Sharing is Caring is Daring to Think Inside the Flower Box

We learn one of the most valuable lessons of our lives in preschool: how to share.  Sharing is great!  I mean, who really wants to just throw away all those outdated appliances and old movies?  And who doesn’t love sharing green ideas, gardening tips, and recycling projects?  Here are some of my favorite websites to find (free!) recycled items and ideas, from furniture to clothing to household recycling projects.

This is a fabulous resource for people lucky enough to have a Freecycle program in their area.  People post things that they want taken away, and you take them away.  Easy as pie.  You do have to go get them most of the time, but sometimes there are some pretty cool things listed.  Here are some things on the Salisbury listing right now: an outdoor firepit, porch swing, king size bed, boxes of books (which I’m probably taking!), ceiling fans.  I love this program!

Green Towns
This is a pretty cool website.  You look up your town and it will tell you all the farmer’s markets, organic farms, and local organizations who work toward the green cause.  You can also post ideas and advice in the forums.

Farm Plate
This is another resource to help you eat local – you can search for farmer’s markets, specialty store, and restaurants that use local food.  (Just a note: If you’re interested in eating local, always ask the chef what they have in stock from local farms.  Just because they have local farms listed on their menu does not guarantee that they currently have anything from them.  And be sure to ask the chef, not your busy server who will make up an answer to placate you.  I’ve had a server tell me the lamb my boyfriend ordered was from my farm when they never bought lamb from us.)


Happy Genetically Modified Anniversary!

This weekend marks the 20th birthday of the GMO age – or at least, the government sanctioning of it.  Dan Quayle, VP for George H. W. Bush, announced the government’s new policy on GMO foods in a press conference this week in 1992.  The FDA’s policy asserts that GMO foods are “substantially equivalent” to traditionally bred crops and therefore require no additional regulation.  Despite the fact that the USA is one of the only developed nations to not label GMOs, and the fact that citizens everywhere are clamoring for a right to make informed decisions about what to feed their families, twenty years have not made much change in the government’s view on GMOs.  And thanks to president Obama, it looks like change is still a long time coming: Obama appointed Michael Taylor, former Monsanto lawyer, the deputy commissioner of foods for the FDA.  It almost makes me want to brave the political arena just so I can have that position and actually put it to good use.

(For a great article on the history of GMOs and the politics surrounding them, read Dave Murphy’s article in the Huffington Post.)

In celebration of the GMO anniversary, let’s boycott them!  Here’s a list of the most common GMOed foods.  Though I often buy conventional produce when I can’t find organic, these veggies are on the no-exceptions list.  Many of these GMOed crops also get heavy doses of other chemicals such as pesticides or antibiotics, so I definitely stick to organic with them.

Corn – Though regular corn is grown largely for livestock feed, it still enters our bodies when we eat their meat.  High fructose corn syrup can also be made from regular corn.  And hfcs is in almost everything Americans consume.  Unfortunately, corn is one of the most heavily GMOed crops.  It’s engineered to be pest resistance, but because they’re wind pollinated, the GMO crop can infect nearby crops, spreading its nasty seeds.  (Random farm fact: I saved some corn seedlings that we thinned out to plant in my yard, but my boss told me that corn must be planted in 8×8 plots because they’re wind pollinated.  If you plant less than that, just pollinate them yourself. Take the tassel from the top and rub it over the stalks.)

Sweet corn – Many sweet corn varieties are genetically modified to produce their own insecticide. The FDA admitted that thousands of pounds of genetically engineered sweetcorn have made their way into the human food supply chain, even though the produce has been approved only for use in animal feed. Recently Monsanto said that about half of the USA’s sweetcorn acreage has been planted with genetically modified seed.

Cotton – It’s considered a food because the oil can be consumed. The introduction of genetically engineered cotton plants has had an unexpectedly effect on Chinese agriculture. The so-called Bt cotton plants that produce a chemical that kills the cotton bollworm have not only reduced the incidence of the pest in cotton fields, but also in neighboring fields of corn, soybeans, and other crops.

Dairy – About 22 percent of cows in the U.S. are injected with recombinant bovine growth hormone (rbGH).

HoneyHoney can be produced from GM crops. Some Canadian honey comes from bees collecting nectar from GM canola plants. This has shut down exports of Canadian honey to Europe.

Meat & Eggs – GMO feed, antibiotics, hormones…  Just remember that anything that goes into your meat goes into you.

Papaya – The first virus resistant papayas were commercially grown in Hawaii in 1999. Transgenic papayas now cover about three quarters of the total Hawaiian papaya crop. Monsanto donated technology to Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore, for developing a papaya resistant to the ringspot virus in India.

Potatoes – Potato beetles are nasty little pests – at the last farm where I worked, we would spend hours going over each plant, squashing bugs and eggs – and so potatoes are GMOed to resist them.  For potatoes are important to more than just the food industry; they are used to make starches for cleaning and vodkas for enjoying in delightful summer drinks.

Rapeseed (aka Canola) – Canola is modified to be resistant to certain herbicides so that less weed control is needed, and less weeds also means less pests.  An interesting aspect of genetically modified rapeseed is that it produces one of the main pollens used to make honey (10 Common Genetically Modified Foods).

