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Spring Has Sprung a Leak

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Truffula trees in spring – Dr. Seuss Wiki

Happy spring folks!  This is one of my favorite days of the year, and today couldn’t be more beautiful.  The sun is shining and warm, there’s a vase of fresh-picked daffodils on my windowsill, and baby veggies are sprouting in the greenhouse at Greenbranch.  I’m celebrating the day by watching The Lorax and reinforcing my belief that everything you need to know about life can be learned from a Dr. Seuss book.

While spring brings sunshine and flowers, summer has the potential to bring some serious environmental troubles.  Congress faces a host of crucial decisions, as do many individual states.  GMO labeling is a hot topic in several states, fracking is spreading its poisonous gases (the Maryland Senate just dropped a bill that would ban fracking in MD – sign the petition to revive it!!), and the Monsanto Protection Act could ruin our crops and our health if passed.  But today, I want to focus on a topic I haven’t touched yet: the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline.  Fancy name for a tube of toxic sludge, no?

In The Lorax, the Onceler chops down all the trees to further his own business plans, polluting the land, water, and air.  Old and sorrwful, the Onceler tells a boy of his mistakes and his hopes for a brighter, greener future.  “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better.  It’s not,” he says.  I think every politician could learn something from the Onceler.  And it’s a lesson that needs to be learned soon, before the pipeline brings Canada’s toxic tar sands to the US.

Let’s start with the basics.  The TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline is a 1,200 mile oil pipeline that will bring tar sands from Alberta, Canada to the Gulf Coast for refining.  TransCanada, the company in charge of the project, promises that it will bring thousands of jobs and help free America from its foreign oil chains.

Nebraska portion of the pipeline - ResourcefulEarth.org

Nebraska portion of the pipeline – ResourcefulEarth.org

Now, let’s get to the facts.  Namely, the things TransCanada doesn’t want you to know.  Yes, it will create badly needed jobs.  But once the pipeline is completed, most of those construction jobs will vanish.  Yes, the US will get some of the oil produced by the refineries.  But the majority of the refineries TransCanada plans to sell to are in Foreign Trade Zones, where the oil can be exported without being taxed by the US.  And the oil that we do get is the dirtiest, costliest fuel on the planet.  “Producing synthetic crude oil from tar sands generates three times the global warming pollution of conventional crude production. Extracting tar sands bitumen – a low-grade, high-sulfur crude oil that must be extensively refined to be turned into fuel – uses vast amounts of energy and water,” says the National Resources Defense Council.  Extraction of tar sands releases high levels of heavy metals and toxins into the environment, including mercury, arsenic, and lead – all known carcinogens.  Countless citizens of both Canada and the US have come together to protest the use of tar sands on the Sierra Club’s website.  And while TransCanada has thrown out numerous environmentally-friendly promises, the oil industry has made it clear that the environment is last on their list of concerns.  We’ve seen enough oil spills in the recent past to know that no oil container is foolproof.

The money-grabbing schemers in Congress are so impatient for the promised fortunes to start rolling in that they’ve introduced bills into both the House and the Senate to approve construction of the pipeline before the State Department finishes its environmental evaluation later in the summer.  Congress is expected to vote on the bill in May, taking the reigns from Obama and forcing the issue to be resolved months before all the necessary information has been collected.  In other words, screw the people and the land, we want the money.

I am the Lorax!! - Dr. Seuss Wiki

I am the Lorax!! – Dr. Seuss Wiki

I wonder what the Lorax would have to say to our Congressmen.

“I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees. I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues. And I’m asking you sir, at the top of my lungs – that thing! That horrible thing that I see! What’s that thing you’ve made out of my truffula tree?”  The Keystone XL pipeline!!

Since the Lorax can’t actually speak out again the pipeline, it’s up to us to do so.  Several online petitions have been started to stop the pipeline, so take a minute and sign one – or all of them!

