The USDA Wants You To “Know Your Farmer”

This morning I was fortunate to attend new media press event with Kathleen Merrigan, Deputy Secretary of Agriculture. A small group of us took a short trip outside of Washing DC to Tree and Leaf Farm. Which is exactly 47 miles away from the Dupont Farmers Market in the city, according to co-owner Georgia O’Neal.

The reason for this farm adventure was to launch a very special program for the USDA, called Know Your Farmer Know Your Food. The details of which are still coming out. DepSec Merrigan did clue us in on the plan which includes a weeklong series of programs, announcements, and events. With the culminating event being the official opening of a farmers market one block away from the White HouseThough for new media fans, on Friday Kathleen Merrigan will be entertaining a live facebook chat.

I am betting that for the rest of the country the white house farmers market will be the big hit. It’s an easily condensible byte of news and I expect it to hit all the major networks this Thursday and throughout the weekend. The news for farmers should be a big hit as well since it announces many new plans for grants, guides, and programs. All in support of the campaign promises of Obama and Agriculture Secretary Vilsack’s idea of “wealth creation” in rural communities.

Tree and Leaf

Tree and Leaf Farm

News aside, it was quite refreshing to visit one of DC’s regional farms the Tree and Leaf. The farm is run by Zach Lester and Georgia O’Neal who offer their bounty on Saturday’s at the Mount Pleasant Farmers Market and on Sunday at the Dupont Market. They have 5 acres of land and according to Zach produce a wide variety of crops.

They are definitely into the Organic movement, though I would say they better align with Joel Salatin’s credo of “beyond organic”. Even in our short time Zach dropped into biodynamics, the five folds of nature, the importance of compost, and more.

Their story gets more interesting as you dig into it. Their farm operations include several employees and one farm manager who helps with the direct marketing (getting the food sold), on only five acres of land!

Georgia and Zach

The land is is rented on a year-to-year lease. This is causing them some hardship since Organic farming requires a few years investment to get into place and not having a multi-year deal means they may expend money and sweat for no reason. It also deters them from making infrastructure improvements to increase their food quality, type, and length (growing in deep season, winter).

Their food is sold in markets and CSA’s in DC, but rarely in their own county. Both lamented the fact that the new Loudon County residents rarely get out of their cars to participate in the community. They are locked into the same problem the rest of the country has, trucking their food outside of their community while others simultaneously truck in low quality, unhealthy food for supermarkets.

The farm was truly a beautiful place to be. Zach’s landscaping skills make it a beautiful scene. Both he and Georgia make quite a team on the farm and their little boy, who I really thought looks like Conan the Barbarian in training.

Politics as NOT Usual

It seems that the politics of food has changed. It is now okay to talk about the inequities in our food system. It is even okay to till your own organic garden, start a farmers market, and even shop at one. This is reflected in the seemingly out of nowhere White House push for organic gardening and a farmers market.

Still the vast majority of Americans are lost in these markets which means we have a long way to go. A large amount of education is needed to bring back proper eating into the consciousness of the public. Hopefully, this new USDA program and high profile maneuvers from the White House will start the awareness. Like my Mom always reminds me, its a process, and we can’t erase bad habits overnight.

photo (2)
From Zach: "the structure is a rebar bean tunnel with swiss chard growing underneath"

Keep an eye out for more news as the week rolls on. Check out fellow foodie and blogger Obama Foodorama who also joined us on the farm trip.

Cravings Don’t Make You Fat

2968102780_7ca4f9bec7Cravings don’t make you fat. Being inactive doesn’t make you fat. On the flip side working out will not stop you from being fat. Diets won’t help either.

It’s all about the food.

It’s the food you put into your body. Every bite and every morsel.

It’s very simple. Put food, real food, into your body and you will lose weight.

The complex part is determining what real food is. Nobody really knows anymore. Most of us know more about the “recommended daily nutritional intake” than we do about ripe fruit. Our minds are inundated with marketing slogans. They come upon us so fast that we have become accustomed to new products and new “needs”, like new non-fat cookies.

