News posts from makennagoodman's Archive

Great Simple Recipe: Pasta With Leeks

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

I think leeks have a bad rap–I remember “eww”ing a lot as a child. But oh, how misinformed I was! Potato leek soup, pork and leek dumplings, leek omelette…oh, let me count the ways a leek can be delicious. Now that I’m an adult, I planted a row of leeks in my garden, and I “ew” no more. They’re such beautiful vegetables; they stand up straight like a duke, their smooth white base and sturdy green leaves spiking to the sky. Yum, in other words.

Chefs Deirdre Heekin and Caleb Barber, authors of In Late Winter We Ate Pears: A Year of Hunger and Love, give great simple recipes (combined with stories of where the recipe comes from!):

The following is an excerpt from In Late Winter We Ate Pears: A Year of Hunger and Love. It has been adapted for the web.

Pasta e Porri
Pasta with Leeks and Parmigiano

Let’s not pretend that this dish isn’t really just a vehicle for the cheese. The heat of the pasta and the sweetness of the leeks seem to elevate the aroma and flavor of the parmigiano to the front of the dish. And that’s just fine. If you don’t have leeks, you can substitute yellow onions. Serves 4.

4 leeks (each about 1 inch in diameter)
4 tablespoons butter
Salt and freshly ground pepper
¾ pound pasta [I recomend penne, orecchiete, or
Tajarín (p. 112)]
2 cups freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus additional as needed
Olive oil

Cut off the bottoms of the leeks and wash the leaves well. Agitate the leaves in a tub of cold water and rub off any stubborn dirt with your fingers. Shake off as much water as you can. Cut the leeks crosswise into ¼-inch slices.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the leeks and a few large pinches of salt and pepper, and stir well to coat. Cover the pot, keeping the heat medium. Stir the leeks after 6 or 8 minutes, cover again, and cook them down until they are completely softened. Taste them and correct the seasoning. Turn off the heat, but let the sauce stay warm in its pot while you cook the pasta. Cook the pasta. Once it’s ready, drain the pasta but don’t shake off all the water.

Add the 2 cups grated cheese to the sauce and stir. Add the pasta to the sauce and toss together thoroughly. Give the cheese a chance to melt and really bind everything together. Add a little olive oil if the dish seems too dry. Taste and adjust with salt and pepper. Serve with additional grated Parmigiano-Reggiano so that each diner may add cheese as desired at the table.

I’d like to add, because I can’t hold back: I was so thrown by this recipe (and I have a ton of leeks in the garden) that made this last night for dinner. It was so delicious! So light, so fresh. I love their recipes.

Joel Salatin Wins Heinz Award For Environmental Leadership

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

Joel Salatin–author of many books (see below), renegade farmer, lunatic capitalist-environmentalist, pioneer of local foods movement, star of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, national figure, and true-to-his-values always–has been awarded the prestigious Heinz Award for environmental leadership. The Heinz Awards, administered by the Heinz Family Philanthropies (and John Kerry’s wife, Theresa Heinz), recognize outstanding individuals for their contributions in the areas of: Arts and Humanities, the Environment, the Human Condition, Public Policy, and Technology, the Economy and Employment.

Boom! Bam!

Well, it’s no surprise to us that Salatin’s influence and popularity has been increasing at a superhuman rate. He’s a spot-on revolutionary thinker, after all. But it’s so heartening to see him honored alongside other Heinz Award recipients such as Dave Eggers, Marian Wright Edelman, and Dick Lugar. Congratulations, Joel!

From the Heinz Awards website:

Joel Salatin, farmer, author and lecturer, is honored as a Heinz Award recipient for creating alternative, environmentally-friendly farming techniques, spawning a movement towards local, sustainable agriculture that has been replicated by family farms around the country.  Mr. Salatin has developed a new paradigm for agriculture by successfully challenging the commercial production of chicken and beef by food industry giants.  His pioneering agricultural practices inextricably and beautifully interweave a food system with the land and have been embraced by farmers nationally.

At Polyface Farm, Mr. Salatin’s 550 acres of rolling Virginia hills in the Central Shenandoah Valley, he raises beef, sheep, chickens, pigs, rabbits and turkeys in a complex rotation based on the intricate relationships of these animals to one another and to the grass that is at the basis of the farm’s food chain.

Polyface Farm nets more than $150,000 annually, which, maintains Mr. Salatin, is proof that sustainable farming is a viable way to keep family farms together while producing healthy food in harmony with the environment.  Mr. Salatin, with his bold confidence in the benefits of his alternative methods for a healthier planet, has been featured in books, periodicals and the 2009 documentary film, Food Inc.

What began as a foray into organic farming has evolved into a breakthrough model.  Through his system for rotating animals to enhance their symbiotic relationships, Mr. Salatin is accomplishing nothing less than a transformation of traditional agricultural practices, a shift that will have a profound impact on farming well into the 21st century.

In hundreds of speeches across the county, Mr. Salatin presents solutions to bridging the gulf that separates the environmental movement from agricultural reform, demonstrating that there is a model for raising food animals that reflects both environmental and moral values.

To read more about the awards, click here.

Find Joel Salatin’s books here:

Pa$tured Poultry Profit$

Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal

You Can Farm

Family Friendly Farming

Holy Cows and Hog Heaven


From Grist: A Farmer Speaks

Monday, September 14th, 2009

Chelsea Green is proud to announce a new collaboration with called “A Farmer Speaks”! This series will take on current food and agricultural  issues from the point of view of the Chelsea Green farmer him/herself. (Special thanks and kudos to Grist’s Food Editor, Tom Philpott, who is also a farmer and writer.)

To kick off the very first installment, we interviewed Gene Logsdon, whom Wendell Berry calls “the best agricultural writer we have.” And considering Michael Pollan thinks Berry is the best agricultural writer we have, it’s doubly true that Gene Logsdon is a writer/farmer to be reckoned with.


