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Travel, Food, and Slices of Life


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What does “pink slime” have to do with whether beef broth “gels”?

I’m so fortunate that I know so many wonderful farmers who do what I can not do: grow food. And so many of them, like Chrissie Zaerpoor of Kookoolan Farms of Yamhill, Oregon,  have a very high goal to make sure the food they produce for themselves and the public is healthy and free from additives. Chrissie wrote this blog about pink slime after she got a lot of questions why her beef broth had a gelatinous state when cold.
chicken stock2

The ideal stock is made from a combination of meaty bones for flavor, connective tissue (tendons, cartilage, heads, feet, etc) for gelatin and texture, and hard bones for minerals (primarily calcium but others as well). A well-balanced stock made from good quality ingredients should always “gel” at refrigerator temperatures.

Many of you already know that I came to beef quite late in life: I was a near-vegetarian for my first 40 years with maybe five lifetime total servings of red meat. When I was diagnosed as profoundly anemic, and several years of iron pills and green vegetables did not bring my iron levels up, I was finally ready to take the plunge for eating red meat. But the more I read about commodity red meat, the less willing I was to eat it. This finally erupted in the famous temper tantrum that launched Kookoolan Farms: “if I want to eat grassfed beef, I’m just going to have to learn to do it myself.” I’ve been reading about the commodity meat industry for more than 15 years, and every year I think I’ve finally learned all its dirty secrets, but every year I learn a little more and am saddened to discover that it really is just a little worse than I thought it was. This week an off comment in a news story in “The Week” magazine got us off on a research tangent, and I learned more about “pink slime” than I had previously known – including a key “a-ha” moment with the answer to the question so many of you have asked me over the years: “Why doesn’t premade broth or stock gel? It always gels up with no problem when I make it from Kookoolan Farms bones. What’s the difference?” Now I know…. read on. (for the full details you can easily pull up the Wikipedia article about pink slime).

For starters, the formal name for “pink slime” is Lean Finely Textured Beef, or LFTB. It’s interesting to note off the bat that this highly processed beef derivative is “approved for limited human consumption” in the U.S., but is completely banned both in the European Union and in Canada. In March 2012 (interestingly, the latest date for which I could find data) more than 70% of all ground beef sold in the U.S. contained the additive. Also interesting: ground beef can contain up to 15% LFTB with no labelling required to announce its presence. In fact, the only way to avoid LFTB in grocery store ground beef is to buy USDA certified organic, in which LFTB is disallowed.

wiki pink slime

Lean Finely-Textured Beef, AKA “pink slime,” photo from Wikipedia. 95% lean. All indications are that there are no food safety issues associated with this highly-processed “salvage” product, which means _it’s never labelled as an ingredient_ on any products you buy.

So what is LFTB? It’s the very last scraps of meat and connective tissue still clinging to the bones and hides after a skilled butcher has already removed all of the usable meat with a knife. Some of these source areas are considered to be the areas most likely to be contaminated by pathogenic bacteria. These “source materials” are then warmed to about body temperature in order to soften fats and connective tissues. Originally the bones were scraped and rubbed to remove the last bits of clinging muscle, but the resultant product was up to 20% calcium and therefore “not nutritionally equivalent to beef.” At that point the method changed, and now most LFTB is produced by centrifuging. The centrifuging also separates the fat from the lean in exactly the same way that centrifuging separates, say, heavy cream from skim milk. So the resultant product is around 95% lean (i.e. 5% fat). Having been processed at body temperature, the presence of pathogenic bacteria is now considered a given, so the product is exposed to ammonia gas to weaken the cell walls, and then the product is rolled out thinly and flash frozen under high pressure, crushing all the pathogen cells. This crushing both kills any bacteria and also results in very little structural integrity for the muscle cells, hence the “finely textured” nature of the product. The product is then extruded as a pale pink paste through slender tubes, frozen, and shipped to meat processors as an additive. The ammonia-gas-and-crush process is so effective at killing bacteria that in 2007 the USDA declared that the process would be “exempt from routine testing of meat used in hamburger and sold to the general public.”

Why do meat processors produce and use LFTB? In a word, profit. This is a way to squeeze literally every last gram of flesh off the bones. Also, because it is so lean, LFTB is used as an additive in ground beef to raise the lean percentage: consumers are willing to pay a premium for leaner ground beef, and using 97% lean LFTB in a mix allows the less expensive fatty ground beef, mixed with the extremely lean and extremely cheap LFBT, to then be sold as higher-priced lean ground beef. Up to 15% LFTB is allowed, and there is no labelling requirement.

