Time for the news . . .

dog-radio-docxWhen I was a little girl, we vacationed at my Gran’s house for a few weeks almost every summer. I treasure my memories from these visits. My gran always kept a tin of baked treats for us, it was never empty. Cookies, cheese straws, granola squares, rusks, and these hard, dry savory toast squares which sound awful but were one of my favorites. Our walks through the wildflowers were special, my gran could name them all, as were our walks along the beach because she could tell you about each shell, the creatures who made them and lived in them. My gran knew everything. Another memory I have, is that at noon sharp, we were expected to present ourselves with brushed hair and clean hands at the table for a cooked lunch. Lunches were always delicious, but there was no talking because my grandfather turned the radio on to listen to the twelve o’clock news. Sometimes the news upset him and he flicked that radio off early, most often we listened to the whole broadcast, my sister and I eagerly waiting for the bit at the end about the weather and beach tides. Afterwards, lively discussions ensued about the current events over dessert and tea, until my sister and I could make our escape out into the sunshine to look for crabs or build sandcastles.

How much times have changed! I am not talking about THAT long ago, I mean, we HAD a TV, but it was only turned on in the evenings. Never during the day. Now, we have news streaming from multiple devices and sources 24/7. It’s become so noisy, it’s hard to know what to listen to, and harder to prioritize what’s important. The headline about the UN’s suspension of aid to Syria after trucks carrying food, winter clothes, and medical supplies was bombed, is sandwiched between Angelina’s divorce from Brad, and a story about a man who buys his dog an iPhone 7.

Is it any surprise that we are so distracted we miss the opportunity to string some important bits together? For instance, in the news last week was a notice that German company, Bayer, has agreed to buy Monsanto in a $66bn cash deal. The deal should close by the end of 2017. If it is proven that this would give Bayer unfair monopoly of the market, Bayer is prepared to pay a $2bn dollar fine, according the article on Reuters. The deal would give Bayer control over 25% of the world’s seeds. Think about this: the ‘bad guy’ in the GMO labelling war, i.e. Monsanto (March Against Monsanto) would cease to exist. By naming a villain in our fight for labelling we were able to mobilize people, but in so naming that villain, we risk having that energy disappear in a poof. March Against Bayer doesn’t have the same ring and is bound to cause consumer confusion. It is no surprise, at all, that this deal was announced AFTER President Obama signed the DARK act into law in July 2016 squashing state GMO labelling initiatives.

Here’s another one. In 2013, on a Friday just before a holiday weekend, the USDA quietly announced that it would allow imports of chicken that was processed in China, but slaughtered elsewhere. In other words, the birds would be raised and slaughtered here in the US, or Canada, shipped to China for processing, and then sent back to the US for distribution. In November 2014, a year later, the USDA announced it would allow chickens raised and processed in China to be shipped to the United States cooked, frozen, or refrigerated. Then, in December 2015, as part of an ombibus budget bill, the Congress repealed the COOL Act, requiring the ‘country of origin’ to be on meat labels. It is no longer required for grocery stores to label country of origin on those steaks, ground beef, chops, or chicken thighs.  You could be eating chicken from China right now, and you would never know. And ‘organic’ chicken can be imported too. Poultry farms in the US have come under fire in recent news for the inhumane living conditions of their chickens, and the best way to resolve that problem, it seems, is to outsource it. To China.

In the absence of GMO labels, and country of origin labels, we are powerless. We unknowingly eat what we’ve been given. If news was news, we could pay better attention, don’t you think? But let’s at least sit at the table, get some dessert and a cup of tea and have a discussion about what is happening to our food system, before we escape into the sunshine to build sandcastles. And by the way the answer to this problem, is to buy local. Know your farmer.

by Pam Denholm

Nearly two decades of data reinforce concerns that pesticides are really bad for bees.

beesAdapted from article by Chelsea Harvey, Washington Post

New research has provided some of the strongest evidence yet that pesticides can do serious, long-term damage to bee populations. The new study examines the question of whether the use of a common (and highly controversial) class of pesticides called neonicotinoids can be linked to wild bee declines in England. The results suggest that this could be the case.

