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5 Choices to Consider for Organic

September 15, 2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACan “not quite organic” save you money? Many are concerned about their food supply but a common comment is ” it is really really spendy.” These costs are because of increased cost of production, but also organic doesn’t always mean what people think it means. How do you reduce costs but maximize choice?

Understand that for the most part the US food supply is safe. No matter what movies and television or sensationalized expose clips say tens of millions of people eat and do so in safety. Some do have concerns. “I don’t want pesticides in my food” – but how far we take that is another thing. Bugs, rodents and other pests usually ruin a dinner party.

So how do you save money off ‘organic’ but exercise your choice? First realize your choices! Know what organic means – not just what you think it means. The National Organic Program sets specific standards that are in place. It’s important to note certified organic and ‘organic’ is not necessarily the same thing. I can grow a garden without pesticides and chemical fertilizers, but may not be certified organic. Often this doesn’t mean what many consumers think it means. “I get recall notices by email from the health department and plenty of organic suppliers have things recalled for the same reasons that big companies do. It is not always necessary to pay more to get something healthy for your family.” Remember many things are organic – including e.coli, Japanese beetles, salmonella and squash bugs – it doesn’t mean we want them in our food!

Secondly choose on facts not on fear. There are any number of “experts” who haven’t run a farm. There are “facts” put forth that are just plain wrong at best and slanderous at worst. This creates fear in consumers and often is followed with a solution that costs quite a bit more money. If you buy produce from that garden I grew it’s still without chemicals or with a specific management. This is perhaps higher with animal products, with many claiming hormone and steroid free chicken – the fact is hormones have been banned in chicken feed for over 50 years. There are natural hormones in everything – from chicken to peas to beans to cows. Know the facts – don’t choose on fear.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThird be willing to make an extra effort. If it’s really important to you are you willing to stock up on food? Many sell half or whole beef or pig as well as lamb, poultry, rabbit and other meats. A whole pig means 180 or so pounds of meat, not a side of bacon. It’s two hams that may be ‘green’ (unprocessed) or smoked or otherwise treated.

Fourth get to know the real people that produce food. If you’re buying organic direct from a CSA or farmer’s market this is easy. If you buy at the local Piggly Wiggly it may not be as personalized but you can still talk to many who grow food from meats to produce to orchards and grains from the convenience of your home. On Twitter with #foodchat and #agchat hashtags you can tap right in to the people farming for you. Hear the individual stories.

Finally be willing to put time and effort into it. Is it worth buying fresh if it means another 10 minute drive or if you have to cut it up yourself? Are you willing to process the ‘real food’ in your kitchen at home? Sometimes it takes extra effort, but if you get a chance at 50 pounds of produce do you turn it down or freeze or can it? There are ways to save money and extend the growing season.

Food choice is an awesome thing. If you’re interested in choices, there are farmers out here wanting to provide it but they need to make a living too. Buying direct allows this – and can save you money too!

Fruit Facts You Should Know

September 12, 2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFruit fresh from the farm is a natural source of sugar. It can be a snack, an ingredient in a main dish or a dessert. It can be served raw, cooked, blended, dried, frozen or canned.

Orange juice is one of many fruits that can even be consumed for breakfast. Real orange juice provides valuable nutrients including vitamin C, potassium and thiamin. Additionally it is a good source of folate which is needed for a healthy immune system to make new cells. Some believe production of healthy cells is key in cancer prevention. Potassium is goo for heart health.

Grapefruit juice adds zing to salads or drinks with soda water. It also is a nutrient rich source of vitamin C that can help with weight management, skin maintenance and strengthen immune system.

There are at least two dozen types of avocado. Maturity is from February to December depending on the variety.

Banana trees are decorative as well as useful and very popular in warm weather gardens for landscaping. They spread by suckers to grow new trees and need to be protected from cold weather.

Pineapple grows to five feet high. Some varieties are tender and best for eating fresh. The smooth cayenne variety from Hawaii is the most common for canning.

Before ripening peaches, plums and nectarine fruits are extremely temperature sensitive. Temperatures under 50F degrees will shorten the lifespan of the fruit by 75%.

Fruits can be used not only fresh and frozen but also dried as snacks, such as apple or banana chips. They can also be used for desserts of many kinds.

