Cascadian Farm Organic Goodness

WELCOME TO OUR ALMANAC! READ ABOUT ALL THINGS ECO FROM ORGANIC VEGGIE
GARDEN TIPS TO GREEN FAMILY ACTIVITIES.

GOOD QUESTIONS

Why do you grow organic?

It makes me feel good! I love to eat, and organic foods not only taste better, but they're better for you. They contain more nutrients and knowing that they've been grown without chemicals that are harmful to me and the environment makes me feel like I'm doing my part.

What is your best organic tip?

Read labels! Many products claim to be organic or "all natural" when they're not. Look for the USDA Organic label to be sure. Oh, and you don't have to go all organic or not at all - small changes make a big difference.

What is your favorite book on organics?

"Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver. Her family's goal to live off of only what they could grow on their small organic farm (or purchase locally from neighboring farmers) inspired me to start an organic garden and try to live a more sustainable lifestyle.

What is your favorite quote?

"One's philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes... and the choices we make are ultimately our responsibility." ~Eleanor Roosevelt

If you had to decide, what would you be: animal, plant, or mineral?

Animal - I enjoy growing and eating plants way too much to be one!

This past weekend I was on a mission. Inspired by an amazing stack of Vanilla Blueberry Almond Pancakes (at my favorite breakfast spot, the Coffee Cup) I was determined to bake a loaf of bread that combined those delicious flavors. And since I love baking Banana Bread, because it’s so quick and easy, I wanted to come up with a bread recipe for the summer time – using blueberries. This bread makes a perfect breakfast or snack with your afternoon tea. Add a glaze, it’s a tasty dessert. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did – I baked 3 loaves!

1 cup organic blueberries, washed and dried

1/4 cup sliced almonds (plus a few more to sprinkle on top)

1 ½ cup all-purpose flour (plus ¼ cup to coat berries & nuts)

1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats (not quick-cooking)

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 cup buttermilk

2 teaspoons vanilla

Pre-heat the oven to 325°. Grease a 8.5” x 4.5” loaf pan.

Toss the berries and almonds with 1/4 cup of flour to keep them from sinking in the batter.

In a large bowl, combine 1 ½ cups of flour, oats, baking powder and salt. In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar, eggs, buttermilk, and vanilla. Add the liquids to the dry ingredients and stir gently until just combined. Fold in the almonds and blueberries.

Pour the batter into the greased loaf pan and bake for 55 - 65 minutes, rotating the pan partway through. Allow bread to cool completely before slicing.

 

Photos by Kari Burks

Since I don’t have a garden of my own this year (you can read about why in my previous post, here) I decided to visit with fellow green thumbs and have them show me what they’re growing this year. So it was only natural that I start with the gardener who inspired me to grow vegetables, my dear friend Candice. Candice started gardening four years ago when her stepmother gave her two tomato plants. At the time she wasn’t too invested, but loved having fresh tomatoes come harvest time. With every season her enthusiasm grew and so did her garden. She loves to grow vegetables that yield a long or big harvest, like lettuces, tomatoes and zucchini. She found the broccoli she grew this winter to be anti-climactic. J This summer Candice’s garden includes tomatoes, zucchini, bell peppers, cucumbers, watermelon, a grapevine and Swiss chard still going strong. All started from seed (except for the bell peppers which never seem to take) and all organic. That was the only option for her. Her favorite thing about organic gardening is that her six year old daughter loves eating the fresh vegetables that they grow. The other day Ava picked a tomato off the vine and ate it like an apple. “She never would have done that with a tomato from the grocery store”, Candice told me. And although Ava is a notoriously picky eater, she always willing to try veggies from the garden and loves Swiss chard!

When I asked Candice her best trick or favorite gardening tool, she immediately said the drip irrigation system she and her husband Chuck installed last year. La Mesa is a town in the east part of San Diego County and it gets hot there, regularly reaching triple digits in the summer. Watering the gardening quickly became a chore. When her gardening “guru” (a friend’s mom whose been gardening for years) suggested she install drip irrigation she thought it sounded “hard core” - like a complicated and expensive thing. She was delighted to find out that $20, a trip to Home Depot and about an hour’s worth of work was all it took to change her garden forever! Everything began to thrive because it was watered more thoroughly and efficiently.

I’m excited to see how Candice’s garden does each year. The great (and sometimes frustrating) thing about gardening is that every year is different. It’s a lot like life, as Candice said “you get better every year, but still some things don’t do well and then there are surprises that do. You just never know.”

