Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Time to Cook Outside!

And no, I'm not referring to traditional summer rituals like barbecues and summer cook-outs.

We cook outside all summer long, all of our meals.  Yesterday was the first day for our summer kitchen.  I had gotten a chicken on the May coop order, and wanted to cook it, but I was not excited about turning the oven on for a couple of hours.  We haven't turned our AC on yet, and we won't turn it on until it gets really hot and humid.

Cooking inside adds great big piles of heat and humidity to the interior environment.  If you have AC, you can maintain interior comfort -- but the price is even MORE BTU's of energy expended in order to remove the heat and humidity. When you cook inside during the summer, you first spend BTUs to heat the food up, and then you spend more BTUs cooling it down.  Might as well just pile up some dollar bills and set them on fire.

So what you may say, I can afford my AC.  Maybe your personal circumstances are comfortable, but never forget that the price you pay to the electric company does not include all the costs of the energy you burn.  Electrical generation has many costs that are externalized -- they never appear on the electric company's balance sheet or on your bill.  So while you may personally be able to financially afford the extra expense, can we say the same thing about the planet?

No, I don't have a $20,000 outdoor kitchen.  I have a stand-a-lone roaster, a crockpot, a one-burner hot plate, a 2 burner propane camp stove, and for big jobs (like canning or making stock or later in the summer, lots of tomato sauce), I have a propane-fired turkey fryer and large stock pots.

Summer is also a good time to learn solar cooking, and about that I will have more to say this summer.

So yesterday I took out the roaster and hot plate, and made roast chicken, whole wheat rolls, and broccoli.  Thus begins another summer of cooking outside at my house!

For more ideas about keeping cool in the hot summer, see my printable flyer -- .  Make copies and give to friends!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Sweat Equity and Local Food Systems

Since its beginning, the Oklahoma Food Cooperative has been a triumph of sweat equity.  At one point a couple of years ago, I did a back-of-the-envelope calculation regarding the value of the sweat equity to the coop -- that is to say, what would it cost the coop to pay market wages for the labor (including management) donated to the coop.  At the time, that figure was in excess of $200,000.  To put this in perspective, customer and producer fees, presently set at 10% for customers and 10% for producers, would have to increase to about 18% each to replace sweat equity with paid staff.  The coop would then be operating on a margin of 36%, which is typical of regular grocery coops.

The sweat equity investments of our members made our success possible to date.

The growth pattern over the last seven years or so has been characterized by periods of rapid growth, followed by plateaus.  The longest plateau was the most recent, lasting for all of 2009, which saw an increase in producer sales of 7% over 2008, our lowest growth rate to date.  But in 2010, we are moving into another major growth spurt.  Producer sales for the first quarter were up 18% over the first quarter of 2009, and May 2010 was up 25% over May 2009. 

Once again, our management team is running to keep up.

Without the help of the membership, it will be hard for the coop management to keep up with the growth.  I would not be surprised if my the end of the year we are doing $100,000 in monthly producer sales, which will mean that we will finally cross the one million in annual sales goal post sometime in the upcoming year or so. 

If we are going to keep the sweat equity model, then there must be a renewed commitment of the membership to sweat equity.  While we don't have a volunteer requirement per se, we have a culture of volunteerism.  As a cooperative, all members are responsible for the success of the cooperative, and thus even though I am no longer on the management team, I want to send out this call to encourage members to contact our management team at and see what you can do to help.

Right now our existing volunteers are stretched to the limit.  Every month we are expecting more from the same group of people.  That is not sustainable, nor is it economically viable.  I am not asking anyone to quit their day job to help with the coop, but I am asking everyone to make a renewed commitment to the sweat equity model that has made us so successful.
  • Show up early, or stay late, to help set-up your pick-up site or take it down afterwards.  Email your site manager before the delivery day to let him or her know you are available to help.
  • Consider volunteering for a back office job, by contacting .
  • Once or twice a year, take a vacation day and volunteer for delivery day.  Come early and stay late.
  • Serve on a coop committee.
  • Tip the volunteers by donating a dollar or two to the Volunteer Appreciation fund that feeds our delivery day volunteers.
Yes its work, and that includes some manual labor, but it is important work, it is necessary work, and the rewards of satisfaction are great.  You'll know that you are doing your part to make sure the cooperative becomes sustainable and economically viable, and that is a gift you can send to future generations that will follow us whose cost cannot be counted.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Broccoli and asparagus

I like so many vegetables, it is hard to put my finger on a favorite. . . but broccoli and asparagus would be high on the list.

Today was the delivery day for the Oklahoma Food Cooperative.  Among the many tasty and healthy treats I came home with were broccoli and asparagus from Country to Town Market farm.  For dinner tonight, we had roasted asparagus, broccoli, and simple hamburger patties (longhorn beef, grass fed, pastured of course, right here in Oklahoma, from the Semkin family).  The broccoli was all florets, a gallon bag stuffed completely full.