Gene Logsdon is one of the clearest and most original voices of rural America. He’s a farmer in Ohio not far from his boyhood home, and is a writer to boot; he’s published more than two dozen books; some of which include Living at Nature’s Pace: Farming and the American Dream and The Contrary Farmer. Wendell Berry calls Logsdon “the best agricultural writer we have,” and his farm a slice of Eden. But most importantly, Logsdon loves farming.  So now that more and more people are seeking out locally grown foods, I asked Gene a few questions about one of his specialties: small-scale grain raising.


M.M.: In Small-Scale Grain Raising you write that, “We have become a nation dangerously dependent on politically motivated and money-motivated processes for our food, clothing, and shelter.” In light of the current economic crisis, how can growing your own food help people achieve a greater sense of independence?

G.L.: The politicians and corporate puppet masters have been successful over the past century in convincing people that ‘independence’ is an idea for the country as a whole, if even that, which is what enables the government to protect our ‘independence’ by spying on its own citizens. Or on defining it as the freedom to buy a bunch of crap as prices that can only support slave wages. Happily, nearly any of us can see through this with just a little prodding-and our Latest and Greatest Depression does the trick pretty well, or the prospect of something like Peak Oil for that matter. Independence only really means something when it applies to individuals, to families, to communities. That’s what people are yearning for, and growing your own grains is about as basic to true independence as you can get. And anyway, industrial food doesn’t even taste all that good!

Describe your concept of the garden “pancake patch.”

The pancake patch is just a sort of cute way to refer to plots of grain grown for homebaked goods. The concept is what the whole book is about.

Read the entire article here.

What do Hugo Chavez, Vandana Shiva, and Diane Wilson Have In Common?

Monday, September 14th, 2009

Every year since 2006, Ethecon, the Foundation for Ethics and Economics, in co-operation with Otto Piene, the international famous ZERO-artist, has awarded two international prizes: The “Blue Planet Award” is dedicated to persons for their outstanding services to the salvation and preservation of our planet; and its complement, the “Black Planet Award”, a mock-prize to denounce people prominently responsible for ruining and destroying our planet.

Former winners of the Blue Planet Award (ehem, the good award) include Vandana Shiva, Hugo Chavez, and of course Chelsea Green’s very own Diane Wilson, author of An Unreasonable Woman: A True Story of Shrimpers, Politicos, Polluters, and the Fight for Seadrift, Texas.


The winners of this year’s both international ethecon prizes have been chosen: The “Blue Planet Award 2009″ goes to Uri Avneri, the Israeli peace activist; the “Black Planet Award 2009″ is to vilify the Wang Family, as well as the president of the Formosa Plastics Group (FPG), Mr. Lee Chih-tsuen, and its management in Taiwan.

End of July 2009 was the deadline for filing any proposals as to the potential recipients of these awards. Eventually, numerous nominations were passed in by a variety of social movements from four countries. Several meetings of the Foundation’s Award Commission were held to examine all these proposals; on September 1st, the Board of Directors determined this year’s winners as follows. Both ethecon prizes will be, as is customary, awarded in a public ceremonial act that will take place in Berlin / Germany on November 21st 2009.

The Blue Planet Award 2009 will be given to Uri Avneri, the Israeli activist for peace and human rights. Born in Germany as Helmut Osterman, he moved, at the age of ten, to Palestine where, since 1948, he has been campaigning for peace between Israelis and Palestinians and for a fruitful coexistence of their two states-to-be. For these purposes, Avneri fought in word and deed, and was hence exposed to severe acts of public repression and even threats on his life. Uri Avneri is also known as a leading representative of the Israeli peace network Gush Shalom.

The Black Planet Award 2009 will be presented to the management of the Formosa Plastics Group and, in particular, to its CEO, Mr. Lee Chih-tsuen, as well as to its founder and capital provider, the Wang Family (whose personal fortune is estimated to be around 70 billion Euro). This company, founded in 1954 and now worth several billion Dollars, is one of the last producers of PVC, that infamous substance which is held responsible for a number of severe health risks such as–to name but a few–cancer, vascular diseases, circulatory disorders and even miscarriages and congenital defects. Moreover, FPG is widely known for its scandalous attitude towards the environment and health protection.

Blue Planet Awards have so far been awarded to: Diane Wilson/USA (2006), Vandana Shiva/India (2007), José Abreu and Hugo Chavez/Venezuela (2008). With a Black Planet Award have been pilloried: the management and shareholders of MONSANTO (2006), NESTLÉ (2007) und BLACKWATER/XE (2008).

Contrary to the thousands of foundations that originate from companies, families, churches, political parties or states, ethecon is one of the few ‘grass-root foundations’ whose main purpose is the concern for future generations. At the moment, the foundation has eleven chief sponsors; donations and additional sustaining members are highly welcome.

For further information:

What’s the Deal With Vegetarianism?

Monday, September 14th, 2009

Vegetarians and meat eaters clash constantly on the issue of whether or not it’s wrong to eat meat. There’s a range, for sure; from PETA activists to macrobiotics to self-described feminists to farmers, meat is a controversial issue. But now it’s time to know for sure: what’s the deal with vegetarianism?

The following is an excerpt from The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved: Inside America’s Underground Food Movements by Sandor Ellix Katz. It has been adapted for the web.

I love meat. The smell of it cooking can fill me with desire, and I find its juicy, rich flavor uniquely satisfying. At the same time, everything I see, hear, or read about standard commercial factory farming and slaughtering fills me with disgust. I hold great respect for the ideals that people seek to put into practice through vegetarianism.

