5 Food Habits to Adopt this Earth Day and Daily

Happy Earth Day! Starting 35 years ago, April 22nd has been designated a day to celebrate our earth and recognize that it needs nurturing just like anything else we care about. Our earth supports us in so many ways, and of course, we need a happy and healthy planet to grow our food and nourish our bodies.

By 2050, our planet will be host to 9 billion humans. With hunger already prevalent, we need to feed all these mouths as sustainably as possible, which is especially important as our earth is challenged. Did you know that our food supply is a contributor to climate change, green house gas emissions, and waste?

whats-wrong-with-our-food-system

Add to this the deforestation and pressure on species as we clear more and more land to feed our demands.

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But every little we do as consumers can help alleviate some of these challenges. Let’s consider the 5 R’s as good habits to start today and nurture for our future:

Reduce: It’s tempting to stock pile on food but what tends to happen is food expires or goes bad if we don’t get around to it quickly enough, and who wants to waste precious food? Reduce your dependence on highly processed and packaged food, because the processing and packaging requires massive energy inputs. And do you really need that mega meal? Cutting back on your portions size is great not only for your waist line, but also for the planet. The food that contributes the most to green house gas emissions tends to be livestock:

EWG-infographic

(Source: Environmental Work Group)

Today may be a good day to revisit how much meat you eat. You can reduce your meat intake, and add plant-based protein sources like beans, legumes and tofu. Start with one day a week – how about participating in Meatless Mondays? Also think about reducing your carbon footprint by selecting locally grown or produced foods from your nearest farmers market. On average, most conventionally grown and produced food travels 1,500 miles, which adds up to green house emissions. Supporting your local producers cuts this back, and adds to your local economy.

Reuse: Have you got some leftovers in your refrigerator? How about reusing these tonight? Maybe convert it into another meal? Yes, you can reuse food! Think about a whole chicken. Roast it, add some vegetable sides and you have one meal. Use the remaining meat the next day in a chicken salad. Left with the carcass? Make your own stock with this. Just one example of a food you can reuse a couple of times over!

Recycle: If you haven’t already, start recycling all the packaging for your food products.

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(Source: Edinburgh University)

Recycle leftovers following ‘Reuse’ and take your own drinking containers for water and coffee drinking throughout the day or bring your reusable containers for leftovers when you eat out. Choose recyclable packaging by using paper disposable products versus foam products, the latter being awful on the environment. The more fresh food you buy, the less packaging you may need – take your favorite tote to the grocery store or farmers’ market.

Restore & Replenish: Another perk to supporting local farmers is that they tent to be more mindful of how they treat the land upon which they grow or rear food. Farmers who use organic materials and even make their own compost are using the ‘Reuse’ and ‘Recycle’ principles to turn food waste (cuttings, peels, eggs shells etc.) into nourishment for soil to restore and replenish nutrients, bacteria, fungi and other living organisms that contribute to the livelihood and vitality of soil. You can also do this and grow your own food in your backyard, maybe even restoring some balance to your back yard ecosystems and biodiversity. Also think about how buying fresh or whole food is great form of nourishment to your body, restoring an replenishing critical nutrients to keep you happy and healthy.

So this Earth Day, embrace these 5 habits and run with them. You really can make a big difference!

Yours in all things food,

Jess

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Hunger is knocking on our doors

I’ve been thinking a lot about food lately. Granted, I’m still nursing my now sixteen month old boy, so to say I’m ravenous most of the time is downplaying things.

But I’ve been thinking about ‘what if’ scenarios too. What if we were experiencing food shortages here, and my food was being rationed which meant I would be hungrier than I am while trying to nurse? Hmm. Not an ideal scenario at all. Do not want to think about this and don’t want to be a doomsayer… but honestly, it’s hard not too. It seems that daily I am reading articles on the global impact our severe drought and corn shortages have had on food prices, about impending hunger in unstable countries, of hunger that never leaves developing countries in crisis. And yes, here I have noticed that food prices are on an upward trend, but fortunately my family can afford to eat healthily, even if it means cutting back on other expenses.

