Happy New Year–Get Your Garden On!

Well, 2013 has been one crazy ass year. Many wonderful highlights and several struggles, but all-in-all a good year. Like many of you, I’m hoping to make 2014 an even better year. I have several goals for the new year and here they are:

  • Finish reading at least one book a month. I used to read all the time–now I mostly nod off by 8:30. So, I will try to actually finish books.
  • Run at least one road race each month of 2014. January 1 is our first race of the year, so at least we are starting off right!
  • Find better work/life balance. I struggled with this in 2013 and I’m not sure how exactly I’ll make it work in 2014, but I’m trying.
  • Publish my children’s book about chickens.

I thought I would end 2013 with a wonderful video of two ladies from different parts of the world who have found the nurturing, nourishing aspects of urban farming. Watch the video, toast the new year, and get your garden going!

 

A Beehive Giveaway from Toxic Free NC!

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Fawn Pattison of Toxic Free NC wants to give away a bee hive. Let’s help her!

Do you know of a community garden in North Carolina that would benefit from a free beehive and colony? Well, the great folks at Toxic Free NC would like to help! Their Save-A-Bee Giveaway is designed to connect community gardens with pollinating bees. They are true Food Heroes! Here is more information:

We’ve all heard a lot about how bee populations are on the decline. That’s why we’re giving away a hive of bees (and more) to a lucky community garden in NC.

One lucky community garden in NC will win the chance to grow more healthy, pesticide-free food with the pollinator power of a brand new beehive. And you’re going to choose the winner!

Nominate your favorite community garden and they’ll be put in the running to win:

  • a beehive;
  • a nucleus colony of bees (to be delivered in May);
  • a workshop about natural beekeeping; and
  • an Organic Gardening Workshop from Toxic Free NC.

To be eligible, the community garden must be based in NC, must have fighting hunger as part of its mission, and must be either organic already, or willing to move to organic gardening practices in order to support a bee colony.

Nominations are due by October 4th, so quick, like a bunny (or a bee), get those nominations in!

Click HERE for the details and nomination form!

Nello’s Sauce

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Neal McTighe of Nello’s Sauce shared his experience developing a local, food-based business!

The area where I live in central North Carolina is teeming with men and women who are dedicated to bringing people fresh, high quality, locally produced food and improving access to healthy foods. This desire to connect people to good, healthy food has spawned a myriad of small businesses, and I’ll be taking some time to interview them and share what I find about why they do what they do and how they do it.

The first person I met with is Neal “Nello” McTighe, founder of Nello’s Sauce. Nello’s Sauce is based in Raleigh, and is rapidly becoming available at grocery stores across North Carolina. If enthusiasm is a contributing factor to entrepreneurial success, Nello’s Sauce is on its way to greatness.

Inspiration
The journey to Nello’s Sauce began with a college study abroad in Italy that inspired McTighe to help others learn about Italy and Italian culture. Over successive trips to Italy and by studying his own family history, McTighe absorbed everything he could about Italian history and culture. While working a regular 9-5 job, he began (as many of us do) to share his passion for Italy through a blog about Italian culture and cooking. Eventually, he found a wonderful opportunity to teach Italian at a local college. Fortuitously, this new career also gave him the flexibility to begin a new, Italy-focused business.

A Sauce is Born
As McTighe continued exploring Italian cuisine, he developed a reputation among his friends as a most righteous pizza maker. Hmmm…could pizza be his calling? He did some initial feasibility studies, and found that the complexity of making, freezing, delivering and selling frozen pizzas did not bode well for a young startup business. Focusing on one component of that dish–the sauce–had better possibilities and fewer supply chain issues. McTighe began testing and experimenting with the sauces he already loved to make, and Nello’s Sauce was born!

