Tag Archives: food

A Delightful Evening with Michael Pollan

 

Last night, I had a wonderful time visiting with Michael Pollan, American author, journalist, activist, and professor of journalism at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

There also were about 600 other people in the room for “An Evening With Michael Pollan” in the Music Building at the University of Mississippi at Oxford. Judging by their rapt attention and applause, I’d say they had a splendid time, too! If you care about food (other than stuffing it in your mouth), its history, its social importance, and health effects, then Pollan is an expert worth heeding. The fact that his six books on the subject have all reached bestseller status is testimony that plenty of people are interested in heeding him.

Author Michael Pollan speaks at the University of Mississippi at Oxford, May 21, 2014. (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

Author Michael Pollan speaks at the University of Mississippi at Oxford, May 21, 2014. I was thrilled to sit on the third row in the packed auditorium. (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

The event was sponsored by the Southern Foodways Alliance and Square Books of Oxford. Pollan’s latest book, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, has just come out in paperback and Pollan was on a book-signing tour.

His talk, which lasted about 70 minutes, started out with background and stories from the gathering of information about the book. He regaled the audience with humorous stories about his immersion into the making of barbecue — and the audience laughed at his tales, which included pork aficionados’ crack-like desire for “skins” or crackling.

The Southern Foodways Alliance had two short films that illustrated the cooking of pork and places featured in the book that were located in North Carolina.

Pollans’ talk vaguely paralleled the layout of the book: Fire (barbecue); Water (soups); Air (bread); and Earth (fermentation). It’s a superlative book; but I’m not an impartial observer. I’m a big fan, and it really made my day to briefly chat with him afterward and give him a signed copy of my book, Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing: Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press, 2012) while having him sign my copy of Cooked.

Regular readers of this blog will recall that my reading the hardcover copy of Cooked last year led me to start baking my own bread. I figured, if Michael Pollan can do it, I can, too! Baking bread – particularly sourdough bread – is now one of my favorite hobbies. I have three different sourdough starters bubbling in the fridge, even now. (Might have to pull one out and bake a loaf this weekend!)

Readers of my book, Conscious Food, will remember that a central question is: How did we become so distanced from the making and appreciation of our food, including its spiritual aspects?

It’s a puzzling and disturbing quality of modern life, and Pollan also brought it up, saying that only a generation ago no one would have bought his books explaining where food came from because it was so tied to daily life. There would be no mystery, no question. Now, of course, that’s not so.

In fact, as Pollan pointed out, there are laws being enacted and proposed to actually prevent people from seeing how food is made, making it a crime to photograph a slaughterhouse or chicken factory farm. The highly processed food we eat, composed of highly refined sugars, starches and carbohydrates often can only truly be called “food products” rather than food. That processed foods also almost certainly contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is also a cause for alarm among many.

That’s how far we’ve come in making something which should be wholesome and good (making food) into something that is feared, insulated, even secretive.

A long line snakes down to author Michael Pollan in the Music Building at the University of Mississippi, May 21, 2014, where he appeared for a speech and a book signing.  (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

A long line snakes down to author Michael Pollan in the Music Building at the University of Mississippi, May 21, 2014, where he appeared for a speech and a book signing. (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

While Pollan seemed to get the most interest by the audience in his tales of making barbecue, he also explored the other foodstuffs in the book. He discussed the making of bread – not nearly enough in detail for my avid interest, of course. But he did point out in great detail how sourdough bread, and other fermented products such as cheese and krauts are healthful when done in traditional ways.

Illustrating the benefits of probiotics (good bacteria versus bad bacteria) he told of one experiment that showed that raw milk processed into cheese in stainless steel vats and injected with e. coli became toxic while the same milk in reused wooden barrels did not because they contained accumulated beneficial bacteria that held the e. coli in check.  So much for our theories of anti-bacterial cleaning!

He even often insights that what we usually eat – for flavor, texture, etc. – is aimed at only 10 percent of us; the part that tastes food. Ninety percent of real food feeds the “gut” – the microorganisms that do the work of digestion, absorption of nutrients and health protection. Mother’s milk, he pointed out, is 100 percent food. A pizza or cheeseburger or “Supersized” cola would be 10 percent.

Soups, he noted, extended the lifespans of humans since, generally, people lose teeth when they age; it allows nutrients to be obtained with a minimum of chewing. Taking a swipe at raw foods, he said that cooking unleashes myriad nutrients and chemically changes food; but he also said that raw food enthusiasts can obtain premium nutrients by processing their food with a mixer. I love my Vitamixer!

I know I’m not doing him justice here. His talk was insightful, interesting and not only repeated some information in the book but provided his thinking behind it and revealed his zeal in pursuing and promoting a healthier society that exalts good food. He was singing my song, for sure!

If he appears anywhere near you, and you care about these subjects, I’d highly recommend you go hear him and, of course, buy the book. The talk was three and a half hours away from me by car — I didn’t get back home until after midnight. But it was well worth it and I would certainly do so again!

Before the "Evening with Michael Pollan," I spent a few moments in one of my favorite places: Square Books in the courthouse square in Oxford, MS, having a cup of coffee and a couple of cookies! (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

Before the “Evening with Michael Pollan,” I spent a few moments in one of my favorite places: Square Books in the courthouse square in Oxford, MS, having a cup of coffee and a couple of cookies! (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

I also got to visit for a while beforehand at Square Books in the courthouse square in Oxford — one of my favorite independent bookstores. Naturally, I bought a couple of books while there and since I had a few moments before the talk started, I also had a cup of delicious fresh-brewed coffee and a couple of homemade cookies.

What  delight!

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, and former organic farmer now teaching natural, sustainable and organic agricultural practices. His latest book is Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press). Find Jim on Facebook, follow him @EdiblePrayers or @OrganicWriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Auburn Alabama Going Bananas!?

Catching up, I wanted to report about some intriguing research I stumbled across regarding growing bananas in the Coastal South, while attending the recent Alabama Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association Conference held at Auburn University.

That’s right: Bananas. In Alabama. At Auburn. Is Auburn going bananas? It gets cold down South!

Dr. Elina Coneva, Alabama Cooperative Extension Service fruit crops specialist, and Edgar Vinson, research associate, Department of Horticulture, Auburn University, explain their research into the feasibility of growing bananas in south Alabama during a demonstration farm tour at Auburn University. The tour was held during the Alabama Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association Conference Feb. 7, 2014. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Dr. Elina Coneva, Alabama Cooperative Extension Service fruit crops specialist, and Edgar Vinson, research associate, Department of Horticulture, Auburn University, explain their research into the feasibility of growing bananas in south Alabama during a demonstration farm tour at Auburn University. The tour was held during the Alabama Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association Conference Feb. 7, 2014. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

The field trials are being held with hopes that local growers can provide a crop that competes with grocery imports. The trials are in their infancy; but so far 2 varieties survived last year’s 21- and 25-degree lows to harvest; they think at least one will survive this year’s 9-degree low; and this was in central Alabama, not the Coast. Trials are being held further south in Alabama, as well.

According to literature from the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service (ACES), the banana variety research plot at Auburn University’s Plant Science Research Center in Auburn, Ala., was established in 2011. Banana plants were provided by Dr. Greg Fonsah, an Extension ag economist and international banana production and marketing veteran from the University of Georgia at Tifton, GA.

This research, in my opinion, offers a huge potential resource for local and sustainable growing in the South. As ACES reports, bananas offer many different products that small, local growers can produce. “The fresh fruit can be used as dessert. Banana fruit can be cooked, fried or eaten ripe with stew. They can be used to produce beer, livestock forage, cooking wraps and plates, can be utilized as shade trees and for medicinal purposes. Banana fruit has low fat, cholesterol, sodium and salt content, and is extremely rich in potassium.” And they can be used for ornamental purposes, too.

But a major consideration for consumers interested in buying locally produced fruits and vegetables is that such locally grown products can be sustainably grown: not shipping them for thousands of miles and using up fossil fuels, or bringing up Fair Trade issues regarding worker health and equity. They can be grown as a local resource returning value to the local community.

Admittedly, I have not seen the UGA test site where ACES obtained its first varieties. Here’s an article about Dr. Fonsah and his work: http://www.caes.uga.edu/applications/gafaces/?public=viewStory&pk_id=4983

But I can say that I’m totally intrigued by the concept and hope that small, local and artisanal growers can add this crop to their offerings.