I like roasting asparagus best of all the ways to cook asparagus.  First I bend the spears a bit so the bottom 1/3 or so breaks off (it's usually too tough).  Then I lay them out on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and crushed red pepper, throw on some chopped garlic (I pulled a bulb from the garden for this occasion), and then into a 400 degree oven it goes, for about 15 minutes.  I always check it after 10 minutes because with fresh vegetables the cooking time can vary a bit.

I cooked the broccoli in just a bit of water, and served it with some plain butter from Wagon Creek Creamery.

I seasoned the ground beef with black and red pepper, Beau Monde, and a dash or two of teriyaki sauce and pan fried them. 

With such good food, life is bon appetitin' good.

Monday, May 17, 2010

2010 wheat harvest (Oklahoma and the world) and food security

OKLAHOMA WHEAT HARVESTThe 2010 Oklahoma wheat harvest is just about to begin.  Usually my home county (Tillman) is one of the first places to start cutting wheat.  The farm I grew up on was only 6 miles from the Red River, so it's about as far south as you can get and not be in Texas.  See the Frederick Press for a nice picture of wheat ripening south of Frederick, county seat of Tillman County.

Wheat harvest was a very exciting time when I was growing up.  The town was packed with strangers -- customer harvest crews from every state north of us, who were following the harvest northwards and cutting wheat.  Farmers were anticipatory (generally anyway) of a good harvest, and also at the same time worried since a quick 10 minute hail storm could turn a field of wheat ready to harvest into compostable straw.  Generally, in southwest Oklahoma, rain is a blessing (about 28 inches annual rainfall down there, 'just barely enough' for dryland farming), but not at harvest time.  Rain can delay the harvest, and that is always a worry.  The price may fall, the custom harvest crews may pull out because they need to get on to the next station in their harvest trail, more bad weather could knock the grain down, and etc. A field ready to harvest is fragile, and no farmer will rest easily until it is safely gathered and in the bins.

Let's all say a prayer for farmers getting ready for harvest, and for the safety of the crews who harvest them (I met a lot of 9 fingered harvesters, usually the ring finger was missing due to a harvest accident that caught on their wedding ring).

The total Oklahoma wheat harvest is still being predicted in the 130-140 million bushel range, which is not a record but better than 2009. 

I am not a wheat farmer, but I always hold my breath on the wheat harvest.  This is a critical moment for all of rural Oklahoma, and many of my friends and relatives.  Plus there's the little detail of the importance of the wheat harvest for all who need to eat in the coming year.  Sure, Oklahoma isn't the only place where wheat is grown and harvested, and world wheat stocks have rebuilt over the last couple of years and are at their highest since the 1980s. 

This is assuming that the government's World Agricultural Supply and Demand report is accurate.  The government expects that we'll end up carrying over 1 billion bushels of wheat into the 2011 harvest, which is about 1 year's supply for human consumption (based on present consumption patterns), or about 10 months total consumption (human plus animal feed).  The world harvest is projected to be the third highest production on record (if all the wheat makes it to harvest, see commentary above about the risks to a standing field of wheat).

Of the other major world food production (corn, rice, soybeans, oil seeds, cotton, turkeys, chickens, beef), only soybeans and beef are showing anticipated declines this year.  World rice harvest will be a record, but so will world consumption.  World rice carryover will only be the equivalent of about 3 months consumption, so everyone of course is also hoping for a great rice crop in 2011.

The downside of this for farmers is that they can expect lower prices for most of their production except for cattle and dairy.  Of course, don't hold your breath waiting for much if any price discounts at the supermarket.  You know how that goes, the price of wheat goes up 10 cents per 60 pound bushel (which is less than a penny a pound) the price of a 1 pound loaf of bread goes up 50 cents.  The price of wheat goes down a dollar or two per 60 pound bushel, the price of a 1 lb loaf of bread remains the same. 

This will however be a good year to add to your own household food security plan.  Every household should have a food security reserve of 2 years of wheat, packaged for long term storage in food-grade buckets.  And every household needs a grain mill, and should regularly use some of that wheat to bake the family's bread.  Here's my bread page, , which is how to make a traditional kneaded bread.  And here's what I'm doing now -- Artisan Bread in 5 minutes -- a no-knead recipe.

Despite the rosy picture painted by the government's report --

+ Governments have been known to fudge their reports for political reasons.  The old Soviet Union rarely reported a crop failure.  And remember the movie Trading Places with Dan Ackroyd and Eddie Murphy?  That was a good lesson about how crop forecasts can impact agricultural markets.

+ All the rosiness is depending upon everything making it to harvest, and harvest isn't over until its over.

+ Just because primary agricultural products make it to harvest, doesn't mean they can make it to your family's table.  There are a hundred things that could happen in a heart-beat that could stop the steady flow of food through the agricultural processing systems to the local supermarket.  One of these days I'm going to make a list of those reasons just to prove my rhetoric ;).

This is why every family should keep some of their family savings in the form of food.  Store what you eat, and eat what you store.  The time to build the family food security reserve and grow a resilient local food system is before the famines hit, so this year is a great year to fill out your home pantry and make sure you can feed your family no matter what is happening at the supermarket.