Using 18 years of data collected on more than 60 bee species in England, the researchers found that species foraging on pesticide-treated crops have experienced much more severe losses than species foraging on other plants. The study provides some of the first evidence that the effects of neonicotinoid exposure can cause major damage to bees. “It’s nice to see the use of long-term data to look at trends in pesticide impacts over longer time scales,” said Dara Stanley, a plant ecology lecturer at the National University of Ireland Galway, by email. (Stanley has previously conducted research on the effects of neonicotinoids in bees, but was not involved with the new study.) “That is something that has been missing in the debate on bees and pesticides so far, and there have been many calls to look at effects over time.”

In 2013, the European Union placed a ban on the use of multiple neonicotinoid pesticides, citing their potential danger to bees, although a few exemptions have since been allowed in the United Kingdom. Neonicotinoids are still widely used in many other places around the world, including in the United States. They’re produced by a number of different manufacturers and include household names such as Bayer’s Admire Pro insecticide, which includes a neonicotinoid called imidacloprid, or Syngenta’s Actara insecticide, which contains thiamethoxam. Until now, most of the research on their effects has been limited to short-term, small-scale studies, many of them performed in laboratory settings, said Ben Woodcock, an ecological entomologist at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in the U.K. and the paper’s lead author. They’ve also tended to focus on just a few species. The new study, on the other hand, relies on field data collected on many species over nearly two decades.

The researchers focused on the different responses between bee species that forage on pesticide-treated oilseed rape crops — the same plants commonly used to make canola oil — and bees that forage on other plants. Oilseed rape crops are widely treated with neonicotinoids around the world, and the practice began on a wide scale in the U.K. starting in 2002.  It’s the biggest mass flowering crop in the U.K. where neonicotinoids have been widely applied, according to Woodcock, making it an ideal subject for the study.

The researchers were interested in finding out whether bee species that forage on oilseed rape plants have experienced greater declines than bee species that don’t. So they gathered nearly 20 years’ worth of data, mostly collected in surveys by citizen scientists between 1994 and 2011, on where bee species have been spotted and what plants they foraged on. Different species often prefer to snack on different plants, and some of the included species visited oilseed rape plants while others didn’t do so at all. The researchers incorporated all the data, along with information on oilseed rape cover and pesticide use in the U.K., into a model that helped them analyze all the information.

The findings support the previous research which indicates that neonicotinoids can have damaging effects on bees — and they also suggest that these effects could result in serious population declines on a large scale in the long term.

In the meantime, scientists from Bayer Crop Science, a major manufacturer of neonicotinoid pesticides, took issue with the study’s correlational findings, which they’ve pointed out cannot be used to argue with certainty that pesticides cause declines in bees. A statement from the company, sent to The Washington Post by Bayer spokesperson Jeffrey Donald, summarized their complaint.

“The authors chose to investigate only one potential factor, namely neonicotinoid insecticides,” the statement said. “This was chosen out of many different factors which may have an influence on the development of wild bees, for example landscape structures, climatic conditions, availability of specific foraging plants and nesting habitats. It is a well-known fact that the structure of agricultural landscapes in large parts of Europe has changed substantially in the last decades. The area of landscape structures available for nesting or foraging, especially for specialized species, has significantly declined, resulting in fewer habitats for pollinators.”

“Bees have been undergoing declines for a long time and it’s been linked to a number of things — habitat fragmentation, climate change,” Woodcock said. “This is a contributing factor to bee declines, it’s not the sole cause. If you stop using neonicotinoids tomorrow, you wouldn’t solve the problem.” But many experts feel that limiting their use would certainly help. Krupke, the Purdue entomologist said “But I think in areas where pesticides are used extensively…that pesticides are high on the list of concern.”

Waste Not Want Not

Last week, we spoke about how to get more from your veggies by saving seeds. I hopsoup-pice those of you who received those beautiful German Striped Tomatoes did just that, they are an heirloom variety that are delicious, pulpy, and tasty! Well, this week, we have another frugal tip for you – veggie stock!

Don’t throw away the trimmed ends of tomatoes, and squash. If you cut corn from the cob, for goodness sake, keep the cob! Broccoli, chard, or kale stems, potato skins, and carrot peels are not only good for the compost, and celery leaves, onion skins, and herb stems are really treasures. I keep a gallon bag in the door of my freezer, and all these tidbits I add to the bag, until the bag is full, and then we make magic together.

