Let’s Cook!

As I have repeated over the years, leaning heavily not only on my own personal experience but on the writings of Mark Bittman, Michael Pollan and a wonderful book by Jeannie Marshall, The Lost Art of Feeding Kids;  we need to talk more about cooking and do more of it in our own homes.  Many words are devoted in the press and on the web these days about the origins of the food we eat – in field and factory – and what we can do as individuals and as a nation to make our food safer and healthier.  But we are seeing less and less verbiage devoted to the art and science of cooking that food for our own consumption.   I am not even sure we are talking about cooking anymore.  And it wasn’t so long ago that we did.

I spent many hours as a young teenager in Harrisonburg, VA with my Aunt Paige who loved to cook – she just liked trying something new every day to see how it turned out and find out whether or not she liked it, if it was worth the effort, if her family would eat it (the biggest hurdle for her with two sons of her own and a local teen her family “adopted” after his father was killed in an auto accident), and most importantly, whether it was worthy of being filed in her little box of cut-out recipes.  In the beginning, most of those recipes were from McCalls and Ladies Home Journal; but later on she subscribed to Gourmet and changed my life forever.

When she knew I was coming to visit, she would cull her box of untested recipes and have a small stack ready for us to cook through over a two-week or even one-month period, and we would get to most of them before I left for home in Georgia.  And I still have some of those recipes in my little boxes of cut-outs.  We talked a lot about what we were cooking, and I know she and my mother both talked about cooking and their latest “finds” alone together, at the pool and at bridge club.  Even at family gatherings, we would talk about the food – and I am happy to say that my family still does that when the cousins get together.

We talk about food and its preparation at home – we don’t talk about the nutrients or the calories or the cost or the convenience – we talk about the food; we talk about the gorgeous ingredients that we picked from our gardens or bought at the farmers’ market or grocery store if we must and the options we had for putting it to good use.  We talk about recipes and how we tweak them to serve our own tastes and circumstances.  And we talk about enjoying the food that we have cooked.

Mark Bittman reminds us of the day – not too long ago – when all newspapers included a weekly food section or recipes every day of the week often provided by a local food writer.  (Many of my own cut-out recipes came from those newspapers.)  And Mark also mentions all those Junior League, small town social club, and church cookbooks that sat on the cookbook shelf in our own homes.  Bittman does not consider today’s flood of cookbooks or TV cooking shows to be their replacement either.  He laments that “ most cookbooks are offshoots of TV “cooking” shows, almost all of which are game shows, reality shows, or shows about celebrities” – or as I contend, shows that treat food as eye candy rather than nourishment for the body and soul, and cooking as some Olympic event rather than the creative and relaxing activity that it can be.

I will pick up this theme later, but I have a thought or two of my own:  why can’t we just cook what we love to eat and eat what we love to cook?  And share the joy of both.  That would take us back – and maybe forward at the same time.

Celebrate Your Farmer!

Smart Markets wishes you a very happy holiday and hopes you enjoy the best that this country has to offer this weekend.  I am inspired on this 4th of July to share why we are in this business of providing farmers and local food entrepreneurs the opportunity to sell their products directly to customers like you.

It is not a mystery why small farmers cannot make a living selling wholesale – the economies of scale just do not work for them.  We believe that it is very important to save the small farms that still exist in our area and to help young people who want to farm be able to do it.  We also take seriously the opportunity the markets offer for small, family-owned and operated food businesses to be nurtured under our low-overhead, supportive guidance. Even though we always hate to see them go, we are always excited to see our vendors move on to bigger and more permanent opportunities or use the markets to establish a sound foundation for their storefronts.

We have also seen so many farmers grow along with us – and we are grateful to them for their commitment to you.  They notice what you like and want to see in the markets, and they go out and plant something new just for you. They buy or lease more land; they plant more trees, they sow new seed varieties; and they are willing to do this because they trust that you will continue to support them.