Note that food storage is only one of the six aspects of food security.  The others being:
  • Buy food from local farmers.
  • Sharp smartly and frugally at the supermarket.
  • Preserve and process some of your own production or local production.
  • Grow some of your own food.
  • Prepare meals from basic ingredients.
We must also note that this wealth of agricultural production is almost totally dependent upon major inputs of fossil fuels and chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides, and comes with an enormous environmental price tag.  How long the conventional system of production agriculture can continue to produce at this level is not known.  If a food crisis comes upon us (and I continue to think that that may be the next big crisis, following upon the energy and financial crises), it will happen suddenly and almost certainly without warning.  Creating resilient systems of local food production will be critical to successfully transitioning through the coming Decline years and peak energy crises.

But such systems don't spring into being overnight.  If there is anything that I learned from the process of founding and leading the Oklahoma Food Cooperative, it is that agricultural systems do not turn on a dime.  You can't grow a forest over night.  If we want a more sustainable, just, and resilient system of agriculture, then there must be a market for the products of sustainable, just, and resilient farms.  That's what you're doing when you buy food and non-food items from local farmers -- you're not only feeding your family, you're investing in their future food security.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A serious threat to local food systems

One essential aspect of local food systems is the local meat processor.  Without such facilities, there will be no market for local meats.  Here in Oklahoma, local processors are inspected either by the USDA or the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture.  There has never been a food illness outbreak in Oklahoma that resulted from a problem at a facility inspected by the ODA.

Comes now the federal Food Safety and Inspection Service, proposing significant changes to the regulation of small meat processors that will certainly put many, if not most, such facilities out of business.  Processors are required to develop HAACP plans, which are analyses of the risks of food contamination and their plans for handling such potential problems and keeping the food they process safe.  Processors prepare these plans and file them.  FSIS however is now proposing that these plans be validated by outside experts.  We are told that the costs of these validations could range from $5K to $50K/year, depending on the products handled by the processor.  This is a prohibitive cost for a small local processor.  It will do nothing to increase food safety, it is a response to a problem that doesn't exist in the small meat processing market, and it will destroy jobs.

There can be no doubt that the hand of major meat industry players is behind this move.  They see the handwriting on the wall in terms of the challenge the local artisanal meat producers to their industrial hegemony over the nation's meat supply.  $50K is nothing when you are doing millions of dollars of business every year.  The easiest way to destroy the growing local food systems is to destroy them with regulations.

Below is my email, sent in April while I was still president of the Oklahoma Food Cooperative, regarding this issue.  I encourage everyone to send comments to the address in my copy (which is published in full below) ASAP.  The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men and women to do nothing.  Don't stand by while evil triumphs, speak out loudly to defend your right to purchase locally grown meats and to defend the rights of your neighbors to produce locally grown meats.

If you are a member of the Oklahoma Farm Bureau (or another state's Farm Bureau) or the Oklahoma Farmers Union, be sure to bring this to the attention of these organizations' legislative departments.

Begin copy. . .

Docket Clerk, FSIS

Room 2-2127
5601 Sunnyside Avenue
Beltsville, MD 20705

Sent via email to

To whom it may concern:

I respectfully submit these comments regarding the Draft Guidance on HACCP System Validation that were publically released on March 19, 2010.

I am president of the Oklahoma Food Cooperative. We make it easy for people in cities in Oklahoma to buy meat directly from Oklahoma farmers. All of the meat products they sell are processed in locally owned processing plants inspected by the USDA or the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture.

It is our understanding that FSIS is proposing to require that meat processors do a series of expensive tests to validate their HAACP plans. Our local processors indicate that the costs to them would run between $5,000 and $50,000/year, depending on the number of their products. This is a prohibitive cost for small locally oriented meat processors, and if this guideline is enacted as a regulation, it will virtually destroy the small processor market. This would put our meat producers out of business, and would destroy our cooperative's business, since over half of our sales are meats.

I am not aware of any problems in food safety caused by local meat processors in Oklahoma. When I read of meat recalls, they aren't coming from small processors, they are coming from giant multi-state processing operations. Laying this new regulatory burden on small meat processors is not called for by the facts on the table. It would cause the destruction of important heritage businesses, that operate in sustainable ways. It would damage the economies of rural areas and destroy jobs in an era when job destruction is already a real problem. It would cause our urban customers to lose access to locally grown, locally processed meats.

For all these reasons, I strongly request that the Draft Guidance on HACCP System Validation be revised to clearly state that no in-plant microbial testing is required when an establishment is following the long-standing, safe processes of HACCP.


Robert Waldrop
President, Oklahoma Food Cooperative
405-605-8088 (coop)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The utility of permaculture design.

That's not the most exciting headline title I've ever crafted, but it is truly descriptive of the subject.  Utility -- usefulness -- practical importance -- is what we are getting at here.  Permaculture is the art and science of designing human habitations that care for Creation, care for People, and care for the Future.

I first read about permaculture in the old Co-evolution Quarterly and Whole Earth Catalog, as they reported the early work of Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, the co-developers of permaculture.  The need for the discipline is clear.  We face tremendous challenges going forward, in multiple areas of concern.  Permaculture offers us a conscious design discipline to help us finagle our way forward towards a more sustainable and peaceful way of living on this planet.

