Monday, September 28, 2009

OMG! Apple Fest 2009! Part 2!

After a busy weekend of braving APPLE FEST 2009 and apartment hunting in PA (that's one of our stops shown), I finally got the chance to read the Newsweek article I posted last week - I hope you all had the chance to read it too. I posted the article because of its relevance with current trends in society to "go green." I unfortunately think too many people are "going green" because it's the "hip" thing to do, not because it can mean better environmental stewardship or lifestyle. I believe James E. McWilliams in the interview is getting at the same idea.

McWilliams makes some good points about becoming a localvore and the organic food movement, especially when talking about food miles and food waste. It makes sense to me that one has to take into consideration not only the distance a food travels to its end selling point, but also the energy, natural resource, and financial inputs necessary to produce a particular product. However, if I am able to support a small farm, regardless of whether it is under conventional or organic management, by purchasing their products at a farmers market in my town, I will because I know I am doing my part to help my local economy. McWilliams' cry for wasted food is a common problem for American families, but two simple solutions are buy less (which comes after one learns to cook appropriate proportions for one's family size) and start composting (a topic I hope to write about SOON since it's fairly easy, even for city dwellers!).

Throughout my undergrad and graduate years of schooling, I have found that conventional and organic farming are both right and wrong, good and bad - there both are double edged swords that come with benefits and downsides. My personal view and goal of my thesis has been to take the best of both systems to create a holistic approach to farming and in the end gardening. So when I read McWilliams' statements on GMOs and pest control in organics, I gave both a sigh of relief and banged my head against the wall (in my case the desk at my office). My reactions went as follows:

Interviewer: ... You also acknowledge that there are unknown health risks in consuming GM foods, but that we shouldn't stop growing them. Do you really think it's worth the risk?
Me: WHAT?! ARE WE SERIOUSLY STILL IN 2003?! [bangs head on desk] Where do I even begin explaining that GM crops are pretty much in everything that contains high fructose corn syrup...
McWilliams: 90% of the corn in the country is GM, and it's not just going to animals, it's going to high-fructose corn syrup. ...There are possible [health] concernes with all kinds of seeds that are conventionally bred as well... I've talked to too many plant biologists who said this is a technology that if used properly can serve very real environmental and humanitarian needs.

Interviewer: ... Factory farming is bad... Consequently, many people have turned to grass-fed beef.
McWilliams: Many grass-fed cows are eating grass that's been fertilized or irrigated.
Me: Well, yes and no. My great uncles have an organic beef cattle farm that is naturally fertilized with manure and rain-watered (as is everyother type of beef cattle farm). True, there are some places that do use supplemental fertilizers and irrigation, but I will vouch for the people who don't, including a number of cattle farms I have personally visited in Veracruz, MX where farmers rotate their herds through grid sections of their land every few days so the grass growths through a natural process of growth and feeding sessions.

Overall I agree with McWilliams on the point that the public should be cautious of "fundamentalist ideals" when it comes to both eating locally and organics, a problem some Ithacans currently face. My suggestion to everyone is get educated. Talk to the people behind the table/counter at the farmers market and get to know their establishment - how do they produce their food? What measures are they using on their farm to improve their environment or keep it at status quo? What lifestyle changes can you yourself make to save on waste, drive less, eat food you know was produced with the best practices in mind, whether its conventional or organic? By learning, talking with the people who produce your food, and making connections with local establishments, you will truly become a localvore.

Plant on and rock on,

Song for the Garden: Merrymaking at My Place - Calvin Harris
Photo Credit: 60 N 2nd St., Easton, PA taken by DPW 2009

... And now I'll get down from my soap box and down to the ground to plant those mums in the morning!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

OMG! Apple Fest 2009!

I've had the hardest time thinking about a gardening/agriculture related topic to talk about this week - perhaps it's because my mind was more focused on teaching a lecture on weed reproduction strategies to a class of undergrads or writing a methods section for my thesis. All the rage on my Facebook newsfeed from Cornell friends however has been about APPLE FEST 2009, quite possibly one of the best events Ithaca has to offer. Remembering that APPLE FEST 2009 (note: all references to APPLE FEST 2009 will be in caps to represent my excitement for the event - it's that good!) is this weekend, I got to thinking about farmers markets and local foods, and subsequently "localvores" and other recently invented words that seem to be "greenwashing" our lifestyles these days. That's when I stumbled upon a Newsweek article my friend Mike posted.

Mike prefaced the posting with "Finally, someone is talking sense about local and organic farming. Though, unlike the author, I still eat meat on occasion." I am going to read the article and give a personal review and discussion here. I suggest you all do the same and meet me back here to discuss local food consumption and farmers markets
this weekend. Plus, I might share some photos from APPLE FEST 2009!

Plant on and rock on,

Song for the Garden: Quiet Dog - Mos Def

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Coffees of Latte Land

Although coffee is not necessarily a garden topic (although if you're living in the south or California, a coffee bush can be used as a nice ornamental in your yard), I find it's a fitting topic for this week's posting as it will coincide with my last days at the cafe I've worked for the last two and a half years. Plus it's a food group for all us Xers and Yers hailing a cab to work or locking ourselves in a university library. So this week let's turn on the brewer, stamp those espresso shots, and share a little coffee chat.