Learning Curves
Every new journey begins with a great deal of learning, and starting a food-based business is no exception. Nello’s Sauce started in McTighe’s kitchen, where he hand-crafted and canned batches of his tomato sauce. He stressed to me the importance of thinking through every detail–How much will ingredients cost per ounce or per unit? What kind of jar is best? What size will the package be? What will the label say? Where will the ingredients come from? What kind of insurance do you need? What requirements do grocery stores, farmers markets, etc have for selling your product? Where will you make your product and how?

The last question is one with big implications. While Neal started creating and canning his sauces in his own kitchen, that quickly became impractical. I mean, could you fit a pallet of canning jars in your kitchen? I know I couldn’t! Leasing commercial kitchen space from a restaurant can be frustrating, inconvenient and expensive. Fortunately, Neal found a commercial kitchen in a nearby town that leases space to small, food-based entrepreneurs. The Piedmont Food and Ag Processing Center provides training, regular, convenient access to a large commercial kitchen facility plus storage for pallets of jars and lots and lots of tomatoes.

Also, understand where your ingredients will come from and how they will be cleaned and processed. If you are purchasing vegetables from local farmers, how sustainable is that if your business doubles? Triples? Blanching and peeling tomatoes for 10 quarts of sauce may be okay, but what about for 100 quarts of sauce? In the case of tomatoes, only a few big processing facilities to clean and peel tomatoes exist in the entire country, and guess what? None of them are in North Carolina. Or even in our part of the country. For McTighe, the only way to continue making his sauce locally is to purchase cleaned and peeled tomatoes from one of these large facilities (buying and shipping NC tomatoes to California for processing and sending them back to NC is only do-able if customers are willing to pay something like $20.00 per jar–in other words, NOT do-able). While his sauce is a local product from a local company, North Carolina sadly does not have the infrastructure in place to use local tomatoes. As a business owner, it’s good to have this knowledge in your back pocket, so when your business expands, you are ready.

Giving Back
Neal would be the first to admit that he has learned a tremendous amount in the past few years–some of it through personal connections and research, and some of it the hard way. One thing he understands is that more people need to be involved in healthy, sustainable food production. And while it’s fabulous that Whole Foods is carrying Nello’s Sauce, Neal also realizes that not everyone has access to healthy food. Rather than shrugging and walking away, he came up with a plan to help.

Our Hearts Beat Hunger is a two-pronged initiative to encourage young entrepreneurs and get Nello’s healthy sauce into low-income homes. Started through crowd sourcing, Our Hearts Beat Hunger raised funds to provide a mentorship opportunity for one young dreamer and donate jars of sauce to local food banks. The hope is that as the business expands, so will the philanthropy. For Nello’s, it’s not just about being a business–it’s about being part of a larger community. That spirit is what makes some of our local, food-based businesses so amazing.

Thinking about starting your own business? Here are some tips from Nello!

Some Tips from Nello

  1. Start with what you love. You’re going to spend a LOT of time doing it, so you should have a passion from the beginning.
  2. Start small and get LOTS of feedback on your product. Ask your family. Ask your friends. Ask strangers. And then listen!
  3. Find a unique aspect to your product and go with that. Be able to communicate what separates your product from others on the market.
  4. Research every aspect of your product and process–identify supply chain issues early.
  5. Identify how you might expand your business without losing quality. You probably won’t be cooking in your own kitchen for long, so what’s next?
  6. Understand state and federal guidelines and requirements for food production, storage and labeling (most of this is available online). Requirements vary depending on the type of food and the number of units sold. Having this information upfront will help prevent unpleasant (and potentially expensive) surprises later.
  7. Grow slowly and thoughtfully, and enjoy the journey along the way.

Thanks to Neal McTighe for sharing time with me to talk about Nello’s Sauce and local, food-based businesses! Click HERE for more information about Nello’s Sauce!

Want to see what I did with my Nello’s Sauce? Click HERE for our Aubergine and Lavender Pasta recipe!