You’ll also find LFBT in beef hotdogs, beef pepperoni, meatballs, summer sausages, and superthin beef lunch meats and bologna, where LFBT may comprise up to 25% of the total product — but it will never be labelled as such.

You’ve likely read the staggering claim that one patty of ground beef may contain the DNA of more than a thousand cattle from more than 10 different countries. THIS is how that happens. And when you read about recalls of millions of pounds of ground beef, it’s because one animal’s scraps get spread so widely into the food net.

beef hotdogs

Hot dogs may taste good, but did you ever think about what it means that they are “highly processed”?

Interestingly, one of the USDA’s senior food safety inspectors dissented on the USDA’s ruling that LFTB can still be called “meat.” He argued vigorously that LFTB is not “meat” because it also contains connective tissues such as tendons and cartilage, and further stated in reports that it is “not meat,” but actually “salvage,” and should not be allowed for human consumption. The USDA never tested independently for food safety, but the largest corporate producer of LFTB, BPI Corporation, commissioned a study from Iowa State University that found no safety concerns. Because the entity most benefitting from this result also paid for the study, one can doubt whether it’s a truly independent research.

Does it matter that commodity ground beef almost certainly contains LFBT? Maybe not. Associated Press food editor and cookbook author J.M. Hirsh compared the taste of two burgers: one with LFTB and one without. He described the LFTB-containing burgers as smelling the same, but being less juicy and with less flavor. To my knowledge no food safety incident has ever occurred due to the presence of pink slime, but you just can’t be sure whether the recalls have been ultimately caused by LFTB because it’s not tested, and it’s not labelled.

Ammonia is present in many other processed foods, as the BPI (Beef Products Incorporated) web site defensively points out: the finished ground beef contains 200 ppm ammonia, compared to 440 ppm for the bun and 813 ppm for the cheese. In other words, these chemicals are already in lots of other processed foods, and are assumed safe, and therefore are not required to be labelled because “you don’t need to know.” That, my friend, is just one of many similar decisions made every day on your behalf and without your input. Here is the USDA’s fact sheet on LFTB.

stock pots on the stove

Beef bones from Kookoolan Farms have “stuff” still on them, never cleaned by centrifuge. Those bits of tendon, cartilage, and other connective tissues give you the silky, velvety, gelatinous texture you expect from homemade beef stock.

Meanwhile, bringing this back around to stocks and broths, the “gelling” process that occurs when you make stocks and broths is due to the presence of scraps of connective tissues and collagen still clinging to the bones. When you buy pre-made stocks and broths in a can or box or in the frozen aisle, one assumes that these are generally made from the cheapest available ingredients. The lowest common denominator of commodity beef bones, even those from grassfed beef, would generally speaking now be so clean (thanks to centrifuging) that there is no connective tissue left on the bones. Thus purchased stock does not gel. Maybe that’s why they add so much salt, too: store-bought just doesn’t have as much flavor as homemade. Last week I observed organic grassfed beef stock in the freezer section for Fred Meyer for a shocking $12/quart. Are people actually buying that rather than making their own higher-quality stock FOR FREE?

Kookoolan Farms beeves are hand-processed using only skilled butchers and knives, no high-tech centrifuging machines, no bleach, no ammonia gas, no LFTB, no strange gasses in the packages to preserve color, nothing but beef. The meat in your share all comes from identically one animal. And your soup bones are hand-cleaned with a knife, leaving plenty of good “stuff” on the bones to give you a rich, gelatinous, natural stock. As always, you may get bones, fat, and organ meats with your beef share at your option, and at no extra charge. Those grass-fed beef bones sell for $3.50/lb and more in the grocery store, but you’ll never pay extra for them from Kookoolan Farms.

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Learning Along The Pathway

When I was growing up my Dad would often drive into town and pick up the Sunday New York Times. As I got older I enjoyed reading not only the magazine but I started perusing the classified, looking for my “someday” job and apartment. Oh, the dreams I had of what could be……and then life took another pathway.

