The Case for Local Food

Here is a food claim may shock you.

Farmers markets offer food that is three times better for you than supermarkets.

A study published in September 2007 by the Organic Center discovered this startling fact after looking into our modern food system. They had a theory that food has changed since the 1950s, before the industrial food revolution. To test this they gathered seeds from the 1950s and today, grew them to harvest, and compared their nutrient values.

In nearly every category our modern food was lacking. The study gets complicated and covers many areas, so an easy way to sum it up is this. Industrial food producers grow crops for quantity. They want to grow more every year and have increased their production by incredible amounts (400x!). The unfortunate consequence of this massive growth is their food quality has dropped.

The quality vs quantity difference is on average 3x.

It’s a seminal piece of work, or has the potential to be. It could explain our obesity epidemic since we are eating three times more food than we used to. It could explain why so many people dislike healthy food in favor of fast food. It could even explain why healthy food cost more.

Imagine our obesity epidemic if we all ate 1/3 less.

Imagine how different vegetables would taste if they are three times as rich.

Imagine if you had to purchase 1/3 less food. Most folks say that healthy food costs twice as much. Do the math and if you’re buying 1/3 less and spending twice as much it is still cheaper.

Combine these three and you have the perfect solution. A diet that is cheap, tasty, and healthy. If this is true it also supports local economies, small business, and drastically reduces our environmental waste.

Here is the kicker. In America we do not subsidize fruits and vegetables, but we do subsidize fast food. Imagine how this whole equation could change if we made fast food more expensive and fruits and vegetables cheaper.

This is the case for local food.

Try It Out

No more imagining. Test this study out in real life. Find the quality food. See if it fills you up, gives you energy, and saves you money. It has for me and hundreds of my friends.

Here are a few recommendations to help you find quality food:

Fruits/Vegetables – farmers markets. They offer items that are picked at their peak. Grown in ideal conditions. Sold at their freshest. Every other place, including supermarkets, offer declining levels of quality.

Grains/Beans/Nuts – only buy from the bulk sections at Whole Foods and other health food stores. Sometimes also sold at farmers markets.

Meat/Seafood/Dairy – sold at farmers markets and Whole Foods (health stores). The key is to buy items that are raised cleanly and sold fresh.

A Clean Life Interviews – Dave Cacner

I love being a part of a community with A Clean Life. There are so many people living the way we all can/should. Here is one, Dave Cacner, an avid composter. Read on as Dave shares some of his clean lifestyle with us:

What is the favorite environmental thing you do?
It’s a toss-up between making compost and recycling/reusing what I can.  I’ll take whatever vegetable matter we don’t use in the house and compost it.  I’ve even been known to empty the vacuum cleaner bag or take out the dryer lint and add them to the compost pile.  In terms of recycling, I recycle whatever paper we have down to the paper price tags that come on clothing or even toilet paper rolls.

How close to zero waste are you?
Pretty close.  We don’t subscribe to the twice-weekly garbage service.  First of all it’s way overpriced, and since I live less than 3 miles from the Fairfax County transfer station, it’s really easy to justify not paying $30 a month for garbage/recycling pickup.  I estimate that our family of 3 puts out less than 1 large garbage bag a week, or about 3-4 plastic grocery bags worth of garbage.  The rest is composted or recycled!  Or reused.

How do the other people in your life take to this?
My wife and daughter tolerate my cause and of course recycle the standard fare; i.e. newspapers, junk mail, bottles, cans, etc.  And they also diligently fill up our composter under the sink.  Of course, I have to take it outside whenever it’s overflowing.  As far as my friends and neighbors, I think they are somewhat envious, especially when I tell them my garbage bill is around $6.00 a month.  I haven’t seen anyone give up the “convenience” of having the garbage trucks drive through the neighborhood at 7 AM during the week.

What are the benefits you have found in doing all this?
I feel good about how our family is making a difference by reducing the garbage we produce and even in suburbia I feel connected to the land through my composting.

