Saturday, January 31, 2009

Study shows industrially grown produce in long-term nutritional decline

Not only are industrial-grown veggies less tasty, a recent study from the University of Texas has shown they are less nutritious. Some minerals, vitamins, and protein have had declines of 5% to 40% or more. You can read more about it, and download the study, in the article "Less Tasty--and Not as Good for You."

It's interesting to note that when plants are pressured, either through chemical fertilizers or selective breeding, to produce more food that there is a decline in nutrition, and more obviously, taste.

It kind of reminds me of the sign that hung in my mechanic's station--fast, good, cheap...pick two. Seems like horticulture is so bent on producing a lot of food fast and cheap that good just got left out. Yet another good reason we should be building our soil fertility over time through organic practices and growing our own delicious, healthful, local foods.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Calling All Growers!!

The local food movement in America is growing by leaps and bounds. More and more people are asking for fresh, locally grown, sustainably-produced food. Every salmonella outbreak in the industrial food system makes us even more aware that we need a new system.

This "locavore" feeding frenzy (a locavore is a person who eats locally) has caused a supply and demand problem. There is now much more demand for local organic food than there are people producing it! This is true nation wide, and here in the Frio Canyon. Almost everyone I talk to about a Leakey Farmers Market is very enthusiastic - we all want fresh, local food. However, so far we only have 4 people who have shown interest in selling at the Market (see survey results in right column). We'd like a few more sellers before we begin, in order to provide our customers with a true farmers market experience!

We are seeking people who can offer any of the following: fruits, vegetables, organic meats and poultry, honey, home baked bread, jellies, preserves, nuts, seeds, fresh milk (goat or cow), yard eggs, etc. We are compiling our list of folks willing to sell, so if you would like to be added to the list, or know anyone who might be interested, please click on "Healthy Harvesters Said" at the bottom of this post and leave us a message! And if you are one of the 4 who indicated an interest in selling, please let us know who you are.

Come one, come all! The "demand" is here in the Frio Canyon. Let's get the word out and provide the "supply" we need.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Jim's New Helpers

We hope all of you are excited and planning to attend the free February 7 Gardening Seminar that Healthy Harvest will be giving on soil fertility, composting, and raised bed gardening!

When we told Master Gardener Jim R. that besides great tasting eggs the main reason we keep chickens is to make chicken manure compost, he sort of got a gleam in his eye. The next week he adopted six hens.

This week he reports he was able to teach the hens to turn compost for him in only one morning. Ha ha!

Way to go, Jim!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Healthy Harvest February Meeting

The February meeting of Healthy Harvest will be held on Saturday, February 14th at 10 am at the Bird House in Leakey.

Healthy Harvest To Present Gardening Seminar

Healthy Harvest will present an organic vegetable gardening seminar on Saturday, February 7th from 10am to noon at the Garden Club in Leakey. Topics will include preparing the soil, building raised beds, and making a garden plan. Master Gardener Jim R. will share his knowledge of soil fertility and composting. Rick A. will demonstrate raised bed construction using free and cheap materials. Now is the time to begin growing those Frio Canyon vegetables. Anyone with an interest in these topics is invited to attend!

Discovering Kohlrabi

Kohlrabi is German for "cabbage turnip" and is thought to have been developed in the 16th century in Northern Europe. It can be planted in fall or early spring and is relatively easy to grow. Although the bulb looks like a root, it is actually an enlarged stem. Now is the time to start kohlrabi seeds indoors for spring planting.

At the January Healthy Harvest meeting, Paula P. said she was looking for plants to grow in a winter garden and discovered kohlrabi. She hadn't heard of it before, but wanted something besides cabbage and greens to eat. She reported she had just harvested her first ones and found them delicious using the following recipe:

Roasted Kohlrabi
1-1/2 pounds fresh kohlrabi, ends and skin trimmed off, diced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon garlic
Good vinegar

Set oven to 450 degrees. Toss the diced kohlrabi with olive oil, garlic and salt in a bowl. Spread evenly on a rimmed baking sheet and put into oven (it doesn't need to be fully preheated) and roast for 30-40 minutes, stirring every five minutes after about 20 minutes. Sprinkle with a good vinegar and enjoy!