If you have not noticed in previous years,  you will soon learn that we take every chance we get to remind you that each patriotic holiday underscores our commitment.  These guys represent our path to healthier eating at home and away from home too.  For those of us who need to rely, if only occasionally, on the cooking of strangers,  how great is it to have your neighbors cooking up their national dishes or developing their own distinctive cuisine for us to enjoy!  Helping these cooks to move on to restaurants and storefronts of their own is the best way to reduce the prevalence and influence of fast food in our neighborhoods. And that will happen one day thanks to you and your patriotic support of these hard workers who feed you so well.

So take a little time this week to mosey through the market and see what you can come up with to celebrate your local farmer and friendly chef throughout the holiday weekend.   I hope you will stop by the Smart Markets tent first and pick up some recipes and follow where they lead.

Peaches and Cream!

Don’t bust a gut jumping up and down – you will need it to enjoy and digest the peaches – served with Trickling Springs Whipping Cream if you know what’s good for you!  I do and somewhere I have a recipe for a great shortcake biscuit designed to be eaten with peaches.  I will start looking for it tonight and will have the recipe tomorrow if I find it – which will only add to our other great peach recipes that I have added to over the years.  This week we will hand out the Two Easy Peaches recipes and I will give you a little background here.

The Fresh Peach Cake dates back to the late 60’s when I was living at home in Winston-Salem, NC, going to Wake Forest University and working at Sears in the evenings.  This recipe was published in the local paper as part of Beth Tartan’s food column.  That was a pseudonym but many people in town knew who she was, and I think she wrote that column for at least 30 years.  I have lots of her recipes – still in the original newsprint – and I still make quite a few of them; many I know by heart now.  I remember making the cake for my fellow workers in the Credit Department of Sears where it was such a big hit that I have been inspired to make it for lots of people and numerous events over the years.

The Peach Dessert recipe is from the Third Edition of the Joys of Jello cookbook – probably also from the early 60’s.  I remember making this one at home when we still lived in Atlanta – so I have been making this great little dessert for a few decades too – at least five.  It’s probably the only thing I make with Jello now.  I can only hope that with this pedigree going for them, you will want to try both of these recipes yourself.

But don’t overlook the cherries – the sour cherries will not be around long – and the blueberries, raspberries and black raspberries.  You know the black raspberries are my favorites, and when I was catering I would await their appearance with visions of black raspberry mousse and other desserts dancing in my head.  Not all of them made it to my customers either.

I have already written about my Grandfather (known as Daddy Jo) coming in with the black raspberries from the little farm stand in downtown Harrisonburg, VA and going straight for the stove to cook up a sauce out of them.  Still wearing his hat.

But it was my favorite uncle Jimmy, one of his sons, who built the “better” black raspberry garden in Syria, VA when he was living there.  He built a square wood-frame “room” in a meadow with walls and ceiling of chicken wire, and it had a regular door as the entrance so you could walk right in.  The black raspberries grew up the sides and over the top, and you could go in there and just gorge yourself until someone came looking for you.  My mother and I spent what seemed like hours in there at one family reunion, and we may very well have been pretty sick afterwards.  But I am sure it was worth it – and I am sure my mother agreed.

Well that’s it for memory lane this week – you will just have to come and shop and make your own memories – and share your own recipes and pictures on our Facebook pages.  I hope you have as much fun enjoying the bounty of summer as I did growing up – wherever we lived, summer was filled with food from someone’s garden – even if it wasn’t ours.

The truth of “An apple a day…”

Dear Shopper,

I was clipping newspapers again the other day and was heartened to see that things are happening across this country at the local level, in many cases as the result of local agitation, to deal with our poor eating habits and how they are affecting our individual and collective health.

