To Dress Noodles, Do We Need to go to China?

By Pamela Denholmflu shots

In a pinch the other night, I picked up a jar of organic pasta sauce from Shaw’s (their new O Organics brand) – and I, the loudest advocate for ‘local’ in the room, did not read the label. Only the next day as I was peeling the label to save the jar, did I see that it was made in China. I was horrified. We are seeing more and more organic food products from China in our grocery stores, (don’t get duped by distributor addresses on labels, you’ll have to hunt to find the original source of the product, but it should be on there). We’ve all had to become chemical, agricultural, and labelling experts just to buy groceries these days, who do we trust. We are going to map out the process for you, so to speak, in order of preference for anything not grown in the U.S.:

  1. Countries that have the same standards and similar process as ours, where the organic label is interchangeable – only Canada. Certified organic produce grown in the US may be sold in Canada under that label, and vice versa.  We are in discussions with the EU to develop the same equivalence for the purpose of trade but we are not there yet.
  2. Countries that have trade agreements and National Organic Program accredited agents, who are able to certify producers according to the US standards provided by the NOP/USDA – European Union, India, Israel, New Zealand, Korea, Japan, Switzerland
  3. Rest of World – we have no direct USDA organic trade agreements anywhere else for product certification, and no other accreditations (that I can find information on) that link or tie countries or organizations directly to the NOP or USDA under the organic label.

So what about that pasta sauce from China?  Well, there is still a process which can be followed, but it’s complicated so bear with me.  The retailer or distributor responsible for bringing the food in to the country (let’s say Shaw’s) appoints a U.S. based and USDA/NOP accredited certifying agent (let’s say Quality Assurance International or QAI).  This accredited agent can certify growers, distributors or manufacturers under the ‘certified organic’ label, but they can also conduct an assessment of a foreign certifying agent (let’s say Beijing Organics) based in the source country (China) to ensure that their certifying/record keeping processes are in accordance with the USDA standards and requirements.  China Organics can then go ahead and certify producers in China for products destined for kitchen tables in the U.S.

Why do it that way? Why don’t QAI just certify the growers themselves?  Well, they may not have offices in the source country making it challenging to keep tabs on the farm regularly and conduct required periodic inspections.  If it were a handful of farms, it still wouldn’t be economically viable to set up offices and pay trained staff.  Language could be a barrier too.  This way, Beijing Organics can do the legwork, and QAI can fly in for annual and extensive audits of all records, and perhaps visit some of the farms.  It is a question of practical economics you see?

So now, as a consumer, you can consider the practicalities of the system too, even if we put any doubts or fears about the certification process aside because grocery store chains will uphold the ethics of the label on behalf of their consumers, right? The certification itself will not answer all our questions. How long the product has been in storage? What is its’ carbon footprint? Were the tomatoes grown on a small scale family farm, or a large scale industrial one? Were they grown in China, or were they imported from somewhere else? If they were imported from somewhere else, are those records also audited by the same firm? What about the environmental impact of the farm in that country – was virgin land cleared? Where is their water coming from?  How are farm workers being treated?  And doesn’t this process feel like we’re playing broken telephone?  The USDA/NOP sets the standards, hands them over to an accredited certifying agent, who hands them off to a foreign certifying agents, who hands them to a farmer on foreign soil – it doesn’t invoke confidence, does it? And it’s PASTA sauce! We grow tomatoes and can make it here – so why don’t we?

We used China as the example, but it could be frozen carrots from Russia, canned peaches from Argentina or marmalade from South Africa.  I would like to think that no U.S. based accredited certifying agent like QAI is going to risk its license and entire business operation on a questionable foreign certifying agent, but I think the best peace of mind you can hope to find will be in sourcing your food as close to home as possible.


More Healthy Habits for 2016

From Berkshire Organicsheart

We all  know  that  the  New  Year  brings  with  it  the  resolution  to  become  a  make  some changes.  Our resolutions may be to sleep more, eat less, get active, or organize every closet in the house.  For many, the promises we make are about improving our health.  Our mission is always to provide fresh, healthy food and enable families on the South Shore, we hope you find some inspiration to make 2016 your healthiest year yet!