Eggciting News!

As free-ranging egg farmers, we are always interested in what studies reveal in egg studies. Results from Mother Earth News’ latest round of pastured egg nutrient tests show that compared to commercial eggs, free-ranging eggs provide:

• 1⁄3 less cholesterol
• 1⁄4 less saturated fat
• 2⁄3 more vitamin A
• 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
• 3 times more vitamin E
• 7 times more beta carotene
• 4 to 6 times as much vitamin D

You can find the article here.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Sign On to Support the Sustainable Dozen

There is a grassroots movement initiated by farmers, writers, chefs, eaters and policy advocates who want to stimulate local food systems, promote rural economic development, encourage a new generation of farmers and respond to the growing public demand for wholesome, fairly-produced food.

They've made a list of the "Sustainable Dozen" for the President to consider as USDA Under Secretaries. He has promised to implement USDA policies that promote local and regional food systems, including assisting states to develop programs aimed at community-supported farms.

You can express your voice for local food by signing on to support these candidates and those who have worked alongside the local food community for decades.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Rick A. speaks to Frio Canyon Chamber

I was invited by the Frio Canyon Chamber of Commerce to speak at their meeting this afternoon about Healthy Harvest. I would estimate that about 25 members were present. I described our group and the interests and goals that we have. Chamber members were very enthusiastic about the idea of a Leakey Farmers Market! I explained that we are looking for more local growers who are interested in selling produce. I also talked about our plans for a community garden, this blog, and our Saturday morning seminars. The Chamber generously offered to put a link from their website to our blog!

Everyone that I have spoken to about local produce has expressed a great deal of interest. The time is definitely right for our group to be active and promote local and organic food in the Frio Canyon!

Saturday, January 17, 2009 Results

None of the local foods issues made it into the top ten of this competition, but I'm happy to report the Victory Garden idea did move up in rank, and now it--along with Healthy School Lunches, Stop NAIS, and Raw Milk--is in the top 25, showing our government there is a real national concern among the American people about what they eat. Thanks to all of you who took time to vote.

Came across this organization that is doing something for the local and organic food movement in their area, and thought it might be of interest. is group of Midwestern family farmers with a mission "to expand the production, marketing and distribution of locally grown and responsibly produced food and goods, in order to enhance the social, economic and environmental health of [their] communities".

They have developed and launched their own label, which is quite attractive.

They have published Wholesale Success: A Farmer’s Guide to Selling, Post Harvest Handling, and Packing Produce. The goal of the guide is to build the capacity of Midwest farmers to meet the burgeoning demand for local food. It includes comprehensive sections on issues such as Building Relationships with Buyers, Food Safety, and Calculating Return on Investment.

Although it is geared towards crops for their area, there may be some good general information for anyone thinking about growing for a farmers market. They are working with several local agencies to distribute the guide and to set up training sessions.

Obama to Support Local and Organic Food

Here's an article by Jim Slama, President of

Friday, January 16, 2009

How Many Onions?

To answer Paula's question from a previous post, we always order two bunches of 5 dozen onion set plants and usually harvest well over 100 onions each year. That works out to about two a week, or one onion per person per week. We tend to use onions (and garlic!) in almost everything we cook, so if you don't then you'll want to order fewer onions and remember not to accept dinner invitations from us.

All of them fit in the new bed in the photo. Although some of them get as big as the ones in the store, most of them are a little smaller--about the size of lemons--and some even smaller. Onions are heavy feeders and being organic we don't use commercial fertilizers, so this may account for their smaller size. As our beds get more enriched each passing year with our chicken manure compost I expect we will start seeing bigger onions.

Perhaps another Healthy Harvester would like to split a collection with you?