Thirteen varieties of bananas are being tested at Auburn University for their feasibility as a Gulf Coast cash crop. So far, two have shown promise, bouncing back from cold winter temperatures to produce a harvest. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Thirteen varieties of bananas are being tested at Auburn University for their feasibility as a Gulf Coast cash crop. So far, two have shown promise, bouncing back from cold winter temperatures to produce a harvest. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Varieties being tested at Auburn: ‘Gold Finger’, ‘Saba’, ‘Dwarf Cavendish’, ‘Pisang Ceylon’, ‘Double, ‘Dwarf Green’, ‘Dwarf Red’, ‘Raja Puri’, ‘Grand Naine’, ‘Cardaba’, ‘Viente Cohol’, ‘Sweet Heart’, and ‘Ice Cream’.

The tests will be carefully watched not only in Alabama, but across the Gulf States, I’m sure!

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, and former organic farmer now teaching natural, sustainable and organic agricultural practices. His latest book is Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press). Find Jim on Facebook, follow him @EdiblePrayers or @OrganicWriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Quick Organic White Bread for Grand Baby

I’ve really been enjoying this first day of Daylight Savings Time, spending it in the kitchen, baking bread.

Today, I'm in the kitchen baking bread. And, yes, I'm listening to "The Splendid Table" on my headphones from my MPBOnline app while I do this. (Selfie Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

Today, I’m in the kitchen baking bread. And, yes, I’m listening to “The Splendid Table” on my headphones from my MPBOnline app while I do this. (Selfie Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

You know about my first loaf today: the no-knead sourdough bread (see previous post); but now I’m whipping up an organic white bread for my 16-month-old grand baby Nathan.

My 16-month-old grand baby Nathan Ewing, perusing a book. (Photo by Ross Ewing)

My 16-month-old grand baby Nathan Ewing, perusing a book. (Photo by Ross Ewing)

Intelligent looking chap, isn’t he?

Some months back, my son Ross said that Nathan loved the white bread I made and hinted that it would be welcome to do a repeat. I’ve been busy since then, but thought that today, since I was in the kitchen anyway, why not?

A few preliminaries: I’m using a blend of three quarters Gold Medal organic all-purpose flour and one quarter Gold Medal whole wheat flour. I’m using Newman’s Own Organic Olive Oil with home made honey from hives from my own bees, a smidgeon of iodized salt and Fleischmann’s Rapid Rise Yeast. (These are for informational purposes, not product endorsements; everything was paid for in a grocery store.)

A mister to spray olive oil for cooking - or eating - is a nice device. (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarm blog)

A mister to spray olive oil for cooking – or eating – is a nice device. (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarm blog)

I will say that a couple of things seem to be helping; one is using a mister to apply olive oil. I found this one at Kroger and it works great. That way, I can lightly apply oil, like spraying Pam, but with a higher quality oil. Also, you can spray the bread slices with olive oil and eat them! (Which I’ve been doing since I made the first loaf!) And for any salad you have, also. Nice gadget.

I keep my oven clean to prevent off gasses from flavoring the bread; and also use a cooking stone to even out the heat. (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

I keep my oven clean to prevent off gasses from flavoring the bread; and also use a cooking stone to even out the heat. (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

Also, I actually clean the oven before I cook in it. It doesn’t take but a moment to wipe it down and keep off gases from flavoring the bread. I also only use filtered water, to keep chlorine out (more important with kefir sourdough, maybe), and I use a cooking stone on the rack to give an even heat.

I’m sure any veteran baker knows a lot more than I about all of this; these are only a few things I’ve found useful.

Personally, I find kneading dough very pleasurable. It seems to come alive in the hands, and there is a sensual quality to it. (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

Personally, I find kneading dough very pleasurable. It seems to come alive in the hands, and there is a sensual quality to it. (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

To be honest, I like making regular bread, as opposed to sourdough. Sourdough is a lot of work, and I manage to mess it up quite often. White bread is pretty easy, and quick. And I like the tactile experience of kneading the dough. It feels alive in your hands, very sensuous.

Just mix it up, let it rise for about 30 minutes; then shape it and pop it in the oven.

And here you go, after 35 minutes in the oven at 350F  degrees, a fresh loaf! (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

And here you go, after 35 minutes in the oven at 350F degrees, a fresh loaf! (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

It’s been a great day! Puttering around in the kitchen, listening to The Splendid Table (“The Show for People Who Love to Eat!” http://www.splendidtable.org), and nibbling on homemade sourdough bread garnished with olive oil.

 

And now, I have something good to give my grand baby!

In my next book, I might explore the cooking aspect more, beyond growing an organic, natural and sustainable garden.

It’s a lot cheaper and enjoyable than watching TV!

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, and former organic farmer now teaching natural, sustainable and organic agricultural practices. His latest book is Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press). Find Jim on Facebook, follow him @EdiblePrayers or @OrganicWriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

No-Knead Sourdough Bread Works Great!

Regular readers of this blog know that I’m a rank amateur when it comes to kitchen matters. I can grow food well; it’s the cooking part that stumps me. But I’ve embraced my fears/inadequacies and have been embarking on a trail into the unknown: cooking from scratch.

I think I’ve mastered making bread from scratch – or rather, I can make bread that I’m happy with, even if it maybe wouldn’t win any medals at the county fair. But sourdough bread – which I think is much more nutritious than regular bread (read previous blog entries) – has somewhat eluded me.

With this in mind, I tried a no-knead recipe from Mother Earth News (December 2012/January 2014), and it works great! See: http://www.motherearthnews.com/real-food/no-knead-sourdough-bread-recipe-zmrz13djzmat.aspx

I can attest that the no-knead sourdough recipe in Mother Earth News works great. If I can do it, you can, too! That's corn meal sprinkled on the top, by the way. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

I can attest that the no-knead sourdough recipe in Mother Earth News works great. If I can do it, you can, too! That’s corn meal sprinkled on the top, by the way. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Part of the problem I’ve been having, I think, is that I haven’t been feeding my starter enough, and I’ve kept it out. If I had fed it until it was robust, then put it in the refrigerator, that probably would have done better.

My old water kefir sourdough starter kind of went limp; so I threw it out and started another starter that I had ordered online – one meant for gluten-free grains. It started off OK, though I used regular organic all-purpose flour; but I left it out too long without feeding it enough and it developed mold.

I researched what to do and was told that you can scrape off the mold and it will recover if you feed it enough. So, I did that — for a week …. scraping of mold, feeding it; scraping off mold, feeding it… Seemed like all I was doing was feeding the mold. So, I threw it out (into the flower bed, so it could return to earth).

But when I came back inside, I noticed there was still a quarter inch of starter clinging to the bottom of the jar and it actually looked pretty good — bubbly — and smelled good — fruity. So, I thought, what the heck, and fed it with quarter cup of flour and quarter cup of filtered water.

Well, it came back great guns! And it’s now fed and resting in the refrigerator. I’ll probably pull it out in a week or two (remembering to feed it once a week), and cook some bread with it.

Meantime, I had started another batch of water kefir sourdough starter (see previous blogs). Since I keep water kefir going, I thought, why not? It’s free.

So, I put two tablespoons of active water kefir with one-quarter cup of flour and quarter cup of filtered water and refed it with flour/water every 12 hours for a week. When the jar was full (Friday), I made my sponge and followed the recipe in Mother Earth News.

I also went out and bought a three-and-a-half quart stainless steel dutch oven (stainless because I bake so much now, I get tired of scraping off dough that’s like concrete). And I bought a spritzer that holds olive oil that deposits a fine spray for cooking surfaces. That’s a big help, too.

I’m quite pleased. If I can make it, so can you. Give it whirl! (And,yes, the corn meal on the top adds a little pizzaz.)
Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, and former organic farmer now teaching natural, sustainable and organic agricultural practices. His latest book is Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press). Find Jim on Facebook, follow him @EdiblePrayers or @OrganicWriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Sourdough The Way to Go

Since my last post here, I’ve continued my bread making to include sourdough bread, making my own sourdough starter.

It’s actually water kefir sourdough bread made with whole wheat flour, from scratch.

Water kefir is fairly simple to make; just feed water kefir grains with sugar, filtered (non chlorine) water, add a little organic dried fruit or raisins and voila! Every 24-48 hours, you have a zingy probiotic drink! (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Water kefir is fairly simple to make; just feed water kefir grains with sugar, filtered (non chlorine) water, add a little organic dried fruit or raisins and voila! Every 24-48 hours, you have a zingy probiotic drink! (Photo by Jim Ewing)

I made the water kefir then used the water kefir as a lactobacillus for a sourdough starter; then after three days I made the sourdough bread from the starter.
The honey is raw unfiltered from my bees — all natural, no chemicals of any kind.

In my last post, I made bread using flour that I ground myself from raw wheat like that grown locally. This was “store bought” wheat flour. I might try it with home ground later. But I’m also thinking about trying some other grains/sourdoughs, too.

This recipe (if you are interested, below in photo form) should be fine for vegans. This was made without any eggs or any dairy products.