Permaculture is first and foremost rooted in a personal ethical decision to embrace the 3 permaculture ethics (Care for Creation, Care for People, Care for the Future).  Having made that ethical commitment, permaculturists (a/k/a permies) uses principles, strategies, and tactics to achieve our goals. We write "permaculture designs", which are thoroughly planned and staged descriptions for the work needed on a particular site.   For an overview of the permaculture design process, including a statement of permaculture principles and disciplines, see Living Lovingly on the Earth, by Dan Hemenway of Elfin Permaculture in Florida.

Permaculture is not gardening class, although gardens are often an aspect of a permaculture design.  Permaculture is "comprehensively holistic", it is as interested in energy conservation and travel modes as it is in gardening and edible landscaping. 

Permaculture works for everyone everywhere -- the rich and the poor, and all points between.  It is important for people in cities and on farms.  It is necessary for college students and soccer moms, working mothers and busy fathers.  You don't have to have land or own a house, permaculture works for renters as well as anyone else.  This universal applicability is because permaculture does not dictate solutions, it offers design principles and processes that can be applied anywhere.

It is not easy.  It takes time and effort.  But the result is worth the work.

I'm using permaculture in my life to get ready for retirement.  Like many people these days, I won't have a lot of money when I retire, and the outlook for Social Security is at best dubious.  So I am working and planning now, when I have income, for the day when I will have little income.  The permaculture design for my home is a five year plan to increase the food production on my tiny little 1/7th acre urban plot and decrease the operating expenses.  Every dollar I don't have to spend for food or electricity is a dollar I don't have to earn, receive from Social Security, or have in my savings. 

You can read about my permaculture design at Gatewood Urban Homestead.  It is 183 pages, with comprehensive appendices including 10 years of central Oklahoma climate data, reading list, resources for implementation, and plant species lists.  The outline is on the page so you can see how it develops.  You can buy a PDF of the design for $10 (it can also be ordered on the Oklahoma Food Coop monthly orders, as either a PDF or a CD).  I realize I am tooting my own horn here, but I think permaculture design is critical for the future.  One way to learn permaculture design is to read someone else's design and see how it works.  While my design is site specific to my own situation and lifestyle, careful readers can learn a lot that can be applied to their own situation.

Here are some free sources for learning permaculture design:

Online Permaculture Design Pamphlets, a transcript of a permaculture design course taught by Bill Mollison in New Hampshire in the early 1980s.

Permaculture Resource Manual, from an Indonesian organization, in English and in Indonesian, a very comprehensive site with hundreds of pages of information.

Introduction to Permaculture, an article from the Permaculture Activist.

The primary text of permaculture is the Permaculture Design Manual.  It's not cheap, but it is often available from libraries.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Solar greenhouses and organic vegetable production.

I'm not sure why Oklahomans think we have to import green produce from foreign countries during our winter months.  Comes now some folks from north China and Manitoba in Canada, both of which have winters that are considerably more frigid than Oklahoma City, with plans for greenhouses capable of growing cool season vegetables all winter long, using only the sun for heat, no back-up propane or natural gas or even wood.

Check out "Solar Greenhouses Chinese Style" . See also Evaluation of Solar Greenhouses, a report on a  Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives project, which found that the design used by the Chinese kept temperatures above 0 degrees Centigrade (32 degrees F) when the temperature outside was MINUS 30 degrees centigrade (-22 degrees Fahrenheit).

The design features an insulated north wall and a north facing roof, with a low south wall connected with the north facing angled roof by metal ribs.  This is then covered with the typical transparent sheet plastic.  An insulating blanket is rolled over the plastic at night.  Cheap to build and operate.

Maybe add some fish in tanks and use the water to grow the cool season crops; laying hens and rabbits are another way to add production. 

A second great new resources comes from Cornell University -- peer reviewed Organic Production Guides for popular fruits and vegetables, including  apples, blueberries, grapes, lettuce, potatoes, spinach, strawberries, and cole crops, including cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. Also beans, carrots, peas, and dairy.

A hat tip to HortIdeas Online, one of my sources for accurate and practical horticultural information, for this news bytes today. HortIdeas is a PDF publication, and they have a great deal for group subscriptions, each sent individually to the subscriber's email address (5 minimum for a group).  This would be a good source of info for our producers.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Artisanal body care and home cleaning products

As we move towards more localized economies, food security is high on the "important" list.  But so are locally made body care and home cleaning products.  The Oklahoma Food Cooperative and our local farmers markets offer an amazing array of artisanal soaps, body care, and home cleaning products.

I have tried many different soaps from the food cooperative (presently I'm using a bar of Barb Wire and Roses from Rowdy Stickhorse).  Every one I have bought has been an amazing value.  Sure, they are priced more than the supermarket soaps, but they last much longer, 2-3 months a bar even with daily copious use in showers and hand washing. The scents are light and typically are naturally derived, and you don't get that after-wash "soap scum feeling". 

