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Allan designs and plants flowering gardens in Montreal, Zone 5 [USDA Zone 4] .

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Entries in vegetables (3)

Tuesday
Jan012013

Government in the Garden

An exciting attraction for food lovers, who spend their summer vacation in the Adirondacks of Upstate New York, is the opportunity to buy fresh produce from local cultivators. Here, farmers grow fruits and vegetables in a sustainable manner and raise chickens that roam free. This production, offered weekly at Farmers Markets throughout the area, tastes better than the selection found in supermarkets. In the recent past, this food was also perceived to be healthier.

When interest in organically raised animals and produce peaked, the farmer-merchants were in an advantageous position to embrace this new trend in eating. Supposedly, all they had to do was to change the quality of the nutrients they fed both plants and livestock and avoid using harmful pesticides.

It was exciting and convenient for vacationing consumers to shop from local farmers. Now, not only was it possible to purchase tastier food, freshly harvested that same day, but also it was food grown in a sustainable, responsible manner, with a low carbon footprint because it was sourced nearby.

However, something changed this past summer. When we arrived at the market on the first day of our vacation, we were disapointed to see that the signs designating the stalls as organic were no longer posted.  That's when we began asking questions.

One chicken farmer told us that the price of organic feed had increased to a level that made it prohibitive for her to run a farm profitably. She assured us that she was using the next best alternative; a quality feed several grades higher than conventional.

A second farmer reported that she was unable to declare her food organic without paying for a permit and that she found the cost of government-certified organic labeling too costly.

The last stall owner we spoke to was dismayed by the constantly changing government guidelines. It had become too expensive to adapt his farm to newer regulations every season.

In the end, all the cultivators assured us that they had found alternative, eco-friendly and healthy solutions that were less costly and bureaucratic. They did remind us that unregulated organic practices still remains an option for those gardeners who choose to grow food for personal consumption.

Ironically, the debate on this topic is slowly coming full circle. Using organic pesticide that requires repeated applications is proving to be more harmful than using factory-produced pesticides that are effective with just one application. Furthermore, there is a growing realization among scientists that there is no empirical evidence to confirm that eating organic is healthier than eating conventionally grown food. There is, however, a consensus that the advantage to eating organic is that food tastes better. For some people, that is a sufficient reason to consume it, and to pay a premium for that choice.

However, for most of the world’s population, paying for certified organic remains an expensive and debatable alternative. Even supporting local non-organic farmers comes at a high price because the cost of their harvest is often much higher than supermarket food. However, when I am on vacation, I am happy to source freshly harvested, tasty food, locally grown by farmers I trust. It enhances the rural, outdoor experience and in some way helps us city folk reconnect with nature.

Friday
Sep232011

Curious - but -True Stories of Common Vegetables

How Carrots Won the Trojan War, Curious [but True] Stories of Common Vegetables, Rebecca Rupp, Storey Publishing,                     ISBN 978-1-60342-968-9

When storyteller-scientists write fascinating books on mundane subjects, suddenly everyone wants to know about them. Ask some people to read about the history of an edible plant and they might roll their eyes with annoyance; others might gasp in disbelief that interesting stories are associated with the plant food we eat. Here is a delightful little book on that very subject, written by a talented educator who understands the importance of delivering information in an entertaining and engaging manner.

The author has collected unusual and unheard of anecdotes about twenty edible plants. From her book, we learn not only about the impact of certain vegetables and fruit on historic events but also about the effect of these edible plants on the lives of prominent players in the narrative of our civilization. I found myself eager to finish reading about one vegetable, in order to discover what the author might reveal about another.

Think of a popular edible plant and Dr. Rupp has an interesting story about it, from how asparagus seduced the King of France, to how celery contributed to Casanovas conquests. Before discovering these nuggets of information, I did not know how peppers won the Nobel Prize or how an eggplant made a holy man faint. Most interesting, was to learn that lettuce could put an insomniac to sleep.

