was not going to use chemicals. That
I was going to pasture chickens and pigs. That I wasn't going to build silos and plow the soil. How could anything be
as ridiculous?

This morning I awakened to a farm festooned with balloons. I had mentioned the day and its 30-year importance in
passing a couple of times during the summer, but frankly have been too covered up with responsibilities to plan any
big celebration for myself. No worries. I'm surrounded by the most loyal, grateful, creative, dependable, conscientious
team of young people you can imagine.

I've been crying all morning.

I think Eric and Brie led the plans. Overnight, they and accomplices decorated the farm with balloons, strategically
placed to intercept my morning routine at every step. From the clothesline beside the backdoor to the equipment
shed, balloons lined the path. The Massey Ferguson tractor they knew I would use to move the Eggmobile had
balloons anchored to the wheels. As I approached the Eggmobile to hook it up, balloons cascaded off the front.

As is my routine, I went out to get the morning newspaper–once a news junkie, always a news junkie–and the farm
entrance literally floated with ballons and our entrance sign had an explanatory addition in huge letters: Happy
Anniversary Joel Fulltime Farming 30 Years.

Tears welled up uncontrollably as the reality of the love and support of these young people overwhelmed me. To
be this age, farming, surrounded by this kind of enthusiasm and honor–could it get any better than this? And then
I had to chuckle: take that, friends, farmers, experts. All you folks that said I was throwing my life away, being foolish.
Can you see me now? Ha!

I always check the cows in the morning. Yes, balloons on the 4-wheeler (my personal Japanese cow-pony). Streaming
behind me, the balloons followed me up the three-quarter mile farm lane to the farm pasture. And as if that weren't enough,
all along that route, from the trees and bushes, balloons heralded the celebratory day. We're here! We've made it
this far! Touchdown! Hallelujah! Say it however you want to; scream it from the rooftops. We're still here. And not
only have a survived, we've thrived.

Tears streaming down my face, I topped the little knoll before coming to the cows and there, adorning every electric
fence stake in the cross fence, were more balloons. The cows, mostly lying down on this 38 degree morning (we
actually had the first patchy frost of the season), simply burped up another wad of grass cud to chew on. They looked
at me completely ordinarily. Nothing much upsets their routine. Nothing is as placid as a placid cow.

With gratitude and a deep sense of blessing welling in my heart, tears streaming down my cold cheeks, I headed
back to the house for breakfast, the newspaper, morning emails, and desk work. My spirit is overflowing today.
Teresa and I had a dream. We worked at it. We prayed over it. We babysat it. We lived and loved it. Today it shines
like a burning bush, attracting people from all over the world to come and see. Thank you, Lord, for 30 wonderful years.

And lest you're wondering, we don't think we've hardly started yet. Now we're not just a couple of people standing on
the shoulders of our parents, but we're a tribe, with the next generation and the next and a whole team of players
plugging the gaps where we're weak and leveraging our expertise where we're strong. Look out, world. Here we come.

Thank you, family. Thank you, Polyface team, staff, interns. Thank you, patrons who have stood by us monetarily,
supporting us with your smiles, your eating, and yes, your dollars. Polyface Farm is charitable, but not a charity. It is
a business, but not only a business. So raise your glasses, folks. Here's to another 30 years. Thank you.

 

Learn more about sustainable farming and local food in the Local Agriculture and Farming group.

 

Getting Started with Bees: An Aurora Farm Update

Opening a hive

My brother, dad, and I recently drove two counties over here in our homestate of Texas to pick up 8 local bee hives. The bees and their honey will form the backbone of our "artisan" product offering to our market-garden customers, and are a welcome addition to our current stock of sweetless produce. The adventure of picking them up was a success, but not without a fair share of trouble. The easiest way to minimize the hassle transporting bees is by performing the task at night when they are sleeping in their hives. We chose a moderate evening to move them.

"Summertime is when we transport our bees," Dad mentioned, referring back to his days as a beekeeper on his family orchard. Of course, the weather in Washington State was different than Texas. It is imperative that bees be transported at 50 degrees above Farhenheit, since bees tend to cluster at temperatures below 50, and when the hive is jarred on the journey to a new location, the clusters began to break apart, and the bees die. I would have enjoyed transporting during a Texas fall evening, but at least that night, Texas experienced a surprisingly low high of 85. A moderate wind also gave some relief to the chore. 

 

Frames full of bees

We arrived at the property where a first set of hives were kept, and unload our trailer and my brother. His task was to collect all the empty bee boxes, and dead hives he can pick up. Dad and I continued on into the night to a property where the remaining hives are.

We placed the most important tool for transporting bees, a smoker, behind us in the truck bed. If you ever have to light a smoker and travel to where the hives are, it is a good idea to pack even more fuel for the smoker then you anticipate using. In our case, the wind blowing through the bed burned through fuel out quickly. When we arrived at the location, we decided to attack the hive without the smoke. 

The hushed rustle of a thousand wings emerge from the inside of the box. That is the sound is the winged creatures during their sleep. The pioneers had their homes built for them, but they were the ones that carved a place on the land, collecting pollen, and building stores of honey in comb.