Dwarf fruit trees are a good way to use functional landscaping as well as decorative. A variety of fruits can be grown even in small areas. Also berries of various types can be grown in landscaping from blueberries in containers to blackberries along fence lines.

Modern varieties of fruit trees and shrubs extend the season with some varieties maturing early, some intermediate and some late maturing. By planting all three of these types it means a much longer harvest season. Different varieties of some types of fruits may be more cold or heat tolerant, also insuring a wider range of growing areas.

Fruit is a favorite food item for millions of customers for meals, accents, desserts and snacks. A minimum of pesticides and herbicides are used for orchard maintenance to prevent fungus and other pests from infecting the trees which results in a total loss for the orchard.

Be it fresh, frozen or preserved learning more about the fruits you eat is good. The use of social media means it’s increasingly easy to talk to growers directly and learn about your food supply.

~This is an excerpt from A Look at Agriculture – an ebook available through the website for just $3.

California Cuisine Means Luxury, Fresh

September 12, 2014

Central_Kitchen_SFA taste of California can vary with the rich agricultural heritage found within the state’s borders.

For many California cuisine starts and ends in Napa Valley and with restaurants such as Meadowood they seek to “wow” people. Set in a beautiful area combines on site garden that provides much of the vegetables highlighted in the chef’s creations with wine, as one would expect in wine country. Meadowood has 85 cottages, suites and lodges that range from $575 to $3000 per night, sitting on 250 acres in the heart of wine country. This makes it an excellent destination for weddings or anniversaries. The Grill is open daily for lunch or dinner, with brunch served on Saturday. The Restaurant is open Monday through Saturday for dinner only. This highlights not only the taste of California but the luxury. Located at 900 Meadowood Lane, St Helena California this is an accommodation for a destination trip to remember. The use of “farm to table” concept means the menu will vary, more seasonally than many may be used to.

Travelling down the coast another taste of California can be found at Princeton Seafood Restaurant & Market located at 80 Capistrano Road, Half Moon Bay. There are standard fish & chips, scallops, calamari, oysters, pacific red snapper as well as burgers, pasta, steamed clams and much more. Their award winning clam chowder and fresh seafood while close enough to smell the ocean is a treat. Although not the high level of presentation of Napa Valley this shows the different side of California – the laid back rootsy side many miss.

Travel further south along the coast to Monterey to stop at the Monterey Bay Aquarium then dine at the Sardine Factory at 701 Wave Street in Monterey. Indulge in seafood, duck, steak or a host of other delicacies this is a can’t miss place for celebrities and “every day” people alike. One of the top restaurants in California and featuring good food with (what else) California wine this is a restaurant success story. Reasonable prices, a variety of foods available, convenience and the beauty of Monterey mean an unforgettable experience.

The Market Restaurant in Del Mar is a place that comes recommended for accommodating diets such as gluten free. With chef prepared dishes such as “BLT” Salad & aged white cheddar grilled cheese and pan roasted king salmon & Maine lobster ravioli this is a restaurant that also puts a high priority on the beginning ingredients. Located at 3702 Via de le Valle, Del Mar there’s a sushi, dinner and dessert menu. Many of the dishes are seasonal, allowing for fresher eating. Salads under $20, entrees including steak, salmon and other prime level meals are higher.

From seafood to locally grown California cuisine is tops when combined with a memorable trip down the coast.

It’s Not Fair! We Want THIS…as Long As You Pay For It

September 9, 2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHave you heard about the organic company that was purchased by an established food giant? It seems Annie’s – beloved by the organic nonGMO crowd – has sold out and was purchased by General Mills. The heat coming from the screen is intense.

Comments. Oh so many comments. Angry people “it’s just about money”…”the profit is most important”. Some nasty, ugly, horrible comments I won’t repeat here (nor allow in my comment section). All pointing fingers.

It’s a funny thing about pointing fingers. You point and there’s three pointing back at you. Point all five and it’s a handshake – a discussion and a chance for, maybe, finding solutions. One comment is from someone working for a large seller of pork products – they don’t use GMOs? So if he works for something he doesn’t believe in is it just about money?

I’ve been following the public demand on many levels for a few years. It’s what we do, of course, but on a bigger level I’ve shared insights and told I’ve been wrong a lot. A year, two years later not only was I not wrong, I was absolutely bullseye dead on. And that’s frustrating enough to curse and swear and scream but I won’t because it’s not productive.