  1. Eat Breakfast

Numerous studies indicate that the healthiest people in the world share one daily habit, and that’s eating a nutritious breakfast. People who skip breakfast are 4.5 times more likely to be obese than those who take a morning meal. They’re also more likely to have healthy blood sugar levels, which means that they’ll be more energized throughout the day and less likely to be hungry later on. The brain benefits from eating breakfast as well, as high energy foods help to boost short-term memory. Best of all, those who eat breakfast every day have an excuse to consume healthy foods like oatmeal, granola, multigrain toast, eggs, fruit, tea, and coffee.

  1. Put More Color on Your Plate

Research clearly shows that the most colorful fruits and vegetables are also the most nutrient-rich. Examples of nutrient-dense, color-rich foods include: apples (especially the skin), kiwis, broccoli, bell peppers, berries (the darker, the better), spinach, tomatoes, grapes, oranges, squash, eggplant, egg yolks, beans, peas, oils, avocados, foods that contain whole grains and fiber—the list goes on and on! When you create a colorful plate, you’ll also create a healthful plate, so let your eyes and imagination be your guide.

  1. Go For Whole Grains

When choosing a grain, you have choices. Refined grains are milled, a process that strips out both the bran and germ to give them a finer texture and extend their shelf life. The refining process also removes many nutrients, including fiber. Refined grains include white flour, white rice, and white bread. Many breads, cereals, crackers, desserts, and pastries are also made with refined grains. Enriched grains are processed, and have lost some of their nutrients. In many cases nutrients are added back in, and in some cases the grain is fortified with nutrients not naturally found in the food. While this may sound good in theory, conventional methods don’t always yield the most healthful results. Whole grains, on the other hand, are unrefined grains that haven’t had their bran and germ removed by milling. Whole grains are better sources of fiber and other important nutrients, such as selenium, potassium, and magnesium. Whole grains are either single foods, such as brown rice, popcorn, quinoa, or barley, or ingredients in products, such as buckwheat in pancakes, or whole wheat in bread.

  1. Portion Control

If you, like me, you were raised to eat the food on your plate, and only be done when your food is finished – then chances are you are still cleaning your plate! But bigger plates mean instinctively bigger portions.  We should rather train ourselves to stop when we are full, and be more mindful about the portions we dish up for ourselves.  3oz of red meat (which is what is recommended by the cancer association) is roughly the size of a deck of cards, and one cup of potatoes or rice, is roughly the size of a tennis ball.  Associating portion sizes with everyday objects is very helpful.



Healthy Habits for 2016!

From Berkshire Organicsheart

We all know that the New Year brings with it the resolution to become a make some changes. Our resolutions may be to sleep more, eat less, get active, or organize every closet in the house. For many, the promises we make are about improving our health, so to encourage smart choices in the New Year—and beyond—we’ve come up with some suggestions which present a variety of healthy habits. We hope that they inspire you to make 2016 your healthiest year yet!

  • Go Veggie
    1. Countless studies have shown that eating vegetarian just one day a week can have a major impact on both your health and on the environment. The average carnivorous American eats up to 250 pounds of meat & seafood a year. Going vegetarian just one day a week will reduce your meat consumption by up to 35 pounds, which means that you will also save 84,000 gallons of water, 245 pounds of grain, 7,700 square feet of rainforest, 15.5 gallons of gasoline, and 87 square feet of topsoil from eroding. It will also help reduce global warming, as emissions from animal agriculture contribute to more greenhouses gases than all the cars and trucks on the planet combined. As for our health, countless studies show that decreasing meat consumption (and increasing consumption of fruit and vegetables) directly correlates with improved heart health, reduced risk of cancer, and weight loss.
  • Choose Grass Fed & Pastured
    1. When you do eat meat, eggs, and dairy, support farms that pasture their animals. Whether it’s a cow that gets to eat grass or a chicken that gets to eat bugs, both are happier animals with healthier byproducts. Eggs that come from pastured chickens have 1/3 less cholesterol and ¼ less saturated fat; have up to 20 times more omega-3 fatty acids, 3 times more vitamin E, 6 times more vitamin D, and 7 times more beta-carotene (which has recently shown promise as a cancer preventative) than their supermarket counterparts. Grass fed meat is also significantly healthier than beef from corn-fed cows. A grass fed steak is lower in fat (and therefore lower in calories) and richer in Omega-3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acids (both of which have potent anti-cancer properties). Additionally, the butter, milk, cheese, and other forms of dairy that come from grass fed animals is just as healthful as the meat—not to mention quite flavorful.
  • Pick the Right Oil for the Job
  1. Too often, we use the wrong oil when cooking. Not only does this ruin the flavor of delicious oil, but it can also have unintended consequences for our health. Every oil has a “smoke point”. When an oil starts to smoke, it has lost its nutritional integrity; more important, it has started to release oxidative (free radical) molecules with carcinogenic properties. The fumes from smoking oils have been linked to red blood cell damage, suppression of the immune system, cancers, and reproductive defects. When you use the right oil for the cooking task at hand, you preserve the healthful benefits of the oil. Your foods will also taste their best, and provide a healthy array of beneficial fatty acids.

