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The Edible Schoolyard is an organization that grew out of a partnership with Alice Waters, of Chez Panisse fame, and Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Berkeley, California. Read more about ESY’s wonderful story here. The Edible Schoolyard has recently revamped their website, and it is definitely worth checking out. I am especially excited about the Resource Center. They have resources geared toward teaches, parents and advocates, so there’s basically something for everyone. I took a sneak peak and found the following:

Look around and share your favorites in the comments!

When I get on my real food bandwagon, which, I’ll admit, is often, the most frequent complaint I hear is how much more expensive it is to eat well and healthfully. While I won’t argue that it doesn’t cost more to eat as locally, seasonally and organically as possible, I also think that most people aren’t willing to look at the whole picture. I’m going to delve into this issue a bit more in this space, but, for now, I’d like you to consider the following issues when it comes to your food budget:

  1. Junk/processed foods are artificially cheaper. The US government subsidizes the production of two dozen commodities, the most common being corn and soybeans. That means that your tax dollars are used to artificially deflate the cost of commodities – that in turn show up in your food. Have you looked at your food labels lately? Cereals, juices, yogurt, salad dressings, store-bought breads, protein or “nutrition” bars are just a few common items in the grocery aisles that contain high fructose corn syrup and/or soybean additives. If there’s an ingredient in the ingredient list in your food label that you don’t recognize, it’s likely that it is an ingredient derived from a subsidized commodity.
  2. Agribusiness lobbies for changes to the Farm Bill that expand subsidies and otherwise favor large corporate agribusiness activity. (I consider huge corporate farms so far removed from actual farming that I prefer to refer to them as agribusiness). In 2011, opensecrets.org reports that lobbyists employed by agribusiness interests spent over $123M lobbying politicians. Agribusiness interests often lobby for restrictions and practices that favor only the biggest, most industrial types of farming activities. So not only do small family farmers not have the time or resources to lobby Congress to subsidize their organic kale crop, but they also suffer because Congress, influenced by all of the money the agribusiness lobbies spend, passes laws that actually harm or put out of business local family farming operations. Take for example, the stupidity surrounding raw milk prosecutions and the difficulty facing small, local butchers because they cannot afford to meet excessive federal regulations.
  3. The way we’re eating is killing us. Over 35 percent of Americans are obese (and approximately seventeen percent of children are obese), and obesity is directly linked to increased rates of heart disease, diabetes, every kind of cancer, stroke, and nearly every kind of deadly “first-world” disease. In addition to the health costs for individuals, medicals costs associated with obesity totaled about $147 billion in 2008, with those numbers only destined to rise for the foreseeable future. To put it succinctly, pay more now to eat well, or pay in exorbitant health care costs and a terrible quality of life later.
  4. Eating real, whole foods offers more bang for your buck. Americans actually spend less on food as a percentage of their household expenditures than any other developed nation. We also have higher rates of obesity and death from heart disease, diabetes and cancer than other developed nations. Coincidence, much? Our cheap, industrialized food system offers us artificially cheap food (due to farm subsidies) that are not only nutritionally deficient, they’re actually killing us (not to mention the consequences to our environment – more on that to come). Buying some organic broccoli might cost more than a bag of chips (because of the subsidies!), but it will keep you fuller longer because of the fiber and other nutrients in the broccoli, in addition to the other health benefits the choice of broccoli over the chips will provide. My point is that we should be spending more on food. Cheap food has significant and dangerous long-term effects and costs – individually, societally and environmentally.
  5. With a little ingenuity and time, eating real, whole foods can easily be done on a budget. I hope I’ve shown in this space how we cook well on a budget. It takes additional time, of course, but I find cooking for my family so much more worthwhile than many of the other ways I spend my time. I also find that our family’s food budget is very much in line with many of our friends’ budgets who don’t eat as locally and organically as we do. We waste less, we use food for many different purposes, we buy in bulk, and we eat out less (and only to local places!).
  6. Eating seasonally and locally supports our local communities. Eating the way we do and gardening organically has not only benefited our health, but it has brought us closer together as a family in ways that I never would have foreseen. We have also made connections in our community because of our standards when it comes to food. Jasper chants “farmer’s market” when we leave the gym on Saturday mornings because that’s our typical Saturday morning routine. He has many farmer friends at the markets. We can hardly wait for CSA season to start up…every Friday is like Christmas. Of course, the Grace Garden itself has been a huge part of our lives and has connected us with many new friends who share similar values.

