Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Q&A with market gardener and author Pam Dawling

Today we're visiting with Pam Dawling, author of Sustainable Market Farming: Intensive Vegetable Production on a Few Acres. Pam was born and raised in England and moved to the U.S. when she was 39.

"In England I lived as part of rural intentional communities, and I heard about Twin Oaks in Virginia," Pam says. "I came to visit and stayed. I've been drawn to growing vegetables since I was 20. Since I moved to Twin Oaks I've been able to make it my main work."

Why did you write this book and how is it different from what was already available?

Pam: I had gathered a lot of information to help us with our gardens, and the ring binders were getting cumbersome. Twin Oaks was looking for proposals from members on new income-earning projects. (I did overestimate the income-earning potential!) I was already established as a writer with Growing for Market magazine, and I'd done some infosheets for the Virginia Association for Biological Farming. I thought I could sort my store of information into book form and if it didn't sell it would at least be useful to the garden crew here. There was a shortage of books about growing vegetables in the south, especially at the small farm scale. Recent books had been focused on going organic, or buying land, or running a CSA, or looking at the business side of farming. There hadn't been a new book about actually growing food for quite a while.

Should someone attempt a market garden if they have no experience with backyard gardening?

Well, never say never! Someone drawn to market gardening with no experience could go as an intern at a few different farms over a couple of seasons. Or they could grow a small garden first. I don't think they should sink blood, sweat and tears into a commercial operation with zero knowledge. No, that would be a mistake!

What's your favorite vegetable for market gardening and why?

I've been on a mission to produce lettuce year round in Virginia. It's been challenging and satisfying to succeed.

What is the toughest vegetable to grow for market, and what's your secret to do it?

In our climate, and at our latitude, bulb onions are very hard. We're too far south to grow hard onions, the pungent storers. The day-length is all wrong. I found we could grow good bulb onions by starting them in the ground in the hoophouse in November, and then setting out the bare-root transplants early in March. But they're not storers, so we don't want to grow too many.

Is there something that more market gardeners should be doing?

Take one hour a week to work on your own (no helpers!) on a work project that isn't urgent, but you really want to do.

Or is there something that you think more market gardeners will be doing in the future?

No doubt about it - working to be more resilient in the face of climate change. I recommend Resilient Agriculture: Cultivating Food Systems for a Changing Climate by Laura Lengnick.

If you want to see our review of Pam's book or enter a giveaway to win a copy, click here!

Monday, August 10, 2015

Book review: Sustainable Market Farming

Sustainable Market Farming: Intensive Vegetable Production on a Few Acres by Pam Dawling answers most of the questions I've heard from aspiring market gardeners and even some established market gardeners. Whether you are hoping to sell at the farmer's market or start a CSA or just get a better handle on your own kitchen garden, the 400+ pages in this book provide practical answers.

I especially like the individual chapters on growing specific vegetables. For example, there is a 15 page chapter on growing tomatoes and a 10 page chapter on growing potatoes. The shortest chapters on individual vegetables is five pages, which is still a lot of information about growing a single vegetable, and it is not something I have ever seen in another book!

Here are just a few of the topics covered ...
  • year-round production
  • crop rotations for vegetables
  • cover crops
  • how much to grow
  • succession planting 
  • soil fertility
  • disease, weed, and pest management
  • harvesting techniques
  • winter vegetable storage without refrigeration
The book also includes excellent photos and practical charts and graphs. For example, her lettuce log from 2012 provides a real-life example, so you can see how the days to transplant decreases as the weather warms up and then increases again as the weather cools down in fall. She could have just written that sentence in her book, but by providing an actual record from her garden, we are able to really understand how it transpires.

Pam's 38 years of gardening experience truly shines through the pages of her book, and whether you are a complete novice or a seasons pro, you'll find lots of practical information in here. I definitely give it two thumbs up, and I'll be reading over it again this winter when preparing for next year's garden.

Pam's publisher has agreed to give away a copy of Sustainable Market Farming to one lucky reader of this blog, so follow the instructions for entering below. Be sure to comment using your name (so I can match it up with the name on your entry) because my mind reading skills are terrible, and I can't tell one anonymous person from another!

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I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This blog post contains affiliate links.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Don't want toxins on your skin?

But you don't want to make your own body care products?

I get it. Really, I do. There are dozens of reasons why most people don't want to make their own soap, moisturizer, sugar scrub, toothpaste, and so on. Even I don't want to make all of those things all the time. But I don't want to put toxins into my body. That is non-negotiable!

