On the fence about GMOs?

March 3rd, 2012

Dr Huber is a man of considerable substance without vitriol or hyperbole. He reliably presents critical information on which we fail to act at our peril. This is not a bumper sticker presentation and thus requires a bit of time, well invested, to absorb.


Why Can?

April 16th, 2010

Home food preservation is the link that enables local food to be the foundation of our diet all year long.  The ramifications of eating locally are far reaching.  They include:

  • the support of the local economy,
  • the near elimination of transportation and its deleterious side effects,
  • the control of production by the demands of the local market and the consequent outcome to grow a broader, and therefore more secure, number of varieties (compared to the certain, eventual crisis that will result from mono culture farming)
  • and, not the least, the re introduction of the primacy of human relationship into the equation that brings our food to the table.

Know your farmer that knows their soil.  Government agencies charged to oversee the integrity of that process have not and will not have our best interests up front.  So join with others who are taking responsibility for what they feed themselves and their families, meet the farmer who grows your food, learn to prepare real, whole, nutritious food, and “put up” enough to take you through the winter.  It tastes great, will make you feel better, will save some money and introduce you to a rapidly growing community of “can do” people.

FDA Fails to Act

April 2nd, 2012

The following from Fooducate is a good synopsis of the FDA’s recent ruling regarding the use of BPA for food contact:  One additional note not mentioned below– Canada declared BPA to be toxic in October of 2010.  Following is our FDA’s response to the research.

A Weak FDA: BPA Toxicity Needs More Research, but Let’s Keep Using It…

Last Friday, the FDA issued its most updated position on Bisphenol-A (BPA), a chemical widely used in food packaging. A chemical that has some unfortunate side effects, due to the fact that it mimics human hormone estrogen. We’ll get to that in a bit.

The FDA was petitioned by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) four years ago. The request:  Ban the use of BPA in the lining of cans and plastic bottles

BPA behaves like the hormone estrogen once it enters the body and disturbs the normal working of certain genes. Estrogen mimicking chemicals like BPA are potentially harmful even at very low doses, such as those found in plastic bottles and cans.

Toxicity questions have been around for decades, raising safety issue, especially for babies who ingest a proportionally larger amount due to their small size. Potential problems include hyperactivity, learning disabilities, brain damage, and immune deficiencies.

Over 200 animal studies that have linked BPA consumption in tiny amounts to a host of reproductive problems, brain damage, immune deficiencies, metabolic abnormalities, and behavioral oddities like hyperactivity, learning deficits and reduced maternal willingness to nurse offspring.

Here’s what the FDA’s own website has to say about BPA:

…On the basis of results from recent studies using novel approaches to test for subtle effects, both the National Toxicology Program at the National Institutes of Health and FDA have some concern about the potential effects of BPA on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and young children…

It would seem to us that when in doubt, the most conservative approach should be taken. Why should parents subject their kids to a “wait and see” policy only to discover 10-15 years later that their child got cancer?

Guilty until proven innocent is the approach to take with food additives. Doesn’t it make sense to assume a chemical is toxic until it has been unequivocally been cleared as safe?

Not if you are a a lobbyist representing the powerful chemical industry. Not if you are a weak regulatory body with revolving doors to the lucrative industries you are supposed to be regulating. Too bad we can’t learn from Europe – France recently announced the ban of BPA, effective January 2014.

What to do at the supermarket:

Here are recommendations from NRDC:

  • § Don’t use polycarbonate plastics (marked with a #7 PC) for storing food or beverages, especially if you are pregnant, nursing or the food or drink is for an infant or young child.
  • § Avoid canned beverages, foods and soups, especially if pregnant or feeding young children. Choose frozen vegetables and soups and broth that come in glass jars or in aseptic “brick” cartons, as these containers are BPA-free.

Use a BPA-free reusable water bottle, such as an unlined stainless steel bottle.

For home food preservers who work hard to put up healthy food, even the metal lids used for home canning are coated with BPA, thus our encouragement to use Tattler Lids which are reusable and BPA free.  They require a slightly different method of use which we cover in our class on the subject.

