Bioenergy and Local Farming

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As a new election cycle draws near, it is hard to not notice the pinch our economy has been under. Small businesses struggle to stay open alongside multimillion dollar corporations, and people from every walk of life struggle to keep or find jobs. Our government is looking everywhere to find new and better options for creating jobs and expanding industry, but could it be that the answer lies in keeping things local?

Agriculture is a huge industry in our country, and there are many opportunities to get more out of what is already there. With a steady increase in the local food movement, small farms will need to fill more positions, offering more opportunities for jobs and expansion. Additionally, there are a lot of opportunities for renewable energy to dovetail with local farmers. Outside of wind-farming, which is already starting to see an increase, another great possibility exists as bioenergy. Bioenergy comes from biological materials, biomass,  and is used as a renewable resource. While some biomass is specifically grown, think corn for ethanol, most are by-products which means that this energy is coming from something which would otherwise be discarded and forgotten about. Farmers have the opportunity to turn manure, crop waste, and any other residue into energy.

Farms big and small alike have to find ways to deal with their waste, so by utilizing bioenergy options, they are fixing a long standing problem, and working green at the same time.  This renewable energy can provide not only power for the farm from which it is coming, but to the community in which the farm is located. This is a way to really keep things local, create new jobs, and ensure a better, cleaner future for our children.

Local food consumption continues to increase, and that means more farms popping up with more need for energy. Farms take a lot of work, and when you add in the opportunity for renewable energy you’re looking at quite a few ways to boost our economy. Additionally, keeping things local keeps money flowing in your community and can help to bolster your local economy, “The typical American meal contains ingredients from five countries other than the U.S. Those food purchases do not strengthen our economy or bolster the livelihoods of our own farmers. Buying local does. A recent study by the Maine Organic Farms and Gardeners Association estimates that by encouraging Maine residents to spend just $10/week on local food, $100,000,000 would be invested back into farmer’s pockets and the Maine economy each growing season. The same investment could be made in every state in the country if residents opted to buy local.” 

Those types of changes can really push things in the direction I think a lot of us are hoping to go. So, the next time you’re in the grocery store, think about buying an apple from your home state rather than from Mexico- and imagine how that will grow jobs and help the environment!

 

Some information on companies that use bioenergy for renewable energy sources:
http://www.biogas-energy.com/site/technology.html
http://blogs.kqed.org/climatewatch/2011/08/24/another-renewable-energy-frontier-farm-biomass/ 

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Honey and the Bee

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I stumbled across this interesting article the other day that says most honey you buy in the store isn’t honey! What do you mean it isn’t honey, I wondered…..

We LOVE to process things- not just in the United States, but all over the world. When honey is ultra-processed, with the intention of removing the pollen (for what purpose I have no idea) there is no way to trace the honey back to its origin and determine whether or not it is honey, or if it is safe. The process that occurs in the U.S. is similar to the one the Chinese use and includes highly heating the honey, watering it down, and filtering out the pollen. The Chinese have used illegal antibiotics in their honey during this process, and it can be found on our grocery aisles!

It seems that honey manufacturers believe consumers need their honey to be crystal clear, and that is why they have chosen to filter out all of the pollen. But why? The more filtered the honey, the more the quality goes down! Filtering does only one thing and that is to hide the origin or the honey- which in most cases turns out to be China. As honey arrives from China there are no inspections before it reaches our shelves. China has been pulling some sneaky tricks to get their honey into the U.S., and it is definitely worth reading about: http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2011/11/tests-show-most-store-honey-isnt-honey/.

Like many of our foods, honey is more beneficial to the body when not processed. Honey has ‘good bacteria’, anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and anti-viral agents as well. Honey also helps to raise antioxidant blood levels, and may help to lower cholesterol. It is a great alternative to other sweetners and works very well for baking. Additionally, when you do use raw honey, you can be sure that it hasn’t been bleached or chemically created like many of the sweeteners on the market today.

