Friday, December 30, 2016

New Year Resolutions

Some mornings as I go through the motions of what I refer to as “chores”, I’m reminded of some event or some person’s story that gives more meaning to what I’m doing than the wagging tails or happy clucks I get as I go along feeding, watering and turning out animals for the day.

It’s no secret that when I started out here it wasn’t to save the world, my neighborhood or anything really heroic. It was actually to make it easier for me to get clean food and save my little farmer’s market, and my home. It was a survival tactic.

Over the years, however, it has become a bit of a mission you could say. Some say, an obsession. Others still, an addiction. Call it what you want – I still call it, survival.

It’s a type of survival that I really didn’t know I needed back when I began.

I thought what I was doing was simply going to pay the bills and allow me to be a productive member of society, while not having to trek 20 miles for organic groceries. Maybe allow me to have a little more free time than the corporate grind had provided. And I suppose it does – even if that free time doesn’t always come when I’d choose it. And those little pink disconnection notices are sometimes narrowly avoided because there’s not a weekly paycheck like with a “job”.  It’s a seasonal check and you learn to budget, both money and your time, in very creative ways.

But the kind of survival it provides other than usually keeping the bill collectors at bay, is that of what many others don’t survive; poor health.

Maybe some of it is my genes. Granted I have an American Indian and Italian/Sicilian or Mediterranean heritage, so perhaps a bit of the best of 2 worlds when it comes to the benefits of age-old diets ingrained into my DNA.

But there are plenty of people with what should be good genes getting sick and feeling poorly, and vice versa. And I may have been on that same path myself, if over 15 years ago I’d not started doing things a bit differently. And had my mother not been the homemaker she was, providing us 3 square meals a day, every day, for the first 13 years of my life. Something I do not take for granted or lightly. And lessons I still fall back on today. Thank you, Mom.  

I tell folks I was an organic gardener before being organic was “cool”. And I was. Some of it was out of benign neglect and some out of frugality. (I prefer that word over “cheap” because it makes me sound smart instead of stingy.) And now I definitely do it out of wisdom and not stinginess – or lack of funds – as it were at the time. Gardening wasn’t something my ex-husband saw much merit in and so golf clubs took priority in the limited budget. I used what I had and could get on the cheap – shovels, soil and seeds.

What is it then, that separates some people into categories of healthy or sickly? Certainly I am not going to speak in terms of absolutes, because we all can find or even know of an exception to them. The 90 year old 2 pack a day smoker who ate greasy fast food daily and the 35 year old health-food nut who never touched tobacco, never lived with a smoker and yet suffered from emphysema and heart disease to their early grave.

I will, however, make the argument that sometimes a person can throw themselves out into traffic and survive while others may not. I don’t honestly think fate controls everything. We have, and make, choices. How much risk do you want to leave up to odds when it comes to your life or your health?  Or that of your family and loved ones?

I take that same equation and apply it to my customers. I don’t know what tips the scale for other people, so I’ll err on the side of caution when it comes to what I sell them. That’s why I have an all organic farmer’s market and garden shop.

We’ll not split hairs on the “rules” that the USDA has created, bent and adjusted to “regulate” (i.e. allow) large corporate food factories the ability to make more profit by being “certified organic”.

Let’s just suffice it to say that organic gardening, to most reasonable people, means not using synthetic chemicals or those which we know will subsist in the soil and/or on the food or flowers we grow – in the ground.

I felt I needed to add those last three words because the ever growing popular method of growing food in soil-less environments is, in the opinion of many dirt farmers, not really organic growing.

"After all, if it’s not a drug, it can’t make you well – according to the FDA."

It may be synthetic chemical free, but without the soil, and its countless un-duplicable benefits, it’s just not the same. The flavor isn’t the same. The nutrient density isn’t the same. And while it may be safer to eat than its conventionally grown, toxic pesticide doused counterparts, grown without carbon-based soil is not, in my opinion and that of many others, truly organic. But that’s perhaps another conversation. I’d rather, of course, you ate that, than conventional – if it were your only 2 choices.

But it’s not our only two choices. Here in Dallas and across the country in most well populated areas, there is a plethora of choices for obtaining organically grown whole, wholesome foods, even grown in local soil, in some cases. And when I say whole-foods, I mean unadulterated, unprocessed, untainted and in its original form. Not necessarily what you find in any particular store by a similar name. Or any store for that matter.

