Thursday, September 30, 2010

An (Organic) Blast from the Past

Our day at the wedding...

When you grow up in a small town, you get to know or know about just about everyone (whether what you know about them is true or not is up to the townspeople  to gossip about).  I grew up in a small community of ~1500 residents, and graduated with a sum total of 30 students.  I attended my cousin's wedding a few weeks ago, and of course, ran into many individuals I haven't seen for a while.  One of the most fun encounters involved a couple, I'll call the X's whom I knew in high school.  While catching up, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that they have been organic farmers for the last 14 years or so.  We found that we share beliefs about farming, and I felt encouraged to see full-time farmers doing things in environmentally friendly ways. 

While doing a mixture of conventional and organic farming, Mr. X got cancer.  After having part of his body artificially recreated the X's were done with chemicals and conventional farming practices.  They shifted to an all organic farm, and are energetic about what they do.  Always curious to learn, I asked about their yields.  They said no, they do not have as large of yields as a conventional farmer, but they also do not have the costly inputs that conventional farmers do. 

The conventional farmer would say he needs to feed the world, and needs to increase yields.  However, the United Nations World Food Program realizes current problems with world hunger are not due to lack of food, but problems with distribution of that food.  And, countries who need the food aren't able to afford the prices our western culture wants, therefore, why increase our production when the members of our society are over nourished and those who need it can't pay for it?  Which leads me to an interesting quote I read recently:

"I can understand someone from Iowa promoting corn and soy, but we are not feeding the world, we are feeding animals and soft drink companies." - Jim Goodman

Something to think about.  There are a lot of opinions when it comes to farming...and it's important to remember how important farmers really are to every one of us

Monday, September 27, 2010

A local restaurant I'm happy to support - But it's local in an unexpected way...

Our new neighborhood watch sign. 
I was thankful to see the last one replaced.

Recently the Wichita Eagle reported on City Life Cafe, located at 2111 E. Central.  The Cafe is aimed at helping former gang members obtain job skills and experience earning an honest wage.  Since I'm from an area where the neighborhood watch sign was covered in graffiti for over a month, I'm happy to support a program like this one, even if the foods they serve aren't locally sourced, (although they may be, I didn't ask), the people are locally sourced, and that's important.

My friend, Rich, and I dined at the City Life Cafe recently. After looking over the reasonably priced menu, we each ordered a plate of brisket, potato salad and baked beans with BBQ sauce. Pleasantly filled with my meal, I turned down dessert but am going back another day for peanut butter pie. The service from our two young waiters was excellent, and next time I'm taking my culinary professional along (that'd be Chris).

The Cafe, run by a non-profit organization has needs, one of which is a new sign for their restaurant.  Chris and I were immediately drawn to this need, not only because it helps former gang members (which Chris did as an Americorps volunteer in Colorado), but because we love food!  So, we're donating, hoping they raise enough for a sign and other needs to continue the impactful business.

You always get back when you give...How does it come back??  Maybe not in dollars, maybe your car tires last longer, or the electric bill is lower, or you find a great deal on surplus tomatoes at the farmers' market, or get a great rate on a mortgage, or your garden really produces.  I've found there are many ways giving comes consider giving locally to Youth for Christ's City Life Work Program.  Include that you want the money to go for the sign...or one of the restaurants other needs (below), and mail it to P.O. Box 3700, Wichita, KS 67201.  Or even better, go have breakfast or lunch at the restaurant, and leave your encouragement with the guys and the leader, Dale McMullen.

City Life Work Program Needs (A complete list is available in the restaurant)
1.  Deep Fryer
2.  Plates (Dinner & Saucers)
3.  Glasses (Juice & 24 oz.)
4.  Pots and Pans
5.  Silverware
6.  Napkins
7.  Paper towels
8.  Frying Oil
9.  Charcoal
10.  Smoking Wood
11.  Printer Paper
12.  Printer Ink
13.  Pens
14.  Entry door rugs
15.  Sign for side of building
16.  Syrup dispensers
17.  Safety glasses
18.  Gloves
19.  Trash bags
20.  Yard tools (rakes, shovels, etc.
21.  Mops and buckets
22.  Wall pictures
23.  Mentors

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Buying Bread - Keeping Money in Our Local Economy

Four loaves of fresh baked bread.  One is cut and eaten immediately,
the other three go into the freezer for later use.

My most recent post included the shocking amount of money a Kansas wheat farmer gets for the wheat in a loaf of bread.  After my last posting, I realized many people may not know how/where to purchase local bread products (where the wheat is grown ~70 miles from Wichita, and the bread is baked here too.)  The way I see it, you have two options...and here they are:

1.  Mill and bake your bread:  Buy wheat berries from a local farmer.  A locally owned farm, Janzen Family Farms, grows certified organic wheat berries (find their info/website on the local producers list).  Norm Oeding is the farm manager, and formerly marketed his products under the Spring Creek Ranch label.  The wheat berries (both hard red winter and hard white winter) are sold in the bulk bins at local stores.  After purchasing, mill the wheat and bake the bread yourself.  This is the option Chris and I choose.  We also make homemade noodles, pancakes, tortillas, crackers and other bread products from fresh milled flour.  I organized my life in order to have time to do things like this, but not everyone has the time, so the second option is...