Stay tuned for more in depth discussion on each of the topics above!

The excerpt below is from a recent interview with Mr. Berry from Dissent Magazine. I, of course, recommend you read the whole thing:

One crucial thing to consider is what Wes Jackson [Land Institute Founder] calls the “eyes to acres” ratio. If you’re going to take care of the land well you need to have enough people caring for it and watching over it. In industrial agriculture, a few people “farm” a lot of land with big machines and a lot of chemicals—with the results I’ve just described. That’s the large-scale farming some people think will “feed the world,” the billions of people now mostly in cities. It’ll feed them for a short time. But we need to feed them for a long time. My side of the argument says it’s possible to have a more complex, long-term structure. It’s possible to have a farming culture in which everything helps everything else—following the example of nature. A good farmer I know used to say, “It’s good to have nature working for you. She works at a minimum wage.” Nature is a powerful ally, if you respect her and her ways.

If you work against her, as we are now doing, she’ll work against you. The penalties may be severe.

The agri-industrialists have what they think is a rhetorical question addressed to my side: “If you farm by your principles, who’s going to decide who’s going to starve?” We could put that question back to them: “Who’s going to decide who is going to starve when you get done polluting and eroding the arable land, and destroying all the world’s cultures of land husbandry?”

Side note: Wes Jackson, a good friend of Berry’s and the primary author of the 50 Year Farm Bill to which Berry refers often, is speaking Thursday, March 29 at Butler University. I have a family commitment that I don’t think I can skip, but I would love a report back from anyone that can make it. I heard Jackson and Berry speak together last year, and Jackson is not to be missed!

We’ve tried several versions of granola around our house, but I think we’ve found a new favorite (for the time being at least). It’s so easy that Jas has been helping me make a double batch every week because we’ve all been going through it so quickly. As is most granola, this recipe is ripe for experimentation, so have fun with it!

Jas has trouble with the “l” sound, so at our house, this is called “gran-ona.”

Yummy granona
Barely adapted from Annie’s Eats

Ingredients
4 cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup pecans, roughly chopped
1 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
1 cup ground flax seed
8 tbsp coconut oil
6 tbsp honey
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon

Directions
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Combine the oats, nuts, and flax in a large mixing bowl. In a saucepan, combine the coconut oil and honey. Heat until the oil and honey have combined. Stir in the vanilla, salt and cinnamon. Pour the coconut oil and honey mixture over the dry ingredients and have your two-year-old stir well to coat. Spread the mixture on a large baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes, then remove to stir well, and return it to the over for another 30 or minutes. You may need a bit more time – you want it to crisp up and your house to smell amazing. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely before eating or storing.

If we will have the wisdom to survive,
To stand like slow-growing trees
On a ruined place, renewing, enriching it,
If we will make our seasons welcome here,
Asking not too much of earth or heaven,
then a long time after we are dead
The lives our lives prepare will live
Here, their houses strongly placed
Upon the valley sides, fields and gardens
Rich in the windows.  The river will run
Clear, as we will never know it,
And over it, birdsong like a canopy.
On the levels of the hills will be
Green meadows, stock bells in noon shade.
On the steeps where greed and ignorance cut down
The old forest, an old forest will stand,
Its rich leaf-fall drivting on its roots.
The veins of forgotten springs will have opened.
Families will be singing in the fields.
In their voices they will hear a music
Risen out of the ground.  They will take
Nothing from the ground they will not return,
Whatever the grief at parting.  Memory,
Native to this valley, will spread over it
Like a grove, and memory will grow
into legend, legend into song, song
into sacrament.  The abundance of this place,
the songs of its people and its birds,
will be health and wisdom and indwelling
light.  This is not paradisal dream.
Its hardship is its possibility.

Work Song
Wendell Berry

Another entry in our rotisserie chicken series

We usually save a soup of some sort to use up the last of the chicken. This chicken tortilla version is one of our go-to recipes around here. It’s easy, filling and healthy.

The stock requires a little advance prep (or you could go the store-bought route, but we’re trying to use up every bit of that chicken, so do yourself and your wallet a favor and try to make your own). I like to keep a plastic container in the freezer for stock ingredients…chicken bones/carcass, onion tops and skins, celery tops, carrot peels (check out this post for more stock tips).  I wait until it gets full, and then I know it’s time to make stock. Then I freeze it in small two or four cup batches, which makes this soup a breeze.

