Garden, Plant, Cook!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Greening - Various Tools to Help You Shop and Live Wisely

Dear Folks,

If you have been following me, you are probably already trying to shop at your local farmers markets, do more cooking at home to control your menu ingredients, enhance your family quality time, and experiment with all those cool recipes you see on cooking shows.

To add to your tools and information sources, I tripped across a couple of sites I found helpful.

The Sustainable Table site has a variety of kits (in PDF file form) which can be used as teaching or display tools and for your own family information use.

They also have a kit for the Sustainable Dinner Party which can give you some ideas for Supper Groups.
(I have been thinking off and on of potentially setting up 'secret suppers' -- it would require quite a bit of planning, but is fun to contemplate.  I will let you all know if I get serious!)

Another site to visit for information is the Animal Welfare Institute, which certifies humanely raised livestock farms.  They are dedicated to supporting the small-scale and family farm.

The troubling issues with factory farming continue to, finally, get more and more attention. Even when a farmer wants to do things right if they make the mistake of getting into contracts with large processors -- the real manufacturers when you come down to what you are buying -- they are trapped in unconscionably egregious contracts which leaves them captive to corporate whims or in bankruptcy.

Read what some chicken farmers are up against.

How can you get more control over what you buy?  I have noticed more and more food manufacturers are getting the message.  I just saw an ad for Hunts Ketchup which loudly proclaimed on the label 'no high fructose corn syrup' -- good start!

They are listening. The real challenge to getting healthier and better quality foods is to make sure you are clear about what you want them to offer to you.

I participate in online consumer surveys.  I am troubled when the elimination questions (I don't have the ability to complain about the questions) are frequently aimed at getting the survey participant to use emotions to explain how they purchase something.  That is not to say there are no questions about what do you purchase - recently I had a survey on dairy and cheese and how much was organic, or natural, or other - that was a good one.

One good thing I noticed about the surveys in the last 6 months are the options in prepared goods or shelf-stable foods which offer more environmental, natural, local, family farm options for selections in answering the survey.

So why might that be a problem?  Because those buzz words can be grabbed by food processors to label something which amounts to bait and switch - "So and so's family farm produces only naturally prepared..."

Back in January, 2010 "Tyson Foods Inc. has agreed to settle a lawsuit that accused the poultry giant of falsely claiming its chickens were "raised without antibiotics."

"In 2007, Tyson began advertising and labeling its poultry products as having been "raised without antibiotics." The following year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture ordered Tyson to remove the labels when it found that the company had injected its chickens with antibiotics before they hatched. Tyson argued the labels were accurate because chickens aren't "raised" until after they're born."

So how do you like that corporate logic?

Isn't that enough to make you want to scream at them!  The quote attributed to Voltaire goes something like "If you wish to converse with me, define your terms."  Don't you wish we could tell corporate food producers they need to define their terms so we know what they are really saying?

What is a consumer to do?  You need to know your suppliers like your grandparents did, your local farmers, meat producers, egg sellers, and cheese makers.

Some of the material on the sustainable table site are sheets of questions to ask sellers of food.

Oh, and on the subject of organic - organic picked green and shipped hundreds or thousands of miles is not a whole lot better for you than "somewhat" regional and non-organic.

Organic and natural are two words used at your local farmers market.  Here is what THEY mean:

Organic means it was grown locally in a USDA certified program, picked local and sold local.

Natural for most of our local small-scale farmers means they grew the foods or produced the foods in much the same way as organic producers but without going through the expense of official certification.

Our farmers market vendors and farmers are happy to tell you all about their foods and origins - they are proud of their products.  Ask them questions.

There is now a "Certified Naturally Grown" label for small-scale farmers and food producers. Check them out at:

What is a natural flavor or anything proclaimed natural?

The term natural flavor or natural flavoring means the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or flavoring rather than nutritional...
When a company says it is selling you something based on what they KNOW you want, but if it is in-fact selling you a substitute or inferior product isn’t that bait and switch?
The manufacturers of Splenda were sued for claiming their product is sugar.  It is not and they had to concede that or face losing the lawsuit.
When the high fructose corn syrup producers revved up their protectionist marketing campaign to tell us that it was our own over-eating that was the problem and not their product, they left out the science which shows that consuming foods containing HFCS does not trigger the “you are full” chemical leptin.  And their throw-away tag line “in moderation” is a slap in the face when you look at the sheer volume of foods manufactured with HFCS -- how do you moderate eating something that is in almost every processed or manufactured food and which has no eating cut off command?

