I spend a lot of time thinking about what our family eats. We raise our own meat, we have a veggie share from a local farm during the local growing season and I preserve whatever we don’t eat. We even grow a tomato garden and can our own tomatoes for winter. I read the back of almost every package we buy in the grocery store (though we try to avoid packages if at all possible). I put a lot of effort in to this and my children understand why. It’s conversation for us in the grocery store and at the dinner table. We value putting high quality ingredients into our body. So this is why I have such a hard time when other (well intentioned) people give my beautiful boys candy. It’s a treat for helping around the farm, a treat for getting together at a cub scout event, from friends for their birthday, from their teacher because they did well in school (!?), from their friends on Valentine’s Day and Halloween. “Treats,” people say. “It’s only one day,” people say. Here’s my perspective: These “treats” contain sugar, artificial colors and artificial flavors that I believe (from the research I’ve done) are VERY BAD for my kids’ bodies. So I actually don’t consider most candy “treats” and I don’t call them that in our house. But I don’t like to say no to my kids. It’s hard to take candy out of their mouths. Please don’t make me have to do this. Please value my kids as much as I do and don’t feed them junk food with poison in it. And I promise not to feed yours these low quality ingredients. I’ll show my love and appreciation for kids with hugs and kind words than toxic chemicals any day. I mean, look at these guys. I only want the best for them.
Yesterday, Californians voted no to getting more information about their food. The question on their ballot asked if citizens of California wanted food companies to label Genetically Modified Foods. And they voted no. Some people think GMO are good for the environment (they can reduce herbicides and pesticide usage) and good for our growing world (they can feed more people globally). I think they’re crazy. I’ve read about their studies and understand what they are trying to accomplish, but sometimes you just have to go with your gut. The bottom line is: I don’t want to feed my family or myself GMOs. Easy, right? Not so much. What foods are genetically modified, or have GMOs in them? If you turn the package of ketchup over (with 4 boys, we go through lots of this stuff), the label doesn’t read “Genetically Modified High Fructose Corn Syrup” as the second ingredient. But I know that about 45 percent of corn grown in the US is genetically modified (as well as about 85 percent of soy). So is it, or isn’t it? For now, we won’t know – even in California. Their reluctance for labeling should give us some clue they have something to hide, but instead of relying on (or legislating) food companies to come clean with this information, I have another solution. Don’t buy packages; buy ingredients. For now, there are no genetically modified fruits and vegetables and if you stick to animals that were raised on pasture, you can avoid meat that was fed GMOs. If we can stay away from corn, soy, and canola (we are also producing GMO cotton in this country but I don’t think anyone is eating it), we can avoid almost all GMOs. If we vote with our dollars to say NO to GMOs, food companies will respond by not using them. Then biotech companies will respond with not making them. It’s important for our own health, the health of the animals we eat and the land on which our food grows. So I'm disappointed, California, but I'll continue on with my own strategy to defeat GMOs myself.
On Saturday, September 8, from 10am-4pm, a dozen Granby farms will open their gates to the public. Experience the variety of agriculture that Granby has to offer. Pick up a passport at your first farm and collect a stamp at each visit to be entered in a drawing. You’re eligible for prizes with just one stamp; collect 6 or more stamps and be eligible for a week’s share in The Granby Sampler. Pick up a Farm Map at local businesses or download one online at www.granbyag.org. For more information and to play our game “What IS It?”, follow Granby Ag on Facebook.
1. YOU NEED TO KNOW WHAT IS AVAILABLE
Almost everything you need is grown right here in Granby, but do you know when or where to get it? From soap to milk to meat to veggies, farmers in Granby grow and make many things you need. Find out how to buy these products, and when they are in season, or when you should be loading up for the year.
2. YOU NEED TO KNOW WHO YOUR FARMER IS AND KNOW HOW YOUR FOOD IS GROWN
Open Farm Day is your opportunity to talk directly to the farmers who grow your food. Ask questions, find out how they work, how their raise their plants and animals. September 8 is the day you get to see all that in action.
3. YOU NEED TO BE ABLE TO TELL OTHER PEOPLE THIS INFORMATION
In order to support local farms and land in our town being used for agriculture, we all need to be marketers for each farm. Use the information you learn at Open Farm Day to educate other family, neighbors and friends.
4. YOU NEED TO SHARE THIS WITH YOUR KIDS
We all need to know where their food comes from in order to make educated decisions about what to eat, and it is especially important to share this with your kids. This hand-on, interactive way of learning – by being at the farm, and asking questions of the farmer, is such a great way for kids to learn.
5. YOU NEED TO HAVE FUN (THE OLD FASHIONED KIND)
With everything from pony and tractor rides to story time and farmer talks, Open Farm Day will be fun for everyone in the family. The farms have so much to offer in terms of enjoying the beauty of Granby.
I was a Democrat in my 20s, a Republican in my 30s. Now that I’ve hit 40, I’ve almost fallen over the Libertarian cliff. I think becoming a farmer had something to do with it. I just really don’t want government to tell me what to do. Part of me loves the idea of a tax on sugary beverages and Mayor Bloomberg’s ban on Super-Sized-Sodas. I agree that these sugar filled beverages, among other processed food, are at the core of the obesity epidemic that is leading to millions of dollars in unnecessary healthcare and federal tax dollar spending. I’m just not sure I want government to tell people not to drink soda. Especially because there’s a better way to limit people’s consumption of sugary beverages: and that is to eliminate farm subsidies and incentivize smaller family farms around the country that can make fresh food available to all people.
