Monthly Archives: May 2013

Exploring the Food System of Greenfield

When this Internship began I had no idea what I was doing.  I’m sure many of you can relate to that same feeling of stepping into a world of the unknown, on a mission to create something you cannot see yet.  Looking back now I see how much I have learned and grown from this semester’s intern experience.

Olivia, Ginevra, and I became a team, led and guided by the amazing Evelyn Lane, with Abrah Dresdale always there for us when we needed her support and knowledge.  Together we experienced many new things, we put ourselves out there humbly to the public of Greenfield as messengers to deliver what past terms of the Food Systems course here at GCC have worked hard to represent.  The recommendations that the students formed were to be compiled into one document to rule them all…no not to rule them all but just consolidated into a readable and attractive zine-like space that is accessible to the public of Greenfield.

The first month of our journey, my vision was blurry, I had no clue what was to come!  We ventured out to the Greenfield Winter Farmer’s market to hunt and gather what people thought of the food system here in GF.  It was scary and exhilarating to go up to people and ask them about their experience with buying and eating local food.  Thankfully most of the people were very open to sharing their thoughts.  Many people were filled with excitement that young folk here in Greenfield were invested in the future of Greenfield. In that one morning that we spent together our group dynamic transformed into a strong bond. After that milestone I gained much confidence in the work that we were beginning.   And yes…it was just the beginning.  I look forward to seeing our work become available  to be used as a resource in building a sustainable Master Plan for the city of Greenfield! Keep your eyes open!

Getting our caffeine fix

It’s early so Ginevra and I order coffee at the Greenfield Winter Farmer’s Market…Old School style!! Yummy!

Sweeter Than Sugar

Maple sugaring season may have passed, but it is never too late to talk about all the benefits of ditching sugar for something a little sweeter to your health. Cane sugar and high fructose corn syrup are equally detrimental. Neither cane sugar or corn syrup come with any sort of protein, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants or fiber. They are in essence empty calories, meaning we make ourselves feel full when we eat them but we don’t give our bodies the nutrients they need to function at their best. Or, even worse, because we crave sweets, we eat more than we need which potentially leads to obesity (especially in children) and the health issues associated with it, like diabetes. Sugary cereals, energy drinks, candies and as a hidden ingredients in breads or crackers can all lead to over-consumption of sugar. It is estimated by the FDA that the average American consumes between 76 and 100 lbs of excess sugar per year (that’s per person folks!). And this number doesn’t include sugars from natural foods, as in honey or fruit.

Not to worry, though, mother nature provides us with a few sweeteners that we can feel good about eating, and some of them are even local. You can reach for raw honey, brown rice syrup, agave nectar, molasses and maple syrup. If you’re lucky (and live in the northern regions) you can even make your own. I had the pleasure of doing just that this past season and would like to share the process with you here. What I share with you here is local wisdom gathered at backyard sugaring workshops, at farmer’s market workshops and from my friend Ben, whose family owns Intervale Farm in Westhampton, MA. This won’t be full-on instructional, because I don’t think I’ve learned enough to provide that- just a quick re-cap of my sugaring adventures. I will list some resources at the end of the post for those interested.

Answers to some frequently asked questions:
-It takes approximately 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup (see why it’s so expensive?)
-Tap trees when it is beginning to warm up during the day but is still freezing at night. Otherwise, the sap that has risen to the tops of the trees won’t run back down for you to catch (approximately mid February- the end of March).
-Tapping does not hurt the tree when done properly.
-If the taps are left in too long (more than 6-8 weeks), the tree will begin to heal over them.
-Ideally, sap collecting buckets are checked daily for fullness and cleanliness.
-Sap may be a little yellow, but it should not be milky. If it is, dump it in your compost pile.
-Ice may form in your buckets or storage tanks- this is great! Sap doesn’t freeze, water does. –Any frozen water is water you don’t have to boil- just toss it, being sure you don’t toss any of the unfrozen sap.
-Never boil sap in your house- there is WAY too much steam- remember, you are evaporating the water out of the sap, and it has to go somewhere!
-Syrup is graded based on color: Grade A is lighter, milder, takes less energy and time to make, and is more expensive. Grade B is darker and richer, takes more energy and time to make, but is (confusingly) cheaper.
-Maple syrup keeps indefinitely when stored properly- in a cool, dark place.

Books on Sugaring:
“Backyard Sugarin’: A Complete How-To Guide” by Rink Mann and Daniel Wolf
“Sugaring Time” Kathryn Lasky and Christopher G. Night (sugar cycle image) (sugar consumption article)

Low sun, low temperatures

Leaping Frog Farm is a four season farm that eliminates the absence of locally grown greens for any csa member during the long winter.  

In this picture one can see the small “shack” just off to the left from the middle focal point.  In this shack there is a water furnace that is fueled by corn pellets, a form of bio-mass.  The furnace is connected to two mains which are located in the middle and far left hoop tunnels.  The two mains are then connected to as many underground and above surface rubber tubbing is needed. Generally each bed has two tubes, one under and one above.  The heat runs through the tubbing via water. These tubes support all of Leaping Frog Farm’s CSA salad mix and kale.