At my house, all of the deodorant, air freshener, housing cleaning, and laundry powders are made right here in Oklahoma by local producers.

Here's a funny story about the laundry powder.  When I first bought it, I looked at the tiny little scoop that came with it and thought, "This can't be right, I better use more."  And so I did.  I later spoke with the producer, and mentioned that, she laughed and said, "Well, I'm happy to sell you all the soap you need, but you really only need one of those scoops per standard laundry load."  So the next time I did laundry, I tried that and sure enough, that was all I needed.  Which just goes to show how we are conditioned by the "system" to use more than we need, and to expect less.

There are a lot of noxious chemicals used in the making of conventional body care, laundry, and house cleaning products.  While the prices seem low, because you always have to use more (thanks to their dependence upon low quality fillers that add nothing but quantity to the product), over time you actually spend more on conventional products than you will spend on the (initially) higher priced, but much higher quality and longer lasting artisanal body care and home cleaning products.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Discerning the facts about BPA

In a comment on May 6, LizBeth asked me to discuss the issue of BPA in greater depth.

Bisphenol-A is an industrial chemical used to make certain plastics and resins. It makes them hard and transparent (e.g. beverage bottles). Resins made with BPA are used to line cans.  All canned foods in the US use resin linings containing BPA.  It is currently the center of a medical, scientific, economic, and political controversy.

This article, from Natural News, "FDA Continues Dragging Its Feet on Bisphenol-A", summarizes the concerns of many and indicates the political nature of the federal regulatory process.

On the other side of the fence, the American Chemistry Council's Bisphenol-A Information website, says a new study vindicates the use of BPA, "New study concludes no effects from BPA on the nervous system." 

The FDA's current position is found in its January 2010 BPA Update. 

A dissenting government view comes from the National Toxicology Program of the National Institute of Environmental Health Services, "Since You Asked".  Among things, they report:  "The NTP has some concern for effects on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and children at current human exposures to bisphenol A. " Note that "Some Concern" is the mid-level of a five-level "concern rating" used by the agency.

As with many environmental health issues these days, the jury is still out.  It looks like the dangers are greatest for infants and children.  Questions in the background of this debate include --
  • How much do I trust government science agencies?
  • How much do I trust industry scientific reports/claims?
  • How much environmental risk am I willing to assume in my life?  The lives of my children?
Each scientific study must be considered, not only for the science report, but also for the political and economic background of the research. 

Persons who want to limit BPA exposure should:
  • Use glass, stainless steel, or porcelain containers.
  • Avoid all number 7 plastics.
  • Avoid all canned foods in metal containers.
  • Do not microwave polycarbonate plastic containers.
  • Make sure baby bottles are BPA-free.

Friday, May 7, 2010

More on environmental causes of cancer.

Yesterday I reported that the President's Cancer Panel would issue a report strongly warning of the dangers of environmental causes for cancer.  Here's the press release regarding the report, here's a direct link to the report itself.  The current members of the President's Cancer Panel were appointed by President Bush.  Scary stuff here folks.

The Dirty Dozen. Vegetables, that is.

The Environmental Working Group has a nifty Shoppers Guide to Pesticides, a wallet size card you can download for free, print and carry with you when you are shopping.  Get it here .  It shows the 12 worst supermarket veggies in terms of pesticide residues, and the 15 cleanest.  The rankings are based on tens of thousands of tests on supermarket produce, from 2000-2008, conducted by the USDA and FDA.  Their data shows that people who consume foods from the "Dirty Dozen" every day, eat an average of 10 pesticides every day.  Those who eat primarily from the "Clean Fifteen", consume an average of 2 or less pesticides a day.

The best choice of course is organic or all natural, where you get ZERO pesticides, but there remain problems of supply, access, and price.  So if you have no other choices, avoid the "Dirty Dozen" like the chemicalized plague they are, and dine on the Clean Fifteen.  In the meantime, start your own garden so you have convenient access to clean organic foods in your own back yard (or front yard, for that matter).

The Dirty Dozen
The worst polluted are at the top of the list.

Bell Peppers
Grapes (imported)

The Clean Fifteen
The least polluted are at the top of the list.

Sweet corn
Sweet peas
Sweet potato
Honeydew melon

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Heads up: OKC City Council vote looms on legalizing backyard chickens

I've been contacted by Shauna Struby with news that the Oklahoma City Council will vote on May 18th on a proposal to legalize backyard chickens in Oklahoma City.  The meeting starts at 830 AM.

There's good news and bad news.

The good news is that the public poll on the subject was overwhelmingly in favor of legalizing backyard chickens in OKC.

The bad news is that only two council people (Pete White and Brian Walters) are prepared to vote for the proposal.

We need a lot of Oklahoma City residents to contact their city council people before this vote occurs and encourage them to vote yes.  Here are a few talking points:

+ Out of 8 of our regional peer cities, only OKC and Kansas City don't allow backyard chickens. Both Tulsa and Ft. Worth do allow backyard hens.

