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This photo doesn’t begin to show how yummy these were. I used the biggest ones for the first meal. Most of them were about 1/2 – 2/3 this size. (Let’s pretend I didn’t take this picture.)

My folks were on vacation, and I was in charge of harvesting from their garden while they were gone. I came home with about a dozen zucchini, and no plans for it. I will eat sauteed or grilled zucchini, but I don’t like it too much.

If I could find a recipe that would let me hide the zucchini, use up some of the several dozen banty eggs from our hens, keep the meat out for “Meatless Mondays”, and will keep in the freezer for several more meals, it would be worth a try.

I discovered recipes for zucchini ravioli. My experience with ravioli is ala Chef Boyardee, which I loved as a kid. Homemade ravioli must be ten times better than anything from a can. So like a good cook, I first chose a 104 degree day to start this new cooking adventure! My plans were to flash freeze all of them because it was too hot to cook. But as I smelled the filling, I couldn’t help but fire up the oven and try them out the first night.

I started with this recipe as my guide, since I had never made pasta before. The how-to photos are very helpful:

http://www.savvyhousekeeping.com/zucchini-on-zucchini-raviolis/

While I’m sure this recipe is very good as written, I just can’t leave well enough alone. I always change recipes. Besides, the zucchini from this recipe was a little bit too visible for my picky self. I also had my heart set on marinara sauce.

So the variations to the recipe were as follows:

For the dough:

I use primarily whole wheat flour, although I did use a cup of white to help with the texture. We added rosemary and garlic directly to the dough. In our family you can’t have too much garlic. I also tripled the dough recipe. I don’t have a pasta maker and had to roll it out. I guess if I had a pasta maker, the dough would have gone farther.

Filling:

1 extra large onion

1 1/2 heads of garlic

thyme, oregano, savory, rosemary

1 c. of pesto that I had frozen from last year

4 medium zucchini, shredded with the water squeezed out as best as possible. A cheese cloth would work great for this, but I used a strainer and my fist.

1/2 parmesan cheese

2 c. ricotta

2 c. mozzerella

a little bit of salt

This made a ton of filling. I think I would scale back a little bit on the cheese, but it is cheese after all. I still had at least a cup of the mixture left at the end of the process, so I dumped it into the marinara sauce. Yum! More cheese.

My goal is to trick the kids into liking this ravioli with the cheesiness. As they grow to like it, I’ll add more zucchini and scale back on the cheese. I’m also thinking that spinach would be tasty in the mixture too, but I didn’t have any.

Two or three raviolis with sauce and a salad made a delicious meal. I made a meal for 3 the first night, and had enough left-over ravioli for 2 gallon size freezer bags. If you flash freeze them and then store them in the freezer bags, you can pull out just what you need for the evening meal.

The process was time consuming, it took about 3 hours start to finish. Some of the time was letting the dough rest. But I love it when I can make more than one home cooked meal at a time. The process was fun and would make a great project with a couple of friends cooking for an afternoon, and splitting the bounty at the end.

The ravioli were pretty inexpensive too. I buy flour in bulk, used eggs from my chickens, herbs from my garden, and zucchini from my folks. The only pricey thing was the cheese which probably cost about $4-7. I think in the end I made about 70 medium/large raviolis. All of us were satisfied with 3 for the meal so that works out to about 40 cents per serving. I cheated a little with the sauce. I used sauce from the grocery at $1.49. By the end of the summer, I’ll have homemade sauce for free and for more yumminess.

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I am back in the heirloom tomato plant business.  Years ago, when I had my farm, I grew about 50 varieties of tomato plants and fruit for the farmers market.

Even since selling my farm, I always seem to start too many plants for myself.  Also, this year, Prairie Farm won’t be selling heirlooms as she has closed her business.  Hopefully, this will fill a gap for some of the Goshenites that love a good heirloom.

The plants are off to a good start, and I’ve been doing a lot of transplanting.  Some of the varieties are very limited quantities.  I may even have a few pepper, broccoli, and brussel sprout plants as well.

I’m taking pre-orders.  Some of the varieties I have fewer than 20 plants.  So if you want to make sure to get what you want, you’ll want to pre-order by April 15th.  The cost is $2.50 per tomato plant.  If you buy 10 or more, it’s $2.00 each.  The other veggies will be $2.00 per 3 pack.

