Thursday, November 27, 2008

A new label to look for?

The goal of the USDA Organic Final Rule was to create a consistent organic standard that the consumer could understand and rely on. With the implementation of the Final Rule in 2000, if a product was labeled USDA Organic it had a definable meaning.
What the USDA Organic standards does not do, what it cannot do, is support local farmers. By its very nature the USDA certification standards make it nearly impossible for small farmers to participate in the organic certification procedures. For many farms, like Colchester Farm where I interned this summer, the cost of the USDA organic certification is simply too high. In order to be organically certified Colchester would have had to hire an additional staff member in order to maintain the rigid documentation that the Final Rule requires. Instead Colchester used the label "pesticide-free" despite the fact that they use organic growing practices. For some consumers the "pesticide-free" label is enough, but for die hard organic shoppers this ruled out purchasing food grown at Colchester, organic growing practices or not.

Certified Naturally Grown is a new label that focuses on the small farmer. In fact Certified Naturally Grown attempts to uphold even more stringent ideals than the Final Rule. According to their website:
We have used the USDA National Organic Program Final Rule as the basis for CNG's Certification Standards. Our farmers must also conform to the USDA's National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances.

However, Certified Naturally Grown is not in any way affiliated with or accredited by the USDA National Organic Program.

Sustainable agriculture doesn't start and stop with a commitment to allowable and non-allowable materials and practices. Certified Naturally Grown farmers reflect a commitment to work within the natural biological cycles that are necessary for a truly sustainable farming system - a system that works in harmony with the micro-organisms, soil flora and fauna, plants and animals, to maintain and increase the long-term fertility of soil, leaving it even more vibrant and alive for the next generation of farmers.

Currently there are less than a thousand farms holding the Certified Naturally Grown Certification. I am not sure that this grassroots certification will take hold, but it has its heart in the right place. I would like is see this logo become recognizable to consumers. The transparency of the organization is admirable and its commitment to sustainability ideals rather than just low input farming distinguishes it from the USDA's organic standards.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Welcome to the World of Fair Trade

Eating locally makes sense for most things. However, there are specialty goods grown for export which cannot be grown locally like coffee. If you are like me you can't give up your morning cup of joe. So, when making decisions about what coffee to buy remember that while organic growing practices are important there is an additional label to look for, Fair Trade Certified. Fair Trade Certification is important because it supports more than just good growing practices, it supports family farms.

According to
Fair Trade Certified products combine a fair price for farming families with rigid environmental standards. This means that Fair Trade Certified products are some of the most sustainable on the market, while simultaneously raising the standard of living for millions of people around the world. Buying Fair Trade Certified products gives farmers a chance to sell their goods at a fair price, which means they can cover their costs, support their families and invest in a better future.

Buying Fair Trade Certified goods is another way to support small farms even if they are not local. In addition to Fair Trade Certified coffee, tea, sugar, herbs and other products are available.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Veggies...what are they good for?

Just like Boxes #1, 2, and 3, Box #4 contained leeks, but that wasn't all. This week we also had a HUGE head of bok choy. Bok choy is a green that I have just started experimenting with in the last year. Tonight I made it with scallions from the CSA box and the last of the frozen chicken. I have decided to make the transition to vegetarianism, but while I am learning about this dietary choice I am also emptying the freezer.

Asian Braised Chicken with Greens

Adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Simple Suppers: Fresh Ideas for the Weeknight Table (p. 160)

  • 1 1/2 cups brown rice
  • 2 tablespoons teriyaki sauce
  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons grated peeled ginger root
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
  • 6 scallions
  • 1 head of bok choy (about 1 1/2 lbs)
  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • pinch of salt
  • sesame seeds
Cook the rice.

Meanwhile, in a bowl, combine the teryiaki sauce, brown sugar, vinegar, ginger, sesame seeds and garlic. Set aside. Cut the scallions on the diagonal into 1-inch pieces. Cut the bok choy on the diagonal into 1/2 inch slices (about 8 cups). Cut the chicken into bite-sized chunks.

In a large skillet on high heat, stir-fry the scallions in the oil for 1 minute. Add the bok choy and salt. Stir constantly until the greens are just tender but still crisp, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and cover to keep warm.

Add the sauce mixture to the skillet and bring to a simmer. Add the chicken. Cook about 10 minutes on medium heat, stirring occasional.

