Sunday, July 28, 2013

GMO Oranges Not a Good Idea

When my parents came to California from Pennsylvania in the early 1960's, the thing they could not get over was all the Oranges everywhere. When they were growing up, Oranges were a yearly treat in their Christmas stockings, now every day was literally Christmas in Southern California. We had several trees in our front yard and my father's pride and joy was to be able to pick them each day and make his own juice. We lived, in Orange County, so of course we had oranges in our yard.

When I lived in Redlands, this was the view from my window in the winter: spectacular views of snow capped San Bernardino Mountains with blossoming and fruiting citrus groves. I do not know what they did to the citrus out there, but it was some of the best tasting oranges, grapefruits, tangerines, lemons and limes I have EVER eaten, and I have literally been all over the world.

As I networked with citrus farmers in the area for Slow Food Redlands and my program Real Food Empire, I got to know the community well. These were upstanding families, there for generations contributing generously to the local communities. But they were very disheartened, working long hours, making if they were lucky a 10 - 15 thousand dollar per year profit on their crops. Every citrus season, these small independent farmers were madly trying to sell their crops, the oranges literally rolling down the streets of Redlands. Many farmers had turned to creative ideas such as offering on-line ordering, value added products such as marmalade and also working with local school districts to sell directly for school lunch programs. I learned that the orange crates that were sold to grocery store chains for $50.00 by middlemen, such as Sunkist, would only pay the farmer between two and five dollars per crate. Many farmers who had owned farms for generations were forced to sell their land bit by bit to developers in order to simply pay bills.

I heard one farmer at a local farm bureau meeting, his voice cracking as if he were going to cry, complain that the big grocery chains were importing oranges from China, South Africa and South America at cut rate prices with which he could not compete. For him, not only was this his business, it was his identity in the community. The thought that his neighbors would buy cheap oranges from a chain and let him starve was a deep, personal blow. 

The Asian Citrus Psyllid Pest which spreads Huanglongbing, also known as HLB or citrus greening disease  is decimating groves in Florida. The fear of this spreading across the nation caused panic in California growers. 

The Agriculture department was going door to door spraying private home trees, as well as farms where I lived in Redlands. The Organic growers were worried they would loose their certification. It was a mess to say the least, and all due to an industrial agricultural system.

In a recent article in the New York Times, we are hearing about the only solution to this pest and disease plaguing citrus is to "alter the DNA" of Oranges. (Psst that is code for GMO and well, you know how industry hates those letters us pesky citizens do not want to eat if we know about it, shhhhhhh)

 Amy Harmon of the New York Times reports:

"Oranges are not the only crop that might benefit from genetically engineered resistance to diseases for which standard treatments have proven elusive. And advocates of the technology say it could also help provide food for a fast-growing population on a warming planet by endowing crops with more nutrients, or the ability to thrive in drought, or to resist pests. Leading scientific organizations have concluded that shuttling DNA between species carries no intrinsic risk to human health or the environment, and that such alterations can be reliably tested."

Actually, that entire stream of consciousness is patently false, and in my book, something that is false is a lie. 

When you look at the argument, it is like a heroin dealer providing methadone that will harm the liver and kidneys as a treatment for addicts. The dealer is responsible for making the drug available in the first place and then offers another deadly choice as a solution to the problem he created.

The lies of the biotech industry are legendary, they are the same really as  big tobacco, illicit drug and armament dealers. They create the need for their products, and then supply them at great cost in terms of human lives and money. The mantra over and over and over again is that we have 9 billion people to feed on a climate changing world, and only Big Industrial AG has the solution. Brilliant marketing plan, trash the planet and resources, patent the solution, charge the heck for your products and sue anyone who's crops are polluted with the DNA of your supposedly safe and "Biologically Similar" products, and you are set for life in terms of marketing and loyal customer base. Big Ag Biotech even has the Supreme Court on their side.

Industrial AG is responsible for over two thirds of green house gasses, so actually just eating locally grown and produced foods from small local farms could solve climate change, but that would, well, take the arguments away from promoting GMO's now wouldn't it?

