Thursday, July 30, 2009

HR 2749 Food Safety Enhancement Act-Update

HR Bill 2749: Food Safety and Enhancement Act of 2009 Failed yesterday. This is a victory for all artisan food producers and locavores.

Although I supported some of the ideas of this bill and especially the spirit of it. The major problem is that this bill is that it would treat all food vendors the same from your local bakery, like Wild Flour Bakery to the company that makes Wonder Bread, Interstate Bakeries (doesn't that sound delicious). This bill assumes that they are all on the same playing field. This just isn't the case local artisan producers make their food by hand and through love of their product and using high quality ingredients make food that will naturally be better for all of us. However this bill would have made them and the big businesses pay a $500 fee and do a "Hazard Analysis" study. This $500 would be enough that some small producers would fold and the paper work in a "Hazard Analysis" study would be enough to bury many small businesses. Whereas the large businesses such as Kraft would not blink an eye at the nominal $500 fee and would have enough interns or other low paid employees to do the mountainous paper work required by this bill.

Another issue I had with this bill concered "interstate shipping", which would make any producer who engaged in shipping their products across state lines to have a "Food Safety Plan". This would be the same plan for River Valley Kitchens who sell at our local farmers market, but are from Wisconsin as it would be for BG Foods. Under this bill they both would have to develop a food safety plan that included all of these elements:
  1. preventive controls being implemented;
  2. procedure for monitoring preventive controls;
  3. procedures for taking corrective action;
  4. verification activities for the preventive controls, including validation, review of monitoring and corrective action records, and procedures for determining whether the preventive controls are effectively preventing, eliminating, or reducing to an acceptable level the occurrence of identified hazards or conditions;
  5. record keeping procedures;
  6. procedures for the recall of articles of food, whether voluntarily or when required;
  7. procedures for the trace back of articles of food, whether voluntarily or when required;
  8. procedures to ensure a safe and secure supply chain for the ingredients or components used in making the food manufactured, processed, packed, transported or held by such facility; and
  9. procedures to implement the science-based performance standards issued.
I am a teacher and in education we have a saying, "Fair doesn't mean everyone gets the same it means everyone gets what they need." This bill was just wrong because it tried to make every play by the same rules, however everyone wasn't playing the same game. I believe that if this bill had passed it would have closed many good small businesses who serve a great healthy alternative to the mass produced junk that lines our grocery stores.

Bill Summary:
House Voting Results (check to see how your representative voted and let them know what you think):

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Off to England

Well tomorrow I am off to England. This is my first hop across the "pond". While there I am looking forward to see the sights; English gardens, the landscape, museums, and Stonehenge. There will be pictures of the sights and of course a lot of work in the garden when I get back.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Garlic Harvest

After returning from Arkansas I noticed that four days away from the garden left me with some work. The majority of it was harvesting but there were some weeds that seemed to have sprung up during my absence.

The biggest work however was harvesting the garlic. This is a new plant for me and I have been waiting to harvest this since the snow cleared*. So to say I was eager to start was an understatement. I was ready to just go out and start pulling them up by their stalks. However, I erred on the side of caution and looked up garlic in one of my gardening books. In it I learned that garlic actually grows a few inches below the ground and it has numerous fibrous roots meaning that if you try to pull it up by the stalk, it will just break off, ruining your garlic. Also green garlic bruises easily and you should be careful when digging it up and afterwards.

Therefore, I used a hand trowel to dig up the bulbs making sure to not bruise or slice any. Therefore this was a long and slightly arduous process. I carefully dug around the bulb and then started to dig out from underneath it. Finally I pried it out of the soil and then carefully broke up the dirt that was clinging to the roots.

Since I had two different kinds of garlic I was careful to make sure that I dug up the first variety, Georgian Fire. This is a hot garlic which is supposed to be good in salsas, spicy sauces, or to a stir fry to add just a bit more zing. Once I dug it all up Naomi then took it to bind a few of the plants together so we could hang them to dry.