Vegetarianism is the original manifestation of food activism. Since ancient times vegetarians have sought to embody ideals that they see as making the world a kinder, gentler place. A small minority of people throughout history—mostly inspired by religious ideals—have eschewed animal flesh, among them Buddhists, Hindus, Jains, Roman Catholic Trappist monks, and Essenes, an ancient Jewish sect. Historically vegetarianism has been a practice of asceticism: a rejection of material pleasure and an embrace of universal compassion. In more recent times vegetarianism has largely been motivated by political and ethical ideas, as well as the pursuit of good health, as we shall explore below.

I was a half-hearted vegetarian for a couple of years, even vegan (avoiding not only meat but all animal products) for a little while, based on the abstract idea that animal fats are unhealthy, which I no longer believe to be true. When I tried being vegan, I found myself dreaming about eggs. I could find no virtue in denying my desires. I now understand that many nutrients are soluble only in fats, and animal fats can be vehicles of rich nourishment. Of course, much depends upon how the animals are raised, and also upon how you integrate them into your diet.

Animals raised factory-style, pumped up with antibiotics and growth hormones and fed the by-products of chemical agriculture, contain high levels of toxicity that have become concentrated up the food chain. They are also often treated cruelly and live in deplorable conditions. A friend who attends a state agriculture school was in a livestock class that required students to perform acts of unnecessary violence such as dehorning mature bulls, rather than the alternative procedure of cauterization in infancy, which involves far less pain and suffering. Students’ concerns about animal welfare were dismissed by the professor with “Don’t go PETA on me” (PETA being the animal-rights direct-action group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). “The industrial farm is said to have been patterned on the factory production line,” writes Wendell Berry “In practice, it looks more like a concentration camp.”

Where the meat comes from and how the animals lived are factors that figure into my eating decisions. I am grateful to be meeting farmers everywhere who are talking about the ethics that guide their animal raising and slaughtering practices. I appreciate that they are reflecting upon these difficult questions, trying to learn what exactly it means to breed and kill animals in a conscientious way. Animal-rights activists may consider “humane meat” to be an oxymoron, but for many of us seeking to satisfy our nutritional needs while upholding values of simple decency, humane meat is instead an ideal to strive for and support.

Varieties of Vegetarian Volition

The realities of factory-farmed meat make a compelling case for vegetarianism, though people are motivated to become vegetarians by many different concerns. A number of people I’ve talked to about it just always felt a visceral revulsion toward meat and stopped eating it, even as children, as best they could. Many vegetarians stop eating meat for more ideological reasons. Religious beliefs have inspired vegetarians for thousands of years. Reincarnation, for instance, suggests that the same souls incarnate as animals and as humans, raising the possibility that the animal you are eating was your grandmother or some other beloved soul. Many different ideals, from renunciations of the pleasures of the body to expressions of compassion toward all living creatures, lead spiritual adherents to reject animal flesh.

Animal welfare is another ancient motivation for vegetarianism. Can we not refrain from murdering our fellow beings? This question has often been linked to the human tendency toward violence, and philosophies of pacifism and nonviolence have also long inspired vegetarians. “For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other,” the vegetarian Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras is said to have observed. As if to illustrate Pythagoras’s point, during the rise and spread of Christianity many vegetarian sects were attacked as heretical. According to the British Vegetarian Society, “These non-violent vegetarian ascetics were painted as fanatical deviants, feared, loathed, and frequently persecuted by the established church.” Pythagorean ideals of peaceful coexistence with animals reemerged during the Enlightenment and were embraced by several different Christian movements of the nineteenth century. Until the past century, in fact, vegetarians were often referred to as Pythagoreans.

Promoting a more equitable usage of natural resources is another important motivation for many vegetarians. A watershed book that helped catalyze the contemporary vegetarian movement is Frances Moore Lappé’s 1971 Diet for a Small Planet. This book drew connections between the persistence of world hunger and the practice of feeding grain to livestock. Each pound of beef, reported Lappé, required twenty-one pounds of high-quality grain that could otherwise nourish people directly. But a resource allocation analysis does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that vegetarianism is more ethical than eating meat. Animals are healthier on pasture than on grain, and they can graze on marginal land where intensive crops would not be possible. When Alisa Smith and J. B. MacKinnon began their year on the Hundred-Mile Diet, they had been vegetarian for fifteen years. Facing a paucity of locally grown vegetable protein sources, they realized, “The most readily available protein sources are all animal based: fish and shellfish, eggs, dairy, meat. It is increasingly clear that local, sustainable eating is not always going to be vegetarian.”

Related to resource allocation issues, yet distinct, is concern about the ecological impacts of large-scale farming, ranging from the deforestation of the Amazon rain forest to create grazing land to the dramatic air and water toxicity associated with concentrated animal feeding operations. Large-scale factory farms concentrate the wastes of huge numbers of animals in small areas, creating noxious odors, contaminating drinking water sources, killing fish populations, encouraging antibiotic resistant bacteria, and endangering human health. In California’s San Joaquin Valley, one of the U.S. regions with the worst air quality, local pollution-control officials say that more smog-producing gases are produced by the region’s rapidly growing dairy industry—with an unprecedented concentration of 2.5 million dairy cows—than by either automobiles or pesticides.

Yet another inspiration for vegetarianism comes from a feminist critique of meat eating, which draws parallels between the processes of domination and domestication of both animals and women. “The same societal influences create these oppressive systems and the only way for all to be free is to connect the issues of oppression,” states a flyer from Feminists for Animal Rights. My friends at the Bloodroot Collective—whose café in Bridgeport, Connecticut, founded in 1977, is still thriving—wrote in their 1980 cookbook The Political Palate:

Our food is vegetarian because we are feminists. We are opposed to the exploitation, domination, and destruction which come from factory farming and the hunter with the gun. We oppose the keeping and killing of animals for the pleasure of the palate just as we oppose men controlling abortion or sterilization. We won’t be part of the torture and killing of animals.