Big Agriculture is the problem. The industrial food system is the problem. The pest ravaging US Citrus groves would not have happened had there been a focus on local food systems instead of shipping in produce we do not need (we throw away 40% of what we produce here from farm to store to table) It is shipped here, because it is cheaper for chains, and the price drops hurt our farmers. 

The NYT article goes on the say that the US consumer is "spooked" by GMO's. Well maybe the US consumer actually is an informed consumer. There is no evidence that GMO crops can withstand climate change, there is no evidence that crop yields are better. There IS evidence that GMO crops need more pesticides and herbicides as they mess up the natural biological evolution of both pests and weeds.

I visited a farm in Dixon California, which will be a program soon so stay tuned The Farmer of Eat Well Farms, Nigel Walker, has been farming organically for 30 years. He has been on his property, which is a diverse mixture of row crops, vineyards, orchards, ornamental and culinary herbs and chickens, since 1998. He grows a year round CSA for over 1000 families on a 100 acres, while also supplying for several restaurants in Sacramento and San Francisco. Walker's experience is that by allowing a few weeds here and there, rotating crops and allowing chickens to live and feed on resting fields, he does not have to use even organic pesticides. He does not seem to have the need to spray anything. Why? Because his soil is rich, and his plants are healthy. Bugs, pests and disease do not bother healthy plants.

The consumer educational groups, meaning mom's who want to feed their children safe foods, have been doing a very good job. We the consumers are "spooked" by mixing animals, plant, bacteria genes with petroleum products and herbicide chemicals to create "food." We do understand, and the science is very sound. 

The problem is with a food system that depletes soil, that destroys small family farms for the sake of profit for large grocery store chains, that ships food all over the world, but does not give it to the hungry or poor in their own local geographical area. The solution for this problem is not in the laboratory, it is literally in your own back yard, in your food shed. 

Wicky Up Organic Orange Groves in Woodland, California

The fight for the public consciousness is being fought in very subtle ways. It is creeping in to public media with the sponsorships of big biotech Ag subsidizing Sesame Street and local NPR stations. It is influencing cable news and national newspapers. But we the public have the power, we are the largest lobbying group in the United States. We say NO to lab grown GMO foods, and YES to our local small farms. Big Ag and the Industrial Food System made the problem, but we bought it, we continue to support our addiction to fast cheap food. If we stop supporting this very sick system that has caused a crash of Citrus farming in Florida, we can truly heal our land, our economy, our environment and  ultimately our selves.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The All American Seed Company

As July is the month where we Americans celebrate the birth of our nation, I was trying to find programming that celebrated the uniqueness of, well, being an American. This is especially needed for general morale, as it has been a trying decade and a certain party in the Congress is behaving, well, I will let you choose your own adjective. With war, economic what ever you want to call it, social upheaval, the take over of the Supreme Court and our legislative bodies by destructive corporate interests, I for one needed something to remind me why I love my country so much. I know I do, but, well, it is a bit hard to think of why these days, as visions of paint ball guns dance in my head.

I wanted to focus on the contributions that Africans have brought to America as their experience is quite different from other immigrant groups. I had found this aspect of history in terms of the food movement a bit lacking, as well as being inspired by the Slow Food Leadership Meeting in New Orleans that called for a more inclusive food movement in general. There had to be something out there......

In my search, I found the Landreth Seed Company, that has an African American Heritage Seed Collection.

After talking with the owner Barb Malera, I had the same problem as last week, how to distill the program I envisioned into one segment. The benefit of sponsoring my own program and being the producer means, well, I get to make executive decisions, and this one was that I would make MORE THAN ONE program on the contributions of Africans to our American Table.

I found that Landreth Seed Company from of all places Freedom, PA (near where I was born I would like to add) is one of the oldest continuously running business in the US, let alone oldest purveyors of seed to these fine United States. Established in 1784, it is actually older than our Constitution. Many of the flowers and garden varieties we enjoy today were introduced by Landreth.

According to Malera, who has done extensive research into Landreth and it's influence on the American Garden, Dr. David Landreth penned the first how to garden seed catalogue and reference guide. The year after the information packed catalogue premiered, it had a circulation of 600,000. 

