Tag Archives: GMO

If Life Gives You Apples . . .

Or when it doesn’t give you cranberries, make apple salad for Thanksgiving.

We host Thanksgiving for family and friends here at Stonebridge. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because it’s all about the food, most of which we grow ourselves. This year, the potatoes, parsnips, leeks, carrots, winter squash, and pumpkin all came from our fields.

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We don’t grow cranberries at Stonebridge, so every year my mom makes her cranberry sauce for our Thanksgiving dinner. Sadly, one of our aunts passed away in North Dakota days before Thanksgiving and my parents had to make the long trip back for her funeral. They would spend Thanksgiving with one of our cousins and head home the next day.

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Rather than try to approximate my mom’s cranberry relish, I decided to use what we had in the cold room of the barn: organic apples from the fruit shares we offer through Ela Family Farms on Colorado’s Western slopes. Our last box included three kinds of apples in three colors—yellow Golden Delicious, green Granny Smith, and reddish-yellow Fuji—perfect for a beautiful apple salad with walnuts. I cored, chopped, and dipped the apples in lime juice to prevent browning, and tossed them with an olive oil/apple cider vinegar dressing and toasted walnuts. The salad wasn’t the same as my mom’s cranberry relish, but it was delicious and something fresh at the Thanksgiving meal is good to balance the other heavy foods.

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[Did you know the USDA is considering allowing a genetically modified apple into our food stream? The reason for the genetic modification is to prevent browning, but if it’s allowed, you won’t know your apple is genetically modified since food manufacturers don’t need to label their products as such. Browning prevention is clearly aimed at mass food preparation– including restaurants, school cafeterias, manufactured apple products like applesauce and potentially even baby food–since it’s hardly a problem for home consumers. As with all GMO foods, we need to question whether the supposed benefit they offer is worth the health and environmental risks. You can learn more here—and tell the USDA by December 16 that the so-called Arctic Apple isn’t something you want to eat.]

Everyone at our table loves Thanksgiving stuffing, so it’s a mystery why we don’t make it at other times of the year.  I use grated carrots and sliced leeks from the garden, along with chopped hazelnuts from Oregon, vegetable broth, and bread cubes for ours. This year, my sister volunteered to make gluten-free cornbread with corn kernels for our stuffing. What a difference homemade cornbread makes to the stuffing! She made it a few days ahead so that it could dry in cubes. (When you’re chopping vegetables for the stuffing, be sure to prepare some extra for a Stonebridge Post-Thanksgiving Shepherd’s Pie, recipe below).

With our brother-in-law’s pumpkin bread, my sister’s whipped yams, our friends’ roasted Parmesan parsnip fries, an all natural turkey from another’s friend’s store, Stonebridge mashed potatoes, vegetarian and turkey gravy, John’s wheat crescent rolls, spiced carnival squash (the recipe’s in my book,  A Bushel’s Worth), pumpkin pie from our own Winter Luxury pumpkins, and another sister’s gingerbread cookies, we feasted in the Sunflower Community Room and toasted our dear Aunt Del Vera, a farm girl with city ways. Dark-haired with big brown eyes, she was a beauty who made every occasion of our childhood visits to North Dakota a special one.

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Our Aunt Del Vera is on the right. We will miss her laughter and elegant ways!

Thanksgiving Day was warm enough for a walk around the farm between dinner and dessert, but a few days later, the arctic cold came down from North Dakota and settled in for a long stay. With the farmhouse warmed by our woodstove, we put our Thanksgiving leftovers to good use, especially in our vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie (recipe below). The below-zero temperatures stayed around for almost a week, making outdoor work less appealing and providing the perfect excuse for holiday gift crafting by the fire.

Now the weather’s warmed again and we can venture outside without wearing so many layers. Yesterday we found our Winterbor curly kale had held up well under row cover during the terrible cold. John and I are anticipating our solstice celebration next Saturday with good food and handmade gifts. Our town paraded last weekend as usual, a sign that flood recovery is underway. We hope that these busy holiday days regenerate all our spirits and bring solace for our losses with the help of community, family, and friends. Happy Solstice!