But what about families who have already seen their food budgets stretched beyond recognition. Does this mean the already stretched food banks are going to turn people away? Ration food? What exactly? And in the same heartbeat, I am sickened to read that school children are tossing out perfectly good and nutritious food in protest against the new nutrition standards being implemented in schools nation wide. It is also very likely that many of these subsidized meals are for children who need them, who come from families with those stretched food budgets, but because there isn’t enough pizza and fries and more fruits and vegetables, they’re mad and don’t want the latter. What? Sickening. Elsewhere in the world, as these school children toss their apples into the trash, a child is starving to death.

Wake up folks. If we’re not careful. the drought we’re experiencing and the other frightening climate changes we’re witnessing may put our food production in jeopardy. And because our global market likes to play with our food prices too, we, the consumers, are being played where it hurts the most. Our wallets. Take these forces, combined with everything else we have going on in our tumultuous world, and you may have hunger knocking at your door.

Coffee Chat with the Makers of GROW!

“The conventional food system has enslaved us, making us obese and sick…” . It’s a Monday morning. I’m barely halfway through my latte and my handwriting is having a rough time keeping up with this discussion, which at this point has got pretty serious. Well what did I expect? I’m sitting with a couple who are artists, consumers, and food activists. They combine these powerful attributes to offer solutions to our food, now, not tomorrow.

And what was the one solution they decided to make a movie about in 2010? Our young farmers. In ‘GROW!’ the common thread that links the Georgia farmers is their desire to ‘do more’. So instead of cowering away from the lackluster job market during the recession, they shifted gears and decided to farm because it is the right thing to do in our current dysfunctional food system. The movie serves as a platform for the farmers to speak for themselves. There are no embellishments, no special effects… yet the farmers’ connections to the land are beautifully depicted thanks to the eyes of Christine and Owen of Anthony-Masterson, a photography, and now film, duo.

Christine & Owen of Anthony-Masterson, the makers of GROW!

For many years, the couple had dabbled with the idea of bringing their still images to life on rolling film. And because they support good food and are based in an agriculture state, their dabbles morphed into a thirteen minute documentary ‘Farm’, a 2008 collaborative project with Georgia Organics to raise awareness of young farmers. This was filmed with a Flip Ultra, and what was a very small investment in equipment turned into a mini-documentary that circuited at some film festivals. But it was really when the couple were transcribing this short film for a film festival in Italy that a light bulb went off. At the time, ‘Food Inc.’ had hit the consumer pretty hard, so Christine and Owen thought that they needed to develop the young farmer concept into a longer feature of hope. They started to film ‘GROW!’ and about halfway through, ran short of funds. So they turned to the online fundraiser, Kickstarter.com, and were able to raise the remaining funds to complete their project.

But somehow, the conversation we’re exchanging is less about the movie and more about our food system.

Almost seven years ago, the couple arrived in Atlanta from L.A., and this timeline is coincident with my arrival from London. We all agreed that at the time, the local and good food scene was very low-key. There was only one legitimate farmers market with actual growers and producers, and Owen recalls how they purchased their local chickens in brown paper bags in parking lots. Today you can take your picking of which markets to support and buying local chicken is increasingly the norm. The changes are encouraging, but there’s work ahead.

I ask what the biggest gap between producer and consumer is. “Cooking.” says Christine. “We need to have a tangible connection to our food, and we need to stop fearing it. We must learn to understand it.” It’s true. So many consumers adore watching the Food Network, but how many of them are actually getting up from the sofa to explore food and cook it? Food has become its own form of entertainment, and with the barrage of convenience in our food system, we have become increasingly disempowered to actually purchase, prepare, and cook it. “I always see folks get their coffee, a pastry and a bunch of radishes at the farmers market…” says Owen, “…but honestly, how do you intend to feed your family for a week on a bunch of radishes? Are you still depending on the toxic dumps that are our supermarkets? Consumers need to overcome their food fears and invest more at these markets. They’re not just pretty carrots to look at, they’re there for you to eat and enjoy! This will be a big tipping point in our food movement. Consumer confidence.”

It makes sense. We should be happy to spend more of our money on good food rather than spend it on all of our healthcare costs. And do we need three televisions in each household? Maybe we need to cut back on erroneous material costs to put better food in our mouths?