2.  Buy locally sourced bread products:  Janzen Family Farms also has a company called the Little Red Hen Bakery.  At the bakery, their locally grown organic wheat is made into bread products.  Baking happens on Wednesday, and products are delivered to stores that afternoon.  They have a good variety:  Honey Whole Wheat Bread, Old Fashioned Cracked Wheat Bread, Whole Wheat Raisin Bread, Whole Wheat Dinner Rolls, Whole Wheat Buns, and Whole Wheat Raisin Rolls.  Plus, a couple of multi-grain artisan breads:  Honey Five Grain Bread and Whole Wheat Seven Grain Bread.  So, want fresh, locally grown and baked bread - shop late Wednesday afternoon! 

Where can you find Janzen Family Farms bread products?  All three Whole Foods stores and Food for Thought (see the Local Producers List for locations.)

Chris and I love our homemade bread, and no, I don't sell it.  But, I do barter with it - I've been trading loaves of bread for some great organic products from a local farm.  This is one of the many ways using local products builds community, and I'm all for that!  (If you're interested in bartering, send me an email.)   :)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

What's the most important job in the world?

My grandparents (left) with my gma's twin sister, celebrating their 91st bday.
My grandparents were farmers, and growing up 2 miles from them I learned a lot about agriculture.

While spending the weekend caring for my 94 year old grandfather who still lives on the family farm, I thought about this question.  My proposal is that the most important job in the world is the farmer.  After all, would the computer guru innovate if he didn't have food to eat?  Would the scientist do research if his belly wasn't full?  Would the chef or nutritionist (as Chris and I are) teach others about food if there is no food to talk about? 

According to Maslow's hierarchy of needs, the bottom level includes our physiological needs of hunger and thirst.  Unless we have these fulfilled, we cannot move on to focus on other parts of our life such as safety, social needs or recognition and status.  So, without food and clean water, we are stuck, focused on getting those needs fulfilled.  Who meets this need, the farmer (and arguably, the water purification specialist.)

Unfortunately, I have been accused of being anti-agriculture (by only one person, thankfully).  I grew up on a family farm, and my parents ended up leaving farming because all the money they made went toward inputs and repair costs for machinery.  Part of my family still farms full-time.  While reading a recent issue of a Kansas Farm Bureau magazine, I was shocked to learn that Kansas wheat farmers get a whopping 10 cents per loaf for the wheat in the bread...and wheat is the first ingredient!  Where does the rest of the cost of a loaf of bread go?  I assume marketing, shipping, packaging, the store cashier's salary (and the manager, the housekeeper, etc.).  So, how do I help my local farmer?  I purchase straight from the farmer...and the extra $$ that would have been used for production goes into their pocket.

I've got four loaves of bread in the oven, but I realize not everyone wants to bake their own bread.  Therefore, it's good to know that the same holds true for other items, like fresh fruits and vegetables.  Buying local, whatever the product, puts more money into the pocket of your neighbor, the local farmer.  Time magazine says twice the amount of money stays in the local economy when we buy locally.  So buy from your neighborhood farmer, what would we do without them?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Simple Life

A beautiful, simple rose from our backyard.

I've been thinking a lot about the voluntary simplicity movement.  Voluntary simplicity, or minimalism, focuses on living simply outside in order to live richly inside.  At the peak of burnout from full-time work in a field I spent five years studying to enter, I first heard about living simply when I read the book, "Your Money or Your Life," and the desire for a simpler life resonated with me.  At the time, I had a $1000 monthly mortgage, shopped continually, ate dinner out most nights of the week, and failed to make time for activities that truly gave me life (if I even knew what they were).  At a young age, I realized this type of life wasn't sustainable, and I began making changes. 

I quit my stressful job, moved back to Kansas, sold my house, and happily left most of my worldly possessions in Georgia to a homeless ministry.  Initially struggling with working part-time, because a full-time job is what I was "supposed" to do, I got another full-time job in Kansas.  I believe the lies that unless we overwork and over schedule ourselves, we don't have value.  About a year later, I found courage to take the leap and quit my full-time job.  Surprised at how much better life was by decreasing my expenditures and living in a 400 sq. ft. apartment in order to work part-time, and do things I really enjoy (like learning pottery), I was sold.

I regularly read blogs focused on simplicity/minimalism and want to share my favorites with you.  Topics focus on simplifying life in order to work less and have more time to enjoy what you really want out of life.  Here are my favorites:
One of life's simple pleasures, homemade
apple pie!
While minimalism is not specifically focused on local eating, eating within ~100 miles (or 10 miles as Vicki Robin is doing) in many ways does simplify life.  At the farmers' market, there are a variety of options of items, but not aisle upon aisle of cereal and jelly or multiple packages of bread.  One stand at the Old Town Farmers' Market sells bread - how much simpler is that choice, one stand?  Going to the store these days, where the household goods and groceries are all under one roof, can be an exhausting experience and one I try to avoid.  While there are limitations to local eating based on the season, in a way, that simplifies life, and that's something I like.