One sure-fire way to make sure your honey hasn’t been plagued by antibiotics, metals, or fillers is to purchase locally! Keeping bees has had a resurgence, and it is fairly easy to find local honey all across the country. Many cities even allow the keeping of bees, so rooftop or garden hives can be found in many places. And it isn’t all about the sweet goodness they produce, they also pollinate about 15% of our food crops!

So take a minute to look into purchasing local honey- or better yet, start your own hive!

http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=96
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/04/090414084627.htm

When Is an Egg Not an Egg?

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As you may know, there has been a lot of talk in the news lately about McDonalds and the eggs used in their Egg McMuffins. This was brought to my attention last week by a friend who sent me a 20/20 clip he had seen. If you tend to be squeamish I’d suggest passing on watching it and sticking to the news articles… At least for me, the video was a bit more than I was prepared to handle, and yet…. I feel strongly that these types of practices (which go on all across the country, with all types of animals) need to be brought to public attention. Perhaps people wouldn’t care once they knew about the conditions of the animals, or the way these conditions affect the food they will eventually eat, but if anyone truly believed that I don’t think it would be shrouded in so much mystery.

Sparboe is the egg producer in question, and they are the number 5 producer in our country. From the information I have found, about 180 producers make up 95% of all layers. And on average, 246 eggs are produced each year per person in the United States, of those, only 3.7% are cage free, and 1.9% are listed as other.

There are so many labels stamped on our food these days, and the prices we pay correspond to them. ‘Natural’ for instance is a huge one, and probably means the least of them all. There are no standards for calling something natural in regards to what the animals eats or how it is raised. ‘Natural’ typically refers to how the meat has been processed, and the idea is that it is minimal compared to regular practices. ‘Cage Free’ is a big one for eggs, and there is a lot of debate about whether or not cage free is really any better than eggs which don’t carry the label. When a producer is cramming hundreds of thousands of birds into one area, they are all having their beaks rubbed down anyway, and without cages there may be more injury due to the overcrowding. A certified humane label will take the regulation of conditions a step further, saying that slatted or wired floors are prohibited and that dust bathing should be allowed, but big farming is big farming. ‘Vegetarian Fed’ indicates that the animal has not been fed anything other than grains and grasses, and should also include that they have not been given an additives or supplements at the very least this one should ensure that chickens are not eating ground-up chickens, which does happen.

The citations that Sparboe incurred included rats, maggots, and dead chickens in the same area as the laying chickens. This is not anything to be confused with the happy images of hens in their red roost we read about in story books or watch in movies as children. Factory farms like Sparboe span all across the country, and the conditions extend to other livestock as well. These aren’t farms at all, they are in fact just factories- except they aren’t turning out cogs or cars, they are raising ANIMALS. Perhaps they have just forgotten.

As I have been reading up on Sparboe, and the egg industry in general, I have been amazed to open the big livestock producers websites. Sparboe for example, flaunts one beautiful white chicken on their homepage- seemingly this washes away the guilt of the unhealthy food they are producing. Perdue, a producer whose chicken lines most grocery store refrigerators, has their website set up to include recipes, products and tips for the consumer. Nowhere does it even mention a farm, or the animals they raise everyday- the site might as well be for a car company. These websites, when compared to that of any local farm look even more ridiculous.  I’ve been chatting with a farm recently in regards to a meat CSA order, so I will use their website as a contrast. Chestnut Farms has included photos of their own family on their site, and has listed information about how all of their animals are cared for, where they are cared for and by whom they are cared for. Additionally, I could drive out to see them if I wanted to- and I am not going to be met with barbed wire fences and warning signs!