Before I wrote Ecothrifty, I thought that the FDA made sure cosmetics and personal care products were safe, but when researching that book, I learned that it's not part of their job description. As long as mascara doesn't blind someone and they aren't claiming that their face cream is better than a facelift (a medical procedure), companies can make whatever claims they want, and they can put whatever ingredients they want into their products.

In my book, Ecothrifty, I wrote,
The Cosmetic Ingredient Review was created 36 years ago to "review and assess the safety of ingredients used in cosmetics." As of August 2011, however, they had reviewed only 2,300 of the 6,000 cosmetic ingredients voluntarily registered with the FDA. The FDA has banned the use of 14 chemicals in cosmetics. Even if there are only 6,000 chemicals used in cosmetics, it is more than enough to make some of us more than a wee bit concerned about safety.
I just visited the CIR's website to see the updated list, and in the last four years, the FDA has not banned another chemical, although the CIR has added 12 more to their unsafe list, including several carcinogens! That means those products are on store shelves, and people are buying them and using them.

Unfortunately, there are consumer groups that say there are tens of thousands of different chemicals in cosmetics and body care products. Companies have only admitted to using 6,000. Because companies are not required to submit those chemicals for any type of safety review or government approval, no one really knows how many are in personal care products. And we can assume they'd only admit to using the 6,000 that they thought were safe.

So, what do you do to avoid being slowly poisoned? You find products that are safe. However, that's tough to do because words like "natural" and "safe" have no legal meaning, so companies can use those words in advertising as much as they want, even if they have the most unnatural product on the market. I have been looking for toxin-free cosmetics for a very long time, because even I am not motivated to make my own make-up! Although there are plenty of companies out there that claim to be natural and even organic, they are not. Unlike the rules on organic food, cosmetic companies can use the word "organic" even if they are not certified. But there is an answer!

You can look up companies and individual products on the Environmental Working Group's website Skin Deep, and you can get information about whether or not ingredients and products are truly safe. I've looked up many companies that are trying to greenwash their labels only to discover that their products are in the yellow and red zone, which is obviously not good.

I was really excited to discover Poofy Organics, which has products that all rank in the green zone on Skin Deep, and most are USDA certified organic, which is almost unheard of in personal care products. They are also certified cruelty free because they do no testing on animals -- and why would they need to? They are using ingredients that we all know are safe, such as natural oils. Their products are also all made in the U.S., which means we don't have to worry about unsafe working conditions in a third world sweat shop or rules being broken across the ocean that could wind up compromising the safety of the final products. And the icing on the cake for those with gluten intolerance is that all of the products are gluten free.

I especially love their soaps, lotions, and deodorants because I can understand the ingredient labels without grabbing the dictionary. And I could make similar products in my own kitchen, if only I had the time! I also like their nail polish because it contains no formaldehyde, no toluene, and no DBP, all of which are ranked 10 on Skin Deep, which is the worst possible rating and very unsafe, yet one or more of them is in most nail polish. Poofy's nail polish remover is a real cosmetic rock star with no odor whatsoever, and the ingredients all rank 0 on the Skin Deep database, which is as good as it gets! Unlike acetone removers, which tend to dry out your skin, this one is actually a bit oily. I just recently painted my fingernails for the first time in many years!

I'm so excited about Poofy Organics that I signed up to sell their products. I will still encourage people to make their own stuff, and I'll even give you recipes, but if you don't want to do that, then I've done the research to help you make safer choices for yourself and your family. Remember, your skin is the largest organ in your body, and everything you put on it will be absorbed into your blood stream. You should be as careful about what you put on your skin as you are with the food you eat. If you'd like to know more about Poofy's products, click here. If you find that you really love their products, you can host an online party or even become a GUIDE, which is what Poofy calls the people who sell their products.

And I almost forgot to mention it -- in addition to a great selection of products for women, Poofy also has products specifically for babies, children, and men.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Addicted to the Internet? or just a casual user?

Do you think you spend too much time online or on some websites? Do you check your email every ten or fifteen minutes? Is your smart phone within three feet of your body 24/7? Does your two-year-old play with your smart phone? Do you worry that you might be addicted to the Internet? If you answered yes to any (or all) of these questions, you are not alone. Although you might be relieved to hear that, it is not good news!

While reading Christina Crook's The Joy of Missing Out: Finding Balance in a Wired World, I was frequently horrified. Overusing the Internet is not simply a bad habit. It is physically addicting. It causes our bodies to release dopamine, which is a feel-good hormone and explains why we keep checking our inbox over and over again. But just as addictive drugs only keep us happy for a short time, so too does the Internet, which is why we keep going back again and again for another hit. One study found "that for every additional hour kids spend online, their happiness decreases eight percent." She cites one study that found that one in ten North Americans have admitted to texting during sex, and in the 18 to 24 year age group, that number is one in five! And things in the U.S. are not nearly as bad as in many Asian countries. Crook tells us, "more than half a million of Japan's children ages 12 to 18 are addicted to the Internet."

