Stacking Functions Garden

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Corruption at the USDA

A USDA veterinarian and meat-processing plant inspector testified before congress, blowing the whistle on corruption at the USDA — the guy was shut down by his superiors for issuing citations of animal cruelty, and also overruled 3 times when he tried to shut down a meat-processing plant in Vermont.  From the Cornucopia Institute press release:

Asked why he blew the whistle and ruined his career, Dr. Wyatt responded: “I truly believe that the USDA inspector is the only advocate animals have in slaughter plants. When we turn our backs on the helpless, when we fail to speak on behalf of the voiceless, when we tolerate animal abuse and suffering, then the moral compass of a just and compassionate society is gone.”

Read the entire press release here.

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New rules for organic dairy farmers

Hopefully this move will help smaller organic dairy farmers compete with the big guys (Dean Foods – Horizon Organic Milk and Aurora — private label organic milk for Target, WalMart, etc.).  Those two producers, who sell 70% of organic milk in our country, were following the letter of the law to be labeled organic, but were pretty far from the spirit of the law.  Now cows will be required to be pastured for at least 120 days of the year, with 30% of their feed coming from grass.

This is great for a number of reasons, one of them being that cows who eat primarily grass produce milk that has a much better ratio of essential fatty acids — more 3’s, fewer 6’s.  Not to mention that an animal who is allowed to act the way it evolved to act will likely be less stressed and [theoretically] get ill less often.  Any dairy farmers out there that want to weigh in on that?

Here’s the whole article in today’s TC Mix.  I buy milk from 100% grass-fed cows, it comes from a farm in New Prague called Cedar Summit Farm.  It’s also non-homogenized so you have to give it a good shake to incorporate the cream.  It reminds me of drinking milk right from the milk parlor on my grandpa’s farm as a kid.  After years of drinking pasteurized homogenized skim milk, it was a little challenging for me at first.  But I’ve gotten used to it pretty quickly and our kids don’t know the difference.

I’m starting to realize that skim milk isn’t all it’s cracked up to beA little fat can be a good thing.  Moderation is the key, as in everything.

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Grass-fed beef

Wow, the mainstream media is talking about grass-fed beef!

One of the things the article fails to mention is precisely why it might be better if we have to pay a little more for beef: it’s a natural way to help us not over-consume it.  Eating less beef would be super easy, if beef was expensive.  Right now conventionally-raised meat is cheaper, especially if you think about it in terms of cost-per-calorie, than vegetables and legumes.  But we’re paying a hidden cost, as with so many other things in our modern American culture.  Anyway, if TIME magazine is talking about it, maybe grass-fed beef will start to get more mainstream.

Here in Minnesota, there are several sources for grass-fed beef near the Twin Cities, including:
Grass-Run Farm (they are actually in Decorah, IA)
Thousand Hills Cattle Company (Cannon Falls)
Cedar Summit Farm (New Prague) — they also have milk from grass-fed cows

I’ve had beef from all three of these places.  I found Grass-Run farm to be the cheapest, but they were all good.  I’m sure there are many other sources, too.  Minnesota is really a leader in the local foods movement.

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Dolphin-safe tuna: a well-intentioned disaster

Oh woe is me, I absolutely hate it when I read things like this (via

“By trying to help dolphins, groups like Greenpeace caused one of the worst marine ecological disasters of all time. Few other fisheries are as bad for groups like sharks and sea turtles as the purse seine fishery, and none are as large in scale.”

I have no idea what the right answer is on that one.  Read the whole depressing affair here.

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Farm animal antibiotics: soon to be banned?!

OH WOW, people, WOW!  It looks like Obama might step up and make some real changes after all!

“The Obama administration announced Monday that it would seek to ban many routine uses of antibiotics in farm animals in hopes of reducing the spread of dangerous bacteria in humans.”

It’s easy to imagine why the factory farm lobby is so opposed to this measure (and they are so powerful that this may not pass).  If you can’t pump your animals full of antibiotics, it gets harder to maintain them in the crowded conditions found on today’s CAFOs.  Could this have a ripple effect, or will they work in some sort of loophole where they can still give certain types of antibiotics?

