Archive for August, 2009

Vermont Folklife Center Exhibit Revisits the Nearings’ Good Life

Thursday, August 27th, 2009

No other couple has had as deep an impact on the back-to-the-land movment of the 60s and 70s—and on Vermont—as Helen and Scott Nearing. The Vermont Folklife Center honors them this month with the exhibit “Almost Utopia: In Search of the Good Life in Mid-Century America,” which continues until September 5th at the Vermont Folklife Center in Middlebury.

VPR, our local NPR affiliate, reports.

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Garrison Keillor Reads a Poem by David Budbill on The Writer’s Almanac

Thursday, August 27th, 2009

I must admit it gives me a little goose when I hear Garrison Keillor, on The Writer’s Almanac, say the words “published by Chelsea Green Publishing Company” at the tail end of his program. (“Hey! I work there!”) It’s almost like hearing your own name on the radio.

But of course, the honor belongs to author David Budbill, whose poem “Ben,” from the collection Judevine, was selected by Mr. Keillor for the nationally syndicated program.

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For Love of Italy’s Food and Wine: Deirdre Heekin Profiled in the Valley News

Thursday, August 27th, 2009

It’s funny that our local paper, the Valley News, picked up on Deirdre and Caleb’s grace when doing this story on them recently. It’s exactly their grace and seemingly-effortless-yet-monstrously-accomplished lives that caught our eye when they first approached us to publish their books, In Late Winter We Ate Pears by Deirdre and Caleb and Libation, A Bitter Alchemy by Deirdre.

In the article below, the Valley News does a great job summing up those accomplishments (and their monstrous workload). These are folks to keep an eye on!

This has been a full summer for Deirdre Heekin and Caleb Barber, but they’ve handled it with the ease and grace of dancers. Maybe that’s because they once were dancers. Now, they fill their days with other things.

Still, much like dancers, they make every accomplishment seem effortless — whether they are serving customers in their 22-seat Woodstock restaurant, Pane e Salute, or working at home in Barnard, planting 230 grape vines for their new vineyard, or tending to their vegetable and herb gardens, or on the road promoting Heekin’s new memoir, Libation: A Bitter Alchemy, and In Late Winter We Ate Pears: A Year of Hunger and Love, a cookbook they co-authored that has just been republished in paperback as a companion to Libation.

They’ve also taken two lengthy trips to the Italian countryside this year, looking for ideas, and they’ve hosted wine tastings and dinners. They’re crushing grapes for their wine, making new liqueurs, getting the next book started, keeping up with their blog — and if that’s not enough, there are a few other things in the works.

“We stay pretty busy,” Heekin said recently during a conversation on the porch of their home overlooking a long valley set against the backdrop of the Green Mountains.

Their plates may be overflowing, but judging from the food and wine they serve and the depth of research and quality of writing in their books, it’s evident they pay attention to the details. And they don’t let all the other projects get in the way of running their small Italian restaurant in Woodstock. It’s at the heart of all their endeavors.

Pane e Salute not only gives Barber an opportunity to produce his simple but elegant fare, it also allows Heekin’s knowledge about wine to stand out. The restaurant is the culmination of almost two decades of learning gleaned from Italian culture. One of the first lessons they learned while living in Italy, they note in Pears, was that good food is local, seasonal and straightforward. Instead of planning a meal ahead of shopping, Italians go to the market and buy what’s in season, fresh and local and build the meal around what they find.

That principle is at the heart of the food served at Heekin and Barber’s restaurant. The ingredients they use are as local and fresh as they can find. Their menus are pegged to the seasons, and Barber cooks uncomplicated heritage Italian recipes that they have collected over the years. Pears features some of those recipes, arranged by seasons and by what’s available.

Read the whole article here.

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Adapting to Climate Change: Saving Seeds for Our Future

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

As the planet continues to warm, we’ll need hardier crops that will actually survive a hotter, drier environment in order to continue feeding the world’s growing population—and the tiny selection of produce the average supermarket stocks just isn’t going to cut it.