Jubilee Farm

January 16th, 2012

We are continually grateful for the work of Snoqualmie Valley Tilth and Erick and Wendy Haakenson of Jubilee Farm.  To be able to eat local food, we need local people to grow it.  For those who have pursued their vision of growing good food from good land in an enduring partnership long before there was anything that looked like a revolution–Thank you.  Take a look at Erick and Wendy’s video about Jubilee Farm–its beginnings and hopes.


“Organic Farming Can’t Feed the World” say it over and over until people think it’s true.

December 8th, 2011

From The Atlantic; so good to have someone say it succinctly with plenty of links for you to follow up for yourself.  That organic farming can’t feed the world is an important lie to debunk.  It is the primary defensive rationale for our current, unsustainable, non renewing farming practices.

Organic Can Feed the World

By Barry Estabrook

Given that current production systems leave nearly one billion people undernourished, the onus should be on the agribusiness industry to prove its model, not the other way around


“We all have things that drive us crazy,” wrote Steve Kopperud in a blog post this fall for Brownfield, an organization that disseminates agricultural news online and through radio broadcasts. Kopperud, who is a lobbyist for agribusiness interests in Washington, D.C., then got downright personal: “Firmly ensconced at the top of my list are people who consider themselves experts on an issue when judging by what they say and do, they’re sitting high in an ivory tower somewhere contemplating only the ‘wouldn’t-it-be-nice’ aspects.”

At the top of that heap, Kopperud put Michael Pollan and Marion Nestle, a contributor to Atlantic Life and the author of Food Politics, the title of both her most well-known book and her daily blog.

“There’s a huge chunk of reality missing from Dr. Nestle’s academic approach to life,” Kopperud wrote. “The missing bit is, quite simply, the answer to the following question: How do you feed seven billion people today and nine billion by 2040 through organic, natural, and local food production?” He then answers his own question. “You can’t.”

What is notably lacking in the “conventional” versus organic debate are studies backing up the claim that organic can’t feed the world’s growing population.

As a journalist who takes issues surrounding food production seriously, I too have things that drive me crazy.

At the top of my list are agribusiness advocates such as Kopperud (and, more recently, Steve Sexton of Freakonomics) who dismiss well-thought-out concerns about today’s dysfunctional food production system with the old saw that organic farming can’t save the world. They persist in repeating this as an irrefutable fact, even as one scientific study after another concludes the exact opposite: not only that organic can indeed feed nine billion human beings but that it is the only hope we have of doing so.

“There isn’t enough land to feed the nine billion people” is one tired argument that gets trotted out by the anti-organic crowd, including Kopperud. That assertion ignores a 2007 study led by Ivette Perfecto, of the University of Michigan, showing that in developing countries, where the chances of famine are greatest, organic methods could double or triple crop yields.

“My hope is that we can finally put a nail in the coffin of the idea that you can’t produce enough food through organic agriculture,” Perfecto told Science Daily at the time.

Too bad solid, scientific research hasn’t been enough to drive that nail home. A 2010 United Nations study (PDF) concluded that organic and other sustainable farming methods that come under the umbrella of what the study’s authors called “agroecology” would be necessary to feed the future world. Two years earlier, a U.N. examination (PDF) of farming in 24 African countries found that organic or near-organic farming resulted in yield increases of more than 100 percent. Another U.N.-supported report entitled “Agriculture at a Crossroads” (PDF), compiled by 400 international experts, said that the way the world grows food will have to change radically to meet future demand. It called for governments to pay more attention to small-scale farmers and sustainable practices — shooting down the bigger-is-inevitably-better notion that huge factory farms and their efficiencies of scale are necessary to feed the world.

Suspicious of the political motives of the U.N.? Well, there’s a study that came out in 2010 from the all-American National Research Council. Written by professors from seven universities, including the University of California, Iowa State University, and the University of Maryland, the report finds that organic farming, grass-fed livestock husbandry, and the production of meat and crops on the same farm will be needed to sustain food production in this country.