The feminist-vegetarian critique has been elaborated by Carol J. Adams in two volumes, The Sexual Politics of Meat (1990) and The Pornography of Meat (2003). “Objectification permits an oppressor to view another being as an object,” writes Adams. “The oppressor then violates this being by object-like treatment: e.g., the rape of women that denies women freedom to say no, or the butchering of animals that converts animals from living breathing beings into dead objects.” Adams describes meat eating as a “mirror and representation of patriarchal values” and “the re-inscription of male power at every meal.”

For most people political ideals such as feminism, pacifism, concern about world hunger, fairness, animal welfare, and the state of the earth are all too abstract to motivate such radical behavioral change as becoming a vegetarian. Ultimately more compelling than all these noble impulses, the biggest motivation for vegetarianism (at least in North America) seems to be personal health. Specific reasons vary: to reduce the risk of heart disease; to avoid exposure to growth hormones, antibiotics, and chemical and radioactive toxicities that concentrate in animal fats; to lose weight; to reduce the risk of cancer; to remedy digestive disorders; to feel lighter; or all of the above.

Prison: The War Against the Poor

Sunday, September 13th, 2009

The entire economic system in the United States needs to be put under a magnifying glass. That’s not a new notion, obviously, but it’s one worth repeating.  For example, we cannot seem to figure out how to get healthcare and education to those in need, and yet we’ve got billionaires languishing in their mansions.  So I suppose it doesn’t come as too huge of a shock when told the US incarcerates more people than any other industrialized nation in the history of the world, one that also claims to be the freest.

The following is an excerpt from How The Rich Are Destroying the Earth by Hervé Kempf.

Alongside the terrorism bogey, it’s useful to wave another straw man: crime and security.

When not tackled politically or by the collective conscience, social inequality increases frustration and the desperate need to find a way out. Hence the pressure of “crime” in rich countries and the pressure of migration from the South toward the North. To contain the effects of causes that they poorly understand, the lower and middle classes demand more “security” and accept the initially imperceptible reduction in the level of public freedoms.

In the arsenal of the war against the poor, the first weapon is prison. In the United States, the number of prisoners reached 2.2 million in 2005—it was 500,000 in 1980. And a new study by the Pew Center on the States found that between 2007 and 2011 that number will grow by another 200,000, and that currently more than one out of every 100 adults is behind bars in the United States. It’s the highest level in the whole world. You’d have to go look in the gulags of Stalin’s Russia or Mao Ze Dong’s China to find a higher number. That represents 738 prisoners per 100,000 inhabitants, seven times more, proportionally, than in France, which itself confines people with enthusiasm. One sign indicates the misery and suffering this situation involves: in 2005, Congress had to establish a commission for the elimination of rape in prison.

Moreover, the quality of “medical and psychiatric care in prisons goes from mediocre to terrible,” writes Human Rights Watch in its annual human rights report.

Prison does not strike the entire population equally: according to the statistics of the U.S. Bureau of Justice, 11.9 percent of African-American men between the ages of 25 and 29 were in prison, versus 3.9 percent of Hispanic men and 1.7 percent of white men in the same age group. The U.S. situation influences, let us note, other statistics: when economists applaud the supposedly low unemployment rate in the United States, they omit to mention that you would have to raise that number by at least 1 percent to take into account the fact that many people in prison, if they were free, would be unemployed.

In France, the incarceration rate has continued to increase during the last thirty years to reach a historic record of 98 per 100,000 inhabitants. The number of prisoners went from 29,500 in 1971 to 59,000 in 2005 (the reduction that began in 1996 was interrupted in 2002). That’s less than in Germany (78,600 prisoners in 2006) or in the United Kingdom (79,000).

French laws that increasingly restrict the legal freedoms and guarantees of the citizen in the face of the government arrive in rapid succession and come on top of the laws on terrorism: the November 15, 2001, law of “everyday security”; the March 18, 2003, law “on domestic security”; the March 9, 2004, Perben 2 law (“adapting the justice system to developments in criminality”); the June 2006 law “on crime prevention.” The texts broaden the grounds for genetic data filing, which was originally reserved for sexual crimes, introduce the notion of the “organized gang” to justify exceptional procedures, lift limitations on vehicle searches by the police, increase the investigatory powers of the judicial police to the detriment of the rights of defense, transform the mayor into the coordinator of crime prevention, favor the creation of municipal data files on those receiving social assistance payments, provide a tax deduction for the installation of surveillance cameras, create closed education centers for minors under sixteen, provide for the placement of children as young as ten years old in special education establishments, and make occupying transportation infrastructures a crime.

Eliot Coleman on The “Cool” Greenhouse

Saturday, September 12th, 2009

As summer winds down here on the East coast, many of us are seriously considering extending our seasons. This means, aside from preserving our summertime harvest, we’re thinking of ways to actually grow more of it during the winter. I’m talking greenhouses, here. I’m talking low-cost, efficient, and unheated greenhouses. And who better to look to for advice than Eliot Coleman.

The following is an excerpt from The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year-Round Vegetable Production Using Deep-Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses by Eliot Coleman. It has been adapted for the web.

Our minimally heated greenhouses are our “cool houses.” Cool houses offer options for midwinter growing and marketing beyond those of the cold houses. However, once you begin adding heat to a greenhouse and get “the month of May,” you’re on a slippery slope. With incrementally more heat you can have the months of June or July or August and make the move into the “hothouse” realm. Many greenhouse growers have followed that path and grow only tomatoes or cucumbers. That was never our intent. We have always been interested in growing a wide range of hardy winter crops that could fully supply our local markets and using the minimal amount of energy to do so.

We began researching the potential of a just-above-freezing cool greenhouse in order to increase the variety of our winter production. As I described in chapter 1, we were using one end of a greenhouse for washing and packing produce, and we set the thermostat at 35˚F (1.5˚C) so as to protect our water supply from freezing in winter. The results we saw with the vegetables growing in the rest of that house—twice as many harvests per winter compared to the unheated houses and a wider selection of crops—caught our attention.

We have continued to set our cool-house thermostat at a just-above-freezing temperature because that has proven adequate for the cropping options we wish to explore. Yes, by adding heat we are going against Buckminster Fuller’s advice not to “fight forces,” but we have tried to determine the least costly way to do it.

We think of the minimal heat in the cool house as a different kind of protective layer. From another perspective, we can compare our minimal-heat system to the developments in energy-saving design for automobiles—the hybrid versus the pure electric model. Some auto researchers have determined that for the best overall efficiency, the combination of an electric motor with a small gasoline motor is a better choice than the electric-only model. We have been interested in determining whether, for the economic success of a four-season farm in our climate, the combination of unheated greenhouses and minimally heated greenhouses would provide a better income and a more competitive position versus the shipped-in imports.

We have taken the logical steps to make the cool houses efficient. They are double-covered (two layers of plastic with an airinflation fan). According to greenhouse research, that 4-inch dead-air space between the layers of plastic can lower our fuel consumption by up to 40 percent. Also, we make sure the houses are tight and the doors and vents fit well to prevent cold air infiltration.

Is the just-above-freezing temperature at which we set the thermostat the lowest nighttime greenhouse temperature that will assure success with the midwinter crops we wish to grow? Could they tolerate an even lower temperature without losing ground? We continue to investigate this question. Our sense based on some informal trials conducted in the early ’90s is that there may be no damage to most of these hardy crops as long as the minimum temperature doesn’t drop below 26˚F (–3˚C). (We ran these trials in an experimental greenhouse using a radiant heater and a wide-range thermostat.) This has also been our experience with outdoor crops. The occasional spring frost below 26˚F is when we have noticed cosmetic damage on hardened-off early lettuce or broccoli transplants, whereas they seem unaffected by temperatures above that level. However, on a few occasions when heaters have malfunctioned, we have also noticed that temperatures just below freezing, although resulting in no cosmetic damage, do slow down growth for up to a week after the freeze. Thus, from the point of view of increasing winter production, a dependable nighttime minimum above 32˚F (0˚C) makes sense.

Adding More Heat

Once we began to explore minimum heat we put heaters in 60 percent of our greenhouse space because the demand for our produce constantly exceeded the supply. We realized that we could achieve the equivalent growing area of a whole new greenhouse simply by adding heat to one of the cold houses, because the added heat would allow us to double the number of winter harvests in that house. The cost of a heater is much less than the cost of a new greenhouse. Furthermore, we didn’t have to worry about covering and maintaining an additional greenhouse, and we could make better use of the fertile soil we had already worked so hard to create. In addition, as tough as we may think we are, we also appreciated the better working conditions in midwinter in a house where we could raise the temperature if we wanted to.

In addition to increasing the level of production in winter, the above-freezing nighttime temperature in the cool houses also increased the variety of crops we could grow during the colder months. For example, popular crops such as turnips, radishes, ‘Bianca Riccia’ endive, and arugula are not available for quality harvest during December, January, and February in the cold houses. However, these crops are successful in the cool houses and, being cool-weather crops, their quality is outstanding. In the future, we may find cultivars and/or passive protection techniques that will be successful for these crops in the cold houses throughout winter, but we have not found them yet. Lettuces for the Christmas market in a cool greenhouse.

Heating Options

During the early trials, standard propane-fueled greenhouse heaters warmed our cool greenhouses. These heaters are smaller than would be required if we needed to maintain a 65˚F (19˚C) night temperature in midwinter for a crop like tomatoes. But are there other options that make practical and economic sense at the moment? We have recently installed a large wood furnace in our washing and packing greenhouse to replace the propane heater (except during exceptionally cold weather), and it is a reasonable improvement. We have priced a wood-fired hot-water boiler system that could warm all the cool houses, but the initial cost would be ten times as much as we have spent on propane heaters. In addition, unless it was a self-feeding wood-chip system, we would have to spend a lot of time loading the furnace at night. We continue to look for renewable solutions. There are exciting recent developments in using very hot-burning wood furnaces to heat hot water during the day. The water is stored in large insulated tanks and drawn on to heat the greenhouse at night. These systems avoid the air pollution and creosote buildup of damped-down wood fires and the need for keeping the furnace fueled for twenty-four hours a day.

We have friends who have built an ingenious system that burns used cooking oil directly for greenhouse heating. (Information on the design and their experience with the system is available at We envy growers in more temperate parts of the country where these heating concerns are not an issue.

Our experience thus far is based on the very simple unheated systems we started with and the minimally heated systems we have been trialing. Two other options for winter production are adding artificial lighting to create longer days and installing warm-water pipes in the soil to raise soil temperature. We have not experimented with artificial lighting because it would add another major use of energy and because no light bulb can truly duplicate sunlight. It seems to us that if we use incomplete, artificial light, there would be something missing in the quality of the resulting produce.

We have been slow to investigate soil heat for the same reason. We try to keep our production systems as natural as possible, and we can think of no situation in the natural world where agricultural soils are warmer than the air above them in midwinter. However, from the point of view of improving crop growth and complementing an air-heating system, soil heat has much to recommend it. The soil temperature, even in our minimally heated houses, drops to 42˚F (6˚C) at the 4-inch depth by midwinter. Some evidence suggests that lettuce growth does not slow down in winter because of shorter days—lettuce can only use eight hours of light—but because of the cooler soil temperatures. Thus, warming the soil seems a logical step for winter production. In addition, greenhouse studies have shown that soil heating can supply about 20 percent of the total heat needed by a winter greenhouse depending on the desired greenhouse temperature and the crops to be grown. We wonder whether a soil-heated greenhouse with wickets and an inner layer would keep the area under the row covers above 32˚F (0˚C) at night without having to heat the air above. If so, or if almost so, that could save a lot of money on the fuel bill for minimal heating.