Oh, and the FDA does not object to the corn syrup producers calling HFCS ‘natural’ - natural hmm, - HFCS has been found to be toxic to honey bees fed it.  (In cold winter areas bee keepers feed their bees sugar water or even honey to help sustain them through the cold time.)
See my blog on sweeteners:
I have also been concerned about the very useful plant-based Stevia being ‘hijacked’ by the corporate giants.
In looking at labels on packages of some of the newest offerings purporting to be Stevia, most are a combination of stevia and sugar alcohols -- the sugar alcohols being used to add baking capabilities and additional taste.  Not necessarily a bad thing although some people are allergic to some sugar alcohols like sorbitol (I for one am).
What bothers me is when one of the big giants (or two) get into the act and make some part of it proprietary with the disclaimer "trade secret."  Truvia is a partnership of Cargill and Coca Cola, and they have stevia and sugar alcohol listed on their ingredients.  And then they say “natural flavors” but won’t tell you what they are - it is a trade secret.
Remember HFCS can call itself natural. Splenda tried to call itself something it wasn’t.
Bottom line - if you can’t tell what the ingredients really are and you don’t know enough about the company's history in truthful advertising, back away.

AND don't forget about growing some of your own food, raising a couple of chickens for eggs, or even consider having a dairy goat or two (you need to know your areas zoning limitations).

You may wish to join the Phoenix Permaculture Guild forum  - they have groups on different subjects. I am a member of the micro-livestock group and soil culture group.  Nice people, made up of newbies, getting there, experts - who still learn - and all are very helpful with answering questions.

If you have an interest in my books, the publishing site is still offering free shipping on orders totaling 19.95 shipped to USA addresses.

And for you Mac iPad, iPod and iPhone users my Edible Landscaping in the Desert Southwest is now available through iBook.

Have a great weekend,

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Sunflowers! Companions, Nutrition, Sustainable, Fun!

 Dear Folks,

I love sunflowers!

From the wild ones which crop up beside highways and country roads, and even our garden, to the colorful hybrids including the dainty lemon yellow, through the multicolor ranging through oranges and burgundy to the mammoth huge varieties, they all have delighted me for years.

Sunflowers have also been occasional companions for the traditional Native American's three-sisters companion planting, as a 'fourth-sister'.

I've written a long article with a chart on various combinations of the three sisters (also known as a Monsoon Garden) sustainable gardening/farming practice at my newsletter site.

Click here to go to the PDF file.   You can also go to the newsletter site by clicking here.  The three sisters article is under "files".

Here is a brief summary.  The original threes sisters are corn, beans, and squash.  In arid areas where both food and water were precious commodities, the practice of growing 3 complimentary plants (and nutrients) together maximized water use and made caring for the plants easier.   The fact that corn and beans together makes a complete protein and squash provided additional vitamins, minerals and fiber all worked to give the people a very healthy diet.  The soil also benefited because while corn is a heavy feeder, beans put nitrogen back into the soil and the squash covering the ground minimized evaporation and weeds.

Sunflowers as I now know are more edible than previously thought, are a fun option to plant along with sugar peas - one of my favorite 'never-makes-it-into-the-house' garden buffet snacks - and cucumbers.

Read the article for more information and tips.

I'm ready to start sauteeing the large sunflower discs/heads for a fun time in the kitchen!

If you can view video on your computer, you must check out this how to video on braising sunflower heads:

A note for Mac enthusiasts and iPad owners!!!  My "Edible Landscaping in the Desert Southwest: Wheelbarrow to Plate" is now available through the iBookstore app.

Around The Garden.
I just harvested all of my garlic and it is drying now.  I will have some for sale at the farmers market tomorrow.  We cut one of the banana fruit clusters to hang and finish ripening.  I am giving sugarcane a try, and the first sections are starting to sprout.

Bananas, lemon grass, and sugarcane (and palm trees) all a kind grass -- really big grass, so they do need regular watering to maintain them.

DID YOU KNOW fact...the California Fan Palm tree (aka Arizona Fan Palm, Desert Fan Palm, Cotton Fan Palm), Washingtonia filifera is the only native palm tree in the desert USA?  The fruit can be eaten raw, cooked or ground into flour as the Native Americans did.  The tree can live 80 to 250 years!!!

Keep that in the back of your mind when someone tells you palm trees are not native to Arizona.

See more information on this Arizona Native at wikipedia - click here.

July Gardening 
Fall planting season begins July 15th for all seeds of fall edibles.  Get your garden plans together for this heavy sowing time from July 15 through August 15th.  Why???  If you consider that you want pumpkins for instance you need to count backwards from Halloween or Thanksgiving 90 to 120 days.

Have a great weekend, stay hydrated, and support your local businesses and farmers markets,

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady