Here are a few articles written by Annette; very basic stuff, here by popular demand.
Jim has a great blog, ShooFlyFarmBlog (one word!) on Wordpess, click here!
What is Organic?
What is Sustainability?
Why Buy Local?
Reprinted with permission, from the Redland Country News, September 2004
I'M GLAD YOU ASKED!
By Annette Zimmerman Wells
(Now Annette Waya Ewing)
Q: ORGANIC is such a buzzword these days; I'm not even sure what it means. Can you give me a clear definition?
A: I'll try. The "Organic" you are referring to specifically applies to products of agriculture. Organic food is produced without the use of genetic engineering, irradiation, sewage sludge, unprocessed manure, hormones, antibiotics, and most synthetic and petroleum-based chemicals. Generally, organic growers cycle resources, and work to conserve biodiversity, sustainability and ecological balance. This is mostly true of ‘small’ farmers. Larger organic ‘factory farming’ operations grow without pesticides, and often disregard other aspects of sustainability, such as supporting their local economy, conserving biodiversity and fossil fuels.
In 1990 the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) was passed by Congress to provide national standards, for the protection of consumers. In accordance with the Act, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) assembled the National Organic Standards Board . (NOSB) The NOSB created the National Organic Program (NOP), which is part of the marketing arm of the USDA. The NOP developed very specific national organic standards and the national accreditation program for producers.
For most consumers, though, "Organic" simply means without synthetic pesticides.
Q: How does a grower obtain USDA ORGANIC certification?
A: A grower applies for certification from an accredited certifying agency. Florida-based Quality Certification Services was one of the first certifying bodies to be accredited by the USDA. Growers who wish to obtain USDA Organic certification must submit an application packet with a detailed plan of operation and comprehensive documentation as proof of compliance with the NOP guidelines. The application is reviewed by Certification Coordinators, and an Independent Organic Inspector is sent to inspect the farm or facility. The report is reviewed by the Certification Coordinators, and a decision is reached. According to QCS, the entire certification process takes 6-12 weeks.
Q: Are there exceptions to organic certification for growers?
A: Yes. If you sell less than $5000.00 in produce per year, and adhere to guidelines set forth by the NOP, you may sell the produce as "Organic", but may not use the USDA Organic label. You are subject to the same inspection and enforcement rules as certified growers, and must produce specific documentation upon request. In addition, your produce cannot be sold by anyone else as "Organic".
Q: The growers, handlers and processors of Organic foods are subject to USDA regulations, but how are they enforced?
A: Anyone selling organic produce directly or through a distributor that has not followed the NOP guidelines is subject to civil penalties of up to $10,000 per infraction. If the producer in question is already certified, certification can be suspended or revoked.
Q: Why is organic more expensive than conventionally grown produce? Shouldn't it be cheaper, if less chemicals are used?
A: Organic farming is more labor intensive, and the risk of crop loss is higher than with conventional methods.
Q: I'm starting a veggie garden and have bought "Organic Topsoil", a bag of "Organic Fertilizer", and plan to use natural pesticides. Am I an organic gardener?
A: Probably not. "Organic" in the topsoil labeling refers to the presence of organic matter in the soil. "Organic" in the fertilizer labeling simply refers to the chemical presence of carbon/nitrogen organic compounds in the mixture, and are usually synthetic ingredients. This is confusing, but not deliberate mislabeling. To be sure, look for gardening materials that carry an “NOP Compliant” and/or OMRI seal.
Q: I've heard that some produce has a lot more pesticide residue than others, is this just hype put out by organic growers?
A: Sorry, it's not hype. The Food and Drug Administration monitors all commonly consumed produce. According to analysis of their test samplings, the fruits and veggies likely to have high levels of multiple pesticides, fungicides and/or other potentially harmful chemicals are: Apples, pears, peaches, nectarines, imported grapes, red raspberries, strawberries, cherries, celery, spinach, bell peppers, winter squash and imported cantaloupe.
Q: Ok, is there a list of foods that consistently tested low in pesticide residues?
A: Yes indeed! Avocados, mangoes, bananas, papaya, pineapples, onions, peas, broccoli, cauliflower, corn, kiwi and onions.
Q: I've heard that imported produce sometimes has many times the allowable limits of pesticide residues, is that true?
