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Dr. Seuss Approved Green Eggs

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My kids left for school in their pajamas. Today, the school cafeteria served green-dyed eggs and ham  to celebrate America’s favorite rhyming doctor. But I like to think Dr. Seuss, author of the Lorax, would prefer the green eggs I ate this morning.

The eggs I scrambled  came from a new vendor at the Oxnard Farmer’s Market. Before I purchased, I asked him about their farm practices. I was happy to learn he offered green eggs, as his birds are raised exclusively on rain-fed pastures in Kern County, California. Water footprint researchers assigned colors to water to help differentiate the types of water sources: blue, green and gray. Blue water is sourced from aquifers, reservoirs and rivers that scribble across the landscape.  Gray is water tainted with nitrogen, the run-off from fertilizer and manure. Rain water and moisture is green, thus not diverting water from its natural system.

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Green eggs can be found across America. They are available for purchase at farmer’s markets and a growing number of grocery stores. Look for organic brands that say they are pasture-raised like the eggs from Organic Valley Farms  and Coyote Creek Farms.

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Sam-I-Am urged us to try something new. Consider approaching your food in a new way too, and eat less water at the kitchen table.

There is power in the collective!

Be well,

Florencia

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kurt Unkle shows off his soil at Cajun Grain Farms

Why American Soil Makes Us Sick

“How many families don’t have someone sick in them? We all have somebody in our family that is fighting obesity, high blood pressure, cancer, something,” said Kurt Unkle, Owner of Cajun Grain in Kinder, Louisiana.

A report released by the National Council and Institute of Medicine support Kurt’s observations. The study reports we, defined as male and female Americans, live shorter lives than other wealthy nations. In fact, we rank 16th on the list. And during our shorter lives we suffer from more diseases.

The cause for our collective sickness are attributed to many factors. They include the rise of a sedentary lifestyle as we spend more time in front of screens versus hunting and gathering, processed foods, our love for sugar and salt, etc. But there is another cause for our poor health rarely mentioned. It is the steady drop of vitamins and minerals in the food we eat.

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According to the USDA nutritional composition tables, fruits and vegetables have fewer vitamins and minerals than they did in 1975. Broccoli lost 54 percent of its calcium, iron levels are down 60 percent in cauliflower and apples, and bananas have 48 percent less phosphorus on average. With a few exceptions, like carrots and pumpkins, our food is less nutritious than ever before. Even when we stay clear of processed foods, instead opting for the salad of fresh greens and assortment of vegetables, we are eating far fewer vitamins and minerals than the U.S. population did four decades earlier.

Why is food less healthy? The answer is in the soil according to Joe Miazgowicz from Crop Services International. He explains, “Microorganisms bring minerals to the plant. The plant roots then pull the minerals from the soil with its root hairs.” This natural delivery system is dependent on the presence of a thriving community of bacteria and fungi (microorganisms). “In the conventional system,” Joe explained, “The farmer and home gardener puts phosphorus, potassium and nitrogen in a soluble form like Miracle Grow on the soil. The salts from the fertilizer dry up the bacteria and fungi killing off the natural delivery system.”

With the absence of microbes in the soil, the plant is dependent on fertilizers to feed it the nutrients required for its growth. One can argue that this method works to increase yields, but as Kurt pointed out to me, “It’s cost us. We lost our soil, and we lost our health.”

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There are several billion microbes in one handful of healthy soil

Kurt showed me the soil test results from Miazgowicz company Crop Services International (CSI). “You start getting the ratios right in the soil, thecalcium ratios, phosphorus ratios right, then the plant gets it right. When you eat it, you get it right. For us to be healthy the plants need to be healthy.” CSI tests for soil ratios rather than the traditional soil test that identifies only the elements available to the plant. A ratios test looks at the amount of nutrients available to the plant and the nutrients present in the soil. The goal is for the plant to thrive without fertilizers by recruiting the army of bacteria and fungi to bring minerals to the plant.

“Keep putting only nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium on the ground year after year it throws your ratios out of balance. When your ratios get out of balance you get more weeds, you got to put more chemicals, and the chemicals kill the bacteria. It is a chain reaction,” Kurt told me.