After having read so much about these big producers that my stomach hurts, I am firmly convinced that big production is simply not the answer to feeding our country. Small farmers can produce enough to serve their community, and prior to these industry farmers taking over, that was the case everywhere. When a farmer raises food for his or her community the animals are cared for, the conditions are more sanitary, and there is far less risk for health concerns. Additionally small farms don’t have overcrowding and therefore don’t need to be concerned with pre-medicating animals for fear of infection. So what now? Take a little extra time this week to see where you can locate real, farm raised eggs and meat…. it not only tastes better, but you’ll be making a big difference and you can feel good about what’s for dinner!

http://www.hulu.com/watch/302453/abc-2020-investigation-inside-egg-factory-farm
http://www.sparboeupdate.com/
http://www.sparboe.com/
http://www.kabc.com/rssItem.asp?feedid=114&itemid=29756751
http://www.unitedegg.org/GeneralStats/default.cfm

http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2011/11/egg-rule-violations-cost-sparboe-mcdonalds-account/
http://www.farmsanctuary.org/issues/campaigns/truth_behind_labeling.html
http://www.animalwelfareapproved.org/consumers/food-labels/

Football and Food

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Football and food go hand-in-hand all across the United States. What is a game without beer, burgers, and salty snacks after all? So when I headed out yesterday to do some tailgaiting with friends I tried to keep in mind my locavore dedication and plan ahead. My planning however, came up quite short- I had no idea how difficult it would be!

I headed to the game with some local and sustainable sausages, and with the intention to stop on the way and pick up some locally made bread as my bun and a nice local brew. Little did I know that I would so easily be lured into the excitement of eating and drinking. While I did end up eating the sausages, which were so good by the way, I also had chicken, turkey, stuffing, burgers and many, many other snacks which were, for lack of a better description- about the farthest thing from local, or healthy, that I could have chosen.

While there are many reasons that I’ve chosen to eat locally, I also realize that it helps me to eat better. This morning when I woke up I felt the weight of all the salt, and processed food I put into my body, and I realized that is exactly what I don’t want! Had I put more thought into this outing, and prepared foods in advance, I am sure I would have been completely fine… but, I didn’t- and as a result I caved to the pressures of alluring smells and crunchy goodies.

I’ve learned my lesson, and I just hope that as I move through the holidays ahead I can put a better foot forward!
Speaking of the holidays….I wonder what spending time with family will be like while on this diet!

Local High Fructose Corn Syrup

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Now I can’t speak for every person who has decided to eat locally…. but I can imagine that there aren’t many who have the desire to go through all the work of sourcing local, healthy foods only to ruin it all by consuming- or better yet trying to create local factories for high fructose corn syrup. Personally I have tried to stay away from such highly processed sweeteners long before I began my local challenge. Yet, this is the argument being presented against locavores and their way of life.

It is easy enough to misconstrue someone’s motives, but why? From where I stand, the only reason to make up myths about locavores is to keep big business farming the way it is now. The most recent uproar on this and similar topics concerning local eating has been brought about by Steve Sexton, posted on the Freakonomics blog.  Decide for yourself about these issues, but personally, I’m disgusted to think that attempting to treat both the earth and humanity with care should cause this type of push-back.

I’ve attached a few articles which should give you a good view of both sides of the argument:

http://www.alternet.org/health/153121/5_ridiculous_myths_people_use_to_trash_local_food_–_and_why_they’re_wrong?page=1
http://motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2011/11/freakonomics-blog-still-wrong-local-food
http://www.freakonomics.com/2011/11/14/the-inefficiency-of-local-food/

Touring New Hampshire By Way of Local Wines

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It was a cold November day in Boston yesterday, and Chris and I decide to spend it traveling up to New Hampshire to tour some wineries and vineyards. I have run out of wine in the house, and now that I am attempting to line my pantry and shelves with goods from the area, it seems only logical to venture out into the neighboring countryside.

We headed North on I-95, planning to hit 4 wineries and also catch a bite at Portsmouth Brewery. Sadly our dive up was not as visually compelling as I had hoped due to all the early snow we had, which pulled the leaves down earlier than usual. Weaving in and out of lakes and forested areas however, made for a wonderful drive, and despite the lack of color I was amazed at the beauty of this state.  After arriving at our first stop we wandered down to the tasting room at Zorvino Winery, and on our way we ran into the owner, Jim, who was incredibly friendly- a great start to our trip! We really enjoyed the wines from this winery, although I was disappointed to find that only one of the wines they produce comes from their own grapes. That particular wine is a Niagra, a wine I had never had before. The nose on this wine takes you instantly back to childhood. Smelling of concord grapes, the wine has the same type of bite as the familiar juice but with a light finish. We ended up leaving with a pumpkin wine and pear wine which we hope to share with family over the holidays.