Penalizing Healthy Eating at Camp

If you have followed our blog for a while, you know that along our journey we have come across true food heroes and we have come across folks who talk about health, but who really don’t put that into practice. We’ve been through school fundraisers that directly contradict county policy about unhealthy foods and pleas to parents to make healthy post-game snacks. It is frustrating when the issue of childhood obesity and poor health outcomes for the next generation are everywhere, yet in some cases we keep making the same stupid mistakes over and over. I still can’t figure out if this is ignorance, laziness or apathy.

Summer camps are another area where we talk the talk of health, but where most of the time snacks and meals are pretty atrocious. Here is an article originally published on the Huffington Post by First Bites Founder Caron Gremont regarding how we punish or penalize families who want healthier choices.

What do you think about this?

Obesity Is Officially a Disease, So Why Was My Child Diagnosed as a ‘Healthy Eater’?

by Caron Gremont, http://www.firstbites.org

Today, the American Medical Association officially diagnosed obesity as a disease. So why is my daughter’s summer camp sending her to the nurse for being a “healthy eater”?

Next week, my 5-year-old daughter starts summer camp for the first time. As I sat in the parent orientation meeting, the camp director laid out the great activities she will do and reviewed some new data from the American Camp Association (ACA) on the benefits of camp for children. According to the ACA website, “building blocks of self-esteem are belonging, learning, and contributing. Camps offer unique opportunities for children to succeed in these three vital areas.”

It all sounded fantastic — until I saw the snack menu.

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At 3:15 p.m. every day, the camp provides a “camp snack” to all the children (ages range from 5- to 15-years-old). Considering the children swim twice a day and have outdoor play as well as dance and sports almost daily, they need a snack that provides them with energy and carries them from lunch to dinner.

So what is the camp offering?

A daily choice of Oreos, Chips Ahoy, Nilla wafers, Cheese Curls, and potato chips. It’s not like the camp has never heard of fruit; they are serving watermelon or grapes once a week. Could they possibly think that these artificial, highly-sweetened, and highly-processed foods are filling, nutritious, and appropriate to serve growing children?

I talked to the head counselor, and explained that we try to eat “real food” that is both satisfying and nourishing, and I was worried about both the poor quality of the “food” they were serving as well as how little satisfaction it would actually provide. She sent me to the woman in charge of the snacks, who was very kind and sent me to the head of the camp, who was also understanding and sent me to camp nurse. The nurse said I could send in whatever snacks I wanted for my daughter. She would store them in her office, and my daughter could come and get them every afternoon. And my friend, whose daughter must follow a gluten-free diet, told me our children could come together to get their daily snacks!

And then it hit me: eating “healthy” snacks is being treated like a disease. The camp was very happy to accommodate our “special” needs and reassured me that with all the allergies today, our daughter wouldn’t be the only one eating a “special” diet.

My daughter doesn’t think her diet is “special.” To her, it’s normal. She eats a wide variety of fruits and vegetables throughout the day. She loves to snack on carrots, raw peppers and hummus, and no one has told her that this is “special.” What message does it send to tell my daughter that to eat “healthy food,” she needs to get her snack at the camp nurse every afternoon?

How ironic that a summer camp that is supposed to promote self-esteem and inclusiveness can do neither because a child has the rare affliction of wanting to eat healthily.

Yet in a country in which nearly one in three children is overweight or obese and in which French fries are considered a vegetable, it’s no wonder that the little girl who eats carrots and not cheese curls is “special.”

When I asked the head of my daughter’s camp if any other parent complained, I expected that there would be several. After all, this is a wealthy suburb outside a cosmopolitan city with more Whole Foods than Food Lions. But the camp director told me that only one or two parents a year comment on the camp menu.

We send our children to camp and trust that the counselors and lifeguards will keep them safe, from the pool to the buses used for field trips. Shouldn’t a camp also have an obligation to keep our children safe at the snack table? Singling out a child whose parents are trying to teach her to care for her body and eat real food makes my job, as her parent, much harder and doesn’t do much to support the efforts of other parents who may be trying and struggling to do the same. Given what we know about junk food, and its impact on our health, shouldn’t our summer camps — and schools — help normalize the eating of healthy food, not exclude a child from the group just because she prefers to snack on whole foods?