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Kurt shows off his healthy soil at Cajun Grain farms

We need more water to grow crops in the system Kurt described. A report published by Soil Science found soil alive with microorganisms, also referred to as humus, holds water at 80 to 90 percent of its weight. Soil without humus is thirstier and fosters runoff of nutrients into waterways, which causes another chain reaction: unhealthy rivers, groundwater, and oceans. Like Kurt said to me, “Everything feeds off everything.”

The good news is there are farmers who are cultivating the microbes in the soil and producing more nutritious foods. Over the past few years, I’ve had the privilege to meet with farmers around the country who are curators of the soil and water like Kurt. But if these farmers are to thrive like the army of bacteria and fungi in the soil, these farmers need our support by seeking them and purchasing their food.

Eat less water at the kitchen table. There is power in the collective.

Be well,

Florencia

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KIDmade Organic Cookies

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A few months back I wrote about the importance of cultivating the next generation of mini-chefs in the post, Top Reasons Why Kids Need to be in the Kitchen. In the article, I made the connection between the outsourcing of food preparation to restaurants and drive-thrus’s and the deterioration of our air, soil and water quality. When we cook our food, we are in control of the source of our ingredients. As we become engaged with the purchase of each ingredient, we have the power to support farmers and food producers who are stewards of the land and water.

But…another good reason to teach our kids to cook is they eventually will cook without you.  As I spent a recent afternoon writing, my two eldest kids, Isabella (12) and Joaquin (9) worked as a mighty team to make two varieties of  cookies. Isabella called Joaquin, “the voice activated, Kitchen Aid mixer,” as his duties included holding the hand held mixer and fetching ingredients. Isabella was the chief pastry chef.  I placed the cookie sheets in my 70-year old oven, my only job.

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Isabella (Chief Pastry Chef) and Joaquin (Voice-Activated Kitchen Aid Mixer)

 

Isabella and Joaquin made peanut butter cookies using the organic peanut butter made from freshly pressed peanuts at  Whole Foods. They used a recipe from My Nepenthe cookbook for the peanut butter cookies. They watched a youtube tutorial video on their school-issued iPad to make the oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. For the oatmeal cookies, they swapped the white flour for the brown rice flour I brought home from Cajun Grain Farms in Kinder, Louisiana. They used the fair traded, organic chocolate chips I  keep in a mason jar in the pantry.

We wrapped small bundles of cookies in recycled parchment paper tied in twine to give to neighbors. Isabella added the final touch, a stamp that said, “Life is a great bundle of little things.”

Eat less water at the kitchen table. There is power in the collective.

Be well,

Florencia

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How Chalkboards Save Water

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The first thing I did when we moved into our home was paint a wall in my kitchen with chalkboard paint. The chalkboard is the center of communication in our home. Birthdays, holidays and gratitude are expressed in colored chalk. The board keeps us accountable like the tally marks signifying the dollars I owe my kids for filling their marble jars. Or the dishwashing schedule so no one can squeal, “it’s not my turn to wash dishes.” But the primary purpose of the chalkboard is to organize meals.

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Anywhere between 30-50 percent of all food is wasted in the United States. We grow food, cook food, package food then throw half of it away. All  wasted food can be expressed in virtual gallons of water. Food waste occurs at every step of the food chain, but we each have the power to minimize  waste  by simply planning our meals.

Sundays is the day we plan the meals for the week. I add any needed ingredients for the dinner menu to the list under the heading “We need… .” The list grows incrementally throughout the week with the final additions after I’ve written our menu.

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After the list is complete, I take a picture of it with my smart phone. The photo becomes a paperless list I take to the farmer’s market and grocery store.

Want more ideas to cutdown on food waste in your home,  AND save water at the same time. Check out Food Waste and Water for a list of seven ideas to lower your weekly food waste.

Eat less water at the kitchen table. There is power in the collective.

Be well,

Florencia

 

Spread the Love this Valentine’s Day and Purchase Certified Chocolate

 

IMG_0849Valentine’s Day is a day we show  love for our significant others. Others has broadened to include, our children, children’s teachers, co-workers, and friends. A natural addition to my circle of love are farmers and communities in the tropics of the world who grow and harvest the chocolate tucked away in heart shaped boxes and foil-wrapped bars of sweet goodness.