Our second stop was at Flag Hill Winery and Distillery. I had heard this particular place also makes oils and rubs, and I was interested to hear where they source their ingredients from; as I have been wondering how to keep my olive oil selections local. It turns out they have to import olives, but the oil itself is made by their chefs and staff- and it is incredibly good! Flag Hill makes their own liquors from NH apples and I walked away with both their vodka and gin, they are fantastic! They both have a pretty standard taste, but with a little something special added in. This winery grows all of their own grapes and fruits, and I felt that they had a really great selection with a more mature flavor. I would highly recommend checking them out.

We had planned to make it to a couple more spots on our trip, but we ended up heading to Portsmouth Brewery for some food and local brews instead. We had curry mussels, a flatbread with grapes, and a local meats and cheese plate- all of which were really great! The town of Portsmouth is wonderful, and should be added to everyone’s list of places to go in New England. Friendly people, many small shops and businesses and a quirky small town feel. It was the perfect place to end our adventures for the day, and I left feeling really great that we have so many options for sourcing locally just over the border. 

Maps and Links to the Wineries on Our Tour:

View Larger Map, Zorvino Vineyards

View Larger Map, Flag Hill Winery and Distillery

Somerville Winter Market

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A winter farmers market opened in Somerville last weekend. Having been very concerned about where I would be able to locally grown produce through New England’s winter months, I was thrilled to know I can purchase from the farmers who gather each Saturday at the Armory.

The space is really fantastic and unique; an open event space packed full with farm stands from around the area. In one corner we found  Culinary Cruisers at a cart dawned with an umbrella selling the most wonderful Kombucha on tap. After purchasing a growler (which you can bring back to refill and receive $2 off your next fill-up), we moved on for some veggies from Enterprise Farm, hailing from Whately, MA.  I stocked up on the basics but grabbed a few things I’ve never used before: black radish, celeriac, and dinosaur kale. I’m really excited to learn about these new veggies and try something new!

Robinson Farm had some really great cheeses, but we left with only one; the Hardwick Stone- amazing! Semi-soft, creamy to start with a nice bite at the end. After grabbing some meat from Stillman’s Farm, and some milk from Shaw Farm I felt ready to face the week ahead!

We had a wonderful time chatting with the farmers and sellers and I left feeling really great about supporting them. It’s good to be part of this kind of community- seeing the people who have put their all into producing their goods, and seeing their joy as we line up to buy from them. On top of all the other benefits, fresh food just tastes better! And I know that these veggies aren’t laced with pesticides, and the meats are hormone free! How can anyone resist that!

If you live in the Boston area, I highly recommend checking out the Armory in Somerville on a Saturday morning. You won’t be disappointed by selection, and if you forget cash, you can purchase ‘coins’ from the Armory staff with your credit card that all of the vendors will accept as valid currency. Currently there are about 12 vendors, but I am told that by December the whole upper balcony of the space will be filled as well. A cafe is nestled up front when you walk through the main entrance, and you can pull up a chair to sip on some coffee and enjoy the local art on the walls. During the week the Armory hosts many events ranging from ‘Broga’ to senior services.

The market is located at 191 Highland St., Somerville, MA from 9:30am-2:30pm.

http://www.artsatthearmory.org/Default.aspx

Vermont Braised Pork Belly

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Last night I realized I didn’t have anything substantial to make for dinner. Normally, I would stop into our local area grocery store, Foodmaster, and pick up some chicken. But now that I am eating locally, things are a little more complicated.  With Thanksgiving just around the corner, I have to wait for my new CSA subscriptions to start up until after the craze, and that means putting in some extra effort. Finding myself in a bit of a bind, I decided to stop into Savenor’s in Cambridge on my way home from work. They have a great selection of hard to find items, such as rabbit, fois gras and alligator…. but would they have any locally produced meats and veggies- I had to hope.