I grew up hearing that an apple a day keeps the doctor away, and each year it seems that scientists learn something new about why that is more than just an old wives’ tale. The Wall Street Journal reported on a study that found that a compound in apple skins “increases the activity of a protein that has been found to stimulate muscle growth and glucose metabolism in mice.” And while these data have yet to be tested in humans, they have led scientists to believe that the apple is even healthier for us than was originally thought.

This report reminded me that the prevention message in the old adage is based on a fundamental belief, now being validated by science, that real food keeps us healthy. When most people in this country ate mostly real food, we did not suffer the epidemics of preventable diseases and conditions that we do now. The message was the medium — it was in the food we ate — and we knew it even before it was proven in a lab because we had seen it in our own lives for centuries. We believed that eating well, not just eating anything, kept us mentally strong and physically alert. Since those good ole days, it seems that much of what we eat has became our bane rather than our savior.

Now we see articles about vouchers being prescribed by pediatricians at community health clinics for produce at farmers’ markets and schools changing their menus not just to add more healthy foods but to substitute them for the processed foods that have become as much a part of the school lunch program as the home dinner program. Insurance companies are getting in on the act and stepping up to reward companies such as IBM that support employee healthy-living programs. In our own community, the Fairfax County government has developed its own Live Well program with similar goals and motivation.

A recent report by the Institute of Medicine admitted that it will take a massive effort by all segments of our society to reverse the obesity epidemic. Change is coming slowly, more from the bottom up than the top down and motivated more by common-sense informed frustration than by science-based, vision-driven government programs. After reading that Bank of America is recommending 50 stocks for investors looking to cash in on the “obesity theme,” I was reminded that those efforts to fight obesity are not viewed as realistic by stakeholders. I wonder why.

I was also reminded how slowly that change is a-comin’ when I learned that the Fairfax County schools are spending $200,000 this year to pay for a study and hire a consultant to look at how to improve nutrition in their schools. How many more studies do we need? I could probably pull together studies and evaluations of existing programs from all over the country, read them all and make workable recommendations in about a month. And in the meantime, that $200,000 could go to buying apples from local farmers and starting the process of improving the health of our children right away.

We are learning more every day about the importance of real food to our real health. Why is it taking so long to make more of that real food available to our children? Just remove the potato chips or the pizzas with 70 ingredients, most of them not food, and give them an apple a day — how hard is that?

Help Small Farmers, Not Big Food

Dear Shopper,

Recently the New York Times published a well-written, organized, and thorough investigation into how Big Food has manipulated and nearly co-opted the system put in place in the early 2000s to set standards for and certify foods as organic, including produce, dairy, meats, processed foods, and much more. It is a scary article, and I have predicted this as the sooner-rather-than-later outcome of the federal oversight and certification of organic anything.

Cabinet departments and regulatory agencies in this country have long been more kowtowing than browbeating in their approach to dealing with the businesses they regulate. I remember reading and condensing a story in The New Yorker for a college professor of mine more than forty years ago about the discovery by a Senate Committee led by Estes Kefauver that the Food and Drug Administration was allowing the drug industry to run the show even then. In those days, this revelation became a minor government scandal. I can guarantee you that there will be a similar story today in a newspaper or on the Web about some recently revealed regulatory malfeasance.

At this point, we have let ourselves and our families down by not insisting on and fighting for better representation, not just in the legislative branch of the federal government but within these regulatory agencies and the commissions and committees they create to advise and consent. It is not just the government agencies that have abdicated their responsibilities. We have met the enemy, and it is us.

So what can we do? I think we have made some headway with the Farm Bill this year, though not nearly enough. The subsidy program may even get worse, which is outrageous, but some of the smaller programs designed to promote small farmers, farmers’ markets, and access to fresh, local food in what we now call “food deserts” have at least not been cut, and a few have received additional funding. This funding still represents a small budget compared to the subsidies going to wealthy farmers who grow for Big Food. If that kind of money went to nurture and support small farmers all over this country, we would all be eating better and be healthier for it. More corn on the table and less in the stockyard or the corn-syrup plant would be a good thing for all of us.

