For the Conservation Curious

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The Joys (and Squeamish Moments) of Organics September 30, 2010

Organic food is really taking off.  Of the 3 groceries stores I frequent, 2 out of 3 have a pretty good selection of organic produce, not to mention organic processed foods.  Sometimes the sticker shock of organic foods has the penny pincher in me steering towards the traditionally grown foods, but price differences seem to be narrowing as demand grows.  Let’s hope that trend continues!

For those of you not intimately acquainted with organics and wondering what all the fuss is about, here is a quick primer:  Organics are those veggies, fruits, meats and other foods grown without the use of synthetic herbicides, fertilizers and hormones.  Instead of bombarding insect pests with potentially toxic and environmentally-harmful chemicals, organic farmers use a variety of tactics like predator insects, natural herbicides and hand weeding to keep their produce healthy.  When organic foods reach your store they are safer to eat and have had less of a negative impact on the nature world (usually, and I’ll get to that in a minute).

Not everything that I eat is organic… again, it’s a thrift thing… but I made a giant leap forward this year when I joined a CSA – Community Supported Agriculture.  CSAs are popping up all over the country as people learn the benefits of eating local.  Eating local cuts down on the fossil fuel emissions created by trucking produce from California to Maine and it helps grow local economies.  The CSA I joined also happens to be an organic farm – a double whammy of goodness for the environment!  Every week I drive roughly 2 miles to the drop-off point where I pick up a box full of produce.  You never know what you’re going to get until you open up the box. Could it be a watermelon? Heirloom tomatoes? Yummy orange peppers (yes, that is the real name of them!)? You name it, at some point they send it!  I get to experience vegetables that the local chain grocery stores would never stock, so I expand my palate and get to try cool new recipes.

Once a month they open up their farm to all the CSA members.  You can go pick herbs and flowers, stock up on leftover produce and eat at their organic restaurant (the mint green tea is a must!).  For a city dweller like me, these trips are like a little vacation.  Joining a CSA is like putting your money in a bank with a high interest rate and seeing the balance increase at a rapid rate – my yearly fee is helping keep this farm in business. How neat is that?

But I digress.  This local, organic produce is usually so tasty (I’ve never liked a tomato so much until having their heirloom grape tomatoes!) but occasionally I am given a squeamish moment… Given that no toxic herbicides are used, there are rare moments when little critters hitch a ride in my produce bag.  Oh, there’s a daddy long-legger! Hello, you little caterpillar in my lettuce! Those incidents are few and far between and are easily fixed by shaking the bag out in my backyard. You’re free, little ones! This week, however, was a test of my patience with insects.  The farm had sent a warning: “Our lettuce has been over-run with aphids and there is no organic means of controlling them. We are deciding whether or not to distribute future batches of the lettuce, but for this week, please be understanding. Here’s how you can deal with them…” 

I was not around to pick up my box of produce, so my significant other did so, leaving the bag on the counter as is usual.  I forgot to mention the aphids to him so when I returned later that night they were crawling all over the bag, and probably on my kitchen counter too.  Aphids are tiny insects and cause no harm to people, but still, who wants insects crawling (and some, flying) all over their kitchen? Not me! I grabbed that huge head of lettuce (seriously, this farm sends me the biggest lettuces I have ever seen!), stuck it in a big pot of soapy water, and drowned those little guys.  Did I feel a twinge of guilt? Honestly, yes. I’m the kind of person who looks where she’s walking so she doesn’t intentionally step on ants.  But what else was I to do? That’s what the farm recommended.  The aphids in the bag? Well, they went in my outdoor trash can.  Perhaps they’ll find some nice rotting veggies to munch on at the landfill, perpetuating their circle of life?

The moral of my story? I love eating organic and will continue to do so, but now I’m a little more aware of my surroundings. I know not to just reach my hand in the produce bag without taking a careful look at what’s in there.  We can’t be perfect all the time – I’m going to drown an occasional aphid (and squish those centipedes that continue to plague my house) but on the whole my actions are helping to protect the insects, animals and plants of the world, not to mention keeping our waterways cleaner.  If you can eat organic, do so, but even more important is to eat locally.  I mentioned earlier that organic foods are great, but if they’re trucked all the way across the country to get to your plate, the negatives might outweigh the benefits.  If you can find a local organic farm, shop there! The next best thing is any local farm stand, followed by a local grocery store that stocks some local produce.  The fewer miles your food has to travel, the better. 

Bon appetit!

 

Big Week for Getting Outdoors September 24, 2010

Filed under: Science — newdomino @ 11:07 AM
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On Monday (9/25) we celebrate National Public Lands Day (www.publiclandsday.org) AND Nature Rocks Day (www.naturerocks.org), not to mention that the whole week is Take a Child Outside Week (www.takeachildoutside.org).  All these themed-dates raise awareness about the importance of our natural world and connecting all generations to it.  Why is it so important that we emphasize conservation and outdoor activities? 

Scientific studies show that when kids spend more time outdoors they are better able to concentrate in school, they exhibit fewer behavioral issues, their health (esp. asthma and stress-related conditions) improves and they lose more weight.  Those are all very valuable benefits, but to me the most important thing that happens when children get outside is that they learn to appreciate the natural world.  They see that a flower is worthwhile because it is beautiful, smells good and provides food for insects.  They see that a stream is valuable because it provides a home for many animals.  They see a forest and know that it is more than just the money that can be made by harvesting the timber.  If we don’t build that appreciation at a young age, chances are it won’t develop when they are adults.  By then they are so busy with the day-to-day of life: working, cooking, cleaning, shopping, driving, on and on: that they can’t stop and appreciate the world for what it is.  So, whether you have a child of your own, or a niece, nephew, cousin or friend’s kid, get them outside next week and in the weeks to follow.

What can you do when you’re out there? Where can you go if you live in a very urbanized environment?  No matter where you live you can find some special place within walking distance (or a short bus trip).  Go into your backyard, to a local park, along a tree-lined street, visit a farm or even a zoo – anywhere there is some greenery, animals and insects.  Sit in a quiet place and listen to the world around you.  What do you hear, other than any passing cars or planes?  Get close down to the ground – what do you see?  Bring a journal or sketch pad and have them draw or write a story about their discoveries.  Play a game of “I spy” but use only living things. For more fun activities, visit the links listed above.

For those above the age of 18, you can enjoy the outdoors too! Now’s a great time to go shopping for a bike or kayak; as the season comes to a close you can find some good bargains! Consider buying used – there are some good websites to find bikes and outdoor equipment that people are tired of. Their loss is your gain and by buying used you’ll help reduce the amount of new STUFF that we add to this already crowded planet.  FYI: a great website for learning about our obsession with stuff is www.thestoryofstuff.com. But you don’t need much stuff to enjoy the outdoors. A pair of shoes will suffice.  Go for a walk and search for little signs of nature all around you.  You’ll be surprised to find it in some peculiar places.

We spend too much time inside, both in buildings and in vehicles. We need to get outside! We will be healthier, happier and more in-tune with the natural world – a world that we are part of, believe it or not.  Next week is a big week for getting outdoors, but it should be the start of a lifelong experience, not just one week out of many.