The beans also require some advance prep (unless you have a pressure cooker, which makes it quick). If I haven’t thought ahead, I’ll use the pressure cooker. I prefer to soak my beans overnight, and then slow cook them throughout the day because I can season them how I like them, and I think they taste a bit better than the pressure cooker variety (but the pressure cooker is still far superior to the canned beans!). So when I go to the trouble of soaking and slow cooking all day, I make a triple or quadruple batch and then freeze the leftovers in one or two cup containers for really quick, no hassle beans whenever I need them. This is a great trick if you’re trying to eat healthier because beans make a great addition to salads and soups that give you some extra protein and fiber and help you stay feeling fuller longer.

So anyway, the recipe…

Rotisserie chicken soup
A Sara Original

Ingredients

Depending on how much chicken you have leftover – we usually use about one cup of shredded chicken, if that, and we typically save the darker meat for this soup
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 bell pepper, diced (optional, depending on the season)
1-2 jalapenos, sliced (optional, depending on how spicy you like it)
1 tsp cumin
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (more or less depending on how spicy you like it)
1 tsp oregano
1 cup beans – our favorites are chickpeas or black beans, but we like it with kidney or pinto beans too (see above notes)
4 cups chicken stock (see above notes)
1 can fire-roasted chopped tomatoes (I like Muir Glen or make your own – I’ll be doing these soon, so I’ll report back!)
1 cup tortilla chips
Salt and pepper to taste

Optional garnishes: jalapenos, shredded cheese, avocado, cilantro

Directions

Preheat large soup pan over medium heat. Add olive oil and wait until oil begins to shimmer. Add diced onion and peppers (if using). Saute until onions turn translucent. Add garlic and spices and saute just briefly (about 30 seconds). Add chicken and stir around to thoroughly combine ingredients. Add beans, stock and tomatoes. Cook for about twenty to thirty minutes, until soup is slightly thickened.

Crush a handful or tortilla chips in each bowl, and ladle soup over top of tortilla chips. Add additional garnishes of your choice. Serves about eight.

We typically just plant a four foot x four foot raised bed in the square foot style for our spring garden. When things calm down a bit, we’ll expand the spring garden. For now, though, with a toddler that never stops moving and a baby on the way, we’ll stick with the sixteen square feet of space we have and keep working the rest of the beds for the “summer” plants to come. This year, we’re planting mostly greens because they’re so easy and so nutritious. We’ve already planted the following:

  • Red Russian Kale and Red Winter Kale from Nature’s Crossroads, both of which we’ve had great luck with in the past
  • We’re trying out Astro Arugula for the first time this year. I’m hoping to make and freeze lots of arugula pesto (recipe to come hopefully).
  • We’re also trying some Black Seeded Simpson lettuce for the first time just because I thought it looked tasty, and it is slow to bolt, which is an extra benefit with the crazy warm weather we’ve been having so far this year.

I came across this great article on lettuce varieties that got me all kinds of excited about greens if you need some motivation to get planting now. I love growing greens because you can usually pick them a few times and get several rounds out of them. I’m hoping to teach Jasper how to pick the greens this year since bending over is getting a wee bit more complicated. He needs to start earning his keep anyway, don’t you think?!

A person who is growing a garden, if he is growing it organically, is improving a piece of the world. He is producing something to eat, which makes him somewhat independent of the grocery business, but he is also enlarging, for himself, the meaning of food and the pleasure of eating.

Wendell Berry, excerpt from “Think Little.”

Do yourself a favor and read the whole thing on this beautiful spring-like day.

For the first time in over twenty years, the USDA has revised the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map that reflects that average annual lowest temperature across the country, enabling gardeners to determine what perennials to plant in their respective regions. The new maps generally reflect a five degree warmer temperature change than the previous map.

Check out the USDA’s website to find out your hardiness zone because the website enables you to drill down to your specific zip code to find your zone. Make sure to remember your zone for all of that spring garden shopping coming up!

We love compost, and it’s become second-nature at our house (so much so that Jasper reminds us to pray for the “wormiesevery night). I came across this great graphic below that can help you decide which composting method is right for you based on your criteria.

Even if you’re already composting (yay!), this might open your eyes to some other ways to generate and use compost. Our current system consists of two vermicompost bins, two transitional compost bins outside (that are actually re-purposed trash cans), and one large compost tumbler. Things outside slow down during the winter, but the vermicompost bins are going still going strong all winter long.

Happy composting!

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