Some concerted grass-roots efforts were underway throughout deliberations on the bill, and in previous newsletters I have provided links to great information about the bill and to petitions you could sign or letters you could sign and send. I was impressed by the activity and outreach, and it looks as if the people were heard on a couple of provisions.

Please read the New York Times article and learn what is now being labeled “organic” and what is being considered for approval to be added to foods sold under the “certified organic” label. Then look at the prices being charged for this charade. It may make you sick, as it did me, but it will bring you back to the farmers’ market — any farmers’ market — in a minute.

One thing you can do is to work with us and others to help strengthen and promote our markets here in Northern Virginia. Smart Markets can always use help on the ground at our markets (I need a couple of market managers right now) and outreach assistance from those who are active in their communities, churches, and schools or with children’s activities. We can get you materials and give you something to do. We may not be able to change much at the national level, but we can let people know what is really happening to the food system and what their options are in the marketplace. And the more folks we get out to the markets, the more we can reach with our own little informational campaign.

I always think back to the success of the anti-littering campaign. My family traveled long distances in the car north to south along the East Coast for many years. Before the campaign, the highways looked terrible, and people would throw all kinds of trash out their car windows. I remember when the campaign started, mostly with signs and radio ads, and as kids we would holler at people we saw littering from their cars — not that anyone ever heard us, but we understood the message anyway. The informational campaign succeeded, and even though highways still sport litter occasionally, it is rarely from people throwing it out of their cars. My point here is that information does work and can lead to action and change.

So let’s start here and get the word out. And get your friends and neighbors out to your farmers’ market right in the middle of your community with farmers who come quite a distance to bring you what they grow, even if it isn’t “certified” organic. At least it’s real food.

Farmers: Tied to the Land

It seems less like summer as I write this, but the rain reminds me that our farmers need the rain as well as the sun to be successful. So those of us who work with them are careful not to complain about a rainy day in June, or July or August for that matter.

It has been quite an eye-opening experience, though I am not that far removed from farming in my own lineage, to hear on a daily basis sometimes about the challenges the small farmer faces. Even access — through ownership or rental agreement — to the most modern equipment is not enough to guarantee an easier row to hoe down on the farm.

Last week I heard about berries and other low-lying crops being eaten by an unknown predator. Max Tyson was up all night watching for deer, groundhogs, and anything else that moved and ate produce, listening for ground-level disturbances and watching for moving shapes in the dark. And boy was he surprised around dawn to see a flock of Canadian geese descend on the garden and begin to decimate it once again. Luckily for Max and us, the geese moved on, but now he has to worry about geese!

Mike Burner is farming land that has not been farmed in many years, if ever, and his is more of a watch and wait and worry situation. He heard from neighbors that the potato beetles were voracious this year, so Mike was prepared to do whatever it took as a sustainable farmer to protect his many hundreds of seed potatoes that he had just planted. He found none over several days of alert observation and realized that because this land had not been farmed, there were probably no beetle eggs in the ground to hatch and create a threat.

Many of our farmers were also concerned about the stick bugs this year — some had seen some serious devastation last year and were expecting it to be worse this year. Now they are thinking that maybe the bugs are heading south to a climate more like the one that supports them in China — and everyone is keeping their fingers crossed, because as I am sure most of you learned last year, there is nothing that gets rid of stink bugs other than a rigorous capture-to-flush strategy. I figure that only works in my house or your house, not on a farm.

As Roseanne Roseannadanna would say, “It’s always something!” Hearing these and many other accounts year after year reminds me that a farmer never rests during the growing season and can’t afford to. They do not take summer vacations; they do not go anywhere that takes them away from that morning and evening check on the farm, even if they are not working it all day. For nine months of every year, they are tied to the land, which is no doubt where they want to be. And it’s where we want them to be and where we hope they will stay for many generations to come.