Several non-profit organizations are freezing seed varieties so that we don’t lose them forever, but they may just be storing seeds that are frozen in time—plants that may not be able to survive in a changing climate. That’s why author Gary Nabhan (Renewing America’s Food Traditions: Saving and Savoring the Continent’s Most Endangered Foods) and Native Seeds/SEARCH believe their most important work is planting and cultivating seed varieties in order to make sure these plants remain viable.

From PRI’s Marketplace:

SAM EATON: I’m in a tiny Southern Arizona town called Patagonia. And it’s hot. About 107 degrees today. The hills around me are parched and brown. But the field I’m standing in pulses with life.

Suzanne Nelson is conservation director for Native Seeds/SEARCH. It’s a nonprofit that saves and distributes seeds from ancient Southwest crops like maize, beans and sunflowers.

Many of the plants now thriving on this 60-acre seed farm are the same ones southwest Indians cultivated here long before Columbus.

SUZANNE NELSON: This is a brown Tepary bean. It’s got a pretty large tap root. And the leaves will actually fold up on each other so they’re shading each other and preventing water loss through the leaf surfaces.

Qualities that enabled these early crops to survive in the hot Southwest deserts. But today they may hold even more value.

Nelson says plant breeders are racing to craft new seeds that can withstand the heat waves and diseases of a warmer planet. And some of the genes in these ancient heirloom crops may hold the answer.

Peter Bretting is with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s plant gene bank program.

PETER BRETTING: We have found genes for resistance to diseases or insects in genetic materials where we would not have suspected it to be until we tested them.

Bretting says the world’s enormous diversity of heirloom crops is like a vast library of unopened books.

Unfortunately, scientists like Bretting may never have a chance to study many of them. That’s because farmers across the world are swapping out regional varieties for only a handful of high yielding crops sold by international seed companies.

Gary Nabhan is author of “Where Our Food Comes From.”

GARY NABHAN: Globally, we are losing crop varieties as fast as we ever have.

Take apples. Back in the pioneer days the U.S. had more than 7,000 named varieties. Today that number has fallen to around 300.

The USDA’s Peter Bretting says once those seeds are gone . . .

BRETTING: You lose another tool out of your toolbox. You lose another option.

Read the whole article here.


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Bloggers! Jump Into The Healthcare Debate With Your Own Book Giveaway

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

Want to get involved in the great healthcare debate? We’ve got an idea. We at Chelsea Green have famously had great success with contests in the past, and now we want to help you taste the sweet nectar of audience participation. Here’s our idea.

You host a contest for your audience on your blog. It can be anything you like, but we’ve made some suggestions below. We’ll sponsor the contest by shipping free copies of Howard Dean’s Prescription for Real Healthcare Reform to the winners of your contest…up to 5 people! You do the contest, we’ll ship the books. AND! We’ll send you a copy as a thanks for participating.

Not convinced? Here are some quick reasons:

  • Your audience loves free stuff. They do. You know it.
  • Your audience loves topical issues. Healthcare is SO right now.
  • Your audience loves Howard Dean. Or, maybe they don’t. But they’ve HEARD of him, and that’s awesome.
  • Use our prizes to create an engaged audience that returns over and over to your site.

No ideas for a contest? Here are some good ones. (We think so anyway.)

  • Video Contest: Submit a quick video explaining why you support a public option. Best (or highest rated) answers win! (Use YouTube or something…)
  • Essay Contest: Submit a 400-600 quick essay explaining why you support healthcare. Best (or highest rated) answers win!
  • Twitter Contest: In 140 characters or less, make the most compelling argument for the public option. Be sure to use the #publicoption tag!
  • Comment Contest: Be the 1st, 5th, or Nth person to comment on your contest post.
  • Facebook Contest: This can be a combination of so many contest ideas! Photos! Videos! Etc. Be sure to point people to our book page on Facebook.

Just send Makenna an email to get started, or DM us on Twitter. We’ll want to know what you’re planning and when you’re planning to run the contest so that we can promote it on our blog, on Twitter, and on our Facebook page!

Cool? Good. Go.

Jesse (@jsmcdougall)

My Vermont Farm: Chicken Killing at Home

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

This week was a doozy on the farm. It was the first of the chicken killing. And we let the Brooklyn foodie do the work. Full story here:

From The Huffington Post:

Last night, we had fourteen people over for dinner. And they wanted chicken. Good thing we had some…but they were running around. And so it was–all in the name of well balanced meals–farm life came down to its grittiest.