I then dug up the second variety, German hardy. This garlic is supposed to be one of the better for storage and should last the entire year if need be or if we don't use it all up in our cooking.

Garlic plants were bundled in groups of 4-5. Being careful to not bang the garlic around in order to avoid bruising. We used just simple string to bundle them together and tied them into places; one close to the bulbs and the other one up higher near the top.

Next we used masking tape (a must have item for all gardeners in my opinion) to make a label and then labeled each variety with a permanent marker.

Lastly we hung them up in the basement which appears to be the best place in our house. To properly cure or dry you should leave garlic hanging for 4-6 weeks. After they have dried cut off the roots and cut off the stalk about 1 1/2 inches above the bulb. Then leave garlic in a netted container and allow it to hang as well to get air circulation.

Not all the garlic will make it completely through the four to six weeks. Green garlic has a great flavor and I will use some of the Georgian Fire while its still green and has that great flavor. However I will allow all of the German hardy to dry.

* For any of those who don't know garlic is a crop that you put into the ground during the fall. So if you are interested in growing garlic I would start to pick out what you would like to plant.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Arkansas Traveler Part III-Peaches, Pink Tomatoes, and Seed Saving

On our way back from Arkansas Naomi and I could not leave without stopping at a farmers' market and a roadside market while we were still in Arkansas. So it was that at 7:30 in the midst of a torrential down pour that we went to the Argenta Farmers' Market in downtown North Little Rock. Standing in the rain I got to speak to a couple of the farmers and bought two baskets of peaches and half dozen or so Arkansas heirloom tomatoes, the Arkansas Travelers Tomato.

The Arkansas Traveler is a pink tomato that is supposed to have less acidity than its red relatives. This tomato is beloved in Arkansas due to its natural resistance to cracking and splitting as well as its superb taste. Four of the tomatoes made their way to topping a pesto pizza last night, one was a gift to a good friend, and the last one I harvested its seeds.

Seed saving the tomato was much easier than I expected and to tell you the truth I wasn't expecting much. Here is the process:
Select to save seeds from a tomato that has a flavor that you love....if you're a home gardener and saving seeds from tomatoes that are growing in your garden choose tomatoes from the very healthiest looking plants.

Take your chosen tomato and slice it in half across the middle (it's "equator"). With a spoon or your well-washed fingers scoop out the seeds and their gelatinous "goo" into a clean cup or container. Add a couple of tablespoons of water to the seeds. Cover the container with a piece of plastic-wrap and then poke the plastic-wrap with a paring knife or pen point to put a small hole in it...this is to allow for air-transpiration. (A little fresh air needs to get in and out of the cup to help foster fermentation.)

Place the container of seeds in a warm location; a sunny windowsill or the top of the refrigerator are both excellent sites to place the container of seeds. Now Mother Nature will take over and begin to ferment the seed and water mixture. This takes about two or three days. Each night remove the plastic-wrap, stir the seed and water mixture, and then replace the plastic-wrap, if you use a new sheet of plastic-wrap then don't forget to put a small hole in it for air-transpiration. The top of the liquid will look "scummy" when the fermentation process has separated the "goo" from the seeds. It also helps destroy many of the possible tomato diseases that can be harbored by seeds.

Take the container of fermented seeds to the sink and with a spoon carefully remove the scummy surface. Then pour the container's contents into a fine kitchen sieve and rinse the seeds with water several times...stir them while they're in the sieve to assure that all surfaces are thoroughly rinsed. Give a few sharp taps to the sieve to help remove as much loose water as possible from the seeds.

Line an open plate with a piece of waxed paper or a large automatic-drip coffee filter. Place the rinsed seeds onto the wax paper or coffee filter and spread them about so they are in a single layer. Place the plate in a safe location where the seeds can dry for a few days. Stir the seeds a few times during the drying process to assure that all their surfaces are evenly dry. Spread them out again into a single layer after each time you've stirred them. Tomato seeds are thick and can take up to a week to dry thoroughly. If you're having a rainy week that drying time may lengthen by a few days.