All of our trials in the cool houses and all of our speculations about how to do it better are fascinating, but we remain content with our decision, as mentioned earlier, not to continue in that direction. We now add minimal heat to only one small growing area where we still do a few trials, but we may end even that. The challenge of the simple, minimalist, unheated production is where our hearts lie and where we will concentrate our efforts.

One minimal heating option we did seriously consider but haven’t tried is the “earth tube” concept. A smooth-walled, rigid plastic pipe with a 12-inch diameter is buried about 6 feet deep for 100 feet across a field and then into to the greenhouse. A fan would draw outside air through the pipe. At that depth, the air would be warmed to the temperature of the earth—45°F (7°C). The air would then be blown under the inner layer down the length of the greenhouse through perforated plastic tubes. According to research, the energy use by the fans would be about 15% of that required to create the heat artificially.

Get The Dirt: Understand the Ecosystem of Your Soil

Friday, September 11th, 2009

Soil is the foundation upon which all agricultural activities are built. And therefore, it is the crux of the environmental movement to make sure our most precious resource is preserved (and created) sustainably. The first step to doing so, however, is understanding its ecology. Take it away, experts!

The following is an excerpt from The Soul of Soil: A Soil-Building Guide for Master Gardeners and Farmers by Grace Gershuny and Joe Smillie. It has been adapted for the web.

The first step toward effective ecological soil management is an appreciation of the complex, living system known as soil. And to understand soil is to be aware of how everything affects and is affected by it. We are all part of the soil ecosystem.

Soil fertility can be described as its capacity to nurture healthy plants. Sustainable agriculture aims to protect the soil’s ability to regenerate nutrients lost when crops are harvested—without dependence on “off-farm” fertilizers. This regenerative capacity, in turn, depends on the diversity, health, and vitality of the organisms that live, grow, reproduce, and die in the soil. Through the activities of soil microbes—which can number in the billions in every gram of healthy topsoil—the basic raw materials needed by plants are made available at the right time, and in the right form and amount.


The basic aim of ecological soil
management is to provide hospitable
conditions for life within the soil.

Your farm is both the product and producer of soil. Consider your farm to be a living organism that achieves its greatest long-term productivity when its natural cycles and processes are enhanced. Shortcutting these cycles for short-term control or economic gain will eventually bear out the ecological maxim, “The creature that wins against its environment destroys itself.”

The place to start is where you are. Thousands of soil types have been named, classified, and described. Knowing their names can tell you a lot about their general characteristics; but, like any living creature, each individual is unique. Find out what soils live in your area, how they are classified and described by soil scientists, and how that
compares with what you observe about them yourself.

Soil classification schemes organize soils according to their different qualities, based on the kinds of minerals they contain, how they were formed, and various physical characteristics. The individual character of any soil arises from a combination of factors inherent to its particular geographic region (see table 1).

Table 1:

Climate. Temperature and precipitation affect the rate of organic matter accumulation and the presence of soluble soil minerals. For example, more organic matter accumulates where decomposition is slow due to cooler temperatures, while high rainfall leaches mineral nutrients from topsoil.

Native vegetation. Grasslands, forests, and transition zones each affect soil development in a different way. Leaf litter from pine forests, for example, increases soil acidity. Soil particles developed under grasslands are usually bound into stable aggregates by the activity of the plentiful microorganisms and roots found there.

Parent material. Underlying rock types from which it was formed determine a soil’s mineral content and basic textural qualities. Limestone bedrock, for instance, helps counteract soil acidity. Red soils indicate that the parent material
and derived soil is rich in iron. Volcanic ash eventually produces soils heavy in amorphous clays.

Topography. Soil may be eroded from slopes and deposited in lowlands. The legendary fertility of river valleys such as the Nile resulted from deposits of rich sediment carried from the highlands, while mountain farmers all over the world have problems holding onto precious topsoil.

Time. The availability of minerals and the extent of humus development in soil is also influenced by how long the native rock has been subject to weathering. Young soils, such as those in Hawaii and other areas of volcanic activity, may be low in clay, which is produced by the chemical effects of weathering on parent rocks.

Glaciation and geologic activity. In the north-temperate region, the advance and retreat of glaciers, most recently a mere 12,000 years ago, has had a significant effect on soil formation and quality. Volcanic activity has left nutrient-rich lava deposits in many areas.

Soils worldwide have been classified into ten major orders (see table 2). In humid temperate regions such as the northeastern United States, where forests are the predominant natural vegetation, the soil order of spodosols is most common. These soils are generally formed from coarse-textured parent material, and tend to be quite acidic and low in mineral nutrients. Prairie soils, which have developed under flat, grass-covered areas with modest rainfall, are classified as mollisols. They are among the most naturally productive soils, with high native organic matter and mineral content. In tropical regions with very high seasonal rainfalls, the heavily leached ultisol soils also tend to acidity. The Sahara, Gobi, and Turkestan Deserts, as well as South and Central Australia and the American Southwest are largely comprised of aridisols. If irrigated they can be productive, but great care must be taken to prevent toxic accumulations of soluble salts.

Each order is further broken down into suborders, great groups, and subgroups. Beyond this, soils are described in terms of families, associations, and series, which provide more information about their plant growth characteristics, organic and mineral content, structure, drainage, and color. Series are often named after the places—towns, rivers, or counties—where they are located.

