Tag Archives: foodies

Let’s Update Mississippi’s Local Food Laws!

A few months ago, I wrote a blog about a really great small farm operation in Clay County that produces pasture-raised poultry, and grass-fed beef and swine. See: “Farm Field Day Draws Lots of Moms, Kids” – https://shooflyfarmblog.wordpress.com/tag/grazing/

Operated by Dustin Pinion and his partner Ali Fratesi, it’s truly a model farm for sustainability – and was showcased as a good example for other farmers by both the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) which partnered with Gaining Ground – Sustainability Institute to hold a field day there. It was also promoted as a premier example of small farming by the Mississippi Sustainable Ag Network.

But farms like this are in danger of going bust – or never getting started – because of the way food laws are skewed to protect large industrial operations and punish or deter small, sustainable family farms.

Local Food

For many visitors to High Hope Farm, Beaverdam Farm, and other local farm producers that have customer lists and farmers market presence, their operations are often the first and perhaps only time to see a real non-corporate family farm in operation. (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

Mike and Alison Buehler, founders of GGSIM, are promoting a petition to update Mississippi’s local food laws to allow mom-and-pop farmers like High Hope Farm and Beaverdam Farms to sell poultry at farmers markets. It’s long overdue.

Farmers across the South, I’ve found, have similar issues regarding on-site processing of the food they grow. Joe Salatin is perhaps the best known proponent of the “idiocy” of local food laws. See his book: “Everything I want to do is Illegal: War Stories from the Local Food Front.”

Here in Mississippi, though, it appears that a very simple change in the law could help rectify the situation, at least as far as selling sustainably grown chicken is concerned.

Alison and Michael write:

The federal poultry regulations provide an exemption for small farmers processing less than 20,000 birds a year in an approved facility. However, only in Mississippi do the regulations say all poultry sold off the farm premises must bear a mark of inspection:

b. All poultry products offered for sale by a vendor at a farmers market must be sold by a vendor who holds a retail mobile food establishment license from the Department. The poultry products must bear marks of inspection from a poultry inspection program administered by the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce or the United States Department of Agriculture.

 There is no inspection facility located in Mississippi. This significantly cuts off farmers from their customers, and only allows them to sell from the farm.

Every other state allows for farmers under the 20,000 bird exemption to sell off site. Here is an example from Pennsylvania:

Producers who raise and slaughter no more than 20,000 poultry on their premises in a calendar year may, under PDA inspection, sell within Pennsylvania to customers through the following venues:

§  farmers markets

§  farm stands

§  CSA members

§  buying clubs

§  hotels and restaurants

§  schools

§  hospitals

§  wholesale distributors (sales within the state),retail stores

Small farmers are finally on the resurgence in Mississippi. In order to foster their success so we can continue to access healthy food, our regulations need to be updated to reflect this change. They simply haven’t been addressed because there were no small poultry producers in the state. We now have dozens of young farmers coming into the market.

The Mississippi Department of Agriculture wants to support small farmers. They simply haven’t had it brought to the table up until now. After long emails and discussions with them, they encouraged us to create a petition that would show them where public will fell on this issue. They want to hear from us. While the regulations they have dealt with in the past were designed to keep people safe in the face of super-large poultry operations, they also want to know how to create realistic and safe regulations for small farmers.

Here is how you help.

1.    We need an individual present at EVERY farmers market in the state this week, beginning May 17th collecting electronic signatures. All you have to say is, “Do you think farmers markets should be allowed to sell chicken? Let the MS Dept of Ag know!” If you are interested in being one of these coordinators, please let me know.alison.buehler@ggsim.org

I already have covered: 2 Oxford Markets, Starkville, Brookhaven, Jackson, Hernando, and Meridian

2.    Sign up for our 20 Calls for 20 Days campaign to tell 5 people at the MS Department of Agriculture Thank You for aligning our regulations on small poultry producers with the surrounding states. Thank You for supporting small farmers. We appreciate you efforts to increase our access to fresh, local foods. If you sign up, get your spouse to sign up. You will receive a script and a reminder email the day before you make your calls. We need to fill this asap because calls begin the day the petition is delivered.  http://www.signupgenius.com/go/10C0844ADA829A75-mississippi

3.    Sign the petition. Get your spouse, your mother and father, you kids over 18 to sign it. Share it with your churches, your co-ops, your organizations. We have one week to get as many signatures as possible. Our lawyer is drafting this today. It will be on the FB page tomorrow to start sharing.