I live and work on a farm in central Vermont, and there’s always family around. That means a lot of emotional turmoil (and joy, ehem), a lot of secretly chugging whiskey in the closet (not really, but really), and best of all–extra hands. No one visits without pitching in. And now that it’s late August, the farm work is at its peak. Harvesting, preserving food for winter, and chicken killing.

While some may balk (bawwwk) at the idea of taking a life on the grounds of a homestead, we do it for the sake of food–not sport–and when it comes down to it, for the sake of the chicken itself. It’s not indulging in sadism, nor for power over an animal, nor an image of something hardcore and awesome to impress the neighbors. It’s about being connected to the very foundations of self sufficiency, and understanding that meat does not simply fall from the sky, packaged on a shelf in a supermarket; it comes from a living, breathing being. Chicken killing at home is deep. Emotional. Ethical. As Joel Salatin says in his book Pastured Poultry Profit$, it’s necessary:

“Animal rights activists, for all their misdirection, are right on target when pushing for animal slaughter as close to the point of production as possible. Not only does it relieve [the chicken's] stress, a direct cause of tough meat, but is far more environmentally sensible.”

Joel Salatin is at the forefront of the farming movement. His name is becoming household, and his practices are emulated across the country. He’s the farmer who changed Michael Pollan’s life, in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, remember? He’s the farmer young farmers want to be; he makes money farming, but he does it right–his animals live according to their “ness”, which means closest to their nature. And while most chicken producers send their birds long distances to slaughter houses (which really stresses out the chickens in their final days), like us–and many other small farmers in Vermont–Salatin supports the at-home processing method. To him, it represents the very foundation of his respect for his animals. He says:

“We have customers who occasionally like to come out and ‘get connected’ to their food…If one of our ultimate goals is to reconnect the urban and rural sectors of our culture, on-farm processing affords us a technique to accomplish that goal.”


Read the entire article here.

WATCH: Author Elise McDonough Prepares Fresh, Local Panzanella with Farmers Market Bounty

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

Elise McDonough, author of the new Chelsea Green Guide Sustainable Food: How to Buy Right and Spend Less, takes a leisurely stroll through the Union Square farmers market in New York and shows us how to make sustainable, healthy, and delicious food choices by picking produce that’s seasonal and local.

Elise then whisks us away to her rooftop garden where she gathers herbs for her homemade panzanella, an Italian bread salad that, I have to say, looks mighty tasty from where I’m sitting.

WATCH: Matthew Stein Stocks the Low-Tech Medicine Chest

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

Beyond 50 Radio interviewed author Matthew Stein, author of When Technology Fails: A Manual for Self-Reliance, Sustainability, and Surviving the Long Emergency, on Sunday to try to get the word out to people about the kinds of things you need to have in your medicine chest in case disaster ever strikes.

Matthew proposes a medicine chest well-stocked with alternative herbal remedies, and even a colloidal silver generator. As detrimental bacteria continue to evolve and become more and more resistant to antibiotics, alternative remedies may be the answer.

WATCH: A Farm Grows On Brooklyn

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

Picture it: the island of Manhattan as seen from space. Rather than one rectangular island of green—Central Park—floating in an unfriendly ocean of grays and blacks, imagine that ocean dotted with thousands of smaller islands. That’s right—I’m talking about rooftop gardens.

Think of the benefits. The cooling effect of a green roof means a drop in energy used for air conditioning in the summer, which means a reduced burden on the electrical grid, less fossil fuels getting used up to produce electricity, and fewer carbon emissions. It means fresh, local food right right at your doorstep (or above your head, as the case may be). And it means easing the burden on the city’s sewer system during severe rainstorms: the soil will just soak it right up. Think of it as earth-sheltered housing for the inner city. You don’t even have to build a new structure to do it.

BBC News sent a camera crew to New York City to film the project, headed by Lisa Goode of Goode Green.

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The Wait Is Over: New Chelsea Green Guides Now Available!