The Landreth Site carries a delightful archive of old catalogues and information dating from 1784

We are talking Smithsonian information here, and what is so delightful, and here it comes, now I am remembering why I love my country so much, the sole purpose of these catalogues was to help Americans be self sufficient, to help one another and, Dr. Landreth was an early advocate of preserving the land for generations to come.

The African American Heritage Seed Collection was a collaboration between Landreth and Michael W. Twitty, blogger and food historian. He will be featured on July 26 on Real Food Empire, so tune in! If you go the the Landreth site, there is a lovely selection of garden varieties available. Malera gives a great overview of this and all the collections at Landreth on the July 19th program.

Landreth Seed Company Owner Barb Malera in her Beloved Garden

I could have talked to Barb all day let me tell you! Us Pennsylvania types are so friendly and chatty, she is a wealth of information and in my estimation a national treasure for her work to keep Landreth up as a premiere heirloom seed source. Rumor has it Landreth may come to the Heirloom Food EXPO in 2014, for now, she and Landreth Seed Company are at most garden shows throughout the East Coast, so check out their website or sign up for their newsletter to see what their calendar looks like.

I LOVE MY COUNTRY! Thanks Landreth for reminding me that we are a nation of great people from all cultures that come together to create a more perfect union. What better way to remember this than in a garden filled with heirloom varieties brought to us by so many cultures?

Edible Landscape Education On Line

The Future of Food with iAgriscape is simply a Click away

The mantra of the biotech industry is that we will have 9 billion people to feed in 25 years and the only way to do this is with heavy machinery and lab grown food. The other issue they like to point out, is that with so many people on the planet, most of them living in cities, there just is no other option than franken foods to feed us all. Most governments and international agencies are bracing for the fact that the majority of the world's people either live in or plan to move into cities, leaving less and less people to farm shrinking viable farmland. With increasing demands of a growing population needing housing, prime farmland is being bulldozed for high rises and their chain grocery superstores.

New York City From Above

I wish I could find it, but I remember seeing a graphic of New York City, one of the most densely populated metropolitan areas in the world. This graphic showed all the porch/deck space, lawn space, roof top spaces and basically any scrap of land that was not paved over space that if these "spaces" had gardens grown on them, the acreage could actually provide produce for the entire city. Wow, that's 8.245 million people according to the last census. The other interesting inference from this graphic was that all this space would provide a truly local, very low carbon foot print, source of fresh fruits and vegetables. 

A Computer Image of what could be possible in Cities with Gardens Everywhere 

The Grow Food Not Lawns Movement is, forgive the redundancy, growing. 

There are a plethora of classes, neighborhood groups, resources but often they are overwhelming and require a great amount of research and gleaning to know what to do exactly for your particular bioregion. Classes can be difficult to attend due to distance, timing or cost. I found this incredible initiative that can meet all of these challenges, the need to create edible gardens in the urban environment and the realities of most peoples lives.

iAgriscape is an innovative program coming out of the Phoenix area of Arizona. 

Edible Urban Garden Design by iAgriscape

If anyone could help design a program for creating edible landscapes with limited resources, it would be Arizona. With little water, searing heat for a large portion of the year, poor soil and a bursting urban environment, all the qualities that actually match most of the world's population, the experts at iAgriscape can really help solve the urban food crisis. 

What is Agriscaping? In short, it is making your landscaping around your home, into agricultural or edible landscaping. Here is a great handout on Agriscaping.: 

The nice looking guy on the handout is probably one of the most enthusiastic and generous entrepreneurs I have ever met. 

Justin Rohner is a consultant and teacher through iAgriscape and my featured guest on the July 18th program (my grandma Dora's birthday I might add, and she was an amazing gardener who made her landscape into Agriscape before there was a term for it) You can listen to the podcast by clicking here:

What is incredible about iAgriscape is that they are creating an online program that is available 24/7 which can be tailored to your bio-region. By putting in your zip code or geographical location, specific ideas and suggestions will be made so you can grow food in your area that will actually grow. The course is absolutely complete with everything from water conservation to design, harvesting to processing of what you are growing. Rohner has collaborated with garden and agricultural experts from across the globe, and their goal is to train enough people to have Agriscape consultants in major population areas around the nation and the globe.

