How to Reduce Your Pesticide Intake? Know The Dirty & Clean 15!

Posted: June 27th, 2010 | Author:

This article has been copied in its entirety from www.foodnews.org as it provides an excellent resource to explain why buying organic justifies the extra costs that may prevent future costs arising from poor health.


Why Should You Care About Pesticides?

The growing consensus among scientists is that small doses of pesticides and other chemicals can cause lasting damage to human health, especially during fetal development and early childhood. Scientists now know enough about the long-term consequences of ingesting these powerful chemicals to advise that we minimize ourconsumption of pesticides.

What’s the Difference?

EWG research has found that people who eat five fruits and vegetables a day from the Dirty Dozen list consume an average of 10 pesticides a day. Those who eat from the 15 least contaminated conventionally-grown fruits and vegetables ingest fewer than 2 pesticides daily. The Guide helps consumers make informed choices to lower their dietary pesticide load.

Will Washing and Peeling Help?

The data used to create these lists is based on produce tested as it is typically eaten (meaning washed, rinsed or peeled, depending on the type of produce). Rinsing reduces but does not eliminate pesticides. Peeling helps, but valuable nutrients often go down the drain with the skin. The best approach: eat a varied diet, rinse all produce and buy organic when possible.

How Was This Guide Developed?

EWG analysts have developed the Guide based on data from nearly 96,000 tests for pesticide residues in produce conducted between 2000 and 2008 and collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. You can find a detailed description of the criteria EWG used to develop these rankings and the complete list of fruits and vegetables tested at our dedicated website, www.foodnews.org.

Filed under: Urban Agriculture | No Comments »

What’s Doing at DoTank: Brooklyn Urban Agriculture Skillshare

Posted: June 20th, 2010 | Author: Amy Newton

Crafting seedbombs for community beautification

On June 5th, I attended a workshop in Williamsburg at The Change You Want To See Gallery, hosted by a local organization called DoTank:Brooklyn. As part of their mission to promote “interdisciplinary exploration, engagement, and enhancement of the formal urban planning process”, the Urban Agriculture Skillshare presented three distinct ways that individuals can effect change in their own communities using minimal resources, a little creativity, and the help of Mother Nature.

The gallery was packed, standing-room only, but that was fine because this workshop was a series of hands-on, how-to demonstrations where, divided into three groups, the participants rotated to three different stations, spending thirty minutes at each, learning and creating a small project in urban agriculture that included Vermiculture: Indoor food waste composting, WindowFarms: To grow food indoors year-round, and Seedbombing: To beautify abandoned lots.

My first turn was at the seedbombing station where we literally got our hands dirty crafting seedbombs intended to green empty and abandoned lots in the neighborhood. Proponents of FoodNotBombs should rest assured that these bombs do no harm. In fact, they are a combination of a mix of wildflower and herb seeds, moistened in compost with a little water, and then rolled in clay to dry over night. Once hardened, these seedbombs can be tossed into abandoned lots in neighborhoods around the city where eventually, with the help of a little rain and sunshine, they will produce pretty wildflowers and fresh herbs, transforming what was once an eyesore into a more attractive space. What’s not to like about these bombs?

Today's seedbombs, tomorrow's upgrades

Aurash Khawarzad, a founder of DoTank:Brooklyn and our seedbomb instructor, calls it “upgrading community”. He spends his time teaching skillshares like these in the hopes that it will become normal for people to do these sorts of things in their own communities. Seedbombing as the norm, rather than the exception.

DoTank:Brooklyn is all about doing rather than waiting for the slow process of urban planning and implementation to kick into gear. Interested in transforming an empty and abandoned space in your neighborhood? Check out the Do:Tank website for detailed seedbomb instructions.

After washing our hands, we moved on to the white plastic bottles at skillshare number two, building an indoor hydroponic system for growing food. Britta Riley, artist and creator of WindowFarms, gave us a brief overview of her project before handing us the tools to get started. The project has two goals: to empower urbanites to grow their own food year-round indoors and to give ordinary people a way to contribute innovations toward more sustainable cities. WindowFarms are a unique design partially made from recyclable materials using a vertical, hydroponic, modular, low-energy, system to produce high-yield, edible plants in limited space indoors.

Assembling a Window Farm

As an indoor gardener myself, I was intrigued by the prospect of growing my own fresh produce even in the midst of winter in the middle of the city, so I paid close attention. Using one-liter plastic water bottles connected through a series of cut-outs and modified bottle caps, a WindowFarms design allows for as many as five plants to grow without soil in a vertical assembly that hangs neatly in any sunny window.