These seeds I will save for next year and try to grow some of my own. This variety enjoys hot humid weather and takes approximately 85 days to bear ripen fruit.

We also bought peaches at the farmers' market and a roadside stand that was in the parking lot of a gas station in Brinkley. We bought a total of 48 peaches that Naomi used to make jelly, she canned some, and she froze some of them as well. Of course as luck would have it we got another dozen in our CSA share as well.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Arkansas Traveler Part II-Heifer International

During our stay in Arkansas Naomi and I left the hospital in Little Rock, Arkansas to get some fresh air. We went to the Heifer Village which was just a few minutes away. This was a beautiful complex that clearly displayed green features, from their gigantic water tower which collects rainto their xeriscaping grounds.

For anyone who might not know, Heifer International is an organization whose goal is to end world hunger. They have project throughout the world, but the difference between Heifer International and some other NGO's is that Heifer doesn't just give food. They give people the ability to support themselves through gifts of live stock. Another major goal of Heifer International is the idea of supporting ones local economy, through being a locavore and much more. The Heifer International building is made of materials that almost all came from Arkansas. The steel for the building was made at a steel factory just down the road. The bricks were either salvaged from the old buildings that were on site or bought from a production plant in Forth Smith, AR. The only major material that did not come from Arkansas was the bamboo floor boards. As for landscaping, most of the plants were Arkansas natives. The area that the building was built on used to be a wetland area, so they built what I can only call a "moat" that flows around and through their campus. While there I saw many turtles and dragonflies taking advantage of this new ecosystem.

Along with their dedication to local buisnesses and suppliers, they also have a mission of promoting local food sources. While there Naomi and I looked around in there gift store and found ourselves in book heaven. There were many books on the current status of the food industry, cookbooks, home gardening, green economics, and more. It was then that we decided to make our donation to Heifer International in the form of purchases. Two shirts and eight books later we left the gift shop and headed out the door.

So some book reviews are in the future for this blogger

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Today's Harvest

Today's harvest is three Cucumbers, 5 Tomatoes (2 beefsteak and three romas), and 12 Sugar Snap Peas (can't believe these are still producing). Soon there will be beans and the garlic is almost ready to harvest.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Arkansas Traveler Part I- Rememberance

This past Saturday Naomi and I took an impromptu trip to Arkansas for a "family emergency". My maternal grandmother came out of surgery and was not doing well. We decided on Friday night to not wait and to head straight down to Little Rock, Arkansas. I can remember from an early age my grandmother spending many summer days canning and freezing as many vegetables and fruit as possible. My grandfather tended the garden and she ensured that there was preserved food until next years harvest. My family still speaks about the jams and jellies that she would make with awe and reverence. And each time Naomi does some canning I can't help but think of her.

She was always finding some way to enlist my cousins and myself into the work of the day. One of my favorite activities was sitting on the porch swing with her and shelling purplehull peas, which is a common crop grown in Arkansas. My hands stained lavender from the shelling, we would sit there and talk about anything that came up. I loved when she would talk about her childhood and my mom's childhood. These conversations would of course lead me back through time to a place when life was harder, but it seemed so much sweeter through her eyes. Then after our work and conversation was finished she would freeze the majority of the bounty and then use the rest to make a wonderful dish.

She died this past Monday and she will be sorely missed by my family and all who knew her. She lived a long, good life and I will forever remember those dog days of summer, in Arkansas, sitting on the porch listening to her stories of days gone by.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Rooftop Gardens Go Organic

Here is a link to an article about the Organic Garden that is above Uncommon Grounds in Chicago.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

You Get What You Pay For

About two weeks ago Naomi, her mom, and I went to go see the new movie Food, Inc. in Highland Park, IL. We luckily ate before the movie, because I do not think any of us would have been up for a meal afterwards. Food, Inc. had a familiar "plot" to anyone who has read any of Michael Pollan's books or read Fast Food Nation. However one of the movie's heroes I found quite surprising.

