Thursday, January 27, 2011

Winter Inspiration

I had a bit of a "moment" on my way to the farm today. I'd been up for a few hours, drinking coffee and waiting for the roads to clear -- so maybe I was just over-caffeinated, or maybe it was a new favorite song on the radio, but mostly I think it was the way the sun was glinting just so off the snow from last night's storm. Carter's Mountain looked silver-capped and gilded in ice, the pines hung low and heavy along the road, and the sloping, golden farmland looked laced with snow.

The sights at Maple Hill were just as gorgeous (and safer to capture on camera -- no stopping in the middle of Route 20 to snag a shot, for example): colorful despite the season and textured with lines, patterns and shapes.  See for yourself:

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Clean Your Plate: Walmart Edition

As many of you probably heard, Walmart (and the First Lady) recently announced a plan to make thousands of its packaged foods healthier and to drop prices on fruits and vegetables. This came on the heels of a pledge made this fall to increase their purchasing of locally-grown foods to at least nine percent by 2015.

This week's Clean Your Plate is dedicated to the supercenter behemoth. Why? Well, like everything about Walmart, it comes down to size. With more than 2,750 superstores nationwide, Walmart owns a whopping 25 percent share of the U.S. grocery market. In other words, of every dollar Americans spend on groceries, a quarter goes to Walmart.

So, a two-pronged pledge that involves 1) reducing sodium, trans fat and sugar in its Great Value brand of packaged foods and 2) somehow reducing the prices of fruits and vegetables, has the potential to make a huge dent in our waistlines. Or does it?

There's no doubt that Americans are consuming too much bad stuff -- but will changing the recipe (in relatively small ways) really make a difference? And, will making fruits and vegetables even cheaper (without making the prices on processed food more accurate) mean more people will buy and eat them? And don't get me started on a particularly insidious part of the plan that involves addressing food deserts by, you guessed it, building more Walmarts.

In any case, other people have written more extensively and eloquently about the announcement -- a selection of my favorites appears below. I think you'll find the difference of opinion quite interesting.

Have something to say about the new plan? An article you think we should read? Let us know in the comments.
A few other Walmart articles you might enjoy:

image credit: mjb84/Creative Commons

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

To Bee or Not to Bee...

For years now, honeybees have been getting hammered by a mysterious plague that has a name — colony collapse disorder — but no proven cause. New studies are now indicating that pesticides are the probable culprit;  “unprecedented levels” have been found in hives across the U.S. and parts of Canada.

And, in a scandal to rival Wikileaks, leaked documents show that the EPA allowed the continued use of these pesticides, despite warnings by their own scientists.  A sticky situation, indeed.

The loss of the world's honeybee population would be a devastating blow to the viability of our food supply.

A Cornell University study has estimated that honeybees annually pollinate more than $15 - 20 billion worth of seeds and crops in the U.S. “Every third bite we consume in our diet is dependent on a honeybee to pollinate that food,” said Zac Browning, vice president of the American Beekeeping Federation. 

Check out this beautifully done infographic for a visual representation of the issue.

So, what can you do? Well, you can start by getting educated. 

This Sunday, join your fellow bee-concerned citizens at the Haven for a screening of "Queen of the Sun," an in-depth investigation to discover causes and solutions behind the honeybee collapse, featuring such notables as Michael Pollan, Gunther Hauk and Vandana Shiva.  Stay for a panel discussion and a honey tasting following the film.

What: Screening of "Queen of the Sun" and panel discussion
When: Sunday, January 23 | 4 - 6:30pm
Where: The Haven at First & Market
How Much: $5 suggested donation; parking validated at the Water Street garage

From the website: Queen of The Sun follows the voices and visions of underrepresented beekeepers, philosophers, and scientists around the world, all struggling for the survival of the bees. While other bee films focus exclusively on commercial beekeepers, this film emphasizes the biodynamic and organic communities who have differing opinions from many commercial beekeepers and are overlooked in other films.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Statistics Make Me Happy

Whoo hoo! The Census Bureau has released the 2011 Statistical Abstract of the U.S.!  Ok, ok, that may not be a major cause for excitement for some you, but I love this kind of stuff.

Dig down deep enough and you can see how many pounds of asparagus we're consuming per person (1.2, if you must know), how many gallons of coffee we drink (24.2!), and how much cheddar we're scarfing (9.9lbs).  I could keep that up forever.  All of those numbers are for 2008, but it's also interesting to see how things change over a period of years.

I spent some time yesterday pulling out what I thought to be interesting tidbits, but you should have a go of it yourself, too, when you get a moment.

Since 2000:
  • Red meat consumption is down 5.4 lbs to 108.3 lbs per capita.
  • Veggie consumption is down 30 lbs to 392.7 lbs per capita.
  • Fruit consumption is down 35 lbs to 250.9 lbs per capita.
  • Yogurt consumption is up 9.9 lbs to 21.9 lbs.
  • Wine consumption is up half a gallon to 2.5 gallons per capita.
  • Coffee consumption is down 2.1 gallons to 24.2 gallons per capita.
  • High fructose corn syrup is down 9.5 lbs to 53.1 lbs per year (but isn't it shocking to see what it was in 1980: 19 lbs per capita).
  • Sadly the soda and carbonated beverage numbers are "N/A" -- not sure why.
There's also some great agriculture statistics.  For example:
  • Overall, the number of farms in the U.S. has increased (2,167,000 to 2,200,000). Yea!
  • But the number of farms in Virginia has decreased (49,000 to 47,000). Boo.
  • Average farm size has decreased from 436 acres to 418.
  • Organic farmland covers 4.8 million acres, a 170% increase!
  • Honeybee colonies are down 23 percent to 2,462,000 since 2000.
  • And last but not least, there are now five states—Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, North Carolina, and South Dakota—that have more pigs than people.
You can pick out your own favorite factoids by looking at the health and nutrition and the agriculture statistical tables.  Let us know what you find!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Clean Your Plate: Around the Web

We're bringing back the Friday Clean Your Plate round-up in 2011! You can help us keep it going by sending along your own good food reads: info[at] or send us a tweet!

Here we go:

Have a great weekend, and stay warm out there!

image credit: chiots run/Creative Commons