Ingredients: water, water kefir (water kefir grains, organic lemon, organic raisins, organic dried apricots, organic powdered sugar), sea salt, honey, Gold Medal Natural Whole Wheat Flour, Organic Gold Medal All Purpose Flour, grapeseed oil.

I actually had ordered some sourdough starter online, but (as seems to be the case with me more often than not), I fumbled around and went at it backwards. Turns out, I ordered a sourdough starter for a type of grain which I didn’t have.
But, still, in keeping with my learning-through-mistakes trajectory, it turns out also that I had perfect ingredients in hand to make sourdough starter from scratch.

Now, I know, I could have made sourdough from the lactobacteria that we made our kraut from, or from the atmosphere here at the house, which produced the kraut. But I also had some water kefir on hand, which I used to make water kefir sourdough – based on a recipe found in Cultures for Health (culturesforhealth.com).

Sourdough facts
In case you are not familiar with sourdough, other than vague allusions to grizzled San Francisco ’49er prospectors or something, there’s a lot to it that speaks in its favor.

As far as bread goes, sourdough gives you the most nutrients in a balanced form. Since it’s extensively fermented before it’s baked, it’s essentially predigested. The grain’s proteins and starches are broken down by the process and the sugars are transformed into compounds that are absorbed by the body more slowly than with standard bread.

People with gluten sensitivities are told to stop eating wheat and are told to only buy gluten-free bread and pasta products. But it’s been documented that extensively fermented sourdough is essentially gluten free even with wheat.

In a well known study in 2010 by a team of scientists led by Luigi Greco at the University of Naples, a 60-day diet of baked goods made from hydrolyzed wheat flour, manufactured with sourdough lactobacilli and fungal proteases, was found not to be toxic to patients with celiacs disease. (See: http://www.cghjournal.org/article/S1542-3565%2810%2900987-0/abstract)

While there are variables that can change the results dramatically, including flour particle size, kneading protocol, leavening process and baking procedure, it has also been scientifically documented in peer-reviewed studies that blood sugars don’t spike eating sourdough bread in contrast with common bread. That includes some breads that you might find surprising, beyond white bread, to include 11-grain and sprouted-grain breads. That makes sourdough a preferred bread for people worried about being overweight, or dieting or with pre-diabetic conditions.

Note: I’m not a dietician or physician and am only commenting on what I have read in scientific literature based on my own layman’s understanding; only make medical and dietary decisions that may affect your health upon the advice of competent health professionals!

If you are interested in making this type of bread, here’s a photo step by step. This recipe is based on one found on the Cultures for Health Facebook page. But I did not use a gluten-free flour and changed the ingredients somewhat, both in quantities and ingredients (to make it vegan).

First, I made the starter.

I took two tablespoons of water kefir and added it to a mixture of one-half cup of flour and one half cup of non chlorinated (filtered) water. I repeated this (sans water kefir) every 12 hours for three days; except, after the first day, I added only 1/4-cup of flour and 1/4 cup of water.

Sourdough starter Day 1

Sourdough starter after the first day

Sourdough starter Day 2

Sourdough starter after the second day. As you can see, it filled up the jar; so when it settled down the next morning, I poured off the clear liquid (called hooch; which most people nowadays just stir in) and reduced the amount of flour/water I was adding.

Sourdough starter day 3

Sourdough starter on day 3. Here’s the starter with some hooch in it. As you can see, it’s bubbling nicely. When I stirred it, it became thick like dough; so, I figured it was ready. I made the “sponge” or pre-loaf mixture.

Sponge

Sponge: I mixed 1 cup of sourdough starter (that left about 1 cup in the jar, which I fed with 1/4-cup of flour and no more water and set aside for future loaves) with

2 cups of water,

3 cups of whole wheat flour

I covered it with a loose towel and let it sit overnight.

The next morning, I uncovered the mixture and realized I didn’t have a big enough bowl. It was up to the edge and the recipe called for more ingredients.

So, I stirred the sponge, added the honey and salt and 3 cups of flour, and split the sponge into two with one in each bowl.

Split sponge

I kneaded and covered them, and let them sit for four hours.

Two loaves

Then, I kneaded them some more and put each one in a loaf pan and I let that sit for four hours.

Finally, I preheated the oven to 375 degrees and baked for 35 minutes. I have a meat thermometer that I use for baking and checked the temperature of the loaf, which was 200 degrees in the middle – anywhere between 190-200 shows doneness, or no uncooked dough. I pulled them out, let them sit for 15 minutes in the pans,then put them on a rack to cool.

Fresh loaves

Looked good to me!

Yum!

And tasted good, too!

Things I would do differently? Mind you, I’m still a rank novice when it comes to cooking and certainly baking bread; but I’m learning as I go along, and that’s part of the fun of it. It surprised me the amount of dough after the sponge had sat out all night; it was more than one loaf, but less than two full-sized loaves. The recipe said two loaves, but I assumed that was in the pan, not in the bowl. I don’t have a bowl big enough for two whole loaves. So, I’m going to have to think about that.

I also am still dissatisfied with the amount my loaves are rising, or more accurately, not rising. While the bread has a nice consistency, a nice taste, without too much cavitation or holes, it’s not rising enough in my estimation.

I keep my house at 68 degrees and all the cookbooks say the room temp should be above 70. I actually turned up the thermostat to 72 degrees to make this bread; which seemed like a heat wave. But the farmhouse I live in is so drafty, I’m not sure that made any difference and maybe just boosted global warming a bit.

So, I’ll continue to fiddle with that. It could be that the starter is so young, it needs to age a bit. Or, it could be the whole wheat. I’ve found that white flours seem to rise better. That itself poses a conundrum: I want the germ and whole grain, not refined or recombined flour. If the tradeoff is the amount of rise, I can live with that. We’ll see! More later!

I have a lot more plans and ideas and experiments.

Happy New Year, Everyone!

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook, follow him @edibleprayers or visit blueskywaters.com.

More and More Pursuing Sustainable Farming

Got back late last night from Baton Rouge, La., where I gave a talk to beginning farmers on how to market your crops.

Nationally, grim statistics are saying that farms and farmers are dwindling, spelling a dire future.

I’m finding that it’s just the opposite: Average people, in rural and urban areas, are thronging to learn how to grow their own food, share it with others and even make a little profit at it. And I’ve been giving these talks all over the South, in urban and rural areas.

Jim Ewing speaks at the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center in Baton Rouge, La., Oct. 23, 2013. The subject of his talk was "Beginning Farmers: Marketing Your Crop." The one-day workshop was sponsored by the LSU AgCenter, the Southern University Agricultural Research and Extension Center, the Southern Sustainability Research and Education (SSARE) program, and the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT).

Jim Ewing speaks at the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center in Baton Rouge, La., Oct. 23, 2013. The subject of his talk was “Beginning Farmers: Marketing Your Crop.” The one-day workshop was sponsored by the LSU AgCenter, the Southern University Agricultural Research and Extension Center, the Southern Sustainability Research and Education (SSARE) program, and the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT).

I guess it depends on how you define “farms” and “farmers.”

In preparation for my talk at the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center, I did a little research on this. According to the USDA Census of Agriculture, most farmers in Louisiana are “small farmers.” About 50 percent earn less than $5,000 per year; 66 percent of farms earn less than $10,000/year; 83 percent earn less than $49,999/year

Most farms are “small farms,” too: Only 3.5 percent of the farms in Louisiana have 2,000 acres or more and only 6.3 percent make more than $500,000/year.

The averages are about the same in Mississippi, give or take one or two percentage points either way, and nationally.

So, when politicians talk about “farmers” and “farming,” they really aren’t talking about the majority of farmers. They’re alluding to big farmers swallowing up smaller farms — the same as big corporations in other sectors of the economy are swallowing up others, even becoming “too big to fail.”

They’re talking about and appealing to the big money farmers: those with big incomes and tight ties to corporations. They aren’t talking to the majority of average people who like to farm, or have a small stake (in either rural or urban areas), or want to expand to serve more people.

They aren’t talking to or about people who grow local food for local people. Or people who prefer sustainable farming methods, or grow organic, or practice permaculture, or ecofarming. They are speaking to and about those who are into industrial agriculture and ship their food and fiber off to feed the big agribusiness multinational regime.

There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s part of the dance politicians play between the interests they serve and those who serve them. And those who are growing for the major markets are doing just that; there’s nothing sinister about it. It’s just how our economy/business/government works. But average people — voters — should also see it for what it is.

Those politicians aren’t speaking to, about or for the people who are putting food on your plate locally — who don’t use chemicals and who plant with the taste and nutrition foremost in mind, and not just profitability over size and shape and ability to withstand long shipping times without rotting.

Those politicians aren’t speaking to, about or for the moms who want to buy chemically free, healthful and nutritious food for their children and be assured that it’s safe and take the time to know who is growing their food locally and how they are doing it.