Worldwide, chemicals are relied upon to impede disease, fungus and pests spoiling 30-40 percent of annual harvests. In regions of West Africa, where agrochemicals are heavily subsidized, pesticides usage doubled between 2007-2010. In Nigeria, diazinon, a high toxic pesticide was found at “above acceptable levels” in streams and wells in villages where cacao is the primary industry. Thirty-four percent of farmers in nine villages were found with the poison in their blood. The powerful insecticide can damage the human nervous system and is especially dangerous to children. The human health risk led the EPA to ban the sale of diazinon in 2004 for residential (diazinon remains legal for crops).

Cacao has a long history of child labor abuses including human trafficking of children to work on farms. In the Ivory Coast and Ghana, for example, 50 percent of children living in agricultural households work. It is common for these children to apply pesticides to crops, such as diazinon, applied without protective gear, a requirement in the U.S.

Organic certification forbids the use of pesticides to grow cacao. Instead, farmers use other methods to minimize pest and fungus, such as keep the trees pruned and trimmed and have the right balance of compost, sun, and shade. In return for Organic certification, farmers receive a premium to offset increased labor cost. Socially responsible trade programs, like Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance and European based UTZ,  prohibit child labor and require fair wages. Fair trade programs, while not organic, require minimized pesticide use, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and ban untreated wastewater disposal into rivers and streams. In exchange, the certified farms are awarded price premiums and price floors.

IMG_0494Latin America is the sweet spot for organic production, alone representing 70 percent of the market share. The acreage of organic cacao expands worldwide, but the expansion is slow. As of 2012, only 0.5 percent of the world’s harvest was certified organic. Socially responsible certification such as Fairtrade comprises 6 percent of the market. Three of the largest U.S. based chocolate manufacturers have committed to purchasing Rainforest certified cacao for all or part of their chocolate by 2020.

But “we” the consumer drive demand. We need to demand certified organic and socially responsible chocolate AND be willing to pay more for the premium chocolate.

Below are my top three favorite certified chocolate companies who spread the love.

Eat less water at the kitchen table. There is power in the collective.

Be well,
Florencia

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Taza Stone Ground Chocolate
http://www.tazachocolate.com
Taza Chocolate is certified organic and institutes a direct trade program with chocolate cooperatives in Latin America. This chocolate factory is featured in my Chocolate and Water chapter. Taza Chocolate is found at specialty markets and on their website.

Theo Chocolate
http://www.theochocolate.com
Theo Chocolate is organic, and Fair Trade certified. According to their website, they are the first U.S. chocolate company to be both. Their chocolate can be found at many grocery stores and specialty shops around the U.S. and on their website.

Equal Exchange Chocolate
http://www.equalexchange.coop

Equal Exchange sells a mini organic fair traded chocolate bar found on their online store that is perfect to attach to those classroom valentine’s cards.

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More Crop per Drop: Rice and Water

Rice Water Footprint
One cup of cooked rice = 50 gallons of water
One pound of uncooked rice = 300 gallons of water

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Lotus Rice Bhutan Red

 

The Natural Product Expo is the largest showcase of “green” edible and non-edible products assembled under one roof in the world. The expo was my baptism into the world of trade shows. I repeated my sales pitch for shower timers a minimum of 1000 times and listened to confessions of long showers. Small plots of floor space were carved out for each vendor. On breaks, I’d walk the orderly rows much like fields of corn. A camera crew filming at one of the booths slowed my pace. I was about to move around them until I overheard, “More crop per drop.” I stayed to listen.

Lotus Foods, co-president Ken Lee addressed the camera. His company imports organic rice from farmers in Asia  implementing a farm technique called System of Intensification (SRI) that reduces water usage by 40 percent.

Thirty percent of all freshwater draws of surface and ground water is spent on rice. The small grain provides one-fifth of the world’s caloric intake. To feed a growing population, rice yields must double by 2050 to feed 2.5 billion more people.

Two sizable barriers stand in the way of bigger yields, climate change, and water scarcity. The International Water Management Institute estimates with each 1°C (1.8°F) temperature increase, yields decline by 7 percent. Twenty-five percent of irrigated rice fields, supplying three-quarters of the world’s rice, will suffer water scarcity by 2025. Rice plants, conventionally grown in flooded fields, will need to adjust to a future with less available water for irrigation.

Ken Lee described a rice cultivation method that increased production, saved water and grew stronger plants more resistant to severe weather conditions like hurricanes and drought. Of the couple thousand booths at the trade show promising to “save the planet,” including my shower timer booth, Lotus Foods came the closest.