One of the advantages of buying three colors of onions--besides color and flavor--is how long they keep. Because of their sugar content sweet onions don't keep long before they start going mushy or sprouting. Most of the short day collections have a sweet yellow, so after harvest we try to use these up first. The reds tend to keep the longest.

You'll want to make sure your onion bed is well-drained because they don't like wet feet. We lost all our onion and garlic plants two summers ago when it never stopped raining and they were in raised beds.

Another thing to consider is you can always plant some closer together and use them sooner as "green onions". Generally, we plant them 4" apart and let them grow to the size they choose. You will know when it's time to harvest because the tops turn yellow and fall over.

Literature--obviously outdated-- once recommended you store them in pantyhose with knots tied between them, hung in a dark place. I don't know about you, but I don't have much opportunity to wear pantyhose these days. If I still have any they are probably tied in knots in the dark recesses of my closet, sans onions.

Last year we purchased tulle (bridal netting) for 35 cents a yard at a fabric store and wrapped them in their own little bridal gowns secured with tiny rubber bands from the little girls' hair section of the grocery store and stacked them in an old wire milk basket. This year we discovered Dixondale conveniently sells netting tubes at a reasonable price and opted for them instead. I'll report next year on how well they worked.
There are so many good reasons to eat local food. With food traveling an average of 1,500 miles before landing on our plates, I find it dismal that

A study in Iowa found that a regional diet consumed 17 times less oil and gas than a typical diet based on food shipped across the country.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Last Day to Vote at

It looks like and their Victory Gardens idea is 26th in this competition, so it's good to know it will at least be presented to the President by the folks at On Day One.

In the competition there are many worthy ideas and you get ten votes. The Victory Gardens idea is under the Environmental category. There are several other food related ideas under the Agricultural category worthy of our attention: Healthy School Lunches (14th), Stop NAIS (20th), and Raw Milk (21st).

Did you know a couple of years ago the Sabinal, Texas schools adopted a program to provide healthy snacks in the form of raw fruit and veggies? This effort, led by local organic Longhorn beef rancher Gerry Shudde of Shudde Ranch, provides nutritious food to all their students and helps cut down on their consumption of junk food. There are several programs like this across the country where the organic veggies for healthy school lunches are even grown by the students in their Ag programs. Wouldn't it be nice if every child in America could have access to a healthy lunch?

Many of you may not know about NAIS. This is the USDA’s proposed National Animal Identification System (NAIS) that was originally designed to give big factory "farms" help in export markets where disease controls are required. The USDA slipped this plan in the back door without any legislation. It's going to be very expensive, and we are going to be paying for it.

Just creating and maintaining the databases for these records will be a hugely absurd task, and it does nothing to prevent disease or make our food safe.

Under this legislation every single livestock animal in the United States will be identified and tagged. All livestock animal movements will be tracked, logged and reported to the government. Big factory farms get to do single ID’s for large groups of animals. But small farmers, pet owners and homesteaders like us will have to tag and track every single animal, without exception, even if the food we raise is for our own consumption. This is agribusiness trying to put small farms out of business! This is agribusiness trying to quash the local food movement and ensure you will buy from them!

Joel Salatin, in his book Everything I Want To Do is Illegal: War Stories from the Local Food Front, tells about the time an inspector tried to shut him down supposedly for bacteria on chicken. He paid an independent lab to sample his chicken and one from the grocery store produced by a large factory farm. The bacteria count on the factory farm chicken was exponentially higher, so he won that case.

And finally the issue of Raw Milk should be on our minds. For the first time in my life I drank some raw milk a couple of years ago, and let me tell you, it is so wonderfully sweet and delicious compared to pasteurized, there's just no comparison.

Although agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) say that pathogens from raw milk make it unsafe to consume, other organizations such as the Weston A. Price Foundation in its "Real Milk" campaign say that raw milk has health benefits that are destroyed in the pasteurization process, and that it can be produced hygienically. Our European counterparts have access to and drink raw milk daily.