A: No, it is generally considered as safe as produce grown in the U.S. However, only a comparatively small sampling of imported produce is tested. Analysis of the FDA statistics has been inconclusive. We still manufacture and export many pesticides banned for use in the U.S. Before purchasing imported produce, you might also consider that buying imported produce doesn't support your local or national economy and growers...but that's another column!
Q: Doesn't washing produce get rid of pesticide residues?
A: Washing with mild soapy water removes some chemicals, but not those designed to withstand rainy conditions in the fields, and some are absorbed internally by the plant. (All produce should be washed before eating, even what you grow and pick yourself.)
Q: Is a product labeled "All Natural" the same as organic?
A: No, "All Natural" is an unregulated term. After all, "natural" doesn't always mean harmless---bacterial food contaminants such as Salmonella and E. Coli are completely natural!
Q: I bought a carton of eggs that has the words, "Free Roaming Hens" and "Hormone-Free" on it, is it organic?
A: Most likely, the eggs inside are true to their labeling. The USDA is strict about truthfulness in labeling claims, but only on those terms it has defined. Unless you see a USDA Organic seal on it, the eggs are not certified organic.
Q: Is my shampoo really Organic?
A: NOP regulations require processed products to contain a minimum of 70% certified organic ingredients to carry the "Made with Organic Ingredients" label. Otherwise, organic ingredients may be specified individually on the ingredients list.
Q: Is it worth it to buy Organic?
A: That's a personal decision, and complicated by the fact that consumers, in effect, 'vote' with their dollars. Here are a few websites that may help you make an informed decision:
Environmental Working Group, http://www.ewg.org U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Organic Program: www.ams.usda.gov/nop/
FDA Pesticide/Residue Monitoring: www.cfsan.fda.gov/list.html/
Quality Certification Services: www.qcsinfo.org
Organic Materials Review Institute: www.omri.org
Consumers Union: www.consumerreports.org
Center for Science in the Public Interest: www.cspinet.orgt.
Another Reprinted REDLAND COUNTRY NEWS ARTICLE, March 2005
I'M GLAD YOU ASKED! By Annette Zimmerman Wells (Now Annette Waya Ewing...)
Q: What does sustainability mean? I hear it used in all sorts of contexts…
A: Oh, no, yet another buzzword! This is an important one, and worth spending a few minutes to define.
Sustainability is the [emerging] doctrine that economic growth and development must take place, and be maintained over time, within the limits set by ecology in the broadest sense--by the interrelations of human beings and their works, and the biosphere...It follows that environmental protection and economic development are complementary rather than antagonistic processes. -
William D. Ruckelshaus - Scientific American, September 1989
Building a sustainable system entails acting in accord with an objective understanding of the interconnections between environmental, social and economic needs, the practices of living within present means and distributing resources and opportunities equitably, in order to preserve and enhance quality of (all) life for future generations.
Within that basic framework, the term takes on variations according to the context in which it is used—most often sustainability is used to describe responsible ways of development (building), and administering communities, business and production, and agriculture.
Q: That sounds like a good idea, is it being instituted ?
A: A little, this common-sense trend is catching on, as sustainable practices provide for long-range fiscal health rather than shortsighted exploitive profit making. (Think Enron.) Florida has a statute, (403.7049) which requires local governments to use Full Cost Accounting (FCA) in various operations, such as waste management, and the Governor’s Commission for a Sustainable South Florida recommends its use in Everglades restoration project planning. FCA is the process of decision-making based on weighing the pros-and-cons of the options presented for all interests involved.. The success of the process depends on the accuracy and objectivity of the information presented to the decision-makers. For instance, if a study to determine whether the Urban Development Boundary should be eradicated to accommodate urban sprawl is weighted with people who stand to profit from development, clearly the process is a sham.
NOTE: In Mississippi, where I now live, there is the 20/20 Netowrk, dedicated to making Mississippi the first sustainable state in the South. http://www.mississippi2020.org/
Q: What does sustainability mean in terms of the growth issues we face in southern Miami Dade County? (Or in other areas of the country threatened by urban sprawl--which is every city where emphasis is not on infill.
A: It’s the key concept in creating a compromise between total exploitation/depletion of land and resources, which would benefit developers most—and preserving the only green spaces left in Miami Dade County, which would have broader and longer term benefits for the entire community.
Q: What does sustainability mean in terms of agriculture?