Maybe it’s time to send my new senator an e-mail. Oops, I guess this is just in the House right now, so I sent Keith Ellison (he’s the Rep for my district) an e-mail instead.  You can find the Star Tribune article  here.

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I was lucky enough to be able to attend the sold-out screening of FRESH last night at the Riverview Theater in Minneapolis.  Awesome event, and so inspiring.  The movie was so optimistic — it made it seem like a regional food economy is really possible.

When I first started caring about this stuff over 10 years ago in college, it was always through the framework of animal rights.  But it has become so much more than that, and it needed to if it was ever going to go mainstream.  Having a healthy regional food economy is now about EVERYTHING.  Human rights, the environment, our urban and rural economies, our health, and yes, animal welfare.

I highly recommend this movie.


Where the new home economics are taught

Sorry for the light posting schedule over the weekend.  I’ve never been so busy in my life; I either have my hands in the dirt, my head in this book, or one toddler in each arm.  In my spare time I washed many, many dishes.  This weekend we tried:

sourdoughstarter1) Sourdough bread. We made “starter” last weekend and it was ready to be made into bread this weekend.  Result: FAIL. I tried this method because it seemed so easy.  I think the problem is that I did not “proof my sponge” long enough.  The directions said when it is frothy, it is ready.  I don’t think I let it get frothy enough — it had a couple bubbles and I jumped the gun.  I got my dough all kneaded and ready to go and it never rose.  Here’s my leftover starter in the fridge.  Going to try again next weekend.

2) Chicken.  We roasted a chicken on Saturday, then Sunday I simmered the carcass all day long to make bone broth.  Then I froze the broth in ice cube trays so we can use it as needed in recipes.  Bone broths like this are apparently quite good for you.  And it makes sense.

gingerbug3) Ginger beer! At the same time we started our sourdough bread, we started a ginger beer “bug.”  You can see it at right; the sediment on the bottom and the gingery goodness on top.  Ginger beer is a non-alcoholic fermented beverage recipe that we found in Nourishing Traditions. (Where else?)  This weekend we did step 2, which is to introduce your “bug” to a large amount of water and some sugar.  Now we let it ferment for another week before bottling it.  IF it turns out (and I have some serious doubts) I will do a full post about it, with recipe.

Another little obsession of mine lately is planning a trip around taking a class in the New Home Economics.  For some reason I can’t get Adam excited about broom making or humane chicken processing.  Yes, there are schools for this stuff.  Here are some in the Upper Midwest:

Driftless Folk School
In southwestern Wisconsin, they offer courses in things such as Flyfishing, Making Herbal Salves and Lotions, Repairing and Maintaining Farm Equipment, Hand Woodworking, Broom Making, Rug Braiding, Blacksmithing, Fermented Foods, Chicken Butchering Basics, and even silly things like Appalachian Clogging.  Most of the courses are one-day or one weekend.  Needless to say, I’d like to go there and just move in for a good month.

Simple Living Series
A six week course in cheese, fermented foods and beverages, herbal soap and handcrafted herbal wares.  In Sheboygan, Wisconsin (near Milwaukee).

North House Folk School
Located in Grand Marais, Minnesota.  Unique feature: boat building.  It seems most of the classes here involve artistry — basket and jewelry making, and the like.  Not things you necessarily need in your every day life, but it sure would be cool to make your own boat, no?  Practical classes include rug braiding and whole grain sourdough bread baking (a class I obviously need).

The Clearing
Located in Door County, Wisconsin.  This school focuses more on fine arts.

More of these “fine art” types of folk schools in the upper midwest, can be found here.

Finally, this one is not in the upper midwest but I saw it on google and it sure looks cool:

John C. Campbell Folk School
Located in Brasstown, North Carolina, this looks very similar to the Driftless Folk School, but offers an even greater variety of classes.  They go beyond the practical stuff and into a lot of folk art like basketry, knitting, photography,  printmaking, and writing, as well as cooking and gardening.  Here’s a list of subjects they teach.

There, that was one heckuva long post.  Hope you’re having a good week.

6/2/09 update: Minneapolis Community Education (classes in spring and fall) always offers a bunch of really great, affordable classes too.