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Monday Inspirations

Happy Monday folks!  And it is indeed a happy one this week.  The weather is gorgeous, spring is almost officially here, and for once we can start the week off with some good news.  Last Friday, at the Natural Products Expo West, Whole Foods announced that all products on its shelves must be labeled if they contain GMOs by 2018.  Hoorah for taking such a huge leap forward!  Whole Foods is not only the first grocery store chain to carry over 3,000 Non-GMO Project verified products, but now they’re the first to demand labeling.  Now if only they’d put one closer to Salisbury…

To celebrate, I want to share this awesome video from TED with you.  (Thanks to Allie for sharing it with me!!)  See how one man from LA got tired of “driving 45 minutes round trip to get an apple that wasn’t impregnanted with pesticides” and planted a “food forest” for his neighborhood.  As if that isn’t fabulous enough, Ron Finley also invented some of my new favorite terms, including: “ecolutionary” and “gansta gardener.”

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News Update: Evil Deeds and Cruelty Free

The world has been a busy place lately, and there have been so many stories worthy of boos and ballyhoos that I had to do a news update.  So grab a cup of coffee, get comfy in your favorite chair, and prepare to be updated.

I’ll start with the BAD NEWS first:

Coca Cola has launched a new campaign against obesity.  Their tactic?  Pushing their diet and low sugar products.  Which happen to be filled with empty calories and artificial sweeteners, two of the biggest culprits in the obesity epidemic.  Oh yeah, and they’re a fun kind of neurotoxin called excitotoxins, which literally “excite” your brain cells until they explode.  Fun, right?  NOT.  But I’ll tell you what is fun: the video that prompted Coke’s new anti-fat movement.  It’s called “The Real Bears,” and it is my video of the month.  Take 3.5 minutes of your time and watch it – trust me, it’s worth it!  And while you’re in a watching movies mood, check out the half hour documentary The Cost of a Coke about how Coke replied to workers’ attempts to form unions to get better wages and working conditions.  Hint: those workers are no longer around to tell their story, and I don’t mean around the factory.  Then go out to eat and skip the soda.

Obamacare, that miracle, money-saving Affordable Care Act Obama graciously bestowed upon his subjects – I mean constituents – has finally been given a price tag.  The IRS estimates the cheapest health care plan under Obamacare will cost the average family of 4 or 5 $20,000 a year.  And if they choose to opt out, the “penalty” (which the Supreme Court did indeed rule is actually a tax – an unconstitutional one at that) would be just over $2,000.  Affordable, my butt.

As if forcing a corrupt health care system on us isn’t bad enough, the government is also trying to destroy our sources of good food.  Hmm…  No sources of good, wholesome food leads to poor health, which leads to doctors visits, which lead to the need for insurance, which we are conveniently required by law to buy…  Sounds to me like there’s a master plan behind all this.  Why else would the government attack at gunpoint a private food buying club and confiscate all raw foods?  That’s what happened to the California-based Rawesome Foods in 2005.  Refrigerated goods like cheese and produce were confiscated in unrefrigerated crates and tested a week later for contamination.  Surprisingly, raw cheese that hadn’t been chilled for a week contained bacteria and was deemed unsafe.  And then, last month, the Feds turned the attack on Morningland Dairy, a Missouri dairy farm that produces raw cheese – cheese that was on the shelves at Rawesome Foods.  Local authorities confiscated and destroyed Morningland’s entire inventory – 50,000 pounds of
perfectly good raw cheese – without ever testing it.  Or tasting it, I’m sure, because no one who has had quality cheese could ever destroy that much of it.

Fracking has poisoned our tapwater.  It’s made us sick, made our pets sick.  It’s killed wildlife and livestock.  It’s polluted our air, our soil, our aquifers.  But now, it threatens our beer.  It’s time to take a stand.

Now, time for some GOOD NEWS:

The European Union has announced a ban on all cosmetics and personal care products that have been tested on animals, beginning March 11, 2013.  That’s right, Johnson & Johnson, you have a month to get your act together and stop torturing innocent beings so that pop singers can cover their acne.  But wince the US government won’t protect the health of its own citizens, it’s pretty unlikely that it would ever take measures to protect its animal population.  So check out PETA’s “Beauty without Bunnies” list of pro-cruelty and cruelty-free companies.