And it’s not that children won’t eat these foods. In the work that we do at First Bites, we have seen preschoolers learn and love to make healthy smoothies, try new fruit, and — yes — even eat their broccoli.

It’s that it’s the job of all of us — parents as well as schools, summer camps, and after-school programs — to set the example and offer the right choices to our kids. It may cost a little more than Chips Ahoy or be more of a hassle to cut a piece of fresh fruit, but it’s the price we will need to pay to tackle the real disease plaguing our kids, obesity.

The Not-So-Sweet Side of Honey

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Think you are avoiding high fructose corn syrup and toxins by sweetening your whole food recipes with natural honey? You may be surprised to find that what you are eating is actually NOT pure honey, but ultra filtered, diluted honey mixed with high fructose corn syrup and other additives. Not only that, your “honey” may include carcinogens and heavy metals. Yes, even if it says “honey” on the label.

Why?

The FDA requires that any substance labeled as “honey” include bee pollen. That is the only way to ensure that the honey is pure and that it came from an identifiable source. The problem is, the FDA doesn’t test any substance labeled “honey” to make sure it actually includes pollen. Well that just makes sense, right?

So companies outside the U.S. have been taking honey, ultra-filtering it (removing most of its healthy benefits), adding all kinds of filler junk and selling it to U.S. grocery chains in those cute little bear bottles as honey. This is especially concerning for pregnant women and small children, as it takes less toxic materials to impact small, growing bodies.

In 2011, Food Safety News tested more than 70 brands of honey for pollen. This is what they found:

•76 percent of samples bought at groceries had all the pollen removed, These were stores like TOP Food, Safeway, Giant Eagle, QFC, Kroger, Metro Market, Harris Teeter, A&P, Stop & Shop and King Soopers.

•100 percent of the honey sampled from drugstores like Walgreens, Rite-Aid and CVS Pharmacy had no pollen.

•77 percent of the honey sampled from big box stores like Costco, Sam’s Club, Walmart, Target and H-E-B had the pollen filtered out.

•100 percent of the honey packaged in the small individual service portions from Smucker, McDonald’s and KFC had the pollen removed.

•Bryant found that every one of the samples Food Safety News bought at farmers markets, co-ops and “natural” stores like PCC and Trader Joe’s had the full, anticipated, amount of pollen.

And if you have to buy at major grocery chains, the analysis found that your odds are somewhat better of getting honey that wasn’t ultra-filtered if you buy brands labeled as organic. Out of seven samples tested, five (71 percent) were heavy with pollen. All of the organic honey was produced in Brazil, according to the labels.

So what is a honey-loving family to do? Here are some steps you can take to make sure that the honey you buy is actual honey and not Chinese high fructose corn syrup:

  1. Purchase your honey from a local farmer or at a local farmer’s market.
  2. Ask farmers about how they process their honey. You should buy raw or minimally processed honey if possible.
  3. Purchase your honey from a health food store (Whole Foods or Trader Joes, for example)
  4. If you purchase at the grocery store, buy honey labeled as organic.
  5. Avoid purchasing honey from a drug store or major discount store.

For more information and a list of products that were tested and did not contain pollen, click HERE.

Hillsborough Cheese Company

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My child is in love. With a cheese.

Really, it could be worse, right? This sweet infatuation began at the Western Wake Farmer’s Market, where we visited the booth of artisanal cheese makers The Hillsborough Cheese Company (hillsboroughcheese.wordpress.com). We had been looking for a local cheese source, and were thrilled to find the cheese booth, complete with tasting opportunities. We sampled a few and ended up purchasing some Eno Sharp for grilled cheese and some fresh mozzarella for pizza.

Then, we tried the Bloomin’ Sweet Ash, an aged goat cheese that gets its ashy exterior from the application of a food grade vegetable ash. Really! They describe the cheese this way: ‘The result is a creamy, gooey layer surrounding a delicious, chevre-like spreadable center that alternates between notes of sweetness and bitterness.” My child believes this is the best cheese. Ever. I heard about the virtues and superior quality of this cheese all the way home. Apparently, I am going to be adding this to my list next week.

