Signs

Tiny chive blades waking up in the herb garden

The season that makes us crazy has arrived. As I was taking advantage of the sun and 55 degree temperature today, I was snooping about the herb patch. The few wispy green blades are chives — I’m already calculating how long before I can snip a few and toss them in with scrambled eggs. The

Tightly furled rhubarb leaves peeking out of the soil

reddish lumps heaving their way out of the soil are the first shoots of rhubarb. My spring fever is spiking.

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Support Farm-to-School Programs

This news on S. 3123 was sent to me by the folks at the Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC). Since I was just comparing the fresh, whole foods served in French schools with the reheated, processed fare we serve our children in the U.S., I thought this was timely. Following is the alert from WORC. Please take a few moments to contact Senators Johnson and Thune about this legislation.

The U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee will take action Wednesday, March 24, on the Child Nutrition Authorization Act, which, among other things, is a major underwriter of the National School Lunch Program.

This year, there is a broad effort to ensure that these public resources will help increase the use of fresh, wholesome, and nutritious locally produced foods, including meats, vegetables and fruit, dairy, baked goods, and cereals – often referred to by shorthand as Farm to School.

Please contact your Senators as soon as possible and ask them to become a co-sponsor of S. 3123, the Growing Farm to School Programs Act!

Currently, the bill coming to the committee Wednesday only calls for $25 million in funding for the Farm to School programs. S. 3123 would secure $50 million over the next 5 years for the Farm to School programs.

Groups across the country are working to ensure that $50 million in mandatory funding for Farm to School grant programs be included in the legislation. These funds can be used for schools that want to return to local and regional sourcing and kitchens that prepare from scratch to get grants to make the transition.

Around the country, local farmers and ranchers working with schools and families are demonstrating that they can offer high quality, yet affordable, alternatives to the current menus heavily laden with industrially preserved ingredients, cheap surplus commodities, and long supply chains.

Visit WORC’s Action Page to contact your Senators today

The Locavore Way

The Locavore Way by Amy Colter

Read this book!

Amy Colter breaks down eating locally into easy tips, fun lists and producer-spotlights, all while presenting cogent information on how local/regional food systems are beneficial to people, animals, the economy, and the planet. She also gives the most succint definition of locavore that I have found: anyone who seeks out and savors foods grown, raised, or produced close to home.

It may be too early to start sowing seeds, so read this book while waiting for the soil to warm up. It will get you in the mood.

Dithering

Confession: I haven’t ordered my seeds yet. Why? I’m dithering.

It would be grand to grow two chard varieties, Five-Color Silverbeet and Fordhook, but the beds have room for only one. Furthermore, I really can’t justify eight lettuce varieties; I really need to weed out that list (no pun intended). Last year Yugoslavian Red did very well, but I haven’t grown Green Deer Tongue for a couple of years and miss it. A red lettuce would be nice, too, like Red Velvet. The Seeds Savers Lettuce Mixture is a must-have; some of the best lettuce I have ever grown. I’m not really making any headway.

Beets are problematic as well, as beets are wont to be. I successfully grew Bull’s Blood last year, but they do get pretty big and should be harvested as summer rolls along. Good for summer meals but bad for a big harvest in the fall. I left quite a few until fall and dug them up; they were tasty but huge. So I’m contemplating Chioggia, an Italian heirloom.

Last on the undecided ballot is spinach. Bloomsdale has provided me with many salads and wilted spinach-and-egg dinners, but I’d like to try Viroflay, a French heirloom.

Though I was tempted, I opted not to start my own tomato, pepper and eggplant seeds. I really don’t have a spot to place the trays, and our local greenhouse, Dakota Greens, and Jolly Lane Greenhouse in Rapid City both carry good selections. Jolly Lane expands the number of heirloom offerings every year, even Japanese eggplant.

So back to my catalogues.

Intoxicating

Today the earth smelled like spring; the creek is running; the bluebirds are back. After a long, dark winter, spring raised her head today. Persephone is preparing to return from the underworld, and life returns to the land. There will be more snow, yes, but it will be ephemeral.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all –

Emily Dickinson

The Compassionate Carnivore

Carolyn Friend is a meat-eater and entirely unapologetic about that fact. When she started farming in southeastern Minnesota, she began to realize the immense difference between conditions on her farm and those factory farms where the animals lived who were destined for the grocery store meat case. The fact that her sheep and chickens lived normal animal lives, weren’t mistreated or pumped full of hormones and antibiotics starkly contrasted with the lives of the animals whose meat she purchased at the store. This niggled at her conscience, ate at her sense of animal-husbandry, and finally moved her to action. The entire book is written with a healthy dose of self-deprecating humor and zero preachiness.

Friend breaks the book into parts that take you from an overview of factory meat production to steps people can take even if they don’t raise livestock. She also reviews the differences between “organic” and “sustainable,” explaining how the organic movement was hijacked by food industry, who recognized the huge growth potential. Yes, organic still means some important things like no hormones or antibiotics, but it doesn’t mean the animals of any species have enough room to move around, have access to the outdoors, and don’t have to lie in their own feces. Organic is a step up from convential, but Friend explains that if you want to be sure that the meat you buy comes from ethically treated animals, go to the source. Find a farmer or rancher; visit with him or her to see how the animals live, what they’re fed, etc. Not only does this take money away from the behemoth industry that feeds factory farming, it also keeps family farmers and ranchers on the land. As a country, we need farmers and ranchers, and buying directly from them puts more money in their pockets so they don’t disappear.

