Monday, May 31, 2010

"Is there really a comparison?"

Can you tell which eggs are from a local farmer?

As I write, Chris is making breakfast.  He walked over to me, holding a bowl, and asked, "is there really a comparison?"  Peering into the bowl, I could immediately tell which of the eggs we purchased at the grocery store, and which we got from a local farmer.  No comparison, there is much more color to an egg from a chicken who roams around eating fresh greens, flowers and bugs.  In dietitian school, I was told that the deeper color a fruit or vegetable is, the more nutrients and antioxidants it provides to the body (although, white veggies do provide important things too).  I wonder, is it the same with eggs - the darker the color, the more nutrition? 

I wrote earlier that Chris and I got our first chickens mid-February.  They supposedly start laying at ~5 months, so we are still waiting.  We discovered chicken-parenting is easy, and are excited about the fresh egg payoff, the amount of compostable material we get from the run, and the organic bug and weed control they provide.  Growing popularity of city chickens has caused many old city ordinances banning poultry from back yards to change recently.  In Wichita, six chickens are allowed per city lot (no roosters).  If you've got an interest in raising chickens yourself, here are a couple of websites to get you started:

The City Chicken:  This website includes hundreds of pictures of chicken tractors, a chicken coop that has wheels.  Why wheels?  You can move this type of coop around the yard, allowing the chickens to fertilize different areas.  Our coop does not have wheels, so it stays in one place, but I recommend choosing a chicken tractor (wish we had!).  

Back Yard Chickens:  This site has a lot of info to get you started, and a helpful forum where you can ask questions as they come up.

WARNING:  If, like Chris, you plan to make chicken soup from your chickens once they are done laying, don't name them!  A smart farmer never names their animals, however, Chris was calling our three girls "chicken leg, chicken thigh, and chicken wing."  Ugh!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Hunting and Gathering - in the Mall or in the Garden is Your Choice!

Fresh mulberry pie made with mulberries from a neighborhood tree and fresh milled wheat.  So sweet!

Hunting and gathering still happens, only now people "hunt" and "gather" in shopping malls rather than from the land.  Funny enough, there is actually research on the differences in the ways men and women shop and how they compare to our hunting and gathering natures.

Last week I highlighted a producer many people forget...their own hands.  Another forgotten source of local foods include plants in public areas.  Three mulberry trees grow on city property near our house.  Chris and I walked to them Sunday evening, armed with a sheet and a bucket.  The trees are providing...and in abundance.  We shook the branches of one tree, and watched the black berries fall onto our sheet (it now has major stains which were well worth it).  Our efforts produced a full bucket of fresh mulberries we used in our oatmeal, a pie (recipe here) and to freeze for a less abundant season when we have a mulberry pie craving.  I may even try drying some after our next "gather."  On a spring walk a few years ago I was ecstatic to find these trees, and we head for them every year around this time.

Other foods we found within a short walk from our house:

Apples:  Last summer, I noticed a neighbor three blocks from my house with two apple trees full of fruit falling to the ground and rotting.  Obviously she wasn't using them, or able to use them all, so I knocked on the door and asked if I could pick some.  She kindly said "yes" from behind a locked screen door, this is Wichita after all, and I took home a bag full of crisp, incredibly tasty apples.  Yes, it takes some guts to knock on a stranger's door, but as Chris always says, "it's free to ask."  For me, it was well worth the payoff.

Black Walnuts:  We picked up a sack full of black walnuts late last year from a tree on public property near us.  I cleaned the "fleshy" part of the nut off (which ranks as an experience in itself).  After putting major bends in our nutcracker, Chris realized the challenge of getting to the meat of a black walnut.  Instead, he took a hammer to one of them - IN my house - pieces flew everywhere.  Thus, unfortunately, the rest ended up on the compost heap in the back yard.  Maybe there was a better way to do that?  This year we plan to try a vice, which according to forums on the internet, works pretty well.

Dandelion Greens:  You've probably eaten dandelion greens in a spring salad mix at a cafeteria or restaurant without realizing it.  Hearing that this "weed" is edible suprises people.  All parts of the plant can be eaten or used.  I even remember my parents making dandelion wine.  To many individuals, dandelions are a nusance, so be careful about herbicide if you are harvesting them from somewhere other than your own yard.

This year be on the lookout for local food sources near your home, on public property, or from a neighbor that might share if you ask.  Now, who said eating fresh and local is expensive? 

Saturday's Farmers' Market Feature:  At 9 a.m. be sure to check out the Chef's Table at the Old Town Farmers' Market (1st Street and Mosley).  Chef David Wirebaugh, the executive chef at the Harvest Kitchen & Bar in Wichita, will be presenting.  His restaurant is focused on serving local/seasonal foods in the Downtown Hyatt. 

Monday, May 24, 2010

"Make a demand for it, we'll produce it."

