Thursday, March 31, 2011

Global Food Spending

In my experience, when the topic of so-called "health food" (which we used to just call food) arises, one of the most common objections relates to price. People say, "But it is soooo much more expensive!" Compared to a 99 cent cheeseburger at a drive through, I suppose paying a few extra cents for a locally grown strawberry and without much knowledge of the externalized costs of that cheeseburger could be a turn off. So I like to re-frame spending and remind folks of what the graph above points out: It only seems expensive because we have had the option and become accustomed to spending a very small percentage of our incomes on food. How many televisions (aka non-essential items) do you have in your house and how much do you spend a month on cable? The tiny additional cost of that local strawberry seems much more reasonable, right? Not to mention you are supporting local and reducing your own footprint.

The global food map, available with interactive features and a great accompanying article on the Civil Eats website, was designed by Natalie Jones, a graduate student at UC Berkeley. It reveals that we Americans spend less of our income on food than any other country that keeps such data. Wowzers.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

"Sí, se puede"

Thursday, March 31st, is César Chávez Day. The Mexican-American farm worker, labor leader, civil rights activist and co-founder of the National Farm Workers Association (now United Farm Workers) is celebrated for his devotion to the farm workers' movement and unique approach to unionism that made the farm workers' struggle a moral cause with nationwide support.

In nearby Washington, D.C., our friends at the Accokeek Foundation Center for Agricultural and Environmental Stewardship, in partnership with the Rural Coalition and National Immigrant Farming Initiative, are celebrating Chávez by kicking off their four-part lecture series exploring issues that affect food justice on a local and global scale. Tirso Moreno, leader of the Farmworker Association of Florida, and Board Member of the National Immigrant Farming Initiative and Rural Coalition will share the experience of farmworkers today. Delegates from the Rural Coalition and National Latino Farmers and Ranchers Trade Association will report on Via Campesina’s Global Forum for Life, Environment, and Social Justice in Cancun and Kathy Ozer from the National Family Farm Coalition will discuss food sovereignty and grassroots policy advocacy.

If you are interested in local and just food systems, bettering food access, and the connection between the environment, our health, and our food, this is the perfect place to mingle with like-minded folks and learn more about what's happening in the movement. The event is free and open to all however donations are welcome. The event takes place from 6:00 - 8:00pm in thge Langley Room at Busboys and Poets, 2021 14th St. NW, Washington, D.C., 20009. Find more information here.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Coming Soon

Hey there, Just Sayers. Apologies for the gap between posts. We've been off the grid for a week gathering information and ideas for an exciting spring season on the blog. Check back soon for the following fun topics:

Friday, March 18, 2011

Got Goats?

In case you haven't heard, goats are the new green, weed-clearing machines. Expect to hear lots more about them in the coming weeks. Not only do they love to eat the weeds we hate, they are helping out local turtles (wink, wink)!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

"Crop of the Week"

Instead of writing about the greenest beer (in terms of carbon footprint, that is) we here at Just Saying decided to dedicate a post to the honorable forage crop: White Clover (Trifolium repens). It may look familiar to you for several reasons:

  • When you were a child, you likely picked through a patch in your parents' lawn in hopes of finding one with four leaves.
  • It is planted and gobbled up on pastures all over Maryland.
  • It looks like (or is currently considered) a weed in your yard.
  • It is 'harvested' by your own kids when the white flowers it produces are the only ones within the yard boundaries they are allowed to pick.
  • It, or a clover similar to it, is pictured in the widely-recognized 4-H emblem.
  • At least one person in your office has fashioned at least one blinking clover-esque tchotchke to their jacket, hat, tie or necklace today. 

The clover is all of these things and more! It is one of the most important and widely distributed forage legumes in the world. It is technically an invasive, thought to have originated in the Mediterranean are and brought to the U.S. by early European settlers, but currently growing in nearly every state and thriving in the cool, moist climate of the Northeast. Along with being palatable to horses, sheep and deer, white clover may be used as a cover crop to prevent soil erosion and naturally replenish nitrogen.

Want more? Visit the corresponding hyperlinks throughout this post or give us feedback in the comments section below.