Those politicians aren’t speaking to, about or for the thousands of young people who are turning to small, local, urban and rural farming in order to ensure the people around them and those they love have healthful, safe food grown in a caring way as an act of passion and joy. Grown from the heart; for the community; as an act of compassion, giving and sacrifice.

Nor are those politicians speaking to, for or about the average people who have no clue about what chemicals are being sprayed on what they  eat, or how the seeds are concocted from GMO genetic cocktails that ensure they actually grow in a soup of poison but who knows what it’s doing to humans.

No, the people who are now clamoring to grow their own food and for others — who are definitely new and beginning farmers, just not big, industrial, chemical farmers — have to speak for themselves, and to and for each other. The politicians apparently don’t care much about them. They don’t “count,” with money, clout or influence regionally, nationally or globally. Statistically, they’re as invisible as their influence in Washington and state capitols across the U.S.

But I suspect, as the food movement continues to grow, and more and more true farmers — the majority of farmers as the Census of Agriculture attests — begin to see that what they believe, think, say and do actually matters, and that in aggregate they have the numbers and “clout” behind them, that politicians will begin to take an interest.

And I think that as more and more consumers reach for the non-GMO label on their food, and as more voters get savvy about the dangers of GMO, its attendant flood of poisonous chemicals to keep it afloat, and its downward spiral of sustainability depleting both farmland fertility and fossil fuels, that even more small, local ecofarmers will appear.

That wasn’t the subject of my talk at LSU. Just some musings the next day.

There’s a new “dance” between local individual consumers and farmers nationally that soon could reconfigure the whole dance floor. The politicians just haven’t picked up the beat yet, still lost in another era doing the funky chicken!

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook, follow him @edibleprayers or visit blueskywaters.com.

A Local Sustainable Beef and Poultry Operation

I’m way behind on keeping up with this blog on all the new things I’ve been seeing, learning and doing. I’ve been traveling so much – hardly two days in a row at home during the entire month of August – and September seems just as busy.

So, I’m just going to throw random thoughts and observations in here, and they might not be in chronological order.

To start, here’s photo of me taken Sunday speaking at the Farm Field Day that NCAT sponsored in Clay County, where I was speaking about the importance of sustainability in local food.

NCAT Outreach Coordinator Jim Ewing explains the importance of growing food sustainably and locally during a farm field day in Clay County, MS., Sept. 15, 2013.

NCAT Outreach Coordinator Jim Ewing explains the importance of growing food sustainably and locally during a farm field day in Clay County, MS., Sept. 15, 2013.

To cut to the chase, our Gulf States office of the National Center for Appropriate Technology (which operates the Sustainable Agriculture Information Service) and Gaining Ground – Sustainability Institute of Mississippi sponsored the field day to draw attention to a combined cattle/poultry/swine operation for its sustainable practices.

About 70 people attended — lots of them young moms and dads with small children who are interested in buying locally grown food. It was my honor to be asked to explain to them how and why sustainably grown food is as important as it being locally grown food – to the environment, to the consumer, to the farmer.

In this particular operation, the Clay County, Miss., farm of Johnny Wray, cattle, poultry and swine are used to improve the habitat and their own health by allowing each animal to do what it does best.

Patterned on the model made popular by Virginia farmer/author Joel Salatin, their hogs are cleaning out overgrown areas of the farm by rooting through underbrush and uprooting saplings. The chickens are housed in chicken tractors which are flat cages that allow the chickens to range through grass after the steers have moved through.

The cattle are “mob grazed” – kept in a bunch in approximately one acre paddocks, where they eat most of the grass offered. The chickens follow, eating the vegetation  that the cattle don’t like and eating the bugs that are there, along with those drawn to the cow patties.

What results is a flat, extremely fertile field that appears mowed like a golf course.

From that, by naturally eradicating weeds, indigenous prairie grasses are exposed to sunlight and allowed to come forward in the pasture. So that, next time, after the field has been rested, the cows and chickens will have even denser forage that is even more nutritious.

Instead of depleting natural resources, as “conventional” farming and grazing does, the rotational grazing of combined cattle and poultry improves the soil and forage as well as the health of the animals. That’s what is meant by a “sustainable” system.

As owner Wray notes, he no longer has to apply fertilizer to his fields or cut hay from them to artificially supplement his cattle. He grows them grassfed and finishes them himself without having to send them to a feeder lot. Though he keeps the cattle longer, they sell for much higher than otherwise. Plus, since they are grassfed and not fed corn or treated with chemicals, he fetches a higher price from consumers who are don’t trust chemically or artificially raised animals. He says he has more orders for his grassfed beef than he has cattle.

Wray is partnering in the cattle business with Elton Dean, a neighbor who is also a member of GGSIM’s Food Systems Committee. The operation is managed by Dustin Pinion and Ali Fratesi, who live in Starkville.  Dustin apprenticed under Salatin in 2011 and is showcasing his talents in partnership with Wray and Dean.

More on this later….

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Great Organic Gardens Start With A Plan

Photo Courtesy of Johnny's Selected Seeds

Photo Courtesy of Johnny’s Selected Seeds

Great Organic Gardens Start With A Plan

Organic gardeners may be eager to get out and garden, but it’s still too early to plant summer crops. We can start planning, though, savoring the bounteous crop of garden seed catalogs arriving daily in the mail. Planning should include deciding on the plants we want to put out (and where), and preparing the soil to plant.

Plowing or tilling a time or two before planting time can make the soil good and crumbly, if done when the soil is suitably dry. Wet soil creates clumps that lock up nutrients. Well-tilled soil makes it easier for roots to access food and water.

Make sure you have plenty of vegetative matter worked into the soil to provide “tilth,” a mix of soil and matter that holds nutrients and water even in prolonged dry spells. This matter is especially good for the earth if it’s recycled: Try plowing under your cover crops for “green manure,” or using last year’s lawn clippings or last fall’s crumbled-up leaves, mixed with kitchen compost that you have been saving.

Too many people just buy inputs–such as bags of sphagnum peat moss–and dump it in their gardens. Although peat is widely sold, if consumers knew how critical and rare the material was, they wouldn’t treat it so cavalierly.

Some scientists say that the world’s peat bogs are as vital and endangered as the rainforests. Not only do they hold moisture in their indigenous habitats as a protection against local droughts, they provide habitat for wildlife, and they also hold prodigious amounts of carbon–which protects the planet from climate change. Using peat moss in the garden releases that stored carbon into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. Many people who routinely used peat are now turning to renewable organic matter, such as cocoa shells.

While you are planning your garden, make sure you have fertile soil by taking a sample down to the extension service to be tested. That will tell you precisely what you need to add to your soil to grow good crops and what elements are in abundance so that you don’t over fertilize. We want healthy soil in organic gardening, without artificial inputs or runoff that will harm the environment.

One issue that came up during the Mississippi Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association workshops last November was the experience of some organic farmers in north Mississippi who were baffled by their plants failing to grow.

They discovered, to their horror, that the hay they had bought for mulching had herbicide residue that was killing their plants. The moral: Be careful about your inputs.


PEAT MOSS

For more on the use of peat moss, see this post on Natural Life Magazine’s website, “Does Peat Moss Have a Place in the Ecological Garden?” by Wendy Priesnitz: jfp.ms/peatmoss

COMPOST ADVICE

The Rodale Institute provides great tips on composting, including answers to common questions about antibiotics and heavy metals. Visit jfp.ms/compostingtips.

Or, you can look back in my previous articles and blogs by searching: 
ShooFlyFarmBlog.

ANALYZE YOUR SOIL

The Mississippi State University Extension Service Soil Testing Laboratory analyzes soil. It only costs $6 for a routine analysis. For more information, see msucares.com/crops/soils/testing.html, or visit your local extension office or write: Soil Testing Laboratory, Box 9610, Mississippi State; or call 662-325-3313.

SEED COMPANIES TO TRY

The most luxurious full-color catalog is by Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. Some people call it “garden porn” because of the lavish pin-up-like pictures of fruits and vegetables. To order a catalog, visit rareseeds.com or call 417-924-8917.

Johnny’s Selected Seeds is an organic mainstay. Johnny’s is where Eliot Coleman, the quintessential “deep” organic intensive gardener at Four Seasons Farm in Maine, sells tools he has designed. Johnny’s announced in this year’s catalog that the company is now 100-percent employee owned. We buy our lettuce mixes from them. To order a catalog, visit johnnyseeds.com or call 1-800-854-2580.

High Mowing Organic Seeds is relatively new, but seems committed to organics. To order a catalog, visit highmowingseeds.com or call 1-802-472-6174.