Your local Extension or Soil Conservation Service office can probably give you a soil map for your land. They can also show you your county’s soil survey, which provides detailed information on local soils and their best uses, as well as helpful climatological data.

Table 2:

Entisols: Recently formed mineral soils with little evidence of horizon formation. Found in a wide range of climate zones, including the Rocky Mountains, the Sahara Desert, Siberia, and Tibet. May be highly productive, but
most are relatively barren.

Vertisols: Mineral soils with a high content of swelling-type clays, which in dry seasons cause the soils to develop deep cracks. Found in some areas of the southern U.S., India, Sudan, and eastern Australia. Their physical
properties make them difficult to till and cultivate.

Inceptisols: Young soils with limited horizon formation. May be very productive, as those formed from volcanic ash. Found in the Pacific Northwest (U.S.), along the Amazon and Ganges Rivers, North Africa, and eastern

Aridisols: Mineral soils found mostly in dry climates. Productive only if irrigated, and may become saline. Found in the southwestern U.S., Africa, Australia, and the Middle East.

Mollisols: Characterized by a thick, dark surface horizon, they are among the world’s most productive soils, with high natural fertility and tilth. Generally found under prairie vegetation, such as the Great Plains (U.S.), Ukraine, parts of Mongolia, northern China, and southern Latin America.

Spodosols: Mineral soils characterized by distinct horizons, including subsurface organic matter, and aluminum and sometimes iron oxides. Coarsetextured, readily leached, and tending to be acid, they occur mostly in humid, cold temperate climates, generally under forests. Can be very productive if properly fertilized.

Alfisols: Moist mineral soils with high base status and presence of silicate clays. Found mostly in humid regions under deciduous forest or grass including parts of the U.S. Midwest, northern Europe, southern Africa, and Southeast Asia. Highly productive, good nutrient levels and texture.

Ultisols: Moist soils that develop under warm to tropical climates. Highly weathered, acidic, with red or yellow subsurface horizons. Found in the humid southeastern U.S., Southeast Asia, and southern Brazil. Can be highly productive, with good workability.

Oxisols: The most highly weathered soils, with a deep subsurface horizon of iron and aluminum oxides. High in clay, commonly deficient in phospho-surfaces. Not well adapted to mechanized farming, they have been poorly researched.

Histosols: Organic soils that have developed in a water-saturated environment, with at least 20 percent organic content. Can be very productive if drained, especially for vegetable crops.

SOURCE: adapted from Nyle Brady, The Nature and Properties of Soils, 10th ed.

Did You Know? The Sauna and Your Health

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

I’ve got a gazebo I’d like to turn into a sauna–but I don’t know the first thing about the famous “Finnish bath”. Except of course, that it originated in Finland, and is replete with health benefits. Turns out, there are a variety of saunas such a cordwood masonry, post-and-beam, earthwood, conventionally framed, and more. You can build your own! Rob Roy is a sauna expert, and his how-to advice on building (including architectural drawings) is spot-on. But first, let’s talk basics. Let’s talk health.

The following is an excerpt from Rob Roy‘s The Sauna: A Complete Guide to the Construction, Use, and Benefits of the Finnish Bath. It has been adapted for the web.

If you think the sauna history recounted above is fuzzy, be prepared for all the conflicting reports that you are bound to hear about the health benefits—and risks—of the sauna. I’ll try to help you through it, but ultimately I can report only what I’ve read, giving greater weight to statements reported again and again from a variety of respectable sources and lesser weight to what seem to be unsubstantiated claims. And I will share some of my own personal experiences and let you file them as you will under illumination, humor, or claptrap.

Fact or Fiction?
You may have heard: Saunas are a great way to lose weight. Reality check: You’ll lose 1 to 3 pounds in a typical sauna, but you’ll gain it back as soon as you drink 1 to 3 pounds of water, juice, soda pop, or beer. Basically we’re all bags of water (90 percent of our body weight), and the bags are made of our largest organ, the epidermis (skin to the layperson). When we sweat, this bag springs thousands of leaks, and a few pints of water drip out. So, while some wrestlers have been known to spend an hour in a sauna to “make weight” (with what other negative effects on their bodies we can’t fully imagine), experts agree that if you want to lose weight, eat less and exercise more. The sauna won’t help.

You may have heard: Sauna is good for your skin. Reality check: Consensus says it probably is. A good flow of perspiration can carry out dirt, stale body oil, dead skin, sebum, and certain blood chemicals such as sodium and electrolytes, so some internal cleansing might be considered to be taking place. Viherjuuri says (and I tend to agree): “Induced perspiration is the best known means of cleansing the skin.” From experience, I find that a good sweat in a sauna works particularly well in loosening hard-to-displace grime, oils, pitches, and the like that come from hard or dirty work. It seems to drive the dirt out of one’s skin from the inside. As an adolescent, I was bothered by acne attacks. Saunas definitely improved my condition but certainly didn’t cure it.
You may have heard: Saunas increase (or decrease) blood pressure and the risk of heart attack. Reality check: Mixed. A standard warning by manufacturers of sauna and hot tub equipment advises those with respiratory or heart disease and those troubled by blood pressure abnormalities to check with a doctor before using said equipment. Problem is, doctors won’t all agree with each other on this issue. Most today will probably take the safe route: “Don’t use the sauna.” Cynically, we might say that the manufacturers (and the doctors) are just trying to protect themselves from lawsuits. But there is more to it than that.

Your heart works harder in a sauna. No question about it. Heart rate can increase from around 72 beats per minute to anywhere from 100 to 160 beats. The load of the heart in the sauna corresponds to light physical work or to fever in moderate degree. Blood circulation also increases, but not necessarily blood pressure, because the heat simultaneously dilates the blood vessel walls, which accommodates the increased blood flow. Circulation could double, from around 5 to 7 quarts per minute all the way up to 11 to 13 quarts. This is your body’s reaction to the great heat. The heart pumps more blood to the surface of the skin, trying to bring down the temperature.