Alterman, Tabitha. “Eggciting News!” Mother Earth News. 15 October 2008

Greene, Maya. “The Right Oil For the Job.” Berkshire Organics Newsletter – 27 Jan 2012

Johnson, Jo. “Why Grassfed is Best” – 2012

“10 Reasons to Go Vegetarian 1 Day a Week” – 2012

“Vitamin A, Retinoids, and Provitamin A Carotenoids” American Cancer Society – 4 May 2012.

Missing the Mark – Vegan Day 2

vegand2postHaving put the cart firmly before the horse on Day 1, I decided it would be a good idea to actually do some research on vegan philosophy so I cracked open Being Vegan by Joanne Stepaniak. First paragraph in I discovered how far off from true vegans we were. Slightly embarrassed, I realized we completely overlooked the vegan mantra: do the least harm and the most good. Also, a defining rule for vegans is the elimination of using or wearing anything from an animal. This includes honey. For a family with 8 hives and large glistening mason jars of ‘Local Gold’ strategically placed around the kitchen, this was a real game changer. At this point we must fully disclose that we are strict vegetarians and not authentic vegans.

Walking around throughout my day with a head full of newly discovered veganism, I started self-reflecting and pondering my own actions, trying to come to terms with how I can best work this philosophy into my everyday life. It’s hard for many to argue with the solid vegan code of least harm/most good conduct. I started comparing domesticated animals with food animals trying to figure out what separates them, making it ok to consume one and not the other. I thought of the strain we put on the environment every day, aside from our diets, and felt heavy moments of discouragement. What drew me back to the lighter side was the knowledge that by each of us simply taking small steps to do the least harm/most good, we can make a monumental impact together. There is hope. I joined (I really didn’t know this was a big ‘try out vegan’ month – it’s a ‘thing’) and saw all the people that had tried it and will try it and realized how much, in just one month, collectively we would reduce some of the daily stresses we put on the environment.

Many times throughout the day, I thought to grab a milk or yogurt when I felt hungry. Instead, I leaned on pretzels, hummus, and dried fruit, watching anxiously for the green bag bounty to arrive. At home we had chicken marinating in the fridge that I bought before we decided to take on this eating experiment. We were very happy instead to have Uncle Gary over for dinner, so that he may enjoy the chicken with our sons (being wasteful is a way of doing harm after all). Chris and I ate roasted potatoes and garlic with sautéed bell peppers, avocado, and salsa. Our stomachs were satisfied as we cleaned up the dinner dishes, but we still caught ourselves unconsciously reaching for morsels of leftover chicken, and had to quickly check ourselves and retract our hands from the forbidden meat.

My meal planning is horrible this week. Breakfast was a tortilla with peanut butter and orange marmalade; lunch was pretzels, hummus, a handful of dried cranberries, and granola. I’m really looking forward to the butternut squash soup I made for tonight, and for tomorrow I’ll be digging into my green bag to create some new and exciting meatless, cheeseless, eggless meals.

by Michelle Berry, 1/4/16

What’s all the Buzz About Beekeeping?