And in the most heartening story of the day, a Brazilian family has finally been reunited with Manuela, their pet tortoise that went missing in the 1980s.  Their shelled companion escaped during renovation and apparently has been holed up in a storage room happily munching on termites and other household bugs for 30 years.  Welcome back to civilization, Manuela.

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TreeHugger.com

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If You Didn’t Believe Me Before, Take a Second Look a Fracking

I’ve mentioned fracking before.  I introduced you to the Dangers of Fracking, which include contaminated water, air pollution, severe health risks (including brain cancer), well explosions, animal and livestock sickness, and the spread of more toxins than I care to count.  (Side note: 596 have been identified so far, but like McDonald’s “secret sauce,” the ingredients of the chemical soup used in fracking is a trade secret and so is not required to be made public.)

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TreeHugger.com “Mystery Sinkhole Threatens Bayou Corne, Louisiana”

However, my last fracking post was pretty superficial; fracking hasn’t taken over Maryland yet, and so I could ignore that little dot on my environmental radar.  I read a few articles, watched some interviews, got angry, and after posting a few links, moved on.  But then, two days ago, I saw a picture of the Bayou Corne sinkhole in Louisiana, which was caused by a collapsed production hole drilled by the company Texas Brine.  And I got angry again.  And this time, I stayed angry.

Let me tell you a few of the reasons why I got so angry.  I’ll start with a brief history of fracking.  Before he was VP, Dick Cheney was the CEO of Halliburton, one of the largest oil companies in the nation; from 1995 to 2000, Cheney led a company that is not only a leader of one of the most corrupt and anti-green industries on the planet, but one that was accused multiple times of corruption.  In 2005, Cheney led an Energy Task Force that put together the Energy Policy Act, which Bush signed into law.  This Act, also known as the “Halliburton Loophole,” makes the oil industry exempt from the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Safe Drinking Water Acts.  I’m going to repeat that: Cheney engineered a law which gave the oil industry – of which he was formerly a leading member – exemption from the laws that protect us and our land from pollution by companies that only care about the spendable kind of green.

The government claims that no energy is perfect, that despite its risks, fracking will free us from the even more dangerous foreign oil and all the Arab entanglements it brings.  But that brings little comfort to the people whose water has been contaminated, who’ve gotten sick from exposure to gas and chemicals, whose land has been made barren by the waste water fracking produces.  If you need more convincing, watch Josh Fox’s documentary Gasland.  Watch him interview people as they set their tap water on fire.  See the dead wildlife and the pets whose fur is falling out.  Listen to the stories of sickness, cancer, and family properties destroyed.  See water so polluted by chemicals like glycol ethers that even a reverse osmosis filter is eaten away by it.  Watch a man set a creek on fire after a company dumped their leftovers in it.  Watch as oil companies evaporate the water they don’t dump so it pollutes our air as well as our water.  Get angry.  Then go to Josh Fox’s website and see what you can do about it.

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Gasland

Also, check out the Independent Water Testing Website to see where current wells are and whether or not you are close enough to be at risk.

And while you’re at it, watch Promised Land, Matt Damon’s movie about the fracking takeover.  I can’t vouch for how accurate the portrayal is, as I don’t own any land over a natural gas shale.  But it’s a good movie, and it’s always heartening to see celebs on the green side.

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Why the Fiscal Cliff Is Not Totally Ridiculous

Question: What is the fiscal cliff?
Answer: Yet another misguided and senseless decision by the federal government.