In other words, the potential to affect change in food and health is in the consumers’ hands. Some of the farmers in ‘GROW!’ acknowledge how consumer interest in the good food movement has bolstered their sales and production, and this is the kind of grassroots ‘bottom-up’ approach that is needed to ensure positive and sustainable change. “Grassroots changes depend on communities. Communities will identify their food problems and they will find unique solutions to these. An easy fit for communities is to support their local farmers.” states Owen, but I press him about food deserts and lower socioeconomic communities, where the single-mom is running the household while trying to hold down three jobs. What if there are no farmers’ markets to support? Or what if the cost of good food appears unaffordable? “That’s where urban agriculture has a potential to bring good food and food skills to these households. And programs like Wholesome Wave make it possible for food assistance families to access good food. With the support of these initiatives, these communities will realize that taking their family for a meal at the drive through is wrong, an injustice, an enslavement.”

Christine chimes in “I see this kind of realization being possible through farm-to-school programs. Children are telling their parents that good food is easy to cook and better for you. It’s similar to them telling their parents to stop smoking because this can kill them. Well, it appears that our food is killing us too. ” We discuss Jamie Oliver’s ‘Food Revolution’ for a moment and all agree that he lit a big fire. Although his campaign hasn’t garnered tremendous support from some school food and nutrition employees and advocates, there are times a big, popular name can get attention. And he has got parents’ attention about what their kids eat at school.

But of course, it’s one thing to want good food in our schools and other channels of food supply, but another to grow and raise it. I delve into the land issue I keep hearing about from the young farmers I have met. “Land is often the biggest barrier to farming but there’s more to owning it. Leasing land is one option, but this comes with a price tag too, and for small-scale farming, this is challenge. However, land stewardship, management and even borrowing are models that fit well for young farmers.” says Owen. These are surely good fits for retired farmers who desire the continuation of their farming legacies. We explore this a little further, wondering how to model a ‘gap year’ for high school or college graduates to go and grow. What a great service to our country? “And it doesn’t matter if they don’t farm forever, but we must develop a model that supports young farmers while they want to grow, and attracts new growers each and every year.”

It all makes sense, and honestly, it’s not rocket science. Solving our food crises will take more than depending on new Farm Bills. “But it would be helpful to see the feds support small-scale farming strategies. The current arrangement of commodity subsidies and categorizing fruits and vegetables as ‘specialty crops’ is diabolical.” says Owen. Christine offers further perspective, “We have had such a positive reception to ‘GROW!’ People are realizing that our farmers are not a bunch of dirty hippies. They are serious and committed to this food cause. And they’re doing it with little help from the government.” In the current political and fiscal climate, I am sure these words are gold on some folks’ ears.

‘GROW!’ has an accolade of awards and recognition nationally and internationally. This summer it will be available for digital distribution for a global audience, and will be released on DVD. Christine and Owen have created a ripple in the food movement, and they are a reminder that all of us have the ability to steer change. It didn’t take millions of dollars, and it didn’t take fame to create ‘GROW!’. It took two individuals with an interest in our food, young farmers and solutions. And thanks to this, you can do yourself a favor. Go watch it, now, not tomorrow.

Jess Avasthi, Real Time Farms Food Warrior, Winter 2012

Keeping Food Real

Trailer for GROW!

Easter Bunny Digs Organic Carrots too

I am standing in the heart of the operations for Burge Organic Farm. On the outside, it’s a quaint log cabin.But once the door opens, agrarian paraphernalia come into view. Multiple deep washing sinks, two large refrigerators, farming equipment and tools… . I am accompanied by Cory Mosser, farm manager and excellent tour guide. My my cogs are turning, trying to process all the information Cory is sharing. I learn that the refrigerators are operated by air conditioner units, which do a superior job regulating temperatures to maintain produce integrity and trim energy costs. He jumps into a seat attached to a piece of equipment and describes how this is a transplanter, so while someone drives the tractor (which is also included in the tour and is a beauty), two folks will sit on this metal conglomeration and oversee transplanting. This saves a bunch of time, so instead of taking three days to manually plant 1500 tomato transplants, it will take less than day. All-in-all, I am struck by the investments this, and another nearby farm, Crystal Organic, have placed on the shared equipment to enhance efficiency. Small scale farming is industrious, but not industrialized, an undercurrent to upholding the integrity of good quality, locally grown food.

I want to ride my bicycle...