The plants are fed water and nutrients through a plastic tube connected on the outside of the system and run by a small air pump, such as those used for fish tanks and aquariums. The water is recycled, conserving a precious resource, while the plants, rooted in specially-designed hydroponic clay, grow through cut-outs in the sides of the bottles. The theory is that because the roots do not spread out in soil and lose water to run-off, the plants are able to utilize the nutrients faster, promoting higher yields.

One could build their own WindowFarm with a little resourcefulness and some scrap materials. Or you can explore WindowFarms’ website for instructions and printable patterns for transforming plastic water bottles into your own window farm.

As part of attaining their second goal, WindowFarms maintains an online community of over 12,000 members worldwide. The Window Farms Network has been sharing ideas and input from their own experiences with Riley to help guide the design through twelve innovations, or subversions, making the WindowFarms system more nutritionally productive, easier to maintain, and better-looking, among other things.

A WindowFarm system……just add plants!

Currently, WindowFarms is in the process of creating WindowFarms kits for purchase through its website which will help fund their non-profit organization. As I look at the plants in pots on my window sill and think about the one I accidentally knocked off last night, snapping its stem and dumping dirt everywhere on the floor, I feel quite inclined to test out a tidy, efficient WindowFarm system myself this winter.

As a former volunteer on sustainable farms, I am familiar with a variety of composting systems, but I had never been introduced to the small-scale, in-home version of vermicomposting until this workshop. At our third skillshare for the day, we took on the task of how to reduce the two and a half pounds per day of waste that the average American produces. NYC processes 12,000 tons per day of trash at a whopping cost of two million dollars each day, sending trash to six different states as well as upstate.

Dumping our waste in landfills is not only dangerous to the land below these dumps, but the process of anaerobic decomposition creates methane which can stay in the atmosphere for nine to fifteen years. Methane traps twenty times more heat than carbon dioxide, contributing extensively to our issues of climate change through greenhouse gas emissions. So what to do with all this waste?

The North Brooklyn Compost Project offers one solution to reducing waste in the home: vermicomposting or composting with worms. Considering that 40% of the waste we generate in our homes is organic compostable material, vermicomposting can be an easy way to keep that organic material from entering the waste stream by recycling our food scraps into rich, dark compost for use in our gardens and on our indoor plants. Scientifically proven, compost is powerful enough to remediate contaminated soil, transforming it once again into productive, healthy earth, and is therefore referred to as “black gold”. Anyone can make their own black gold with a few starter materials, some worms, and your food scraps.

Here’s how it works:  You need a compost bin to get started. At the skillshare, we modified a plastic tub with a tight-fitting lid by drilling some air holes in the sides. Proper ventilation will aid in the process of decomposition (and let the worms breathe!).

Modifying for a vermiculture compost bin

A successful compost ratio is 2:1 — two parts “browns” and one part “greens.” Browns contain carbon, such as leaves and yard waste, or, as we used, shredded newspaper.  Greens contain nitrogen — your food scraps. Coffee grounds, egg shells, and tea bags are all acceptable for composting, but citrus peels, which take much longer to break down and can turn your compost acidic, should be left out. Use vegetable not animal waste in your compost bin.  Meat scraps, animal bones, dairy, and fats should not be included in your compost bin as they will not degrade quickly and will add unpleasant odors. Woody seeds and pits should not be included as they may germinate.  If the newspaper or yard waste is dry, it’s important to mist a little water in there and turn it to moisten the mix. Then, add the worms and let them do the rest.

Red wrigglers, often used for fishing bait, make great compost worms. The Lower Eastside Ecology Center sells compost worms for about $22/lb. For a bin the size we used, a pound of worms is plenty. One pound of worms will process two to three pounds of food per week.  Worms multiply rapidly so you may be able to give a pound away to a friend in about six to twelve months, keeping the amount of worms to waste balanced in your bin and doing your part to help more people compost their food waste in the city.

It will take about six weeks to reach the first harvest of compost. Keep adding food scraps, stirring the contents once in awhile and monitoring the moisture and ratio of brown to green. When it’s ready, you will see dirt accumulating underneath — a rich compost layer at the bottom of the bin separate from the remaining food scraps above.