+ Permitting backyard hens would enhance Oklahoma City's reputation as a go-to city when it comes to local food.  The largest (and first) local food cooperative was established here, we have great farmers markets, and many other local initiatives promoting local foods.  This is particularly important for a city that wants to position itself as a leading 21st century city and a city that is hospitable to the "creative class".

+ Backyard hens are not dirty and noisy, we're not talking about roosters (always a sensitive issue in urban areas and also areas with a history of cockfighting, such as we have here).

+ Backyard hens make a significant contribution to local and household food security.

+ Backyard hens are a traditional way for low income people to add significant value to their diets.  Oklahoma City has a high rate of hunger, and the Regional Food Bank is reporting record increases in need for their services.  We need to do more to help people to feed themselves, irrespective of their economic situation.

Sara Braden is coordinating the pro-chicken response.  Contact her at .

Contact info for the mayor and city council is at .

Backyard farm business is booming.

Here's an interesting twist on home gardening -- in many cities, a growing number of businesses offer to start backyard vegetables gardens -- and then maintain them -- for urban residents.  They estimate the payback time for the customer is 2 years, which is not a bad return on the money. Here's the skinny from Global Guerillas -- Business Dynamics of Backyard Farms -- which includes links to many such businesses in LA, Vancouver, Portland, Atlanta, etc.

Heads up on new report on chemicals in the food supply

The New York Times reports this morning -- New Alarm Bells About Chemicals and Cancer -- that the President's Cancer Panel, one of the most prestigious committees in medicine, will issue a new report warning on the dangers of chemicals in the economy and the food supply.  The present members of the panel were appointed by President Bush, and the panel itself has been in existence since 1971.  Among other recommendations, the report suggests:

+ Eating organic foods,
+ Not using plastics in microwaves,
+ Avoiding BPA,
+ Greater scrutiny of plastics presently in use.

The panel is particularly concerned about the impacts of chemicals on pregnant women and their unborn babies.  It notes that babies are born "pre-polluted -- the blood of the umbilical cords of newborn babies contains more than 300 chemicals foreign to the human body.

This of course isn't news to some of us, but it is interesting that the weight of evidence is starting to impact the mainstream of scientific and medical discussion.

It's about time.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

More on Greens -- Swiss Chard

One of my favorite greens is Swiss Chard.  It grows abundantly, it's a biennial, so if you mulch it nicely in the fall, you will have really early greens the following spring.  Just be sure, during the second year, to clip the seed stalk which the plant wants to send up early, as soon as it appears.  It can get 2 ft tall practically overnight (it seems like anyway) and when that happen, the tasty leaves die back and all th energy goes into producing a huge amount of seeds. 

Swiss Chard leaves have a thick rib that runs lengthwise down the middle of the leaf.  This is edible and quite tasty, but some people don't like it.  It does add to the cooking time.  If you are in a hurry. . . simply fold the leaf in half lengthwise along the rib, and use a sharp knife to cut it out.  Then saute or braise the leaves and lunch is ready.  Since I don't like to let anything go to waste, I would then refrigerate the chard ribs and use them in something else that takes more cooking.

Cooked Swiss chard, like other cooked greens, freezes well.

Great companion flavors include all the aromatics (onions, garlic), hot peppers, celery, cheese, milk, cream, yogurt, cumin.

Speaking of celery. . . I am growing celery this year for the first time.  It seems very slow growing.  I started the plants early in March and they are all of 2 inches tall.  I just transplanted them into containers (I am doing a lot of container gardening this year) and they took the transplanting fine.  They may be only 2 inches tall on top, but the roots were very developed and extensive.  Even though I had just broadcast the seeds on the flats, it wasn't a hassle to untangle them.  I used a knife to cut out a clump, and then I gently shook them until the potting soil fell off and the plants naturally separated.

So now I have 32 celery plants in various pots (1 to 4 plants/pot depending on the size).

I'm growing my chard this year in pots, I want to bring some of them inside to overwinter and maybe with a grow light or two see if I can tease some leaves out during the cold of our Oklahoma winters.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

SPRING GREENS RUN AMOK on the May food coop order

I've just been doing a bit of grocery shopping at the Oklahoma Food Cooperative website for my May order, and all I can say is "wow" at the supply of vegetables this month.    There's a TON of spring greens available.  Well, maybe not an actual ton, but more spring greens (mustard, spinarch, turnip, charp), than I have seen in a long time.

This would be a good time to revisit the cooking of cool season (spring and fall) greens.

Here's some of my classic recipes for greens, from a bobaganda email in November 2007, lightly edited and expanded a bit for the present occasion.

There are many ways to cook greens. The most traditional, southern way is to simmer them slowly with ham hocks or bacon. Arkansas bacon is particularly good for this I think. As the cooking proceeds, a rich vitamin-filled broth results, this is what is called “pot liquor” or “pot likker”. Serve with freshly baked corn bread.

1 cup cooked turnip greens contains: 20 calories, 1.2 g protein, 4.4 g carbohydrates, 3.5 g dietary fiber, 93% water, 550 RE vitamin A, 27 mg vitamin C, 118 mcg folate, 203 mg potassium and 137 mg calcium. 

