The Backyard

The Backyard

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Cost of Eating Locally

Trying to keep my food sources local has been on my mind a lot of late... what will I eat? How drastically will it change my eating habits? Can I still eat healthy and stay fit? Deep Economy and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle are the culprits that are converting me from the buy it quick and cheap attitude to the let's think about where our food comes from and how can we make it as healthy as possible. It certainly doesn't help that my daily job in government community and economic development keeps my wheels turning too. And the cost? TIME. I love this quote from a book review on Deep Economy:
But unprocessed local food requires more time, thought and preparation than processed, pre-packaged stuff. So most of us continue to load up our carts at the supermarkets and big box stores while ignoring the long-term costs.
That quote hit the nail on the head. We are all SO consumed with no-time to do anything, that we've become trained to grab the quickest, easiest food. Bananas are a perfect example. So good. So simple. So quick. And So cheap. BUT - they are grown thousands of miles away, are shipped in cooled containers and are edible only about two weeks after picking. But they are cheap... why? Because of the poor labor practices in the countries they are grown in. Oh... not to mention they are sprayed heavily with pesticides - as are all produce that enter this country - to prevent any outbreaks of foreign disease or insects. (FYI - the wooly aldegid that's wiping out our native american hemlock groves was an import from China). Bananas are off my shopping list. Time - so precious, yet so very, very valuable. I've never spent so much time thinking about food and preparing it. Every weekend I'm spending hours in the kitchen, and when not in the kitchen, I'm combing recipes for healthy things to make to replace my bagel and box of cereal. Cereal - there's another bad egg. Unless you buy organic, you're supporting industrial farming and the deterioriating environment. And even the organic is questionable -- is it non-GMO corn/rice/or wheat? Where did it come from? What was the plant like where it was processed? Lots and lots of questions easily answered by simply eating locally. So what's for breakfast? Eggs, locally made organic whole-wheat sprout bread (but where did the wheat berries come from that created the sprouts?), home made butternut squash bars or bread, local organic raw milk. Lots to think about - all the time.
And another good quote from the Deep Economy Book Review:
His analysis begins to become really interesting when he begins to open the discussion of economics in terms of redefining “cost.” Take the simplistic idea that the cost of gas is comprised of extraction, transport, refining, delivery and capital costs and profit. That equation nowhere includes our collective cost of the 5 pounds of carbon released in the atmosphere for every gallon burned. It doesn’t include the social cost of lost opportunity because corporations like GM and Exxon have furthered their own interests by destroying mass transit to create more demand for gas and cars, etc. The most interesting discussion that grows out of this book is a redefinition of cost and an exploration of an economy and a society that has to absorb those costs in many dimensions not anticipated by traditional market economics.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Organic Red Raspberries

Its hard to pick a favorite backyard produce, but the red raspberries are near the top of the list - mainly because they are perenniel and relatively maintenance free - except for the constant picking! I've never bought raspberries at the grocery store always balking at the price for the tiniest container, but there's nothing quite like a fresh raspberry (or any berry for that matter). My 50 foot row is extremely productive with the right temps and rainfall. This season started slightly dry, but with two good rains just as the berries were starting to ripen, they took off and I've been picking since, and will continue to pick until the first frost in a week or two (maybe?). Raspberries are perenniel plants requiring only a haircut after they die off for the year. I cut the canes back to about 6 inches above the ground each winter and move the wondering off-shoots back in the row. There are numerous varieties of raspberry plants which you can read about here. Growing them is easy. If you get a low-growing variety, there's no need to trellis. I also have a golden raspberry that really doesn't produce much, but when it does, the flavor is to die for. The golden raspberries never make it out of the garden -- I eat them while picking. I thought about getting more goldens because the seeds aren't as pronounced as other varieties. Prolific is an understatement, and I couldn't be happier. Even frozen, these little beauties brighten my yogurt, smoothies, oatmeal crisp, granola, and raw milk. My husband hates them! He claims the seeds annoy him and he won't eat them -- so they are all mine for the winter. I froze a ton of them, so I'll likely turn into a red raspberry about January.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Butternut Squash and Raspberry Harvesting

