Saturday, August 29, 2009

Park Slope Green Market

So I am house sitting for my cousin who lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn. This is not my neighborhood, but I am very familiar with it because I used to live with her a few summers ago. So today on a walk around Grand Army Plaza, I walked into the Park Slope Green Market! Here's some pics I took today:


Garlic & Potatoes





Greenpoint Green-ness

So after talking to one of my roommates today about rooftop farms, he showed me this article in New York Magazine. The Greenpoint location of Rooftop Farms is only a bus ride away for me! When I go and visit, expect an update about this place soon after :)


Friday, August 28, 2009

Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture

This past month or so I've been spending a couple evenings a week out at the Sustain Mizzou Research Farm (part of the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture).


I met Adam Saunders, CCUA's Director, at the Food, Inc. showing and discussion panel held at the Ragtag in July, and was excited to hear about efforts to bring sustainable urban farming, which is exeriencing a huge boom in other parts of the country, to central Missouri. Upon hearing they needed some help, I volunteered to come out and be an occasional farmbum (aka, plant some stuff and eat lots of their produce).


Maria was most often around when I was there. She's a Mizzou student helping run the garden in the summer, and she eventually wants to open a pet shop/vegan bakery downtown. I thought this was an awesome plan.


The garden is cute and studenty, with bicycle-wheel fences, wooden trellises and bean poles, and of course:


Requisite puppies.


Marigolds and various other flowers are planted on the ends of the established beds to discourage pests, encourage pollination, and add some color to the swaths of summer green.


Some of the goodies I hauled home early in the summer: carrots, leek, cucumber, lemon squash, tomatoes, and mustard seed.

My last day of working in the garden was this wednesday, which also happened to be the first day of the class/lab that the garden teaches for Mizzou students, so I spent the afternoon collecting seeds and meeting some really interesting people. It's the little activities like these, the involvements and connections I've finally begun to build in the Columbia sustainability and food advocacy scene, that make me sad to uproot and move, again. I'm getting to the point where I'd really like to be able to be one of the movers and shakers of the place I'm in, instead of just on the peripherals as a 'helper'.

Though I suppose I can try that back in Northfield, as this will be my third year in Farm House, which I will be co-managing. I have learned a lot of great things this summer and I really want to transfer all of my built up energy into something worthwhile. Of course, my senior comprehensive project may end up sucking the life out of me, but I'll remain optimistic for the time being. ;)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Pease excuse my absence (and bad jokes!)

So as Laura said, I up and left Chicago for New York City (tear!!!) and now I live in Brooklyn. Things are getting set up and organized still, so that's why I haven't been posting very much...not to mention I haven't been cooking the most epic of dinners upon moving in quite yet. I plan to have some pictures of this insane curry I made the other day up soon, though.

In the mean time, I came across a cute little picture I forgot to post!

This is from my last day of work at Uncommon Ground; a freshly harvested little pea pod. It was so sweet and delicious; I'm glad I documented it before savoring each of those little peas with closed eyes.

If you want to read about Uncommon Ground's rooftop farm, here is their blog - maintained by the lovely Natalie Pfister.

More informative and interesting entries soon, I promise!

much love from the BK,

Monday, August 17, 2009

Are organic vegetables healthier?

I apologize for the lack of updates! Leanne has recently made a big move and is surely busy as a bee (though I wouldn't mind hearing about/drooling over delicious vegan tales from the Big Apple, hinthint), and since I'm leaving Columbia in just over a week, I've been scrambling to take advantage of as much of the town and people here as I can before I ship out.

Kristin Jones, one of our readers, commented asking what we thought of the study done by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine that organic vegetables are no healthier than those grown conventionally.

Studies of food "health" focus on the numbers of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) found in plants. Different growing conditions can have an effect on these concentrations. Maintaining high soil quality is essential to this. Other factors include preventing overcrowding from weeds and other crops (thinning), adequate sunshine and water, pest management, and fertilizing.

Fertilizing can be done with organic (in the scientific sense) materials such as manure, compost, fish, and other ammendments, or with synthetic nitrogen and phosphorus. The second approach is indicative of a focus more on the macronutrient quality of the vegetable, or total yield (the amount of starches, sugars, protien, and fats produced). It lacks the diversity and complexity of other smaller, diverse nutrients present in materials like manure and compost that are essential to developing a rich soil and consequently nutrient-rich plants. However, other factors such as not tilling and nurturing colonies of beneficial fungi and microbial life is also essential for soil health.

In this way, I would generally consider organic practices to be superior to conventional ones for producing quality vegetables -- the system is more complex. However, the biggest factors affecting vegetable micronutrient density can be managed poorly or well in either a certified organic or conventional system. Many certified farms use extensive tilling as a way to control weeds in the absence of chemical herbicides. This can lead to compaction of the soil and disruption of structure and microbes that can be formed and maintained in a no-till system. Organic methods are not the be-all and end-all of good farm and soil management, and one can as easily produce a sad-looking apple from an organic orchard as a conventional one, depending on the differences in management style.

However, this study does acknowledge that there are, generally, differences between organic and conventional produce -- just not ones considered significant enough to affect the general nutritional value of the produce. The Times Online quotes Dr. Dangour, who headed the study:

There is more phosphorus in organic food. Phosphorus is an important mineral but it is available in everything we eat and is not important for public health. Acidity is also higher in organic produce but acidity is about taste and sensory perception and makes no difference at all for health.