What are you trying to do next?
Your questions have made me think about starting a garden next year.  Every year I think about it and then it’s too late to plant anything.  I’d also like to start buying more local foods and visit farmers markets as part of our normal grocery-gathering.

Do you compost? Describe your process, bins do you use (inside/out), any problems, has it become habitual?
Yes!  I’ve been composting since we moved into our home back in 1995.  I had been just putting the grass clippings in the woods when my wife came across The Rodale Book of Composting on sale at Borders one weekend.  I highly recommend this for beginners and those who want to understand the history and science behind composting.  It really energized me into composting more than just grass clippings.  I went out and purchased two plastic bins, one green and one black (similar to this photo) through a Montgomery County Maryland subsidization program several years ago.  The county was offering them for only $5 each while Home Depot had them for around $30 each, and I haven’t found anything so reasonable since.  If I could, I’d buy a couple more to put out in the woods.  As you research this, you don’t need fancy bins…and don’t waste your money on those rotating cement mixer-like contraptions offering to turn your garbage into dirt in mere days.  Just make a pile in the corner of your yard and toss your clippings and table scraps in there turning periodically.  You’ll be surprised how easy (and fun) it is.

As it is, if I fill up both bins and seem to have more to compost than can fit neatly into the containers.  I throw grass, hedge trimmings, coffee grounds, vegetable scraps, dryer lint, dog hair, fireplace ashes, etc. into the green bin to work awhile.  Then after a few months (with no action on my part) or a few weeks (with periodic turning) I move the semi-composted muck into the black bin to work a little more until it’s ready for screening.  If I did nothing to the piles, in about a year I would have “black gold” or very rich dirt.  If I were to turn the piles more often, adding water and mixing everything up while exposing the bacteria to air, I’d have that rich dirt in a couple of weeks.

When I’m ready to make soil, all I do is take a homemade screen from 2X4’s and galvanized hardware cloth and sift out the twigs, rocks, and other materials that don’t break down so rapidly.  I place the screen over my wheelbarrow, mix in some peat moss, and shovel the resulting soil into used mulch bags.  Earlier this summer I made about 5 cubic yards of soil in about an hour.  The flowers love it!

Really I don’t have any problems with the compost.  Fortunately our HOA allows compost bins and the neighbors don’t mind.  Of course I offer them some of the dirt for their plantings.  We never have to buy dirt or potting soil and whenever we plant any bushes or flowers, I always add a shovelful of my compost to help enrich the clay soil we have in Northern Virginia.

What has been the hardest part about your composting?
Not having time to get out and work the piles.  It really helps to turn the piles as the more air you introduce the faster it turns into soil.

What are you growing in your garden?
Sadly nothing.  One of my projects this summer will be to build some boxes that I can attach to my deck…something along the lines of this.

Where do you get your food from? Farmers Markets? Hardcore locavore?
Mostly Wegmans.  I’m working on the Farmers Markets 🙂

What kind of trash bins does your city provide to you?
N/A.  We have some recycling bins and a wheeled garbage can that the previous owners left us.  I have two bins for recycling newspapers and other paper products including the paperboard boxes such as cereal comes in as well as the traditional junk mail.  I also have 3 bins for aluminum, plastic (1 & 2), and glass.  I really wish the county would start taking some of the other types of plastic…I really feel guilty throwing out the butter dishes and non-1&2 type PET.

Rant About Lazy Americans

So I posted this comment on twitter as robotchampion:

@gavinNewsom in San Francsico, signs first ever compost mandate, requires food scraps be gathered for composting. –

And got this response in Facebook:

“Nothing like building global harmony through state coercion!”

Now this gets me going. In my journeys through A Clean Life one thing keeps hitting me smack in the head. Our environmental problems come from us, the people.