Serve the chicken on a bed of rice. Top with bok choy.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Planning a non-traditional holiday menu

Recently I have been scouring the shelves at work looking for holiday meal ideas. This Thanksgiving will be the second time that I have hosted an orphan vegetarian Thanksgiving dinner. I have invited all of my friends who do not have family in town to join me for dinner.

Our menu may be a little on the non-traditional side. There won’t be any turkeys at my house, but I hope it will be delicious. Planning the menu can be difficult because like all people, vegetarians come in many shapes and sizes with many ideas about what is the "right" way to eat. Gary Null defines the different kinds of vegetarians in his book
The Vegetarian Handbook: Eating right for Total Health :

  • Total vegetarians thrive solely on plant foods. They eat not only vegetables, but fruits, nuts, seeds, grains and legumes as well. This regime omits all animal foods, including meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products, and honey.
  • Vegans have an absolute commitment to vegetarianism, abstaining not only from all animal foods and dairy products, but also from using any products derived from animals, such as leather or even wool or silk.
  • Lacto-vegetarians include milk and milk products in their diet in addition to vegetable foods.
  • Lacto-ovo-vegetarians consume eggs along with milk products and vegetables.
  • Pesco-vegetarians allow fish in their diets. Prime example: the hundreds of millions of Asians who live on the staples of rice, fish and vegetables.
  • Pollo-vegetarians eat poultry (chicken, duck, game, birds) while still omitting red meat. (p. 4)

Though there are numerous dietary restrictions to take into account, it looks like the menu this Thanksgiving will include:

Cheese, Veggies & Crackers with Dill Dip

Leek Salsa & Chips

Winter Squash and Red Lentil Stew atop Couscous

Jalepeno Muffins

Pumpkin Pie

Friday, November 14, 2008

Dirt, it's what's for dinner...

As part of the preparation for my spring vegetable garden I picked up a free soil sample kit from my County Extension Office. According to the County Extension Office:

A soil test is the only way to determine lime and fertilizer requirements for your vegetable garden or lawn.

Because the sample must be completely dry before it is sent out for analysis, I set my sample out to dry for a few days. When I realized that the weather report was calling for scattered showers I decided to bring the dirt inside. I put my pan of dirt in the oven. I was thinking that at least it was out of the way.

My boyfriend and I were going to have tempeh ratatouille for dinner, so I called home and asked him if he would preheat the oven for me. Without even thinking to warn him about the pan of dirt, I told him to turn the oven on to 500 degrees. When I walked in the door after work something smelled a little funny. We had cooked the dirt!

Needless to say I think I have to start the sampling process again.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Bin Composting

One of the most easiest ways to add organic material to your soil without bringing in outside inputs is by composting your yard clippings and kitchen waste. Composting isn't just good for your soil, according to Harmonious Technologies in the book Backyard Composting:
Composting at home reduces your personal volume of trash, conserves water, increases plant growth, replaces the need for harsh chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and is also fun (p.5).
Backyard composting can be an inexpensive way to contribute to the health of your own backyard while at the same time reducing your ecological footprint, and it can be done for almost nothing. To build my bin composter I went on and found some free pallets. I then wired the pallets together to create the bin that will house my compost pile while it turns from kitchen scraps and yard waste into humus rich soil.

Backyard Composting provides several "recipes" for composting, all of which combine brown materials such as leaves and green materials like kitchen scraps. I am using recipe #2 in my composter:

3 parts Dry Leaves
1 part Fresh Garden Weeds
1 part Fresh Grass Clippings
1 part Food Scraps (p. 35)

My backyard does not have a lot trees, so I had to enlist the help of neighbors to procure extra leaves and lawn trimmings. Kitchen scraps, my green material, are much easier to come by. My coffee grounds, banana peels and other organic waste can now be food for my garden rather than being sent to a landfill where the nutrients will be lost rather than added back into the land. Composting allows me to practice good land stewardship on a personal scale.

Starting my compost pile now keeps me working on my garden even though we are in the off season. If everything turns out right, the compost will make great fertilizer and potting soil in the spring.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Veggies...what are they good for?

When I was the farmer I didn't have a lot of sympathy for the members when they complained about receiving the same vegetables over and over again. Now that I am on the receiving end of a CSA box I find myself thinking, "Leeks? Again?"

One thing I will say is that while having assigned vegetables makes cooking more challenging, it is in ways more fun. Now I have parameters to my cooking. This week's box contained head lettuce, radishes, leeks, pecans and fresh herbs. That meant that I had to think of another way to prepare leeks.