If you separate yourself from the swhirl of science, diets, and nutrition, it’s actually very easy. Somewhere out there exists real food. Take a trip to the farmers markets and you will see it. It’s not in a bag and its not in a box. Its just sitting there in a pile after being picked from the ground, tree, or bush.

You can buy and eat an apple and feel good. You could also buy a can of chopped apples and not feel good. The reason why this is so is simple too.

The fresher your food the better it is. If it was picked yesterday and you ate it today then it was the best for you. It also helps to have it picked during its peak maturity and not when its to young. Almost nothing in your local supermarket is fresh. All of it is picked too early or arriving weeks later. Often items in cans and boxes are months older (some don’t even go bad).

And, the older food is the worse it is for you. The impact it will have on you decreases over time. I have no research, yet, to give you real numbers, but I will posit that one fresh apple does as much for you as ten canned apples. If this is true, we can eat much less food, orders of magnitude less.

This could mean less money spent on food and less time cooking. It could mean a natural way to lose weight. It could mean no more diets, no more overeating, and no more cravings. It just could mean that.

A theoretical example. A craving hits for some vitamin C. Pop a vitamin C pill and you’re still hungry. Eat brocolli that is picked before its ready and a week old. The amount of vitamin C in that piece is probably very small, so you’re still craving some vitamin C. Okay, then pop the vitamin C pill and then eat 3x as much brocolli. Now you might feel satiated. Chances are you’re not. There are not many people I know who get full, stop eating, and go about their day. Most eat, feel tired, and start thinking about their next meal.

Now just imagine eating a piece of fresh brocolli. You get a powerful dose of vitamin C as well as a powerful dose of many other nutrients. Craving is satiated. You’re full. Energy abounds, mind activates, and you go about your day.

Again, it could be possible.

Now, I leave you with these thoughts. They are radical yet natural. The science is not there, but sometimes science can be corrupted. Try this fresh food for yourself. I have and so have many of my friends and family. There is no mistaking the impact it has had on us. Perhaps you can join us and experience the same liberating healthy food that we have.

Fresh Food is Not Expensive!

My baby girl challenged me to post my spending habits. Below are all of my purchases for as far back as I can grab. It reflects money spent on only fresh local food since June 1, 2009. Before that it is a mix of grocery stores, whole foods, 7 Eleven, and others.

The point of this is to show that fresh local food is not expensive. I even find it less expensive!

Should you want to try this too remember, like anything in life, it is a process. It’s taken me years to get to this point and become comfortable with the new lifestyle. But, what an amazing lifestyle it is.

After one month completely on the fresh food diet I am tempted to call it the Perfect Diet. My cravings are gone, I don’t think about food anymore, I workout less, I’m losing more weight, and frankly I’m in the best shape of my life. Further, I have shown this lifestyle to other folks ranging from girls, guys, seniors, 20 somethings and all are raving about it.

*These purchases are mostly for 1-2 people, though I do cook for lots of people, so its more of a mix.

DeMystifying the Costs of Fresh Food

July 2009

  • Farmers Markets – $16.00

June 2009

  • Whole Foods – $134.41
  • Other Grocery Stores – $9.06

May 2009

  • Whole Foods – $100.17
  • 7 Eleven – $8.23
  • Other grocery stores – $21.84

April 2009

  • Whole Foods – $114.64

March 2009

  • Whole Foods – $219.64
  • 7 Eleven – $10.99
  • Other grocery stores – $19.73

February 2009

  • Whole Foods – $170.00

January 2009

  • Whole Foods – $242.44
  • Safeway – $64.54

Food Inc

Food is in trouble.

You know I really struggled with writing this piece. I wanted to just present the facts with brutal honesty. To scare anyone who reads this into the movie theater to see Food Inc. Then I wrote a piece from a neutral point of view, to ease everyone into the story. I deleted both pieces.

On the suggestion of my Mom, maybe I’ll just provide the trailer:

I cannot escape what is happening here. I cried a little during the movie. I read the book it is based on, Omnivore’s Dilemma. The book changed my life. It set me upon a path toward this blog and this non-profit (A Clean Life) and this passion to make change.

I now call the book my ‘bible’ for what I do.