The Pennsylvania-based Rodale Institute is an unequivocal supporter of all things organic. But that’s no reason to dismiss its 2008 report “The Organic Green Revolution” , which provides a concise argument for why a return to organic principles is necessary to stave off world hunger, and which backs the assertion with citations of more than 50 scientific studies.

Rodale concludes that farming must move away from using unsustainable, increasingly unaffordable, petroleum-based fertilizers and pesticides and turn to “organic, regenerative farming systems that sustain and improve the health of the world population, our soil, and our environment.” The science the report so amply cites shows that such a system would

  • give competitive yields to “conventional” methods
  • improve soil and boost its capacity to hold water, particularly important during droughts
  • save farmers money on pesticides and fertilizers
  • save energy because organic production requires 20 to 50 percent less input
  • mitigate global warming because cover crops and compost can sequester close to 40 percent of global CO2 emissions
  • increase food nutrient density

What is notably lacking in the “conventional” versus organic debate are studies backing up the claim that organic can’t feed the world’s growing population. In an exhaustive review using Google and several academic search engines of all the scientific literature published between 1999 and 2007 addressing the question of whether or not organic agriculture could feed the world, the British Soil Association, which supports and certifies organic farms, found (PDF) that there had been 98 papers published in the previous eight years addressing the question of whether organic could feed the world. Every one of the papers showed that organic farming had that potential. Not one argued otherwise.

The most troubling part of Kopperud’s post is where he says that he finds the food movement of which Pollan and Nestle are respected leaders “almost dangerous.” He’s wrong. The real danger is when an untruth is repeated so often that people accept it as fact.

Given that the current food production system, which is really a 75-year-old experiment, leaves nearly one billion of the world’s seven billion humans seriously undernourished today, the onus should be on the advocates of agribusiness to prove their model can feed a future population of nine billion — not the other way around.

This article available online at:


Copyright © 2011 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All Rights Reserved.

Shifting Priorities in our National Food System

October 17th, 2010

The quality, quantity and affordability of nutrition dense (or not so nutrition dense) foods in our nation are heavily influenced by the relatively little noticed “Farm Bill” updated by our legislature every five years.  (more accurately, updated by a few legislators from agricultural states)  In addition to specifying crops which qualify for federal subsidies the “Farm Bill” outlines the parameters of the food stamp program.  The following article by Andy Fisher does an excellent job in describing the dialectics of that debate.

Banning Soda for Food Stamps’ Recipients Raises Tough Questions

October 8th, 2010  By Andy Fisher

On Thursday, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that he had asked the US Department of Agriculture to allow the city to exempt soda from the permitted list of items its 1.7 million food stamp recipients can purchase with their benefits. This ban would last for two years, enough time to assess its effects and determine whether the ban should be continued on a permanent basis. New York City food stamp recipients spend an estimated $75 million to $135 million of their $2.7 billion in food stamps annually on soda, according to AP.

Anti-hunger and public health advocates at odds over proposal

Public health advocates contend the obesity epidemic is costing the U.S. hundreds of billions of dollars per year in increased health care costs, and sugar sweetened drinks are a major factor.   They correctly note that low income persons tend to have higher rates of diet related diseases than the general public: poor New Yorkers have twice the rate of adult-onset diabetes than compared to the wealthiest. Mayor Bloomberg noted, “Sugar-sweetened drinks are not worth the cost to our health, and government shouldn’t be promoting or subsidizing them.”  Read the rest..

The Case for Canning Tomatoes

July 25th, 2010

This sounds like a weird mystery novel, but  the only mystery here is what you are likely to find in commercially canned tomato products…truly scary!  Tomatoes have been referred to as the “workhorse of the kitchen”.  They have been fundamental to the diets of so many yet the commercially available product is a far cry in purity, nutrition and flavor from that salubrious, aromatic, red orb that was the inspiration for so many of our favorite dishes.

Why should you can your own tomatoes?