The U.S., one of the top rice-producing countries, is home to only three farms implementing SRI. A staff member with the SRI International Network and Resource Center located at Cornell University helped me locate Cajun Grain Farms, three hours from New Orleans in Kinder, Louisiana.

 

Kurt Unkle, the owner of Cajun Grain, charmed me with the quick cadence of his southern accent during our first telephone conversation. He launched into explaining tests done on his rice for the presence of heavy metals performed by a local university. Uncertain if Kurt was describing a different farming technique, I asked, “Does this farming method have a name?” I searched for my pen on my desk and opened my notebook ready to write down his answer. “Yeah, it got a name,” he said in a serious tone. “It’s called taking care of your land.”

 

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Cajun Grain Farm

In August, I spent the day with Kurt on his rice farm. He taught me why SRI rice uses less water, tests low in heavy metals, and produces larger, more nutrient rich grain. I quickly ate  the rice he gifted me on my trip to his farm, but thankfully he sends his rice by mail. My latest shipment was 10 pounds of brown rice. Including shipping  the cost  for Cajun Grain rice is comparable or less than the organic variety at the grocery store.  Visit Cajun Grain with this link.

Eat less water at the kitchen table! There is power in the collective.

Be well,

Florencia

Top Reasons Why Kids Need to be in the Kitchen

 

The lazy days of summer brought something unexpected; my children into the kitchen. I’m not referring to children whining about being hungry, once the scent of dinner lures them from their playing digs, but as, actual cooks. My kids, ages 7, 8 and 11, are in the kitchen every night—chopping, grating, mixing, stirring, and all the other verbs required in cooking a meal.

On a recent night, Isabella, the oldest, shredded some leftover roasted chicken. Joaquin, my 8-year-old, heated corn tortillas on the iron coma. Most impressive, my 7-year-old, Estrella, placed the shredded chicken onto the tortillas and rolled it into taut taquitos, whereby after being shown twice was able to stitch the tortilla closed with a toothpick.

In Michael Pollan’s book, Cooked, he writes that the amount of time spent cooking each day for the average American fell by 50% to 27 minutes. A home cooked meal is losing ground in every country, but especially in the United States, since the 1960’s. Instead we, the collective world population of eaters, are fed at restaurants, drive-thrus and with pre-packaged meals found in the frozen section of supermarkets. In the U.S., there are five drive-thrus for every 1 grocery store. We have outsourced the cooking of our food relegating the choice of ingredients to someone else.

A steep price is paid for our departure from our stoves and ovens by our air, soil and water. Examining water alone: the EPA reports 40% of America’s rivers and 46% of lakes are too polluted with nitrates to support aquatic life. Agriculture is the leading source of contaminants. The truth of the matter is to cook in large quantities to feed large quantities requires large agricultural operations which lean heavily on pesticides, petroleum fertilizers, feedlots, and growth hormones—the same contaminants polluting a river near you.

By contrast the home cook, unconcerned with profit margins, can spend more money on ingredients. When I make homemade pizza, I spend $5 per 1/2 pound of organic mozzarella sourced from grazed animals on rain-fed pastures and $8 per pound of organic pork sausage. The pizza chain franchise couldn't possibly buy sustainable, quality ingredients and sell a large pizza for $6.48, the current market price at one popular outlet. Thus, a small rancher, grazing his/her cows on natural pastures is grazed over for the cheaper feedlot raised animal.

Small to medium sized farmers who are stewards of the land and water, like the ones I’ve met all around the country, rely on us, home cooks and a growing, but still small number of farm to table restaurants, to keep them in business.

This brings me back to my kids in the kitchen. Cooks are not born; they are cultivated. For several years, my kids joined me at the farmer’s market and supermarket. They’ve watched me carefully choose our ingredients.They’ve listened to me ask questions of farmers and vendors regarding the water-sustainability of their goods; that is, food grown by minimally diverting water from its natural water cycle. In the process, their pallets developed to discern the difference between fresher, quality ingredients.

My kids know brussel sprouts or broccoli purchased in season from the local farm are almost sweet. They notice the rich golden hue of butter purchased from grazed cows. Although a critical part of their food education, but only the beginning. If we are to support food producers, who are dedicating themselves to raising ingredients without compromising our environment in the process, then we must train the next crop of cooks. My family is proof that kids can cook, and they can start early.