I’ve had a checkered past. I earned a degree in geography and urban planning, but  my first job out of college was for the Tennessee Supreme Court in the court administrator’s office. They were starting a judicial PLANNING division and so, since I had a degree in urban PLANNING, I was hired. It was fun but as I realized I was getting further from my education, I looked for and moved to the planning job.  For three and a half years I actually worked for a planning and engineering company and really enjoyed it. But again……life took another pathway.

There was a death in my husband’s family. His mother asked us to move to Connecticut to take care of the estate issues. We lived in the house rent free and would until it was sold. One of my tasks was to determine the market value of the property and in doing so, we listed it for sale and boom! we needed to move within a couple of months. I was looking for work as a planner but we were in the middle of a recession then and jobs were scarce. So… life took another pathway.

I started working as an real estate agent for the broker who had listed the house. While I did well, I didn’t particularly enjoy it. Showing houses was a challenge because I did not know the area well and there were no apps with a talking GPS (hey, no cell phones at all)  in those days so I had to rely on paper maps, all the time portraying an image of competence to the buyers.  That was stressful enough but the part that made me more uncomfortable was listening to a homeowner extol the cost of the renovations he had made when it looked like a piece of incompetent amateur construction.  And then Baby #1 was born and I no longer wanted to put in the long hours needed in that kind of sales position.  Once again…. life took another pathway.

 

When I told the broker I was going to let my sales license go he persuaded me to start an appraisal division of his company. I built the reputation and business started coming in nicely and then I needed to hire some staff. The broker told me he was moving to California and was selling the real estate business, including the appraisal division. I said no way, it may be your name but it was my blood, sweat and tears. He very much understood and so, I soon owned it. I got a partner who had the bookkeeping kind of background and so we went on, growing during the 1980s real estate boom to 12 employees. (Although I planned longer, I only was able to take off one week when Baby #2 was born.) And then there was another blip in the financial market and property values started to decline. Where there is no room for a second mortgage or a current home value did not support getting the mortgage refinanced, there are no appraisals. We closed the business and…… life took another pathway.

By this time I had had baby #3 and no income. My husband got laid off. We ended up moving from Connecticut to Tennessee where I stayed home with the baby. Then my husband was diagnosed with brain cancer and after surgery, radiation and chemo I got a job at Vanderbilt Medical Center, working for one of my husband’s eye doctors. I had looked for a managerial position at Vanderbilt and when HR asked me what salary I wanted I thought about what I had made in the good years in Connecticut and then made a “cost of living” adjustment and said $30,000. They laughed…too high apparently. Anything lower would not help the family so I changed my resume to administration instead and ended up taking that first position as an AA for $18,000. I figured if I was not going to earn enough money I might as well not be in charge of anything. And so….. life took another pathway.Image result for vanderbilt university medical center

After five years of learning eye health jargon, things changed when the doctor in charge left. My position was eliminated but I was not, so HR moved me to another place in the hospital. The boss was, to put it nicely, a challenged individual. I left and move over to the university side of Vanderbilt to the Department of French & Italian. More new things to learn and master. And then my husband died and there I was a widow with a young child. Graham entered my life and I sure made him work to woo both of us. And there I was again….my life took another pathway.

My kiddo and I joined Graham when he went on sabbatical to Colorado for six months. I thought a start together in a neutral location would be good. We made friends and when it looked like he might be offered a job there I started looking for work. I had a sweet sweet double interview with the statewide blood bank and they offered me a position for a beautiful salary. I came home from that interview to be told we were moving back to West Virginia.  Ha ha…guess what….. my life took another pathway.

Looking for work in the Rust Belt was a challenge. I finally was hired as a practice manager for a financial adviser. Since it was a start-up I accepted a lower than desired salary with the promise of bonuses that would boost it to the sky (dream on, eh?). That never happened. After three years of building that business into something sustainable, I asked for a $10,000 raise and he basically countered with 50 cents an hour. I resigned. This time, definitely my choice…..my life took another pathway.

I started to build up my book selling business that I had been running on a small scale for about 12 years to provide additional income. I was able to match that prior salary for the next two years while having the time to also get involved in the farm-to-table movement and helping build The Wild Ramp. All the time, we were planning for my husband to retire when my kiddo left for college and so……my life took another pathway.