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

If you’ve been following for some time, you might remember the Green Guide contest we ran about a year back. It went a little something like this: “submit your proposal for a new addition to our popular pocket-size Chelsea Green Guides series, and our Editors will pick their two favorites to be published at some future time.”

Well, grasshoppers, your long wait is over. Say hello to Chelsea Green’s newest authors, Elise McDonough and Amy Kolb Noyes—and say hello to our newest Green Guides: Nontoxic Housecleaning and Sustainable Food: How to Buy Right and Spend Less.

Here’s an excerpt from Sustainable Food:

Seven Simple Considerations for Sustainable Food

The basic hierarchy followed in this book, inspired by the Natural Gourmet Institute’s founder, Annemarie Colbin, is whole, seasonal, organic, local, fresh, real, and delicious. Let’s start our edible adventure by defining each of these terms.

Whole foods exist as close to their natural state as possible, and represent the simplest and most nutritious form of human sustenance. Increasing the amount of whole foods in your diet will instantly cut down on the amount of unhealthy additives you consume, while simultaneously reducing your carbon footprint.

Whole foods arrive in their natural packaging, such as a peel or skin, which can easily be composted, along with inedible cores, seeds, or stems, thus reducing the amount of household garbage that ends up in a landfill. More importantly, by avoiding processed foods, you opt out of an industrial food-production system that converts wholesome ears of corn into industrial products like high-fructose corn syrup, and that considers synthetic food additives like aspartame, monosodium glutamate, and trans fats to be part of a balanced diet.

Grains are whole foods when they are minimally processed (brown rice, oat groats, wheat berries, etc). Fruit must have no edible pieces removed. For instance, apples are whole foods, but apple juice is not. In the kitchen, meals that are created from whole ingredients are considered “wholesome.” For example, a smoothie blended together from berries, bananas, cashews, and whole milk can be considered a whole food, since all of the ingredients qualify.

It’s easy to find whole foods in the produce section, bakery, deli, or dairy case on the periphery of your grocery store, whereas heavily processed, “packaged goods” typically rule the center aisles. When you must venture into the center of the labyrinth, consider leaving your cart behind, to discourage impulse buys.

Seasonal foods arrive in abundance at a particular time of year, such as pumpkins in the autumn, parsnips in the winter, asparagus in the spring, and strawberries in the summer. Adding seasonal foods to your own diet means challenging your palate with new dishes and connecting your kitchen to the larger rhythms of the planet.

Before our modern system of shipping and refrigeration, almost all food was seasonal, and you’ll definitely find this reflected in traditional recipes. For instance, pasta primavera translates as “springtime pasta,” and includes vegetables like fresh peas that ripen at that time of year. And while making roasted asparagus in the winter sounds like a delicious idea too, it’s less so when you consider all the extra fuel required to airfreight those tender spears from South America. Better to wait till spring and buy local.

Seasonal eaters also save money and get fresher food, since they buy perishable items when they are most abundant. To extend the season, you can preserve some of this bounty through methods of food storage like canning, pickling, drying, and freezing. Small-scale home canning and freezing efforts are much more energy efficient than industrial processing, once you take into account the energy required to transport these foods to your local supermarket, and from there to your pantry or home freezer.

Organic foods, including fruits, vegetables, grains, meat, milk, and cheeses, have been produced without the use of chemical pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. Removing these largely petroleum-based inputs from the food chain fights global warming, reverses soil degradation, and produces healthier, more sustainable foods. The USDA also rejects genetically modified organisms (GMOs) when awarding organic certification.

Originally, the organic farming movement sought not only to avoid synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, but also to address the myriad other drawbacks of industrialized agriculture by supporting small, diverse, local, and eco-friendly food producers. However, the success of organic products in the marketplace has attracted large corporate investment and government interference, both of which continue to transform the movement. It’s important to remember that, while the greater availability of certified organic products represents a victory for consumers, the struggle to secure safe, sustainable food for everyone remains far from over. One way you can help is to join the Organic Consumers Association, and help fight the agrochemical companies and corporate agribusinesses that constantly lobby the USDA to weaken existing organic standards.