You see, I watched the campaign to target Cheerios on and off for over a year – flooding their Facebook page demanding nonGMO. Most flooding was from folks that were not customers, clearly, but wanted their will be done no matter what customers thought. They weren’t interested in alternatives like we offer at SlowMoneyFarm (involving cooking!) but in making other products what they wanted. Customers that were actually buying Cheerios and liked it. So, famously, Cheerios altered the ingredients and used nonGMO ingredients. I made several comments that those who had been flooding the page better go buy Cheerios so the sales went up. If sales did not go up it would affect other products being made nonGMO. Current customers, in action, did not care about the ingredients used.

Guess what.

The new, non-GMO version of Cheerios isn’t moving the sales needle significantly for General Mills GIS -0.64% , and the giant cereal company isn’t planning any more non-GMO products after it went to a lot of trouble to source non-GMO Cheerios.

But these developments aren’t being reported anywhere other than in FoodBusinessNews.net, which broke the story. The silence that has greeted them is quite a contrast to the enthusiastic echo chamber that was created by legions of news media, from the food trades and way beyond, that last month hailed General Mills’ decision to begin offering its classic Cheerios cereal in mostly-non-GMO form. Soon after, Post Foods said that its Grape-Nuts cereal had been certified GMO-free. Source – Forbes

Wow. Not only was I right in no more being added but classic Cheerios. If people don’t buy it then it will cease to be.

So back to Annie‘s and what people want. Or don’t want – because negative gets so much more action than – well – ACTION.

Annie’s was co-founded in 1989 by Annie Withey, aiming to provide natural foods for moms to feed their families. She initially built the business by word of mouth. Withey, whose rabbit Bernie inspired the company’s bunny mascot, still writes the personal letters printed on the product boxes and “remains the inspiration and corporate conscience” for the company’s products, according to its website.

So this food business started in 1989. I’m guessing there isn’t a lot of those upset that were a customer the whole time, but from a word of mouth business to, reportedly, over $204million in sales the most recent fiscal year is a huge accomplishment. Is there anyone reading who doesn’t think it was for money? Anyone think that all that money was given away and not used to benefit the family and business it became?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANow, because it changed owners it’s “evil” – it’s crossed to the dark side of a company that uses GMOs. It was a good investment – purchased for $230 million it was a business decision made on demand of customers. If people cease to buy it guess what – less organic, nonGMO products still. It proves that “it was a fad” and people aren’t serious. The business dies and other food takes its place.

The vast majority of Americans are content with the diversity and taste of America’s foods. Some want other choices, and there is that. But for every cry of “it’s all about the money” where’s the spending money to make it happen?

Personally, here at our little spot, we do nonGMO but, like Cheerios, don’t see a lot of sales based on that fact. OK we see no sales based on that. Does. Not Matter. We aren’t obsessive about our food, like probably most Americans out there. We product heritage/heirloom nonGMO options because they work for us, we like them and it’s what people keep saying they want. After four years of losses we’re altering that gauge slightly for a better 2015. We’re eliminating the farm share option due to lack of interest (honoring the few that signed up for one), and reworking to offer more of what is selling, what might sell and going beyond what people say they want. Is it about money? Like most businesses of course it is. Has to be in order to keep going. Is that a bad thing?

Why is it greedy to want to be able to pay bills? While some criticize businesses for not paying minimum wage, if we truly figured the hours into the venture it’d be pennies, not dollars. Change needed! And coming!

Food choices are what we all have. More food choices than we appreciate most of the time. There’s a reason that there’s large farms and small, large food companies and small – food choices. It takes people financing those choices. It takes investing in niche markets if you want niche markets. Don’t leave it for someone else because someone else won’t do it! Finance isn’t just buying at the lowest cost possible. It’s financing those projects going forward and looking at all links of the chain for your investment dollars.

Be aware of all the steps to get from our farms to your plate. Help insure those links in the chain are there tomorrow. Especially with niche markets, it’s critical to survival. But don’t underestimate – large companies too if it’s not profitable it won’t be there.

Invest in your food.

