Monday, January 31, 2011

We Will Not Go Quietly!

Last Thursday Tom Vilsack, US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary announced he would allow unrestricted cultivation of genetically-modified Roundup-ready alfalfa.

We already know GMO corn and canola have escaped their areas of cultivation, invading organic fields, and particularly in the case of GMO canola, roadsides and native landscapes.

The decision to allow unrestricted GMO alfalfa is a threat to the environment, and to the food supply of organic consumers, especially those of us who choose pasture-raised organic meat, eggs, poultry, and dairy.

Last fall in my quest to improve our diet and hopefully as a result heal or greatly increase the health of my poor digestive tract, (which was ravaged about ten years ago as a result of food poisoning from factory-raised pork eaten at a forth-of-July cookout, and the IV antibiotics used to 'cure' me,) I searched EatWild, and found our local farmer. Our eggs, beef, poultry, and pork are now all USDA inspected, locally, sustainably, humanely, organically, pasture-raised about an hour south of us, and processed by a Central Illinois Amish farmer using traditional methods and without nitrates or MSG.

I found a source for certified organic, pastured dairy products, provided by a (semi-local) dairy cooperative in Iowa. Most of Kalona's farmers are Amish and Mennonite, with herds averaging 35 cows grazing on land that has never been treated with chemical fertilizers or pesticides.

I learned how to ferment foods using the traditional methods of ancient cultures - kefir made from traditional Caucasian kefir grains with our organic, pasture-raised milk, home-brewed kombucha, and cultured vegetables. I discovered organic miso, a Japanese soybean ferment, raw cider vinegar, and traditionally-fermented organic soy sauce. (Organic soy is a must for me, since most conventionally-grown soy is now genetically-modified.) The probiotics in these foods have helped bring peace to my digestive tract beyond any probiotic pill I've ever tried.

I've gotten toxins out of my personal-care products like deodorant, shampoo, body wash, toothpaste, and laundry detergent, and use simple things like vinegar and baking soda for everyday household cleaning.

While our government has been wrangling over health care reform, I've taken personal responsibility for my own health. And gradually over the past few months, my health has continued to improve. Besides the hoped-for improvement in a chronic inflammatory bowel disease, there have been unexpected benefits like the recent disappearance of pain from chronic tendinitis in my left shoulder, elbow and wrist. It's hard to express how amazing it feels being so much healthier, and even how other family members have been inspired to take better care of themselves too.

I believe it's my God-given right and responsibility to take charge of my own health.

Recently in a Motion to Dismiss a lawsuit brought by the Farm-To-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, et al., our government argued otherwise when it said There is No Right to Consume or Feed Children Any Particular Food (pg25) and There is No Generalized Right to Bodily and Physical Health. (pg26.) The potential implications of these claims, are, at least to me, astounding. Are they not to you too? For starters, it seems they've reinforced that view in the decision to release GMO alfalfa in the environment and into our food supply.

I strongly disagree, and am doing what I can to stand up for my right to bodily health and to safe, unadulterated, non-GMO food. I encourage you to do the same. Please contact the White House through the Comment Line at 202-456-1111, by fax at 202-456-2461, or through this Contact Form, and let President Obama know how you feel about the recent decision to allow unrestricted cultivation of genetically-modified Roundup-ready alfalfa. Polls have demonstrated repeatedly that consumers, if given the choice, do not want GMOs in their food, and want labels on GMO foods. What about you?

For more insight into this issue, please visit the Huffington Post, New York Times, The Atlantic,, and/or Organic Consumers Association.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

One Seed Chicago

2011 marks the fourth year One Seed Chicago is uniting Chicago-area gardeners in an annual project planting a common seed as part of a season-long celebration of urban gardening and local food. A project of NeighborSpace, Chicago’s land trust for community gardens, One Seed Chicago grows each year, as home, school, and community gardening continues to rise in popularity.

The project begins with the announcement of three seed candidates followed by democratic selection of the kind of seeds we'll be growing. Voting has already begun, and continues through April 1, 2011. The winning seed will be announced at the annual Green and Growing Fair, April 30th at the Garfield Park Conservatory. If you live in the Chicagoland area and would like to vote, please visit Following the announcement of the winner, participants will receive a free packet of the winning seed mailed to their home (or school) for planting in their own gardens.

Last year's candidates were three favorite native forbs: nodding onion, bee balm, and purple coneflower, with bee balm bee-ing the winner. This year's choices are eggplant, (yum!) Swiss chard, (beautiful!) and radish (my choice!) I chose radishes since they were the first vegetable planted and harvested in the first vegetable garden my family ever planted when I was a skinny little ten-year-old kid. I guess you could call them my gateway plant, since I've been gardening all my life, starting with those radishes.

Radishes are easy for beginning veggie gardeners, including children, to grow. They don't need a lot of space, and are perfect vegetables for containers and other small urban growing spaces. Involving children in gardening, especially vegetable gardening, can be a healthful, fun, hands-on educational experience. Gardening gets kids outdoors and provides healthy exercise, fresh air and sunshine, and is a wonderful family activity. Research has shown that kids who grow vegetables, whether at home or at school, "eat them regularly and with gusto."

Radishes can be ready to harvest as little as four weeks after planting. The satisfaction of enjoying these crunchy, delicious nuggets so early in the gardening season is quick reward for both new and experienced vegetable gardeners, young or old. Succession planting while the weather is still cool can provide weeks of wholesome snacking and colorful salad additions. As they're harvested, their space in the garden can be replanted with warm-season vegetables.