Supermarkets have to meet budgets to pay employees and stockholders. They’re going to sell a lot of stuff. Some of it may not be as wholesome as you think. And that’s all I’m going to say on that subject. 

And when I say well populated, I really guess I mean, well-to-do, because we all are becoming familiar with the phrase food desert, and it rarely applies to neighborhoods with the demographics of upper incomes. That's why, in large part, markets and shops that pop up in these food desert neighborhoods so desperately need to be supported. In some cases, they're the only source of healthful, organic and local food to which the community has access.

There are increasingly more locations where actual farmers gather to bring consumers directly what they may not find in even most independent stores. Likely, what they’ll never find in supermarkets. And it takes a little work to find some of them or make their schedule jive with yours. I will grant you that. But if it were a matter of survival, what steps would you take to make it happen?

Well, without getting myself into trouble with the FDA, I will just say that we know for a fact that there is a direct correlation to eating well and good health. Saying any more than that could probably get me into trouble. 

After all, if it’s not a drug, it can’t make you well – according to the FDA. And food, clearly, is not a drug. Even though many years ago it was said to let food be thy medicine, someone forgot to tell the FDA – or they just decided that it wasn’t going to be profitable enough for their allies and friends in high places, so they decided it wasn’t true. (Who said that if you tell a lie 3 times people will believe it? [cough, cough] )

But without me making any claims, I can assure you that if you spoke to enough co-workers, neighbors, relatives or Facebook friends, you will find someone who has an experience that will rival that of the FDA’s claims.

Yet organized or commercialized telling of the truth about how people get over illnesses, fought off diseases, and even just had more energy or felt better – truth of experiences – is not allowed. At least not without a disclaimer basically saying it may not be true because the federal government says so.

I can, however, tell you of the woman who sought me out at one of my Market Days to thank me for helping teach her how to garden at home. And that her family has never felt healthier since eating so much home-grown food. And I think I can get away with telling you that I’ve had customers tell me that nothing they buy at the grocery store compares to what they buy at my market when it comes to flavor or freshness.  Or that a woman previously diagnosed as lactose intolerant was able to miraculously drink unpasteurized milk without suffering any symptoms. But it’s probably not safe to say any more than that.

I was reminded recently of a speech given by raw milk dairyman Mark McAfee several years ago at a conference of producers. He was encouraging them to “break the law” by verbally sharing these kinds of stories, like those told to him from customers who’d been plagued with asthma, IBS, Crohn’s, pasteurized milk intolerance, etc., and found relief – gasp, a cure? – after including dairy products from him into their diets.

Against all federal government wisdom, CA allows people to sell and buy real milk products at the store, so long as the dairy passes inspections. Of course, retailers had to learn how to properly display the product as well as educate consumers on proper storage. I tell fellow members of a raw milk co-op what a dairyman told me – keep it at the very back of the fridge so it stays super cold and it will last a long time. And it does. I often get 2 weeks out of a gallon. That is if I don’t drink it all first.

"One good thing out of the USDA since Mr. Vilsack took over, is the slogan Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food."

Mark is right though. Farmers and ranchers and dairymen/women have a big part of the good health key of survival in their hands. All consumers need to do in order to get a copy of that key, is rearrange their schedule a little bit, change up their priorities and think of it as a key to what it really is - actual survival.

Slowly but surely news of the spikes in preventable, chronic illnesses are making more headlines. Usually, though, it’s not on the nightly news or in mainstream media. Instead it’s tucked away in various indie owned publications often thought of as “fringe” or liberal.

Is it liberal or fringe to want to feel well? To have your family feel well? To operate at their best potential?

But surely you see on the news the one in 3 million people of the city who had something dramatic or awful happen to them overnight. Or some obscure story that really doesn’t affect us or our daily existence. Rarely do we hear of the odds gaining on childhood obesity rates, childhood type 2 diabetic cases climbing, or increases in other various lifestyle/nutrition related chronic illness and diseases. No, those wouldn’t compliment the paid commercials that keep the news on the air. But, perhaps if we did have it in our faces as much as we do pop culture or other “news”, we’d pay more attention. And respond accordingly.

The key to your best chance at surviving these things isn’t all that hard to obtain, really. But there are lots of duplicate and even some counterfeit keys out there so buyer beware.