Photos by Kari Burks

Editor's Note: We were so happy that Kari shared how to make homemade baby food a few weeks ago, and now she's sharing some of the great store-bought options (because not all of us can make everything from scratch all the time). Cascadian Farm doesn't make any baby food products, so we're glad that Kari can share about these options with you!

We reached an exciting milestone in our house a few weeks ago as our son started eating solid foods! We started with an organic rice cereal, which he loves, and we’re now ready to try veggies. Let the messy fun begin! The baby is definitely ready, but I’m a little overwhelmed with all the choices. I made some of my own baby food, but I know I’ll need to have some store-bought food on hand, as well. Fortunately, there are many organic choices. Baby food has come a long way, baby. There are a number of nutritious foods for baby in the refrigerated and frozen food sections, as well as the classic pureed fruit in a jar. (Availability varies depending where you live, of course). Here are a few of the best organic baby food options on the market.

1. Gerber Organics Baby Foods

The most well-known name in baby food and the most widely available is Gerber. Their Gerber Organics line of classic pureed baby food (formerly Gerber's Tender Harvest organic baby food) is available in tons of flavors and are grouped by age/stage - 1st foods, 2nd foods and 3rd foods. They are sold in twos, in easily tote-able plastic containers.

2. Earth's Best Organic Baby and Toddler Foods

Earth’s Best’s traditional jarred baby foods are not only organic, but they contain no GEIs (Genetically Engineered Ingredients) which is great. They are easy-to-store, have a wide range of flavors and styles and are almost as widely available as Gerber. From formula and fruit and vegetable purees to a Sesame Street line of toddler foods (which includes organic cereals, pizzas and pastas) Earth’s Best has one of the largest selections of organic food for babies.

3. Plum Organics Frozen Baby Food

The frozen baby food market is designed to mimic what you might make for your baby at home if you were creating your own organic baby foods. Plum Organics baby foods are cooked, then flash-frozen to retain as many of the nutrients as possible. The foods are divided into suggested age range, with smoother tastes for younger babies and more complex meals and textures for toddlers. Plum Organics are available at Whole Foods, Wild Oats / Henry’s and now some Target stores.

4. Homemade Baby Organic Baby Foods

In the refrigerated section of your grocery store is Homemade Baby, the only baby food on the market that’s not frozen or jarred. Their fresh meals are cooked fresh daily and they provide field to plate tracking of your food, through their “Meal Integrity Program”. So you can track where the apples in your meal where grown and then cooked! Very cool! Homemade Baby’s foods come in three stages: So Smooth, Good Mushy and Kinda Chunky. This brand is also carried in some Target stores.

 

Photo by Kari Burks

You could have told me, but I wouldn’t have believed you… No summer garden, just because I had a baby, in November?! Crazy. But true nonetheless.

This time last year I was five months pregnant picturing how life would be with an infant. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but somehow I’d manage to take care of the house, the husband, and the dog, prepare delicious fresh meals, tend the garden, blog and socialize all with baby attached to me, snuggled up in the Moby. Ha! The past 7 months with my son have not been quite as idyllic as I dreamed. Is it for anyone?! Even though “they” told me having a baby would change everything, I couldn’t fully comprehend how. I do now. Many of the things I enjoy doing most, like gardening and blogging, have taken a back seat to caring for the baby, the house (we’re moving next month) and adjusting to my new role as a mom.

So here we are in the midst of a beautiful summer, but am I picking beautiful fresh strawberries or anticipating the harvest of sweet corn right from my backyard? Noooo. Am I bitter? Honestly, no, I’m not. I can’t say I’m not disappointed. Mainly that I’m not one of those Super Mom types that seems to effortlessly find time to get everything done and look beautiful doing it. But this first year with my baby, however difficult, is so precious and brief, I really don’t mind.

Besides, not having a garden this year has given me the opportunity to garden vicariously through other local gardeners. I’ll get to do something else that I love to do - be nosey! I’m going to see what’s going in local gardens and farms and share that with you! I can find out their best tips, as well as their struggles - and maybe even score some heirloom seeds for next year, if I’m lucky ;)

If you are lucky (and live in San Diego County) I may feature your garden! If you have a vegetable garden and would like to be interviewed for a future post, join my Flickr group, Show What You Grow, and upload photos of your garden. We’ll select someone to be featured at the end of the summer.

