Tag Archives: farmer’s market

America throws away 40% of its food – under the supermarket model

One of my big ideas is to get away from the supermarket model in America. Not only has it made two-thirds of the country overweight or obese, but it also wastes an incredible amount of…well, everything.

From an NRDC report (pdf):

Getting food from the farm to our fork eats up 10 percent of the total U.S. energy budget, uses 50 percent of U.S. land, and swallows 80 percent of all freshwater consumed in the United States. Yet, 40 percent of food in the United States today goes uneaten….That is more than 20 pounds of food per person every month. Not only does this mean that Americans are throwing out the equivalent of $165 billion each year, but also 25 percent of all freshwater and huge amounts of unnecessary chemicals, energy, and land. Moreover, almost all that uneaten food ends up rotting in landfills where it accounts for almost 25 percent of U.S. methane emissions. Nutrition is also lost in the mix—food saved by reducing losses by just 15 percent could feed more than 25 million Americans every year at a time when one in six Americans lack a secure supply of food to their tables.

 

I’m convinced the supermarket model isn’t working and suggest we replace it with a more sustainable model. I’m writing a book to explain my solution, but here it is in three parts. A food system made up of farmers markets, non-profit food cooperatives, and for-profit markets.

I’ve traveled across the country and seen this model in effect and successful in large and small communities. It favors both the rich and poor, is sustainable and, best of all, creates quality jobs.

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Three tips for visiting the farmers market this weekend (and a story)

It’s the weekend and I hope you’re heading to a farmers market. The best ones are always on the weekends. Lots of farmers and variety, as well as crowds, but if you arrive early you can avoid them and get the best selection. Here are a few tips for shopping at the farmers market this weekend.

Hold your cash in one hand and the food in the other. I use this trick all the time. As a regular at the market I know exactly what I want and I usually know the farmer. But that doesn’t give me any special privileges. I have to wait in line with everybody else and sometimes that can take forever. A new person asking lots of questions or ten people in line. But if you walk up to the front and show your cash and food – you can skip the line. I know it’s cutting in line and a cheat, but with exact change you can complete the transaction in second. And with the growing crowds of people at the market it can be needed to get in and out quickly.

Save everything you get from the market, from little ties and rubber bands, to fruit and egg boxes. You can return all of them for a smile and nod of appreciation. Look closely at every market and you will see this happening. Someone returning a collection of thirty rubber bands or another with 5 empty egg cartons. It’s the sustainable side to the market. And the farmers love it because it saves them a few dollars on supplies.

Look for the special item at every table. I’ve learned a secret about farmers that I can share with you. Each one has several products that are their specialty. They grow lots of them and have great variety – their staple crops. But they also like to experiment, grow something new, or cook something different. Usually just a small amount to see if it sells or for their own family. Which means they quickly sell out, but if you can find one, take a look. It’s usually exotic or rare and you probably won’t know what to do with it, but it’s always a treat.

Finally, a quick story about one of my experiences. A few years back, I found a farmer with a single walnut tree in his yard. His father had planted it 40 years ago so his family could have walnuts, but now it was so big they couldn’t eat all the fallen walnuts. So he began selling a few of them at the market for dirt cheap prices, but he always placed them in the corner and sometimes didn’t even put them out. I learned all this as I began buying from him, and they were delicious. The best walnuts I ever had.

Soon my girlfriend was eating them and I was buying double. Some weeks I would walk up with a huge bag and buy every single walnut he had. At this point he realized walnuts could sell and gave them more table space with a big sign. To my chagrin, they did sell and I was now fighting other market shoppers for walnuts. Some weeks I would get some and others not. The price went up a little, but every time he saw me I would get a discount and a smile.

 

Do you have a tip or story, please share in the comments? 

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What kind of peanuts are these?

I finally went for it – I bought raw peanuts at the farmers market. For a few weeks I have been passing them by, watching the folks pick at them, selecting each nut one-by-one. Unsure of how they cooked them and a little afraid the rawness would get me sick. Then I bought some and they are amazing – like no other peanut I’ve ever tried before.

This happens a lot at the farmers market and is part of the joy of shopping there. Buying something new and learning how to prepare it. Learning that it tastes nothing like the stuff in supermarkets, and having your entire concept of something shattered. Which always leaves me asking – just what are they selling in supermarkets?