We moved to Oregon just about four years ago. I applied to about 50 jobs, making sure each cover letter and each resume was custom tailored to each specific job. I never heard from 46 place, but had four interviews. One had the grace to tell me I was overqualified and they were sure I would be bored and quit. I countered with an comment (I had nothing to lose)  that at this age I would love a job I could do with one hand behind my back. But no job was offered. (Ageism is one more hurdle to getting a job that needs to be fixed.  Date of birth information can no longer be asked, but they can and do asked for education information, including year of graduation. I think you agree, most of us complete high school at age 18, so extrapolation is easy.) So feeling ready to do anything….. life took another pathway.

I took a summer job as a farm hand. Yes, me. I never ate so much ibuprofen in my life but I did it and learned a lot more. In all my effort with The Wild Ramp I had probably visited 100 farms and had heard their stories. Now I got to get a (very small) taste of the life farmers live.  And the experience confirmed something I already suspected: I am not a farmer. But I need my farmers (we all do) and respect them highly. And so, taking a plunge……my life took another pathway.

I started up the commercial food processing business, Can-Do Real Food, to support local farmers by preserving their surplus produce by canning and dehydrating. (This gives the farmer another income, provides consumers a way to have a taste of the local summer harvest any time during the year, and reduces food waste.)  When we moved to Oregon I learned to can, so I had one year of canning at home. Other people have forgotten more than I have learned but it has been a pretty amazing experience. You can read more about it at the Can-Do Real Food blog. 

In the past year I had been dealing with a knee that has been injured but there is nothing surgical that can be done to fix it. It forces me to walk a bit wonky which has now affected my hip joint on the other side. I am in a new world of hurt and so…..I suspect my life is about to take another pathway again.

Through all these years (63 and counting) I have received continual education. The first part is one we all are fed K through  12. The next was the narrowing down of a field of study (college). And since then, through work and seminars and conferences and self teaching, the learning has continued and increased.  I urge everyone I love to never stop exploring, never be afraid of change.

I know jargon related to the legal profession, the medical profession, the academic profession, and now food processing (and government regulation thereof).  I wonder what’s next!  Whatever it is, I strongly doubt I will ever live in New York City!

 

 


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Farm to Table Pork

For those of you who started reading recently when I have been writing about my reaction to the political hoohah of the past year, you might not know that I have been involved in the farm to table movement for the past six years or so. 

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My business, Can-Do Real Food, works with small local farms capturing their surplus produce and preserving it either by canning or dehydrating. This helps reduce food waste, offers the farmers another income stream, and provides local consumers shelf-safe local food that can be eaten any time of the year. I work with produce only; vegetables, fruits and nuts.eat-local

Most of the farmers, however, have animals for eggs or meat production. One of my farm partners, Wooden Mallet Farm, is located northwest of the small town of Yamhill in the foothills of the Coastal Range.  They offered the opportunity to buy a whole or half hog and we plunked down $50 about 6 months ago to help with feed and reserve our half. pigs

This morning I went to the farm to observe the processing. Why? Because I am curious. I get the meat all wrapped up in white butcher paper, so if I lived in a fantasy land I could imagine there is some “immaculate conversion” from hoof to plate, but instead I wanted to honor the animal by being there.

Several years ago I naively went to a farm in West Virginia to observe chicken processing and ended up being involved literally up to my elbows.  So I understood the general process.

One amazing aspect of farming in Oregon is that mobile slaughter is allowed to occur on the farm. The processor butcher explained that the regulations are not as strict as the indoor facilities and we discussed the differences between this winter time processing with the low temps (we are having unseasonable cold weather…it was maybe 30 degrees this morning) and the need to work fast while there is light. Summer time processing has the issues of flies and other insects as well as concerns about higher temperatures affecting potential spoilage.

So from the time the 22-caliber bullet was fired into the brain and the carotid artery was severed, until the time the carcass was hanging in the truck was perhaps 15 minutes. Hoofs were saved for a friend of the farmer to make dog treats. The processor collected the hides and offal for someone else who processes the skin and renders the rest. The livers were inspected and several rejected; winter hogs apparently often have some liver damage. The ears and hearts were saved by the farmer.

The carcasses will be weighed and I will receive an email tomorrow about the hanging weight. That check goes to the farmer.

The email will also give me contact info for the butcher and I will call to give him the cutting instructions. We like our pork chops one inch thick for example. We will get a small ham and the rest cut into ham steaks. We want the baby back ribs and country style ribs. And the bacon. There is never enough bacon. There will be some roasts and a few other steaks and then the rest will be ground. We will request Italian sausage.  There will be a fee for that butchering, the curing for the hams and bacon, and the wrapping for all.