One good thing out of the USDA since Mr. Vilsack took over, is the slogan Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food.

Who is your farmer? Rancher? Dairyman? Fisherman? Beekeeper? Who makes your sausage? Your jelly or jam, pickles, bread and cheese? Can you say you know how many pairs of hands your “fresh” produce passed through before it was slipped into that cellophane covered Styrofoam container and put on a shelf? Much less how long it's been since it saw soil? Harvested prematurely for shipping quality is common even in large scale organic production. How much would anyone pay for a pound of smashed heirloom tomatoes?

We’re all being brainwashed into thinking that bacteria are evil causes of death when in fact, as Mr. McAfee so pointedly covers in his speech, they are the givers of life.  And the food on the shelves offered for sale in the supermarket, are generally devoid of bacteria. It is dead.

Lifeless, “food-like substances”, a phrase coined by author and writer Michael Pollan, can do little but provide empty calories to give us some energy to make it through to the next empty calorie meal.

Just because something can sit on a shelf for 5 years and still be edible, doesn’t make it good for you. By removing all of the bacteria, the very life, from something and adding salt, sugar, fat and preservatives to it, we haven’t created some new good thing. We’ve destroyed one. Food spoils for a reason. It’s lost its value. Mold and fungi beat you to the punch and started to consume it first.

We, by design, need nutrients and whole foods to be sustained. To survive. There’s that word again. And I’m not using it to be an alarmist. Just a realist.

It’s no secret that the (bad) joke is that 2016 has taken away so many pop-culture icons from the 80’s and that many, far too many, were at quite a younger age than what we normally think of people exiting this planet. I can’t help but wonder what some of the differences in the diets of some of them may have been. Apparently, no amount of fame or fortune can fix what years of abuse or neglect can do to a body once it reaches a certain point.

"In some cases it’s like not realizing they should have had life preservers and a radio on the boat until after it springs a leak and starts to sink. In the middle of shark infested waters."

Our bodies are pretty resilient. Made to take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’, as the old watch commercial claimed. But they’re not designed to take a kicking – meal after meal, week in and week out and year after year; especially if we’re not providing it the means to filter out toxins, repair damage and build immunity by eating healthful foods.

How much of this behavior can our bodies take before they break down? How much before a developing brain is inhibited? An immune system retarded or never fully developed to protect the body decades down the road?

Food, Inc. made millions aware of the questionable trail their food takes before they eat it
I hear from some of you, stories of people driving cross-town to save .50 on a lb of bananas, elated at the deal on close-out CAFO meats about to spoil, “cheap” eggs, concoctions in a box that are super easy to make and on sale 10 for $10, etc.

And yet, we see expensive vacations, smart phones all around for everyone, new cars and big houses requiring double incomes of extensive hour jobs and more. But our health’s first line of defense, food, is sought at bargain basement prices.

It’s no wonder people say they "can’t afford organic food". They can't hardly afford any kind of food that's not so subsidized by the government that it's sold in its raw form for less than the farmer's production costs. America has spent a lot of their money on “stuff” that won’t really make much difference in the long run. In fact, much of what they buy will break after just a few years and need to be replaced.

Well friends, we only get one body to live in. And the best the FDA can do when it starts to break, in most cases, is mask the ailments and the aches and pains with RX’s that, even when correctly prescribed, cause many side affects and even deaths. How many people have died as a result of eating a salad? Organic ingredient home-made meals?

The number of people lost to bacterial outbreaks caused by food, not only pales in comparison to those lost by RX’s, but is generally the result of previously wholesome foods being over-handled and processed into something compromising, not food in its original, raw, whole state.

I have been growing some food for myself for many years. Decades. I only decided to make a living at growing for others a few years ago. But in that amount of time I’ve met so many people who are like-minded, but only becoming so out of duress.

And that makes me very sad.  In some cases it’s like not realizing they should have had life preservers and a radio on the boat until after it springs a leak and starts to sink. In the middle of shark infested waters.

No one eats “clean” every bite. At least no one I know of. And certainly not me. I’ve confessed to not liking maple syrup and using instead processed, flavored corn syrup. And I can’t sit through a movie without a bucket of popcorn and something to wash it down.