A small number of differences in nutrient content were found to exist between organically and conventionally produced crops and livestock but these are unlikely to be of any public health relevance.

Our review indicates that there is currently no evidence to support the selection of organically over conventionally-produced foods on the basis of nutritional superiority.

They clarify, however, that the study did not (and did not intend to) investigate agricultural residues (pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides) on produce, or compare their quality of taste. There have been other inconclusive studies on taste, but my reaction to this study basically boils down to several points:

1) Nutrient content is controlled by two factors: environment (growing methods) and DNA. By nature of just being a vegetable, it's going to contain a certain amount of nutrients. However, soil quality and nutrient availability also affect the resulting micronutrient content of what is grown. Nutrient-dense plants can be grown in either a conventional or organic environment, if the other relevant factors are managed correctly. Nonetheless, it does seem that (small) organic certified farms generally take a healthier approach to farm management than conventional ones, if only for the fact that the certification puts them in the realm of thinking about things like soil quality and general sustainability.

2) Buying organic isn't about the nutrient content. While there are some people who live and die by the claim that their organic tomato has more Vit. C than a conventional one, this isn't the reason that most people who buy organic make the choices that they do. It's about being one step closer to knowing what happened to your food -- was it sprayed with synthetic pesticides? Was it genetically modified? The idea behind organic is that you should be able to answer these questions about your food.

3) Organic is a label, not a guarantee. Organic vegetables will not cure your cancer. They will not make your lame dog get up and dance. They will not do the Moon Walk across your counter in colorful veggie-extacy. Please refer to my earlier post if need be. However, endorsing this label does send a message, especially to the conventional industry -- that people are not satisfied with their current relationship with food, and are willing to pay and support farmers to see a change in the way the system operates. The same can be said of the local (and slow) food movements, which bring you directly in contact with the source of your food. You can tell your farmer exactly what you think and want from them.

4) The study isn't questioning the merits of organic methods, nor it is even claiming that there aren't taste or nutritional differences between organically grown vegetables and conventional ones (see above quote). It is simply saying that for the average consumer, you are not loosing out on vital amounts of nutrients by buying conventional produce instead of organic. Perhaps the motivation behind this whole ordeal is to validate that people can improve their diets to contain healthier foods without necessarily spending the extra bucks?*

Peter Melchett, policy director at the Soil Association, admitted that he was disappointed by the conclusions but said that he was confident that consumers would make their own minds up. (emphasis mine)

This pretty much sums it up. Regardless of this publication, you have the mental capacities to make your own decisions about what is and isn't important to you in the food you buy. What will this study do, then? Maybe attempt to end catty remarks from suburban soccer moms who are absolutely horrified that someone without financial means might feed their child a conventionally grown carrot* or not shell out for a morally superior onsie, ohmigod don't you love your children?!?!? However, it seems to me that supporters of the organic movement are already pretty aware that their purchasing choices are about supporting the kind of agriculture they want to, avoiding bioaccumulation of possibly harmful residues, or any number of other factors that go into the decision outside of micronutrient content.

If you're someone who acknowledges that health -- for yourself, the planet, and the agricultural industry -- is not dictated only by what % RDA Calcium your spinach has per serving, this study at least shouldn't prevent you from buying organic.

*Though there are plenty of ways to make organic "affordable" for anyone, that's a topic worthy of its own post.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Chickpea Amaranth Hot Salad and Cinnamon Dusted Peach

It occured to me recently that cooking amaranth grain and greens together would be a fun way to combine two very nutritionally different parts of the same plant. Unfortunately Chert Hollow has finished their last week of the greens, so I had to substitute, but I like to think it's the thought that counts?

I enjoyed this meal with local fresh ingredients for dinner a few nights ago (forgive the muddy photo).

Chickpea Amaranth Hot Salad and Cinnamon Dusted Peach

2/3 cup Chickpeas
1/8 cup Amaranth Grain (feel free to use more, this was all I had left)
1 cup Amaranth Greens (I used a mustard greens mix since I didn't have any)
4 Cherry Tomatoes
1 tbsp. Grapeseed Oil
5 leaves Basil
1/2 tbsp. Sage
1/2 clove Garlic
1 tsp Balsamic Vinegar (don't use a lot or the flavor can overwhelm the sage)
Salt to taste
Black Pepper to taste

For dry beans, soak overnight and simmer in water for approximately 1 hr or until tender; canned beans need only be rinsed. Amaranth should be simmered in two times its volume of water for ~15 minutes, or until the water has been absorbed and the grains are tender (texture similar to quinoa). Be careful not to overcook amaranth, as the tiny grains can get mushy and really just become a dinner party-pooper. Sautee the greens, cooked chickpeas, oil, balsamic, garlic, and sage together for ~5 minutes or until wilted. Pile cooked amaranth on top. Add sliced tomatoes and chopped basil at the end, and sprinkle salt and pepper over the stacked salad, and enjoy!

A vendor at the Columbia Farmer's Market has started selling "chemical-free" peaches, and man are they delicious. The dessert is pretty straightforward. Slice one ripe, juicy peach and sprinkle cinnamon over it. Yum.