The movie begins with a casual walk through a grocery store. We see the bounty that is the American diet, however Robert Kernner then invites us to look closer at the true cost of this bounty. It is a cost that many people will have to pay in the years to come. It will come in the cost of heart disease, type II diabities, and much more. This is a movie that can easily overwhelm and scare you. You may wonder how did we get this way? The answer is simple as a society we have become to far removed from the source of our food.

One of the prices that we must now pay for our cheap food are E.coli outbreaks. Yet industry in a moment of terrifing brilliance has developed a way to remove that price from the meat we eat. The solution is simple and of course completely unnatural, "wash" the meat in ammonia hydroxide and kill everything that is living on or in it. The meat will be completely sterile at the end; no bacteria and certainly no taste. Of course the industry could also just feed cows grass instead of corn and this problem would be solved as well. But that would cost more than washing every bit of meat in an industrial washing machine.

So who is our surprise hero of the story, Wal-Mart. Yes the proverbial Satan of corporate America. You see Wal-Mart is an economic juggernaut who gets exactly what it wants. And what Wal-Mart wants is milk from cows raised without rBGH, which incidently is made by using E.coli. Therefore as the CEO of Stonyfield Farms tells us that by dealing with Wal-Mart you can make a significant change. However, I may be a bit cynical and I certainly do not have much, if any, faith in big corporations to do what is best for us. Therefore I can only fall back on a well used quote, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." So in the words of Robert Kenner vote three times each day and make your vote count by buying local food that was raised ethically and organically.

For more information watch these interviews with Robert Kenner and/or Michael Pollan

First Tomato

Well today Naomi harvested our first tomato of the year, a Roma. This red fruit is a sight to see. We have been waiting patiently for them to go from green to red and now that time is here. I reckon that for a while we will be just a few here and there, but before long we will be wading in red tomatoes.Naomi also harvested 5 cucumbers (some will be made into pickles and others for a snack) and three broccoli heads. The broccoli this year has been on the small side. Not exactly sure why.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

What's happening in the garden?

Well as I have already said there is a lot happening in the garden but in the garden in the summer that's just the way it is. Strawberries of course are a distant memory now. But raspberries are quickly coming and will hopefully be ripe in the near future. Of course we are already getting raspberries in the CSA, but of course I can't wait for these to be ready as well.

I can say that I have started to dream of juicy ripe tomatoes. And these little darlings are helping my dreams come true. Also we have romas that are also quickly maturing and a few other varieties that are on their way. However it is our tomato plants that are in the sub-irrigated planter that are really taking the cake. They are towering over everything else and will probably be the prize plants.

Cucumbers are quickly forming on the vine and are ready to pick. These little darlings have Naomi and Fivecrows formulating pickling ideas. To say that the success of their jam has inspired them would be an understatement. Well I know that with the bumper crop of cucumbers that we have on the way (4 plants). We will need some inventive ways of dealing with all of them.

Now for a relative. Our heirloom melons have quickly taken off since the warm weather has come. For awhile I was a little worried about them. But now I am just trying to coral them and keep them in the raise bed. As you can see they are blooming and hopefully we will have melons to harvest in September.

Finally the sugar snap peas are starting to fade away in the morning harvest. Last couple of weeks we were getting quite a bit, but that's how it is in the gardening world.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


There is quite a bit happening in the garden this week. Flowers have opened, fruit is forming and other crops are finishing off. The crop that I would like to talk about is the pop corn.

Although we have grown corn in the past. We have usually grown a decorative Indian corn for fall displays. Corn is an interesting garden plant. Its closest relative is a grass plant called teosinte. It is believed that approximately 7000 years ago people in Mexico began to cultivate teosinte. This cultivation slowly changed this simple plant into the vegetable we know as corn. Corn or maize is a new world plant, until Columbus came to the Americas no one in Europe had ever seen corn. Yet once the discovery was made it did not take long for corn to become one of the most popular crops in the world. By the 1600's corn had made its way not only to Europe, but Asia as well.