Despite its complete failure to address the $16 trillion national debt, there are a few perks to Congress’ decision to avoid the fiscal cliff.  By renewing the “American Taxpayer Relief Act,” as it’s actually called, Congress prevented wide-spread spending cuts to key organizations such as the EPA and the National Park Service while also renewing a seriese of clean energy tax credits.  Here’s a list of them, provided by Mother Nature Network:

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imagesWind power
One of the bill’s highest-profile environmental perks is a one-year extension of a tax credit for wind-energy production. The U.S. wind industry has been urging Congress to renew the tax credit for years, arguing that its expiration would eliminate some 37,000 American jobs. Worth 2.2 cents per kilowatt-hour of wind-generated electricity, the credit’s looming expiration has already been blamed for some layoffs in recent months, but even its belated renewal pleased many industry advocates.  In addition to preserving the production tax credit, or PTC, the fiscal cliff bill extends an investment tax credit for projects under construction, a measure the industry says is crucial to accelerating the country’s development of renewable power. Both credits will apply to projects that begin construction before Jan. 1, 2014.
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images2Biofuels
While the wind industry’s tax credits may have a broader impact, Congress also extended several financial incentives for U.S. biofuel producers. These include a cellulosic biofuel producer credit, a biodiesel and renewable diesel credit, and a special allowance for cellulosic biofuel plant property. Along with renewing tax credits, the bill also specifies that algae is a qualified feedstock for biofuel production.
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images3Energy efficiency
Power producers aren’t the only energy-related beneficiaries of the fiscal cliff deal. The Senate and House extended a slate of tax credits that encourage more sustainable energy consumption, too, including tax credits for new and existing energy-efficient homes and another that softens the expense of energy-efficient appliances.
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images4Alternative-fuel vehicles
The fiscal cliff deal also contains some late Christmas gifts for drivers of electric cars and other eco-friendly vehicles. It extends a tax credit for two- or three-wheeled plug-in electric vehicles, for example, which could mean up to $2,500 for anyone who buys a qualified electric motorcycle or trike. And it stretches out a credit for alternative-fueled-vehicle refueling property through Dec. 31, 2013.
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images5Milk prices
Along with the fiscal cliff, Congress helped the country avoid the so-called “dairy cliff,” a potential spike in milk prices caused by the expiration of the 2008 farm bill. The deal extends a “dairy price support” subsidy through Dec. 31, 2013, avoiding a scenario in which U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack warned a gallon of milk could cost $7.  The milk subsidy was one of several portions of the farm bill extended Tuesday, at least nominally. The deal reauthorizes the USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program, Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative, Specialty Crop Research Initiative, and Biobased Markets Program, among others, yet many key provisions remain unfunded.
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images6Research and innovation
Another tax credit sustained by the fiscal cliff deal is the research tax credit, which has already been extended 13 times since it was first introduced in 1981. Meant to spur job growth by encouraging businesses to invest in research and development, the credit has historically enjoyed bipartisan support, with proponents arguing its cost is offset by an increase in innovations, patents, business activity and thus federal revenue.
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Don’t Take Any Wooden Nickels When You Sell Your Soul

Headlines across the nation are proclaiming the long-awaited truth: “Organic Is Overrated!”  Yes, folks, thanks to the hard work and ethical reporting of The Media, we finally have the scoop on the organic food movement, and we won’t let those liars fool us anymore.  The studies never lie, after all.

Today at the farm the news channel WBOC came to interview my bosses about the latest agricultural scandal.  (Check out the video.  That’s me cleaning beans!)  According to a review published by Stanford University in the Annals of Internal Medicine, organic food is no different from the GMOed sweet corn or the pesticide-covered tomatoes Monsanto puts on our grocery store shelves.  And while Big Ag concocts these studies all the time in their endless war on organic foods, the hype over this one stems from the fact that this isn’t a study, rather a review of studies.  So actually, no new tests were performed, no new information gathered.  You might look at this as a catalog of the attempts Monsanto has made to undermine the organic movement.

During the interview, we were out in the chemical-free fields picking beans.  All I had to do was pop one freshly picked, unwashed bean in my mouth to know my bosses were on the right side.  But unless you’ve spent time on an organic farm, or are able to reap the benefits of a local farm stand or market, I can understand why you’d believe The Media over us.  Our products are essentially look the same, but are more expensive.  And yes, the nutritional values in both organic and conventional produce are the same (but that’s because they’re still the same vegetable… duh).  So how are you to know the difference?  Since I work for Team Organic and am therefore biased, I’m just going to give you the facts and hope that you can see the clean and clear difference.