Traditional method: Use about 1/4 lb of bacon or ham hocks per five pounds or so of greens. Fry bacon until crisp. If you don't have any bacon or ham, use some stock.  Bring water to boil, add salt, minced garlic, some onion, and crushed red pepper. Crumble bacon over greens and add to the liquid. Simmer until done (about an hour), if using ham hocks, simmer until the ham hocks are completely done and falling apart, which would be 3-4 hours. Many people add diced diced turnips to the greens for cooking. Turnip greens in particular need to be cooked longer than some of the more tender greens like spinach (cooks quickly), chard, beet greens, or mustard greens.  For extra flavor, add a bit of "Liquid Smoke" and some Worcestershire sauce.
Freezing greens:  Cooked greens freeze just fine. While they are available, buy lots, cook and freeze for eating later!

Cream of Greens Soup
If you have someone in your family who thinks they don't like greens, serve this.

1 lb ham slice, with bone
8 cups water
1 large bunch of greens, washed and finely chopped
1 cup chopped onion
2 cups chopped celery
2 cups chopped green onions
1/4 and 1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup flour
5 cups milk

Place the water and ham in a pot, cover, and simmer for 3 hours. Remove ham, add the chopped greens, simmer for 1 hour. (If you are making this with turnip greens, add them at the beginning of the cooking. Melt 1/4 cup butter in a skillet, and the chopped onion, celery, and green onions, cook until tender. Put the cooked onion mixture in a blender or food processor, and process until smooth, mix with the greens. Melt 1/3 cup butter in a cooking pot, gradually add the flour and stir to make a roux. Gradually add the milk, stirring constantly, until it thickens. Then add the greens and onion mixture, a dash of salt and hot sauce. Add the ham cut into chunks. Cook until thoroughly heated, do not boil. Makes about 10 cups. 

Other ideas:

  • Add cooked greens to a quiche.  OK, we're in Oklahoma, so call it a greens, egg and cheese pie.  Local cheese, local eggs, local greens.
  • Drain cooked greens, make a sauce of 1 cup yogurt, ground cumin, black pepper, cayenne pepper, combine with drained greens, serve chilled or at room temperature.
  • Beans and Greens -- cooked white beans plus cooked greens are a delectable delight.  Add some crushed red pepper, garlic, and onion to boost the flavors to new heights of taste.

Herbicide resistent weeds

Comes now the New York Times this morning, US farmers cope with Round-up resistant weeds. After drenching fields with herbicides for 20 years, production agriculture is now facing the spectre of "Round-up Resistant" weeds. Monsanto, which at one time, confidently predicted that "resistance will not be an issue", is publicly underplaying the problem while privately subsidizing the purchase of additional herbicides for their Round-up dependent customers.

Conventional "no -till" farming is taking a hit, as it depends on the use of herbicides to control pests. This increases production expenses and soil erosion, and with the Round-up resistant varieties spreading, requires the use of additional chemicals, described as "not as safe" as glyphosate. This is particularly a problem for corn, soybeans, and cotton.

The problem is the patterns that production agriculture follows. It treats the farm as a factory, inputs in, outputs out. The concept of "farm as eco-system" is foreign to the production agriculture system.

Our fascination with feedlot beef and chicken, fed with huge quantities of corn and soybeans, is another problematic production pattern. If we ate more grassfed, free-ranging meats and poultry, we wouldn't need such a large production of corn and soybeans.

Another pattern is size. Over the last 50 years, "get big or get out" has been the rule in farm country, and we have driven millions of people off the land into the cities. Machinery has gotten bigger, more complex, and more expensive. We substituted chemicals for work and in the process we developed a cultural aversion for manual labor, and the job of "farmer" is nowhere near the top of most conventional lists of desirable jobs. Indeed, from our elites, there is an evident cultural contempt for those who work the land. We emptied out our countrysides, and our rural communities are suffering as a result.

As one result. . . unemployment is at 20% (the real unemployment rate, that is, not the politically manipulated rates reported in our mainstream news media).

I understand that chopping weeds out of crops is hard work. As a teenager, before the popularization of herbicides, I "chopped cotton" all summer long, walking up and down long rows of cotton, chopping out the weeds. It was called "chopping cotton", because in previous generations, besides weeds, you also thinned the cotton by chopping maybe every other plant. Seed generation rates were more uncertain, so farmers planted more seed than necessary in the hopes of getting a good stand. Thus the need to thin the plants after germination.

But it was honest work, healthy work. I don't like weeding my urban garden, but it is also necessary. Because it is work, I go to some lengths to minimize the weeding, mostly through the use of deep mulches.

Any way you look at it, American agriculture is facing some changes. We like to think that in the "human versus nature battle", humans will always win, but that is simply human hubris. The big problem here is our conception of nature as inimical to our interests. If we plan to be around for much longer, we need to stop working against nature, and start working with nature. Pigweed, after all, is an edible plant, part of the Amaranth family, that grows prolifically. Maybe we should think about "pigweed cuisine", although it will probably need a better name, instead of crafting new and ever-more-noxious chemical brews to poison the land and waters.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Home-made Cheesy Poofs

Yes, it's true.