Rice – Rice is often genetically modified to contain high amounts of Vitamin A., as well as for pest resistance.  Considering rice is the staple food for over half the world’s population, keeping rice clean is pretty important.  Rice containing human genes is to be grown in the US; rather than end up on dinner plates, the rice will make human proteins useful for treating infant diarrhea in the developing world.

Soybean – Along with containing enough estrogen to act as birth control, soy is the most heavily modified crop worldwide. In 2007, more than half of the world’s soy was made up of genetically modified strains (10 Common Genetically Modified Foods).  That’s a pretty horrifying figure when you consider that soy is also the most used additive – it’s literally in everything we eat in America.  Oh, and it’s also used in a ton of pharmaceuticals.  It’s modified for several reasons: to increase its resistance to pests or fungus, its vitamin content, or its fat content if its being fed to livestock.

Sugar – Most sweeteners come from corn syrup, but table sugar is either sugar cane or sugar beet.  And GMO sugar beet, along with a growing number of frankenfoods, has just been deregulated in the US.

Tomatoes – The tomato was one of the first widespread genetically modified foods available in the United States. In the early ’90s, a variety of tomato was bred to not produce polygalacturonase, an enzyme that’s the starting point for rot.

Vegetable Oil – Most generic vegetable oils and margarines used in restaurants and in processed foods in North America are made from soy, corn, canola, or cottonseed.  All of which are on this list.

Vitamins – Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is often made from corn, vitamin E is usually made from soy. (Genetically Modified Food)


Celebrate, Fellow Marylanders!!

Today, Maryland became the first state in the US to ban arsenic in chicken processing.  Simply fabulous.  I love it when the government has to correct its own mistakes; the FDA approved the most common arsenic drug, Roxarsone, in 1944, and it’s taken them this long to admit yet another failure to protect the citizens of the US.

Arsenic was given to chickens to help kill intestinal parasites, but it was found to make them gain weight faster and make their meat more pink so it became a common food additive in chicken feeds.  And as we all know, what the chickens eat, we eat (and so do the rivers and the earth, through their waste) so this arsenic ban is a huge victory for bodies worldwide – human, animal, plant, and planetary.  There are still a lot of scary ingredients in chicken feed, including caffeine, OTC drugs such as Benadryl, banned antibiotics, and even the active ingredient in Prozac.  But even small victories count.

NY Times: Arsenic in Our Chicken?
F&WW: Poison-Free Poultry in Maryland


Recipe Book: Fresh Strawberry Cake

One of the guys I work with on the farm had a birthday last week, so I made a strawberry cake with the season’s first pick of strawberries.  This is a recipe I definitely have to share!

Fresh Strawberry Cake

Cake Ingredients:
-10 large fresh strawberries, or as needed
-2 eggs
-1 cup raw cane sugar
-1/3 cup coconut oil (or whatever kind of vegetable oil substitute you prefer)
-1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
-1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I used King Arthur’s whole wheat flour… Yes, it’s my favorite.  Everything comes out sooo moist!)
-2 teaspoons baking powder
-1/4 teaspoon salt

Icing Ingredients:
-3/4 cup cream cheese, softened
-2 tablespoons butter, softened
-1 cup hot chocolate mix (I used Land O’ Lakes Arctic White Hot Cocoa Mix, but you could use whatever flavor you like – chocolate, caramel, raspberry…)
-1/2-1 cup raw cane sugar (Depends on how sweet you want it.)
-1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
(You can also add fresh fruit puree to the icing if you want.)

-Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Grease small cake pan.  (This recipe makes a surprisingly small amount of dough – probably because it was originally for cupcakes.)
-Place strawberries into a blender, and blend until smooth. Pour the puree through a strainer to remove seeds. Puree should equal about 3/4 cup. Set the puree aside.
-In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, sugar, oil, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, and strawberry puree until well combined. Stir in the flour, baking powder, and salt. Pour batter into cake pan.
-Bake in the preheated oven 25-30 minutes. Allow the cupcakes to cool at least 10 minutes before frosting.

-To make frosting, beat cream cheese and butter together in a mixing bowl until smooth, and mix in hot chocolate and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract to make a lump-free icing.
(Strawberry Cupcakes)

Banging!  The Hispanics I work with all said muy bueno!


Recipe Book: Summer Fruit Cornbread

I’ve been on a dessert kick lately, and this is my latest creation.  Probably my favorite so far, I’d say.  It’s a variation of this Buttermilk Cornbread recipe I found online.

Summer Fruit Cornbread

-1/2 cup butter
-1 cup raw cane sugar
-2 eggs
-1 cup fruit flavored yogurt (I used Raspberry yogurt from a local dairy farm called Nice Farms Creamery in Federalsburg, MD.  Best milk ever!)
-1/2 teaspoon baking soda
-1 cup cornmeal (I always get unenriched, that way you’re not getting all the synthetic vitamins.)
-1 cup all-purpose flour (I used King Arthur whole wheat flour.  It made the bread a little darker than normal, but it tasted just the same.)
-1/2 teaspoon salt
-1-2 cups of summer fruit (I used about 2 cups of strawberries, but you can use anything.  Blueberry is next on my list!)

-Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease an 8 inch square pan.
-Melt butter in large skillet. Remove from heat and stir in sugar. Quickly add eggs and beat until well blended. Combine buttermilk with baking soda and stir into mixture in pan. Stir in cornmeal, flour, and salt until well blended and few lumps remain. Pour batter into the prepared pan.
-Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.


Cleanliness is Next to Godliness – Unless it’s Deadly

How clean are your clothes?  Well, that would depend on your detergent.  And if you’re using one of those “leading brands,” your clothes might look clean, but they’re actually infested with chemicals harmful to both you and the environment.  The majority of laundry supplies – detergent, fabric softeners, and dryer sheets – are a prime example of how many chemicals the FDA allows into our homes.

As with any household cleaning product, it’s so important to read and understand the ingredients on any bottle.  Anything we put on our clothes gets leached from the fabric by the moisture that our skin produces, which then in turn gets absorbed into our bodies.  That – along with the fact that anything we add to our water directly affects the environment – is why using safe laundry supplies is a must.  Most laundry detergents contain a dangerous mix of the following chemicals:
-Petroleum distillates (aka napthas): Petroleum products are never good for the skin.  They clog your pores and block your body’s ability to excrete toxins through sweat, causing acne and other more harmful conditions.  Petroleum products also contain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which have been linked to various cancers, including scrotal, gastrointestinal, sinonasal, bladder and lung cancer.  (The Environmental Working Group’s Cosmetics Database gives it a 7 out of 10 for its toxicity rating.)
-artificial fragrances: Shown to have many toxic effects on fish and humans.
-phosphates: Stimulate the growth of certain algaes when they’re released into the environment, causing huge algae blooms and unbalanced ecosystems.
-optical brighteners: Can be toxic to fish and can cause bacterial mutations and allergic reactions in humans.
(How Toxic Is Your Average Laundry Detergent?)

I like to use Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soaps for just about everything – dish soap, laundry detergent, body wash… There are a bunch of different scents, and an unscented baby wash that is perfect for sensitive skin.  There are also a bunch of other natural products out there.  I just picked up a bottle of Ecos (Ecos Free & Clear) because the ingredients are 100% natural anionic coconut kernel oil based surfactant, purified water.  That’s it.  Simply fabulous.

Fabric softeners and dryer sheets can be nasty too.  They can include such things as:
-camphor: In large doses, camphor can cause seizures, confusion, and other neurological problems. Even topical application of camphor may cause liver damage due to toxicity.
-benzyl acetate: Has been linked to cancer.
-limonene:  A skin and lung irritant.
-ethyl acetate:  Used to asphyxiate test animals in labs.
-benzyl alcohol:  Another skin and lung irritant.  Can also cause convulsions and paralysis.
-chloroform:  Yep, you read it right.   The stuff famous for knocking out kidnapping victims is in your dryer sheets.  EWG gives it a 10 out of 10 on its toxicity rating.
-formaldehyde:  Another 10 out of 10.  Most commonly known as embalming fluid, formaldehyde causes cancer and full-body toxicity.
(Eco-Friendly Fabric Softeners and Dryer Sheets)

I don’t bother with fabric softeners, but I’ve heard that soaking your clothes in water with 1/2 cup of baking soda before washing helps soften clothes, as does adding 1/2 cup white vinegar to the wash (Stinky though?).  And to reduce static cling, soak a cloth in hair conditioner, let it dry, then throw it in the dryer with your clothes.

Here’s my Sunday afternoon wash routine: I use either Dr. B’s Castile Soaps or an eco-friendly, free & clear brand.  I’m currently using Ecos Free & Clear, which I surprisingly found at Walmart.  I always wash in cold water to save energy – your clothes still get just as clean.  Then I take an old sock that I’ve tied into a knot (just so I can recognize it) and drop about 20 drops of essential oil on it, then throw it in the dryer with my clothes.  My current flavor is orange, a good compromise when you’re washing a guy and a girl’s clothes together.  I work on a farm and my boyfriend drives a delivery truck, so adding some kind of scent is necessary.

Now that I have my pup to watch out for, I’m extra careful about what chemicals come into my home.  There is no way my little man’s blanket is getting washed in formaldehyde.  He’s better than that – we all are.


Tea Break #4: Caffeine

I usually drink tea for the flavor, but some mornings I just need that extra boost, so I pull out my Assam Breakfast or Morning Thunder teas (and later, chia seeds!) to get me going in a delicious way.  Though I do love a cup of good coffee, too much gives me a headache.  Tea is a great alternative source of caffeine.  Here’s what Republic of Tea has to say about it:

Caffeine occurs naturally in tea. A mild stimulant, it accounts for tea’s reputation as a beverage that clears the mind and lifts the spirit.  The more oxidized the tea the greater its caffeine content, as demonstrated in the caffeine chart below.  Green tea and 100% white tea, which are not oxidized, have less caffeine per cup than black tea.  In between we have oolong tea, which is semi-oxidized and has about half as much caffeine as black tea.