Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Local Food and Healthcare Costs

I recently received this letter as part of a Community Food (COMFOOD) listserv that I belong to. I believe that the author did a great job of laying out one of the main reasons we should care about - and support - local food. The letter was written by Christopher Beford.
We are at a defining moment in the movement for healthy, locally produced food in America.

Michelle Obama’s planting of Sam Kass’s vegetable garden on the grounds of the White House last week offers us a shining example of the change in our consciousness that we must achieve. It was a hopeful beginning, but only a beginning.

A critical public policy debate has begun that will fundamentally impact our nation’s economic future and with it, the future of our movement.

Amidst the blizzard of “trillions” of dollars now being spent to bailout a financial system that functioned on Calvinist greed and in the sure knowledge that it could privatize its profits while socializing its losses (we pay), there is an even larger financial and ecological issue that goes to the heart of our financial future and our food system’s relationship to nature.

Health care costs are rapid increasing, threatening to destroy our economy. At the same time, the health of Americans is in accelerating decline. We are simply paying more for less health. The numbers are startling and sobering. I will sample just a few here.

Health care costs are increasing 2 to 5 times faster than the rate of inflation.
Obesity and diabetes threaten two-thirds of the children now in school, cutting 10-20 years off their life span.
Total healthcare spending, now at 13.5% of GNP, is projected to rise to 30% as baby boomers age.
Epidemics in inflammatory diseases from asthma to arthritis are growing.
In the next ten years Americans will spend $2 trillion on drugs related to healthcare.
Chronic disease care accounts for 75% of the nation’s annual $2 trillion medical care costs.

President Obama has identified health care system reform as critical to economic rejuvenation of our country. Health care costs slow job growth, suppress wages, put US business at a steep competitive disadvantage in trade, threaten family homeownership, disproportionally impact small businesses that create the most new jobs.

President Obama’s plan seeks to reduce administrative costs (25% of the health care bill) through investment in information technology, care coordination and prevention. His mention of “prevention” is of supreme importance to our movement.

In a speech at the University of Iowa on May 29,2007, then candidate Obama described his understanding of “prevention” this way.

“We also spend far more on treating illnesses and conditions that could've been prevented or managed for far less. Our health care system is turning into a disease care system, where too many plans and providers don't offer or encourage check-ups and tests and screenings that could save thousands of lives and billions of dollars down the road.”

Prevention is equated with check-ups, tests, and screenings. Diet and particularly the nature and source of food is not mentioned.

I believe our challenge, at this moment, is to bring food into the healthcare cost containment, universal access debate.

I am not talking just about the five-a-day food pyramid recommendations.
I propose that we begin a national conversation that presents food as an ecological system in which ecological health is tied directly to human health.

Robert Rodale put it the most succinctly.
“Healthy soil. Healthy plants. Healthy animals. Healthy people.”

I propose we make a direct link between human health, farming and food preparation processes, and food distribution.

Said more clearly, we have to put an end to the industrial food business model that currently dominates food production in the US to ensure of our physical and economic health.

Dr. Alan Greene, in his keynote address to the 2009 MOSES Conference in LaCrosse, enumerated the links between industrial food and the growing epidemics of immune system, inflammatory diseases that are overwhelming our children and their parents.

Epidemic rises in allergies and food sensitivities, asthma, autism, hyper-activity and attention deficit disorder, inflammatory diseases in virtually every organ in the body all are increasingly tied to industrial food production.

We are at a moment similar to the one health advocates faced with smoking in 1960. The negative health consequences of smoking began to be documented by scientific research. But it took nearly three decades, trillions of dollars, and millions of lives before we gathered enough political momentum and courage to tackle the tobacco/cigarette industry in the name of our collective health.

We have an advantage over the anti-smoking advocates.
We have an alternative that is not only more healthy, more cost effective, more economically beneficial to communities, but it also tastes better and builds community. We have a positive alternative to the industrial insanity that now governs so much of our food system.