I spot an old school stationery bicycle. It’s a gem, but what on earth is it doing here? With the enthusiasm of a little boy who has just got his first bicycle, Cory jumps on and enlightens me. He grabs another box-shaped piece of equipment, demonstrates where this fits on the bicycle, and then how the pedaling will operate these units… And we have a pea-sheller! This hot item is going to make its debut at the farmer’s market this season. Cory enjoys getting customers engaged at the markets, and he intends to get them on the bicycle to shell their own peas. A brilliant way to break the ice and connect with your food!  And then, in the midst of all of this, there is a white erase board. The ‘to do’ list is lofty… my eyes are happily scrolling but they are interrupted by the words ‘Easter Bunny Idea’.

...And shell my peas!

Half an hour of touring the open fields, stepping into the high tunnels, handling a teething ten month old, squeezing into the greenhouses crammed with tomato and Brassica transplants, taking in the view of the incredibly diverse fruit orchard… but these three words have whipped me away from all of the information rushing through my head. It’s been a while since my Easter Bunny days. When I was about four years old, I almost scared the bunny away when my mom caught me peeking through my bedroom window one beautiful Easter Sunday. Easter Bunny makes me think of hollow chocolate eggs and chocolate smeared faces. And yes, while bunny rabbits can be found on many farms, I am not sure how this erase board ‘to do’ item fits into the highly efficient and productive farm operations heart.

Cory is not short on ideas. After all, how many folks get married, then shortly after tying the knot, head off on a five month trail through the Appalachians only to realize that law school is no longer an option, but farming is. And why? Because while Cory was on the trail, he saw what was wrong with our food (the long strip malls of fast food) but also what was better (the vast rural land and diverse, productive family farms). He stepped off the trail and entered the world of food production, marketing, and distribution, learning and applying new skills and knowledge. Several years later, he joined the historic Burge Plantation to manage seventeen acres of certified organic farm land. And he has never looked back.

So it turns out that Easter Bunny has something to do with what I continue to encounter on small-scale farms managed by young farmers: ‘innovative marketing’.

Yup, small-scale farming is picturesque, altruistic and quaint, but many of our young farmers realize that to keep the tractors running, there is far more work beyond the scope of tending to land and harvests. Cory acknowledges that as a farmer, he does get caught up in daily operations of seeding, translating, weeding… but at the end of the day, he reminds himself that the fruits of his labor need the gentle hand of marketing to move them on. Seeing that the new season is on the horizon is in sync with Easter, may as well use this time to pitch CSAs. Cory and his wife have three daughters. Their youthful imagination lead to the idea to pack a turnip, radish and carrot into a little bag with their CSA information, and to give these out to school kids for Easter Bunny. The kids go home, jump up and down because they have some yummy organic treats for the bunny, and their parents, like me, think ‘What a novel and clever idea! Who are these farmers? Wow this carrot tastes delicious… sorry Easter Bunny, no treats for you!’. And hopefully, some new CSA sales are generated. Brilliant!

We talk some more and once again the topic of consumers comes up. Cory agrees that whether consumers are avid local food supporters or just wetting their toes, education is integral in providing them the skills and resources to maximize the potential of good food. Yes, it takes more enthusiasm and dedication to keep committed to a CSA, but eating well-grown food is  a valuable investment in health of local communities, their children, and their economy. So whether you celebrate Easter or not, this is the time of year to get connected with your farmers and to invest in their efforts to provide all of us with better, more wholesome food. And if Easter Bunny is going to visit your household, be sure to dangle that CSA carrot, because rumor has it, he digs organically and locally grown too.

Jess Avasthi, Real Time Farms Food Warrior, Winter 2012

Keeping Food Real… for humans and bunny rabbits.

Three’s the Magic Number

They saying goes ‘two’s company, three’s a crowd’, but on this farm, three’s the magic number. The trio I am referring to is Lauren Cox, Katherine Kennedy, and Luca Caffettani, all young, dedicated, and enthusiastic keepers of a gorgeous span of land just west of Atlanta, Georgia. Whilst exchanging inspiring and enlightening stories revolving around food, we introduced some choi transplants to their new home, the rich and welcoming soil of the Le Tre Lune farm. I am always curious to learn how young folks find their way to the land, and this story doesn’t fall short of inspirational…