All in all we will purchase a whole lot of pork that will feed us for about a year for about one-third the cost of purchasing the same amount at the store. In addition, we know our farmer so we know how the hogs were raised, the food they ate, and the way they were treated.  And, as much as you love bacon you get at the supermarket, I want to tell you that this bacon is better….way better.

I could take a few hours to honor the animal that will be feeding me. hogs


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As I started visiting small farms in West Virginia to market local food to consumers, I learned a lot I didn’t know.  And it got me very alarmed.

My blogs started taking on a urgent tone…you MUST change your ways….until a woman I barely knew and subsequently became a best friend, cautioned me that no one listens to yelling.

So, I think I will let photos tell the story and just give you something to think about each one.

Did you know that the US government permits chickens to be sent to China where labor costs are so much lower? The chickens will be processed and then shipped back, the better for you to continue enjoying chicken at a low price.567372-usda-allows-chicken-processing-in-china

Did you know that a number of food items prepared in China, from dog treats to baby food, have been recalled because of toxic and unhealthy items?  Unless you know your farmer, you will not know where the meat was processed.

Starting in 1994 some crops were genetically modified. Within ten years it has been estimated that over 75% of the average American diet was obtained from genetically enhanced foods….plants and animals that would not occur naturally and are only designed to help with weeds and pests or other environmental annoyances to the producer.  While the jury is still out about the genetic changes in our food affecting the eater, it is already clear that the manufacturers have not obtained one of their goals: to reduce the use of chemical sprays. So, anyone eating GMO food is getting a huge dose of chemicals that are being determined, because of consumer pressure, to be carcinogenic. gmo-awareness-blog-masthead-4

In the past five years there have been efforts made in a number of states to require foods that use genetically modified ingredients to be labeled. The companies that make the chemicals, control the seeds for planting, and the organizations that manufacture and sell the food involved have poured in billions of dollars and persuaded people who are not taking time to read independently that there is no ill effect. However, in each fight the margin is getting closer and closer so now these organizations are fighting in Congress to prohibit labeling. They think the typical American is too stupid to understand and if they see an issue they will not buy the products.

Most meat that is sold in supermarkets are from animals that have spent at least a few months in what is called a animal confinement facility.  Efforts by activists have raised awareness that the automatic use of antibiotics to increase the growth rate and keep the animals from getting sick in the dirty and congested facilities have resulted in antibiotic resistance strains of bacteria that mean people who get sick may not be able to be helped. Some places have eliminated its use and are advertising “antibiotic free.” pig factory farmKS cattle feedlot

 

 

 

 

It has become illegal to obtain and show these photos, as the organizations behind it realize you might get concerned and stop buying their products. Stopping the photos does not mean the practice has stopped.

So, now what?  Well, take a few minutes and think about your own body or your kids.  Does anyone have pretty constant tummy problems?  How about immune system problems, like allergies, eczema,  arthritis, and there even has been some discussion about chemicals in conventional food related to higher rates of ADHD.  If anyone eating out of your kitchen or eating out regularly has any of these symptoms, you may want to switch a pattern of spending.farmacy

You might want to try what we did……we did a 6-month trial. We did not buy organic as our first choice, but from local farmers we got to know and understood they used no sprays and other organic practices to raise their food. We supplemented with organic products only if we could not obtain what we needed. My husband was skeptical but after 6 months my arthritis was more easily managed and my daughter’s gut issues which had bothered her since her teen years improved dramatically.

Local Harvest  is a national organization that provides information near your zip code for farms. No excuse you don’t “know your farmer.”localharvest_logo

We also discovered one more benefit….our food tasted better than what we could buy in the supermarket.  If only for THAT reason, if you ENJOY eating, you might want to run a test.

 


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Passion WITH Thinking

What’s your passion? What gets you fired up enough to get involved?

Me? I have several now. Have had many over my life, but right now there are two that capture my attention.

Awareness of our food and how full of chemicals much of it is and unhealthy results of conventional farming practices can affect health. I learned this only 5 years ago and I am a strong advocate to Know Your Farmer. By eating locally you not only can chose food sourced at places where you support the growing practice, but by supporting a local farmer, you are contributing to a healthier local economy.