However, fast food to me means Chipotle, and the stench of sitting at a light outside of a traditional fast-food chain is sickening to me. I typically eat vegetables that I or someone I know grew – in season. When I eat animal products, be it dairy, honey or meat, it’s again, conscious of the steward and the manner in which it was brought to market.   

Hedging your bets by adding more clean food to your diet, even gradually, seems like a smart thing to do. I generally don’t eat pancakes and “syrup” but a few times a month. And perhaps if they were across the street and I had the extra money, I’d treat myself to a movie or a steak burrito more frequently than a few times a year.

But because, in large part, most people don’t see the value in paying more for groceries that provide my living, I’m limited. And maybe that’s a good thing. Because I, too, grew up in the era of up and coming convenience foods, and I can see it become a temptation to skip making dinner for eating out more frequently than I do, had I the access and means to do so.

 "Fill in the blanks of your grocery list where you need to. But your local organic farmer is your best, first line of defense in the game of survival."

How much would you pay for survival?

What’s the value of an airbag? A parachute? A life preserver?

The lack of these things when needed, produce most certain instant negative results. If only we could make ourselves see at the time we begin our eating habits, that the lack of eating a more wholesome, unadulterated diet was going to result, most likely, in slow, often painful, and certainly expensive, series’ of consequences – often with an unhappy and uncomfortable, ultimate early ending.

Watching the life of someone we know come to a premature end is sometimes the only warning needed. For others, it’s an alarm when pain of their own body comes. Sadly for some, for too many, convenience or lack of self care, wins over awareness of the long term damage being done and the outcome is rarely pleasant.

Know your farmers. Know your food. Fill in the blanks of your grocery list where you need to. But your local organic farmer is your best, first line of defense in the game of survival.

And most of us, don’t take that responsibility lightly. We live and breathe our work. We’re agtivists asking you to sign petitions, write letters to Congress and vote both with your dollars at the store and your rights each election day. We ask you to be pro-active.

Farming or even growing a big family garden can be long, arduous work. And it doesn’t always pay as well for the skill set the farmer could demand under other circumstances. Most farmers wear many hats including plumber, electrician, handyman, accountant, marketing executive, CEO, veterinarian, chef and more. 

But I can honestly say that becoming a farmer, even on the small scale that I do it, is the most consuming, disappointing, educational, interesting, monotonous, satisfying, uplifting and worthwhile occupation at which I have ever tried my hand.

Oliver adoring baby chicks
 One big smile from a youngster as a chicken huddles over her new chicks, or has a rooster eat cracked corn from their hand,the excitement when they suddenly realize they're planting future French fries,
Clark w/his carrot
or they're experiencing livestock for the first time, the delight on their face when picking or savoring their favorite veggie – can cancel out the rough mornings of broken frozen water pipes, foundation and plumbing issues on an old farmhouse, another lost crop and loud neighbors that come with owning an urban farm on a commercial strip of street. Sometimes all on the same day. 

Knowing that perhaps just one person will benefit from my nagging about eating better, makes potentially alienating others worth the risk of doing so.

I know we do it from a place of compassion and love and I hope others know that is our motivation as well. In the end, for me, it’s about helping people in my community achieve access and want to have access to, healthy, safe, wildly nutritious food – at affordable prices - without being broke myself.

Julianna tending chickens on vacation
But if it were solely to make a living, with the living I’ve made thus far, it could be had doing something much less worrisome, time-consuming and uncomfortable. Even so, it still wouldn’t be nearly as fulfilling.
You know these are French fries in the making right?
I hope you’ll go into 2017 resolving to scale back things that keep you from being able to afford to pay a few bucks more a week on groceries, a few hours more a month at the farm and for meal planning and gain the benefits of preparing, from scratch, more, much more, of the food you and your family consume - and consume it together around the kitchen table. 

Let 2017 be a year of re-prioritizing for the sake of good health. Happy New Year everyone!


Eat Your Food - Naturally!

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas 2016 at the Farm

On a previously frigid 16F morning
Christmas Morning 2016
As I sit here typing this morning, it's a balmy 68F, and with the humidity at 99%, my back porch floor is soaked with "sweat".  To my old friends back up north this may not be what they consider very "in the spirit of the holidays", but this former Chicagoan prefers to slip out the back door without the need of several layers of clothing topped by a pair of Carhart coveralls, gloves, hat and boots to keep from freezing.