You can’t blame the big companies anymore. You can’t blame the government anymore. There is nothing left to blame and that means we are the last to change. We are passively resisting a better world…why?

lazycatIf you look at Zero Waste initiatives around the country they do so much for every community. Starting with saving money for people, in the form of lower taxes or reduced trash costs. Then go onto time savings, producing so much trash takes effort. You have to open, trash it, and then carry out to the street. We take so many trips to empty our cans each week. Then we have to drag out a bin to the curb. Place bags in the trash cans.

Just think about it, break the habit and the routine. Save money, spend less time throwing things away, and yes make our communities a better place to live. In fact, the environmental benefits are enormous, effecting nearly every place you can go.

Then look at the Local Food movement. This is one of those insane topics. Overweight people who diet, workout, and spend money on diet foods and gyms, actually complain about the cost of local food. The number one most important thing you can do for your body is to have a solid diet. Local food is the diet you need and local fresh food is the perfect diet.

Yet we passively resist. Partly, I think, due to a mistaken belief in mass marketing. You know those commercials and brand labels that offer you the perfect chocolate snack with enriched vitamins and fortified minerals. Ya, believing in that marketing is like satisfying a thirst with one drop of water. You don’t think those companies plan on not filling you up. Why would they ever want you to get full?

The real value of that chocolate bar is minimal to your body, like one drop of water when you need a glass of water.

Cost. It’s a myth. Good food is cheap. Go to any store that sells local food and you will find cheap prices. The problem here is twofold. First, please don’t go to those places and try to buy macaroni and cheese. You will not find any 20 cent Ramen noodles here. Buy the food that they specialize in and you will find great prices. Don’t get angry at these kind of stores because apples are cheap and cheetos are 6$ a bag.

Second, you don’t understand food. Everything we eat is grown/raised somewhere. Then there is a harvest time when that food type is abundant. This seasonal food is cheap due to abundance, better for you because its so ripe, and completely fulfilling. They are glasses of water.

Americans don’t follow this pattern though. We eat whatever we want whenever we want. Most think this is ideal, but its not. The ideal is a fit healthy body that avoids the doctor’s office and occasionally partakes in non-seasonal food.

Wow, this rant is angry. It does show you why I’m all for a little state coercion. How else do you get people to change??

But hey now don’t take my word for it. Dig into the issues and you will find these words to be truth. Or, watch this video of San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom:

“if they dont care about themselves, or their family, then its like second hand smoke it effects all of us”

Zero Waste – 5 Things You Didn’t Know

I love the idea of zero waste. It’s something that catches everyone and gets them to think.
Jorvetson: "Giving thanks to the open ocean, just off Waimea. Underwater shot while snorkeling." (from Flickr)

  • Is it possible?
  • How would we do something like that?
  • What would our world look like?

I guess it depends on if your a visionary or a realist. Either way here are five things I can tell you about zero waste.

  1. I am living a zero waste lifestyle. I’m not a radical extremist either. I do not stick out or need special help. My life is simpler and easier since I made the change and I’m also happier and healthier.
  2. Your home can be zero waste. I’ve visited a home with a large house, 2 cars, a big  yard, and yep no waste. The two people living there have a deal with their neighbors to take some of their trash since they are missing some raw materials. They get to skip the weekly work on taking out trash and feel good about living a clean life.
  3. Zero Waste means a little bit of work but a lot of habit changes. This is possibly the hardest part about becoming zero waste, changing habits. The work is easy, surprisingly easy, but changing those habits requires time and patience. It’s a path with plan, not an overnight change. Though, most folks do make the change very quickly. The best place to start is recycling, maximize what you are recycling. Next, focus on reducing. This can happen in any number of ways but always results in less spending and more saving for you.
  4. Business can be zero waste. Believe it or not the biggest impediment to becoming zero waste is us. The facilities exist, the people with expertise exist, and even the local/state/federal governments want this to happen. Still, some business are taking a leading role (and building up their green prestige among customers) by putting themselves on a path to zero waste. This often starts with a reality check, how much are we spending on trash right now, how many pickups are we asking for. Then it moves into change management with a plan to decrease spending on trash every month/quarter. Eventually the cost savings are realized and the business then switches over to a zero waste plan.
  5. Our World Needs Your Help. You cannot go anywhere (save the desert or mountains) and not find trash. In fact, it is normally littered on the streets, in our waterways and parks. We all know this but have become used to it. In fact, I remember at an early age accepting that our world is getting worse. I remember thinking that making this world dirty is natural and acceptable. Well, it’s not and with very little work we can all inch towards a zero waste country.