If you sign up for their newsletter, or join as a member you will get all the updates. They are launching a Kickstarter campaign soon, which will have premiums ranging from full training to access the the newly developed online course. Watch their site for details, the blog is really delightful and you can sign up for updates.

iAgriscape is helping people be more healthy and create sustainable businesses for urban dwellers. There is no downside to this program. iAgriscape is the face of the future in city life, and from my perspective it looks really really yummy!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Chefs Boot Camp for Policy and Change

When I first heard about the legislation from Sen Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) to curb the use of antibiotics in healthy farm animals, I started looking around for more information. On Tuesday July 16th's program, I interviewed Laura Rogers from the PEW Charitable Trust regarding that legislation as well as the issues involved in this important project.

I had originally wanted to do just one program on antibiotic abuse in animals, but after talking with Laura and seeing all that was involved in their Saving Antibiotics Campaign, I decided to split the focus over a couple of programs.

Because I am a Food Geek, I zoned into the Super Chefs against Super Bugs campaign through the PEW Trust program. It was fun to watch the videos of Chefs going to Capitol Hill to lobby and testify on behalf of making our food supply safe for future generations. I then learned about an incredible program from the James Beard Foundation.

The PEW had collaborated with the James Beard Foundations newly created initiative called the Chefs Boot Camp for Policy and Change to help the Save Antibiotics campaign.

This unique James Beard Foundation program is a workshop format that focuses on one food policy related issue. Chefs apply and are selected to be part of the camp. During their time together, the chefs receive learning sessions on an issue, such as antibiotic over use in farm animals. After this overview, the boot camp participants are given other sessions designed to give skills on how to lobby and organize for policy change. They have had two camps so far and plan to have two per year, there is such a high demand.

The First Boot Camp Graduates

The program is so successful, they actually have to turn people away months in advance.

JBF Director of Charitable Giving and Strategic Partnerships Kris Moon joined Real Food Empire for an in depth interview on how the Chef's Boot Camp was organized. He  also talked about the many programs at the Beard Foundation open to the public for education on all aspects of food. You can hear the podcast at this link:

You can become a supporting member as well as sign up for their newsletter.

The James Beard House in New York City 

It is truly inspiring to see how the Beard Foundation is working to make our world more delicious, artful and healthy with it's many training programs, public talks and initiatives for what they call "enlightened eating." I can not wait to go to New York City to visit this creative and important site for shaping the future of food!

Saving Antibiotics

The Amount of Antibiotics Used Each Year on Healthy Animals in US Factory Farms 

At first blush, that title seems a bit odd. Saving Antibiotics? What about the Whales, the Manatees, the Redwoods, the California Condor, is there open season on Antibiotics? Well, yes actually, and while it sounds a bit dramatic, it is. When I was a young Naturopathic Medical Student, we were told repeatedly how to do an examination and lab work to confirm that there was a bacterial infection. We had our herbs and nutritional treatments, but we needed to understand what was involved and be ready to refer to a medical doctor for an antibiotic prescription.

Not only have antibiotics been over used in clinical practice, what has really pushed the evolutionary envelope is actually no where near your family doc or pharmacists office. It is in your hamburger or in the cheap meat/dairy/eggs in your fridge. For some reason, Antibiotics make animals grow faster and fatter in very dirty conditions. Antibiotics enable factory farms to produce animals in "icky" environments and not get sick, and this is not only a bad thing for the animals, it is really bad for us humans that either eat the animals, or their eggs or milk products. Even if you are a vegan, you are at risk because the waste from these farms gets into water systems that are not equipped to remove drugs from the supply, so even if there is no "poop" in the water (often there is though) there  ARE drugs that you are taking in on a regular basis, making your body resistant to antibiotics.

CAFO farms which sounds at first like something neat from California, actually stands for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation. I saw the book at the first organizational meeting for Roots of Change in Los Angeles, in October 2010. I suggest you look at it if you need to loose weight, because it will nauseate you and make you swear off animal products. Antibiotics make this grim practice somewhat possible.

Those mounds of Brown are not Dirt

In spite of the tragedy of animal suffering, Antibiotics through this type of farming are making bacteria resistant to drugs. This is a really really really really bad thing.