The invention of high fructose corn syrup (HFC) brought with it the downfall of American eating habits. All of a sudden, it became very easy to make EVERYTHING sweet. In nature, sweet is a luxury saved for perfectly ripe berries in the spring and fruits in the summer. Most natural sweet comes in mild forms: sweet corn, sugar pumpkins, sugar snap peas. Even maple syrup doesn’t come to us from nature in its highly concentrated form. We don’t get this huge blast of sweet from anything in nature the way we do from HFC. And that huge blast is what gets our bodies hooked. We are wired to indulge in sweet because it IS so rare in nature.
Our problem is not that we don’t have enough food – Big Ag is pumping out more food off of less land than it ever has in history thanks in part to Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and feed-lot-raised animals. But fresh food is not in the right places. The only bummer about fresh food (food that is grown, not packaged) is that is has a very short shelf life. This means people need access to it often (compare the shelf life of a peach to a Twinkie). In reality, Americans want their right to choose, and not have our food chosen for us. But subsidizing big Ag ventures such as commodity corn and soybeans, the government is choosing processed foods for its citizens, especially those located in so-called “food deserts”. So take yer hands off my Big Gulp Mr. Mayor, but tell your colleagues in Washington to stop bowing to the status quo and start helping out rural, neighborhood, and inner-city farms.
Hopefully your CSA deliveries have started (or will start soon), or you’ve committed to heading to one of the local Farmer’s Markets this growing season (now that there’s one in Simsbury, Granby and East Granby). You’ll walk around and look over whose produce looks the best, decide which cut of meat you’d like to cook and make your decisions about what to buy based on looks, mostly. But what do you know about the farm you’re buying from? What are their farming practices? Being right there at the Farmer’s Market or CSA pickup gives you access to the farmer that you can never get in the grocery store. Take advantage of that! Get to know your farmer for your benefit and for theirs. Farmers love to talk “shop” and are usually happy to answer your questions. When I see someone at our farm store, I’m happy to take a couple of minutes to show them around so they can see how our animals live and what they eat. You may want to know, how do they grow their vegetables? What kind of herbicides or pesticides do they use, if any? How many of their fields do they rest in a year? How do they care for their animals? What do they get fed? Find out from the farmer, are there items that don’t sell as well as others? How can I cook something I’m not sure about? Click here for more questions to ask. Get a dialog going! And then spread the information you learned to help other people decide to shop for locally grown, nutritious, well-produced food that’s grown right here, by your neighbors.
When my husband and I started dating, I didn’t know anything about cooking. I grew up on pre-prepared food – macaroni and cheese, bags of salad, frozen fish sticks, jars of sauce. When I went to college I still didn’t cook for myself. I was the only one I knew who stayed on the university meal plan for all 4 years. What wasn’t to like about someone else cooking for you every day? And after 3 more years of 20-something-single-life-in-the-city, I had eaten more take out than I’d like to remember. My new beau was the first to suggest to me that we make spaghetti sauce out of… tomatoes! Over the past 14 years, I’ve come a long way.
It can seem difficult at first: my habit was to buy something pre-made at the grocery store, so cooking an entire meal from scratch seemed daunting. But I made little changes, teaching myself, taking pride and celebrating each accomplishment (who knew that jar of Prego was just a can of tomatoes, some garlic and Italian spices). I started reading the cookbooks in my closet – they’re full of fascinating information! Not just the recipes, but facts and techniques. I watched the Food Network whenever I could. And I relied on food mentors like my former boss, Stacey. Once I gained some skills, I began to apply them to lots of different circumstances. For example – I know how to make a flavorful braising sauce. So now I can use that braising sauce to cook chicken legs, a bottom round beef roast, or a pork shoulder. I know that cilantro and lime are the back bones of Mexican food; basil and oregano for Italian. So I can take whatever I have and turn it into something delicious. And I don’t have to pay someone else to prepare and package it for me. The best news is: I know what is in my food and where it came from.
The more I started to get to know different ingredients, the more I wanted to know how they were grown and when they were in season. That lead me to grow it myself or look to a neighbor/farmer to buy it. The more I knew about how the plant or animal grew, I began to respect that food and not want to waste any of it. Do you know how big a broccoli plant is (and how much real estate it takes up in the garden) compared to that little broccoli crown in the grocery store? Knowing stuff like this makes me want to make a broccoli slaw out of the stems. And this goes for so many other foods… bones, fat, feet, everything gets used in our house. Information like this leads us all to be better consumers.
The bottom line for me is: if it goes in your body, it is absolutely important to know what it is, where it comes from, and why you are putting it in your mouth in the first place (what nutritional value it has). If you have that frame of reference when you are looking at a Twinkie or a strawberry, it helps you make the better choice! Hopefully it also makes joining a CSA or shopping from a local farmer’s market sound more exciting. If you don’t consider yourself a cook yet, I hope you’ll think about giving it a try. It’s such an exciting time of year to be cooking (and eating) fresh, local ingredients.
Hey – if I can do it, you can do it.
A blog about farming and food. Kate Bogli owns and operates Maple View Farm, raising livestock and growing veggies, with her husband Jason. The farm has been in his family for 65 years.