These peanuts are big and soft, white and oily. The taste is much the same as a store-bought peanut, only a little sweeter. The difference comes in the potency of each nut – so packed with nutrients that I can only eat a few. Have a handful and it’s like a full meal. My stomach gets an instant burst of energy.

I’m still in shock over this – I love peanut butter and have been eating it for decades. And now I learn, that like everything in life, there is a quality difference. According to one website, The World’s Healthiest Foods, “peanuts can be difficult to find in high-quality form.”

And what a difference quality makes. I’ve heard for years that peanuts are an excellent source of many nutrients, including protein. But not until I tasted fresh, local ones did I fully understand their strength. Wikipedia says they contain over 30 nutrients and WHFoods says they can help fight everything from heart disease to cancer and Alzheimer’s.

Of course, that all depends on the quality of the peanut. And now that I’ve tasted these I will never look at ballpark peanuts the same way again. Not to mention supermarket peanut butter.

More on Peanuts

To prepare them, I spread them on a pan and bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees – shuffling them around at the halfway point.

Do you have a better recipe for preparing peanuts? – Please share in the comments.

It turns out that a peanut is a bean – a member of the legume family – and not a nut. It has many names across the world, including “goober” and “monkey nut”. It’s a small plant that grows 1-2 feet tall and produces flowers which grows just long enough to fall to the ground. It then buries itself underground and turns into a peanut.

The peanut is new to the world having been discovered in the New World and quickly spread across the globe – notably to Africa, China and India. The last two growing 60% of world peanuts which they don’t export, nearly all are consumed at home. The United States is the world leader in peanut exports.

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Fruit of the season

I’m an emotional person. The kind that says I love this when I find something good to eat. I have to tell everyone about it – saying I’ve found my fruit of the season. The one item I can eat every day, all day and feel perfectly content. Last month it was watermelon and this month it’s the pomegranate.

This can only happen at the farmers market where seasonal food comes and goes like travelers at an airport. At first there’s just a few of them, the farmers doing an early harvest to get a jump on their neighbors. Then the crowd rushes in and everyone is selling it. For a few weeks you’ll find it everywhere and then it’s gone.

There’s a science and a history to this. It goes back centuries and is in our genes. We are made to live off the land and follow the seasons – which until recently meant watermelons in summer and pomegranates in fall. For every month there was an ideal food, but then airplanes came along and brought us South American watermelons in February.

And here is where most would talk about food miles or unsustainable practices, but those are secondary to health. Eating out of order disrupts our natural pattern of eating with the seasons – one perfectly suited to our bodies. That allows the bacteria in our gut to squeeze every last bit of nutrients out of food. Like little factory employees working overtime. And when that food is done another shift of workers comes in for the next food item.

The biology behind this starts in our guts where the bacteria live. They break down our food into essential items, like proteins and carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. And the more you feed them the more they grow, getting more efficient each time. Which means you can eat less and get more out of it.

And when I eat those watermelons and pomegranates, I get even more. They are peak of the season, so filled with nutrients that I can eat one and feel full for hours. Which prompts, “that’s all your going to eat,” or “all you had for lunch was watermelon?”.

Yep, I’m following the seasons.

 

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10 places in Los Angeles to get a damn good cup of coffee

In the last few years Los Angeles has found its coffee roots. After a slow start the city is booming with exceptional baristas serving high quality beans. And that includes all the features coffee drinkers love: expensive machines, specific dairy options, local roasters, fair trade, and even vendors at farmers markets.

There is also a competition to create the perfect coffee experience. Shops are experimenting with interior design and culture programs – like banning laptops, offering no seating, and – in true LA spirit – wide open outdoor spaces.

This makes visiting the top ten coffee shops in Los Angeles a fun adventure. Here they are, from LA Weekly, with the address included – for more details on each shop read the full article.

 

1. Espresso Cielo - 3101 Main Street, Santa Monica

2. Balconi Coffee Company - 11301 W. Olympic Blvd #124, Los Angeles

3. Coffee Commissary 801 N. Fairfax Ave., #106, Los Angeles

4. Farmers’ Markets – at the Crenshaw market, USC market, Hollywood Yamashiro market

5. Cafecito Organico - 2 locations in Los Angeles - 534 N. Hoover Street & 710 N. Heliotrope Drive

6. Spring for Coffee - 548 S. Spring Street, Los Angeles

7. CoffeeBar - 600 S. Spring St., Los Angeles

8. Intelligentsia - 3 locations:

  • 3922 West Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles
  • 1331 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice
  • 55 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena

9. Cognoscenti Coffee - 3156 Glendale Blvd, Los Angeles

10. Cafe de Leche - 5000 York Boulevard, Los Angeles

 

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Sharing my joy of visiting the farmers market

Through the crowds and into the market a world awaits me. Exotic fruits, luscious vegetables, and peculiar personalities. An uncharted world for one raised on the supermarkets of America. I learn simple things like knowing to smell a melon or mush a peach (but only on top). It is a food education and the market is the classroom.

I forget the real world and act like a kid. I squeeze and smell, question and query, fondle and forage. Nobody yells or gets angry, it’s what you’re supposed to do. The farmer smiles like a proud father just waiting to tell a story. All I have to do is ask the right question, or in most cases the dumb one. How do I eat this?

The answers are always unique and deep. How to pick, prepare, cook, cut, eat, and enjoy.

Every week is a surprise for what I will find. This time it was jalapeño peppers. I thought I knew about them, until I found the pepper farmer. He offers a colloquial description of each variety and I go with the ones that are semi-hot but not really.  At home I cautiously sample one and his description was precise.

This is my food life. A weekly adventure where I dive into the world of food. I become a curious kid encouraged to learn and ask questions. My teachers are the farmers and their friends and family who have devoted their lives to growing food. When I buy their wares I’m supporting that devotion. Something I never felt at the supermarket. This way of life fills my belly and my heart. I am a part of a community. I am connected to the land, to my neighbors, and eating like a king.

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Finding the best food – what do they really mean, organic, GMO, and seasonal?

There is a lot of confusion about healthy, high-quality food. Does organic mean high-quality? What does genetically modified (GMO) mean? What about fruits and vegetables in supermarkets?

The explanation starts with organic food. This is a farming method that focuses on the land, not food. Organic farming started in opposition to the use of chemical sprays, petroleum-based fertilizers and other harmful substances. That opposition continues to this day and is having a great impact on our land, waterways, and the health of farmers.

When it comes to food the great value is not in nutrition but avoiding health problems. Those with allergies have a hard time with the pesticides, bleaches, and other toxics used. Parents love it because they are concerned for their children’s health. Janitors love it because they get to use non-toxic cleaning supplies. I could go on and on, and this is what makes organic healthy, but it doesn’t mean much for nutritional value.

What does is the seed used to grow the fruits and vegetables. GMO seeds are modified to be low in nutrition. A great benefit for supermarkets because it allows food to stay on the shelf longer, look ripe earlier, and grow quicker. Not such a great benefit for us.

The opposite type of seed is an heirloom, which is used for high nutritional content. Some offer better flavor, others juicy cores, but all focus on the same thing – high quality. The side effect is that supermarkets won’t carry them because they don’t last as long as GMO.

Farmers markets do carry them, and are one of the few places to find them. These markets offer exceptional fruits and vegetables and are the best places to shop, hands down. Not only do they sell heirloom foods, but also seasonal items. Seasonal means grown with the right weather and harvested at their peak. It makes them amazing, gushing with juices, incredible flavors, and the most nutrient-dense food possible.

Seasonal organic heirloom fruits and vegetables are the kings and queens of the food world. They avoid the toxics found in non-organic foods and are not genetically modified to be low in nutrition, like GMO’s. This may sound like a lot to learn, but you can skip all that by switching over to farmers markets. Once there it’s not hard to find seasonal organic heirloom foods, they will be everywhere!

Good luck with your eating adventures.

 

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New study – we’re not getting fat because of inactivity, it’s diet

A piece from the N.Y. Times that discusses what’s more important for weight loss, diet or working-out:

Debunking the Hunter-Gatherer Workout

All of this means that if we want to end obesity, we need to focus on our diet and reduce the number of calories we eat, particularly the sugars our primate brains have evolved to love. We’re getting fat because we eat too much, not because we’re sedentary. Physical activity is very important for maintaining physical and mental health, but we aren’t going to Jazzercise our way out of the obesity epidemic.

 

It’s good to see a big publication talk about food in this way. It supports the argument made in my last piece - How Farmers Markets can give you a superior workout.

 

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How Farmers Markets can give you a superior workout

Ok, you’re probably starting to think I’m crazy. First, I suggest you buy all your food at farmers markets. Then, I tell you it will improve your health and start talking about getting to know your baker and making winter stores. Now, I’m going to make the argument that it will give you a superior edge in your workouts.