But right now, it appears the Presidential campaign season has started and is full swing. Like Christmas advertising that starts the day after Halloween, we Americans are in for lots and lots and lots and lots and lots (ad nauseum) of campaign propaganda. Get ready for the roller coaster for the next 15 months.Donkey_Elephant_Boxing_article

My political leaning is liberal but I read a lot of information from and about all the candidates. I want to know as much as I can about each of them in the hope that any discussion will be intelligent.

I ran into a problem already though. One friend of mine took me to task because he felt I had made a negative comment about Donald Trump and was concerned I was going to get nasty in loading Facebook with negatives. whyattackadswork

The issue I made was that when the two (expletive deleted) guys beat up the homeless Latino man and attributed their actions to Donald Trump’s comments about Mexican immigrants being bad, I reported what Trump’s comment was. And I offered one question.

As you probably know, all Trump had to say at the time was “I will say, the people that are following me are very passionate. They love this country. They want this country to be great again. But they are very passionate. I will say that.”

My comment was “No words about this action being wrong. No concern about the victim. Is this the kind of leadership our country needs?” My friend felt this was negative commenting on my part. I do not think so. I hope to make people think, not just have a emotional reaction.   I do not think what I pointed out is bashing Trump. Bashing him would be saying he is an idiot. He’s clearly not an idiot. He just is not a man who considers all he needs to before opening his mouth.

Now I see several days after his comments, Trump has added “Boston incident is terrible. We need energy and passion, but we must treat each other with respect,” and “I would never condone violence.”

So NOW, after he gets backlash, he has changed his statement to one of more concern.  This is the kind of action I have seen from Trump over the last month. He says a lot of things that have to be later amended. I think this is the way he is and I for one do not want him to be our nation’s leader. thinking clearly

But my point is NOT to point out concern about one candidate. Each gets equal treatment. If I see something that is inconsistent with helping the people of this nation, it needs to be considered.

Some people chose their Presidential candidate based on one issue and one issue alone. Women who claim they are Pro-Life thereby support candidates that are anti abortion without any consideration of other issues of health care, education programs, and job opportunities for the people who are not earning a living wage. Very narrowly defining what is right hides a lot of what is wrong.think abotu results

Passion is great but it has to be able to expand to include all the influences to that issue. Just like I believe the problems in the food system relate to environmental concerns and thereby lend my support to movements to educate how fracking ruins our water supply, how coal mining and the toxic residue of its waste affects the land so things can no longer grow so areas like the coal counties in West Virginia need economic redevelopment, how not teaching our children methods of problem solving and how to handle responsibilities leads to increased escape into drugs….all these side issues are fueled because of my passion for healthy food.

So, my passion at this season is for education and clear thinking. Feel your passion but by all means, use your brain.choice-free-learn-paradox-text-Favim.com-405981


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You Have a Choice

Last year the USDA has approved one the latest stupid ideas: send live chickens to China to be processed. Think about it….crowd way too many chickens into a pallet size cage for the trip to China, process them there because workers get maybe $1-$2 per hour instead of the $10 they get paid here, and ship the packaged meat back to the US for sale. China loves the idea because the concept can be modified, they believe, to Chinese raised chicken in time, (Read about it here.)

There is no news since last fall about this decision. In other words, we have no idea if it is happening. One American economist said it does not make CENTS to pay for the transportation over 7000 miles two times, but the rule permits it, so it is perhaps only a matter of time before some corporation figures out how to make it profitable.

Concern about food processed in China is well-founded. There has been toxic dog food, baby food that needed to be recalled and more.

If you shop for the least expensive price, you may be tempted by this. If you still have a working brain cell, you won’t be.

So what is your alternative? You could buy chicken with an organic label. But there is a better choice.

Pastured chickens on Dancing Faun Farm, Oregon

Pastured chickens on Dancing Faun Farm, Oregon

You have farmers near where you live that raise meat chickens. You can learn how they raise them, what practices they use. Chickens that are pastured raised, either free ranging or in chicken tractors, have full time access to eating like birds…..pecking in the dirt, eating bugs and grass seeds. Farmers typically supplement with feed.

Chicken tractor on Avalon Farm, West Virginia, moved daily to provide a fresh patch of grass to the chickens.

Chicken tractor on Avalon Farm, West Virginia, moved daily to provide a fresh patch of grass to the chickens.

Buying locally means supporting a neighbor, a local farmer who works very hard, long hours to bring you healthy food.  It does mean you will never buy a $4 chicken again. Work your food….and health care budget…to allow for $12 chicken and you will feel MUCH better. Chicken no longer is the inexpensive meat meal it once was in our home. It is, in contrast, one of several meat meals we make weekly. We have learned to get three meals from one chicken as well, which reduces its per serving cost.