That’s why those of us who create and manage markets work as hard as we do to provide places for those small farmers to sell the fruits and vegetables of their labors at retail prices. The average farm in Virginia is about 40 acres. Forty acres of produce at wholesale prices would barely keep the farm family alive. They need these retail outlets to recoup their investment, and we need the farmers to provide alternatives to commercially- and foreign-grown produce.

We can keep them on the farm; we just have to commit to that weekly visit to the farmers’ market. Compared to what the farmers do to make the market possible, our job looks pretty easy.

An “Elite” You Can Be Proud to Join

A couple of years ago a group of senators was fighting to protect major subsidies to commercial farmers by arguing that farmers’ markets did not deserve support from the federal government because they were elitist enterprises. These guys seemed serious in their belief that goods sold at markets are grown by urban elite gardeners and that the shoppers themselves are also urban elite consumers who could just as easily buy fresh food at local grocery stores.

There are more than a few holes in that argument, including the fact that I know nearly 50 farmers well, and not one of them farms on a rooftop garden. I am also acquainted with thousands of market shoppers, very few of whom would consider themselves elite consumers. And then there is the indisputable fact that few if any grocery stores stock food that is as fresh, healthy or carefully grown and harvested as what you buy at a farmers’ market.

In addition, farmers’ market managers do usually attempt to make the shopping experience educational, fun and interesting for all — especially the children — and we work particularly hard at that. We do it because we want our shoppers to connect in a real live way with our vendors and with each other at the market. We do it because we want to help them validate the decision to go out of their way to shop at a market and support local farms and businesses. And we do it because we want to see shoppers of all persuasions — even the common man or woman, because we see lots of them — learn from us and each other how to cook with what they buy at the market.

The bottom line for us is much more than the livelihoods we nurture and support, though that is the main line. Our true satisfaction comes from seeing the diversity in our markets that represents the diversity in our communities — everyone coming together to get healthy and buy local.

Our farmers also represent that great diversity. The farms they till range widely in size, but the average comes close to the average-sized farm in Virginia, which is 40 acres. With farms this size, these guys have to sell retail; they can no longer make a living on the wholesale prices offered by the grocery stores. That’s where you come in — you keep these guys on the farm, doing the incredibly hard work they do because they love it.

Maybe in a way all of us in this marketplace are indeed elites. We are saving the small farm, the family farm, and in the process saving ourselves from the grocery store, where at least half of the aisles are now devoted to food we don’t need to eat. (I know this because I counted them yesterday.) And maybe we are being heard by those who would put us down by putting us on a pedestal we didn’t ask for. I was happy to see that the new Farm Bill may actually recognize that this year and divert some of those big-guy subsidies to other uses. (You can still take action on the Farm Bill here.)

In the meantime, enjoy that newly conferred elite status. I figure if you are helping to save the world one family and one farmer at a time, that’s a significant contribution to your community.

An Ode to Fennel

4285571051_17934b0e86_m.jpgOh Luscious Bulb! Sweet Anise Divine!

OK, that’s it for the ode part! Occasionally I do know when to quit while I’m ahead. But I am writing about fennel this week because I love it and I finally have a couple of farmers who are growing it to sell at the markets. It isn’t easy to grow in this area, and it wasn’t easy to convince those farmers to grow it either, but in appreciation for their special efforts, the least I can do is let you know why we all went to so much trouble.

I am indebted to numerous articles over the years in the food magazines I read but also to an NPR story by Howard Yoon and SixWise.com for the nutritional analysis.

I am not sure I had ever used it or even seen it until I was putting together a menu for a mystery-solving party that I catered for a client some 20 years ago. The mystery they would be solving during the dinner took place in the Mediterranean, so I developed a menu around a Moroccan stew and somewhere along the way was inspired to include braised fennel as one of the accompanying dishes. And the love affair began — which is a miracle, because your first whiff of fennel will remind you of licorice, and I hate licorice.