Food grown locally in a manner that encourages life in the soil (soil health) and that respects animal nature (humane treatment) will…

enable us treat the epidemics of chronic disease,
dramatically reduce public/private healthcare expenditures,
cut agriculture’s contribution to greenhouse gases and global warming in half,
increase ecosystem resilience to the challenges of drought and a warming planet,
rebuild local economies in rural and urban areas,
build small businesses and a local food culture that nourishes community building in the process.
establish healthy local food as a key to lifelong human health.

In others, if we establish a ecologically proper relationship to food, we can address many of the most pressing problems we face at the same time.

We must have the foresight and the political will to take on the monopoly industrial food corporations and the handful of giant farmers that now set food policy in this country.

One place to begin is the USDA’s School Lunch Commodity program. Under this program 400 farmers grow 85% of the USDA supplied food served in 93,000 school districts. A Science in the Public Interest investigation found that these “commodities” were most often processed into food with significant amounts of salt, sugar, and fat added. In other words, some of the USDA program is contributing to the health problems of our children.
We must fundamentally alter this program to support local farmers growing food for local school consumption. Just one idea.

So this is our moment.

We have a smart, health conscious First Family in the White House that “gets it” about food.

We are facing fiscally bankruptcy from health care costs directly related to our food policy.

We are facing disastrous decline in health due to food policy.

And we are part of an exploding grassroots movement to establish healthy local food systems.

So what do we do?

Mark Lipson of the Organic Farming Research Foundation wrote a recent post on COMFOOD (March 24, 2009), telling us,

“As a coalition, NSAC (National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition?) has a carefully structured priority setting process that responds to its organizational membership (as opposed to individuals). NSAC does not need further agitation from the masses to address this issue. It _does_ need financial support.”

In other words, let the lobbyists do this. Send us money and sit down and be quiet.

I couldn’t disagree more. After attending the Indianapolis event in November, 2008 on the organic provisions of the new Farm Bill, I came away with a strong feeling that the current “organic” lobbyists aren’t willing to take the full step I have outlined above, being more intent on defending the gains they won for organic research in the Farm Bill.

A grassroots movement in alliance with health care reformers, small business advocates, and local economic development proponents is what we need. We must bring healthy local food to the center of the debate.

We need to seize this moment. Yes, we can.

Chickens for the White House Garden?

I'm sure many of you have heard about the 1,100 square foot organic vegetable garden that Michelle Obama had planted on the White House lawn. If you haven't yet heard, you can read the New York Times article about the garden. You can also sign a petition to thank Michelle for establishing the garden.

Now some chicken lovers are taking it to the next level. The Society for Preservation of Poultry Antiquities has offered to establish a small flock of chickens alongside the White House garden. Chickens are a perfect accompaniment to a garden, since -- in addition to providing healthy eggs -- they can eat garden waste and produce wonderful organic fertilizer for the garden.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Our Daily Bread

I've spent a long time looking for my perfect bread recipe. Something simple, that could work as sandwich bread, or soup-dipping bread, or anything else to keep us from buying those cellophane-wrapped loaves from the store. And, until recently, nothing was quite right.

Then I learned about this No-Knead Bread recipe, which takes only about 10 minutes of hands-on time (and at least 12 hours of hands-off time!). The key is using an oven-safe covered pot, like cast iron or a dutch oven.

The bread is so simple and the ingredients are so cheap, you can try it again and again to find the perfect version of the recipe for you. Maybe you want to use a specific combination of flours, or more or less water, or maybe you want to add honey or molasses. Give it a shot - you won't be disappointed!

Click here to view the original story and recipe from the New York Times. They later created an updated recipe, complete with video.

Peaberry at Two Weeks

Peaberry turned 2 weeks old on March 21st. After our new member orientation and Big Dig at Mary's house (pics coming soon!) I drove up to Conifer to visit her. She's doing very well, and loves to romp and play with her brothers. Peaberry spent a lot of time cuddled under my jacket during my visit.

I discovered it's not easy to take pictures of active goat kids. Unless you're a professional, you'll end up with lots of photos of blurry goat fur. My resident professional photographer (aka husband) stayed home, so here are my best efforts!