This is doable! Don’t sit back and wait for someone else to make this happen for you. Don’t lament that other state have better food options. Make this a reality here!

Me again: If you truly are concerned about promoting local food, take action. This is a simple way to do it!

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

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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.

Four-Season Growing: A Garden Cornucopia

Sept. 26, 2012
Four Season Growing: A Garden Cornucopia

Now that you are either tending or contemplating a fall garden for freshly grown, organic crops, you might consider four-season farming for year-round food. If the weather cooperates, it can be fairly easy—and can be done even in the urban setting of a small yard or next to a patio.

Today, because of industrial agriculture, we think that farming is all done out in rural areas and large tracts of land, but that actually is counter to historical fact.

In America’s cities across the land prior to the mechanization of farming following World War II, small plots of land were located throughout population centers—complete with chickens and livestock! This was common in most urban areas globally. For example, Paris at one time devoted 6 percent of land to food production and produced 100 percent of its fresh vegetables.

One of the more popular methods of growing during winter was to heap horse manure and then build an enclosed structure on top of it for growing. Called a “hot house,” the removable top kept vegetables protected from the elements while the decaying manure provided heat from below.

Today, horse manure in cities is no longer an abundant, cheap source of soil fertility. Moreover, for health reasons regarding soil and plant contamination, I wouldn’t recommend trying to recreate such methods using uncomposted manure as a heat source without thorough study of safe designs. However, modern urban farmers—as well as homesteaders, suburbanites and rural folks wanting easy access to homegrown food—can nearly match that production by using cold frames.

Simply stated, a cold frame is a box similar to a 4-foot by 8-foot “Jim’s plot” but has a removable, clear glass or plastic top. Consider it a mini-greenhouse. Just make sure to vent the top during the day. At night, keep the cold frames closed, and they’ll retain heat.

Cold frames can be simple DIY projects, such as planting between a few square bales of hay and recycling old windows or shower doors as the removable tops. You can also purchase pre-made kits from local garden stores or online.

You can build a cold frame anywhere; just make sure it has southern sun exposure. Even a small frame can produce a lot of leafy vegetables if you correctly prune them: Pick old leaves first, in effect pruning the plant so that its energy goes into new leaves.

If you have more space, here’s another option using the same principle that can contain more crops. Hoop houses, also called high tunnels, work by using layers of plastic to trap warmer daytime air inside and minimize heat loss from the system at night. They don’t have to be big or towering affairs. You can bend plastic pipes over metal rebar spikes pounded into the ground and cover them with plastic.

Hoop houses can range from small tunnels—perhaps 3 feet tall and any length you prefer—to large edifices that you can make portable with wheels. You can even pull them with a tractor to rotate crops.

For more information on hoop houses, visit msucares.com/crops/hightunnels/index.html.

Growers in Mississippi who use high tunnels will be meeting to share tips at the Mississippi Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association and the Mississippi Agritourism Association conference in Jackson Nov. 28-29 at the Hilton Hotel on County Line Road. For more info, visit msfruitandveg.com or email info@msfruitandveg.com. You can also contact Candi Adams at 662-534-1916 or cadams@ext.msstate.edu

For winter growing info, read “Four Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables From Your Home Garden All Year Long” by Eliot Coleman (Chelsea Green, 1992, $24.95).

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.

Food, Foodies, Gardens Have Grown This Decade

Sept. 19, 2012

One area where the Jackson area bloomed in the past 10 years—literally!—is in terms of local and organic food, foodies and gardens.

“We’re trying to do more with everything local,” says Troy Woodson, 36, chef at High Noon Café at Rainbow Natural Grocery Cooperative in Fondren (2807 Old Canton Road, 601-366-1602). Rainbow is pushing for local people to supply organically grown food, and customers are more interested in buying locally grown food. Some of the food is really local, Woodson said, noting that honey the café uses is not just from central Mississippi bees but is produced in Fondren at Bee Tree Meadows.

Amy Breckenridge, 38, a baker who is approaching her 10th anniversary with Rainbow, has seen interest in locally grown organic food grow like a weed—as well as the number of stores selling organic food, she said.

The Fondren cooperative’s membership has grown as well. In the past three years, membership has doubled, from 3,000 members to 6,000, Breckenridge said.

Perhaps picking up on that need, the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce in the past 10 years expanded the facilities for farmers who want to bring their produce to market. In 2005, MDAC phased out the old market on West Street. Now located at the Mississippi State Fairgrounds, the improved market offers an all-weather building with 18,000 square feet and 32 stalls.