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Stonebridge Post-Thanksgiving Vegetarian/Vegan Shepherd’s Pie

Preheat oven to 375. Oil one three-quart or two one-and-a-half quart casserole dishes (if you make two, you’ll have one to take to a friend’s).

Ingredients:
2 cups thinly sliced leeks
1 cup coarsely grated carrots
½ cup chopped hazelnuts
2 cups chopped curly kale
1 32-oz box veggie broth
4 cups mashed potatoes
Parmesan or other cheese, optional

Saute leeks in a couple tablespoons of olive oil until golden. Add carrots and sauté one minute. Throw in hazelnuts and add curly kale. When the kale is softened, pour in 2/3 box veggie broth. Simmer for one minute. Moving the veggies to the edges of the pan, add 2 Tbl flour to thicken the broth.

Pour filling into prepared casserole dishes. Top with mashed potatoes (two cups each, if splitting into two dishes). Sprinkle with cheese, if using. Bake 30 minutes, until sauce is bubbling.

To reheat second casserole, bake 30 minutes at 375, until bubbling.

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Fresh in February

I bought a head of lettuce yesterday, something I haven’t done for years. We grow our own most of the time and when we don’t have lettuce in winter, we usually can find some other green like fall-planted spinach or wintered-over chard or kale to provide something fresh for our meals.

But yesterday the spinach was deep under row cover and snow. I could have foraged for some leaves but I didn’t want to disturb its sleep. Better to let it rest under its blanket until the snow thaws and the days warm up again.

We also normally have greens growing in our smaller unheated greenhouse this time of year, but that building is being renovated right now. Nothing for a salad is growing in the construction zone. So I went to our thirty-year-old local natural food store and purchased a lovely head of organic lettuce.

The Bluehouse renovation with salvaged glass

We were having a guest for dinner; I had planned to put spinach in the lasagna, as I usually do, and to make a spinach salad with our own sundried tomatoes as well. I could go without the spinach in the former but couldn’t completely give up the latter.  I wanted something fresh, despite February’s chill. Remember American Pie: “February made me shiver, with every paper I delivered”? February is the month that can go either way—sun warmed or frigid cold, on any particular day. We’ve had plenty of snow and low temps so far but not like last year when schools closed because of below-zero temperatures. I grew up here and so did my daughter but never did we get a Too Cold Day off from school.

My mother and me sledding in 1965

Lately I’ve been thinking about the future of farming in terms of efficiency vs ecology. We’ve just lost the fight against GMO crops on our county open space land and pro-GMO advocates and their big backers are organizing to influence the upcoming county commissioners race. Organic farmers and organic consumers are small potatoes, so to speak, in the world of Big Ag. Even the biggest organic producers still maintain a very small part of the overall market.

It’s not just being smaller, though, that makes us less efficient. Being sustainable—and I mean that in the environmental sense, not the co-opted financial sense purported by the ag industry—brings a commitment to ecology that precludes some kinds of efficiencies such as chemical inputs, i.e., synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides.

Another efficiency, monocropping, lessens plant diversity and, even more worrisome, the rush to patent all forms of seeds threatens to diminish even the continuance of plant availability. Loosing diversity will bring untold vulnerabilities to our food systems—think Irish potato famine—as well as increased dependency on food and seed monopolies.

None of that is ecological. Industrial agriculture doesn’t support a balanced ecosystem in which farmers work within natural systems as closely as possible to produce food that is healthy and nutritious while preserving soil, water, and air for future generations. Further, the efficiency imperative puts more and more power in the hands of a few biochemical companies, increasing costs for small farmers that is already driving them out of business. It may increase efficiency—bringing down the cost of raising food but not necessarily of food itself– until the point that vulnerabilities to unforeseen consequences (the rise of resistant diseases, for example) or uncontrollable circumstances (our increasingly volatile weather patterns) overwhelm the system.

It’s complex but thinking about how efficiency and ecology can overlap, both on small, organic farms and in the larger scale of agriculture, is helpful to me. Next week John and I are going to the Colorado Big and Small conference. That says it all. How can the actions of Big not threaten the existence of Small? And can Small become any bigger without subscribing to the problems inherent in Big? We’d all like to think we can work together as “good neighbors,” but the stakes seem to be getting pretty high. I’m just not down with world domination of seeds, no matter how efficient that may seem. We’ll see what people have to say.