Hijacked from Edible South Shore and South Coast Magazine’s blog (with permission) and beeswritten by Michelle Berry (who we love)

It’s a bone-chilling Thursday evening and the parking lot of the Pembroke Recreation Center is packed.  A handmade sign at the back door announces ‘BEE SCHOOL’.  I walk in, just a few minutes late, to a large swarm of South Shore residents anxious to learn the secrets of beekeeping.  There are so many hearty souls in attendance that I have to sit in the way, way back of the large but modest space.  Scanning the room, I see people young and old, blue collar, white collar, moms, dads, children, grandmas, grandpas, you get the picture, and it’s a nice mix.  As I wait for class to begin, sitting among strangers in my own town, I wonder: are they in it for the precious golden honey, are they looking for a hobby that’s a little edgy, are they dreaming of a beautiful, bountiful garden, or have they heard the bad news and want to be part of the solution?  No matter the reason, the bees need us here.  Really, we need the bees too, as much as they need us.

“Why all the hype?” some may ask. The very bad news for all of us is that bees, who are very important crop pollinators, are disappearing at alarming rates. No bees, no food.  It’s a national crisis that has been attributed, at least in part, to CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder).  The commercial beekeepers first brought this to our attention back in 2006.  They are the people that truck millions of bees all over the U.S. to pollinate the massive amount of almonds, apples, blueberries, and more (way too many to list), we consume on a daily basis.  As crazy as it sounds, millions of bees abandon their hives leaving no evidence of their demise, or sudden vacation plans.

Why are they disappearing?
The honeybee population has been on the decrease for a number of reasons; urbanization, pesticides, parasitic mites & CCD. CCD is the most mysterious culprit because it came on suddenly wiping out enormous numbers of colonies, and the cause is still undetermined.  There is strong speculation that pesticides affect the bee’s nervous systems over time.

Why should you care?
Bees pollinate 60% of our fruits and vegetables. If they disappear, most of our food will too.

Bees collect nectar and pollen to create glorious honey. Raw honey has treated our taste buds and bodies for centuries.  Just a few health benefits of raw honey are: immunity booster; minor burn soother; cough suppressant; and allergy reducer.  It’s also anti-bacterial and a good source of antioxidants.  What’s not to love!

Bees produce beeswax, as you know. Beeswax makes the best clean burning & fragrant candles on the planet.   It is also used in all natural beauty and household products.

Bees help pollinate our spectacular assortment of flowers, trees and scrubs.

What can you do?
Support farmers who practice responsible sustainable agriculture. If you’re reading this, you do & we thank you!  Consider an all-natural landscape at home.  You will be providing a much needed nectar flow for the girls.  Bees love clover, sweet pepper bush, dandelions, and other native wildflowers.  Chemically treated carpets of lush green grass are actually baron food deserts for bees.  Plant a bee & butterfly garden, create a little happiness for all.  If you must fertilize or use pesticides in your garden; please use organic products and follow the directions specified by the manufacturer.  You can also become a backyard beekeeper!  If you love food (and we know you do), bee part of the solution by being bee-friendly.

Plymouth County Beekeepers Association welcomes you to learn more by visiting their website,, grow as much locally as we can, and support farmers who grow a wide diversity of crops and save their seed to create genetic versatility in our seed stock, regional adaptability in our food crops, and durability in our food supply.


How Did I Get Here? Vegan Eating for a Month

veganblog1How did this happen and why? I’m asking myself this as we push through our first day of vegan eating unprepared. We did no prior research, nor did we discuss this drastic diet change more than him saying ‘let’s do it’ and me other saying, ‘are you serious’? This was my husband Chris’s idea, not mine. Truth be told, I had zero desire to omit anything from my diet this year. In fact, the morning of January 2, I told myself I would NOT restrict myself of any foods (thinking this was good reverse psychology), my resolution was simple and achievable: reduce food waste. By that evening, after innocently pressing the bright orange play button for ‘Forks over Knives’ which I thought Chris sat sleeping through, I had agreed to try vegan for 4 weeks. It’s the morning after. Panic has officially set in.