Dehydrated Vegetables Extends the Season

September 9, 2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADehydrating vegetables is an easy way to create “instant” meals from scratch as well as store your produce in a way that even if the power goes out it won’t spoil and – even better – you have easily prepared food to eat! This is a win win win situation and yet one that too many people overlook!

Processed dehydrated foods have been a billion dollar industry. From the instant cup of soups to the boxed potato dinners to the “add boiling water” casseroles we love instant. Many don’t like the preservatives and question the things in the ingredient labels they can’t pronounce. Perhaps there’s food allergies in the family or you want to get away from artificial dyes and colorings. There are many reasons to look at dehydrated vegetables.

Dehydrating is easier and more reliable than ever with modern dehydrators and food slicing equipment. Blanching or steaming vegetables helps insure a quality product both in drying and in rehydrating. Some items such as potatoes may discolor, although I’ve found blanched ones shredded or cut finely are less likely to discolor than large pieces.

Small vegetables such as peas, corn and like sized items generally dry faster than such things as sliced carrots. Keep slices under ¼” thick for best drying. A controlled temperature of under 140F will dry without further cooking the vegetables. Proper storage and packaging in airtight containers is important for maximum care. Use sliced mixed vegetables in casseroles, or diced and dehydrated in vegetable soup.

Add seasonings or sauces, combine them in stews or your own prepackaged ‘instant’ meals. You can also find creative and tasty dishes using your home dried foods. For example cut carrots diagonally and dry thoroughly. Use 1 ½ cups dried carrots and pour boiling water over to rehydrate them, simmering gently until plump then drain off excess liquid if there is any. Stir in 2 tablespoons each butter or margarine, brown sugar and Dijon style mustard along with ¼ teaspoon salt (optional) for 4-6 servings of glazed carrots.

Hash browns are another item easily used many ways. Vegetable soups, hobo stews, chowders and homemade from scratch pot pies are other ways to stretch the season out using dehydrated vegetables. You can even shred carrots, zucchini and other foods and dry to use in cakes and breads.

Dehydrating foods has long held a place because it works well. It doesn’t rely on electricity to keep it frozen, it is easily used even over a campfire and offers nutrition while making the most of the harvest.

Easy Budget Stretching Rice Recipes

September 8, 2014

RiceFieldWikimediaCommonsMany Americans are struggling to stretch budgets when it comes to food. Around the world rice is an inexpensive grain that has a wide range of uses in our kitchens. It is filling and can be used in a variety of dishes.

With 15 ways to fix rice this can stretch the budget once or twice per week without giving up taste and nutrition. Fried Rice is an easy and tasty way to enjoy rice. The rice dinners can take on the tastes of the seasonings be it sweet or spicy as well as a wide variety of other tastes.

Beef Stir Fry. Combine in a small bowl 2 tablespoons corn starch in 2 cups of old water and add 2 tablespoons soy sauce, mixing well and set aside. In a large skillet or rock stir fry 1 bunch chopped broccoli with 3medium carrots, julienned in a tablespoon oil until they begin to soften. Add a pound boneless beef that has been cut into strips and 3 cloves minced garlic, ½ teaspoon pepper and 2 tablespoons soy sauce. Cook until meat is done (no longer pink) and set aside. In the same pan stir fry 2 medium green peppers and 2 medium red peppers that have been cut into strips with 2 medium onions (halved and sliced) and 1 yellow summer squash, sliced. Cook these until they are crisp-tender, return the beef to the pan and add the cornstarch mixture to the pan. Cook and stir for 2 minutes, stir in a cup and a half of cashews and serve over hot cooked rice. This makes 7 servings which allows for a family of 4 to have leftovers for the adults to take “heat and serve” lunch to work the next day.

Rice can also be a side dish such as what could largely be home grown. Bring 3 ¾ cup water or broth to boil and stir in 2/3 cup wild rice and 2/3 cup long grained brown rice with ¾ teaspoon salt. Return to a boil then lower heat and cover, simmering for 40 minutes or until all the water is absorbed. In a large skillet heat 2 tablespoons margarine or butter and add a cup chopped red onion and ½ cup diced celery. Sauté until onion is golden brown, then add 2 medium tart apples that have been peeled, cored and diced and sauté another 5 minutes. Stir in the rice mixture and mix in 1/3 cup orange juice, 3 scallion greens that have been thinly sliced, ¼ cup currants, 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg and ¼ teaspoon pepper, and sauté on low, stirring frequently for 5 minutes. If needed add a little more liquid if needed. Stir in 2 tablespoons minced parsley and ½ cup chopped pecans.