To pre-order, send me a message jennyfrech at gmail dot com.  You can either specify what type you want or send me your qualifications for plants (ie. 2 cherry plants for pots, 3 yellow slicers, and 5 good sauce tomatoes) and I’ll pick out some yummy ones for you.  I’ll transplant your order for you, and it should be ready by the first week in May.  You can pay when you pick up.  I am also open to bartering if you have an idea for a trade, let me know.

Here are the varieties I have this year.  All of them have information online if you need more information.  ** means that these are in very limited quantities.

Heirloom tomatoes

Just a few of my tomatoes from my farmer's market days.

Canning:

Bonny’s Best

Rutgers

Cour di Bue

Polish linguisa**

Romeo**

Cherry Tomato

Riesentraube

Yellow Riesentraube

Jaune Flame (big orange cherry)**

Isis Candy**

green grape

grapoli di inverno (winter keeper)

Slicers/Multi-Purpose

Japanese Black Trifele

Rio Grande

Cherokee Purple

Gold Medal (yellow)

Green Zebra**

Aunt Ruby’s German Green**

Fantom du Laos (white)

orange minsk**

Amana Orange**

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“If people let the government decide what foods they eat and what medicines they take, their bodies will soon be in as sorry a state as are the souls of those who live under tyranny.” ~Thomas Jefferson

Pastured Pig © Jenny Frech 2010

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know that sustainable agriculture is an important issue to me.  I worry about the state of our food systems, not just in the U.S., but all over the world.

Last December, Congress passed Bill S. 510 the Food Safety and Modernization Act, and President Obama signed it into law in January as Public Law 111–353.  As a supporter of local agriculture and food choices, I tracked it down online.

It doesn’t sound too bad.

Basically S. 510 gives the USDA the right to inspect, require additional paperwork for traceback purposes, and regulate all farms and hold them to a set of standards.

Luckily, The Tester Amendment passed along with it, which leaves some provisions for small farms that sell directly to the customer.  My biggest concern with this law is some wide open wording which could allow the USDA to regulate seed savers as well if they choose to do this.

It’s very confusing, and I read a lot about this stuff!

There are mixed reviews.  Some say that this regulation will hurt small farmers, some say it will help.  Some say that this regulation will keep people safer, others think we will lose some of our rights to food freedom.

Sure, I want my food that I have to buy at the grocery to be regulated and watched.

I’d love to be able to know if the food I’m going to eat is free from pathogens.  But food is biotic (meaning it comes from a living thing).  Living things have bacteria and pathogens.   Sometimes we forget that not all bacteria is bad.  I’m not sterile on the inside, I’d prefer my food to not be sterilized by bleach or other sterilization techniques.

We stand a better chance of pathogen free food if our food passes through fewer hands, travels a shorter distance, and goes through fewer processing steps.  I’d like to maintain the choice of buying as much of my food locally (from smaller producers) as possible.

This law doesn’t add to my confidence level about the future of our food.

I worry that:

1. big agribusiness will have the upper hand after this law is signed.

It’s easier for corporate farms to swallow the costs associated with the new regulations.

2.biodiversity of our food system is at stake.

Reading between the lines, some food biodiversity advocates are afraid that the USDA will be able to restrict seed savers. In Iraq and some places in Africa, it is illegal for farmers to save the seed they’ve grown for decades because it doesn’t meet the standards set by the government, which forces farmers to buy Big Ag seed.

3. our food choices will be reduced.

I’m not trying to say that everyone needs to run down to the farmer’s market every weekend, but I sure like having the right to do so.  Farmer’s markets are even starting to help lower income individuals eat healthier nutrient dense foods in the form of WIC vouchers, community based garden plots, urban farms, and donations from farmers.

4. the USDA is contradictory.

They give farm subsidies to grow corn for high fructose corn syrup, but yet, we have a generation of obese children.  I’m not sure that I completely trust them in the area of making sure that the food we eat is not detrimental to our health.

5. GMOs are polluting our ecosystems.

Once GMO DNA is out in the environment, there is no cleaning it up.  This has been devestating for Mexico that depends on the wild Maize to cross pollinate its crops.

6. I might lose the right to save seeds from my garden, and buy seeds from my favorite small seed catalogs or from other small growers.

I feel like we are moving to a synthetic food system, one that encourages us to eat tasteless, nutrient-deficient food.  In just a few generations, we have forgotten that chicken really does have it’s own flavor; egg yolks should be bright orange, not yellow; tomatoes come in all shapes and colors, and should not bounce; and baked goods made from wheat should be brownish with texture, not white and fluffy.

Like Thomas Jefferson, I don’t want some stuffed shirt to tell me what I can and can’t grow, buy, or eat.  

I want fresh, unadulterated food, Darn it.

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Planting tomatoes is pretty easy , but there are a few tips to learn to make your planting experience successful.

  • Choosing your plants:  Look for plants that are sturdy without discoloration or spots.  I look for plants that are between six inches and 12 inches tall.  The plant in the following photos is generally bigger than the ones I usualy plant.  But our weather was nasty so it had to stay in the pot longer than I would have liked.  Also, try to avoid plants that already have blooms on them.  If they already have blooms, you will want to pinch them off so the plant can use it’s energy to grow the plant bigger and adjust to its new surroundings.
  • My plants go into raised beds, but you can also plant them directly into the ground or in pots.  If you choose to go the pot route, it should be a very big pot with a minimum of 5 gallons for the determinate plants (the ones that stop growing at a maximum size).  Other, like many of the heirlooms, will require very large pots.
  • If you are short on garden space, consider planting them right in with your flowers.  Tomatoes can add a lot of nice color to your flower beds.
  • Do not plant before your last frost date.  I usually wait about a week longer than that.  Putting your tomatoes out into the cold ground or at risk to frost won’t get you ahead.  I live in Northern Indiana, and I usually plant around May 15th.
  • Plan to plant the tomatoes about 3-4 feet apart. (I am a terrible example.  I always try to squeeze in too many, but I think I pay for it with lower fruit production.)

How to Do the Planting

Step 1: Start with making sure the plants are watered thoroughly before planting.

Step 2: Dig a hole deeper than the plant sat in the pot.

Step 3: Clean up the plant.  Pinch the lower leaves and any that are dried up or otherwise discolored. I always go quite a bit up the stem.

Step 4:  Turn the plant over and push on the bottom of the pot to remove. Very gently tug on the stem if it’s stuck. Also, if you are having any difficulty removing the plant, check the bottom. It could be root bound. If you see little white roots sticking out of the bottom, pinch them off with your fingers.

Step 5: If the roots are at all root bound, gently break them apart a bit before planting.

Step 6: Place the tomato into the hole. The hole should be deeper than the tomato was in the pot. All the fuzzy hairs on the stem are root hairs. Essentially, by planting your tomato deeper, you will be giving your plant a deep tap root. Also, the little hairs will develop into bigger roots.

Step 7:  Fill the hole back in with dirt.

Step 8: Water the plant thoroughly. You can give it a bit of fertilizer or compost. But, don’t overdo it or you will end up with lovely giant plants without a lot of fruit.

A very special thank you to my cooperative hand model, Jeremy.

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Two Guernsey girls, Jenny Frech 2010

This week I was saddened to learn that Genetically Engineered Alfalfa was approved.

Why do I care?  It’s not like I’m making an alfalfa salad for lunch.

But I’ll be eating and drinking that alfalfa when I drink organic milk, or eat an organic hamburger.

It matters because we are quickly losing our rights as humans to eat clean, unadulterated food.

There are several huge problems with GE crops.

1. The seeds are owned by very few agribusinesses – many of which started out in the chemical business-not the food business.

2. Those companies own the seed because they have patented the life (DNA) in that seed, and the offspring from their seeds.

We eat seeds like corn, soy, and canola in one form or another.  Farmers save seeds to plant the following year.  If they don’t, or can’t, save the seeds, then they have to buy it from the seed company year after year.

3. Plants are living organisms.

As a living organism, they have means of reproduction.  How do they reproduce?  In the case of corn, by pollen from one plant, blowing in the wind to fertilize another. Other plants are pollinated by pollinators – at least the ones that are left, but that’s another story.  For genes to be passed on from one generation to the next, they cross pollinate with other plants.  Very few people are growing their corn, soybeans, canola, cotton, alfalfa, etc. in isolation (isolation=greenhouses).  So, the plants from one field WILL cross pollinate with plants from another field.  Folks that seed save for particular corn varieties try to keep their corn a mile from other varieties in order to keep the line pure.

So, GE corn will cross pollinate with traditional corn.  The farmer that grows the traditional corn has no say in this.  Once the GE genes enter his crop, the big Ag corporation owns the offspring (the seeds he was going to save).  The traditional farmer had no say in this cross pollination.  This farmer will now have to buy pure seeds from year-to-year.  Big Ag WILL sue the little guy to make sure that this patent law is enforced.  In the movie, “The Future of Food,” one of the producers says that if he had cattle, he would be expected to fence them in to keep them from doing damage to others’ crops.  It is impossible to “fence in” these genes, and it is wrong to hold the innocent farmer accountable.

4. Genetically modified organisms are a form of pollution.

Once those genes enter our food system, the traditional genes will be lost.  We’ve already lost over 75% of the genetic diversity of our crops.  Ninety percent of the world’s food comes from only 12 types of plants.  If someone came to your house and dumped a barrel of toxic waste into your yard, contaminating your water supply, you would demand compensation and it would be awarded.  In the case of the farmer’s crops being polluted with GE genes, you would be paying the offender because you had possession of the hazardous waste.

5. GE crops will become resistant to pesticides, and it will take stronger and stronger pesticides to kill insects and weeds.

It doesn’t take long for insects and weeds to develop a resistance to pesticides.  It only takes a couple of individuals with a genetic code to give them some resistance to the pesticide.  Those few individuals reproduce and now your whole weed or insect population is resistant.  This is the same principle of antibiotic resistance.  Your doctor doesn’t want you to take too many antibiotics because it can create superbugs that have to be treated with stronger and stronger antibiotics.

In the case of GE crops, they will have to be treated with stronger and stronger pesticides.  Insecticides kill all insects even the good ones like bees, butterflies, lady bugs, and praying mantises.

6.  We WILL lose the choice of organics.

If organic farmers, and farmers that choose not to use pesticides and GE varieties,  are unable to keep the GE genes out of their crops, we will not have organic anything available to us.  Obviously, organic vegetables and grains must use approved pesticides and fertilizers-generally this means avoiding chemicals.  But this also means that GE varieties are not allowed in this system.  If you are raising organic chickens, you would have to feed those chickens organic grains.  If you are an organic dairy farmer, selling organic milk, your animals are treated with certain standards, including feeding them organic hay (organic ALFALFA!) and organic grains.

7.  Organic, transitional, and sustainable farmers have made huge investments in their farms to bring them to organic standards, and to go through the certification process.

There are a lot of additional costs that go into bringing an organic product to market.

8. Genetically Engineered organisms have not been fully tested.  We don’t know what they do to our bodies and ecosystems long term.

I care about farmers.

I care about consumer choice.

I care about the human right to eat healthy, unadulterated food.  As much as I love a good chocolate bar, I do care about what foods I’m putting in my body, and I don’t want Genetically Modified crap shoved down my gullet.

I’m feeling discouraged.  I try to stay optimistic, but lately it seems that the laws are favoring big corporations more than us consumers.  It feels like the changes that are happening are detrimental to our food system and food disaster is imminent.  I feel like there are people screaming that this isn’t right, but we’re in a bad dream and no one can hear the scream.

The way our food system has shifted is like a frog being slowly boiled to death in water.   Big agribusiness (seed, chemical, and food processors) have slowly changed our system to a new normal.

Americans, and most of the Western world for that matter, are so far removed from real food, and the process of agriculture, that they don’t understand or seem to care what’s happening.  I wish we could somehow educate our country on real food.  If everyone had the chance to eat real food for a month, it would be difficult to go back to a diet of corn chips and soda.  Our current and future food choices are becoming less and less like real food.

It is manufactured.

Remember the food pill from the Jetsons? It may taste like chicken, but it ain’t chicken.

On a related note, I found this blog post from civileats.com interesting.  I need to explore this site more, it deals with sustainable food issues.

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Trying to live more simply is my journey of the last seven years.

The road began with reading up on small scale agriculture.  I loved gardening and animals, had studied farming in college, and was just beginning to hear the buzz about sustainable farming.  I had filled my small city lot with flowers, lettuce, and tomatoes.  There was not an inch left for any more beds.  I was longing for the country and I was trying to plan for my future eco-friendly farm.

One of my Diet Cokes and Miss “X”
(okay so it’s Lisa, but she’s given up DC for good.)

A couple of years after the quest to find out about sustainable agriculture began, I was afforded the opportunity to work for an environmental learning center which would change my life forever.  I knew very little about nature when I started.  Now I am eco-nature-geek and it’s all their fault!

As I’ve mentioned before, Diet Coke is one of my biggest vices, less now than three years ago though.  I would stop by the gas station and buy 44 ounces of pop, and bring it in to work.  I didn’t eat vegetables, and I ate a lot of meals from a tin can.  My new ecofriends would scold me (in an encouraging way of course).

No one ever bopped me on the head or called me any bad names; none that I can remember anyway.

Mostly, they led by example.  My friends…

  • carefully sorted their garbage into: recycling, worm bin, and throw it into the woods for the raccoons.
  • never used paper plates or plastic forks, even when we had a big party for our volunteers, we washed dishes.
  • always jumped in because there was work to be done.
  • were diligent about carpooling or riding bikes to work.
  • carried their water bottles and encouraged me to get one too.
  • carefully shopped for their new purchases, making sure the fabrics were sustainably produced and fairly traded.
  • found joy in a walk on a sunny day, even in the winter.
  • convinced me that winter could be fun (well, at least less awful), if you learned to dress for the weather.
  • had me order the more expensive coffee because it was shade grown and the farmers were paid a fair wage.
  • showed me how to like snakes.
  • applauded my efforts at learning about small agriculture, and encouraged me to bring in fresh eggs and extra tomato plants.

My friends led by example. Not in a preachy way, but in a “This is how we live our life way.”

I drank Diet Coke from styrofoam cups until the day I left.  I never once ate Thai food willingly while at work, never tried the fair trade coffee, and secretly used paper plates at home sometimes.

But, I can now drink coffee, drink way less pop, carry my water bottle, cook my food from scratch, wash my own plate at school-even when there are paper plates and plastic forks out.  I now eat curry on purpose without whining.  I pick up snakes on my hikes with my students.  My family of six only throws out about one or two small trash bags per week.  We compost most waste and feed our worms and chickens.  And I’m much more willing to jump in and help than I used to be.

I learned a lot from my friends.  They have changed the way that I live my life.  I was going through life without really thinking about the price of my actions.  I love them for being my teachers and mentors.  I hope that I can be the same sort of teacher and mentor that they are to me for someone else.  Not in a preachy way, but by example.

A “This is how I live my life” kind of way.

Thank you Jane, Dana, Lisa, Paul, Carol, Jennifer, and Luke for making such a difference in my life.

My Eco-buddies trying to show me that winter can be fun, while playing broomball.

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Becoming a full-fledged treehugger is not as difficult as you would think.

Today I went to a meeting of sustainable minded folks in Goshen called “Green Drinks”.  The point of the group is to have a very brief (like 5 minutes brief) presentation, and then network with other like-minded folk.

I am a complete introvert.  Networking, mingling, and meeting new people gives me cold sweats.

Tonight I didn’t pass out or anything.

The folks at my table got to talking about why we are interested in the sustainable movement.  For one, it was the way her family grew up – you just didn’t waste.  For another, each little step to be more gentle on the Earth just seemed to make sense.

I asked one woman what she thought her biggest change toward sustainability had been in the last two years.  She couldn’t pinpoint any one thing.  When the rest of the table really thought about that question, it was difficult for any of us to identify one major life habit change.

The bottom line we decided is that becoming “green”, or more importantly, becoming “aware” and changing our habits is a continuum.  It’s little bitty, teeny tiny steps toward living a more intentional life that eventually become habit.  Little things that once you learn about their impact you just can’t go back to the way things used to be.

You don’t have to sell your car, throw out all the food in your fridge, wear hemp shawls, and eat only beans.  You can start by carrying a water bottle, combining errands into one trip, flipping off the lights when you leave a room, or taking shorter showers.

Just one step at a time.

The folks at our table had lots of insights tonight about their journey.  Here is a snippet of some of the simple things we noticed about our lives:

  • Disposable plastic packaging is much more prevalent, and almost impossible to avoid.
  • People stopped carrying their own water or relying on water fountains, with the invention of the plastic water bottle, leading to more trash.
  • We can learn to simplify, or make our own to avoid packaging (in this case there was a desire to learn to make yogurt).
  • Sustainable practices can be incorporated into a business plan as an expense to limit waste.
  • In the media, sustainability is treated as a “special interest” story, when really it should just be a normal part of our lives.

I’ve reposted a blog post from early last fall before anyone but my mom was reading my blog.  It follows this post and is about how my friends dragged me kicking and screaming into this intentional lifestyle.  I think it fits today’s thought.

It’s easier not knowing the truth sometimes, but definitely not better.

We have one planet, finite resources, and a fragile ecosystem on this Earth.

And that’s why I bother.

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