Although many of you indicated in the Healthy Harvest survey you weren't as interested in the politics of food, the local food movement is deeply affected by legislation and government regulations. Let's vote with our fork!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

And the Winner is...

The results from the On Day One competition are in, and after the final round of voting, it was decided that the number one item for President-elect Obama's day one agenda should be the substantive and symbolic gesture of planting an organic Victory Garden on the White House lawn. Roger Doiron, from, who submitted the idea, explains that:

"The White House is "America's House" and should serve as a model at a time of economic and environmental crisis. You would not be breaking with tradition, but returning to it (the White House has had food gardens before) leading by personal example on global challenges such as food security, climate change, and energy independence."

Thanks to all of you who voted! Of course, a Victory Garden is just one of nine important ideas chosen as the On Day One Agenda—the 9 for ’09. Adopting all of these ideas are critical to improving America. The next step is to tell President-elect Obama to adopt the On Day One 9 for '09 Agenda. As supporters of local food, let's act now!


January is a time when post office boxes are stuffed full of seed catalogs and those of us planning gardens can brush off winter with dreams of spring shoots and tasty vegetables by pouring through pages of prospective plants.

If you are new to growing your own food, choosing your seeds can be a daunting task. I'll try to shed some light on those choices.

Many of the larger seed companies get their seeds from the same source and offer seeds from plants that have been hybridized. What is a hybrid plant?

Some plant hybrids combine different species, such as the Loganberry which is a hybrid between a raspberry and a blackberry, a Limequat which is a hybrid between a lime and a kumquat, and Triticale which is a hybrid between wheat and rye. Although there do exist examples of natural hybridization, most hybrid plants are ones that would never have occurred in nature had a human not been involved. Why are plants hybridized?

Humans hybridize plants in order to produce what they consider are "improvements," such as seedless fruit, showy flowers, new flower colors, and disease resistance to name a few. Unfortunately since the dawn of giant agribusiness, plants have also been hybridized for productivity, their ability to withstand mechanical picking and cross-country shipping, and their tolerance to pesticides with little concern for flavor.

Some of them are entirely unable to reproduce on their own and all F1 hybrids are unable to reproduce the exact traits of the parent plant. This means growers are unable to save seed from year to year and are beholden to the seed companies for future purchases. Since most industrialized food comes from hybrids grown in huge mono-culture plots, is it any wonder why store bought vegetables taste like plastic compared to homegrown?

Many home gardeners and small market farmers have turned to growing heirloom vegetables. Heirloom growers may be motivated in preserving a plant's cultural history, increasing genetic diversity of the gene pool, saving seeds for the future, or just preserving real flavors. What is an heirloom?

When most of us talk about heirlooms we are speaking of important belongings that have been handed down for generations in our family. An heirloom plant is not genetically altered and must be able to grow "true to type" and produce plants like the parents from seed for generations. Just like family heirlooms, many of these seeds have been handed down by families over generations and come with interesting stories.

For instance, some southern beans have family histories in America since the founding of our country. Some melons can be traced back to the 1700's in Europe, and the 1400's in Asia. Some vegetables can even be traced back to prehistoric times. For a list of heirloom seed companies visit this link. You can also join seed saving organizations to swap or buy seeds not available elsewhere. For a list of these organizations, visit this link. For those of you with smaller gardens I will have some heirloom plants to sell or trade in the coming months.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Minutes from January 10th Meeting

The fifth meeting of Healthy Harvest was held on Saturday, January 10th at 10 AM at the Bird House in Leakey, Texas. Eleven people attended, including three newcomers.

The first item on the agenda was our decision-making process. It was agreed upon that decisions should be made by consensus, and that a vote will only be used in cases where a decision is needed and everyone cannot agree.

Next the farmers market was discussed. At the present time we do not have enough growers to establish a market. It was decided that we should survey members of the community to see how many growers are interested in selling produce and other items at the market. We will not begin the market until we have enough people ready to sell.

On the topic of the community garden we agreed that the garden should be publicized and then we can determine the level of interest in the community. Several possible locations are being considered.