But it is called “sweet” anise for a reason; it is a much milder and sweeter cousin of plain old anise, the herb that inspired the licorice flavor in candy and other more pungent foods.

I now use fennel in every dish that requires any kind of mirepoix or mixture of aromatic veggies to lay the foundation for the flavors to come. I cannot bring myself to make a tomato sauce without it, but I also use it in chili, soups, and beans and rice, and the list really does go on and on. Like onions and garlic, I always have it on hand. I use it all year long, even if I have to buy it at the grocery store, and it is the star attraction in dishes such as fennel slaw and any frittata that I make. Sauteed with onion as the base of a frittata, it caramelizes in the oven and produces one of my favorite flavors.

Along the way I have learned that it is one of the healthiest veggies you can eat, so using it the way I do provides a wealth of nutrients on a regular basis. It’s much better for you than taking a multivitamin and much more delicious. Fennel provides an amazing amount of phytonutrients that have been found to reduce inflammation and help prevent cancer. It is loaded with vitamin C, which as an antioxidant protects your body from free-radical damage and helps keep the immune system healthy itself.

Fennel is a good source of fiber, which helps reduce cholesterol levels, and folate, which helps reduce the risk of heart attacks by turning a dangerous molecule in your body into a harmless compound.

And these benefits have been known since ancient times. There is evidence that Greeks and Romans used fennel as medicine; Pliny the Elder catalogued 22 remedies that used fennel. Charlemagne required that it be included in every imperial garden. It was used in this country by the Puritans, who chewed the seeds during worship services, and at some point in history it was introduced as a seed in bread. When I catered, I made a great fennel rye loaf even before I tried the vegetable itself.

Fennel appears in many international cuisines; it is essential to Indian curries and used in sweet Italian sausage. It is one of the ingredients in Chinese five-spice powder, and it shows up in other Mediterranean and African cuisines. This widespread use of fennel is another testament to its medicinal roots in ancient times and across far-flung climes. At one time, humans ate to stay healthy, not to become unhealthy.

In the modern kitchen, fennel enhances the flavor of other seemingly unrelated ingredients from salmon to oranges. It adds depth to those dishes I mentioned above and does have a lovely, delicate flavor of its own when roasted, braised, or grilled.

So why would you not want to try it? At the market this week, show your appreciation to the farmers who are growing it and the history that has kept it alive as a potent nutrient and delicious ingredient all these years. You too can do something different with it every week and learn to love it as I do. Ode ended.

Photo by Joelk75

Reversing the Damage of Our Unhealthy Habits

I was so close. I thought this morning when I woke up and was staring into the writer’s abyss that we had gone a whole week with no bad news about our nutritional health or the commercial food industry’s lapses in judgment. But then I opened the Wall Street Journal and was reminded once again that we are not only losing the battle of the bulge, we are losing the war against the damage caused by our unhealthy eating habits. And as always in war, the children of the world suffer most from the collateral damage.

According to Ron Winslow’s April 29 story, children as young as 10 years old are contracting diabetes as a direct result of obesity, and recent studies have demonstrated that the drugs prescribed for the containment of the adult disease are not working in children. Early in the story, Winslow describes how this fact is “heightening worries about the fast-growing and largely preventable disease” — preventable being the key word here.

Stating the obvious, Dr. Phil Zeitler of Children’s Hospital Colorado said, “It would be much better if these kids didn’t get diabetes in the first place.” And Dr. David Allen at Wisconsin American Family Children’s Hospital also reminded us that “children 50 years ago did not avoid obesity and its complications by making healthy choices. They simply lived in a more active and less calorie-laden environment.” Surprise, surprise!

Even if you do not have children at home now, you may have grandchildren or see them on the horizon. You may know your neighbor’s children. You may at least be aware of children who are out there somewhere hopefully running around a little bit — all needing the grown-ups to change that environment for them. And we cannot blame just the parents; most of the choices out there are not good ones. It is harder and harder to find them in a grocery store crammed with prepackaged foods that are cost-attractive and nutrition-deprived.