 

Photo by Kari Burks

It’s 2010 and being “green” is no longer just a trendy catch phrase, fortunately it’s become a way of life for many of us (each in our own way). And it’s no longer simply about conserving energy or recycling, being green has extended in the cleaning products we use, foods we eat and our skin care products. Unfortunately, green-washing abounds in the bath and body department. It seems like everything claims to be made with “natural” ingredients. It can be difficult to distinguish which shampoos and body lotions are safe and which are made up of synthetic chemicals (many of which are known or probable carcinogens or reproductive toxins).

As with food, packaging is very often deceiving. It’s really important to read labels to know what we’re “feeding” our skin. The skin is the largest organ of the body, whatever we put on it is absorbed right into the bloodstream. However, according to the Environmental Working Group, only 11% of the 10,500 ingredients in beauty products are tested for safety – pretty shocking!

While I’m no expert, I’ve gotten to know where I can find information about which scary ingredients to avoid. In general, I try not to buy products that contain parabens or phthalates (often hidden under the ambiguous term, “fragrance”). Needless to say, I would steer clear of products that don’t list their ingredients at all!

Since there are quite a few more difficult to pronounce chemicals to avoid, I refer to following websites and their “cheat sheets” to help me make safer skin care choices.

· Gorgeously Green (a great book and website) has a downloadable “Skin Care Shopping Cheat Sheet” that tells you which chemicals to avoid, in order of importance. I keep this in my purse.

· The Environmental Working Group’s site is a great resource, as is their Cosmetic Safety database, Skin Deep (they rate almost every shampoo, skin care and beauty product out there).

· I often refer to Safe Mama, as well, a blog that focuses on safe products for baby. They’ve created a number of cheat sheets listing the safest lotions, sunscreens, etc. for your little ones.

Photo by Kari Burks

 

Like all moms I’m always agonizing over what is best for my baby. Now that he is starting to eat solid foods, I can’t help but think I should be preparing him fresh cooked, organic meals. Store bought organic baby food will be a part of his diet (and I am grateful that there are so many great options) but I feel that the making my own baby food would be ideal. The only problem is: where do I start? And how much time is it going to take?

Well I found a great resource to help answer all those (and the many other) questions I have! Wholesome Baby Food gives you the low-down on everything you need to know to make your own baby food. From the basic steps of cooking and pureeing fruits and veggies to the best ways to store what you’ve made, this site has it all. I had always been under the impression that it was more complicated or that you needed a fancy “baby food maker” like the Beaba Babycook. And while it would be convenient to have on machine that steams, blends, warms and defrosts all in one – it’s not necessary. You can simply steam, bake or even microwave (although I wouldn’t) the fruits and veggies as you would for yourself and puree them in a blender, using hand or stick mixer or a food processor. Steaming is the preferred method because it preserves the most nutrients.

The most exciting part about preparing fresh baby food for your baby is that you get to create all types of yummy combinations using organic, local, in-season ingredients! The possibilities are endless…How about Banana ‘Cado or a Peachy Yam Bake? Keep in mind that you should consult your doctor before introducing new foods and to discuss which are appropriate at what age / stage. Every baby is different, but these are great guidelines based on age: Solid Food Charts.

Do you prepare your own baby food? What have your experiences been? I’ll share mine in a future post.

Spring into summer is such an exciting time at your local farmers’ market. Fruits and veggies are plentiful and if you’re like me you often find yourself bringing home way more than you can possibly eat in a few days. I’m ashamed to say that I am guilty of throwing out (sometimes indistinguishable) greens left in the crisper drawer of my fridge. Which, by the way, is a great reason to start your own garden – you can simply pick the veggies as you are ready to eat them. But since most of us still don’t have the space to grow every fruit and veggie we like to eat, it’s best to know the proper way to store all that great spring produce.

Here are a few tips for storing some of my favorite spring veggies:

  • The quintessential spring veggie, asparagus, should be kept in a plastic bag with the ends wrapped in a damp paper towel. It is best eaten within 3-5 days.
  • Lettuces should be kept unwashed in a plastic bag in the vegetable drawer; excess moisture on the leaves can promote bacteria. Keep away from apples or pears which emit a gas that can brown leaves (they also cause other veggies to ripen faster).
  • Artichokes last a week or so, in a plastic bag in the fridge. If the leaves start to open up us as soon as possible.
  • My personal favorite, green beans, stay crisp and fresh refrigerated in an airtight container.