The past couple weeks have been never-ending red raspberries and butternut squash - what a delight to pick, eat, share, and preserve. My freezer, and not to mention my mom's chest freezer, are stuffed for the winter with my picks of the summer. My vacation two weeks ago had 3 days of keeping the oven fired to cook up the squash, then mashing and freezing in two-cup bags - the perfect quantity for many recipes; pie, bars, and of course soup and whipped squash with a little brown sugar. Yum. I told my hubby yesterday, I think I'll skip buying fruit this winter. I have enough raspberries and cantaloupe to last me the winter (I think). That'll be a huge cost savings, not to mention most fruit shipped from who-knows-where is not exactly the best there is. We're both going to try the buying local this winter. We have the pleasure of the Friday evening Farmer's Market outside of Gratz, better known as "the Auction." Its very countrified, complete with the spitting oldsters talking PA Dutch, but its also local for the most part. I have to watch some of the produce stands 'cause some of them ship stuff in from afar. But a lot of them use the PA Preferred logo, so I'll look at those. We're moving away from the weekly big trips to the Giant. Its time to shift the buying back to the community. It'll be an eye-opening winter!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Sustainability and Organic Products - What's the Difference?

My latest research led me on a quest to determine if drinking my healthy(?) Stoneyfield Farms fat-free organic milk and eating the fat-free organic yogurt is better than drinking locally raised, organic raw milk. I love raw milk and raw milk yogurt, but we all know the fat content of full-milk products is less than desireable -- or is it? Is it really a question of health vs sustainability? My answer is both are important - but lots of facts to "weigh" in on. A couple of things I've been reading talk about the true value of organic and Stonyfield is an excellent example. While their products and any other organic products are reliably organic if slapped with the USDA organic symbol, the process of manufacturing, pasteurization/homogenization, additives, packaging/labeling, and shipping is a detriment to the environment. Not to mention not only is bacteria killed in the pasteurization process, so are some of the vital nutrients like calcium, Vitamins C, D, and Bs. Raw vs pasteurized milk is widely controversial, but I lean towards the its ok to drink raw milk side (I was raised on it). Health-wise, the question is can your body tolerate the full-fat (do you exericse enough?) vs the additives in pasteurization (why do they take things out, then put them back in because they took them out? That's stupid to me). Back to the processing -- it takes precious resources to process and ship anything. If we really want to help the environment -- buy local. That is SO the key. Donna Weiser and her hubby Brett practice the local thingy by purchasing local free-range chickens and helping with the butchering process themselves. I certainly couldn't do it, but its the kind of thing that more people should do - it's a true example of benefit to the enviornment AND local sustainability. Years ago, before there was ever any mention of problems with the environment, EVERYONE had chickens and pigs in their back yards. What's for dinner? Go out back and get it. My father tells the story of how his mom asked him to kill a chicken when he was about 12 - circa 1942. I now know where I get my love of animals from -- dad couldn't kill the chicken. I found this really cool website on local buying and sustainability. There's some interesting concepts embedded in there and of course I'm on that band wagon. So the verdict? I'm going to switch to raw, local milk and run an extra mile to compensate for the extra calories. We, in the Central PA area, should feel fortuntate to live in an area with a wealth of local farming of all kinds... fruit, vegetables (my own!), humane animal-raising, and of course there's a local farm that produces and sells raw milk to a local retailer. Not much processing goes into the filling of the glass, recyclable bottles that are sold 5 miles away. Not to mention the support I'm giving to the local agriculture industry. BUY LOCAL - GET TO THE FARMER'S MARKET and BUY FROM THE LOCAL FARMER!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Covered in Cantelope!

That was two or three weeks ago - I was lugging cantelope to my mom's, my brother's, to work, and my lope baller is worn smooth at the edges from freezing bags upon bags of it! Last year I stuck in two plants to fill an empty space in the garden and it was a big hit -- sweet as sugar and produced about a dozen or so lopes. This year, I stuck three plants in remembering how nice it was to pick my own cantelopes. Those three plants produced about triple the amount of lopes, and the hard part is they nearly all mature at once! So I had about 30 lopes rolling around the garden, off my counter top, and in the car. They all ripened at the same time and I HAD to do something with them. So I balled and froze about 16 bags of them - a lope per bag. The fruits of my labor will be enjoyed all winter!