Wheat from our pantry - farmers are great producers!

If you weren't at the Tallgrass Film Festival showing of "Fresh" last Thursday, you missed out, but luckily you've got a second chance!  Tuesday evening, May 25th, the Wichita Organic Garden Club will be showing the film "Fresh" at 7 p.m. at Botanica.  The meeting is free, and open to the public.  I talked with the club president, Melvin Epp, who said participants can even go a little early and tour Botanica for free.  What a deal - hope to see you there!

A dairy farmer, a farming consultant, a local doctor and a state elected official answered questions after the showing of "Fresh" at Newman University last Thurs. evening. The food producers reiterated what "Food, Inc." and "Fresh" implied - if we, the consumer, choose local and organic foods, farmers will meet the demand. They will produce what consumers purchase, and if that's local and organic, they'll produce it. Our food choices really are "votes," and they matter. They do want to serve us, but we have to indicate our choices through what we purchase, not only through our words.

I appreciated the time the panel members took out of their schedules to speak after the showing, and to give their perspective on the film.  It is always important that we hear various food production views, as provided after "Fresh".  I encourage people when they view "Food, Inc." and "Fresh" to then look at the talking points put out by organizations such as Monsanto, Cargill, Kansas Farm Bureau, Kentucky Corn Growers Association, etc., and then make their own decisions about what they want to purchase.  (Links to talking points/"Food, Inc." responses included - just click on the organization name.)

In the question/answer session, one of the panel members said that farmers have been hurt because they are too productive, and this has driven food prices down.  However, not much earlier the panel indicated that farmers must increase production to be able to feed the hungry world. Those two statements seem to conflict.  One of the farmers also acknowledged that hunger is not currently an issue of production, but of distribution.  So my question is why do farmers feel a pressure to increase production when it really sounds like our focus should be on improving distribution?  Hmmm, something to investigate, to ask a conventional farmer about, and to see what else I can find on the topic. 

I have heard it said that the world population is estimated to increase to 9 billion by 2050, and that's why they have to increase production.  But my question, as I asked Thurs. evening, is did the world ask us to feed them?  It seems it would be better to teach them to grow their food, or fight against their corrupt governments if that is the reason they are starving.  Wouldn't a better solution be, as I've heard it said, "Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he'll eat for a lifetime."

I also wonder, are we hurting our own food system by focusing on increasing production?  Donald Davis, PhD and other researchers have interesting evidence that increasing production decreases the nutrient levels of produce, especially vegetables, possibly due to increased yields.  Something to think about...

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Oh, how we love the garden!

Here's a snapshot: Chris & his Mom in front of a raised bed at the Delano Community Garden.

Excitement about intake of locally produced foods is the focus of this blog, and it is fun!  As you may know, I am compiling a list of local producers to use in food talks on this topic, and plan to feature them on the blog. 
A producer we sometimes forget about is our own hands.  Have you ever thought about how much food you could grow for yourself with a back yard garden, or a pot on a balcony?  Even if you don't have a big plot of land, there are many options.  You could start a container garden, or join one of the many community gardens in Wichita.  One of the benefits of a community garden is mentoring - there are new gardeners working alongside seasoned gardeners.  For older individuals, or those who prefer not to spend time on their knees, raised beds can make gardening easier on the body.

Why starting a garden is a great idea:

1.  Fresh produce:  Think about biting into a vine ripened tomato vs. one picked 4-7 days early in order to ship it to you before it spoils.  If you've had this experience, you know the difference I'm talking about.

2.  Gardening, a lifesaver in a tough economy:  The Sedgwick County Extension Agency has a "Family of Four" garden.  They analyze the cost savings from "fruits" of the garden.  According to their blog, their "family of four" saved $21.00 this week by growing their own produce and estimate their yearly savings so far at $83.13.  Wow, and the growing has just begun.

3.  It's better than the gym:  If you've ever spent a day doing yard work after sitting inside all winter, you know how quickly you can be reminded about the muscles you haven't used, especially the next day.  Are Americans the only people who drive to the gym and circle the parking lot to find a close space, just to go inside and run, walk or bike.  Ironic, huh.  In my opinion, the movement I get from being in the garden is much more fun than intentional exercise at the gym.

4.  Studies show kids who are involved in gardening programs eat more produce.  It seems adults would be affected the same way (I know I am) but I don't have any hard data on that.  Starting a seed, seeing what it produces, and then feeding yourself with it, or having an entire meal from what you produce is empowering.

5.  You know, that you know, that you know, how it's raised:  When you grow food yourself, you know that it's treated the way that you desire.  Organic, conventional, whatever your preference, when you grow it yourself, you decide and have control over the growing techniques and practices.  How's that for feeling good about what you put into your body?