The worms will work their way upwards in the bin over time, leaving the compost below and feasting on newer scraps and papers above. You can transfer the food scraps and worms from the top to another bin, harvest the compost beneath and then start over with a new bin. Fresh, wet compost is very high in nitrogen and needs to be cured — aired out for two weeks before applying it to your plants.

Red wrigglers, newspaper, and food scraps

Carina Molnar, our vermicomposter extraordinaire (and blogger for CUNY Institute for Sustainable Cities, offered these tips for maintaining a healthy compost system — very important as this is an indoor system. She keeps her bin of worms and food scraps under the kitchen sink.

If the worms are escaping, it’s because the bin is too hot or cold. Adjust the location or situation to amend this. If it begins to smell like sulfur (like eggs), add more brown, such as shredded newspaper, to absorb the odor. And if it’s too dry, spritz it with water to help maintain the moisture.

As food scraps break down, they release liquid. Balancing the scraps and newspaper will help keep an inviting environment in which the worms will continue to do their work. And the results will be your very own pot of black gold.

A pile o' black gold!

For further reading, Carina recommends the book, “Worms Eat My Garbage” by Mary Appelhof. Or check out the Brooklyn Botanic Garden website for resources on composting. The North Brooklyn Compost Project accepts kitchen compostable scraps from the public as do many community gardens in neighborhoods around Brooklyn.

If you missed out on the DoTank:Brooklyn Urban Agriculture Skillshare, visit their website and tell them you are interested in more Skillshares. They are always working to create opportunities for locals to join in the efforts to enhance urban communities all over the city, so roll up your sleeves and get “doing”!

Filed under: Composting, Events, Urban Agriculture, Urban Farming, Urban Planning, Water Conservation | 1 Comment »

Slow Money National Gathering: Investing in the Soil

Posted: June 11th, 2010 | Author:

“Food is the field in which we daily explore our harming of the world.”  Gary Snyder, Poet (as quoted by Wood Tasch)

Woody Tasch, Author of "The Nature of Slow Money" at the podium.

I am attending the 2d Annual Slow Money National Gathering in Shelburne Farms, Vermont.  18 months after writing his book, The Nature of Slow Money: Investing as If Food, Farms and Fertility Matter (Chelsea Green), Woody Tasch has organized a growing movement of investors, businesses and farmers to bring his ideas about saving the planet by promoting “nurture capital” through the nascent Slow Money Alliance.

Slow Money Alliance has developed support for its idea to foster entrepreneurial finance supporting soil fertility, carrying capacity, sense of place, diversity and nonviolence.  It has issued six “Slow Money Principles” that set out a vision of the destructive world of Fast Money and how Slow Money responds and restores balance and peace.  First Principle: “We must bring money down to earth.”

At this gathering in Vermont, Tasch has set a course for action to enact the Slow Money Principles across the US.  His goal is to have 1 million people invest 1% of their income in soil fertility in the next ten years.  He announced the creation of the Soil Trust as a first step in this goal, aiming to collect $25 from 1 million people.  The money from the Soil Trust would fund local funds that would invest directly into land conservation and businesses that practice sustainable agriculture.

The conference began with remarks from Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, who framed the urgency of the need to invest in a restorative model for agriculture that would address disastrous climate impacts caused by industrial agriculture over the last 50 years.  Repeatedly, he and other speakers emphasized the ways in which industrialized farming harms the air, water and soil as well as our bodies.

Tasch introduced the next two speakers with a reference to the contrasting views on how to grow sustainable food businesses.  ”On the one hand, Joel Salatin, owner of Polyface Farm, told me that ‘We are not part of an industry, we are a part of a movement.  On the other hand, Gary Hirschberg, CEO of Stonyfield Farms, told me ‘I hate using that word ‘Movement’ for our business.  We are trying to make sustainable businesses that make change on a massive scale which can only be achieved by industrial means.”

“As far as I see it,” Tasch continued, “I agree with them both and see them as the separate halves of the whole discussion here about how to grow sustainable food business.”

Throughout the amazing day, the speakers represented the luminaries from the sustainable food movement who emphasized the need for investment in differing strategies for changing business as usual.

Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm

Joel Salatin, author, farmer central character in Michael Pollan’s book, Omnivore’s Dilemma, spoke about sticking to your principles as a way to deal with scaling your enterprise.  He said that scale was not a problem if you stay true to your beliefs and set goals with your soul not your sales target.  He emphasized that the quality of his product and relationships with customers made his success.