A: According to Dick Levins, of the Land Stewardship Program, ...farmers in sustainable agriculture are concerned about feeding their families and paying their bills, but those are not their only goals in life. They set out to protect the land, improve their quality of life, and enhance the communities in which they live. Their day-to-day decisions are not guided by a single minded search for profit, but by a delicate balancing act among many goals. --from “Monitoring Sustainable Agriculture with Conventional Financial Data”
South Florida(and Mississippi) produces billions in agricultural products and services yearly, and employment for tens of thousands. However, this is changing, with the steady disappearance of all but the huge factory farms.
75% of the fruits, vegetable and dairy products produced in the U.S. are in urban edge areas, threatened by sprawling development. The U.S. loses over a million acres of farmland yearly. Preserving agriculture means helping the U.S. maintain food self-sufficiency.
Do we really want to depend on foreign countries for our food?
Q: What can I do to promote sustainability in my community and help to assure quality of life for my kids and grandkids?
A: There are many things that you can do that will really make a difference. Here are a few:
1. Shop locally, buy locally—patronize to local shopsinstead of the ‘big boxes’. This helps to preserve downtown, keeps your money circulating within your community, and saves gas. Buy goods made in USA, if you can find any!
2. Eat locally produced fruits and veggies, of course! The average veggie in the supermarket has traveled 1300 miles and gone through several distributors—no wonder they don’t compare to our home-grown produce. You can eat well, support your neighbors, help the environment, and save fuel at the same time!
3. Use native plants for your landscaping—they create habitat for critters that help keep the ecosystems in balance, they also save water and need less fertilizer and/or pesticides to thrive.
4. Support your local organic farmers, they help to conserve the soil, and the runoff from their farms never pollutes.
5. Continue to comply with local recycling laws, also recycle your batteries, cell phones, electronic printer cartridges, TV’s and so on.
6. Think twice about purchasing items such as party goods and decorations that are designed to be used once, then tossed. Maybe we don’t need so much stuff...the average American consumes what 30 affluent (East)Indians do!
7. Promote biodiversity by growing heirloom veggies in your garden and saving the seeds. By varying the gene pool, resistance to pests and disease is fostered.
8. Ask questions! Become an informed, active participant in the decision-making processes in your community. Let your legislators know your concerns. Do what you can to keep money and other resources (human!) circulating in your community.
9. Be mindful that everything that goes down the drain or onto the ground winds up in our groundwater. Cut back on chemical cleaners, get that oil leak fixed, use biodegradable laundry and dish detergent, and wash your car only when you can no longer tell what color it is.
10. Be energy smart. Use florescent bulbs. Buy appliances with an “Energy Star” rating. Piloting a giant SUV to work downtown every day (alone) is a bit like lighting a cigarette with a blowtorch. It’s assertive, effective, and flashy, but clearly wasteful and more potentially harmful than a match!
11. Consider the effects of every action you take on 7 generations to come.
12. Read the Earth Day Wendell Berry quotation, then act on it wherever possible.
Q: Where can I find more information on sustainability?
A: Here are a few websites to get you started:
American Farmland Trust: http://www.farmland.com,
Alliance for Sustainability: http://allianceforsustainability.net
Alliance for Global Sustainability: http://globalsustainability.org
The Earth Charter http://www.earthcharterusa.org
Sustainability Institute: http://www.sustainabilityinstitute.org
Why buy local produce? FAQ
By Annette Waya Ewing
A personal benefit of eating local fruits and vegetables is getting more nutrition per bite of food. Fresh-picked produce has a higher vitamin content than the well-traveled sort. The average veggie in the grocery store travels over a thousand miles and may be several weeks old by the time it lands on your plate.
Less pesticides and fungicides...small farms generally do not use as many chemicals as factory farms. Fungicides and preservatives are often used in the packing of produce, if not on the produce itself.
Local produce usually tastes better too, because it doesn't have to be picked before it's ripe. Local growers are more concerned with taste. Shipped tomatoes, for example, are bred to survive rough packing, travel and storage--we all know what they have lost in palatability.
I saw sign in the back window of a pick-up truck last month that read, "Support your local farmers--no farms--no food!"
This is a simple truth. Over a million acres of American farmland is lost every year to urban sprawl. Over 75% of our remaining farmlands lie in threatened urban-edge areas.
Do we really want to have to rely on foreign countries for our food supply?
Another consideration: 5 calories of strawberry from across the country uses up over 400 calories of fuel getting here. Unless you drive a long way out of your way to purchase 'local' produce, you will be helping to cut fossil fuel consumption and pollution.