MORE FAVORITES:

Peaceful Valley Farm Supply, 1-888-784-1722; Grass Valley, Calif.

Seeds of Change, 1-888-762-7333; Santa Fe, N.M.

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, 540-894-9480; Mineral, Va.

Seed Savers Exchange,  563-382-5990; Decorah, Iowa

WATCH YOUR SEEDS

Remember to use certified organic seeds. As noted in a previous column, the practice is not merely to promote organic, but because the seeds are bred to grow differently. Standard “conventional” varieties, unless stated otherwise, are developed for industrial agriculture, producing uniform height, size, fruiting, etc. So, if you want a tastier tomato or corn, buy seed varieties bred for the home gardener.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook, follow him @edibleprayers or visit blueskywaters.com.

Boycotting Pro-GMO Organic Brands Not the Way

1/16/2013

By Jim PathFinder Ewing

A list going around the Internet calls for consumers to boycott the top organic brands owned by 10 parent companies that donated to defeat Prop 37, the California Right to Know GMO labeling initiative.

While I share the frustration of consumers being denied honest labeling of the food they eat by corporations that apparently value the dollar over human health, safety or even consumer rights, I don’t think this is the way to go.

It’s certainly a slap in the face of consumers who buy organic. It’s insulting to know that the corporations that manufacture and sell the organic brands they buy are, at the same time, undermining labeling of food containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that is banned under the rules governing organic products. Such labeling is already required by most of the industrialized world.

The boycott is backed by the Organic Consumers Organization—a group I support—but I disagree with the boycott.

It may be galling that longtime consumers of, say, Horizon organic soy milk or Kashi organic cereals are supporting companies that donated a total of $46 million in a cynical disinformation campaign to defeat a law to simply state if a product contains GMO.

But consider what boycotting those brands might mean.

Will it promote organic? Or other organic products? Or organic growers? Or the companies that sell organics? Hardly. Rather, it will simply retard market share for organics. This will, in turn, feed the idea that organics isn’t growing as a consumer market, which it is. And it could undermine those who are actually growing organically and the stores that carry these organic brands.

Moreover, it accelerates the trend away from small growers to Big Ag corporations that can afford a smaller profit margin as part of a mix of organic and nonorganic products. In other words, a boycott plays into the hands of those who are being boycotted: the very corporations that sell both organic and nonorganic products. They win either way while it penalizes those who solely sell organic products, grow organics and buy organics.

Consumers do hold the key, however. By demanding local and organic, they are supporting organic where it’s produced and the small, local growers who need the consumer support. By demanding labeling of GMO from local, state and federal politicians, voters can exert their clout in local, state and national elections.

The GMO labeling fight hasn’t ended. The truth will out. GMO not only will be labeled in the United States eventually, but once buyers know the full environmental dangers and potential health and safety effects, it will probably be banned outright or so tightly regulated as to be treated as the potentially eco-catastrophic activity it is.

Major corporate backers of defeating the GMO labeling initiative and the organic products they sell:

• PepsiCo (Donated $2.5M): Naked Juice, Tostito’s Organic, Tropicana Organic

• Kraft (Donated $2M): Boca Burgers and Back to Nature

• Coca-Cola (Donated $1.7M): Honest Tea, Odwalla

• General Mills (Donated $1.2M):  Muir Glen, Cascadian Farm, Larabar

• Safeway (Member of Grocery Manufacturers Association, which donated $2M): “O” Organics

• Dean Foods (Donated $254k): Horizon, Silk, White Wave

• Kellogg’s (Donated $791k): Kashi, Bear Naked, Morningstar Farms, Gardenburger

• Con-Agra (Donated $1.2M): Orville Redenbacher’s Organic, Hunt’s Organic, Lightlife, Alexia

• Smucker’s (Donated $555k): R.W. Knudsen, Santa Cruz Organic

• Unilever (Donated $467k): Ben & Jerry’s

Source: Organic Consumers Association

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook or follow him @EdiblePrayers or @OrganicWriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Farmers are grumpy this time of year

Jan. 5, 2013

Farmers Get Grumpy This Time of Year
By Jim PathFinder Ewing

Farmers get grumpy this time year.
Some people might say farmers are always grumpy. But it’s more so this time of year, since they can’t plow and can’t plant. I know so because I’m sitting here in the carport (typing on my iPad) thinking about hoses. Or, more specifically, the high cost thereof.

I’d rather be out working in the garden – the one we plan to plant in a month or so – like I’ve been doing since the sun burned off the frost this morning. But now it’s raining.
My arms are burning and my hands trembling from the exertion – dragging brush, pulling logs and limbs, running the trimmer, etc. I’d like to be running the tiller, but I’m a long way from that. So, instead, I’m drinking a nice hot mug of organic tea my wife made (from scratch, her own blend) and thinking about all I’ve got to, should do, and probably shouldn’t have done.
One of those things was not properly putting up the hoses last year.
Now, if you farm, even on a little (5 acre) plot like we do, you always have so much to do, you never do just one thing, but whatever needs doing at hand.

For example, as I was going to the shed to get more gas for the trimmer, I also picked up fallen limbs and dragged them out of the way, stacked some logs and fence rails that I could use later to hold down our Agribon (crop frost covers) and rounded up some hose so that later on when I burn off the field I’ll have it handy. Then, I thought, why don’t I go ahead and join and layout the hoses, so they’ll be ready.

As I did that, I realized I didn’t have enough hose to stretch that far. So, where was the rest of the hose? I remembered seeing some hose at the back plot, the little summer plot. So, I went back there and, sure enough, there was just a little piece sticking out – totally overgrown from where I’d let that plot go fallow. It took me 30 minutes of some real exertion to extricate it from where it was wrapped up in vines and other veggie matter. It’s amazing how a hose can bury itself.
Then, I said to myself, I’ve had enough of that; maybe I ought to go ahead and weed eat (and that patch, too, while I’m at it!). Then, it started to rain.

So, now, I’m sitting here wondering if that hose is any good anymore or if I’ll have to buy more hose. Last time I looked, it was $75 for 50 feet of decent hose. I bought some cheaper and was immediately reminded of why the more expensive is better – it has metal couplings machined to fit, so less leakage, thicker walls so fewer kinks, and more durable material so it lasts longer. More expensive now is cheaper in the long run.

Unfortunately, what I extricated from the overgrown plot is the expensive kind, not the cheap stuff. So, there’s one grumpy farmer sitting here drinking his tea and watching the rain.
Oh, well, at least my new old best friend, my heavy duty trimmer (a Stihl, which also cost a bundle and gets kinda cranky sometimes, too) is still working.

Is all this worth it just to grow a few plants? And I haven’t even started on the big field!
Those are the kinds of thoughts that make farmers grumpy.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook or follow him @EdiblePrayers or @OrganicWriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

If you could choose only one organic gardening book…

Jan. 2, 2013

Best Organic Gardening Book – For the South?

If you could suggest to beginning to fairly advanced gardeners only one reference book about organic gardening, what would it be?

The first ones that come to my mind are Eliot Coleman’s books. The one that’s most timely is his “The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year Round Vegetable Production Using Deep Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses” (2009, Chelsea Green Publishing, $29.95). It’s chock full of information about growing food in cold weather.

Or, for year round, try his “Four-Season Harvest: How to Harvest Fresh Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long,” by Eliot Coleman and Kathy Bary (1992, Chelsea Green Publishing, $24.95). It’s the basis for his cold-weather book, going more in-depth about winter plants.

For the basics, check out “The New Organic Grower: A Master’s Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener (A Gardener’s Supply Book),” by Eliot Coleman, Sheri Amsel and Molly Cook Field (1995, Chelsea Green Publishing, $24.95). I think what Coleman has done at his Four Seasons Farm in Maine is simply fantastic and a model for any would-be market gardeners—that is, people with a limited amount of space like a backyard and turning it into cash.

To go deeper into the history of Coleman and organics, and its fundamentals, one could point to “The Good Life: Helen and Scott Nearing’s Sixty Years of Self-Sufficient Living by Scott Nearing and Helen Nearing” (1990, Schocken Books, $16.95). It’s a homesteading bible.

The Nearings epitomized the “back to the land” movement, leaving the city in 1932 to live off of the land and their own backs and hands, and inspired a generation—including Eliot Coleman, who bought six acres of their land and helped establish something of an early organic commune.

OK, I agree, this is starting to sound a bit cultish, but between the Rodales, founders of Organic Gardening Magazine and the organic science Rodale Institute, and the Walters family, of ACRES USA fame—these are the recognized pioneers of the ecological and organic farming movement in America.

Which brings us to the missing piece: What about the South? All of the previous books, and most on organics, are written by and about people living in the Northeast. Well, I’m happy to say, there’s one southern book that should be on everyone’s bookshelf (no matter what region you live in).