We also decided that the Healthy Harvest library should housed at the Bird House for now. As the library grows we can look for another location.

Sage A. suggested that instead of a regular website we should establish a blog. All present agreed to try this approach to collecting and distributing information about Healthy Harvest. The blog will replace the monthly newsletter. For those community members without Internet we will still have information available at the library. A team of members will post items on the blog, and all members are encouraged to post comments and questions.

Rick A. proposed that the group sponsor a local food festival with seminars, guest speakers, and entertainment. It was decided to start small with Saturday morning seminars and work up to a full day or weekend festival. Jim R. agreed to look into a location for our first seminar, which will be on building raised beds and preparing soil for planting.

Rick agreed to submit an article to the Leakey Star about all of our plans and activities. "Stay tuned" to this blog for information about our February meeting.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Victory Gardens needs your vote today!

There's less than 15 hours left to vote on the Victory Gardens initiative and it currently needs about 2,000 more votes to be presented in Washington DC.

Thousands of Americans and people from the around the world are asking the Obamas to lead by example on climate change, health policy, economic self-reliance, food security, and energy independence by replanting an organic food garden at the White House with the produce going to the First Kitchen and to local food pantries.

The many successes of the first Victory Garden movement were the result of effective public policy, bold leadership at a time of national crisis, and the commitment of millions of citizens who were ready to roll up their sleeves for the greater good.

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt planted a Victory Garden on the White House lawn in 1943 over the objections of the USDA, inspiring millions by her example.

Victory Gardens (behind homes, schools, in vacant urban lots, etc.) produced 40% of the nation’s produce at their peak, helped conserve food and natural resources at a time of crisis, resulted in the highest consumption rates of fruits and vegetables our nation has seen, and helped keep millions of Americans physically fit and active.

There' s no better, more symbolic place for launching a new National Victory Garden Program than at the White House, "America’s House". There's no better, more urgent time than now. The UN estimates that 1 billion people will go hungry in 2009 while climate scientists predict this year will be one the five warmest years on record. And there's nothing that can beat the fresh taste of locally-grown, home-cooked foods.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Home Food Production

Here's an astounding chart on the statistics of home food production in the U.S. since 1870. Many people today have no recollection of getting food from any place other than the grocery store. A few of us remember roadside farm stands, and even fewer among us recall Victory Gardens, or how Grandpa was a farmer. The sad truth is most of us no longer know where our food comes from and we have absolutely no control over its quality. We are a people disconnected from what we eat.

With the decline of cheap oil and harder economic times to come, this is a good time to reverse this trend. As someone said in the recent Healthy Harvest meeting, the time has come to "Just Do It". The pioneers of the Frio Canyon did not have the luxury of a grocery store--they knew how to grow, raise, and store a goodly portion of their own food. We figure it can be done again, and are glad you are interested too!

Raised Beds and Onions

At our Saturday meeting (which Rick will soon be blogging about) the subject of raised beds came up. There are as many ways of raising vegetables as there are gardeners, all of them being a matter of choice.

One reason to choose raised beds is better drainage and less bending (which we appreciate the older we get!) Paula P. sent a photo of her raised bed, saying it's been a while since it looked this good and that she's interested in getting started with chickens (& their manure) and drip irrigation.

Looks like Paula used cedar to build her boxes. (Comment Paula?) Cedar is a good choice because it's fairly rot resistant. For those of you considering raised beds, you don't want to use any type of treated lumber because of the chemicals, or railroad ties because of the creosote. These substances leach out and would be harmful, and contrary to the idea of eating healthy!

Since our garden is pretty large we've opted for using scrap pine we get from damaged pallets and helping others tear down old stuff. It won't last as long as cedar, but we can't complain about the cost. We are the ultimate scavengers. At first, we feared our garden would look like a hobo encampment, but don't you think Rick has done a wonderful job putting it all together? Using free stuff takes longer than working with dimensional lumber, mostly because of the disassembling first required, but you are doing the Earth a big favor when you recycle materials otherwise destined for the landfill.

