Sunday, January 31, 2010

Well, shit. My healthy eating plan to avoid the US mass-production food system

Thoughts I am thinking today, after watching Food Inc yesterday:

  • I need to find a local farmer who grows meat in a humane way- I do not want to be buying into the Tyson-Perdue, etc. structure of cruelty to animals, farmers, and human workers at all
  • If I do not find a local farmer and commit to eat meat of this standard, I need to just buck up and be a vegetarian again
  • I want to continue to focus on eating seasonally and the methods that enable folks to do that, like freezing, preserving, storing, and drying food. Since I don't have a lot of storage from last year, I will focus on learning more and developing my strategy this season, and then I will really get into in on April 1st, like Barbara and her family did in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.

I want to cut down shopping at chain grocery stores, such as Kroger, Meijer, Whole Foods, and Trader Joes. Part of this involves analyzing where my food is currently coming from.
Right now (in the winter) I would say this is where my food comes from:

50% Ypsilanti Food Co-op
20% Kroger/Whole Foods/TJs
30% Restaurants, (which means I don't know where the food comes from but I can assume it's most likely not from local growers and farmers)

In the summer, my food consumption looks more like this:

70% Farmer's Market/Ypsilanti Food Co-op
30% Restaurants

My overall goal is for my average food consumption to look like this:

15% home-grown
75% Ypsilanti Food Co-op/Farmer's Market/CSA
10% Restaurant

I'm not sure how much food I can actually grow for myself in my own yard. I've been thinking a lot about what I want to plant, etc. I need to get my soil tested @ the MSU Extension office before I plant anything because I could have led in my soil, etc. and a soil test will tell me what the pH is of my soil and a bit more about the composition.

Assuming I don't have poisionous lead-filled soil, how much food can grow in 500 sq feet?
250 of that is already devoted to raspberry & blueberry bushes that are small and will not produce a lot in the first several years.
Another 50 of that is devoted to the tall, skinny, deranged looking apple trees that we have. If we treat them with some pesticides this year, they might produce edible apples... (last year they were all wormy and chomped-up)
So that leaves me with about 200 sq feet of space left for veggies and herbs. What I can't seem to get a gauge on is how much food do I have the potential to grow, and how much of my total diet could that actually account for?

I'm doing research now on what I can plant and how much light it needs and when, etc. From all this reading and watching and learning, one thing is clear: Making healthy eating choices that are also healthy for your community and the earth is a lot of work, and it's definitely a concious choice you have to make and stick to.

I need to hop outside and get my soil sample together too, so I can get it back before I plant!! It looks nice outside- and I guess it IS nice outside, if you consider nice to be sunny and 15 degrees. :)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

"Animal Vegetable Miracle" : my winter life-preserver!

I know, I know- it's only January 28th! But I can't help looking forward to Spring. I am really not much of a winter person, although I do know that spring and summer would be a lot less appreciated if we didn't have some cold and snow. However, the sun is shining, the snow has melted a bit, and if I squint my eyes a whole lot, it could start to look like spring outside, right?

At least we gotten to the point in the year where it is not ridiculous to start planning what I will plant this coming season.

The Master Gardener program has been really inspiring so far. I am enjoying hearing a new speaker each week, who is an expert on the topic of the week. So far, we've covered basic plant science, and fruiting trees. I've learned a lot about plant life and plant cell structure, as well as how plants work. The fruiting tree class really provided some insight on how fruit trees are pollinated, and how many cannot cross-pollinate with a like cultivar (who knew? I guess tree experts knew, and I didn't)! Class tonight will be on Plant Soils. Woo!

The only tough part for me is that as a newbie to gardening, most of this knowledge is theory right now, until I can get to the ground and start digging and seeing some of these things for myself. I'm pretty good at retaining knowledge and storing it until I can use it- that was what I did for most of my Masters level social work classes in grad school too. I hadn't worked out in the "field" (of social work) yet so I just had to absorb the knowledge until I had a place to apply it.