Rice can also be used for dessert as rice pudding or other sweet treats. Here are some ways to enjoy this nutritious and inexpensive grain:

Rice pudding

Tomato & Garlic Rice

Rice Fritters

Cheesy Mexican Rice

Mandarin Orange Rice & Shrimp Lettuce Wrap

Spicy Jalapeno Rice

Chocolate macaroon rice pudding

Louisiana Dirty Rice

Mint leaves rice

Spanish rice

Easy Rice Bake Casserole

Spicy Thai Chicken salad

Rice doesn’t have to be bland or boring! Look at ethnic adventures in food like Indian, Chinese or Thai recipes. Save money, eat healthier and broaden culinary skills with rice in some of your meals!

 

Build Healthier Brown Bag Lunches for Your Kids

September 7, 2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGetting kids to eat healthy lunches can be a challenge. Even those who don’t shy from good food at home can bend to peer pressure and being ‘cool’ when with friends. Sometimes this takes compromising to find something that is good and that they’ll actually eat. After all the healthiest food does no good if it’s given away or – worse – thrown away! Consider these healthy and easily “customized” brown bag lunch ideas.

This can mean finding ways to keep cold things cold and warm things warm not only from a food safety issue but also from a taste standpoint. Anyone remember the things we liked cold or hot but when warm it was not appealing enough to even eat? Do we really think that changes?! Technology allows packing hot foods in the morning that stay hot until lunch time. This makes brown bag lunches better than ever.

Here are 17 things to consider for kids lunches.

  1. Peanut butter with or without jelly is a favorite of many and if it isn’t broke don’t fix it – you can even add homemade peanut butter cookies.
  2. Popcorn – season with a little parmesan cheese or other flavoring. Add nuts and dried fruit that they like – you can make this inexpensively at home to reduce the sugar and preservatives.
  3. Slice veggies into small sized bites. Consider apple chips or zucchini chips and be it dried or fresh use small containers for dip or salsa.
  4. Use deli slice meats at home in wraps using ingredients you approve of
  5. Use a sandwich maker to make “hot pocket” sandwiches at home – use meats, cheese, vegetables.
  6. Soup cups and other “instant” meals can be rehydrated with hot water at most cafeterias – you can easily make these too at home. This gives you more control to the salt, sugar and preservative content and you can even sneak in powdered vegetables for the kids who don’t like veggies.
  7. Make a taco salad with shredded lettuce, tomatoes and cheese in a plastic container, adding low fat tortilla chips or dressing at lunch time.
  8. Consider meal muffins. Many use muffins for snacks but you can make them with bacon bits, cheese, cornbread and many other options. You can even bake TexMex cornbread muffins with bbq or taco meat which can be warmed up with access to a microwave.
  9. Jerky – turkey or beef jerky is a “cool” way to get nutrition and – again – made at home you control what goes in it. A simple marinade of A1, BBQ sauce, pepper, a little soy sauce, garlic powder and dash of onion powder mixed thoroughly, marinade then dry in a food dehydrator. Be sure to follow recommended temperatures for drying meats. Make it easier still – have your met counter slice lean meats “bacon thick” – easy to marinade and toss in the dehydrator.
  10. Along with the jerky make a “granola mix” – use nuts, dried banana chips, raisins dried cranberries, a handful of coconut or blueberries. They think they’re snacking – you know it’s good for them
  11. Cold pasta salad, or potato salad. Small individual containers make this easier than ever.
  12. Soups or stews can be sent in insulated food jars. This with a hard roll or garlic sticks (made at home) is good and good for them.
  13. Casseroles with everything in it – easy way to use leftovers.
  14. Chili with crackers or toasted bread.
  15. Lasagna, spaghetti, even macaroni and cheese with diced ham and veggies mixed in.
  16. Kids like desserts – give them options you want. For example Zucchini brownies gives them the snack they want and they don’t know they’re eating zucchini, peanut butter and yogurt. You can further cut the sugar using honey as a sweetener.
  17. They want cookies too? Try these with zucchini.

Brown bag lunches don’t have to be a hassle. Find ways to include what they want in a healthier way and all win.

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