Due to the highly efficient furnace and the highly efficient bio-mass (corn pellets) it is easy to keep the ground temperature above freezing for a week while only using three to four bags of pellets. Each bag weighs fifty pounds, making it about one-hundred and fifty pounds per seven days. (Note that the size of the hopper is relative to how often it needs to be filled.  This hopper could hold about twelve bags.) The heated water tubes are highly efficient, yet if not monitored while also keeping a close eye on the outside temperatures, it could easily cause problems for the hoop tunnel production. If the outside temperatures are well below freezing, the furnace remains active.  Otherwise the hoop tunnel temperatures do not need much assistance when outdoor temperatures remain around freezing. The passive solar hoop tunnel plus the thermal layering (remay and clear plastic) directly over the crops allow the plants to survive all winter long.

What is Medicine?

What do you think of when you hear the word ‘medicine?’ Most of us, I think pills, antibiotics, patches and syringes. Things we are ‘supposed’ to take in order to get better, to lessen the symptoms or prevent bodily annoyances. Name brands may even come to mind in place of the medicine itself, because we see them advertised on TV and in magazines alongside clothes, soft drinks and electronics and they become little more than impulse buys.
But let’s go back to the definition (from Merriam-Webster):
Medicine (noun):
1. The science or practice of the treatment and prevention of disease.
Medicinal (adjective):
1. Having healing properties.

As complex and difficult as healing can be, I also believe that it can be equally as simple. I believe that anything that heals or prevents dis-ease is medicine. Anything that eases suffering, soothes, comforts, is medicine. And I believe that we (especially here in the US) have become unfamiliar with the most beneficial medicine of all: Food. We, unlike many other countries, have such an abundance of food that we waste a staggering amount each day. All for profit, we synthesize edible products in laboratories and pump them full of artificial flavor to make them taste good. We eat things full of fat, sugar and salt but completely devoid of nutrients. And we swap genes between species, and create crops that can’t survive without synthetic fertilizers and pesticides- and we make ourselves and the land we depend on for survival sick in the process.

To me, medicine truly is the practice and art of treating and preventing dis-ease in all organisms in our natural environment: in humans, in the many species we share our earth with, and in the earth itself. Healing goes so far beyond alleviating symptoms of dis-ease; to heal is to regenerate, reinvigorate and restore. I believe that we are able to do all of these things when we re-learn how and what we can grow locally and naturally. Food grown locally and in season not only tastes better, but is more nutritionally valuable than food grown elsewhere, picked unripe, and shipped thousands of miles to our grocery stores.

We have such a respect for medicine and doctors, understandably, but are barely aware of the people out there growing, tending and harvesting the most crucial elements for our health and well-being: the farmers. We depend on a certain code of ethics from our medical professionals, but it gets a bit murky when we start talking about food. What is ethical when it comes to food production and who decides?
In trying to answer these questions, I found that the “Values of Medical Ethics” apply perfectly to our food system.

The Six Values of Medical Ethics (as applied to food systems and justice).

1) Non-maleficence – “first, do no harm” ( Putting the health and wellbeing of all organisms before profit by reducing dependence on processed foods and allowing indigenous peoples to maintain traditional lands and practices).
2) Beneficence – a practitioner should act in the best interest of the patient. (Regulators and government officials should act in the best interest of all organisms, rather than in the interest of profits).
3) Respect for Persons- the patient -and the person treating the patient- have the right to be treated with dignity. (Those who buy, those who grow, harvest and package our foods here and in other countries, and all animals involved should all be treated with dignity).
4) Truthfulness and Honesty-the concept of informed consent (All people have a right to know how their food is cultivated and processed- including disclosure of ingredients, chemical use/synthetic ingredients, and genetically modified organisms).
5) Justice- concerns the distribution of scarce health resources, and the decision of who gets what treatment -fairness and equality– (All people deserve access to fresh, culturally appropriate, whole foods, regardless of social or financial standing).
6) Respect for autonomy – the patient has the right to refuse or choose their treatment. (All people in all countries should have a say in how their foods are grown and processed, and the collective voice of the people should be given more power than the voice of corproations).

The ways in which we interact with and consume our food has within it the ability to destroy ecosystems, human/nature ralationships and human/human relationships, as well as heal them, bring people together and encourage resilliencey and bounty. When I think of medicine, I envision communities coming together to help each other harvest, forage for wild edibles, grow community gardens and host potlucks. I see neighbors teaching one another how to become more self-sufficient through planting and preserving. I think of all of my friends who have knowledge and skills just waiting to be shared. I remember how much more alive I felt when I learned we could actually do something to reduce the damage and suffering in our world, and that beginning can be as simple as getting to know your farmer.

(For me, that means stopping by the Tuesday or Saturday Market in Northampton, MA!)