  1. Flavor, Flavor, Flavor.  The taste of ripe, real tomatoes and nothing but tomatoes in your marinara, soups and casseroles will transform your efforts from ho hum to inspired.  But, if you have had a diet consisting of largely industrially processed food, it will take a bit to “lift the veil” from you little buddies.  See next item.
  2. We add no salt to our tomatoes so you can control your sodium intake.  The average American consumes 46% in excess of the recommended daily allowance.  Keep in mind, that’s the average which takes into account the foodies and low sodium folks.   You can resist salting your food at the table, but that’s only responsible for about 6% of the average American’s intake.  Processed and prepared foods account for a whopping 77% of that figure.   Salt is used commercially to give the perception of flavor that is missing in the fundamental ingredients.  We habituate to levels of salt and require more and more for our now desensitized taste buds to be satisfied.  If you cut back on your salt levels for a mere two weeks, your tongue– your amazing tongue, will reacquire a heightened sensitivity to flavors and your enjoyment of food will increase.  Your heart will thank you as well.
  3. Excess Sugars in commercial tomato products  is a similar issue as the excess sodium.  We have become habituated to more and more sugar in our food.  Not coincidentally the industry has tremendous amounts of government subsidized high fructose corn syrup for which it needs to find a happy home.  It creates a “mouth feel” that we have been told is pleasing.    We crave sweet, and we’re told it’s a vegetable.  What’s not to like about that?  The sugars are listed on the ingredient panel under many names on the same product, adding up to “one heckava lotta” sugar.  Give your tongue a break and find out what the real fruit tastes like.  That spaghetti dinner fares a lot better with the calorie counter looking at tomatoes instead of sugary syrup.
  4. Bisphenol A gives us reason all on its own to avoid all products in a commercial can.  This includes lids on jars.  “BPA is an endocrine disruptor, which can mimic the body’s own hormones and may lead to negative health effects.   Early development appears to be the period of greatest sensitivity to its effects.Regulatory bodies have determined safety levels for humans, but those safety levels are currently being questioned or under review as a result of new scientific studies.”  Our more prudent neighbors to the north have outlawed the use of BPA for food contact. (update 10/2010, Canada has listed Bisphenol A as a toxin) The science is clear, the politics are murky.  The high acid content in tomatoes exacerbates the leaching of BPA into your food.  The levels of toxins  in the non organic produce that survive the processing of canned tomato products is disconcertingly high and their side effects not insignificant.  GMO tomatoes have shown very negative to unexplained effects, yet they remain part of our diet.
  5. Home canned tomatoes make great fast food.  It’s convenient to have them on the shelf.  Cut down on your trips to the grocery store.  Whip up a pretty tolerable marinara in 15 minutes.  It makes the pasta night a dinner to look forward to instead of  “I can’t think of anything else so let’s have spaghetti.”  Use a quart as a great soup base.  This has absolutely no relationship to the little red and white cans we grew up with.
  6. It brings security and peace of mind to have real, sustaining food  “put up” on your pantry shelves.

It takes some work to sterilize the jars, gauge the ripeness of the fruit, slip the skins, and get all those beauties packed and on the shelves, but the benefits so far exceed the costs.  Work that happens around real food is energizing and when done communally, is a lot of fun.  Make it an annual tradition that will sustain you and give you pleasure all year long.  Sign up for a class at Summer In A Jar and meet some great folks along the way.


July 16th, 2010

We’ve adopted this Japanese word for times when change gets to be a little overwhelming.  It is an encouragement to improve one thing…make it just a little-bit–better.  Kaizen refers to a system of continual improvement.  Fundamental to improving our lives is the easy acknowledgment that we don’t get it right.  It is so easy to become overwhelmed with all the things we “should” do to eat more healthfully and support a sustainable food system in our region.  As happens in most sociopolitical movements, a self righteous attitude arises from some dark corner suggesting that one person or group has found the way, our energies are wasted in proselytizing so the power that could have come from a shared journey is lost.  There is so much to learn; we are reweaving a broken “rope of knowledge”.  It seems that every time we turn around we’re doing something “wrong”.  Kaizen says, “Don’t be overwhelmed by the big picture.  Just identify one thing important to you and work to make it just a little– bit– better.”  A little more flavor, a little less processed, a little more nutrition, a few less empty calories, a little  more celebration at meals with family and friends and a bit less fast food on the run.  Come and join us.  We have lots to learn and would benefit from your experience.

