Day 39–Backyard Farming–Can We Grow Our Own?

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My Pheonix-like kale is either a complete anomaly or a sign of hope...

You can’t get any more local or sustainable than growing your own vegetables or raising your own chickens. Some have wondered why I spend so much of my time tracking down local, organic farmers, when I could just grow produce myself. Well, there’s a story behind that, but before I go there, I want to thank someone who has made my blogger soul bloom.

I want to thank Creative Noshing for bestowing the Liebster Award upon my little blog. The Liebster Award is given from bloggers to new bloggers with fewer than 200 followers. What means so much to me is that I love the Creative Noshing blog myself and if you haven’t checked it out, you should! Terrific recipes and wonderful writing. Now I get to share the award with up to 5 other bloggers! A nice way to pass along positive encouragement!

I am in turn selecting the following blogs for the Liebster Blog Award, and I hope you will visit their sites. They are well-written blogs that share great information and have a good sense of humor and style.

Stay Healthy with Samantha

The Lovely Locavore Ladies of Boston

Hillsborough Cheese Company

Congratulations to them and many thanks to Creative Noshing. You made my day!

And now, back to our regularly scheduled program …

In regards to growing my food, I would say I have a black thumb, but I don’t think that is accurate. My yard has a black thumb and I am sticking to that story. I’ve had wonderful gardens in my past–vegetable gardens and herb gardens chock full of heirloom tomatoes, squash, okra and lettuce. My current house, however, exists in some Bermuda Triangle of gardening. I have beautiful, mature oak trees, which provide shade–something humans enjoy more than vegetable plants. On the flip side, the few open spaces I have seem to be real hot spots. And then there are the bunnies. Not sure what it is about Cary, but our wild bunnies proliferate like, well, rabbits. They are really cute, but not so much when they are eating all your broccoli plants.

Despite these challenges, I see a small ray of hope. The kale we planted last fall has come back rather Pheonix-like from its earlier bunny attack and looks lovely. It’s just enough to get me looking at seeds again. Knowing I have a membership to The Produce Box certainly helps take the pressure off having to feed my family from three raised beds of sad little plants. Then again, maybe herbs are a better choice considering my hot, mediterranean-like sunny spots.

The weather is warm(ish), the sun is out, and hope springs eternal…Maybe this year…

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Day 27–What Is Sustainability?

Agriculture

The word “sustainability” is probably this year’s most overused buzzword. It must be the trendy replacement for “green”. Everyone from businesses to teachers are trying to be “sustainable” in what they do and how they do it. Or, at least, they say they are. Who knows what they are doing in practice.

And the same is true for farming and ranching. More farmers are using the “sustainable agriculture” term, but what exactly does that mean? And how will I know if they are really “sustainable” or just using the jargon as a marketing tool? I found myself getting a little muddled on the subject, so I started doing some research to clarify the issues for myself. And here is what I found.

Sustainable agriculture is “farming that provides a secure living for farm families; maintains the natural environment and resources; supports the rural community; and offers respect and fair treatment to all involved, from farm workers to consumers to the animals raised for food.” (www.sustainabletable.org)

While sustainable agriculture includes organic food production, it is a larger philosophy that promotes living wages for farmers and farm workers, healthy environments for humans and animals on the farm, caring for the land so it is not depleted of its richness and fertility, and reducing the carbon foot print of our food by encouraging consumers to buy as local as possible. Unlike the term “organic,” there is no certification for a farmer to be “sustainable.”

So, how do I know if a farmer is using sustainable agricultural practices or not? The Sustainable Table initiative offers loads of resources to help consumers, including lists of questions to ask farmers, produce managers, even grocery store workers. This is a great resource for anyone wanting to learn more about sustainable agriculture. It is offered by the Grace Communications Foundation, a non-profit group dedicated to highlighting the connections between food, water and energy. Here is the link to their question sheets: http://www.sustainabletable.org/shop/questions/ 

Would a farmer lie about being sustainable? I can’t say “no”, but my guess is that the vast majority of farmers will be pretty upfront about how they grow their crops or raise their animals. The questions certainly help since they are very specific. If you get wishy-washy answers or defensive responses, keep moving!

I’m planning to take some of these questions to the farmer’s market tomorrow and see how it goes. I know this information has helped clarify things for me. I hope you find it useful as well!

Day 24–“Wildly Affordable Organic”

English: A hand reaching for organic tomatoes ...

I recently came across a great resource for staying on a budget while eating organic and thought I would share it. Although our goal isn’t specifically to eat “organic,” it is a part of our overall goal to eat sustainably and to reduce our household toxin load, and organic foods are a big part of that.

The resource is a book, website and blog titled “Wildly Affordable Organic” (www.cookforgood.com). Author Linda Watson (of Raleigh!) claims to have the secrets to living on $5 a day or less while eating organic (and vegetarian). In flipping through a borrowed copy of the book, there are some good tips for frugal living and some good tips for eating organic. The vegetarian and vegan recipes online look good enough that I might go ahead and purchase the book.

While the frugal tips are good, eating “organic” and eating “sustainably” are not necessarily the same thing. Buying organic produce does lessen the world’s pesticide load, but buying organic tomatoes from Mexico when you live in Maine does little to alleviate the carbon footprint of your food–especially if you can get minimally treated tomatoes or organic tomatoes locally at a slightly higher price. And are organic tomatoes from another country sustainable if the “farm” is a large agribusiness and laborers are not paid a fair wage? And are “organic” canned beans packaged in a can with a liner that uses BPA really worth the price if you’re getting a packaging toxin along with your healthy beans? You can only imagine the dilemmas swirling around my mind…

At some point, though, you have to stop and actually eat. Philosophical foodway issues aside, this seems like a good reference book for beginners on how to purchase organic foods without breaking your budget and how to make low cost, vegetarian dishes. Check out the website and see for yourself. Any day I can learn a few new tricks is a good day!