“Organic Gardening Down South,” by Nellie Neal (2008, Mackey Books, $15.95) is written specifically for people who want to grow organically and live in the South—or, as Neal says, where the ground doesn’t freeze and the bugs never die! If you can grow organically in the Deep South, you can grow anywhere.

People who live in Maine, like Coleman, don’t have to contend with T-shirt weather and mosquitoes on New Year’s Day. People in California certainly have sunny weather, but not routine simultaneous triple digits in heat and humidity! Tropical and semi-tropical weather patterns—especially, as she notes, compounded with climate change warming temperatures—poses unique challenges to the Southern organic gardener.

Neal, who is popularly called The Garden Mama, is an authentic gardening expert of some 50 years, as she admits. Perhaps a prophet without honor (or enough of it, anyway) in her own land, Neal hosts a local radio show on gardening, writes a popular column, and lives in Fondren. (Visit her website: gardenmama.com.)

Neal is a true organic pioneer—in the South as much as Coleman, at least.

So, if I could suggest only one organic gardening book? As much as I am a fan of Coleman, if you live in the South, for good practical advice, especially for the new grower or newcomer, read “Organic Gardening Down South.” Then, read Coleman’s books!

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook or follow him @EdiblePrayers or @OrganicWriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Organic Growing Heals The Earth

Dec. 19, 2012

I serve on a number of conservation and environmental boards of directors, and a question that has been coming up a lot lately has regarded growing plants under contaminated conditions — a topic of interest to urban homesteaders and those wanting to practice urban agriculture.

In one case, a wind drift inadvertently sprayed an organic grower’s crops with chemicals that would render his crop worthless organically. In another, a grower thought he was following organic guidelines and fertilized his fields with biosolids (human waste), a practice not allowed in organics.

These are serious issues for organic growers. The rule is that in order to be organic, fields used in conventional agriculture must be idled for three years so that the toxins used in chemical agriculture can break down.

What many growers — and consumers — may not know is that we now live in a chemical-soup world and contamination is an ongoing concern. A farmer may be growing perfectly organic and inadvertently contaminate soil like these instances, or the water itself can be contaminated without the grower’s knowledge.

In addition, the act of farming can bring unknown contaminants to the surface, such as heavy metals and PCBs from previous land uses.

Some lands are “contaminated” naturally. Ancient seabeds, for example, can hold metals such as selenium, boron, molybdenum, mercury or arsenic, that can come to the surface. Where land is heavily irrigated, plants take up irrigation water, leaving salts to build up in the soil.

Moreover, when people plant in urban settings, such as parks, abandoned lots, etc., a host of contaminants — from mechanical solvents to toxic wastes to household chemicals  — can be built up in the soil.

Nature is a great housekeeper and provides the means for cleaning up even heavily contaminated soils. The process is generally called phytoremediation — using plants themselves to clean the soil.

More specifically, it’s called phytoextraction. Growers can use plants (and trees) to absorb contaminants through their root systems. Depending on the type of contaminant, the toxins are then either stored in the roots or by natural actions transported into the stems and/or leaves. After harvesting, the soil will have a lower level of contamination.

Plants especially good at removing toxins are called hyperaccumulators. Some plants can even be used for mining elements, called phytomining; and even sewer water can be reclaimed for drinking using plants.

These aren’t exotic plants, either.

Popular food plants like sunflowers and mustard plants (indeed, the entire brassica family) work, as well as legumes like alfalfa, alsike clover and peas. Trees include hybrid poplar, willow, cottonwood, aspen, mulberry, apple and osage orange. (Source: Ground Remediation, University of Iowa: www.clu-in.org/download/toolkit/phyto_e.pdf )

The lesson is that nature heals her own, even the mistakes and toxins humans introduce. By growing organically, without synthetic chemicals and poisons, we are healing the earth.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook or follow him @EdiblePrayers or @OrganicWriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

For Organic Garden Use Organic Seeds and Here’s Why …

Dec. 19, 2012

The Skinny on Seeds

If  you are already thinking about what you want to grow in your garden  next year, start out right with organic seeds. They can make a much  better garden.
Conventional  seeds — the kind normally found at seed stores and in catalogs — are from  plants that are grown in what is considered a “conventional” setting:
with the use of synthetic fertilizers and toxic pesticides.
Organic  growing, of course, rejects the use of such chemicals. Seeds labeled “certified organic” are produced from plants grown in organic settings,  without
those conditions.
Moreover,  many of the seeds that gardeners plant are used in broader agricultural  settings: the vast acreages of monocultures that today constitute what  we consider to be farming. They may have coatings on the seeds for  faster germination or fungicides that are not allowed in organic  farming, or they may be genetically engineered for certain  traits — including toxins produced within the plant to kill certain pests.  These genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are not allowed in organic  farming.
In  addition, certain conventional seeds are bred for produce that looks  good or has a long shelf life to survive transportation over long  distances and
sitting in grocery bins, or are uniform in size so that a  consistent price can  be charged by the food distributor. But the primary  concern for organic gardeners is that the plants will grow better. One  big difference is early growth, where plants pop up out of the ground to  get a head start on pests.
They are bred for vigorous growth (that may  not be uniform with other plants in size) and for taste (as opposed to  shelf life or appearance in color or shape).
If  you start with organic seeds — or heirloom seeds that have consistent  desirable qualities — you could develop hardier strains uniquely suited  for your growing conditions and preferences quicker than using varieties  developed for other “conventional” settings.
What  about keeping seeds for growing the next year? Is seed saving better or  worse than organic seeds? Seed saving can have the same effect,  tailoring plants for your unique growing conditions. Organic seed gives  you a leg up; you already have some of the qualities you want to  develop. So, while seed saving is preferred over buying every year, buy   organic seed and then save seeds to more efficiently develop the traits  you want to keep.
Mind  you, certified organic seeds are not readily available for some  varieties of crops. Organic growing allows for some use of seeds that  are unavailable in certified organic varieties; just make sure they are  not GMO or coated.

Online Certified Organic:
Seeds  of Change has a good certified organic variety, some 1,200 varieties selected for the home gardener or small market gardener:  seedsofchange.com
For  more, read “A New Age for Organic Seed,” an interview with Adrienne Shelton, Department of Agronomy, University of Wisconsin, at http://ow.ly/ghRoh

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook or follow him @EdiblePrayers or @OrganicWriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Bees and Honey in Winter?

Dec. 9, 2012
Bees and Honey in Winter?

Annette and I got a real treat this past week: about a gallon of honey — harvested from our own beehives.
Bees and honey in winter? Yep. Surprised me, too.
I have two hives — one painted white, one painted yellow. In the white boxes are Italian bees; in the yellow, Cordovan, an Italian variety.
Some people say that there is no difference between the Cordovans and their Italian relatives, except for a lighter color caused by a recessive gene.
I’ve read that Cordovans have a longer tongue and are able to obtain nectar from flowers that other bees cannot and have read also that they tend to have larger hive numbers — which I’ve found to be true, at least comparing my two hives. The Cordovans outnumber the others 2-to-1 and also seem to gather honey earlier, increase their numbers earlier, and have honey longer.
That’s not a scientific observation; it could be that it’s just the difference between the two colonies of bees that I happen to have. But it could also be what it seems to be, too: that Cordovans are better adapted for our area.
Which brings us back to the honey.

When I was harvesting our honey a couple of months ago, I left both hives with a super (i.e., a box usually removed for honey harvest).
The reason was twofold:

1) Last year, I just assumed our bees were fine for the winter and didn’t check on them during the winter months. That was a mistake that almost proved fatal — for the bees.
I was at an agricultural conference and mentioned to a fellow beekeeper how the unusually warm weather was probably good for the bees. “Have you checked on your bees lately?” he asked. “There have been a lot of colonies dying because they ate up all their honey.”
The hot winter provided some blossoms for the bees, but not enough; since it never got really cold, the bees didn’t reduce their hive populations much and, so, they needed more honey to keep them alive until the spring nectar flow started.
When I got home from the conference, the first thing I did was check on my bees and the beekeeper was right. While the Cordovans seemed fine, the Italians were almost out of honey. I started feeding them sugar water and they rebounded.
So, this year, when I harvested I figured I’d wait and see if the bees needed extra honey; I could always harvest it, if I wanted. I left a super on each hive, as insurance for them.