February is a transition month. Our small starts in the big greenhouse look good, our members are sending appreciative notes, and we’re excited to get back into the fields.  A new season always brings promise. That’s the encouraging thing about ecological farming. We’ll get our “bluehouse” rebuilt and grow some winter greens; the spring will come around; and we’ll get a fresh start once again.

PS Did you notice that today’s date is palindromic?

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Gluten Free? Try GMO Free

[I wrote this letter for our local papers but want to share it with my readers first because many of you are interested in this topic and I’d love comments.]

My daughter needs a gluten-free diet so I’m used to checking labels and asking at restaurants about gluten-free options. But as an organic farmer in Boulder County, I’m also concerned about the future of our food safety now that GMOs are entering our diets. A recent study in Canada found the Bt gene in the bodies of pregnant women and their unborn babies. Since the women ate conventional diets, the Bt most likely came from corn genetically modified to contain the Bt pesticide. But because GMO foods aren’t even labeled, we’re not allowed to know whether these potential allergens are in the foods we eat, even if we try to avoid them.

In 2003, the Boulder County commissioners held a public meeting about allowing GM corn on leased county open space agricultural land. Speaking in favor of GMO crops, the State Secretary of Agriculture asked the commissioners not to “take away our tools.” When then-commissioner Paul Danish remarked to anti-GMO advocates that GM seeds were already in use so “we can’t be virgins,” organic farmer John Martin brought down the house with “We may not be virgins but we don’t have to be prostitutes.” Despite community concerns, the commissioners decided to allow GM corn on publicly owned land.

Now the county is trying to craft protocol about open space agricultural usage and the biggest debate surrounds more genetically modified crops—sugar beets most immediately—and the value of growing them in our county. On the pro-GMO side are some farmers and chemical agricultural interests like CSU and farm consultants who claim that GMOs increase yields, decrease pesticide use, and are the wave of the future for feeding an increasing world population.

On the anti-GMO side are environmentalists, organic farmers and businesses, and citizens concerned about public health. They argue that GM crops should not be allowed on publicly owned land because GMOS threaten organic agriculture, are predicated on evermore dangerous pesticides as weed resistance increases, and pose devastating risks to health through the introduction of potential allergens. Opponents also point to the terrible track records of chemical companies like Monsanto, the lack of peer-reviewed studies regarding problems to ecosystems and human health, and the inadequate governmental process for determining safety of these new types of organisms.

At a recent panel discussion of these issues, an agricultural consultant echoed the State Secretary of Agriculture by lamenting that government is “taking away our tools.” Yet the reason those tools were taken away is their toxicity. Take DDT: Scientists started raising questions about its horrible impact on natural systems in the 1940s, yet it wasn’t banned until 1972, ten years after Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring alerted the public to its dangers. Clearly, that “tool” wasn’t a good one to keep in the toolbox.

As an organic farmer, I believe that GMOs “tools” are already proving dangerous and certainly don’t belong on publicly owned land. Farms like ours face potential destruction if GM drift contaminates our crops and we as farmers face lawsuits from biotech companies if GM plants are found on our land. Looking to the future, our farm would never consider selling our land to open space if GM crops might be allowed here some day. Even if the county required GM farmers to carry huge liability policies, I cannot see the possibility of GM and organic co-existing in any long-term relationship because the county cannot protect organic crops from contamination. But beyond particular organic farms like ours, the county is responsible for protecting the health of its open space land and the citizens that live here.

It’s time for Boulder County to take steps away from risky agricultural practices and start down the road to environmentally sustainable policies–which in the long run will prove economically sustainable as well–by banning GM crops, leasing smaller acreages to encourage farming for local consumption, connecting local growers with local organic businesses, and supporting transitions away from chemical dependency through organic practices that increase yields and improve soil for better human and planetary health.

If, like me, you read labels and are concerned about how the food you eat is grown, urge Boulder County to be governmental leaders toward new agricultural practices by emailing them at croplandpolicy@bouldercounty.org.

 

 

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