The movie didn’t touch me as deeply as the book did, but only because I had already known all the problems we have with food. It did bring a parallel to mind though, a similar book that is now legendary. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair.

An angry lion standing on a steer skeleton.
notice the angry lion standing on the steer head

Written around the turn of the century (20th) when the industrial revolution was in its infancy but going full steam ahead. Our government and personal policy was to let the best survive. Unfortunately, as Sinclair discovered, capitalism does not understand health and morality. The companies who could produce the cheapest food were doing so in filthy, nasty, and unhealthy ways.

The most famous example of this are the hot dog factories in Chicago at the time. Imagine a giant meat grinder that gets nearly anything thrown into it (horses, pigs, bones, dirt) and then served as hot dogs. As the book rose in prominence so did American consciousness. The results were new regulations about food safety and much safer and healthier factories for workers and food for us.

This is a great parallel because we are at the same crossroads. Food is again unhealthy as we are an obese society. It is again nasty in that it is ruining our environment and our waistlines. It is again filthy in that we are debasing animals and workers down into horrible circumstances.

The movie touches on all these points and more. There is so much to say. I dare not go into growth hormones, antibiotics, and the torture that we allow. Instead I want to tell you about the nature of power of money.

food-inc-posterThe nature of capitalism is to get more efficient as you make products. This naturally leads to consolidation and factories. Well what happens when our food is controlled by a just a few gigantic but private companies? What happens when we take gardens, farms, and animals and instead put them into factories?

The answers are in the movie or the book. They are also all around us. Our environment is being destroyed, our bodies the same, and we have lost one of our most basic connections to the earth through food.

That is the most direct way to state my feelings after watching this movie. There is so much wrong with food in this country that the movie almost felt action packed. Everyone is involved in this too, three times a day. We all eat and we all pay for food.

Shop More, Buy Less, Eat Healthier

One of the most important features of a start-up is its founders. As my friends and I go down this journey to the trashatorium I think its crucial that we “walk the walk”.

This will mean something different to each of us and I hope we can each share our journey.

Here is one of my most basic but fundamental lifestyles:

Shop More, Buy Less, and Eat Healthier.

Grocery Shopping

I started down this path several years ago but only recently went “extreme”. By extreme I mean completely changing my grocery shopping routine. I wanted to spend less and eat better.

No more soggy sandwiches or trailing leftovers. I wanted to bring back a little European zeal, you know the vegetable stand on the way home. Or, the locally produces delicacies.

So, here is a quick wrap-up of how I changed my grocery routine.

Shop More

Sounds counter intuitive, I know. But, if you want fresh food you have to hit the store more. I wanted to have a regular amount of fruits and vegetables in my kitchen. Then I wanted to keep on hand fresh breads and cheeses (and chocolates!).

Of course, these natural items decay and ‘go bad’ real fast. This meant that if I wanted to keep around the good stuff in life, I needed to go more often.

Buy Less

Of course, I’m a frugal (extremely cheap) guy. I could not stand to double my food bill. I wanted to decrease that bill, all  while shopping more.

More opposite thinking.

It worked, though. I got into the habit of only buying what I needed for the next few days. There was an intense burrowing need to “stock-up” on things, which is still there today. But I keep reminding myself that I will be back in a few days. I can get what I need then.

Eat Healthier

With each additional trip to the store a few things began to happen. Simple things like buying less and stocking-up on fewer items. I also began to spend much less time in the store, escaping what Jerry Seinfeld talks about in his comedy bit below.

More importantly, though, I began to buy better foods. I could manage to bring home fruits and vegetables. They would get eaten and not wasted. I bought less of the packaged food that is designed to last for weeks.

In addition, to these better foods in my life, I started noticing that I eat closer to my needs, with cravings. I could buy stuff for one big meal I wanted, have fun cooking it, and eat it for the next few days.

All in all, I can’t complain that I’m eating better foods and feeling better everyday.

Conclusion

I love my new lifestyle. Being a regular at the store. Spending less money each time and all together. Feeling better and healthier in my diet. You should try this and/or let me know your routines.

P.S. My current favorite treat is apples with peanut butter (thanks Meredith). And, here is a clip from Jerry Seinfeld talking about the scary grocery stores: