Tag Archives: local

The billion dollar growth of local food at the 2012 Seedstock Sustainable Agriculture Conference

Local food is an $8 billion industry and growing rapidly every year. But all that success has brought a series of problems, mostly because the food industry is not set-up for sustainable agriculture. Which means focusing as much on the land as on the food, with such ideas as organic, seasonal, free range, grass-fed, non-GMO, and more.

The 2012 Seedstock Conference discussed those problems and successes with a diverse crowd including venture capitalists and tomato farmers, and talks covering an interesting range of topics:

  • Scaling sustainable agriculture
  • Urban farming
  • Buyers perspective
  • Digital technology
  • Investment in sustainable agriculture
  • Agripreneur Fast Pitch Competition

Each talk contained the right assortment of experts and business owners. I was particularly impressed with the buyers perspective panel where representatives from Whole Foods and Fresh Point discussed getting local foods into stores and hospitals and hotels. It was a lot more about logistics, getting food into boxes and keeping things refrigerated, than I thought it would be. They said this is mostly due to the informal nature at farmers markets - cash and plastic bags – where these farmers operate.

And often the best part of these sustainable conferences is the food. Jason Reed, the founder of Seedstock, filled the breakfast, lunch, and networking receptions with superb fare. The coffee was from local favorite Groundworks and the lunch from Chef Erik Oberholtzer, cofounder of Tender Greens, was amazing. I don’t usually eat exotic grains like quinoa, but combined with local and seasonal vegetables and with a mint lemonade drink – I enjoyed it.

It was a premier conference with sophisticated people and I look forward to the next event from Seedstock.

 

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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Have you tried opah? A sustainable, locally caught fish

My new favorite locally caught fish, the opah (also called moonfish), is a mystery. We know they weight 100+ pounds, are beautiful, and are becoming very popular. From Mike Lee:

Opah have something of a cult following partly because of their tasty meat and partly because of their odd appearance.

But, they are such a rare catch for fishermen that little is known about them, again from Mike Lee:

What little scientists know about opah suggests they are a highly migratory species that can quickly travel long distances. Research also shows opah dive hundreds of meters deep during the day, then come closer to the surface at night. Various opah species are found in the world’s oceans, and Owyn Snodgrass said they may live off California’s coast year round.

They are fascinating and, for now, a sustainable source of seafood. To try it stop by your local sustainable seafood store.

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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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Is it possible to only shop at farmers markets?

With so many benefits to shopping at farmers markets, is it possible skip supermarkets altogether and only shop at farmers markets?

It is, and I have been doing so for 3 years. I remember thinking that I couldn’t possibly find everything I needed. Maybe one meal’s worth, but all three? everyday?

Yep, it’s possible and the benefits are extraordinary. I spend less money, eat much better, my health is actually improving (I’m losing the fat!), and I have become part of a community. I know my bread-lady, meat-man, old-school Italian (he says to me: “hello-uh big-uh boy”), the avocado savant, and even a Mexican cactus farmer.

The variety of foods at the farmers market is quite deep, so deep that it will take you months to explore all of them. There is no lack of possibilities for feeding yourself. This makes three meals a day easy. The only snag is that while you know how to make Mac n’ Cheese, you probably don’t know what to do with Chard. There is a learning curve but most people seem to enjoy that part of it.

Next, is cost. If you compare, item to item, the food at the farmers market is more expensive than the supermarkets. But, if you compare value (i.e. nutrition) then the farmers market is an extreme bargain.

The easiest way to explain this is think of foods considered to be of very little nutritional value, like popcorn. You can eat a whole jumbo popcorn and still feel hungry. Popcorn is food and a vegetable but it doesn’t contain enough of the vitamins and essential nutrients our bodies need. Yet, it is extremely cheap to buy at the supermarket. Think of farmers markets as the exact opposite. The foods sold there are designed to be jam-packed with vitamins and essential nutrients. So much so, that you get full really quickly. I often find myself eating half of what I used, sometimes one-fourth.

When you’re buying half as much as you used to, or even one-fourth, the amount you spend drops pretty fast. This is hardest part for folks to understand. Always at the farmers market I see people shocked at the prices and I just want to stop them and say “it’s quality not quantity.”

That is especially true when it comes to our health. When you put less food in your body, you lose weight. When you put higher quality food in your body, your health improves. Oh, and higher quality food tastes better too. I could talk for hours about the impact this has on how I look, but suffice it to say, I’m in the best shape of my life.

Depending on the size of your local farmers market, there are some things you won’t be able to find. Coffee is the most obvious one, so is chocolate and tea. For specialty items like these I shop at my local health store. They tend to stock higher quality, more nutritious products (though nowhere near the quality at the farmers market).

Lastly, is the winter stores. There are still plenty of things to buy during the winter, even in especially cold regions. In fact, a large part of French and German cooking is about cooking things sold only in the winter (French Onion Soup, mmm!). But, sometimes you just want a tasty watermelon or juicy pear in January. This is easily solved by creating your winter stores. Buy your favorites at the farmers market when they are going out of season and on sale for steep discounts. Cut them up into squares, freeze them, and don’t let anyone touch until the depths of winter.

These are the important things to know when making the switch to an all farmers market diet. Everything else you can learn at the market, from buyers and farmers. You can ask them anything, about quality or how to cook, and they will answer. That’s why they sell at the market and not the supermarket. They’re part of the rising sub-culture dedicated to ideal health and amazing food. Go ahead, make the switch and see what happens!

 

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Now that Foursquare has mapped every business – time to start adding features

I remember a few years back when all the location-based services, like Foursquare, didn’t have a complete set of locations to check-into. I would often find myself creating a new location or skipping the check-in altogether.

Today, that seems like an issue of the past, as Foursquare recently said:

“We’ve hit a pretty amazing milestone – there are nearly 1,000,000 businesses claimed on foursquare.”

With a near complete set, the next step is to start adding features to each of those locations. Check-out Foursquare’s latest update as they do just that:

Starting today, you’ll start seeing updates…from the places where you’re a loyal customer. It’s an easy way to keep up with news from places you frequent, including things like new specials, pictures of the latest shipment of shoes, or a serendipitous food truck appearance. The best part is there’s no extra work for you to do: we already know you care about a place if you’ve checked in often or liked it, and will show you updates from it when you’re in the same city.

Also, when you look for places or when you check in, you’ll see these updates on the page – kind of like the chalkboard where a restaurant writes its daily specials. For example, when you’re on Northern Spy Food Co.’s page, you’ll see their recent update about their latest seasonal drink.

To see what these look like in action, check out some of the businesses that have started sharing updates. Some are national chains, like H&MTogo’s SandwichesOutback Steakhouse, and Wolfgang Puck. Some are universities on foursquare, like University of Wisconsin-MadisonUniversity of South FloridaDuke University, Texas A&M UniversityIndiana University-Bloomington, and Boston University. And some are local New York favorites, like Luke’s Lobster,  New York Public LibraryNYC Parks Department, and Northern Spy Food Company.

 

Source: Foursquare Blog - Introducing Local Updates from businesses – keeping up with the places you love has never been easier!

 

 

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China doubles loans to Africa, now $20 billion, and agrees to operate responsibly

China said Thursday it would offer $20 billion in new loans to Africa, underscoring the relationship’s growing importance, as Chinese companies agreed to operate more responsibly on the resource-rich continent.

Beijing has poured money into Africa over the last 15 years, seeking to tap into its vast natural resources, and China became the continent’s largest trading partner in 2009.

But its aggressive move into the continent has at times caused friction with local people, with some complaining Chinese companies import their own workers, flout labour laws and mistreat local employees.

Addressing African leaders including South African President Jacob Zuma and Kenya Premier Raila Odinga, President Hu Jintao said the loans would focus on supporting infrastructure, manufacturing and the development of small businesses.

 

Source: Yahoo! News - China doubles loans to Africa to $20 billion

 

 

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