2) The bees are still making honey.
When I harvested my bees, the supers that I left on the hives each had about 3 frames of honey in them (the were the top ones). I had removed the middle supers and left the tops.
When I checked them last week, the Italians had about half filled their super; the Cordovans had totally filled their super and looked like they wanted to keep going. Mind you: This is December! But it’s been in the 60s and 70s for weeks. We have spring flowers blooming.
See photo: Henbit and buttercups — usually betokening Spring.
We had a high today of 75 degrees! it’s supposed to be in the 60s and 70s for another week, at least.
It did not appear that the Cordovans had reduced their numbers and were arriving laden with pollen and, presumably, nectar for honey.
So, I went ahead and harvested the Cordovan honey.
When I was finished, I replaced the Cordovan super with 2 frames of honey from the Italian hive, so both still have a super with honey in it, in addition to a brood box and second box. So, each hive has three boxes instead of two.

I’m not recommending that anyone do as I’m doing. I don’t know what the weather is going to do, and it could very well be that: a) they don’t need the supers; or b) they will need to be fed sugar water anyway. But this weird weather is hard to figure, for me, and, I guess, for the bees (and flowers), too.
I’ll keep an eye on them over the winter, hot or cold, this year.

Note: The honey we harvested is very pungent; mostly from golden rod. I noticed that we still have patches of new golden rod blooming! (See photo)

Photo of buttercup (center) and henbit in a field near our house in Lena, MS.

Photo of buttercup (center) and henbit in a field near our house in Lena, MS.

Goldenrod growing in our  field Dec. 9, 2012.

Goldenrod growing in our field Dec. 9, 2012.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook or follow him @EdiblePrayers or @OrganicWriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

GMO Labeling Movement Continues

Nov. 21

By Jim PathFinder Ewing

The Big Ag and Big Food cartel may be chortling now that it “won” Nov. 6 by defeating California’s Proposition 37 that would have mandated labeling of food containing genetically modified organisms (GMO), but that victory may be short-lived.

Already, Connecticut, Vermont and Washington state are preparing 2013 initiatives, 23 states are working on legislation to require labeling, and Canada is considering legislation for a national ban on GMOs. Sixty-one countries already have mandatory labeling.

A massive disinformation campaign that snowed even otherwise reputable voices killed Prop 37. A consortium of food giants funneled more than $46 million into defeating it; Monsanto alone spent $8.1 million. By comparison, the anti-GMO side only had $9.2 million to spend, despite more than 3,000 food safety, environmental, and consumer organizations endorsing them.

The endorsers included most of the major health, faith, labor, environmental and consumer groups in California, including the California Nurses Association, California Democratic Party, California Labor Federation, United Farm Workers, American Public Health Association, Consumers Union, California Council of Churches IMPACT, Sierra Club, Whole Foods Market, Natural Resources Defense Council, Organic Consumers Association, Center for Food Safety, Consumer Federation of America, Pesticide Action Network, Center for Food Safety, Environmental Working Group, Breast Cancer Fund, Mercola Health Resources, Public Citizen, MoveOn and Food Democracy Now! (For a full list, visit carighttoknow.org/endorsements.)

So, how did it lose? The massive funding by Big Ag and Big Food raised so many questions about the proposed labeling law that those who were undecided or feared the scary, untrue claims that it would increase grocery prices voted “no.” Even so, 47 percent of California voters voted yes — some 3.5 million families!

That sends a powerful message: Despite fears about the specific legislation of Prop 37, a majority of Californians probably would vote for a mandatory GMO labeling law if the questions raised were honestly addressed. (National polls show up to 90 percent of Americans want GMO labeling, see: rodale.com/gmo-labeling)

Moreover, because the publicity raised consciousness about the issue, now, millions of Californians and those who followed the Prop 37 debate around the nation are looking at the food products they buy to determine if they contain GMOs simply because Prop 37 was on the ballot.

Bottom line? If food manufacturers want to stay in business, they will start labeling and switching over due to self-preservation. Regardless of specific labeling requirements, or how long state or national governments drag their feet, consumers will win this food labeling battle by voting with their wallets!

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook or follow him @EdiblePrayers or @OrganicWriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Although a GMO labeling bill was killed in California, the movement toward universal labeling continues, as seen in this graphic by nongmoproject.org. Screenshot via @unhealthytruth twitpic

Although a GMO labeling bill was killed in California, the movement toward universal labeling continues, as seen in this graphic by nongmoproject.org. Screenshot via @unhealthytruth twitpic

Plant an ‘Edible Forest’ in Your Yard

Nov. 21, 2012

Plant An ‘Edible Forest’ in Your Yard

While  Arbor Day in Mississippi is in the spring, many experts contend that the best time for planting trees may actually be in the fall.
New  roots can develop when the soil temperature is above 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Planting in the fall allows the trees to develop roots  before going dormant during the winter.
Budding  can stress trees with inadequate root systems, so, if you are going to plant a tree, it’s best to do it soon, to allow plenty of time for roots  to develop.
Grist magazine reports that urban forests featuring heirloom and indigenous varieties are the next wave of urban agriculture (http://grist.org/food/fruits-of-old-chicago-gears-up-for-an-urban-heirloom-fruit-orchard/). What many Mississippians may not know is that the Magnolia State is ahead of the curve on this, and Jackson foremost.

Mississippi  has an established resource with The Edible Forests of Mississippi, an  orchard program developed and administered though the Mississippi Urban  Forest Council (full disclosure: I serve on the board of directors of  MUFC).  Its teaching project is the Jesse Gates Edible Forest on Bailey  Avenue at Wells United Methodist Church, providing a model for cities across the state, homeowners and community garden groups.
And the Council’s webpage offers a toolkit to follow (see: http://www.msurbanforest.com/edible_forest.html).  But, there is no reason to stay strictly to the orchard model, as at  Wells. Homeowners (and others) can create smaller “savanna” type food  trees and shrubs to fit in with their established gardens.
Think small,  understory-type trees that can thrive in moderate shade.
Groups  might consider a permaculture model. True permaculture is planting a variety of natural plants that require minimal care with little or no  soil disturbance to provide food. It would work well with establishing or established community gardens to provide a mixed variety of food  sources.
Mississippi  State University Extension experts say that the easiest fruits to grow  are blueberry, fig, Oriental persimmon and blackberry. Pecan, strawberry and pear are considered moderately hard to grow; peach, apple and plum are the
most difficult in regard to spraying, watering, pruning, etc.  For more information, see: http://msucares.com.Expert Advice:
Fruit  and vegetable experts will offer their tips and advice at the  Mississippi Fruit  & Vegetable Growers Conference & Trade Show  in conjunction with the Mississippi Agritourism Association, Nov. 28 and 29 at the Hilton Jackson on County Line Road. For more information,  visit: msfruitandveg.com.Suggested Reading:
An  excellent source for ideas is Edible Forest Gardens: The Ecology and Design of Home Scale Food Forests, a website based on the two-volume  set, “Edible Forest Gardens” by David Jacke, (Chelsea Green, 2005, $150  for set).
Visit the site at edibleforestgardens.com.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook or follow him @EdiblePrayers or @OrganicWriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

American Cheese No Longer ‘Cheesy’

American Cheese No Longer ‘Cheesy’

November 7, 2012

Probably  most Americans who grew up prior to the millennium consider American cheese to be synonymous with “cheesy,” or of little worth.
They  may think of “processed ‘cheese’ product,” or individually wrapped slices of a yellowish substance masquerading as cheese. But, today,  there are
artisanal varieties of truly astounding American cheeses that  measure up well against European offerings.
That’s  because there is a growing movement of artisanal cheesemakers who sell  raw-milk cheeses. Most cheeses found in the grocery are extensively
pasteurized; that kills germs, including “good” bacteria that make  cheese healthful and flavorful. European cheeses are not commonly  pasteurized.
As  the holiday season nears, our family enjoys raw milk cheeses. While  only a few varieties are available locally (extensively aged), the  Internet is ripe
(excuse the pun!) with such cheeses. I prefer to order  from artisanalcheese.com.
Doesn’t  cheese have a lot of fat? Well, yes. But most health professionals  point out that the amount of fat in a food is not the sole determinant  of
whether one becomes fat; it’s the total intake of calories and the  amount of calories expended through exercise.
The Artisanal Cheese blog (News From the Cheese Caves,blog.artisanalcheese.com) gives a more complete picture. Fat curbs our appetites by triggering  the
release of cholecystokinin, a hormone that yields a feeling of  satiety and is directly involved in the metabolysis of proteins and  fats. Other hunger suppressors found in cheese include certain peptides  and their amino acids.
Many of the proteins, as well as many of the  vitamins and minerals that cheese contain, all help to metabolize the  foods we consume.
Cheese  is simply preserved milk; a near-complete food which (except for  vitamin C and fiber) provides all the nutrients we require.
If the Legislature would allow raw milk cheese production and sale, Mississippi could join this movement, too.

Make Your Own Cheese
Why  not make your own cheese? And serve it over your own homegrown organic greens? While most the exquisite artisanal cheeses are the product of painstaking effort, you can make a simple cheese at home using even  regular milk found at the grocery (if it’s fresh and not  ultrapasturized).