Hillsborough Cheese Company offers a nice range of cow and goat milk cheeses made with locally produced milk. Their cow milk comes from Maple View Farm in Orange County, which sets the standard in our area for high quality, no growth hormone milk from pasture raised cows. Their goat milk comes from similar high quality goat dairies in the area. Cheesemaker Cindy West focuses on crafting European style cheeses and it appears that they have some standard offerings as well as some seasonal varieties that take advantage of available local ingredients.

So how was the cheese? We tried the Eno Sharp in our grilled cheese last night and all of us agreed it was amazing. It had perfect melting qualities and a wonderful milky taste that was not overly sharp, but had enough flavor that we could really taste the cheese. Hard to describe (I’m not a cheese expert by any means). We would definitely do this again.

The mozzarella is a fresh, hand stretched mozzarella that we used on our homemade pizzas. It was so much more flavorful than store-bought pizza cheese that I don’t think we’ll ever go back to shredded cheese in a bag. A $4.00 round of cheese made enough grated cheese for two pizzas, so that’s $2.00 a pizza–definitely within our budget.

Hillsborough Cheese Company cheese is available at some farmer’s markets in the area–check their website for specific information. As for me, I’ll be heading out Saturday to purchase some Bloomin’ Sweet Ash for my bloomin’ sweetie.

Memorial Day at the Market

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Had a great time at the Western Wake Farmers Market today! Although it is unseasonably chilly this weekend, we have lots of beautiful fresh produce. I especially loved the little girls who learned that you can eat some flowers, although they had a LOT of questions to ask before they would try it!

What’s fresh at the markets this week? Here is a summary!

Strawberries
Blueberries
Bok choi
Lettuce–all kinds
Rutabagas
Radish
Hothouse tomatoes
Hothouse cucumbers
Sugar snap peas
Garden peas
Cabbage
Broccoli
Yellow squash
Onions
Spring garlic
Kale
Beets
Turnips
Swiss chard

Happy market shopping!

New Favorite Place in the World–Le Parc Aux Cerfs

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Oh, duck confit, I love you.

Seriously. Eating on vacation, especially in a new country, can influence you and bring you new surprises. Like oxtail and escargo, and really high dining bills. Thanks to Trip Advisor, we found a wonderful, family-owned restaurant on rue Vavin in Paris (2 blocks from our apartment) that is both amazing for the quality of its food and for the fairness of its prices. Le Parc Aux Cerfs is one of those cozy bistros you hope to find in Paris–great food, comfortable environment, staff not afraid of poor French language skills–you know, all the things that make great memories! We were hungry after a day of museums and walking, so we each ordered the three course dinner–entree, feature and dessert for $37.00 per person. That might seem like a lot, but in Paris land, that is extremely good. Fifteen minutes into our dinner, Ellie declared, “Well, looks like we’ve found a new favorite place!”

I started with an artichoke heart and tomato couloirs salad that had Gorgonzola cheese sprinkles over top. It was delicious–light and refreshing. The tomato coulis was spread on a home made cracker-like wafer and served on top of the salad. Soooo good. Not sure I’ll be able to replicate this at home!

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My plan was to be more adventuresome with my feature, but the daily plate du jour was my favorite–duck confit with duck fat potatoes. Sold!!! The crispy duck and potatoes were decadent and flavorful. This is not fancy pants food–it is bistro cooking at it’s best.

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While my tummy was urging me to skip dessert, of course I did not. I had a crumble of seasonal fruits with a struesal topping and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Yum!!!