While most vegetables keep best in low temperatures and high humidity (like in the crisper drawer), tomatoes actually lose flavor in the refrigerator. They are best kept in an aerated basket on the counter.

Check out this neat tool I found on Real Simple: The “What’s in Season” tool is not only a great visual of what it in season for spring, summer, etc. it also provides tips for selecting, storing and even preparing those fruits and veggies.

In my last post I talked about creating a garden planting schedule for spring to help you keep track of when you can start sowing seeds for various vegetables. Although some seeds do best sown directly into the soil, many vegetables (especially those that are sensitive to cold or have a long growing season) benefit from being started indoors. Growing from seed not only gives you an early start, but you can order more varieties of veggies than you would be able to purchase locally as seedlings. Since starting a plant from seed may be new to some of you I thought a quick 101 course would be helpful. Here are the basics:

1. Purchase high quality seeds or if you’re using seeds from the previous year’s garden test them first.

2. Select the right container for planting. Peat pots or pellets (made of compressed peat) can be planted directly outdoors, which is great for plants with fragile roots. If you are using a terracotta or plastic pot, wash it thoroughly prior to planting. Plastic cell packs are very convenient when sowing a large amount of seeds.

3. Use an organic soilless seed-starting mix comprised of milled peat moss, vermiculite and perlite. Do not use a topsoil mix.

4. Label all seeds with date and variety. A tray beneath the containers is good for bottom watering and covering the seeds with clear plastic wrap aids in germination.

5. Provide adequate light. Set up grow lights (full spectrum fluorescents) directly above seeds to warm the soil and provide required light (raise lights higher as seedlings grow).

These are just five pointers; you can always ask your local nursery for more help getting started. For those readers with gardening experience, please comment and share your best tips for seed starting.

Related post: Veggies 101: How to start a Vegetable Garden

March is here and spring, my favorite season, is right around the corner. I have garden fever and am anxious to get my hands dirty again! I am starting to think about what I want to grow in my vegetable garden this year. I know the thought of gardening seems really far off to those of you still covered in snow, but you can actually start sowing seeds indoors for certain plants months before the last frost.

But how do you know which plants to start when? Or when you’ll be able to plant directly into the soil? If you’re like me, it’s a relatively new concept to actually plan these things and not just pick a random warm weekend to get started. Well, I found a great online Vegetable Garden Planting Calendar that takes the guess work out of planting. All you do is plug in the date of the last spring frost in your area and it gives you the start date for everything from onion and broccoli to tomatoes and corn.

So how do you know when the last frost is? You can get a good idea from this growing zone map on Burpee’s site which divides the country by average lowest winter temperature. These zones are used in many gardening guides and nurseries to let you know the right time for planting in your area. However, you need an actual date for your city to calculate your planting calendar, which I found here. Now all I have to do is decide what I’m going to grow and mark those date on my calendar. This y ear I want to try a few new things like cucumber and eggplant. What veggies are you going to grow in your garden this year?

As I woke up this morning, my 3 month old was still asleep having spent his first night in his crib in the nursery (not in the bassinet next to my bed). I was struck by how quickly time passes. It seems like just yesterday we were bringing him home from the hospital; filled with equal parts fear and excitement. Those first weeks were insane! Drew and I were so overwhelmed with our new roles as parents. Everything else took a backseat – gardening, cooking, and even eating healthy.

I suddenly found myself eating junk and fast food, choosing convenience over quality. This is something I’ve been known to get on my soapbox and preach against! I have stressed the importance of choosing healthy, organic, ethical foods to my friends, family and blog readers. Through a haze of exhaustion, I told myself that we’d eat better the next day, that once things settled into a routine we’d get back on track. Well, things still haven’t really settled down and from what my parents tell me, I have at least 18 more years before they do. So here we are 3 months later and while we’re not still eating greasy take out every night, we certainly picked up some bad habits and learned a few things about committing to your decisions. I realized that my choosing to live a sustainable and organic lifestyle is a choice I make every day.

Like all important, life changing decisions (like becoming a parent) you can’t just choose it when it’s convenient or easy. It’s the choices you make when you’re busy and stressed; the decisions you make when no one is watching that count. And that’s something I’d like to teach my son, by my example. I’m not perfect, but I’m trying to make choices every day that are aligned with my beliefs that sustainable and organic foods are essential.

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