Help is on the way, but only if we take on a little of the burden ourselves. Jamie Oliver is still going strong working to create and nurture the food revolution worldwide, and check out what the Senate did for the small farmer and farmers’ markets. But this is a project that needs a real grass-roots effort, kind of like the old No Littering campaign of the ’50s and ’60s. It needs a repetitive, persistent drumbeat, or we are going to get sicker and sicker as a nation and be paying more and more in health costs for a preventable condition.

I am beginning to think that apart from my doing more to make our markets available for education and exposure, we can all become more involved in changing the nutrition environment in our schools by advocating for school lunches that offer only good choices and only real foods, by using only healthy foods as rewards, and by teaching nutrition and its relationship to preventive health to young people in every grade. We can all do this because this is our dime — this is our money that is paying for those unhealthy choices, that unhealthy environment, and that instructional curriculum that ignores one of the biggest threats to our nation’s future health.

It’s time to get crackin’! I’m channeling my mother again, but I think it would amaze her that we have come to this. I will provide you with some local names and contacts soon for those who want to reach out and get involved.

In the meantime, continue to do the best for your own family, spend your $10 weekly on locally grown produce, and help keep our small farmers alive to sell more good choices to our school children, once we all figure out how to make that happen.

Take Action for Healthier Food

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As we approach the opening of market season across Northern Virginia, I want to devote this post to issues that directly affect the success of farmers’ markets all over Virginia and the country, and that in a variety of ways also affect the farmers that come to our markets. There will be no test on this information, but I hope you will follow these links, read the material, and absorb what you feel you need to make you a better shopper. And of course, we always encourage grass-roots activism because we know it works and because it is good for the soul.

When I rant about something, which in my house we often refer to as “Nanna Losing her Mind,” I do try to inform myself from several sources about the topic at hand. I am less educated about the following topic than some others, mainly because there is a lot of science involved that is usually not explained well in alerts I receive or even in newspaper articles I read. This latest alert from the producers of the movie Fresh! is worrisome, though, for two reasons.

Dow Chemical is developing a new genetically modified seed because of problems with the previous one, and they seem to be putting the new seed on the market soon after those initial problems presented themselves. So how much could we possibly have learned from the initial failure? It also worries me in the same way that the original Roundup-resistant seed bothered me: No long-term studies have yet been released on the effects of these food crops on the animals and people that ingest them. We just need to know more.

Secondly, I want to refer you to the latest update from the Farmers’ Market Coalition, a great Virginia-based organization devoted to supporting farmers’ markets of all shapes and sizes across the country. Evidently, the grass-roots effort to influence the Farm Bill legislation has had an effect on the Senate, and I agree that we need to thank those Senators who led the charge for the small farmer. But we need to say and do more if we want more of our government’s resources to support sustainable farming. This is good information and a great summary of the bill, and FMC has made it easy for you to express your own feelings and opinions.

Thirdly, I invite you to visit the Jamie Oliver Food Revolution website, especially if you are concerned about what children are being fed at school. You can learn everything you need to know about putting together a successful campaign to change the menu. You can also sign up to receive a regular newsletter. If you really want to be inspired, watch Jamie’s speech at the 2010 TED awards.

I take this approach because I realize how much these resources that come to me almost every week keep me motivated and inform not just what I say and write but what I do through our markets to pass along what I learn. And they often provide information that can lead to better farming practices or access to financial help or expertise for our vendors. Just today I sent Max Tyson of Tyson Farms and Orchards an alert about money to help farmers who want to begin using more sustainable and organic farming methods. I do not expect you to find all of this information inspiring or even helpful, but I hope that you will blaze a trail of your own — in your own kitchen, in your child’s school, or in a political campaign.

Photo by really short