If you consider the FARMacy an important component to your health, this information is already part of your lifestyle. If this is a new piece of horrifying information to you, you have a lot of catching up to do about the stuff you have been putting into your body-and affecting your health.


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Outside Looking Back In

I lived in Huntington for seven years; Graham for 20. We worked, raised my son Sam through middle and high school, and got involved in a number of places and groups where our interests and talents fit.  We planned Graham’s retirement and our move to Oregon to coincide with Sam heading out to college and we feel good with that decision. But it sure felt nice to visit Huntington this past weekend.blog-logo

One of the groups that we loved and shared our talents was The Wild Ramp. I visited food producers and wrote blogs, worked in the market each Wednesday morning, and helped on an array of other projects including sewing volunteer aprons and shopping totes, compiling the cookbook, and making presentations to other groups around West Virginia who were interested in emulating the market model. I did not serve on the Board of Directors because I knew I would be leaving Huntington for Oregon and I did not want to “leave a hole” when I left. Well, I carried the “hole” of missing The Wild Ramp with me.

DSCF5747As lifetime members I have stayed as closely connected as living on the west coast permits. I read the blog and Facebook pages. I’ve ordered a few items, including ramps, which Shelly Keeney graciously mailed. I planted those ramps in as close a setting as I could find…at high elevation in a stand of deciduous trees…on a farm about 15 miles from where I live. Next spring we will carefully harvest enough for one dish to share with the farmer. I have worked with a group that wants a year round indoor market, but the commitment needed to get it beyond the planning phase proved too much. I think they have a lot of places where they can buy organic food and do not fully understand the benefits of more greatly supporting local farmers.

Last Saturday I spent five hours back at The Wild Ramp. I got to poke my nose in just about every corner of the new market and greatly admire the new space. I noticed the new items offered for sale since I moved and also missed a few I hoped to find. I bought tee shirts and coffee mugs and more and I’m sure my purchases helped the cash register take that day!  DSCF6590

Most of all, the best part, was connecting with the people. I chatted with shoppers, asking all those “pesky” questions I always asked: How did you hear about The Wild Ramp? How often do you shop here? Why? How do you tell others about the market?  How much do you usually spend? The answers continue to be interesting.

  • Many people still believe that The Wild Ramp is an organic market. There is one certified organic farmer but overall, It is not. But we know our farmers and if you want food that is grown without chemicals, you can find it here.
  • There is a belief before entering the market that it is expensive, more expensive than local supermarkets. Overall, it is not. Or maybe, I should say, it depends.  If you buy prepared foods, buying whole foods and all the ingredients you need to prepare a meal can be higher. Once you have a pretty standard pantry of common ingredients, buying whole food tends to be less expensive. In addition, whole foods are not loaded with chemicals, so if anyone in the family has some allergies or arthritis or skin rashes or digestive problems, staying away from food additives can make a huge improvement in health. Periodic cost comparisons of prices at The Wild Ramp and local grocery stores show that costs are comparable.
  • The market’s items continue to be chosen as local gifts for people who live elsewhere. I know I used to…and once again….had gifts in mind with some of my purchases.

Of course, some of my friends knew I would be there. It was a great emotional rush of hugs and laughter, playing catch-op and extending invitations to come visit. For foodies, Oregon offers a continual feast. I noticed as I shared stories with some that we seemed to be local gluttons: fresh salmon and oysters, olive oil, wine, hazelnuts, and all local produce and protein sources we had found. (The Wild Ramp’s effort to help Huntington experience the 30-Mile Meal could be limited to 15 miles in the Willamette Valley.)DSCF6593

It was working with the farmers and other food producers for The Wild Ramp that my awareness of the importance of local food grew. In today’s world, where food is sourced or processed in counties that do not have the same compliance record with food safety, where produce prices in the supermarkets will be rising because of the drought in California, identifying and supporting local farmers who produce healthy food is even more important.

So, as I laughingly admitted to Gail Stoll Patton, even in Oregon I still talk about The Wild Ramp as “my” market. And Gail, in her wisdom, replied, “It IS “your” market. And it is “mine” and it belongs to each and everyone who helps it operate and shops there.” No truer words. Be proud, Huntington, you built it, and you support it.