The Importance of Being Reasonable

I often run into the same conversation when out to dinner with friends or family. It goes something like this:

Me: There's no meat in this, right?
Waiter: Nope, no meat. Are you a vegetarian?
Family/Friend Elect: I've seen you eat sushi, Deb. That's not sustainable. Why not just get the salmon? You need your protein.
Sister: I have a picture of you eating Mom Carter's fried chicken! Diet Coke and a turkey sandwich!
Me: Zip it, sister. I never claimed to be vegetarian. I only try to eat consciously and (making quote signs in the air) 'vote with my fork.' I also try to be polite when I am a guest in someone's home. Have you ever seen me purchase or order a meat dish? No. The environmental, health and anthrozoological consequences of mass-produced factory farmed meat appall me. But then again, so do the uber-rigid vegans who look upon the sneetches without stars... (waiter tries to excuse him/herself from the conversation)
Family/Friend Elect: You can't be half a vegetarian. What are you? Is there even a word for it? Why don't you just become Amish?
Me: Because I love the Internet too much.

While I certainly wish there were a simple word - like flexitarian - assigned to my beliefs and decisions around the dining table, I'm somewhat grateful there isn't because sometimes the strongest beliefs evolve over time along with exposure to knowledge and experiences. What I am trying to say is much better said in the fantastic article up on Treehugger that prompted this post to begin with.

The article, by Sami Grover's, emphasizes the importance of being sincere in your beliefs without shutting out new ideas and that "self reflection is not a lack of conviction." There is a wide spectrum of environmentalists out there and it is important that we remain reasonable and do not become too rigid. Progress, not perfection.

Monday, March 14, 2011

University of Maryland News

I am pleased to report that Scott Glenn, Ph.D., an associate professor of weed science at the University of Maryland and personal favorite of ours, was awarded the 2011 Outstanding Teacher Award by the Weed Science Society of America. Doc Glenn's research focuses on perennial weeds and the environmental impact of herbicides and I know quite a few Terps who highly recommend his courses.

In other award news, for the third year in a row, the University of Maryland has earned Tree Campus USA recognition from the Arbor Day Foundation for its dedication to campus forestry management and environmental stewardship. The University campus is an arboretum boasting an inventory of more than 8,000 trees. Read more about the award here and here, and learn about the distinguished Arboretum and Botanical Garden here.

And last but certainly not least, Mary(land) has little lambs! Spring has sprung on the campus farm. Here are a few pictures of the little cuties and some of their farm friends:

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Time to Track the Cherry Blossoms

In 1912, more than 3,000 Yoshino (Prunus x yedoensis) cherry trees were donated to our Nation's Capital in the name of the City of Tokyo, and every spring we get to watch them bloom! The official festival is scheduled around the average bloom date (April 4th) but occasionally, unseasonably warm and/or cool temperatures have shifted the peak bloom to as early as March 15th in 1990 and as late as April 18th in 1958 - which means scheduling your visit can be tricky. But fear not, bloom-lovers. You can follow their progress online.

As of March 3rd, Peak Bloom dates are projected for March 29th to April 4th.

Friday, March 11, 2011

UMASS Permaculture

Although Permacutlure (permanent agriculture) has been developing and growing since the 1960s, the practice is far from mainstream so here is the official definition, via the Santa Fe Permaculture Institute:

"Permaculture is an ecological design system for sustainability in all aspects of human endeavor. It teaches us how build natural homes, grow our own food, restore diminished landscapes and ecosystems, catch rainwater, build communities and much more."

It's about doing what is best for the land, most aligned with the natural eco-system, and developing increasingly self-sustaining human settlements and agricultural systems, and highlights the ever-important question facing sustainable gardeners: To dig or not to dig? I bring it up today in light of a new project happening up at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, in which a quarter acre of turf was transformed into a thriving garden. The video above is one of several in their documentary series about the initiative.

Pretty incredible, huh? Learn more on the Umass Permaculture blog.

(thnx John Mowbray and Treehugger)

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Bread Code

Did you know that the colors of the tie tags on loaves of bread represent the day of the week on which it was baked? They do. I just found out. I can't believe I've gone my whole life not knowing this. Paul Michael, from Wise Bread, suggests an easy way to remember the color code: "Recall the alphabet. The colors run in alphabetical order, so the earlier they appear in the alphabet, the earlier in the week the bread was baked."