Leek Salsa

Adapted from The Practical Produce Cookbook's Onion Salsa (p. 148)
  • 8 cups peeled, cored and chopped tomatoes [canned Colchester Farm tomatoes]
  • 5 cups chopped leeks [Oakley Laurel Farm CSA Box # 3]
  • 1 seeded and chopped green pepper [Oakley Laurel Farm CSA Box #3]
  • 1 seeded and chopped yellow pepper [Tidal Creek organic produce department]
  • 2 tbsp jalapeno peppers with juice [Harris Teeter]
  • 1/4 cup minced cilantro [Tidal Creek organic produce department]
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced [Colchester Farm]
  • 3/4 cup vinegar [Harris Teeter white vinegar]
  • 6 drops hot pepper sauce [Tabasco]

Combine all ingredients in a large kettle. Bring mixture to a boil; reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Ladle salsa in jars.

Saturday, November 8, 2008


Everywhere I turn there are apples. I know a few weeks ago I was complaining about the price of apples (they seem to cost as much as a candy bar), but now I am hooked! The produce department at Tidal Creek stocks many different varieties. I had no idea there were so many. Honey crisps, Pink Ladies, Galas, Fujis, the list goes on and on. How is a girl to choose?

According to the World's Healthiest Foods website,, I shouldn't have to. Low in calories (around 80 per apple) and high in fiber (approx. 4 grams per apple), there is not much here that you could feel bad about snacking on, which means I can have as many as I want! Though WHF does point out :
Most of the apple's fiber is contained in its skin, as is the majority of its quercitin. Unfortunately, in conventionally grown apples, the apple skin is also the part most likely to contain pesticide residues and may have toxic residues if covered in petroleum-based waxes. Since peeling results in the loss of apples' flavonoids and most of its valuable fiber, choose organically grown apples whenever possible.
Luckily, all of the apples that are stocked in the produce department at the co-op are organic, so I don't have to worry when I bite into one. This morning we received a shipment of local Liberty Apples. I had one with lunch today and it was so juicy I should have had a bib!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Making a Plan

As I anxiously await the 2009 seed catalogs, I have begun laying out this spring's garden plan. I am excited to see what growing food on an individual scale will entail. Deciding what we will eat over the course of the season and the year is more difficult than I thought it would be.

Last spring ,when I left Wilmington for my farming internship, my plant growing experience was limited to houseplants. Now I have helped grow food for over a hundred families. Doing it for mine however is another story. I am nervous about investing a lot of money in the project and failing to produce many vegetables.

It is with my fingers and toes crossed that I head toward planting time. Knowing how much I fear a bad season, I can only imagine what it must be like to have my income depend on the land. There are so many things that can go wrong.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Veggies...what are they good for?

Back in September, when I was working at Colchester, I gave out a Drunken Leeks recipe. Tonight, because like last week my CSA box contained leeks, I adapted that recipe to move it from a side dish to the main course.

Drunken Leeks with Sausage, Broccoli and Olives
  • 1 Package (5) chicken sausage links, sliced [Bilinski's All Natural Chicken Sausage]
  • 6-8 small leeks, washed and finely sliced [Oakley Laurel Farm Box #2]
  • 4 tsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed [Colchester Farm]
  • 3/4 cup red wine [The Magnificent Wine Co.]
  • 3 tsp red wine vinegar [Harris Teeter]
  • 10 black olives, stoned and sliced [Harris Teeter]
  • 2 cups broccoli florets [Casacadian Farms]
  • salt
  • pepper
Sauté the sliced leeks, garlic and sausage gently in the olive oil, stirring, until the leeks begin to soften and the sausage begins to brown, about 6-8 minutes.

Stir in the red wine and red wine vinegar and bring to a boil.

Simmer gently, uncovered, for 5 minutes.

Add the olives and the broccoli, and cook, stirring occasionally, for a further 3-4 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and it is ready to serve.

All in all I would give this recipe a B+. When I make it again, I think that I will use tofu rather than chicken sausage. The sausage had a strong flavor all its own that fought with the sauce and the vegetables.

As I make the transition to a more vegetarian diet (I am only eating meat about once a week), I think I am becoming more sensitive to the flavor that meat can add to a dish. Tofu on the other hand will absorb the flavor of whatever sauce you are cooking with.