The Sauna and the Common Cold
Can the sauna cure (or cause) a cold? Mount Sinai’s Dr. Halperin says that saunas may temporarily alleviate the symptoms of colds because the steam acts as a decongestant, but they won’t shorten the duration (Berinstein, 1995). But regular use of the sauna might decrease the chance of getting colds in the first place. Veteran sauna bather and writer Leslie Li writes in Health Magazine: “The results of a study conducted on schoolchildren in Germany, half of whom took saunas weekly, suggest that the heat increases resistance to viral infections, particularly the common cold.”

In my younger days I used to visit the sauna at the very first onset of a cold, and I was (and remain) convinced that I was able to “sweat out” several colds in that way. I also remember trying the same thing a few years ago with no positive results. My theory, unproven, is that the success depends on the nature of the infection. And the hope of a “cure” is predicated upon the early application of the medicine, the sauna. Now, everybody is different, and I recognize that a positive attitude (faith?) may have as much to do with success as the sauna itself. Definitely don’t take a sauna when your resistance or general health is at a low ebb. Will you catch a cold in the sauna? No, not unless an infected fellow bather sneezes all over you. One caution, though: Make sure you are fully dry and have stopped sweating before dressing and going out into the cold. The danger here is the possibility of chills from remaining in damp clothes.

The Sauna and Pregnancy
Should pregnant women use the sauna? Not according to Aubrey Milunsky, M.D., director of the Center for Human Genetics at Boston University Medical School. She cautions that exposure to intense heat during the first trimester increases the risk of birth defects such as spina bifida. Dr. Milunsky, quoted in Good Housekeeping, says, “Even though the additional risk is relatively small, the data should serve as a warning to pregnant women to avoid exposure to the high temperatures found in saunas, hot tubs, or
steam rooms.”

Dr. Milunsky’s advice differs from the view from Finland. There, in a 1988 paper, Dr. K. Vaha-Eskeli and R. Erkkola of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Turku report: “Up to 90 percent of pregnant women in Finland regularly visit the sauna until the expected time of delivery and Finnish women are confident that the sauna and pregnancy are compatible, a view that contrasts with many opinions abroad.” In the same paper, incidentally, the authors report that sauna did not change the sperm count among male bathers.

It should be noted that Dr. Milunsky’s commentary is more specific—and more recent—than that of the Finnish paper. Will the sauna cause pregnancy? Not likely. At 180°F, sex will be about the farthest thing from your mind. But Carlton Hollander says:

The sauna experience . . . will leave you feeling very much alive. Your senses will be sharpened, and your tactile sensitivity heightened. In the vernacular of today’s world, you could define the state as being “turned on.” But by then the sauna will be over and what you do is your own affair.

Other Health Claims
While wild health claims for the sauna are still unsubstantiated, there is agreement on a few benefits. Many doctors and patients report temporary relief from pain and inflammation connected with arthritis and rheumatism. Sports medicine experts use the sauna to relax sore muscles and treat minor aches after a strenuous workout. Asthma patients in Czechoslovakia take saunas to allow freer breathing, since the air sacs in the lungs dilate in the intense heat.

Finally, saunas are relaxing. They can help relax and loosen muscle tissue, decrease muscle tension, and increase flexibility by as much as 10 percent. Stress seems to evaporate in the sauna steam. While in the stoveroom, you are kind of forced to do nothing. Ideally, you should think nothing, too, and the stress-reducing benefits of meditation will begin to set in. Call it Sauna 202. Pseudo-psycho claptrap? Maybe. Psychology may have a lot to do with the feeling of well-being reported by sauna aficionados for hundreds of years on both sides of the Atlantic. After all, I have experienced similar benefits at a good English pub.

If it works, don’t knock it.

Mutant Protein In Milk May Cause Autism

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

What do heart disease, Type 1 diabetes, autism and schizophrenia have in common? They may be linked to a certain protein in milk.  How many people in the world drink milk? You do the math. In a new book by Keith Woodford called Devil in the Milk: Illness, Health, and the Politics of A1 and A2 Milk–a bestseller in New Zealand where it was first published–these links are made. And the findings are frightening.


A mutant protein has invaded the world’s dairy supply, including, most likely, the milk in your fridge.

The protein, called A1 beta-casein, is well known in the scientific community. While most dairy companies, trade groups and government agencies consider it harmless, a growing body of research implicates A1 beta-casein in diabetes, heart disease, autism and schizophrenia.

The original mutation occurred several thousand years ago, causing cow zero and its offspring to produce milk in which the amino acid histidine occupies the 67th position of the beta-casein protein found in milk solids.

The amino acid proline occupies that position in the nonmutant, original form of the A2 protein. Today, the average vessel of milk contains milk from many cows, with a mixture of both A1 and A2 beta-casein.

Keith Woodford, a professor of farm management and agribusiness at Lincoln University in Christchurch, New Zealand, is spreading the word about what he believes to be the dangers of milk containing A1 beta-casein.

His book, Devil in the Milk, builds on more than 100 peer-reviewed studies to present a compelling case that A1 milk poses substantial health risks.

The book is a technical read, and conspiracy theorists will find it gripping, as Woodford details the extent to which corporations and government bodies with entrenched interests in maintaining A1 milk’s reputation have disputed, ignored and silenced evidence suggesting there might be a problem.

If Woodford is right, those fighting to sweep this research under the rug are endangering the health of millions, if not billions, and for little in the way of return. He says it would be a simple matter to remove A1 beta-casein from the word’s milk supply.

Read the entire article here.

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