Saag Paneer (curried greens with cheese)
Paneer (Simple Cheese)
6 cups milk
1 cup water
Half cup vinegar
Heat  milk gently to simmer, not boil. Add water to vinegar, then slowly pour it into the milk. When the milk curdles (separates) completely, stop  pouring.
Strain the curds in a mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth. Let  it dry for 15-20 minutes.

Curried Greens
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium sweet onion
2-4 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
1 tablespoon fresh grated turmeric (optional, can use 1/4 teaspoon dried)
2 tablespoons sliced almonds
1 tablespoon brown mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon chili power or curry powder
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
A mess of mustard, turnip, spinach or other greens, chopped
Gently  fry spices and nuts in a few tablespoons of olive oil, add greens cover
and cook until tender. You can crumble the paneer into the cooked  greens before
serving as is, or brown it in an oiled non-stick pan  first.
Serve over mixed whole grain rice, with a carrot or apple salad as a side dish.

Online About Cheese
Handmade cheese makers (video): cheesebyhand.com
Cheese blog (Wisconsin): cheeseunderground.blogspot. com
The American Cheese Society, for all things cheese: cheesesociety.org
Cheese blog for the serious caseophiles, translated from the French about international cheese competitions, etc.: fromagium.typepad.com/caseophile

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook or follow him @EdiblePrayers or @OrganicWriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Let Trees Do The Work For Next Spring’s Garden

Oct. 10, 2012
Honor the Tree: Let it do the Work for next Spring’s Garden

People  who garden can always find things to do. Sometimes, it seems we have too little time to actually enjoy our gardens. So why waste time, or a  season, for that matter? You can get a head start on next spring’s  organic garden now
and free yourself for relaxation and enjoyment.
How? Take advantage of “free” vegetative matter to build up your next year’s garden bed with leaves.
Fall  brings leaves by the ton, not only in our yards but around our neighborhoods and, well, everywhere there’s a tree. People are busy  raking and
bagging them up, in fact, so they can be picked up in urban  areas to be thrown away. Country folk often just pile them up and burn  them. Why let this free vegetable matter go to waste? Or, worse, add to  pollution?
Think  for a minute: The trees took nutrients from the soil last spring and mixed with sunlight, air and water came up with these glorious leaves to  shade us all summer. That’s a lot of energy expended. That’s a lot of  soil nutrients.
Why dump it in a landfill?
Honor  the tree. Recycle! Ask your neighbor (if you are sure he or she hasn’t been spraying trees with poison) if you can take those piled leaves.
You  can just dump them in your garden, as thick as you like, and cover them with plastic (black or clear, doesn’t matter), and next spring you will  have
nicely composted leaves with added nutrients from the other yard(s) to your garden—free imported fertilizer. It should be decomposed  enough to mix with compost you have saved also to provide a rich, dark,  loamy growing medium ready
to plant.
It’s  also a great way to expand your garden. If, say, you have a 4-foot by 8-foot Jim’s plot and want to double it in size, just put down cardboard  or
layers of old newspapers (to block weeds) in the new area, and put  leaves on it and cover it with plastic. When you uncover it in  the spring, voila! New
garden!
It’s  called “lasagna gardening.” That is, layering paper or cardboard and leaves like lasagna to create a raised bed for plants. No tilling. No  muss, no
fuss.
Some  purists will say that one type of leaf—say oak, or pine or pecan—is too acidic or whatever to use in this way. Don’t worry about it. If you, as  I
always recommend, take a soil sample each spring to be tested for  fertility, pH, etc., you can determine exactly which amendments are  needed to produce the food you want to grow.
The  main thing is to not waste this opportunity. Now is the time to prepare for spring. Let the seasons do the work for you, so you can enjoy your  garden come spring.
Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Create ‘Climate Change’ in Your Backyard: Prepare for Frost

Oct. 10, 2012

Create ‘Climate Change’ in Your Garden: Prepare for Frost

Some  folks may remember that first frost came early for central Mississippi last year, at the end of October. While frost is a pleasant milestone of  the
seasons for most people, it can be tragedy for fall gardeners. At  least, without precautions.
Commercial  growers use a lightweight, white material called Agribon to protect their crops from frost. It comes in different thicknesses for ever  greater
frost protection, some as much as 8 degrees below freezing.
You  can order it from any of a number of commercial suppliers online. A 50-foot by 83-inch roll costs about $20 at growerssupply.com.
Unfortunately,  if all you are trying to protect is 4-foot by 8-foot Jim’s Plot, that’s  something of a waste—unless you cut it up and give away what you
don’t  need to friends or neighbors. Get a smaller size (two 14×14-foot pieces for $39.99 at Peaceful Valley: groworganic.com.)
Urban  homesteaders are always looking for a cheaper way to use, reuse or repurpose what’s on hand, so they shouldn’t feel obligated to spend  money to protect from frost when it can be done for free. Such a route  is to use old bed sheets or a light blanket, just enough to keep the  frost off tender shoots.
The  main concern is that the covering must be light so that it doesn’t  crush the plants. If the weather is really cold, rather than just  throwing it on at
night, it should be white or translucent to allow some  sun to penetrate and hold heat if it’s left on during the day. (You  don’t want to smother your
plants.)
Some  farmers use Agribon as a seasonal cover that performs multiple tasks: keeping plants protected from frost; acting like a mini-greenhouse,  holding in solar heat for greater soil temperature; and protecting from  insects. They usually use the lighter weights of Agribon, rather than  the heavy, thick versions. It won’t protect much below 32 degrees, but  it does offer protection from a dip in temperature and/or biting winds.
That  should be enough for any cold snap we might get now. We normally don’t get a hard, killing frost until around the end of November to the first  of
December. As winter approaches, more intensive measures may be  required.
For  example, a simple way to keep winter greens from freezing is to simply take a few plastic soft drink bottles or milk jugs, fill them halfway  with
water, and put them between the rows of your plants. That passive  solar heating will keep the plants from freezing below the level Agribon  alone offers and especially if placed under Agribon with the plants.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Re-energize Your Soil For A Better Garden Next Year

Sept. 26, 2012
Re-energize Your Soil For A Better Garden Next Year

Now that fall is officially here, a lot of gardeners think their work is done. Well, not quite. That is, not if you expect bountiful harvests next year.

The reason? Soil fertility. The big agribusinesses talk a lot about “inputs” when producing crops because there are a lot of “outputs.” The “outputs,” simply put, are the fresh fruit and vegetables (and weeds) that your garden produces. When you pull these plants out of the garden, you are removing nutrients in the soil contained in the plant.

If enough of these “outputs” occur, without any new “inputs” of new nutrients, the soil becomes exhausted. That means, unless you work to keep your soil fertile, you may only have stunted plants, puny produce and lots of disease and insects.

Big industrial farms dump synthetic fertilizers as “inputs” to boost production, but without soil-building practices, future yields suffer, and farmers have to use more chemicals on the soil to fight diseases and insects, while the nutrient value of the crops declines.

Organic growing, however, is holistic: The soil is as important as the crop, so we want to ensure that our soil is healthy, so that our produce is healthy, what we eat is healthy, and we are healthy.

The easiest way is to simply keep a compost pile and add compost periodically to the garden. That way, you are at least putting back into the garden what you take out.

Another easy way is to use “green manure.” That is, don’t throw away the weeds you pick out of the garden; instead, compost and return them. You can also plow under any plants that you don’t harvest.

Now is the best time for this method: Plant a cover crop that will actually add fertility to the soil over the winter. Clover is a great winter cover crop, adding nitrogen at the rate of 60 pounds or more per acre.

Another suggestion: Why not use a cover crop you can eat?

Fava beans (which actually are a type of vetch) are filled with essential nutrients, especially phosphorus, potassium, vitamin K, vitamin A and iron. They are low in sodium and high in fiber and, for women, contain phyto-estrogens that herbalists say ease menopause. Fava beans are routinely listed as among the top 10 anti-cancer foods, as they contain herein, which research has shown to block carcinogens in the digestive tract.

The best news for your garden is that they can produce a whopping 200 to 300 pounds per acre of nitrogen. They can withstand temperatures down to 10 degrees, so they make a great cover crop in Mississippi.

Cover crops are often called the keystone of organic agriculture because they do so much while the farmer does so little. They crowd out weeds, provide habitat for beneficial insects, return fertility to the soil by fixing nitrogen from the air into the soil and they help the planet’s climate change by sequestering carbon. Not only that, but when they finally succumb to winter or live out their cycle and are turned under as “green manure,” they improve the texture of the soil by adding organic matter as well as fertility.

Quite a lot for a little work, huh?

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.