What the Study Says:
(Read the actual study for yourself in the Annals of Internal Medicine online)
-“Two studies reported significantly lower urinary pesticide levels among children consuming organic versus conventional diets, but studies of biomarker and nutrient levels in serum, urine, breast milk, and semen in adults did not identify clinically meaningful differences.”
-“The risk for contamination with detectable pesticide residues was lower among organic than conventional produce.”
-“Bacterial contamination of retail chicken and pork was common but unrelated to farming method.”
-“Limitation: Studies were heterogeneous and limited in number, and publication bias may be present.”
-“Conclusion: The published literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods. Consumption of organic foods may reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria.”

What the Holistic Health Industry Says:
-“Preservatives and synthetic food agents found in foods inhibit oxygen and delay the development of fungus and mold, creating a longer shelf-life for products. But after being consumed, these toxins deprive human cells of oxygen and rob them of nutrients, thus leading to cell mutation and the perfect breeding ground for cancer.” (Natural News: The Food Industry Is Waging War on Your Cells With These 10 Toxic Ingredients)
-“We thought that the best way to measure the more subtle effects of this kind of intake was to monitor the reaction of intestinal cells.  And we did this in two ways: in vitro, through human intestinal-lining cells that we had cultured in the lab; and in vivo, through the intestinal linings of live chickens. Both sets of results pointed to the same thing — that exposure to nanoparticles influences the absorption of nutrients into the bloodstream.”  (Gretchen Mahler, assistant professor of bioengineering at Binghamton University and lead author of the 2012 study done by Binghamton and Cornell)
-“Scientists refer to this contamination as a person’s body burden. Of the 167 chemicals found, 76 cause cancer in humans or animals, 94 are toxic to the brain and nervous system, and 79 cause birth defects or abnormal development. The dangers of exposure to these chemicals in combination has never been studied.”  (The Environmental Working Group’s new project: Body Burden)

What the Farmer Says
-As Ted says in the video, the nutritional value of fresh produce comes from the soil, and without healthy soil, the veggies will have lower vitamin and mineral contents.  Ted tests the soil each year and add soil amendments to balance out the nutrient levels to ensure that our produce has the highest possible nutritional value.  That, combined with the absence of chemicals, leads to truly healthy, nutritious food.

So though while organic and conventional apples may have the same amount of calories, vitamin C, and fiber, are they really the same?  Or is this just another “wooden nickel” Big Ag is throwing you to bring you over to the dark side?

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Introducing the New Type of Homo Sapien: the Locavore

If you follow my blog, you’ve read a lot about why eating organic, quality foods is so important.  But there’s another equally important aspect to the food industry, and that’s the act of buying food.  You’ve heard the expression “money is power,” and that applies to food as well.  Where you shop, what stores you support, and when you buy things is just as important – if not more – as what kind of food you buy.

I’ve told you about FarmPlate and GreenTowns, which are great resources for locavores, or local food eaters.  But I never told you why eating local is so important.  Supporting local business helps keep money in your local economy rather that in Big Ag’s pockets.  And by supporting local farmers and farmer’s markets, you not only help keep them in business, but you also help them preserve their farmland, which land developers would happily buy up and turn into residential or commercial plots should the farm fail.  It also reduces the amount of gas and other resources needed to get the food to you, which benefits both the environment and you, since you aren’t paying prices inflated by shipping costs.  The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture estimates that “fresh” produce travels about 1500 miles to reach our bellies (Why Eat Locally?).  That’s a lot of gas.

If you’re like me, you like to know where your food comes from, whether it’s local or not.  Buying from farmer’s markets gives you a chance to meet the farmers (or their crew) and ask them about their products.  They know a lot about their products, and who doesn’t love learning about food?  I also enjoy fresh – I mean FRESH – produce, and buying from local markets means that farmers can harvest their produce at the peak of its freshness and not have to worry about storing it for transportation.  There’s nothing like making a casserole for dinner with produce picked that day.