Now to the “why” of it all. At first I had trouble understanding why we were doing this aside from being bored with our routine and needing a predictable New Years’ reset. The more I thought about it, the reasons mounted and became clearer. Here are some of my why’s; (1) There is the need for us as humans to challenge ourselves. Most of us love a challenge and we can remember back to those times we overcame fear and accomplished things we never dreamed we could. When we overcame challenges, we felt like we could do anything and we built mental and sometimes physical strength as a result. (2) This is the most obvious; our health is the main reason we chose to change our eating habits, and change them we will by adding more whole grains, fruits and vegetables. (3) Curiosity. It would be much easier for me to hop in the comfortable vegetarian VW bus rather than buy a ticket for the extreme vegan spaceship that travels far outside the edges of my eating universe. As an after thought, now that I’ve committed, I have to admit I’m excited to know and feel what it is that keeps vegans so dedicated. (4) Maybe I’ll lose enough weight to fit comfortably into my clothes again. (5) Knowledge. One of my ambitions is to assign myself learning projects throughout the year. This will be my first project.  Along the way, I’m hoping to experience exciting flavor combinations. As you can see, I’m totally trying to psych myself up for this unexpected 4-week journey. Yes, I have to keep saying 4 weeks to reduce my anxiety. I love dairy and very much enjoy a juicy (grass-fed) cheeseburger. This is going to be tough, but worth it, right?

We’ve got 2 important advantages: support, and access to good food. Any challenge is elevated and more fun when you share a common goal with a friend or group that is encouraging and inspires you. As for the food, I’m fortunate to work at a unique food hub where continuously throughout the year, waves of the most beautiful produce ebb and flow and change with the seasons.

This is what we pulled together for our meals today. (Day 1)

Breakfast: granola and almond milk
Lunch: leftover rice, noodles and broccoli
Snacks: dried mango, pretzels and hummus
Dinner: bean and avocado tortilla with salsa and lettuce

I’ll share how we use our green bag over the next 4 weeks to meet our vegan eating challenge. We would love to hear your thoughts, suggestions and experiences on food and healthy living too.

by Michelle Berry

Food Security

By Pamela Denholmyou can't

As I alluded to in my email to you last week, the drought in California continues to be pressing, and urgent. California grows a significant portion, more than half, of the US’s field crops and the financial impacts of the prolonged drought are starting to be seen.  When you consider too, how damaging the greening disease has been in Florida to the citrus crop, driving orange and citrus prices skywards too, and also that fire blight is gaining traction in some orchards, you start to get the sense of how fragile our food system really is, and how much we take it for granted.

Having been born in a country where food security is a luxury, along with running water and shelter, food always held great value. We were chastised for not finishing a meal, leaving food out to spoil, or throwing it away. My gran in particular, who also lived through the some trying global economic times, wasted nothing.  Food was sacred, and every bit from peel to core was used for something, and then used again in repurposed left over dishes like casseroles and soups.  Bubble and squeak was a regular, end-of-week dish in which the refrigerator was emptied into a grand pot and simmered with stock for the humans, or plain water for the dogs.  Every morsel was used.

Sometimes I like to play a game of ‘what if’ . . . a game my aunt invented to keep us entertained in the car on long trips, or when we had long waits in lines at banks. What if . . . it rained jelly tots and custard?  That was how it usually started, imaginary situations and outlandish ideas.  But recently I have found myself playing the game with graver outcomes.  What if the drought in California isn’t resolved in the next few years?  What if Florida continues to lose orange crops? I can tell you from where I sit, with a window into the world of how food moves, we are in serious trouble – and I haven’t even introduced declining bee populations, mono-cropping, GMO’s, receding top soil, or any other myriad of issues circling around.

It is so easy to feel overwhelmed, like there is nothing you can do, it’s out of your control, or to not think of it at all, the grocery stores are always stocked after all. How many of us grab our cart and stop to imagine empty shelves in the fresh food aisle?  It’s not something we’ve ever had to consider, although it happens elsewhere in the world regularly.  How lucky are we? Darn lucky!  And I hope we never ever have that experience, none of us, nor our children.  Part of ensuring that is the case is doing exactly what we are doing, you and me.  We have to build more regional food systems.  We should not be relying on Florida for 80% of our citrus, and we should not be relying on California for 80% of our field crops.  Just like we should not put the fate of almost all our commodity crops in the hands of a few big Ag companies and their GMO seed.  It’s a terrible strategy, and a very risky one.