If you think that calling this an addiction is an exaggeration, check out this quote:
"We (as app makers) want them to be addicting. Like a potato chip manufacturer, we try to put just the right crunch and the perfect amount of salt so you can't help but have just one more. We want you to get addicted. It puts the potato chips on our table," says mobile app developer Jeremy Vandehey.
Don't assume that Crook is a luddite who has shunned technology. On the contrary, she says she was as addicted as anyone back when she decided to go on a 31-day Internet fast. A small part of the book is devoted to what she learned during the month, but most of it tells us about the overall problem and how it is affecting us, along with some ideas on how to curb our use.

Many chapters end with a set of questions to get you thinking, such as,
  • What do I long for?
  • What can I create out of that longing?
  • How can the Internet be a wisely used tool for me in creating this?
  • What limits will I give myself while using the Internet as a creative resource?
Overall, this is a great book for helping us to re-examine our use of technology and keep it in check.

In addition to sending me a copy of the book to review, the publisher has agreed to give a copy to one of my blog readers. If you'd like to sign up, just follow the directions below, and be sure to use a name other than "Anonymous" when commenting, as my mind reading skills are terrible.

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Thursday, June 11, 2015

Make your own mayonnaise!

Not only can you use mayonnaise on salads and in pasta salads or potato salad, it also is a necessary ingredient for ranch dressing, which you can make with homemade buttermilk. Mayonnaise falls into the “you can make that at home?” category because most people have never eaten homemade mayonnaise. Yes, in less than five minutes, with only four ingredients, you can make mayonnaise with either a blender or food processor.

  • 2 fresh eggs (or one egg and two egg yolks)
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice or wine vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cups oil
  • optional spices: 1 teaspoon dry mustard, 1 tablespoon parsley, 1 teaspoon dill weed, 1 to 3 teaspoons chili powder, 1 teaspoon paprika

I made mayonnaise for twenty years using two eggs and then learned that the yolk really does most of the work, so if you are using egg whites for something else (like quiche), you can use one whole egg and two yolks. Put the eggs in a food processor or blender and blend for 30 seconds. Add the salt and lemon juice or vinegar and blend until mixed, maybe another 15 seconds, and then slowly add the oil in a little dribble with the blender still on high.

Most traditional mayonnaise recipes include the dry mustard as a standard ingredient, but I often don’t use it, and I don’t see much difference in flavor. If you are planning to use the mayonnaise in a pasta salad or potato salad, you can add the spices from your recipe while the mix is still in the blender. About once a year for variety, I’ll make a Cajun mayonnaise by adding 1 tablespoon of chili powder and 1 teaspoon of paprika.

The is an excerpt from Homegrown and Handmade: A Practical Guide to More Self-Reliant Living by Deborah Niemann.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Excerpt from Heal Local: 20 Essential Herbs

The Importance of Local

I believe we should all have the ability to walk into our backyard and pick what is needed for any minor home emergency. Western medicine and natural therapies have become polarized un-necessarily. It can be inappropriate to give away our power entirely in either direction. In the case of our current society’s infatuation with Western medicine, many have let go of their personal power and lost their herbal birthright. This has led to a situation where every health decision — along with our personal and financial security — is given over to someone in a white coat. It can be frightening to assert our independence and take back our decision-making ability in this area.

As a new mother, it was my intention to exercise this independence, but it meant I took on responsibility of the health and safety of my child in ways that I wouldn’t have needed to otherwise. We maintain a balance in our home that is the central theme of the book I would like to share with you. We take care of most of our health crises at home with herbs and other natural methods. In each situation we weigh what Western medicine has available to us against the severity of the situation and what we can do ourselves. Western medicine is very good at quickly addressing symptoms and averting disaster in very dangerous and serious situations. If one of us has a broken bone, we will head to a hospital. Natural first aid does not need to set one method of healing against another; instead it should incorporate the best of all worlds. If we can take care of something here at home, simply and without subjecting ourselves to waiting room bacteria, we will do so. Couldn’t everyone have these basic skills? As health care systems come under pressure, we can find ways to allow citizens to take responsibility once again for their health. This will relieve both overburdened staff in clinics and hospitals and overburdened family budgets.

Who gets to be self-sufficient? Is it only the “crunchy” families who have some land and the desire to homestead in the current sense of the word? I don’t believe so. Self-sufficiency does not have to be an all-or-nothing prospect. Instead it should be scalable. Self-sufficiency in home health is attainable for the apartment dweller as well as the farmer living on 100 acres.