In the chapter titled “How Spinach Deceived a Generation of Children”, we learn that a scientist’s misplaced decimal point ascribed to spinach an iron content ten times higher than it actually has. Consequently, in the late 1920’s, when Popeye the Sailor gulped down a whole tin of this cooked vegetable, depression-era kids emulated his action, erroneously believing that eating spinach would make them stronger.

Oddly enough, as soon as I got into the book – and that happened immediately - I became as interested in the author as I was in the text. After all, who writes about the historical significance of carrots, anyway? And why? Who is this writer? How did she accumulate so much fascinating information about the influence of plants on human activity?

Rebecca Rupp holds a PhD in cell biology and biochemistry. She has written over a dozen books for children and adults, as well as hundreds of articles for magazines, including Country Journal, Early American Life, Mother Earth News, Natural History, and Utne Reader. In addition, she writes a monthly column for "Home Education Magazine".

By homeschooled her three sons, Dr. Rupp has first-hand knowledge that kids respond best to scientific information when it is presented in a manner that is fun, lively, and offbeat. To help her children keep their attention focused, she combined impeccable science with strange-but-true examples and exciting experiments and projects designed to reinforce important concepts.

One of her publications titled “Weather: A Book about Pink Snow, Fighting Kites, Lightning Rods, Rains of Frogs,Typhoons, Tornadoes, and Ice Balls from Space” is considered to be a breakthrough book for stimulating children’s interest in science. The author’s extraordinary attention to factual details, combined with a storyteller’s skill, is what turns the reading of “How Carrots Won the Trojan War” into a delightful experience. No, I cannot reveal the military secrets of this root vegetable. Interested readers will have to obtain a copy of the book to discover that information for themselves.

This review originally appeared at bookpleasure.com, an international online book review site.

                                            

Thursday
Jul152010

Gardening and Junk Food; Connect the Dots.

Once upon a time, peoples’ lives were sustained by the crops they grew and the animals they raised. Industrial life, which began in the early 18th century, changed that when the tenders of fields and animals found enticing employment in factories. Growing food became the responsibility of somebody else. Today, many of us are sustained by the prepackaged foods we buy in the supermarket. While that might be a great convenience for many, it has its down side. By delegating to others the processing of our food, we have abdicated responsibility for the quality of the nutrition that we put into our bodies. Furthermore, the ultimate indignity to our health is that some of us also place our trust in the menus of fast food restaurants.

To remain profitable, fast food chains rely on customers that are in a constant state of desire. These restaurants achieve that goal by ensuring that their menu items satisfy the body’s need for pleasure; a feeling that is triggered when one ingests large quantities of sugar, fat, or salt. The customer who feels pleasure after eating fast food is motivated to eat it again the next day. It is the ingestion of excessive amounts of sugar, fat and salt that contributes to poor health world-wide.

Many individuals do not care about the health consequences of eating fast, pre packaged or prepared food. However, health care providers and business people do care. The bodies of the populace are fatter than they were in the past and people are more susceptible to life threatening illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease. The toll on our society is great. More people get sick more often and require medical intervention more frequently. The result is higher health care insurance premiums for business, government and individuals. In the end, it becomes costly to sustain an unhealthy population. Just as some environmentally sensitive gardeners care about sustaining the earth, everyone should be worried about sustaining his or her own health.

The financial benefit of keeping a population healthy has not been lost on some local governments, where change and solutions seem to be easier to legislate than at state or federal levels. A few years ago, smoking was banned in public places in New York City, then trans-fats were outlawed in its restaurants, and recently that city mandated that the calories in food served in restaurants be posted on the menus. Calories do count. If we consume too many, we risk compromising our health.

One way to reduce one’s daily caloric intake is to have at least one meal a day containing a very large component of fresh produce. Such a menu makes farmers’ markets and farmers’ co-ops invaluable. Supermarket produce may be convenient but its taste cannot compare to food grown locally. Anyone who has received weekly deliveries of locally grown, awesome smelling and amazingly tasty fresh fruits and vegetables will attest to how their families’ eating habits have become healthier and how they appreciate the importance of the local farmer. The gardener, who is unable to grow vegetables or prefers not to do so, should consider supporting those that do. Have you visited a Farmer’s Market lately?  .