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Two things

1. FRESH: Another movie, similar to Food, Inc. but a bit more optimistic.  I’m such a sap that I got tears in my eyes watching the trailer.  There’s going to be a screening in Minneapolis June 2.

2. I was listening to The Splendid Table again and Lynn R-C talked to a guy from the Environmental Working Group, who talked about pesticides on produce.  The interesting thing that he noted was that these tests are performed after produce has been washed (and cooked, where applicable).  Here’s the full list.

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I just don’t get it.

I was so excited about the Bittman “Vegan Before 6” article, and then I saw in the comments that someone posted a link to  The Weston A. Price Foundation philosophies of eating.

So I spent some time reading up about Mr. Price’s research and now I feel really  confused.  Mr Price and his foundation have done research that shows in fact that, among other things: eating lots high-fat meat is good for you, our diets should be based in animal proteins, soy is bad for you, and whole grain bread is bad for you, among other things.  This is why I feel like I need to take a liberal art course about nutrition — there is so much contradictory information out there.  Who is right?

Before you go out and buy a bunch of bacon, spend a couple minutes on the Weston Price Foundation website.  They don’t advocate the type of meat-eating that most Americans do; on the contrary, their diet could best be summed up in one word as paleolithic.  It’s whole foods to the extreme.  Here are their 20 Dietary Guidelines (copied from the site):

  1. Eat whole, natural foods.
  2. Eat only foods that will spoil, but eat them before they do.
  3. Eat naturally-raised meat including fish, seafood, poultry, beef, lamb, game, organ meats and eggs.
  4. Eat whole, naturally-produced milk products from pasture-fed cows, preferably raw and/or fermented, such as whole yogurt, cultured butter, whole cheeses and fresh and sour cream.
  5. Use only traditional fats and oils including butter and other animal fats, extra virgin olive oil, expeller expressed sesame and flax oil and the tropical oils-coconut and palm.
  6. Eat fresh fruits and vegetables, preferably organic, in salads and soups, or lightly steamed.
  7. Use whole grains and nuts that have been prepared by soaking, sprouting or sour leavening to neutralize phytic acid and other anti-nutrients.
  8. Include enzyme-enhanced lacto-fermented vegetables, fruits, beverages and condiments in your diet on a regular basis.
  9. Prepare homemade meat stocks from the bones of chicken, beef, lamb or fish and use liberally in soups and sauces.
  10. Use herb teas and coffee substitutes in moderation.
  11. Use filtered water for cooking and drinking.
  12. Use unrefined Celtic seasalt and a variety of herbs and spices for food interest and appetite stimulation.
  13. Make your own salad dressing using raw vinegar, extra virgin olive oil and expeller expressed flax oil.
  14. Use natural sweeteners in moderation, such as raw honey, maple syrup, dehydrated cane sugar juice and stevia powder.
  15. Use only unpasteurized wine or beer in strict moderation with meals.
  16. Cook only in stainless steel, cast iron, glass or good quality enamel.
  17. Use only natural supplements.
  18. Get plenty of sleep, exercise and natural light.
  19. Think positive thoughts and minimize stress.
  20. Practice forgiveness.

I can get behind a lot of that stuff (especially forgiveness), but some of it I find downright confusing.  What is Celtic sea salt and why is that better than normal sea salt?  How do I “sour-leaven” a grain?  What the heck is enzyme-enhanced lacto-fermentation?  Are roasted nuts out?  The thought of steamed or soaked walnuts does not appeal to me at all.

I also noticed some inconsistencies.  For example, they talk about embracing traditionally fattier meats like red meat, but then emphasize that those meats must be grass-fed/pasture-raised.  Well, grass-fed beef is naturally a much lower-fat meat its corn-fed, CAFO-raised counterpart.

Also, the primitive people that Price studied probably needed more calories to sustain them than we cubicle-dwelling moderns.  Anybody out there familiar with this diet?  Practice it?  I’d really like to see a recipe book that espouses these ideas; it would help me understand some of these principles a little better.

One guideline that I really liked was “eat only foods that will spoil” — guess that rules out Twinkies, huh?