Radishes are rich in vitamin C and other anti-oxidants, minerals, vitamins, phytonutrients, and fiber. The entire plant - root and leaves - is edible. (I think the leaves are best cooked, but young, tender leaves can also be used as salad greens.)

One Seed Chicago aims to introduce more Chicagoans to the joys and benefits of gardening, and has distributed over one million seeds to Chicago-area residents since 2008. If you live in the Chicago metro area, we'd love to have you join us! (While those outside the Chicago area aren't eligible for the free seeds, we'd love to have YOU join us by planting the winning veggie in your garden too!)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

January Bloom Day

The Lawn Man brought the bromeliads (and the Chinese Evergreen/Aglaonema sp.,) home from work a few months ago. His office did some remodeling and they got some new plants, so these needed a good home. Technically the bromeliads aren't blooms, but they're colorful enough to stand in, especially in January!

I started playing around with succulents when the middle girl was here over the holidays. (She loves them, and plans to incorporate them into her wedding decor in fall, 2012.) This one is Senecio Rowleyanus, a/k/a String of Pearls. I've never grown cacti or succulents, (except the prickly pear Monica gave me,) and am having a lot of fun with all these curious new plants. They seem very happy in their special soil in our south-facing windows.

OK, this isn't a bloom (yet.) This gardenia nearly died from neglect last winter. (It's the second time I've almost killed it. The first time, it was pot bound and not draining, so it started to rot. I rescued it then too, and it actually survived.) Although I've always enjoyed its glossy foliage, I wasn't really that upset about it's near-death the second time, since it hasn't bloomed once in five years. Although it looked dead, I cut it way back in spring, and put it outside. The Lawn Man must have thought I was nuts, because it really did look dead (for months, actually!) Towards mid-summer it started to sprout some new leaves, and now, it's covered with buds just like this one. I'm amazed it survived, and thrilled it's actually going to bloom!

Last, but not least, this is third month of bloom for the African violet. It's almost done, but I'm thrilled it's bloomed this long. I don't remember the ones I grew in childhood blooming for so long.

There are other blooms here, mostly in the basement: fuchsias, pelargoniums, Diamond Frost euphorbias, Dragonwing begonias, purple oxalis, and some pale blue hyacinths that smell heavenly. I rescued the hyacinths from one of Meg's pots. Since they were dormant I wasn't sure what they were (or how hardy,) so I brought them indoors. If I'd known they were hyacinths I might have planted them in the garden last fall. It's ok though - I'm truly enjoying this beautiful sweet reminder of a dear friend in cold, snowy January.

Happy Bloom Day! For more January blooms, please visit Carol at May Dreams Gardens.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Troy-Bilt Storm 3090 XP Snow Thrower Review

Christmas came early when Troy-Bilt offered us the opportunity to host a snow-thrower giveaway here, and receive a free snow thrower in exchange for a review of our freebie. Ramble On Rose was the lucky winner of the giveaway, and you can read her review of her machine here.

The Troy-Bilt Storm 3090 XP is one big, honkin' snow thrower! Somewhat larger than our old one (which was passed down to my oldest daughter and her husband, who REALLY needed one in their new home with their large horseshoe driveway,) both the Lawn Man and I have each had an opportunity to use it once so far this season.

To be frank I was a bit intimidated by the size and features of the snow thrower. Its operation appeared to be somewhat more complicated than our older snow thrower. But I took my time reading the manual and the quick-start guide, and it was actually much easier to operate than it looked. Features like power steering, one-hand operation, and the joystick chute control make handling this large machine a piece of cake even for me. Since my work is seasonal and I'm off in winter, I like to take care of the snow so the Lawn Man can just come home and relax after his long work day.

The first time out, I took my time with the Storm 3090 XP as I familiarized myself with its operation and features. Since I used the machine in the morning when the sun was blazing, I didn't need the headlights. I'm sure they'll come in handy in the future though. Although this machine is very heavy, the automated features like power steering and turning, and six-speed forward, two-speed reverse self-propelled motion make it surprisingly easy to handle. Although I tested it on a fairly light (3") snowfall, this machine is very powerful. With its wide augers and the powerful way it throws the snow out of the chute, I'm confident it will handle a much heavier, wetter snowfall with ease.

The feature I love most of all on this machine is the hand warmers! Even with thick, warm, waterproof gloves, my hands were almost always very cold, and even painfully so with the old snow thrower by the time the driveway and walks were cleared. Not so with our new snow thrower! Of course I still wore gloves, but the heated hand grips are a wonderful addition to this machine. Even after just one use, I can't imagine ever owning another snow thrower that doesn't have this feature.

The sidewalk in front of our house is old, and somewhat uneven. I had problems with the snow thrower 'jumping' when it hit an uneven spot in the walk. Referring back to the manual, the problem seems to be with the skid shoes, which fortunately are adjustable to accommodate uneven surfaces. It may take a bit of experimenting to get them in the right position so the snow thrower will operate smoothly over the sidewalk.

The Troy-Bilt Storm 3090 XP is a well-built, sturdy, large, powerful, yet easy-to-handle snow thrower, with lots of excellent easy-to-use, well-designed features, and one I would highly recommend for anyone looking for a snow thrower of this size.