For those of you who’ve never been to a farmer’s market, have no fear, they’re not just for veggies!  Many livestock farmers sell their meats at markets, and there are often bakers, craft vendors, jelly-makers, dairy farmers, herbalists, and flower vendors.  I’ve worked several markets in both Delaware and Maryland, and though the majority of the vendors are vegetable growers, there are always a good variety of other vendors as well.  So don’t think you have to limit yourself to veggies if you choose the locavore lifestyle.

Last week’s CSA share at Greenbranch Farm.
(picture from greenbranchfarm.com)

Community Supported Agriculture, or a CSA, is a great way to get involved in local agriculture.  In most CSAs, you pay a lump sum at the beginning of the season and receive your share of veggies each week.  Some farms require you to volunteer a certain number of hours on the farm as part of your payment, but not all.  At the farm where I work, a small share (for 2 people) is $450, and it runs from the beginning of May until Thanksgiving.  This week, the share included beets, tomatoes, potatoes, summer squash, zucchini, cantaloupe, and watermelon.  Our members also get 10% off anything in our store that we produce, including our meats.  Each CSA is set up differently, but they’re most definitely worth the investment.

One aspect of eating local that does take some getting used to is the importance of the seasons.  Certain vegetable only grow during certain times of year, and though some can be grown in greenhouses during the winter, eating locally usually means eating seasonally.  Trust me, I would love to eat asparagus all year long, but vegetable just don’t taste the same when they’re grown out of season.  Freezing is one way around this; I freeze berries, homemade pasta sauce, shredded zucchini for zucchini bread, and cooked veggies like corn and carrots.  Canning is also another way to enjoy veggies out of season, and it’s relatively easy.  It took me forever to actually attempt it, but after my first batch of strawberry jelly came out fabulously, I was hooked.  Canning tomatoes is even easier.  But that’s another blog post.

If you’re interested in local eating, definitely check out GreenTowns, FarmPlate, and LocalHarvest, another site listing local markets (I think LocalHarvest has the most listings).  A great example of a locavore is my friend Aundra, who lives in Chestertown, MD.  She’s a homesteader/locavore/Zumba teacher, and her blog is both entertaining and informative, as she documents her journey through all different zones of fitness.  She has a list of local farms whose products she buys, so her blog is a great resource for any locavores living near Chestertown.  I highly suggest you check it out: http://www.chestertownfitforlife.com/.

And if you live on the Delmarva peninsula and are willing to do a little driving, check out Greenbranch Farm where I work.  The farm is in Salisbury, MD, and we have a store on the farm that’s open Monday-Saturday where we sell all of our veggies and meats, as well as local milk, eggs, cheese, and crafts.  We also sell our produce and some meats at several farmer’s markets, all of which are listed on our website.  (We also go to the Sea Colony market in Bethany, DE on Wednesdays, 8am-12pm, and the Ocean Pines market outside Ocean City, MD on Saturdays, 8am-12pm.  I work the Sea Colony market on Wednesdays, 8am-12pm.  It’s a nice little market, and it’s right across the highway from the beach, so there’s always a lovely ocean breeze.  To our left is a fabulous raw milk cheese stand, and to our right is a conventional farm who grows yellow seedless watermelons.  Yummm.  The man who runs it is such a character that I’m laughing all day, and he always gives us a watermelon.)

Our table at the Sea Colony market. / Cherry and slicer tomatoes.

Green and wax beans, sweet onions, garlic, and 7 types of potatoes: Austrian Fingerling, Red Thumb, Rose Finn Apple (my favorite), Colorado Rose, Desiree, Purple Majesty, Yukon Gold. / Burgundy okra, Armenian cucumbers, cucumbers, summer squash, zucchini, beets, Swiss chard.

P.S.
Yes, there were a couple of shameless plugs in this post.  I support the people I respect.  Share the love.