If you need additional information about gardening or classes on gardening, contact the Sedgwick County Extension Agency.  They've got a great guide  about vegetable gardening in Kansas.  If you would like a list of community garden opportunities in the Wichita area, please email me (

Monday, May 17, 2010

"We do not ship anything anywhere."

I call them "The Girls," Chris calls them "The Three Stooges."

"We do not ship anything anywhere. We encourage folks to find their local producers and patronize them."  --Polyface, Inc.

How's that for a business statement? Not something I've seen before - it doesn't exactly increase the companies bottom line to refuse shipping to people who want products.  But, it's exactly how Polyface, Inc. begins their website's "Food Sales" page. The unconventional farming practices of Polyface, Inc. are featured in "Fresh," a movie showing at Newman University Thursday evening...details here.

In light of the Polyface, Inc. encouragement to find a local producer and patronize them, I am thrilled about a chicken find!  Last week I heard about a local producer of chickens who has some extra meat to sell.  He butchers twice a year, and luckily, he's got ~20 whole, frozen chickens left.  I plan to pick up the birds on the drive to visit my parents.  According to mapquest, this food was raised and butchered 41 miles from where I live.  I feel great about supporting a local producer by getting meat right from the source, and putting money straight into his farm.  How's that for "farm to fork!"  I plan to ask this producer if they would like to be added to the "Local Foods Sources" list I am compiling.  It's exciting to promote these small producers in Kansas, I hope you are excited too!

When embarking on our effort to increase the local food we eat, Chris and I adopted three chicks, who are now chickens.  Ironically, we raised them in a big Chick-fil-a box Chris brought home from work.  Now they are happily pecking about in the back yard and playing tug-o-war with grubs we throw them from the garden.  It will be ~1-2 months before they lay eggs, but we are looking forward to the bright yolks.  I wanted to raise 12 more to butcher, but Wichita allows six chickens per city lot, and Chris wasn't about to have renegade chickens raised in our basement.  Maybe next year.

Local Eating Survey:  The Sedgwick County Extension Agency is doing a (quick) survey of county residents to plan events and programs about local eating. They say, "you should still take the survey, even if you think the local food movement is nuts!" It's a (quick) survey so please help them out and pass it on to your friends! I took it, did I mention it's quick!  Here's the link:

Thursday, May 13, 2010

"Fresh" Food - You HAVE to see this!

Last Saturday's breakfast - eggs from the farmers' market, toast made with fresh milled wheat and Kansas honey, onions from the garden - an avocado from our avocado tree in the back yard...okay, the avocado isn't local, but it was yummy!

Two movies highly impacted the way Chris and I view our foods sources.  The first is "Food, Inc." which got us thinking...followed up by our viewing of "Fresh" by Ana Sofia Joanes which explains more about what "Food, Inc" began.  I'm so excited to tell you that on Thursday, May 20th Newman University's is having a screening of "Fresh" right here for our local community!  I hope you will join me for this.  Here are the details

When:  Thursday, May 20th, Pre-film Farmers' Market reception at 6:30, Screening at 7:30
Where: Newman University Dugan Library and Campus Center (Dugan-Gorges Conference Center).
Cost:  Tickets are $10 at the door, $8 for students and seniors
Why:  Because it's important to learn WHY we should support local agriculture.

Here's a blurb about "Fresh" from the website promoting this event:  "Fresh picks up where Food Inc. left off, looking at people who are working for positive change in the way America makes its food. Fresh celebrates the farmers, thinkers and business people across America who are re-inventing our food system. Each has witnessed the rapid transformation of our agriculture into an industrial model, and confronted the consequences: food contamination, environmental pollution, depletion of natural resources, and morbid obesity. Forging healthier, sustainable alternatives, they offer a practical vision for a future of our food and our planet."

Remember...the Farmers Markets are open this weekend!  Stop by the Old Town Farmers' Market and Kansas Grown Farmers Market to get some fresh, local items.

If you are having trouble viewing the entire posts, please email me (  I know that some readers receiving this posting in yahoo email are having some issues.  If you are having problems too, let me know, I don't want you to miss any excitement about local eating in our area!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Why buy local?

The other day my Mom offered me some radishes, “straight from the garden.”  Funny, I planted her garden, and my planting didn't include radishes. I quickly assumed her definition of "straignt from the garden.”  This meant she just came from the grocery store and purchased the radishes that day. She knows my passion for local food, and likes to poke fun.

Is it wrong to shop at grocery stores? Of course not.  Each week I get items I haven't found locally from traditional stores. How could I live without my chocolate! I buy locally those items that I am able to get straight from the farmer. Many foods are already available, even this early in the season. At Saturday's farmers market locally produced foods included tomatoes, asparagus, lettuce, onions, grass raised beef, honey and eggs.

