Friday, September 24, 2010

Uncover Video Exposes False Claims at Farmers' Markets

I started Heirloom Gardens because I believe that our current food system is unsustainable and we need to develop new ways of producing food for ourselves and others in our community. There are many people who give their valuable time to Heirloom Gardens because they also share that vision. We have NSA and market customers who support Heirloom Gardens with their money because they prefer to consume sustainably produced, organic local food when they can.

The explosion of CSAs and farmers' markets across this country is evidence that, more and more, people are beginning to care about where and how their food is grown. The people that support these endeavors are choosing to pay (usually) a higher price for what they consume, because it is food produced outside our industrial system.

But what if it's not?

I've written before (here and here) about some of our Denver farmers' markets allowing out-of-state produce to be grown without labeling it as such. But there's another, more insidious problem with many farmers' markets. Even if customers take the time to ask about whether the farmer did, in fact, grow the food... there's not really anything to stop the farmer from lying. Unfortunately, this is a practice I have seen happen here in Denver.

A television station in Los Angeles did an "undercover" investigation and caught farmers lying about growing produce, when in fact they were buying it from wholesale produce distributors (who source their produce from Mexico and other places). Click here to read the article and watch the video.

So, what is a farmers' market shopper to do? Here are a few ideas:

- Familiarize yourself with what is in season in your area. If you live in Colorado, check out this crop calendar from the Colorado Dept of Agriculture. If you're seeing "summery" crops like tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, melons, corn, etc on a market table before mid-July, there's a pretty good chance the vendor didn't grow it themselves. Some farms do have extensive greenhouses where these crops are grown year-round, but that is the exception and not the rule.

- Look for stickers! Some market vendors forget to remove the produce stickers from the items they sell. Even if there aren't any stickered food on the market table itself, take a peek behind and under the table. You may find a box of produce with the stickers still attached. Ditto for anything with a barcode.

- Ask a lot of questions. If the vendor says the produce is organic, ask what they use for fertilizer and how they keep bugs off their crops. Asked when the crop was harvested, and when it was planted.

- Ask to visit the farm. If the farmer doesn't seem to like that idea, it's a clue that things are not what they seem.

- Beware of a constant supply of everything -- all food, all the time. Real farmers experience ups and down.

- Talk to the farmers' market manager, and ask that he/she do annual farm visits to ensure that the produce sold at the market was actually grown at the farms. Better yet, join the board of your local market, and do the farm visits yourself!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Recipe: Delicious Arugula Salad

Tiffany, one of our NSA members, told me about this salad. She says that it's her favorite way to enjoy her weekly batch of arugula.

The salad is a combination of arugula, blueberries, avocado, blue cheese, sliced almonds, and honey-poppyseed vinaigrette. Try them together in a salad -- they're delicious!

If you'd like to see the recipe that inspired this salad (plus some pretty salad pictures and a recipe for honey-poppyseed vinaigrette) visit the Our Life in the Kitchen website.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Garden Photos

Ever since I started growing food, I realized that raising a garden can feel (a little) like raising a child. This was especially true with my first "real" garden -- I was proud of it and took so much pleasure in watching it grow. In fact, that was why I first began a garden blog... to show my friends and family my "baby" pictures.

So, we like to photograph the gardens periodically to document their progress. This year we were given an extra reason for pictures. We were nominated for a Mayor's Design Award, and we were asked to submit photos of the gardens. I don't think the nomination was based on having the most beautiful gardens in town (because I know that is in no way the case), but for creating a community project that helps make Denver a better place to live. Whether we end up receiving an award or not, we're very honored to be nominated. And, as a bonus, we had a reason to get some great pictures of the gardens! Many thanks (as always) to Brian Kraft Photography for the pictures.

Eli's garden before...

Eli's garden in late August.

Ann's garden before (that was a heck of a sinkhole to fill)...

Ann's garden in late August.

Kirsten's garden before...

Kirsten's garden in late August.

Sharon's garden before...

Sharon's garden in late August.

Tracey's garden before (well, I guess it was "during")...

Tracey's garden in late August.

Perry garden before...

Perry garden in late August.

Kirk's garden in late August.

The Lowell garden with (from left): Tracey (homeowner), Patty (NSA member), Brenda (gardener), Liz (homeowner), Sundari (gardener), Chad (gardener), Melody (gardener), Betsy (gardener)

...and, the Winona garden.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Heirloom Gardens Farm Dinner at duo Restaurant!

We are thrilled to announce that we are partnering with duo for a farm dinner. duo is one of Denver's most wonderful restaurants, and it is owned by two of Heirloom Gardens' NSA members. duo has always featured locally produced food on its seasonal menu, and they regularly host farm dinners as a way to further feature local  farms and farmers. Located in the Highland neighborhood, it is a one of NW Denver's treasures.

The dinner will consist of a 4-course meal featuring Heirloom Gardens organic, NW Denver grown produce. We can attest that everything served at the Tuesday dinner will be harvested from the gardens on Monday, so the produce will be less than 36 hours off the plant. Sundari Kraft, the founder of Heirloom Gardens, will be at the dinners to talk briefly about urban agriculture and local food production, and answer questions.

Tuesday, September 21st
6:00 or 8:00 (two seatings)
Cost = $45 (does not include beverages, tax, or gratuity)

First Course:
Tempura Baby Eggplant, Marinated Cucumbers, Yogurt Sauce

Second Course:
Heirloom Tomatoes, Arugula, Garlic Croutons, Sherry and Spanish Olive Oil

Third Course:
Colorado Striped Bass, Pesto, Basmati Rice, Swiss Chard, Blistered Cherry Tomatoes

Fourth Course:
Dessert (tbd) by pastry chef Yasmin Lozada-Hissom

Please contact duo at 303.477.4141 or to make your reservations.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Denver Post: Healthier Eating Comes with a Price

Yet another wonderful article from Karen Auge at The Denver Post about the problems with our current food systems. Here she is detailing how the pricing structure (caused in part by agriculture subsidies) reinforces unhealthy eating. Why is it that 6 servings of fresh peaches -- even in season -- cost as much as 18 servings of boxed macaroni and "cheese"?

This chart was taken from The Post article, and it demonstrates an unfailing rule -- if you want to understand why something is happening, follow the money. Click here to read the full article.