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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Happy anniversary to my veggies

We made it. Phew.

It has been one year since we started getting the box of organic produce from Abundant Harvest Organics.

I can't believe how much this box of veggies has transformed our lives.

I have always been mildly interested in eating organic foods. We used to shop the farmer's marked for much of our produce, but the farmer's market, at least in my town, is expensive! Once is a while there is something at the peak of its season that the farmer is interested in unloading for cheap, but mostly we would spend $50-60 each time we were there. And then still round out our purchases with more produce from the grocery store. While at the grocery store, I would have a little debate in my mind... organic onions? Or half-as-expensive onions?

After we started getting our AHO box, though, I got even more interested in the idea of eating organic. Partly because it was sitting there in my kitchen, piquing my interest. Partly because once I started talking about the veggies I had to deal with week after week, other people gave me tips, information, articles, recipes, recommendations, and books. Partly because I now had so many odd vegetables, that as I looked up recipes for them, I found myself on blogs and websites that promote an organic lifestyle. Once you start researching something, the snowball grows. Each article links to other articles, or references books, or quotes movies. I would follow those leads to find more leads.

I also found blogs and books, documents and documentaries that promote vegan eating, raw eating, local eating, gluten-free eating, foraged-foods eating, and all kinds of other sub-groups. They want me to choose raw milk, raw honey, raw food. Soaked grains, soaked almonds, and soaked seeds. Heirloom turkeys and heirloom tomatoes. Pastured eggs and beef, unpasteurized milk and yogurt. Some of these sources of information are interesting because they make a good point. Others... are good entertainment. 

I am still muddling my way through what changes are worth making and what ideas are silly. I am also trying to work my way through what I can physically accomplish in the 24 hours a day I have to work with.

There are so many factors to consider:
Buy local! It's good for the environment and the small farmers.
Buy heirloom! It's good for the future of the species. We are losing the variety in our diets that our great-grandmothers had.
Make your own! It's good for you. You will cut out preservatives, sodium, and sugar in vast quantities.
Buy organic! It's good for you and for the environment. Neither your body or the earth needs those pesticides.
Buy free-range! It's good for the chicken. 
No, buy pastured! It's better for you.
No, really you should buy pastured and organic, grain fed! It's better for the chicken and for you!

Just the other day I read this article about Whole Foods stores. In it, the author explains that while it is hard to find fault with the ideals of Whole Foods, it is all a matter of perspective. They offer organic choices, but at the cost of not offering local, small farm-grown choices. The question is, which is better? Do I need to worry more about my own immune system or our country's? Should I spend my money and my appetite on making sure the food and the farm workers aren't being exposed to dangerous chemicals? Should I worry more that the world is suffering from fossil fuels, and although the market has organic tomatoes, they traveled all the way from Ecuador? Should I worry that if South American farmers can undercut our farmers' prices, we will lose our farmland to condominium complexes? Should I worry that I am spending more on organic food, which means less money for other things like vacations? Do my kids need to see the world or eat better? 

These are just the types of questions I have found myself wondering all this past year. I don't have many answers yet, but I think I am on the right track. At any rate, I can say that the change in our eating lifestyle has been enormously positive in this past year. It is by no means perfect, but we are closing the gap a tiny bit.

1.  We eat far more fruits and vegetables. Whereas I used to buy a few veggies at the market each week, now we get a huge box of beautiful produce. Every week, I wonder what in heaven's name I am going to do with it all, and yet somehow we manage to get it out of the fridge and into our mouths.

2. We eat better fruits and vegetables. I see "local"defined differently in different places. Some say within 100 miles, others say within the state. My produce now all comes from a group of farms that is about 150 miles away from us. Whether it counts as local or not, it is certainly a far cry from the stuff we can get at the grocery store, which often comes from South America. Our produce is all grown organically, and it is all picked a mere two days before we receive it. That means that when I bite into an apple out of my box on Saturday morning, it was hanging on a tree on Thursday. You can't do much better than that unless you are the farmer.

3. We eat much much much more variety of fruits and vegetables. I have posted recipes involving 68 different fruits and vegetables. I know there are a few more I haven't written about as well. I never counted my fruits and veggies before this, but I would guess that I wasn't eating even half that. There are several that I had never eaten before this year (brussels sprouts, bok choy, collard greens, etc.) and quite a few that I had never even heard of (daikon radish, lamb's quarter, fava beans, etc.). One thing that I hear pretty consistently is that one of the best ways to make sure you are getting all the nutrients you need is to eat a variety of foods. I guess we have a ways to go, but we are getting much better!

4. Because we have to find ways to eat all of the vegetables in the box, that doesn't leave much room for eating other stuff... Our dinner plate is largely filled directly from the Abundant Harvest box. Last might, for example, we had broccoli-onion-carrot stir fry, cooked with garlic and plum sauce (made out of plums form the box). The only thing I had to buy was the rice and a little oil for the frying. By doing that for most of our meals, my grocery bill has gone down. And that's always a good thing.

5. Likewise, our consumption of processed foods has gone down. We cook so many more things from scratch now, that we aren't buying so many cans and boxes at the grocery store. That means less sodium, less sugar, less preservatives. One of the most memorable quotes, to me, from the movie "Food Inc" is 
"You know, I would venture to guess if you go and look on the supermarket shelf, I'll bet you 90% of
them would contain either a corn or soybean ingredient, and most of the time will contain both." What?? That means that no matter how many different boxes or bags or cans of food I buy, no matter what flavor or shape or consistency it is, it's really just corn and soy? I am sure glad I'm eating less of that stuff. Less of that means more real food.

6. It also doesn't leave much room for dining out. And that bill has gone WAY down. 

7. It has opened my eyes to being more selective about the other things we eat too. We now buy organic milk, organic eggs, and organic meats. They cost a lot more per pound, that's for sure. However, like I said before, we aren't buying as much milk or meat as we used to. I never tracked how much we spent on milk, eggs, and meat before, but I would venture to guess that we are pretty close to even. Perhaps even a little less.

8. I have gained much more confidence and interest in cooking. I am having a ton of fun investigating and researching recipes and trying new things. There are still flops, of course, but they are happening less and less often. My kids are getting more interested in trying to cook too.

9. Abundant Harvest Organics provides a way to eat both local and organic. Which is the benefit of almost any CSA. It gives the farmers a guaranteed income, it gives me a consistent price for fresh produce, and it all is grown without pesticide right here in my home state. I understand that, as far as fresh produce goes, I am very lucky to live in the state of California. A lot of what I ate this year was available to people across the country... but for me I could still count it as eating locally.

10.  I also supported small, independent farms. I am grateful to Vern Peterson for creating Abundant Harvest Organics. He is a farmer with an amazing brain for business. If it weren't for him, there might be a few more farmers who had to give up their farms. I don't think it's good for me, or good for America if we continue to lose options. If the small farms continue to get swallowed up, we will be left with no choice but the corn and soy products available in the supermarket. That's the bulk of what the huge corporate farms are growing. I'm glad Abundant Harvest exists, and I can only imagine the farmers are even more so.

One final note... The main reason I even realize this is our one-year box anniversary is that I will be leaving today for the Susan G. Komen three-day walk for a breast cancer cure. It was while I was gone on the walk last year that my husband and kids surpassed me by picking up our first box.

Wish me luck! If you want to wish me specific luck, wish for no blisters and no rain. I'll be walking 20 miles a day and sleeping in a tent for three days, and rain and blisters both tend to make that a less pleasant experience.