Why do I choose locally produced foods?  For many reasons, here are a few:

1. Food Distance:  I was shocked the first time I read an estimation of the average distance food travels to our plates.  The estimation ranges from 800-1500 miles, just for us to eat a meal. In light of the recent oil spill, consider where you would get your food if oil was suddenly unavailable, would you be able to eat? 

2. Fresh Food: Most produce in the US is picked on average 4-7 days before it reaches the grocery store shelf. If produce comes from outside the US, it is often picked even earlier! Local foods are often fresher, which means, they are often tastier. And the best part, you know the farmer so you can ask when it was picked if you want to know!  Try doing that at the grocery store.  Chris and I had lettuce salad last night picked from our garden 30 minutes before we ate, we noted that it tasted less bitter and more sweet than that we normally eat.  Incredibly satisfying.

3. Local Economic Support: We all know the economic situation today is rough.  Why not reinvest your money directly into the Wichita area economy by purchasing from a farmer you know?  I have read when purchasing directly from a farmer ~90% of the money goes directly back to the farm.  When purchasing foods at a grocery store, ~7% of the money stays in the local community, and ~93% is used to pay for processing, packaging, distributors, wholesalers and truckers.  Read more here.

Those are just a few of the reasons I choose local products.  Why do you choose to eat locally, or why not?  Maybe you're hesitant, what else do you need to know to support your local farmer?

LOCAL FOODS LIST:  I'm continuing to work on creating a list of local food producers (within ~100 miles of Wichita).  If you know of someone who is willing to sell eggs, produce, honey, meat or other products directly to the consumer, please contact me!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Fresh Markets - Italian Style

My husband and I spent two weeks in Italy last May. Because we are both “foodies” (he is a chef, I am a dietitian) our favorite times were spent in the morning markets. We loved admiring the rows of fresh produce, fish, flowers and pastries. I recall saying, “Chris, I would love to live here and have a market like this to buy food from.” Granted, at the time, local eating was the farthest thing from my mind. Instead, I loved the quaintness of the Italian markets, the vivid colors of fruits and veggies, and the euphoric feeling of being on vacation.

Since that time I have become passionate about eating locally, and am delighted that we DO have markets, much like in Italy. Only better because the farmer here understands our order the first time. When we go to market here, we don’t have to bring out the English/Italian dictionary to figure out what the angry words and looks from the vendors mean. My wonderful husband wanted to touch all the beautiful produce – but in Italy you either wear plastic gloves or the shopkeeper fills your order with sterile hands. If not, they get angry – unfortunately not our only flub in Italy.

So, tomorrow morning head out bright and early to one of the local markets already open on Saturday. You can even imagine you’re in Italy if you like! Buon giorno, my friends.  The two markets that are open include:

Old Town Farmers Market: Mosley & 1st Street, 7 a.m. to noon.  This week's Chef's Table at 9 a.m. will be presented by Executive Chef David Wirebaugh from the Hyatt.  Their Harvest Kitchen/Bar uses local ingredients - a place I plan to try soon.

Kansas Grown Farmers’ Market: Sedgwick County Extension Center, 21st & Ridge Rd, 7 a.m. to noon

And as the season advances there are markets during the week.  You can shop fresh a few times a week if you like, much like an Italian.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Beginning of the Local Foods Wichita Blog!

My hubby with fresh produce from last year's garden.

May 5th. I spent the day on the farm with my 93 year old grandfather. Frustrated with my uncle's fence building skills, on Easter he told me I could have any of his sheep or goats that got out of their pen. When he quizzed me on what I planned to do with the livestock when I caught it, I said, "I'm selling it back to you, for a really good price!" He laughed, certain I'd never catch one of his animals., I almost had some extra income. While heading out to the mailbox, I heard some mawwing, desperate mawwing. Looking around I saw a goat, with his head stuck in a tomato cage, trapped, easy prey. I tore through some trees to get to the goat, certain this was a profit. We wrestled all the way to my car where I knew I had my dog's chain. I planned to chain the goat to a tree in the front yard, and I pulled on the door handle, ugh, locked. The goat got away, but not without being chased by me and my 6# dog, Jacques. His chain wound up like a lasso in my hand. Darn, maybe next time. This city slicker, urban farmer needs to learn an easier way to catch goats.

So on with the blog...if you read my profile you know my husband and I are passionate about local, seasonal eating. I plan to blog about locally sourced and seasonal eating in the Wichita area twice weekly. Typically on Tuesday and Friday, the days restaurants get fresh fish according to my husband, who is a chef. "But", I ask, "are they local fish?"

Please ignore the previous posts, they are for a graduate class I took and will be deleted soon (once they are graded).

I am currently working on a local foods list - a list designed for the Wichita consumer. If you know of local producers who would like to be included on the list, please, contact me!

Until the next post...the fresh season is slowly arriving!! Are your taste buds ready, mine are!