A Toast to CSA Subscribers!

July 16th, 2010

This has been quite an odd year for growing food in this region.  The Spring crops were so early we almost missed them.  We were then ready for summer to fall fast on springs’ heels, but have instead endured nearly the coldest June on record causing the governor to request agricultural disaster assistance for 29 Washington counties.  But, alas, summer is here.  Seeds that patiently waited are raising their arms and singing songs of joy.  Those that weren’t quite so stalwart, but, instead, rotted in the dirt, are being replanted in hopes of a more predictable summer.  The farmers, regrettably,  are going to find their recovery takes a little longer.  This has been a rare opportunity for CSA (community supported agriculture) members to actually be supportive of their farmers when Mother Nature decides to march to the beat of a different drummer!  It’s that kind of support of individual subscribers to receive less food when the fields have less to give that helps level the risk for farmers.  That risk has been traditionally covered by crop insurance, federal relief, crop subsidies, etc. that all add to the cost of our food every day whether we pay for it at the grocery store or through our taxes.  CSAs offer the opportunity to pay the actual cost of our food and do it in the context of local relationships affording us the ability to affirm the work and farming practices that are kind to our land, allowing that land to offer up the best it has to give.  When we relinquish that opportunity for local control of our food,  we place those  personal choices in the purview of large, distant, governmental bureaucracies whose priorities are not our own.  So, we raise a toast to those stalwart CSA supporters who graciously, uncomplainingly, stood by their farmers during this long season of anticipation.

Chicken Tractor

March 8th, 2010

I’ve heard it said that the eggs that come from the chickens when using one of these chicken tractors are just a side benefit.  Given how much our family, and many of our neighbors, have enjoyed this  “side benefit” this past winter, I’m really looking forward to enjoying the fruits of their raison d’être.

We and the chickens may have some disagreement [slider title="More Clucking"]in the interpretation of that purpose.  From their point of view it is being chickenish with a bunch of other chickens in their fowl community, lolling about rich pastures eating a smorgasbord of grasses, legumes and bugs while apparently deriving great delight flicking loamy soil on whomever happens to be standing behind them. (I’m just guessing)  Of course there is a good bit of concerted effort on behalf of their chicken progeny which works well to break up a day of full time eating.

From our point of view, they are completely consuming the cover crop that was planted last fall on the vegetable garden, “dispatching” many of the bugs that may prove to be competition for the little seedlings soon to find that garden as home.   They are turning it all into a rich fertilizer for said young plants that they then “till” into the soil at the proper depth so as to not destroy the structure of the soil.  What a gift it is to be able to sit back with our morning coffee and watch all of this take place and then to be the beneficiaries of a lush garden as a result of their efforts, not to mention a really nice omelet.  We feel blessed by chickens in spite of the often erratic 3AM wake up call.

For all you CT enthusiasts looking to benchmark our communal best toward the ultimate in mobile chicken accommodations, here are my two cents:
[/slider]  HOME

For folks who have been making this chicken tractor, I’d love to see your pictures and take advantage of your improvements and modifications.

Thanks for the picture, Ted and Kaori. Nice work.  The taller sides with larger access windows I’m sure makes for easier cleaning.


Another thoughtful and creative chicken accommodation from Mike Bannon and family  in Nashville.  Good process pictures from foundation to complete Chicken Chapel!   A new take on the wheels.   “The biggest change I made was I built out wheel wells inside the coop so the axle would be concealed.  I used 24” mountain bike wheels (walmart brand) and then used “T brakets” found in the building supply department of Home Depot for the axle mounts.  I did have to grind out a pocket for the axle bolt but it works really good.”

I’m looking forward to staying apprised of the spiritual welfare of your flock, Rev. Bannon.  You’ve laid a good foundation. 


Thanks Shawn for the very creative Chicken Bus…makes me want to sing..”The birds on the bus go……

Shawn's Chicken BusDSCF1278DSCF1279