Savenor’s is a really small shop, but somehow I spent about 25 minutes inside looking over every single meat label in the hopes of finding something which would satisfy my needs. What I found turned out to be really pretty exciting-  locally and sustainably raised Vermont pork belly; something I had never cooked before.

After reading several recipes to learn the technique for this succulent meat, I decided to give it a go. I marinated and cooked for eight hours, and much to my amazement, it actually turned out quite well. I’m a big fan of meat that becomes so tender when cooked it flakes apart with a fork, and this dish made it into that category.
I served the pork with a fingerling potato and beet dish as well as sautéed garlic kale.

Tonight as I enjoyed a glass of Cambridge Brewing Company beer alongside my all locally sourced dinner, I found myself feeling as though eating locally is doing a lot more than fulfilling a challenge of mine, I am learning to work with new foods in the kitchen and having a great time doing it!

Food Safety

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If you aren’t the kind of person to frequent farmer’s markets, or farms, the concept of having a relationship with the person who grows your food might be very foreign.

The beautiful thing about knowing your farmer is the relationship and trust it brings. When a farmer commits to his or her customers personally it is a very different experience than purchasing at item from the produce aisle at your favorite grocery store. A farmer cares about your health because their liveliness depends upon it. When a huge conglomerate farm produces mass amounts of food, they don’t have to have the same concern for consumers because their PR department will have the situation mopped up before it does any real harm.

Recently, I’ve noticed news popping up that points to some food scares dealing with e.coli.  These types of ordeals always leave me wondering why bigger always has to be better. We, as a society, have become too focused on everything in mass quantity, and to me this is why problems arise. When your goal is to push out a lot of food, the quality factor goes right out the window. No matter how large the production, there is no way that each item is properly inspected. Over use of pesticides, cutting costs at the expense of quality, and over farming of land all add to the possibility of non-quality products.

While I am quite sure that someone who is far more savvy than myself on the benefits of factory farming might strongly disagree with me, statistics do show that this type of farming to which we have become accustomed is the leading factor in greenhouse gas emission, and second (next to automobiles) in consumption of fossil fuel. With so much rich and diverse land across our country I simply cannot see reason why we should have to continue farming in this big business way when it not only causes harm to the planet and future generations, but to our immediate health as well.

Most recently it seems that ‘Ready Pac‘ has had an e.coli scare, and as an article put out in The Packer has stated, the publicity surrounding this type of scare, or discovery, may prove to be a good thing by giving the company a chance to address an issue they have.  Regardless of how this company chooses to respond to this crisis however, this type of thing only further proves to me the importance of staying local, and sticking with the little guys who give a damn about me, and whether or not I’m going to keep coming back to buy from them.

I’m telling you, check out a farmers market in your neighborhood, and before you know it, you’ll be hooked too!

http://www.greenpeacecorps.org/Sustainable_vs_Ind.html
http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-204_162-57327036/romaine-lettuce-packs-recalled-over-e-coli-fear/ 

Disbelief

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I’ve just finished reading an article which tells me that the GOP feels healthier public school lunches are ‘too expensive’.

Tomato sauce on pizza is a vegetable, says Congress;  GOP says healthier school lunches are too expensive 

I can’t possibly get over my disgust. How can we put a limit on the health of our future? For every struggling program which aims to bring farm fresh foods directly to schools, there is opposition of the kind found in this article which won’t allow positive changes to progress. I simply can’t imagine how these types of measures would pass if anyone actually knew what was going on, or what the alternatives are.

While tomatoes are a vegetable, and therefore a source of healthy eating…. it is an incredibly far stretch to pretend that just because kids are having a smear of red on their lunch means they are consuming a ‘balanced’ meal. I simply cannot allow myself to believe that this is what we’ve come to, and that our children, our future, should be the ones who suffer due to budget cuts and political disagreements.