After several years of late nights, loud gigs, and colorful personality encounters in the music management industry, something began to stir inside Katherine. She began to question her place in life, and somehow, the music industry wasn’t living up to her expectations. She was in Brooklyn, New York City, and between organizing music gigs and tours, she stumbled upon urban agriculture. She began to learn to grow, and found herself teaching kids to grow. NYC can be a hard city, where everyone is just trying to be the next best thing, but in the garden, pretenses and gritty attitudes were exchanged for humility and gritty finger nails. Then on the spur, Katherine joined a couple of friends for a road trip through Virginia. They met a young farmer who invited them to stay at his farm. Her friends concluded that they would never be able to live a bucolic life… Katherine decided that the music industry would survive just fine without her. With Georgia’s bountiful growing season, she decided to set some roots in the state and served an apprenticeship on Jenny and Jack Sun Farm. Before she knew it, she was afforded an opportunity to work on this land belonging to well-known farmers, Skip and Cookie Glover. At the time, the farm was ‘Ivabell Acres’, named after her fiery and agrarian aunt. Katherine believes that like her, we all descend from farmers.

With a degree in history under her list of accomplishments, Lauren jumped at an opportunity to complete her masters in Food Culture and Communications at the Slow Food University in Italy. During this time, she indulged in the glorious food offerings of Italy and also met an Italian boy Luca. A romance unfolded, and the knot was tied. Lauren had considered being a food critic but she felt that this would be a displacement of her energy. She wanted to do more, so she set off for East Africa where she submerged her hands into the soil, learning the virtuous traits of where all life begins. She returned to the US in 2011, and went straight to some land in Athens, Georgia. A year later, Katherine gave her a call…

Lauren and Luca joined Katherine to embark on this venture of land, growth and opportunity, the beauty of this being that the Glovers have welcomed these farmers, free of charge, to tend to their land and make a living. This isn’t always the case. Often land is leased, leaving very little in way of profit, a potential spanner in the works of sustaining small-scale farming and livelihoods, especially for new and young farmers. Katherine and Lauren both acknowledge just how fortunate they are. Seeing that the average age of our farmers is in the mid fifties, and because their children aren’t all jumping in to take the reins, wouldn’t it be ideal for arable land to be ‘loaned’ to young farmers to grow good food? It makes sense and needs to happen on a far grander scale than what currently exists.

Le Tre Lune is Italian for ‘Three Moons’, and yes, it’s a reference to the three farmers’ desire to follow mother nature’s cues to produce food. The Glover Family Farm spans 40 acres, with Le Tre Lune stewarding almost 3 acres of food production. Katherine and Lauren make it very clear that they have legacy to uphold. The Glovers have nurtured their land for over 200 years, nourishing it with load after load of compost and enduring the flooding waters of the Chattahoochee tributary that runs through their land. The beauty of the latter mentioned devastation is the rich mineral deposits. Katherine claims that this is what makes daily farming a blessing. So much of the hard work has been done, through the Glovers’ and mother nature’s hands, all Le Tre Lune has to do is run with it. And yes, mistakes are made, but Skip Glover will make his appearances to mentor the trio on learning from these.

The farm follows Certified Naturally Grown (CNG) practices and upholds the organic approaches to food production that the Glovers have lovingly instilled on their land. Honestly, any farmer who wants to grow organically minus costly bundles of red tape and paperwork can opt for CNG, plus, they’re accountable to other farmers, which to most farmers and consumers appears to be more transparent and righteous. I observe several cover crops and a few overwintered greens that have began to bolt thanks to the untimely warm weather. The Brassica and green leafy vegetables are sprouting in the greenhouse and in a high tunnel, the vivid colors of beet greens and rainbow chard are hard to miss. There is plenty of life in various stages happily abiding by the gentle work of these young and industrious farmers. With their youth comes fresh and unique concepts to market their work. During my visit, Katherine and Lauren were discussing an event they were planning for the weekend. They invited new and existing CSA members to join them on the farm for tours and a Bellini, a wonderful way to connect farmer to consumer to soil. And a little champagne does no harm in creating conviviality!

Katherine acknowledges that the work is challenging but this feels right now in her life. The trio is grateful for their supportive CSA customers, and the rewards reaped from growing food for them and many others is a constant reminder that they are working for a cause. Lauren encapsulates this perfectly… ‘If we want to affect the status quo of our food, it needs to start here, in this field, on our knees with our hands persuading the soil to produce.’ Idealistic? No. It’s a philosophy inherent to many farmers I encounter. And in my books, it’s a philosophy we can all live by, one responsible food choice at a time.

Jess Avasthi, Real Time Farms Food Warrior, Winter 2012

Keeping Food Real