Put a little olive oil on the bottom of a big stock pot, if you have some onions that are starting to go soft, add them along with a little garlic. Once the oil has softened the garlic and onion, add your freezer bag of scraps, along with ten cups of water, a pinch of salt, and bring to boil. After about half an hour, you can taste your broth and start playing with other ingredients to change the outcome of it. For instance, if you want to use the broth for Asian inspired cuisine, try adding some lemongrass and ginger, you can also add left over wine, cheese rinds, or soy sauce.

After it has been boiling for a total of 45-60 minutes, remove it from the stove and allow it to cool. Once it is cool, pour it into a bowl through a fine mesh strainer to remove the left over veggies – which are now good for the compost heap! You can then put it in jars for the fridge, or freezer (just leave some space at the top of the jar because liquid expands when it freezes), you can also use freezer bags. I portion it out to about two cups per serving for the freezer, I find it gives me a lot of control over how much I defrost and use.

Now that you have your beautiful stock, what to do with it? Veggie stock adds a lot of flavor to soups, stews, and risottos. You can also use it when boiling up a pot of rice, in stir-fries, to cook up dried beans, or to make stuffing. One of my favorite uses is to just warm it up in the winter, pour it into a big mug, season with a little salt and pepper, and drink it. It makes for a warming, nutritious, low calorie, satisfying beverage.

What not to do when making veggie stock: don’t add too many cruciferous veggies (cabbage, Brussel sprouts, broccoli) as it can make the stock bitter. A few stems are fine, a whole cabbage, not so much. Also, if you are using peels, make sure they are clean – you don’t want dirt in your stock. And never, ever use food that has passed and has mold on it. Over-ripe, sure, no problem, but not moldy.

Other waters you can save and freeze and use for cooking are water from your pasta (it will have gluten in it, I’m assuming if you are cooking wheat pasta, you are not sensitive to gluten, but if you are making a pot of soup or a stew for a gluten sensitive guest, you want to be mindful). Water left over from boiling or steaming corn makes a delicious base for a chowder. Water left over from boiling potatoes is terrific in stews and will help produce a lovely thick, rich gravy.

Oh, and in closing, did you know the difference between a broth, and stock? I only just learned this, but stock is plain and unseasoned. Broth is seasoned. So the difference lies in salt and pepper! I hope you feel inspired as the weather cools, to put a bag for veggie scraps in your freezer.

by Pam Denholm

Veggies That Keep On Giving

seed-packetAdapted from Berkshire Organics Newsletter

Many of our customers switch to a fruit basket in the summer, because they have bountiful gardens producing lovely fresh veggies—nothing is more local than that! We often see a frantic flurry of activity at the beginning of the growing season asking about where to buy the best seed, especially seed that is non-GMO, but why not get ahead of the curve this year and save seeds from your delivery and garden for next season’s garden? Whether you’re cleaning & storing the seeds from your favorite heirloom or cherry tomato, or a crunchy sweet pepper, seed saving is a fun way to take part in your own cycle of food growth and consumption!

Although you can save seeds from almost any plant, some are easier than others. Many plants need to literally “go to seed”—where the plant has moved its energy from growing into producing the pod—before you can start to harvest seeds. Biennial plants (such as carrots, beets, cabbages, and parsley) require a second year in the ground for a seed pod to sprout, making it a bigger challenge to save the seeds. Others, however, are quite simple:

Peppers: These are the easiest. When the fruit changes color on the vine, it is fully ripe and the seeds are ready to harvest. Simply cut the pepper open, scrape out the seeds, and let them dry.

Tomatoes: The gelatinous coating on a tomato seed actually acts as a barrier to prevent sprouting inside the fruit, so it must be removed before drying. To do this, the seeds need to ferment inside a closed jar of water for about a week. Swirl the jar twice daily, and by the end of the week your seeds will be ready to rinse and dry.

Melons: Whether muskmelon, honeydew, or watermelon, these seeds are super easy to save! Simply remove them, rinse in a bowl with water (although some experts recommend a dash of natural dish liquid to fully remove the sugar from the seed), and then let dry.