In 2009, the Belhaven Market—which has sold locally grown herbs and produce since 2001—also moved to the fairgrounds. Farmers markets have cropped up elsewhere in the metro area, too, such as the Livingston Farmers Market in Madison County.

Local groups are also planting seeds for their own health and wellbeing by creating community gardens. The Tougaloo-Rainbow Community Garden Farm Project started in 2008 and is located at Tougaloo College. It provides opportunities for organic gardening and permaculture projects.

Who could have guessed 10 years ago that growing food at local schools would become a national trend and that Jackson would serve as a model?

The farm-to-school movement in Mississippi started 10 years ago, when the Mississippi Department of Education partnered with MDAC and the Department of Defense Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program to make locally raised produce available to Mississippi schools.

In 2010, Michelle Obama visited Jackson as part of her Let’s Move program for nutrition and exercise, recognizing the public schools’ goals. The schools are working with FoodCorps and, since 2004, helped reach more than 20,000 Jacksonians through school garden and nutrition programs. Some, including the Wisdom Garden at Spann Elementary in Fondren, have been noted nationwide for their efforts.

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 Time of Year for Urban Homesteaders

Sept. 7, 2012

Urban Homesteading: Planning for Winter

Those who practice “homesteading”—or self-sufficiency—are busy preserving or “putting up” the produce they have grown this summer. But urban homesteaders who may be limited in the amount of land available to them aren’t left out in the cold. In fact, they have a cornucopia of fresh fruits and vegetables available to them—as close as the local farmers market.

As always, now is a great time to buy what’s available. At this time of year, most farmers are wrapping up their traditional growing time and looking forward to a final fall harvest and a winter season of rest.

The amount of available fresh foods lull consumers who may not be buying as eagerly as they did early in the season—many may even be burned out on local crops. This all works to urban homesteaders’ advantage, because a customer who wants to buy in bulk can usually obtain a bargain.

A tip: Go to the market just before closing time. While some of the items may be sold out or picked over, farmers are usually more than willing to sell the remainder at a huge discount just so they don’t have to haul it back and compost it or give it away.

Another tip: No matter what time of day, you can usually barter down the price of a bruised or picked-over item. In fact, some farmers could throw in the damaged items for free if you buy others in quantity and offer to take them off his hands. You can cut out any bad parts of fruits or vegetables without harming the taste. And remember: If you are dicing them for canning or making preserves, it doesn’t matter what they look like.

Lastly: Quiz farmers over their growing techniques. Organic is the way to go.

Some local farmers aren’t “certified” organic (the Mississippi Department of Agriculture ended its organic-certifying program in December due to budget cuts), but they may still be using organic methods. Most farmers will be more than happy to tell you how they grow their crops. If they don’t—or won’t—don’t buy.

Canning and Preserving Food

The Mississippi State University Extension Service has publications on how to safely preserve food and other issues of interest to urban homesteaders, including: “The Complete Guide to Home Canning” (http://www.msucares.com/pubs/publications/p1152.pdf) and a library of articles grouped under Living In a Recession (http://www.tinyurl.com/clldul3).

Seminars on Agritourism, Growing Fruits & Vegetables

Did you know that agritourism is a growing field in the state? Or that you can hobnob with fruit and vegetable growers to learn from them directly? The Mississippi Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association and the Mississippi Agritourism Association are holding seminars for the public at a conference in Jackson Nov. 28 and 29 at the Hilton Hotel on County Line Road. Early bird registration ends Sept. 15. For more info, http://www.visitmsfruitandveg.com or email info@msfruitandveg.co. You can also contact Candi Adams at 662-534-1916 or cadams@ext.msstate.edu.

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.