Four of the hives have not survived the year, and so they are quickly loaded onto the truck. The front lights fork into the grass, and illuminate our large, netted hats, as we head out to grab the "live" hive. Our gloves are slaked with sweat. We formulate a plan for moving the hives while dad secured the hive boxes together with a staple and hammer. It is best to secure the hive boxes several days before the move, since the bees do not take kindly to someone hammering on their home in the middle of the night (and who wouldn't!). Soon enough, the hammer's pounding made us wish we had not run out of smoke! 

The hive began to stir as we reached underneath the shallow crevices at the bottom of the box. The hive creaked; it was weighed down by the the bees, and the full honey combs they have stored over the course of the season. Later we find out that this is the strongest, most menacing of the hives. 

As their home became airborne, The bees begin to swarm out in droves, colliding into our protective clothing and helmets. We stumble sideways, bearing our cargo to the lowered tailgate of the truck. As soon as our cargo is deposited, it is a race to get away, and dive into the tall grass.

At that moment, every single killer bee documentary I watched flashed through my mental theater. If I could advice my younger self of anything, it would have been to never watch those National Geographic specials! The do not make the process of collecting bees any easier.

It did not get any better when I found I had not secured my helmet correctly, and two bees had slipped inside the netting. I retreated (although it appeared more like a route), and slipped the helmet off as I did, batting the bees away. I definitely would have benefited from having my dad check my gear. Thankfully, no harm was done. In fact, I survived the night without a single sting; my brother suffered 5; my dad, 3. 

It took 20 minutes for the hive to settle down so we could approach it again. When we finally did close the truck bed, the guard bees were still whacking into our clothes. Another 20 minutes, and we were off toward the first set of hives.

We made it back, the dead hives were on the trailer, and safely secured. It is always a good idea to secure the hives with straps during transport. Even with the weight, the hives could topple, and the disorganized swarm lost.

Lifting a frame

The hives at the first location were more easily loaded. Our smokers were loaded, and the smoke they produced was thick. Many people have the notion that smoke somehow puts the bees to sleep. This is not true.

The bees sense of smell is their most powerful sense, and smoke masks the bees alarm pheremones. Smoke also triggers their flight instinct when faced with natural fires. The bees retreat back into the hive and fill up on honey in case they have to move their hive to a new location. For us, it was a matter of minutes before we had moved each hive onto the back of the trailer. The final ropes were attached around the live hives and we headed for home. 

While in transit, the hives' weight already did their bit to slow our vehicle down, but it is worth noting that continued jarring will not help keep your bees calm and inside the hive. It is best to travel well below the speed limit and keep a slow, steady pace. The vibration of the engine will keep the bees quiet. 

Home for our bees was not on our land. We still haven’t prepared for the bees, so for now, they wait on a friend’s land, while we build a permanent platform. Unloading the bees required only smoke, and by then it was 4 AM. With our charges on a makeshift platform, we departed to the comfort of our beds.

Once we get our bees on the land, I'll check back in and share some more about maintaining hives..

Thanks goes to Robb Wokaty for input on some researched points.

For more info on how to get started with Beekeeping, check out Beekeeping for Beginners.

Five Steps to Eating Local, from Land and Table

This is excerpted from an article written by my friend Jason Fowler, the founder of Sustainable Traditions and the new Land and Table project.

Eat Local

 

Intentionally focusing on eating local is all about understanding the source of our food in an effort to make choices that are more healthy for our bodies, the land, and our local economy.

1) Learn the issues

Choosing to eat local is a shift in thinking. It is a reorienting of our food and money priorities. Economic, ecological, social, and personal health issues intersect our dinner table. It’s important to seek out resources, books, documentaries, etc, that can give us a rounded understanding of why eating local matters. …

2) Grow your own

One of the most common criticisms I hear against choosing to eat local and sustainable is that it is too “elitist”. Because buying healthier foods can be more expensive you may think it won’t fit into your food budget, especially lately as food prices are rising. The surest and quickest way to eat local and even somewhat organic is to grow it yourself. Choosing to be a producer and not just a consumer is the first place to begin. …

2) Buy cooperatively

There are times when buying as a group can really save you a lot of money. For instance, if you are interested in buying local, grassfed beef it would be most economical to go in with a few other families to buy a whole cow rather than buy particular cuts a little at a time. You can also start or join a buying club. …

3) Support sustainable producers

The local food movement is integrally linked with sustainable agricultural practices. Sustainable agriculture involves growing food and raising animals in a way that continually restores the land and respects the animals. Using toxic pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers is destructive over the long term and does not build the health of the soil. Also raising animals in confined feeding operations raises the risk for disease. One of the main reasons for buying local is that it makes more sense ecologically. …

4) Define what matters to you

Eating local can mean different things to different people. For some people it means a 100 mile radius; for other people it means only eating food grown in the state; still for others they are fine if it comes from the their part of the country. You need to decide what matters to you and why. Start small and be flexible. …

5) Seek the source

Right now eating local is a popular trend so it seems everything and everybody wants to be in the game. The reality is though there is no certification for what local means. You should always inquire where the food comes from and how it is grown. The whole point of eating local is restoring our relationship with the food, the land and those who grow and produce it. Build relationships with the farmers and it will change the way you eat. As farmer, philosopher, and writer Wendell Berry has said: “Eating is an agricultural Act

 

Read the entire article and other great content at Land and Table.

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