Sustainability is a hot button topic right now. Very simply, the way we practice health through the Western medical paradigm is not sustainable. As we continue to chase the next symptom, our bodies become more and more structurally unsound. We need to get back to fixing the foundational issues we have in our lives rather than only seeking a quick fix.

As patients of the Western medical system have become accustomed to demanding an instant result, we have created a self-perpetuating cycle within our communities. We expect doctors to be godlike, holding them accountable in a legal manner for that which they should never have been responsible. In defense, Western medical practice and education has tried to act godlike, dispensing from on high and brooking no questions. In an effort to provide the patient with what he/she wanted rather than what they needed, our medical establishment has overreached itself. Both sides must change in order for healing to begin. We cannot demand that someone else inappropriately take responsibility for our personal health and then chastise them for damage that is created when they do so.

We can take back both our responsibility and our power. Western medicine can again be a respected profession when doctors are consultants to an informed patient who is responsible for their own actions and decisions. In the meantime, we can begin to fill the void that this disentanglement will cause. We have lost much of our traditional knowledge of home care. This has happened as a large medical system has struggled to gain more power and attempted to discredit traditional knowledge. This has also happened as our culture has attempted to pull families out of the home and into full-time professional employment while discrediting the contributions of home caretakers.

This is an excerpt from Heal Local: 20 Essential Herbs for Do-it-Yourself Home Healthcare. To read our review and enter a giveaway to win a copy, click here.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Conversation with author Dawn Combs

Today we're chatting with Dawn Combs, author of Heal Local: 20 Essential Herbs for Do-it-Yourself Home Healthcare.

How did you get interested in medicinal herbs?

I have been fascinated with ethnobotany since college. I was sitting in a lecture in college about how a plant can decide from one day to the next to pull a different nutrient from the soil in response to an insect attack and it became incredibly clear to me that there was an intelligence in the plant kingdom that I had never heard about. Those same chemicals that are often used by the plant to protect it against disease or predation are often the ones we use for medicinal benefit. I was hooked. After getting my botany degree it took me another ten years to find Rosemary Gladstar with whom I could formally continue my studies in botanical medicine.

Where did you get the idea to write this particular book?

Since completing my studies and starting our herbal business we have lived in a community that is not blessed with a local medicine economy. I am passionate about helping people regain their herbal birthright and become self sufficient in their healthcare. For years I’ve stood at a farmer’s market booth watching people who are enthusiastic about knowing the farmer who grew their food but being content with no connection to who makes their medicine. That seemed like a disconnect to me and I began to think a lot about how the buy local, eat local notion could be extended to local medicine.

Why these 20 herbs? and why 20? why not 15 or 25?

The book isn’t really about THESE 20 herbs. I don’t want to suggest that these are the 20 that everyone should have. My point is that I addressed almost 100 health issues in this book with only 20 herbs. We don’t have to have a different herb for each problem and we don’t need to feel overwhelmed with natural healthcare. Everyone’s home medicine chest should be personalized for themselves or their family. If they can grow some themselves or wildcraft local herbs, so much the better. I really wanted to bring it down to 15, but I just couldn’t build complete protocols for some of the diseases that our culture struggles with in just 15 so it had to expand to 20.

Is there an herb or two that you seriously considered but it ultimately didn't make the final cut? Why?

I truly can’t live without nettles (Urtica dioica) or dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) and they aren’t in the book. It’s not that I don’t value them, it’s just that they weren’t necessary to make my point. If anyone has a bit more room in their cupboard I hope they add the weeds that we can get for free… perhaps that’s another book!

Do you have any particular advice for someone who is just starting to use herbs?

Keep it simple, learn to trust your own inner knowing. Approach herbs with respect not fear. In keeping with what I’m trying to say in the book, I would say choose only one or two herbs to start and get to know them really well. Grow them, eat them and use them in your medicine. Don’t pressure yourself to learn every herb you hear about, look in your own backyard.

Are there any mistakes that you see made with herbs? and how do we avoid those mistakes?

One of the biggest mistakes I see is when people take one source about a given supplement as gospel. Even worse is when they don’t vet the source. There are many armchair health educators out there who’s authority is dubious at best. That’s not to say that these “authorities” can’t be right occasionally, but it is always good to check out your sources and look for supporting information in at least two other reference points. The other big mistake is when people give their authority away to someone else and don’t listen to their own inner knowing. Develop your own filter so that you can determine what is believable and what is right for you versus what may be more appropriate for others.

To read our review of Dawn's book and enter the giveaway to win your own copy, click here.
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