Gary Hirschberg described his beginings as director of New Alchemy, an experimental self-sustaining agricultural center in the 1970s.  ”It was a perfect agricultural system with solar heated greenhouses and aquaponics in a closed loop.  But it was not a good business and it failed.”

“I set out to start Stonyfield to correct what New Alchemy lacked: a business. However, it took nine years of struggle before Stoneyfield made a nickel.  297 courageous patient capitalists gave me the funds to start.  Many of them have done very well, as a result. Today, Stonyfield Farms is a $355 million company.”

Hirschberg went on to say that our economy is based on myths that sustainable business seeks to dispel by facing the real consequences and costs of ignoring the impact of traditional business practices.  Hirschberg described how Stonyfield has adopted changes in doing business step-by-step, incrementally becoming more environmentally sensitive.

“Industrial food businesses make their product as cheaply as possible to get the widest margin in order to outspend the competition on advertising.  We spend more on the product, spend close to nothing on ads, and make a better return than most traditional food businesses, like those in our corporate parent, Danone.”  (Stonyfield was bought in 2001 by the Danone Group, a $25 billion food company, although Hirschberg retains a controling interest.)  Hirschberg agreed with Salatin that quality and loyalty were his best assets.

Gary Hirshberg, CEO, Stonyfield Farms

“This is a critical moment for the food movement.  We are charged with nothing less than saving the world.”  Hirschberg said.  He closed with a Gandhi quote: “Anyone who thinks that they are too small to make a difference has never been in bed with a mosquito.”

All of the speakers conveyed an abiding passion for their work.  Will Rapp from Gardener’s Supply pioneered composting techniques and greened the Intervale in Burlington, VT.  Rapp also described his pioneering subdivision design, South Village, which includes investing a 1/2% of proceeds from sales in the start-up costs for a physically linked farm enterprise.

Tom Stearns, founder of organic High Mowing Seeds (a business he started in college!), spoke about all the sustainable businesses in his town of Hardwick, VT who meet to discuss issues and how to support each others work. Over the last four years, this monthly informal gathering — with no rules and no name — has yielded loans back and forth to each other of $750,000 and given rise to the Center for an Agricultural Economy.

Eliot Coleman of Four Season Farm

Eliot Coleman of Four Season Farm

Eliot Coleman, founder of Four Season Farm and author of The New Organic Grower, outlined his “Feast Philosophy” imbued with a common sense approach to growing good food that delights and nourishes the person and the soil.  He explained how he continually refined his methods to reduce cost and improve quality.

Each enterprise presented a different facet of how business might express environmental goals and personal ethics. The ideas were filled with joy of creativity and life yet the moral task we face was seen in sober terms of war.

It was no accident then, that one of the speakers quoted a war-time President, Franklin Delanor Roosevelt, who warned:   “A nation that destroys its soil, destroys itself.”

It was a day of innovation and exploration that was both sobering and inspiring in equal measure.  Today, I will endeavor to engage with more ideas and convey them here.

(Please note that this post is paralleled on the food revolution blog Groundswell.)

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Urban Foraging: Stinging Nettles

Posted: June 9th, 2010 | Author: Amy Newton

Forage. It is a term most people are familiar with. It means to search for food. In today’s modern, fast-paced world this means going to the nearest grocery store and loading up a cart with whatever offerings are laid out in neat rows along the aisles. However, at one time in our human history, people actually partook in another form of foraging. We set out for the day in the fields and woods in search of wild, edible plants to supply our bodies with nutrients and we relied on the knowledge and experience handed down from one generation to the next in selecting our harvest.

Even in our urban environment, city parks, street trees and backyards can yield hidden abundance. Mushrooms, bush berries, flower buds, wild greens and fruits of trees all provide morsels for a meal. And then there is the stinging nettle.

The Stinging Nettle (urtica dioica) is usually regarded as a nuisance plant by gardeners, growing in abundance in moist, woody areas.  However, if handled with care, the Stinging Nettle can yield all sorts of culinary treats and health benefits.  And, in early Spring, when cultivated crops are not yet ready for harvest, the Stinging Nettle is mature and ready to eat (along with other better-known “early riser” wild greens, such as Ramps, Dandelion, Fiddleheads and Watercress).  I endeavored to explore how to tame the wildness of Stinging Nettle.