Friend’s passion about farming is contagious. She cares deeply about her livestock, her land and the future of farming (and food) in this country. If you’re queasy about buying that Smithfield ham at the grocery store (and you should be) but don’t know where to start, The Compassionate Carnivore will push you in the right direction.

A Tale of Two Lunches

When it comes to food, the French do many things right: Champagne, cheese, baguettes, ratatouille, croissants, cafe au lait, and herbs fines, to name a few. It seems they take their school lunches just as seriously, which may help explain why the whole culture deeply cares for their food. The French instill an appreciation for good food at an early age and believe children should learn how to make sound choices about what they eat.

Here are a few lunch menu items from a Paris school district as reported by School Lunch Talk: Basque chicken thigh with herbs, couscous, organic yogurt, cucumbers with garlic and herbs, bell peppers with olive oil and herbs, and an apple. Other menu items include grilled fish with herbs, lentils and sausage, apple tarts, salad, stewed carrots, haricot verts (delicious thin green beans),  and an array of cheeses. From this small sampling of foods, we can see just how varied their lunches are, giving children a wide variety of tastes. This is heightened by the fact that French schools do not repeat meals in a month; a feat almost as amazing as the menu items.

Basque chicken thighs are such a far cry from American school lunches, I’m tempted just to stop right here. Something-breaded-on-a-white-bun, canned vegetables, fruit/salad bar (which is a good development), cake or a cookie, and milk. Yes, there are USDA guidelines on fat and sodium content, and I truly do not believe they are being met by many schools. Especially in high schools with a “fast food” lane. This lane serves items such as cheeseburgers, foot-long hot dogs, pizza pockets, and milk shakes. Yes, your child can eat like that at school. Though the fresh fruit and salad bar are always an option, students can skip it entirely if they choose.

Which lunch costs more? The French one, of course. With a price tag of about $8 each, American schools could not possibly afford to serve up meals like their French counterparts. The French meals are highly subsidized, taking most of the burden off the schools. American school lunches are subsidized as well, but a better lunch comes with a higher price tag, and today’s subsidy will not suffice.

Another drawback is how American schools serve lunch today. Many schools no longer employee cooks; they contract the lunch out to companies who prepare it off-site. The servers heat, assemble and serve it. Changing how our kids eat would also mean changing how and where their food is being prepared.

With the alarming rise in childhood obesity and diabetes, maybe it’s time we made these changes. Some schools around the country have started with school gardens and buy-local initiatives; each one makes a difference. Whenever a school district and a community work together to bring better food to their children, it sends a message to USDA that the National School Lunch Program doesn’t suffice. Only by insisting that our children get quality food will their school lunches improve. Somehow, I don’t think French fries and French toast is quite good enough.

Two articles on French school lunches: Teaching Kids to Eat Healthy and School Lunches Talk: Country Watch.

Article on Avoiding GMOs

This article in Urban Garden Magazine came to me by way of the Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC), which has long worked to keep genetically modified organisms (GMOs) out of our food system. This article is a how-to kit on avoiding GMOs in our food. Remember that corn and soy are the biggest culprits and are present in nearly all processed food. Since GMOs are so new in the environment, and so unnatural, we really have no idea of what their long-term effects will be. Click here to read the article: How to get genetically modified food out of your diet.

Winter Stores

With only 14 days of “calendar” winter left, I thought I’d take stock of my winter stores, what I had put up last summer and fall. Despite what the calendar says, winter persists with a fresh two inches of snow and a glazing of ice underneath.

My frozen ratatouille is lone gone, but I still have a frozen block of pesto, but only because I’m hoarding it in a miserly fashion. My salsa is holding out fairly well with one quart and 11 pints left, though it will run out long before salsa-making time arrives. I have two half-pints of strawberry jam left and plan to tuck into them sometime this spring. I fully intend to lick the spoon. My stores of apple butter are holding out pretty well, which is good since we are six or months away from apple-butter-making time. And my three pints of peach jam should hold into summer. So no fear of naked toast.

I can make one or two more pumpkin pies, same for apple (but it will probably be apple crisp instead). Rhubarb I have in abundance and really should do something with it since rhubarb season is only two or three months away (depending on the weather). I believe I have one more package of frozen beans, and any frozen zucchini I find will be an archeological find since I was rummaging in vain last week. The beets are long gone, but applesauce is in abundance.

So my notes for this year’s food preservation are: more ratatouille and pesto, less rhubarb (maybe some rhubarb jam to reduce the amount of frozen), more beans, peas and beets (if the weather cooperates), more salsa and strawberry jam, but the same for peach jam and apple butter. Hopefully we’ll have a more normal growing season so that I can put up my own pasta and pizza sauce. Overall though, I have to say that I have enjoyed eating my own preserved food this winter. There is tremendous satisfaction in going to the closet for a jar instead of to the store.

Foods Bill Passes Senate

The home-processed foods bill, HB 1222, has passed the Senate and now awaits the governor’s signature. This bill clears the way for producers to continue selling canned and baked goods at farmers’ markets throughout South Dakota. Thank you everyone who contacted their legislators about this bill.

HB 1057, the milk bill, is also in the Senate. It has passed out of the Senate Ag & Natural Resources Committee with an amendment that struck the word “occasionally.” This amendment was beneficial since some consumers were worried that the department might use that word to limit how much milk they would be able to buy.

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