Corn has two distinct flowers on it. These two flowers are the male flowers and the female flowers. The male flowers (pictured below) are commonly refer ed to as the tassel. They are situated at the top of the plant. The structures that look like grains of rice are called the anthers. It is here in the anthers that the pollen is held and then released at the appropriate time.

The female flowers are located about midway between the ground and the tassels. Normally the male flowers and the female flowers mature at a different rate to help ensure that self pollination does not occur. When the pollen from the male flowers fall onto the silks of immature ears of corn the pollen slowly makes it way up the silk. Each silk is located to a separate flower on the ear of the corn. Once the flower is pollinated and the ovary in the female flower begins to make a seed or kernel of corn. Each silk or flower that is pollinated will make a kernel of corn. Hence when you see an ear of corn that is missing some kernels you know that not all of the flowers were pollinated.

The word maize was derived from the Native American word for corn, mahiz which literally means, "that which sustains us". This is an apt name for a plant that is literally in just about every product on the shelves in a grocery store. Mahiz is literally the backbone of not only our food but also our economy.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Birthday Party and some good local eating

This past Friday Naomi and I threw a birthday party for her mom. We decided as soon as we sent out the invitations that most of the food that we served would have to be grown locally. We did not go out and buy a bunch of stuff at the grocery store. In fact the majority of the produce came from either our garden or the CSA and the meat all came from the farmers' market. (The only main item that came from the grocery store was the pasta for the past salad.)

Naomi made some great salads; a pasta salad, a beet salad, a raddish salad, and lastly a fresh green salad. We also served some good buffalo summer sausage and some local cheeses from The Cheese People. All of the meat that we served was from Lester's Buffalo Farm which is just up in Wisconsin. We had ground buffalo for hamburgers, some bratwurst, and some hot dogs for the kids. I was told the hot dogs tasted a little different, but the brats were much better than conventional store bought ones in my opinion. Heck even the wine we served was from a local winery, Glunz. More on them in a future post.

For desert Naomi made two strawberry and red currant pies that were gloriously delectable. A perfect end of the meal.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Farmers' Market and Party

Its a bazaar. That is the only way to describe the party that happens on Wednesday afternoons in downtown Grayslake. This Farmers' Market has everything from locally grown vegetables and meat to entertainers and jewelry. One can find a veritable cornucopia of sauces, jellies, salsas, bread and many other baked goods as well. The Grayslake Farmers' Market is a giant celebration of local goods and merchants. The sidewalks are packed almost to the point that one can't shop without bumping into someone. Yet the fact is that when you do there are no mean looks just a nod or short reply. Everyone knows that when the sidewalks and streets are packed its a good day for local farms and merchants. And these are the people we should be helping.
Want to stimulate the economy, America? Go to your local farmers' market and buy the groceries that you need. I know that it might be a little more expensive, but I promise that every penny and dime you spend there is well worth it. First, the money you spend there all goes toward the local economy. Unlike those big box stores where only a fraction of your money stays in the local economy. Secondly, the food you buy there is better for you and your family. It hasn't been shipped 1500 miles to reach that shelf and a small farmer will take better care of his crops. Because his or her name is attached to each and every single item that they sell. So, stimulate America's economy through farmers markets and local businesses.

Booth of the Week
At the market one of my favorite booths is back, The Cheese People. I have been waiting for them since the last summer market day of last year. As you could probably guess they deal in cheese. But this is not just any cheese. It is divinely inspiring cheese. Their Parmesan is so good that Naomi and I buy two chunks each week. One to eat that week and the other to freeze for those long winter months when we can no longer buy it at the farmers market. Need I say more about it. Their cheddar is wonderful be it the 4 year or the 8 year. And of course the Gouda is quite extraordinary and great cheese to buy when one is going to have a party.