The good news is that you, as a consumer, are more powerful than you might think. When you buy 'local', your money stays in your community. If each of us puts locally grown foods on the menu each week, it adds up to substantial support for the economic, environmental, physical, and future health of our area. (And by extension, the nation, and world.)
Ok, I'm convinced that we all benefit from consuming local produce! Where are some places to buy it?
Most large supermarket chains do not support local growers in a substantive way. They generally buy enough produce to stock all of their regional outlets from a single distribution point. This means non-'mega-farming' operations must find other outlets for their harvests. Large health-food grocers, such as Wild Oats and Whole Foods follow the same buying model as supermarkets, with occasional exceptions.
To locate local producers check this site out:
Local Harvest: http://www.localharvest.org/
the Agricultural Marketing Service of the USDA:
Farmers Market.com http://farmersmarket.com/
It started last year. I was curious about the bright, multi-hued jars of preserved veggies lined up above the produce bins in the Rainbow Food Co-op in Jackson. So I tried one, a sauerkraut with hot peppers. Jim and I were both surprised at how delicious it was, not mushy or malodorous! 'Nothing like the store bought, pasteurized (dead) kind. Then we tried the beets, and many other versions of lacto-fermented veggies, all yummy and addictive. We eat it as a small side dish with dinner every night, much like the Koreans do with Kim Chee.
Then I read how Dr. Weil makes his own sauerkraut. He extolled its ease and virtues. Kim Chee, a close cousin (lacto-fermented) of sauerkraut, was recently studied as a cure for Avian Flu--and found to be effective, in birds, no human studies yet!
"Fermenting does some of the digestive work for you, so it makes a lot of foods more digestible and the nutrients in them more bioavailable," says Dr. Weil. So unlike other methods of preserving foods, lacto-fermentation actually increases nutritional value.
Sauerkraut is a perfect alternative source of acidophilous and other friendly micro-flora, for those who prefer not to eat yoghurt. (Vegans in particular.) These flora aid digestion, boost the immune system, and help to keep your digestive system balanced and detoxified.
Sauerkraut fed the workers who built the great wall of China over 2000 years ago. The Mongolians, whom they were trying to keep out, stole the recipe and took it to Europe with them, where it has nourished people through famines, and kept sailors from getting scurvy on long voyages.
Shadow eyes our kraut set-up warily.
Now I am doing my small part to keep this great legacy alive. This morning I unpacked by kraut/pickle maker (pictured above) and filled it with a mix of veggies from our prolific winter garden; red and white cabbage, carrots, onions, hot peppers(dried), kale, collards, grated fresh ginger and turmeric roots, sea salt and some "live" sauerkraut juice to use as a starter. Now it is bubbling away in a cool, dark cupboard. I'll let you know how it tastes in a few days!
That was nearly 2 years ago...since then we have been making sauerkraut/kim chee every few months, with great success. We are still eating it with one or two meals each day. It goes really well with about every thing except french toast, and is particularly good on mixed braised greens.
Where to find the fermenter we use: http://store.therawdiet.com/pisaandkimch.htmlWe have ordered one for ourselves and several as gifts and are happy with the service and product.
Huge range of fermenters at good prices:
This is a good place to start as it has great photos of different fermenting systems, some history and a lot of useful information. It has a system similar to what we have used for a few bucks less. We have never ordered from this site.
Dr. Weil uses the Harsch crocks, which are authentic, and the best of the best--if you can afford them. They are a slow process (weeks) rather than the fast process we use. There seems to be no difference in taste and quality. Rainbow whole Foods uses the Harsch crocks.
RECIPES and More Links:
Dr. Weil gives a basic one in his article on Sauerkraut and it shows the Harsch crock:
I use the sea salt proportion Dr Weil recommends, then add any veggie combination that appeals to me. I always add fresh grated ginger and fresh grated turmeric if available. I go easy on garlic, as it the process makes its flavor stronger. You don't have to use a starter, but I do. Yoghurt whey, miso, kraut juice, or a capsule or two (half teaspoon) of a probiotic culture is fine. We use a broad spectrum probiotic-All Flora by New Chapter, and some miso, but any active probiotic is fine. Cabbage naturally has lactobacillus, so it will 'kraut' on its own, but more slowly.
The Wild Fermentation Site, lots of info and recipes, by the people who wrote the popular "The Wild Fermentaion" book. :http://www.wildfermentation.com/
I think that is enough to get you started. (Pun Intended!)
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