Approaching the nettle is a challenge in itself. In fact, its “nettlesome.”  The nettle’s leaves and stems are covered entirely with tiny, needle-like hairs that, if brushed up against with bare skin, leave behind a painful rash that lasts the better part of the day. The cause of this is a combination of four substances found in the hairs; formic acid, histamine, acetylcholine, and serotonin. Yet our ancestors weren’t thinking about chemical compounds when they somehow figured out that if they cooked the nettles in water, the sting becomes deactivated. The result is a hardy, tasty green chock full of nutrients.

Rich in minerals, the nettle provides calcium, magnesium, iron, and potassium, among others. It is also loaded with vitamin C, beta-carotene, and B complex vitamins. Consisting of ten percent protein — more than any other vegetable — and high levels of easily absorbable amino acids, the stinging nettle is one of nature’s perfect foods. Its medicinal properties are numerous as it is used as an expectorant to treat ailments such as asthma, bronchitis, and pneumonia. As an infusion, nettle tea is a safe, gentle diuretic that restores the kidneys and bladder.  A nettle compress will heal cuts, wounds, stings, and burns. Scientists and doctors today proclaim its many benefits in treating modern chronic illnesses such as gout, intestinal and colon disorders, gall bladder infections, hepatitis, and prostate cancer to name a few.

It is hardly a revelation that today we have become disconnected from the food that sustains us. Rarely do we ever forage for our nutrition in the wild. Instead we have, perhaps unknowingly, allowed our food system to turn into an industrial institution that favors mass production and low costs over nutrition and flavor. Yet the hidden costs are staggering: diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and obesity are on the rise. And to make matters worse, we are eating our way toward climate change through a combination of negative effects of petro-intensive industrial agriculture that produces 17% of all greenhouse gases and uses 80% of all potable water.

In the midst of all this food that travels an average of 1500 miles to your plate stands the stinging nettle right under your nose — a plentiful, medicinal weed ready for plucking by those willing to risk the sting for greater health. Our ancestors have shared their trick to harvesting the nettle. Taking a firm hold of the leaves actually crushes down the stinging hairs, making them less likely to penetrate the skin. I would recommend wearing gardener’s gloves.  And be careful about letting the leaves or branches brush up against any exposed skin on your arms or legs.  Make sure you have a bag or bucket for carrying the picked nettles.

Many organic farmers will gather and sell nettles (very cheaply at about $3.00 per pound) during the Spring.  For instance, Cheryl of Rogowski Farms has been selling nettles at the Carroll Gardens (Brooklyn) Farmers Market on Sundays.  And recently, my colleague, Derek visited his friend’s farm in Connecticut where they were scything and composting this furiously propagating herbaceous perennial.  He harvested an armful with the help of his friend’s son and they made Nettle Soup, a traditional Spring dish in Ireland.

To prepare nettles for eating, immerse completely in cold water in the sink or other vessel. Add a teaspoon of vinegar to the water to loosen soil and pests.  Using tongs or gloves, transfer nettles, still wet, to a stockpot and cover.  Cook on medium heat until the leaves wilt.  Remove from the pot when cooled enough to handle.  You may either remove the leaves or chop the leaves and stems together.  As the plant ages the stem becomes more woody and less edible.  Derek told me that he substituted Nettles for spinach in the Persian national dish Gormeh Sabzi.  We even found a recipe for Nettle Schnapps.  I would stick with Nettle Soup as a way to taste the plant for the first time.  For more recipes and handling foraged foods, you could check out Wild Food Larder.

And, if you are game to learn more about finding the hidden treasures of the City parks and streetscapes, you might consider taking a foraging tour with Wildman Steve Brill or other botany or mycology societies that offer similar outings.

Irish Nettle Soup (from Saveur)

SERVES 6 – 8

2 tbsp. butter
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and chopped
7 cups duck stock or 5 tbsp. glace de canard
dissolved in 6 1⁄4 cups hot water
2 medium russet potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 leek, trimmed, white and light green parts only,
washed and chopped
3 tightly packed cups young nettle tips and tender
leaves (about 1⁄4 lb.)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice

1. Melt butter in a medium pot over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring often, until softened, 6–8 minutes. Add the duck stock, potatoes, and leeks and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer gently until potatoes and leeks are soft, about 15 minutes. Add the nettles, season to taste with salt and lots of pepper, increase heat to medium, and cook until nettles are tender, 5–7 minutes.

2. Working in batches, carefully purée the hot soup in a blender until smooth, 2–3 minutes per batch. Pour puréed soup into a clean medium pot and reheat. Add lemon juice and adjust seasonings. Stir in some cream before serving, if you like.

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