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I have a lot more walking to do to walk all that off! I was glad to be eating seasonal foods that are also traditional. And wine. We had a lovely cotes de rhone wine that was far superior (and less expensive) than what I’ve had in the states. I have some serious penance to do, but I’ll save that for next week 🙂

Improving Awareness of Farmers Markets

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I stumbled upon this fascinating article about one reason low-income families are still not shopping in large numbers at farmer’s markets. Access is, of course, one issue. If you don’t have transportation or a farmer’s market near you, you are probably not going to go searching for one. But, as access to fresh fruits and vegetables in low-income areas increases, farmer’s markets are still not seeing the turnout they expected. Why?

This article addresses the issues of education and awareness of not only what you can find at farmer’s markets, but also how to pay for it. Many markets have vendors now who accept SNAP food assistance, but it seems that many consumers don’t realize that or understand how it works.

HERE is the link to the article itself. An interesting point of discussion. At my farmer’s market runs this weekend, I am going to ask the vendors I use whether they accept SNAP and how it works for them.

In my area, I think a lot of older people understand how to cook fresh vegetables. North Carolina has always been an agricultural state and most people I meet over the age of 50 grew up either on farms or near their family farms. Most worked on farms. Hard work, for sure. It’s the younger people who I think need education of a different kind. They need to learn how to cook.

Nothing against microwave ovens (they are helpful), but the proliferation of microwaves and processed frozen foods have left us with at least one (and probably two) generations who have absolutely no idea how to cook from scratch. When you have no idea how to cook fresh food, you either don’t buy it or you buy it and it rots in your refrigerator because it seems like too much work.

In the 1930s, 40s and 50s, County Cooperative Extension offices around North Carolina had home demonstration agents who traveled to rural and urban areas around the state teaching women how to create balanced meals and how to can and preserve food safely. Now, some of these programs were condescending and a little misguided, especially in the South. But we need this kind of intentional effort now, offered in a more user-friendly way,  to reach out to young people and young families!

Do you see efforts in your area to increase education about how to use farmer’s markets? Efforts to improve cooking knowledge? Inquiring minds want to know. Share!

A Farm Tour! And Epic Buckwheat Fail

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If you watched Food Inc., you had the opportunity to see one of the coolest farms around, Polyface Farm. What makes farmer Joel Salatin such a cool person is not just his incredible respect for a better food chain, but his humility in realizing that in consuming any food, we are asking something to give itself up to us. Whether that is an animal or a plant, we are sacrificing something in order to feed ourselves, and that deserves some reflection. When we buy into factory farms and mass-produced chicken houses, we are determining a certain fate for both the land and the animals involved. Are we OK with that? It’s a compelling question.

One of my goals last year was to travel to Staunton, Virginia, and visit Salatin’s Polyface Farm. Due to scheduling issues, we never made it there. But now, we have tickets to a special tour at the farm on May 18th. The tour is called the Lunatic Farm Tour. I can’t wait!

Here is a great video clip about Joel Salatin from Handpicked Nation. Give it a watch. I like to imagine a world where we were all such lunatics. Enjoy!

http://www.handpickednation.com/videos/the-lunatic-farmer/

But on to buckwheat. I love a good buckwheat pancake, although I don’t make them at home. They have such a nice taste and are so satisfying. So when I saw a recipe in Clean Eating magazine for a stuffed acorn squash recipe with ham and buckwheat, I thought “why not?” The recipe looked pretty good, so I purchased some buckwheat and cooked it according to the recipe instructions. Here is what the instructions did not say:

CAUTION: BUCKWHEAT IS STINKY LIKE OLD GYM SOCKS AND WILL FUNK UP YOUR HOUSE FOR HOURS.

Maybe it’s me, but I think little tips like that are helpful.

You know the quote “you eat with your eyes”? Well, my friends, you eat with your nose, too, and if something smells like a middle school locker room, you’re probably going to have lots of leftovers. I am not sharing the recipe with you because I care for you and I am not going to pretend that just because it’s good for you it will taste good (or even smell good).

Part of the journey is trying new things. Sometimes they work, sometimes they leave you gasping for air. That’s life. Tomorrow I will share an experiment that worked. It is called Banana Bread Oatmeal. And it even smells good 🙂

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