So Sean has been teasing me for a long time about making him some Cheesy Poofs.

So I decided to Google the subject, and see what would come up.

Voila -- Homemade Cheesy Poofs.

OK, so they're actually "Spicy Cheese Gougeres" but we are in Oklahoma, where we say things like "Y'all bon apetit, you hear!"

Click on the link for the recipe, they were very easy and quick to make and quite tasty. Since I was making them for the first time, I went ahead and used white flour, but I'm going to make them again once I stock up on some more local cheese with whole wheat flour. Also I intend to try them with yogurt instead of milk.

I didn't add any sugar, I used crushed red pepper instead of ground cayenne, and all I had was regular salt instead of sea salt. I used local eggs and cheese.

Note that these are not "Cheezits", they're not crunchy. Their Cheesy Poofs -- think "pastry puffs".

Although I do wonder about deep frying the dough and may try that to see if something with a more crunchy texture emerges.

The trickiest part was baking. I made two pans and the second one burned. The recipe says 18-25 minutes. I looked at mine at 18 minutes and the tray on the bottom shelf of the oven had already burned. The tray on top seemed perfect so they came out and were devoured fairly rapidly. I should have (a) checked them sooner and (b) maybe have only done one pan at a time on the middle or top shelf of the oven.

Sean of course is the worst food critic on the planet and over the years he has said some really unkind about some of the things that I have cooked, lol. Of course, that's one reason I'm a good cook. You can't get good at anything without a certain amount of ruthless criticism.

We ate them plain, I suspect they would be good with dipping sauces.

This was a fun recipe that can easily be adapted to increase the local food content. It seems likely to me to be a hit at parties. The recipe says they freeze well, which is another point in their favor.

Welcome to my new blog.

At today's Board meeting, my resignation as President of the Oklahoma Food Cooperative was accepted, and a new president (Dawn Mahiya, member of the board, and presently also served as our Membership chair) was elected.

So what's the first thing I did? Well, I ate supper. Then I listened to the Te Deum on You Tube -- from Notre Dame Cathedral. And then I decided to start this blog. One of the comments at the board meeting was that some members didn't want to lose access to my various commentaries on local food issues and especially the recipes (and yes, post two will be a recipe -- Home-made Cheesey Poofs -- I kid you not. I made them and they are delicious.

So, even though I have several blogs, where I post more or less frequently as I have time, inclination, and something to say, I figured, "Why not one more blog?" None of my blogs have the specific focus of this one -- which will be on the politics of food, the local food coop movement, and the practicalities of the local food pantry. (With some occasional music, lol.)

I call it "Bobaganda" because that's what it is. I don't think I coined the term, someone else in the coop used it to describe my emails to the membership of the Oklahoma Food Cooperative and I picked it up as a good short-hand description of my writing on these subjects.

The topic of local foods is of course of endless fascination to me, and a growing number of other folks. When we started the Oklahoma Food Coop, we said, "Local foods are the next big thing." And that has come to pass. Now, everybody is talking about local foods. And the push back is starting. We're watching several regulatory challenges, one at least of which has the potential to destroy the burgeoning market for local meats, about which more will be said probably tomorrow. The price of local food is eternal vigilence, among other things, and I think we can't be passive about that. The big guys see the handwriting on the wall, and they know the easiest way to deal with us is through the regulatory system. It's up to all of us to defend our rights to produce and eat local foods (and to use locally produced non-food items).

When I was president, a certain reticence was required by my position. I know it's almost humorous to say the words "reticence" and "Bob Waldrop" in the same sentence, I don't feel that kind of restriction now, and with this blog I can freely comment on issues both within and ourside of the cooperative as time passes.

The Oklahoma Food Cooperative is in a very interesting time of transition, and I'm not just speaking of the transition from one president to another. In most cooperatives, there is a fairly strict line between management and the board of directors. Management is in charge of operations, and the board is in charge of governance. Yet, from the beginning, management and the board have largely been the same group of people. It is actually modeled on the typical method of operation of non-profit organizations, where an active board determines and executes policies. I think that model served us well in the beginning. It was probably the only way to get started, being as how we started small, and without any paid staff. We simply transitioned, by and large, the governance structure of the original Committee to Organize an Oklahoma Food Cooperative, into the actual Oklahoma Food Cooperative.

What I see happening now is a division of labor in the leadership. One of the tedious things about board meetings has been how much time we spent debating operations issues, even after we started a separate operations meeting. Over time, I expect the board will concentrate more on governance -- goals and means and boundaries and reviews -- and much less on operations, assuming our management team continues to step up to the plate and do what is required (and I have every confidence that that will happen). The coop will benefit from that division of labor, and as the Oklahoma Food Cooperative develops better systems of management and governance, we will do a better job of our core mission of growing a food system that is socially just, environmentally sustainable, and economically viable.

Expect to read more about this going forward, and feel free to post comments here at the blog about your views on developments in the Oklahoma Food Cooperative. Transparency is very important for the health of our organization.

Y'all bon apetit, you hear!