Plant now for cool weather delight

Reaping Cool-Weather Rewards
Mississippi,  along with the rest of the South, is blessed with a long growing
season, and now is the time to plant a fall garden so that you can enjoy  fresh,
leafy organic vegetables often until Christmas.
Good  fall plants include mustard greens, spinach, turnips, beets, broccoli,
cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, chard, kale, various lettuces, radishes  and
onions.
You  don’t have to overdo it. Even a small “Jim’s Plot,” only 4 feet by 8
feet, can provide lots and lots of salads. (In fact, you might consider
building a few of them for elderly family members or friends so that  they can
harvest some fresh food, too.)
It’s  hot now, but as temperatures cool, these greens will take off. Some
thrive in colder weather. Many swear that collards taste better after a  frost,
for example; the purplish hue that the leaves take on is a mark  of distinction.
Some  plants—such as radicchio—survive when temperatures drop into the teens,
along with some beets. Their leaves grow back and are delicious as  greens.
If  you already have a Jim’s Plot, just turn under the existing vegetation  for
“green manure,” allowing the plants to decompose in the soil. Add  compost to
return fertility to the soil lost from harvesting crops. You  can also apply
liquid fertilizers in spots to the started plants to give  them a boost. (Use
organic fertilizers only; synthetic fertilizers can  kill earthworms and
microorganisms in the soil.)
If  you are just starting out, you can buy topsoil at some of the local  yard
and garden stores in bulk. Better yet, find a tree-covered spot  behind a garage
or next to a fence where leaves have fallen and  decomposed over the years
leaving the soil nice and loamy. Then find a  sunny spot with southern exposure.
Put down newspapers or cardboard to  keep weeds out of your garden, and cover
with the soil. Start a compost  pile with vegetable scraps, coffee grounds and
eggshells—no meat! Use  the compost to keep your soil fertile.
How  late can you plant? For a general guideline, count backward from first
frost. Here in central Mississippi, we usually have first frost around  Nov. 1,
and the first killing frost Dec. 1. So, you can expect 60 to 90  days of growing
if you plant now.
That’s  not a hard-and-fast rule. Frost can come early. I remember one October
when the weather turned bitterly cold. Or, like last year, we could have  a warm
winter where the problem was keeping the plants from bolting  (going to seed)
rather than dying from frost.
Plant  now to have wholesome, organic produce later. There’s nothing better on
a cold winter day than steaming cooked greens with cheese, onions,  garlic and
hot sauce.

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.

New York Times Blows Smoke on Organic Food

Organic produce is most nutritious when eaten fresh after picking. Local and organically grown food remains the best choice for consumers.

Aug. 5, 2012

‘Times’ Blows Smoke on Food

By Jim PathFinder Ewing

The New York Times printed a study (actually a study of studies) on Tuesday that implied organic food is not more nutritious than conventionally (read: chemically) grown food, which has raised quite a hubbub.

Specifically, the article reported: “Stanford University researchers concluded that fruits, vegetables and meat labeled organic were, on average, no more nutritious than their conventional counterparts.” (To read the article, see: http://ow.ly/du0KN)

The study itself is deficient, but unfortunately, it was printed under the even more dubious headline “Stanford Scientists Cast Doubt on Advantages of Organic Meat and Produce,” which is demonstrably false.

You know the saying for computer results, “garbage in, garbage out.” That goes for studies (or studies of studies), as well.

The basic flaw of the studies is that increasingly organics is not about locally grown, fresh nutritious food as it is about chemically free food. That’s a big distinction that is lost in the analysis.

Organics today is big business. Most of the organic produce you buy in the grocery is trucked thousands of miles from where it was grown (or even flown in from other countries).

Moreover, most of it is grown, treated and harvested under the same conditions as “conventional” farming by giant agribusinesses using industrial farming techniques with the sole exception of not using synthetic chemicals or genetically modified seeds.

So, the question here is: Why wouldn’t it be different in nutrition? If all factors are the same, except for the absence of chemicals, then wouldn’t the produce be the same except for the absence of chemicals? Well, uh, yeah.

As Marion Nestle, a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University, points out in her blog in response to the article (http://ow.ly/du1CH), the point of organic food is to be free of chemicals and hormones — precisely as even the study on studies supports.

But here’s the garbage part: To conclude that organic food is less nutritious than conventional food removes a few essential factors — such as soil fertility, plant hardiness, climate, and most important, freshness — that vary according to source both for conventional and organic farming.

A key difference between any food harvested from the soil may be less the method of growing (except for the potential for toxic chemicals) than how fresh it is. Food that is grown and harvested locally is more likely to be fresher and hold its nutrition longer between field and plate than any produce that’s shipped thousands of miles.

This is not to say that people should not buy organic, even if shipped across the continent or flown in. Organic still results in demonstrably lower levels of dangerous chemicals and toxins — as the study on studies itself reports. Rather, the best of all possible worlds is to buy local organically grown produce.

That is, if you care about health, nutrition and chemically free food.

In the final analysis, this study is more smoke about food that plays on people’s fears, is subject to misinterpretation by the media and perfect for exploitation by vested interests afraid of losing even more market share to organically grown and locally sourced food.
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.