No, we are far, far better off creating regions rich in local food products, supporting our nearby farmers and food artisans. We create more genetic diversity in our food crops, we grow more resilient food that responds to regional climate and insect pressures, we spread the risk, we generate wealth, we eat better, excesses can feed families who have fallen on hard times, and we have better food cultures in our communities. . . the list of benefits goes on and on.  In fact, I can’t think of one reason why it is a bad idea to do this, can you?

So further to my email of last week, I just wanted to validate you, and thank you. We will often think of this person or that as a food hero for all they do for the local food platform.  Truthfully though, any person making any local food purchasing decision on a regular basis is a hero in my book.  You are the people that are slowly bringing about change, and it’s a commitment, I know because I live it too.  But you do it anyway, because you know it’s important, and it is what is best, for you, for our children, for our communities, for everybody.  We have deep gratitude every day for your participation, and we think we have the coolest jobs in the world, we get to draw the dots and connect you to your farmer, to your community, and to change.

Answer? The Daily Table

By Pamela Denholm

Daily tA significant contributor to food waste is sell-by dates. In many instances, perfectly good food is discarded because of a date on the box. Yes, those dates are an important guideline, but more often than not, those dates are a guideline for when product is at its freshest, and is not an indication that the food has actually gone bad. It also helps grocery stores rotate their stock (and it helps producers sell more). Think of long standing staples, such as flour, sugar or canned goods. More often than not, even if the item is truly stale it can be turned into something else—stale bread can become croutons or stale cornflakes can be crushed to crumb-coat eggplant, souring milk can be used to make soft cheese or it can be used in baking. Despite these options, grocery stores throw away a goodly amount of ‘expired’ goods every day, goods they won’t allow consumers to pick through. So what do you get when a former president of a grocery store chain (enter Doug Rauch of Trader Joe’s fame), looks at the disparity and wonders what can be done, and then speaks to fellow executives? The answer? The Daily Table.

Only 1 year ago, The Daily Table was a concept just coming to life, a store that would take excesses of nutritious food and use it to provide affordable nutrition in a food insecure neighborhood. Essentially, a non-profit grocery store in a food insecure neighborhood that will sell surplus food at half price in a way that provides dignity for the customer.

Dorchester was chosen for the location of the first store – it was chosen because residents appreciate good, nutritious food, but their choices are often determined by economics—junk food is less expensive than healthy food. The store offers ready to eat meals, bread, dairy, grocery items and fresh produce that are excess from nearby farms. The Daily Table has volunteers that will go into fields to do some gleaning (pick through was farm crews may have left behind), they pick up donations from grocery stores, and places like us at SSO, and then they sort through it. They have a certified kitchen so berries, for example, will be sorted, mushy ones end up as jam, while good ones end up on the shelf. The fresh produce may be offered as chopped vegetables for soups or stir-fry’s, or made into ready-made meals that are chilled or frozen for later use.

Rudy Rubeins, the store’s executive director, says they won’t offer food hot, because it is a huge area of food waste, hot food cannot be repurposed, and they wish to become part of the solution and not part of the problem. They will also sell out daily – whatever isn’t sold will be donated to local food banks or repurposed again – chopped stir-fry vegetables will be turned into a meal, and frozen for later use. There are so many catch points for food waste that this model will be addressing—a distributor might order 18’000lbs of fish, and a fisherman might come in with 20’000lbs. A box might arrive at the grocery store damaged, or the wrong item might have been delivered. The grocery store might ask for a certain size roaster chicken, 10% of the birds might not meet the weight requirement and will sit in a frozen warehouse (in itself unsustainable because of the energy required to store it). See the possibilities?

We are thrilled to be a part of this project, and have been donating food to The Daily Table since they began gearing up for their opening on January, 2015 while they geared up for their opening in June. We continue to be excited by the possibilities of what an initiative like this could mean. You can help too, don’t immediately discard expired food at home, give it the sniff test first, or think about how to reuse, repurpose or recycle your food.