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) Introduced legislation to address this issue, the Preventing Antibiotic Resistance Act. The Bill did not make it into the Farm Bill as an amendment, but Feinstein and five other Senators thought this issue was important enough to warrant submitting it as separate legislation.

The Pew Charitable Trusts has an initiative that supports this legislation, called the Save Antibiotics Campaign. This is a great Facebook page, if you "like" it you will get all the updates you need with actions and information. There are two branches of this initiative, which the Pew calls Human Health and Industrial Farming. One branch is called Super Moms against Super Bugs where moms are given the tools to organize and educate on behalf of reducing the use of antibiotics in farm animals. The other project from the PEW is the one I find fun and intriguing - Super Chefs against Super Bugs. Each of these projects has their respective citizen lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill. For me watching the Chefs, Celebrity and not famous alike, go to Washington to talk about making our food supply just food and not drugs, was inspiring.

With CAFO farming that is dependent on Antibiotics, we are making our drugs obsolete. This means we may have diseases that we will have no drugs to cure. With the passage of the Preventing Antibiotic Resistance Act (call your Senator and Congress member to day and tell them to co-sponsor or vote yes)

Grass Fed Antibiotic Free Happy Cows

By supporting meat, poultry and dairy producers that are organic or antibiotic free, we can save our drugs for what they are supposed to be used for: sick animals and people. 

You won't want to miss out on the interview with Laura Rogers, the director of this project at the Pew. It is informative and inspiring to see all that Saving Antibiotics is doing to collaborate with our legislators, farmers, moms and chefs to help make our food safe and to preserve our Antibiotics for when we need them.

Laura Rogers from Saving Antibiotics and the PEW Trusts

Friday, July 12, 2013

Eating Clean in the City

According to the American Restaurant Association, Americans eat out four to five times a week. If the American travels for work or has to entertain clients, you can up that number substantially. While other market research says that Americans want to eat more healthy and organically, it is often difficult because we are eating literally in a car, or at a restaurant and often just order something without really knowing there are options.

Now which do you think is more healthy, sustainably sourced and delicious to eat?

While the upper picture of "food" is really easy to find, if you are wanting to know where the food is on the lower picture, help is on the way. 

There is a wonderful initiative developed by Jared Koch, author and nutritional consultant based in New York City. After working for several years with individual clients, Jared found himself having to give recommendations to his clients for places to eat out. He decided to make his efforts into a guide and a phone app.

I really resonate with the mission of Clean Plates, "If you eat, get fed by Clean Plates"

The concept of eating "Clean" is one that many people embrace. It is basically a diet of whole food, avoiding processed and sugar filled items. Clean Plates takes it a step further, researching and giving resources on how to find restaurants that offer everything from Gluten Free to Organic and Vegan. The extra added meaning of "clean" for Clean Plates is that recommendations are also based on restaurants commitment to locally and sustainably sourcing their food. Clean for you, also clean for the planet. Everybody wins with this type of eating.

Check out the website where you can purchase guides for Los Angeles, New York City, cook books, and sign up for a newsletter.

I for one am looking forward to the newer editions which are planned for cities like Austin and San Francisco. Until then, we are grateful for the LA and NYC recommendations!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

How to Buy Chicken

Several years ago, I attended an investors meeting for the Natural Products Industry. The presenters gave a really interesting overview of the market research regarding who exactly was behind the explosion in the organic retail trend. Much to everyones surprise, especially Wall Street,  the people behind the  movement were middle aged, highly educated upper middle class mothers. At that time, in the mid 1990's the increase in the natural and organic market sector was 20 - 50% annually for the preceding 10 years. This was no ponzi scheme, and at that time, no other market had ever had that kind of expansion, not even tech or petroleum. I have always carried with me what I learned at that meeting, and see how these educated moms have completely changed the grocery shopping experience in the USA

Fast forward to now, where current market research states that 90 % of Americans want to eat healthy but are very confused as to how to do this, prompting the research authors to state " there is a great opportunity to educate the public on how to navigate the natural products industry."

A quick trip to any grocery store will give you a myriad of opportunities to be confused. When I was living in Redlands, I got my eggs from a local CSA (I miss those eggs with the thick shells and orange yolks,  let me tell you.) Now I join my fellow citizens in trying to decipher what the heck the labels mean. 