Imagine a United States that is zero waste. Imagine taking your kids, friends, and loved ones into parks and oceans that are clean and healthy. Start now and take your baby steps towards zero waste.

A Clean Life Weekly Newsletter – Googlizer

Wow another week has passed in our clean lives. In looking back at the last newsletter I realized how quickly my operations are going, and that is great. The first goal in starting this business was to move extremely fast.

California State Route 1
California State Route 1 by goodrob13
I have quickly learned the lay of the land here in Southern California through field visits to business and in working with family and friends. The short and dirty of the sentiment is that everyone is extremely supportive but no one is doing anything. What!?

Southern California has a big city mentality of being too busy and expecting someone else to tell them when to reduce their waste. It’s kind of embarrassing the lack of social consciousness so many exhibit. With millions of people living in this area I have my work cut out for me.

Which means I’m hitting the mattresses and going back to my roots, grassroots building that is. I’m starting to formulate a 6 month strategy to raise that social consciousness and will even begin completely rewriting our corporate strategic plan to reflect this.

In other news, on Thursday my housemates (brothers, parents) put out our landfill can for the trashmen with it being only 1/3 full. Amazing! In one week we have already massively reduced our waste output. In fact, this reduction is without any of us changing our shopping habits instead just getting better at recycling and introducing composting into our household.

So, I have laid out a new goal for us….to become the first Southern California zero waste household!

All right well there is so much more going on, but for now I’ll end with our next fundraiser. It’s going to be July 12 from 4-6pm at Eastwinds in Huntington Beach. Save the date!



More is better?

You might find this strange but the most friction I encounter in my work with A Clean Life is through food. Folks are okay with trash and recycling. Many even entertain composting. But when it comes to food we are in scary territory.

Imagine that…more people are okay with sorting their trash than with learning about food.

I am lost on this one, but I do have a little clue. That is to question one of our basic assumptions, more is better.

I mean if you go to the market and their is a sale, that is good. You can get more food for less money. At first glance this is very simple and logical. Food is expensive, we work very hard for money, obviously we don’t want to overpay for food.

At second glance, this is not so good. And this second glance is where I zing most people. Nearly everyone can challenge organic, green, expensive food, etc, but no one and I mean no one can answer our obesity problem.

We are an overweight society. The basic assumption ‘more is better‘ is starting to haunt me. I hate seeing children, active children, that are overweight. I cannot imagine what their psyche is like (I’m very active, I’m following the rule more is better, yet I’m fat).

If childhood obesity doesn’t bother you, then maybe healthcare does. You just might live a shorter life because of obesity. You just might have to help pay the healthcare of others (through taxes) who have health problems due to obesity.

Finally, if you care at all about the environment then you should know that ‘more is better‘ is definitely bad for the environment. Honestly, if all of this extra food solved world hunger I wouldn’t make this argument. But, it does not and it will not. Solving world hunger is not about chesseburgers for 99 cents. It is about something entirely different.

You should also know that to produce so much food means we go to great lengths to exploit nature. This includes growing pigs in factories (pic), chickens in 6 inch coops (pic), and cows in manure pens. Our food is washed over with fertilizer (that is oil based) and pesticide.

The waste from fertilizer and pesticide goes into our rivers, streams, and waterways. It ruins beaches, bays, and entire ecosystems. Our factory animals are ridden with disease (so we shoot them up with antibiotics), or better yet we just fatten them up earlier in life and then turn them into food before their bodies fail (about 18 months for cows).