Cucumbers: To harvest cucumber seeds, you first need to leave the fruit to ripen for several weeks. Cut the ripe fruit in half and scrape seeds into a bowl. Scrape them gently against a sieve to remove the coating, or use the fermentation method described above for tomatoes.

Summer Squash: These, too, need to be ripe in order to save the seeds. Once the skin is no longer tender! Cut lengthwise and scrape the seeds into a bowl. Wash them well, drain, and dry.

Potatoes: Keep the latest potatoes of the season; store them in a dry, dark, cool place for the winter where they still have airflow. In the spring, they will start to grow ‘eyes’ which can be cut out and planted individually.

Beans: Allow pods to brown and dry on the vine, about 6 weeks after you’re done eating for the season. If there’s a frost threat, pull the whole vine (roots and all) and hang in a dry, cool place until the pods brown. Crack them open to remove dried beans.

For the best results, experts recommend that you plant open-pollinated and/or heirloom varieties, as they will grow more consistently than a hybrid. It’s also worth remembering that planting 2 or more varieties may result in cross-pollination, so try to keep your plot as far from the neighbor’s as possible—especially if they’re growing GMO seeds. Finally, only collect seeds from your heartiest plants; doing so will help perpetuate a continual line of healthy specimens, resulting in the best produce.

Saving seeds is an important act, and so is sharing seeds. Save more than you need so that you will have some to share, swap, or trade for other seeds you don’t have. Heirloom varieties of seeds came about in just this fashion, through saving and planting and sharing, and it is the best way to preserve the genetic integrity and variety of crops we grow for food.

“Save Vegetable Seeds in Your Backyard.” Mother Earth News. Sept/Oct 1977

“Basic Seed Saving.” International Seed Saving Institute. 2016.

“Beginners Guide to Seed Saving.” Rodale’s Organic Life. 20 May 2015.

Summer Crack

Scarecrow (2)By Pamela Denholm

Summer time is good eating time. As beautiful food starts trickling in from local farms for us to pack and deliver, we start salivating. While we load up the packing table and get orders ready, our belly’s start whimpering with anticipation. By the time we are halfway through our second packing run, our tummy-monsters are making roar-growls!

We have no choice but to feed this monster. If we don’t, the beast will not be tamed. We were not always this way, you understand, but it is one of the hazards of the job we do.  Fresh-faced newbies join us all shy and innocent, unaware that their beast inside is about to be awakened. It can’t be helped, they can’t be spared. Passing beautiful sun ripened tomatoes, and fresh, sweet, corn picked at the crack of dawn down the packing line makes you weak with desire.

Here is what we do: we feed ourselves. This summer, a recipe emerged as a firm favorite – it is easy, all raw, takes ten minutes to prepare, and is so satisfying hungry tummies are quieted until after our work is done. Because we cannot get enough of this recipe, it has been nick-named ‘Summer Crack’ by the SSO crew.

Summer Crack 1 Portrait w bread

Ingredients

  • 1 pint halved cherry tomatoes
  • 2 ears fresh, raw corn
  • whatever else you have (we have used scallions, onions, cucumbers, ramshorn peppers, avocado, parsley – seriously, you can’t mess this up, add whatever you like)
  • olive oil (just a gloop – good olive oil if you have it, and we do)
  • juice from half a lemon
  • salt and pepper

Method

  • slice raw corn off cob into a bowl
  • add tomato and whatever else you have
  • drizzle with olive oil
  • squeeze the lemon
  • sprinkle salt and pepper
  • toss, and serve

Prepare yourself. We’ve been riding the dragon all summer, but this is your first time. So go steady. Dish up a small amount. There are side affects, you can expect to behave like a ravenous wild person from the woods, who hasn’t seen food or utensils in years. A shovel would not suffice as a spoon. It’s THAT good. Truly.

We have enjoyed it with tortilla chips, with bread from My Little Bakery, on tacos, and with fresh mozzarella. I have served it as a side at barbecues, in front of the TV for a movie night, to family, to friends. But our most favorite way to eat Summer Crack is when you are hungry, and with a big spoon.

About Pamela: Pam spends most of her time coordinating with farmers to plan the season – filling the baskets with a wide variety of delicious fresh food, and working on the farm to table logistics.  Her special talent is pulling rabbits out of hats, and now, she can add crack making to her resume too.