The explanation is pretty simple. Most of us workout once-a-day (if that) while we eat three times-a-day. This means food has a greater impact on our bodies than any individual workout does. Or, put another way, a workout breaks down the muscles in the body and recovery requires high-quality food to rebuild.

Right now, the popular advice is to eat protein bars and protein shakes, hearty meals of protein and vegetables, and energy drinks with electrolytes and vitamins. None of which is based on a solid foundation of science or nutrition. It’s all marketing.

Let me repeat that, none of the health claims coming from these food manufacturers are true. Hard to believe, I know, but the following explanation, from the Harvard School of Public Health, will help out.

On protein:

Surprisingly little is known about protein and health. The Institute of Medicine recommends that adults get a minimum of…about 8 grams of protein for every 20 pounds of body weight. Beyond that, there’s relatively little solid information on the ideal amount of protein in the diet, a healthy target for calories contributed by protein, or the best kinds of protein.

Harvard, a trusted name in medicine, is basically saying they have no idea. So how do food companies know the right amount? Aren’t we buying these products because of their health claims?

If you read the rest of the Harvard article it actually lays out the answers for you. Protein is a general term referring to the 20+ amino acids that our bodies need. These “building blocks” are found in all foods, with some containing more than others. Meats tend to contain all of them, a “complete package”, while beans, fruits, and vegetables contain varying amounts.

It goes on to recommend that we eat a diverse diet of high quality foods, while making sure to not over-indulge on meat. In this way, you guarantee yourself a diverse source for the 20 amino acids, as well as other nutrients and vitamins.

Which brings us back to that superior edge you can get in your workouts. If you can find high quality food and eat that three times-a-day then you will maximize the growth, health, and weight loss your body can attain from working out.

What is high quality food? It’s grass-fed beef, sustainable seafood, free-range chicken and pork. Vegetables and fruits that are ripe and in peak season form. Bread made from heirloom grains. Cheese and milk from grass-fed cows.

All things you will find at a farmers market. No need to read labels or learn about the differences among organic/local/grass-fed. Just visit your local market, build a relationship with the farmers there, and start making your post-workout meals from the food you buy.

I promise you will notice a marked increase in energy, weight loss, muscle gain, stamina, and more. You will be eating the finest food money can buy and sometimes you may even see restaurant chefs buying at the market too. They will be from those high-end restaurants searching out the highest quality food with you. There is a reason they are shopping there and when you start eating the food you will soon see why.

 

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It’s the peak of the season, have you started your Winter Stores?

Peak of the season means deals are everywhere at the farmers market. There is an abundance of fruits and vegetables and prices are dropping. You can get great deals on buckets and boxes of tomatoes and strawberries, watermelons, peaches, plums, cantaloupes, etc.

But, what to do with all of them?

The time-tested, ancient answer is to turn them into winter stores. Jam, can, and preserve. Or, if you prefer to be more modern, freeze them.

Freezing is my preferred method because it is so darn easy. The recipe is simple: cut it into squares, put it in container and freeze it. I’ve done this with anything you can imagine and everything has turned out fine.

The other option is to jam and preserve. This is an ancient method for the era before freezers. For most of us, freezer space is still limited and we have to preserve. This method allows food to last for months in a closet. 

My recommended recipe comes from Pomona’s Universal Pectin, which is also my recommended brand of pectin because it is sugar-free and preservative-free (uses honey). You can order it online or find it (or something similar) in your natural foods store.

Here is a link to the recipes.

Next, your probably wondering what to do with all this stuff. Here’s what I do.

First, cash in on the abundant tomatoes because there is so much to do with them. Over the next 12 months I make pizza, marinara sauce, salsa, and any number of soups, including plain-old tomato soup.

Second, I turn my fruit into amazing smoothies. Since I use the freezer method, I have a diverse assortment of fruit ready-cut into squares for smoothie-making.

How about you, do you have any special recipes for your winter stores?

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If you want to live a low-carbon lifestyle then winter stores is definitely the way to go. Not only is it an essential part of the all-farmers market diet, but it also reduces the need to buy high-mileage fruit in the winter. During those winter months, any fruit you buy most likely flew in on a plane from halfway around the world. You can avoid this problem by buying dirt-cheap now, saving it for the winter, and absolutely delighting in high-quality (guilt-free) watermelon, blueberry, or strawberry in the heart of February.