Meanwhile, despite their recent, rapid growth, organics still constitute a very small sector of the overall food economy. Also, as just mentioned, large corporations have muscled in on this increasingly profitable market. On the plus side this means less pesticide pollution, and more accessibility and affordability for consumers; on the minus side it usually means a continuation of agribusiness as usual, such as factory-style, monocrop farming, and the long-distance transportation of organic produce from remote locales to markets.

According to the USDA, anything labeled “100% Organic” must contain less than 5 percent nonorganic material, while the “organic” label mandates at least 90 percent organic ingredients, and “Made with Organic Ingredients” requires 70 percent organic ingredients. Organic produce can have some pesticide residue on it, according to a 2002 Consumers Union report. While detectable residues were much lower compared to conventional items, some organic items can be tainted by pesticide drift from neighboring nonorganic farms. And organic meat or poultry may, in some circumstances, have been fed a certain amount of nonorganic grain or hay, or the animals treated, if sick, with antibiotics. When antibiotics are used on an animal it is removed from the herd and not reunited until all drugs are out of its system. In the case of organic dairy cows on antibiotics, their milk is not added to the food supply until they are healthy again.

The commonly accepted standard for local food means it was grown, gathered, hunted, or raised within a 100-mile radius of where you live. Self-described “locavores” refer to this area as their “foodshed.” A consumer’s dietary impact on the ecosystem is referred to as the “foodprint,” a riff on the popular “footprint” metaphor that measures an individual’s overall carbon impact based on their lifestyle. Purchasing local foods directly supports small-scale farms, giving the farmer more of your grocery dollar and keeping money circulating within the local economy.

Throwing a 100-mile dinner party offers a fun way to learn about the bounty of your own foodshed, while simultaneously spreading the word about the benefits of local eating, including freshness, value, reduction of energy consumption, and support for nearby farmers.

For optimal taste and nutrition, fresh food should be eaten as soon as possible after it has been picked, harvested, caught, or slaughtered. Avoid using frozen and canned foods whenever possible. Frozen foods consume tons of energy in order to stay below freezing until you’re ready to cook them. Canned foods are convenient and have a long shelf life, but they also rely on an energy-intensive production process.

Instead, when fresh food is not available or preferable, investigate traditional methods of food preservation—like drying, pickling, and fermenting—that can actually make food healthier! While canning and freezing foods requires energy, it’s still more efficient to preserve food at home with these methods if driving to the store to buy prepackaged frozen food is the alternative. “Putting food by” is a traditional and valuable skill for thrifty and eco-conscious families.

A Twinkie is a tangible item. It can be seen, touched, and tasted. So is it real? For the purposes of this discussion, it is not. “Real” food, in our definition of the term, will exclude any product of industrial refining processes, excluding not just junk food and fast food, but many of the packaged goods found in the modern supermarket—everything from what Gorton’s calls “fish sticks” to what Kraft calls “macaroni and cheese.” Those fake foods aren’t grown or even cooked like “real” foods: they’re imagined into being by a corporate marketing team, created in a lab by a food scientist, constructed out of refined ingredients, artificial flavors, and preservatives, and then heavily promoted and advertised.

The famous question organic farmers posed to the USDA certification program is “Can a Twinkie be organic?” Well yes, technically, because Hostess could start with organic ingredients and then highly refine or process them. But in many ways the concept of organic “convenience” foods is antithetical to the true spirit of the original organic-foods movement. So look beyond the label and don’t assume that highly processed “organic foods” (of which there are many) are good for us or for the planet.

Eating right for the planet isn’t about deprivation: it’s about gaining a new perspective on food and a better understanding of the role humanity plays in the greater ecosystem. The experience of cooking and eating should be one of life’s great joys, not a chore to dread or a routine to take for granted. Be mindful of tastes, and know that real, whole, fresh, local, seasonal organic food should be delicious food too!

Savor your food, chew thoroughly, and make time to eat without distractions. Appreciate the colors, textures, and beautiful forms of fruits and vegetables. Eating slowly brings increased satisfaction, and dining purposefully with good intentions makes food that much more pleasurable.


Other titles in the Chelsea Green Guide series:

Energy: Use Less—Save More

Greening Your Office: From Cupboard to Corporation: An A–Z Guide

Water: Use Less—Save More

Biking to Work

Composting: An Easy Household Guide

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: An Easy Household Guide

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