I settled on  Organic and hope to start purchasing from a neighbor here in Napa next week. 

Until then, here is a list from the Humane Society, which by the way is a great resource for all things sustainable when it comes to farm animals :

There is an organization that is trying to remedy this confusion as well as transform our farming here in the US on many fronts, consumer education, industry consulting and legislative advocacy.

I found a wonderful promotion for an App from Farm Forward that can help us all figure out what exactly to buy at the market when we want to make our hard earned dollars count for our health, animal welfare and the health of the planet. The App is a project of  Farm Forward that has been working with various farms, related business interests and the public to educate on the dangers of industrial farming. 

Thursday July 11th, the interview was with  Andrew Decoriolis, Director of Strategic Programs and Engagement of Farm Forward. Farm Forward is an organization that strives to create innovate strategies to promote conscientious food choices, reduce farm animals suffering and advance sustainable agriculture.

I so enjoyed meeting Andrew and hearing about all things sustainable when it comes to livestock farming! You can listen to the interview here:

When it will be launched some time next Summer, Buying Poultry App will help consumers with a click of a smart phone or tablet to be able to see exactly what it is they are buying when it comes to chicken, turkey and eggs. It seems simple, but with this App and the efforts of Farm Forward, the transformation of our food system we so "hunger" for can become a reality. I have always been told, follow the money. Well, if we as consumers are able to put our money literally where our mouth is with simple tools like Buying Poultry, we can transform the way food is grown and produced in our nation. We, after all, give them our money, we actually are the biggest lobby and money interest in the nation at 360 million and counting as citizens of our great United States. We certainly can not depend on our Government to protect us from big corporate interests, but you know what? We buy the stuff and if we create a market demand, the magic of conscious capitalism can take shape.

I tell you, the more I network within the Food Movement, the more excited I get that we as a species are really going to be OK. With the people in charge of safeguarding our food and land, such as Farm Forward and Buying Poultry, there is much to be hopeful about. In spite of great obstacles and attempts of very slick businesses that try to lie and silence us into buying toxic garbage, we are really really going to have a bright and delicious future ahead, and so will the generations to come. Please support Farm Forward, follow Buying Poultry and certainly, if you eat poultry and eggs, get the App when it is ready. Until then, local, local, local and know your farmer. And thank you educated middle class moms, this is really all your doing!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Fantastic Figs

It is the peak of fresh fig season, and I for one am in what the cook book says, "Fig Heaven" The Figs are in the markets and the farmers markets, and while they are great dried and in things, I absolutely love fresh figs!

There are many types of cultivated figs, these are the most common ones you can find in the markets

I am partial to the Mission Figs.  Mission Figs were brought to California in the 16th Century, to the San Diego Mission in fact. California is the largest producer of figs in the USA with most orchards in the Madera area.

Figs are an interesting fruit from a tree that is one of the first cultivated agricultural crops of humanity. All faith traditions have stories about figs. Fig is the most mentioned fruit in the Bible. One of the more amusing signs at the John Stewart/Stephen Colbert March for Fear on Washington several years ago was a great test of your Bible knowledge. Please, know this is just for fun on their part and mine. God actually loves figs as he does all of his creatures.

Rumor has it Jesus and most of his contemporaries actually loved Figs and you will to if you don't already eat them.  

Figs are actually an inside out flower, where in the wild forms, pollinators actually have to go inside the fruit to partake of the nectar and in the case of the wasp, reproduce.

I like to eat my figs fresh, but you can cut them up and put into salads, serve stuffed with cheese, poach them or grill them. They go great with yogurt, ice cream, on a pizza with mozzarella, and there is even an Italian dried fig salami for you vegetarians that would like to have the real thing. The only meat in this baby is nut meat.

The California Fig Commission has more recipes that you could ever eat  and my favorite cook book is Fig Heaven by Marie Simmons

Here are some pictures of how you can eat your figs, have fun, and let me know how you like to eat your figs! Of course dried figs are great as well, and make incredible jams and such, but oh, it is fig season and you have got to try these gems, but know they do not keep long, only two days in the fridge so eat them up fast, or poach in wine with a bit of sugar and a vanilla bean for a quick delicious Summer dessert.