As with most things in life more is not always better. We are ruining our own land, fattening ourselves up, and burdening our society (taxes, healthcare, children).

So, I challenge everyone to re-think ‘more is better’. Come up with a better rule for yourself. May it be ‘less is more’ or ‘better not more’, whatever works. Perhaps, person by person we can start to transform ourselves into a fit people and through that improve our food system and our environment.

P.S. – For those of you interested in learning more from an expert. Here is a talk from Michael Pollan titled “Where does your food come from?”

We are now a 501(c)3

To All Fans and Supporters,

Yesterday, I submitted a tank of papers to the IRS to make our little operation official. The bulk of which was IRS form 1023, an application for tax exempt status under section 501(c)3 of the Internal Revenue Code. This establishes us an applicant for public charity status as a tax exempt corporation.

Meaning that we can now accept tax deductible donations. Anyone who donates money to us will receive an official receipt allowing them to claim the amount as a tax deduction.

We do have to wait a little bit to get started, though. Our tax year is set to start on May 1.

In the next few days we will be finalizing our start-up plans. Some items in the hopper are social mixers in DC and CA, online donations, and a drive to recycle old stuff (donate old stuff that we can sell online).

This is an exciting time for all of us and we hope to share that excitement with you a we get the business operations started.

Throughout all of this we are also committing ourselves to professionalism and corporate responsibility. Two of the tenets that fulfill those goals, as outlined in our operating ByLaws below, are a commitment to transparency and zero waste.

To that end, we plan on sharing with the public all that we can. Our first move is to share our corporate organizing documents.

The Organizing Documents of A Clean Life

Thanks for all the support from everyone. This is a very important milestone and we are very excited!


My Visit to Whole Foods Compost

Tonight I visited the Whole Foods stores of Washington D.C. and spoke with a nice lady named Erin. She is a part of the green mission for the market super chain. Thank you very much Erin for showing me around the compost operations.

Whole Foods is truly a unique operation in that it actually has a green mission. The mission is a part of its core values to care “About Our Communities & Our Environment”. Now, I bet most of you are thinking that this is another corporate ploy. I had the same thought and so I used this opportunity to discover for myself.

Right when I arrived at the Tenleytown store, Erin greeted me and we began discussing the internal workings of the composting business. We talked about facilities, pick-ups, and different types of decomposition. She explained how the stores she works with are cutting their waste disposal costs in half by actively engaging in composting. They are able to divert very high percentages of their waste away from landfills. Something in the range of 80-90%, very close to being a zero waste corporation.

That right there was enough for me. Here is a large operation that could be sending out many tons of waste each day to our landfills. Instead they are being proactive, saving money, and proving that it works.

As we continued along, Erin showed me how she implemented these features in the store. At nearly every location where a trash can existed there was also a recycle bin and a compost bin. Now anyone involved in recycling knows that sorting this stuff is tough. Yet the employees had worked this into their daily activities, it was almost second nature. It was really cool to watch one worker spend the time to break down and compact some cardboard, instead of just wheel it outside to the dumpster.

An interesting side note is that all of this is hidden from the customers. We definitely live in a bubble wrapped world.

Other features of the operation were that as the process grew she was working on making everything in the store recycled. The actual trash bins were few and far between (most that I did see were for the customers). The large trash chutes and compactors were now being used for compost and recycling, rather than for landfill trash.

Can you imagine working in an environment with only recycle/compost bins and no trash cans?

I’m not sure these workers ever imagined that, but here they are working that way. They were deeply involved in a quiet compost revolution at their stores.

Overall it was quite an impressive operation and I walked away impressed and hopeful for this nonprofit’s future.

Thanks again Erin.

P.S. thanks to the @wholefoods twitter account for this informative tweet. Also, here is a link to their blog about their compost operations.