The sunrise was lovely, although I was a bit late this morning catching only the final remnants of it. The critters are starting to stir and will soon be looking for breakfast. We're not a particularly "up before the crack of dawn" sort of farm outfit here at Eden's. The farmer wakes when she's done sleeping and often will fill her belly, or sit down to write, before heading out the door for chores. No one seems to mind. In fact, often I find critters still sleeping in, when I come out earlier than the norm.

So while I reflect back on 2016 and its certain challenges to the world, I'm grateful that it was a year of growth for this farm. The soils are improving. I'm gaining more knowledge and experience about how to work within the soil's confines and what I can do to nurture it into something more like what it once was, before decades of neglect, overgrazing and erosion got the best of it.

Our harvests have been ample, delicious and steady this year. Granted, that last bout of freezing weather we had wiped out several things I wasn't able to cover. But the cabbage plants, most of the flowering broccoli, about half of the lettuces, some of the fava beans and beets - they should continue to grow and mature to harvest. The rest will be pulled and replaced by transplants awaiting in the greenhouse. And yet more will be seeded for later planting.

Life everywhere, as on the farm, is a constant cycle of growth and often at the end of growth comes demise, be it by harvest or other means. The wildlife see to it that the "other means" often include feeding them. Which I pretty much have to count on. There's plenty to share, generally, with the occasional hungry rabbit or squirrel. Although, the quite grown up shop cats get hungry now and then, too.....

Before a recent cold front, one of the "shop squirrels" drags pieces of frost cloth up to his/her nest.

I'm reminded of the simplicity things appear to be made of, as I walk my farm and observe the way Nature's creatures seem to just scamper along jovially without much care. Like the leaves and seed that blow directionless in the wind.

Behind that seemingly careless front, however, they are all fulfilling an instinctive need that is driving them. Be it to feed themselves, protect themselves, rest, or store up food for later consumption - much of what they do really does have purpose. Except I suppose when they're just plain being silly and amusing us. Maybe that's their purpose in those moments, to make us smile and laugh.

Certainly, we can all use a bit more laughter in life.

As you and your families go about your morning rituals today, tiptoeing around trying not to wake up Mom,  opening presents, gathering with family and sharing in memory making, do me a little favor. Please pause before you eat, and think of the hands that selected the seeds, that were previously gathered, planted, nurtured the plants that then produced the fruit or vegetable, grain or seed that you carefully selected and prepared.

Every meal I am fortunate enough to prepare and sit down to at home, contains more and more food that has been touched by hands I know. And it's a very peaceful, satisfying feeling.

There's just something magical about the dots being connected between the food on your plate and its source. Nothing came from plastic covered Styrofoam containers. Nothing fell into those carefully misted bins at the supermarket in the form that they lay there. And let's not forget those who transport the food we are not able to get directly from the source. Keeping our carbon footprint as small as possible is one thing, but we'd not enjoy the variety of diet many of us do, were it not for planes, trains and automobiles once in awhile. 
Fisherman Mike, Farmer Marie and Maddie, Co-owner of Smart Source Seafood
I hope more people are able to experience that direct connection with the source of more of their food in the future. I can tell you from personal experience, getting to meet the people responsible for feeding you - is quite a humbling feeling.

We are all dependent upon each other. We to them for growing, raising or catching our food, and them to us to buy and consume it.

Know your farmer, (fisherman and rancher). Know your food.

No farms. No food.

Who's Your Farmer?

The bumper sticker sayings are endless. But they all come down to the face and hands of someone, a person, who made what you eat possible. And to me, knowing them, makes it even more delicious.

In just a few weeks, I will gather with many, many farmers and ranchers, at the annual TOFGA conference being held here in Mesquite this year. Eden's is co-hosting a seed swap as one of the activities which is representative of one of the oldest traditions in farming. Sharing seeds. And telling the stories of how we grow food, what worked and what didn't, is at least as important as the directions on any package of seed. Heirloom seeds are our connection to our past. And, to our future of stable, nutritious, beautiful food. I'm so looking forward to seeing the faces of fellow farmers and ranchers! (It is open to the public, too.)

photo by Art is Life Studio

Many wishes of good health, happiness and of course, good food - to all of you - today and always!

Thank you for following my little "life on the farm" blog. And thank you for supporting local food and the places from where it comes.

Eat Your Food - Naturally!