The kids.

Little Peaberry.

Lilly Blue checking things out.

One of Peaberry's brothers. This boy has markings like his mom. All of the other kids are blonde like their dad.

Peaberry nursing from her mom, Sunny.

Trying to snuggle with the boys.

Spring Storm

On Thursday, March 26th we experienced one of Colorado's notorious spring blizzards. We were buried in snow for much of the day, and weren't able to start digging out until Friday.

The greenhouse held up well, thanks to the space heaters and me poking at the plastic with a broom every two hours to push the snow off.

Here it is on Friday, after things have already started to melt a bit. The seedlings inside are doing just great!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

In the News - Westword blog

An article about the process of permitting for urban livestock in Denver....

Fowl Lovers Unite to Streamline Denver Chicken Laws
by Joel Warner

It's Peaberry's first time in the news!

The Urban Farmers Strike Again

The Heirloom Gardens team tackled our second yard on Sunday, March 15th. This is a larger space - almost 1300 square feet! Those that worked both Big Digs (Saturday and Sunday) agreed that this one went even smoother. We're getting better at this!

This is a "before" picture that was taken a few months ago. The yard didn't actually look quite this good when we started. The resident was having lots of problems with weeds coming up through the rock mulch, and the grass was thinner.

Everyone digging in!

Making progress - about halfway through the yard! We've already had people remove all of the gravel in wheelbarrows and wagons and pull up the weedblocking fabric.

We got another delivery of manure, which (along with compost) was rototilled into the soil.

Long shot of the prepared garden with 36 beds....

...and the crew that made it happen!

Sunday, March 15, 2009


On Saturday thirteen Heirloom Gardens members came together to transform a front yard (and part of the back yard) into a tilled, fertilized garden! It was an incredible amount of work accomplished in an afternoon by a great team.

The front yard "before."

The back yard "before," with the newspaper and cardboard mulching.

Our compost and one of the oh-so-handy rototillers.

Shovel lineup.

The manure delivery!

Nathaneal and Kirk unloading.

A big 'ole pile!

Breaking ground on the front yard.

Kelly digging while Lucy observes.

Melanie and Kirk handling the rototiller.

Found treasure! A very old soda bottle...

And a butter knife! We used this knife during our seed transplanting on Sunday.

Loading the wheelbarrow.

Starting up the old rototiller. It gave us some trouble, but ended up working well (with lots of TLC from a couple of our members).

Tilling it up!

Planning with Everett.

Another day on the urban farm...

Hammering in the stakes.

Raking the beds.

Maia is making a discovery....

She found 4 worms!

Cleaning up after the Big Dig.

Loading up extra manure for our members to take home.

Finishing it up.

Spring onions that sprouted from last year's seeds.

Our staked beds - each is 4' x 6', with 2' paths.

At the end of a good day's work!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Meet the Baby!

Today Brian and I went to Crowley Manor to meet the newest member of our farm family -- our baby Nigerian Dwarf goat. She was born at 2:00am on Saturday morning, so she was about 32 hours old when we saw her.

She is strawberry-blonde with blue eyes, just like the papa goat. We're going to name her Peaberry.

She already knows how to pose for the camera. She's a natural!

I wonder if we'll have any trouble bonding?

She's still got a little amniotic fluid on her forehead. Her momma has cleaned her, but whenever she nurses she gets a little more on her head. It's no problem - just a little post-birth stuff!

Lilly Blue (who's due to have babies in April) and Coco check us out.

She likes to cuddle close, and cuddling inside a shirt is even better!

Look at those blue eyes!

She has something to say!!

On your mark, get set...

And she's off!

Right now she's just a tad bigger than Lucy, but she's got looong legs!

Some gorgeous goat milk soaps made by the goat owner/breeder, Patricia from Crowley Manor. Patricia treated us to a couple of bars - Monaco Lavendar & Peaches and Pink Grapefruit Lemon Balm. These are just wonderful soaps, made by hand. You can contact Patricia at (303) 668-3892 or www.crowleymanor.com if you'd like more information.