I'm also re-reading Animal Vegetable Miracle- a Year of Food Life- by Barbara Kingsolver. I had started it last year but had never quite finished it for some reason- maybe because in my mind, it is also a bit theoretical until I have some plants in the ground. At any rate, AVM is a wonderful, funny, inspiring book, and if you haven't read it, I suggest you do! I love others of Barbara Kingsolver's books, including Animal Dreams, Pigs in Heaven and the Bean Trees, and Prodigal Summer, but I am enjoying AVM extra because it has been a personal motivator to continue the locavore lifestyle I am trying to cultivate for myself. It details Barbara and her family's move to a farm they own in Virgina and the one-year experiment they embark upon to obtain all their food from their community or as close to it as possible. The fact that they have an actual farm to do this on (although much of the group is hilly and not suitable for edible gardening) makes it a bit easier that the 600 square feet I have to use, but really, the whole book is really a fun read and makes you think about where your food comes from, who it comes from, how long it has traveled to get to you, and what kind of quality you might be sacrificing by eating food shipped from thousands of miles away.

So check it out! I actually found out that Barabara Kingsolver was my second cousin's Girl Scout leadera a counselor at the Girl Scout camp some of my relatives went to, which is pretty funny. All these years I'd been reading her books and talking her up and then I found out we're kind of connected!

Until I can plant, the MSU Extension office and Barbara Kingsolver are keeping me afloat, and I am thankful for that!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Don't stop me now...

Happy New Year!!!

I've started working out regularly again, because I need to, and I want to, and it feels good! Also I'm getting back on track to eat in a healthy way, a subject on which I kind of fell off the wagon. I have no more excuses- I know what is healthy and what is not, I know where to find local, seasonal and organic food, and I can afford to do it. I just have to DO IT.

So there's that. It's hard to eat local in the winter because I am pretty much a fruititarian and there is not a lot of fruit growing in Michigan in January :) But I manage, and I suppliment with the occasion grape or blueberry where needed!                                               

I got some great gardening books for Chanukkah/Christmas, including:

Michigan Gardener's Guide

The Michigan Gardener's Companion
Of course I devoured them immediatley, and they were really informative. I would recommend them to anyone who is new-ish to gardening in Michigan. The Gardener's Companion is more reading whereas the Gardener's Guide is more pictures and specific plant descriptions, etc. Both great though! I also got a North American Bird guide, which I am excited to check out!

My Master Gardener classes start tomorrow @ the MSU Extension office in Ann Arbor- woo! I still need to finish reading my chapter on Plant Science which is a little baffleing and overwhelming. Now I remember why I tuned out science classes in high school... and college. But this science will apply to something I would actually like to do in life, which is gardening, so I think it will be easier for me to learn than it was the first and second time around!

I think some folks in the neighborhood are going to be meeting in a week or two to talk about sustainability in Ypsi and how to develop a community of folks interested in sustainabile living- I was invited as a result of meeting with Lisa, a neighbor who is a gardening and sustainability guru. I'm really looking forward to the get together!

Lisa told me about this idea that they were thinking about, which is to develop "pods" within our neighborhoods. I understood this to mean "folks who are interested in sharing food, rescources and skills with each other". Example: If my backyard turns out to be a tomato-producing machine (which I hope it will be), and Lisa garden can't grow tomatoes, I could exchange some of my tomatoes for some of her kale or lettuce or something! This could also work with tools, etc. My lawnmower is broken and terrible, so if I could borrow someone elses lawnmower as needed, then I don't have to buy another one, which is really not necesary anyway! It's kind of family-esque in a way, since I would be mooching off of my parents for all these things if they didn't leave three hours away :)

I hope to share cool bits of knowledge as I progress in my Master Gardener class, and hopefully I'll be a badass gardener soon haha. In reality, I know it will take years to develop a green thumb with any talent, but I am just a class person. If there is someone I would like to learn, I always prefer a classroom environment. Sign me up!