This system originated to help supermarkets and grocers quickly distinguish which bread was new, which was ready for a sale tag, and which had expired and can no longer be sold. You shouldn't see more than two or three tag colors on the shelves at once unless a specific bread maker is using their own system that includes "sell by" dates on the tags. Read more about the bread code here and here.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Accokeek Foundation and CSAs

The 200 acres of Piscataway National Park that Accokeek stewards was established in 1957 as one of the nation's first land trusts. Originally founded to protect the glorious view accross the Potomac River from Mount Vernon, the property now offers a network of trails winding through wetlands, a native tree arboretum, an outdoor living history museum, an award-winning forest restoration project, an organic Ecosystem Farm emphasizing the future of agriculture, and perhaps most importantly, it serves as a teaching facility where farmers come to learn the tools of a new trade and practice sustainable use of natural resources. Did I mention they have a great blog too?

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending Accokeek's seminar "Successful CSAs: How to Start and Manage a Community Supported Agriculture Program" with my newest partner-in-learning, Allison Lilly. A panel of farmers who operate CSAs ranging from two-acre, 26-share, leased properties to hundred-acre, 1900-share farms, spoke about land-planning, seed-saving and the overall pros and cons of the biz. While I learned quite a few valubale lessons for my future farming endeavors, I imagine our readers are more likely to purchase a share in a CSA than try and start one up so I've decided to share a few tips for anyone interested in supporting community agriculture. Here goes:

  • Understand your investment. Purchasing a share in community agriculture means fresh, local produce on a weekly basis for a reasonable price. Your farmer will collect your investment at planting time and you will receive the invaluable peace of mind of knowing exactly where your produce (and sometimes eggs) comes from for 20-24 weeks out of the year. Remember, you are putting your faith in the farmer and eating in-season with respect to the weather so... have reasonable expectations. You may not get strawberries every week but you will be exposed to new flavors (and probably plenty of kale).

  • Find the best fit. If you want to bring your kids to pick their own berries, be sure your farmer offers that service. Some CSAs serve larger volumes and farm on hundreds of acres. This means dangerous machinery, busy business and a tight schedule - which isn't neccessarily conducive to drop-in visitors and volunteers. Smaller farms may offer a price break in exchange for weekly or monthly volunteer hours. To search your local listings visit

  • Consider your shopping habits and expectations. Just as scale will vary between farms, so will the product you take. Some CSAs offer a certain number of products in a pick-and-choose manner. Members can come and take two-shares of tomatoes and skip the chard, or several watermelons instead of something less tantilizing to their taste. Others offer a box with equal amounts of each weekly harvest and perhaps a recipe for the lesser-known veggie they grew for your cooking adventures.

  • (Maybe) Negotiate (during the last hour) at the Farmers Market, not the CSA. The price per share is carefully calculated based on size, soil capability, labor, climate and everything else that any business has to account for. Asking a farmer to lower it, or to go through the added complications of half-shares, can be disrespectful. Not to mention, a lot of sweat equity goes into farming. Just because massive distribution systems allow the big grocers to sell certain foods very cheap, doesn't mean a farmer can afford to offer such price breaks.

Additional infomation about Community Supported Agriculture can be found on the Local Harvest website. Additional information about educational opportunities at the Accokeek Foundation can be found on their website. Additional pictures and information from our recent adventure out to Accokeek can be found on Adventures in Container Gardening.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Public Health Garden at College Park

The University of Maryland's latest, greatest community gardening initiative "demonstrating sustainable agriculture and environmental best practices in support of public, environmental and community health" has officially kicked off. MPH student, gardener, blogger and project coordinator, Allison Lilly, has been working with Facilities Management, the School of Public Health, the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture, the Office of Sustainability and the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering to coordinate land plans, generate funds and interest, and gather enough plant and seed donations to get started this spring.

Seeds will begin germination today in the university greenhouse with help from several Institute of Applied Agriculture students and staff. There is even talk of incorporating a goat or two for sustainable, herbicide-free weeding of the plot before planting so be sure to join us and watch the garden grow on the official Public Health Garden blog. And if you are on facebook, "like" the Public Health Garden facebook page.

Will Stink Bugs Meet Their Match?

"If 1 in 10 people had stink bugs in 2010, 9 in 10 people will have them in 2011." - Michael Raupp, Entomologist, University of Maryland.

Is the answer to one invasive species, another invasive species? USDA researchers think so. The potential predators, parasitic wasps from Asia, are being raised in quarantine in a lab in Delaware and appear to be killing off 80 percent of the little stinkers. If the wasps are proven effective and selective in their embryo destruction, researchers are hopefully they will be released in 2013. Read the entire Baltimore Sun article on stink bug research updates here.