To neaten things up a bit, and to provide a nice sitting edge from which to do our seeding and weeding, we do add new pine boards on top. We will seal these with something like Thompson's water seal. You can see the strap ties holding some of the sections together. This is the onion bed Rick built the last two days and we planted this morning. You can see the drip irrigation spigot poking up in the right hand side of the bed. Drip irrigation soaker lines will be run off the multi-head spigot.

January is time to plant onion sets. Last year we bought our onions from Brown's Omaha Onions located in east Texas and had a very good crop. Although the adorable Brown daughters are so cute, this year we opted to purchase our onions closer to home, from Dixondale Farms in Carrizo Springs. They claim to be the oldest onion plant grower in the nation, starting their family business in 1913. We have been pleased with both of them.

If you are going to order onion sets, one thing you need to know is you will need to order "short day" plants. (It seems to me our days are very long, but apparently this is not so). This is fairly well explained on both their websites. We always order the short day mix of yellow-red-white because we like variety.

Do any of you have something to add about raised beds or onions? If so, please comment!

Blogs and How to Subscribe to the Blog

Many of you are new to blogs and blogging, so I thought I'd give you a little primer so you can see how easy it is.

A blog (a contraction of the term "Web log") is a website, usually maintained by an individual (sometimes a team) with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material such as photos, videos, lists, links, maps, and other interesting widgets (like the weather widget). Entries are commonly displayed in reverse-chronological order. Blogging is the act of maintaining or adding content to a blog.

There are many ways to keep up with the Healthy Harvest blog. You can simply bookmark it in your browser (Internet Explorer, FireFox, etc.). You can also "Subscribe" to it by clicking on the link at the bottom that says Subscribe To: Posts (Atom), or the side bar Subscribe To: where you have a choice of Posts or All Comments. These should put a Healthy Harvest icon in your toolbar where you can see a drop down menu of the posts and also a link to open the entire website.

You can also sign up in the side bar as a Follower. The icons serve as links to the followers' blogs. This is particularly useful if you keep--or plan to start--your own blog, which I encourage you to do if you are interested. We have found it an excellent way of letting friends and families keep up with our homesteading adventures, and of making friends elsewhere with similar interests.

Google offers free blog space on its Blogger ( To get started on your own blog all you need to do is to register for a Google account (this is also free) and follow the instruction to set up your blog. Don't worry, there are templates so you don't have to be a graphic artist or a programmer! You can find the link in the blue Blogger bar at the very top of this website.

If you want to comment on a particular post, there's a link at the bottom of each post that says (So many) Healthy Harvesters said. The link opens a box where you can enter your public comment. For instance, if you have a question about subscribing after reading this post, using the comment link would be the appropriate place to start.

If you want to post something you think will be of interest to the group, or have a on online resource or book you'd like to add to the blog, just email us (the moderators, Sage & Rick). I believe you can do this by clicking on my profile link in the side bar and from there you will see a link that says email me.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Welcome to the Healthy Harvest Blog

We've decided to launch a blog to see if this might serve the needs of our group and community of sharing information about local organic food in the Frio Canyon.

This will allow us to publish important information and useful ideas, photos, and videos as they come along, rather than just once a month in a newsletter. You can bookmark this site and also subscribe to receive the posts. It's paperless, and interactive. If you'd like to leave a comment you can do so by using the link at the bottom of each post. You can also email new topics, questions, or suggestions to the moderators for inclusion.

For example, please take a moment to fill out the poll on your interests in Healthy Harvest located in the sidebar. For fun, watch the video below on The Garden of Eatin': A Short History of America's Garden. If you support this cause, you can vote for it by clicking on the link Ideas for Change in America in the sidebar. Visit the links under Online Resources to discover more about the local food movement and check out our recommended reading list.

We hope you'll enjoy this new site, and leave us some feedback, so we can see how well it meets our needs.

Sage & Rick