During my years as a barista filled with Bean Fridays, a number of our customers expressed confusion about organic vs. fair trade coffees, and rightfully so. Despite living in Ithaca, a city where the phrases "organic" and "fair trade" are part of the 2nd grade spelling lists, I myself didn't know the difference until I was educated by the Best. To break it down, not all certifications are created equal:

Organic Certified = coffee grown and harvest on a farm that is managed organically (ie: all managerial practices, inputs, and harvesting processes involve the use of products that are carbon-based or non-detrimental to the environment). Generally, if the coffee bag has an organic label shown, the farm has to have gone through rigorous certification processes to meet standards set forth by the USDA or another country's agriculture department.

Fair Trade Certified = coffee grown and harvested from farms that meet labor and trade standards to ensure fair wages and compensation for the workers and farms. Fair Trade coffee DOES NOT have to be organic but it MUST NOT include GMO coffee varieties and CANNOT be sprayed with pesticides that are deemed as noxious or banned one country or another.

With both stamps of goodness comes a price, and both are most likely a higher price than Folgers. Some may argue that this price raise is unfair or unjustified, but in my mind the extra $2.50 I pay for my bag of Fair Trade 6th Avenue Bistro is 100% worth it when it goes back to the farm to ensure better wages for workers of a back-breaking job. For the struggling grad student and unemployed graduate, to drink non-certified coffee is perfectly fine - you shouldn't feel less important than Tom sitting at the table next to yours with his organic French roast. If drinking coffee that has one or the other certification is important to you, do some research and shopping. Many big chain coffee shops (think that cafe with all the green, and the other from the same city with all the red) ensure that all their coffee blends are certified Fair Trade. Some farmers markets or coops have organic coffees that are pretty close in price to their non-organic cousins. Never underestimate the use of coffee punch cards, coupons, or other forms of rewards for bulk purchases. Bottom line, we're a thrifty group of generations and with a little effort you're bound to find a coffee that meets your budget, taste, and lifestyle choices.

It's the end of an era for me at the cafe, but my love for a dark roasted coffee and a well made cappuccino will always remain a part of my life for years to come. Cheers to you, Baristas of Latte Land!

Rock on and plant on,

Song for the Garden: Silver Moon - Blitzen Trapper
Song for the Cafe: Sleepytime in the Western World - Blitzen Trapper
(I imagine they're playing it throughout Terrain this season, and if not, they should!)
Photo from Wiki Commons

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Meet Me at the Fair

This past weekend I got a message from my friend Mike asking “Were you a judge in the flower competition at the [New York] State Fair? Some of the judges’ comments sounded like they were written by you:

‘Crowded arrangement on candle sticks distracts from centerpiece.’

‘Purple flowers do not work with theme of ‘Going Green’.’

‘Stem lengths reflect dimension amazingly; Rock on!’ ”

Mike’s message made me laugh for several reasons, one being the fact that each statement was very similar to my vernacular, but also because they reminded me of the hyper-critical comments I had received on my junior floral designs for the State Fair back in the late 90’s. Twice I had entered designs, one for the container competition and another for the centerpiece challenge the next year. I can distinctively remember the centerpiece competition, as the theme was “Dance the Night Away” and being in my 12th year of dance classes I was certain I could come up with a design that would blow the judges off their feet (pun oh so intended).

Being the NYS Fair, there are rules and regulations a designer must follow when putting together their design. Generally a theme is given, with a description that is everything but forthcoming, and one must incorporate a background to display your design. For “Dance the Night Away” used star gazer lilies (star gazer… night… get it?) as my main flowers with lily-of-the-valley and some greens as fillers, all of which were placed into a pair of old pointe shoes (dance shoes… dance… get it?) filled with Oasis. It was ingenious! Who would ever put flowers into pointe shoes? Certainly not Salvatore Capezio or Hans Christian Anderson’s Karen.

The day of judging I can remember seeing women in their 50s and 60s setting up their designs that were full dining rooms, all matching the floral pieces they displayed. Seeing the exotic flowers, colors, and interesting pairings excited me as I thought “I wish I could be those ladies.” The judges’ comments for my design were just as a mixed bag as Mike’s relayed comments; some enjoyed the use of star gazers and others found my pointe shoes to be “distracting from the overall design and theme.” After that day I always felt the judges were confined by rules and vague theme descriptions rather than being open to creativity, and traded my days of NYS Fair floral competitions for days assistant teaching dance sessions to younger summer classes. Every year I go to OFA in Columbus, OH however, I relive my short days as a young floral designer with the design competitions and smile when I see comment cards that read “Excellent portrayal of the theme; uses of Oasis wire adds depth and whimsy. Rock on!”

Plant on and rock on,


Song for the Garden: Daylight - Matt & Kim

Photo Credits: SEW 2008 - "Joey" in container at OFA 2008