When you ate your last meal, did you stop to think about the huge role soil played in building the food on your plate? Just about everything we eat starts with plants, so the importance of soil in our food system cannot be understated. In fact, all land-based vegetation on our planet relies on soil to provide the water and nutrients necessary for sustenance and growth. In turn, we depend on healthy soil to produce the crops we require to feed our ever-growing population.
Soil is a living, dynamic ecosystem that requires tender care in order to remain fruitful. Unfortunately, conventional agriculture has greatly disturbed this ecosystem, depleting its nutrients and failing to replenish them. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, 25% of the planet’s land is highly degraded and only 10% is improving!
Food Tank, a non-profit organization dedicated to pushing for food system change, contends that land degradation is primarily caused by overharvesting and deforestation, which both lead to erosion and loss of fertile topsoil (the upper layer of soil containing the highest concentration of organic matter, which gives plants the nutrients they need to grow). For example, Brazil loses 55 million tons of topsoil every year due to commercial production of soybeans.
However, this pressing issue can be resolved if we take necessary actions to maintain and improve soil quality. The process will take years, but Food Tank recognizes steps already being taken to save our soil. Michigan State University, for instance, is working on examining the ability of perennial grain crops to prevent soil degradation in sub-Saharan Africa. In the United Kingdom, the Soil Association inspects organic farms and businesses while supporting and promoting best practices by farmers. Books such as Roland Bunch’s Restoring the Soil and documentaries like Dirt! The Movie increase public awareness of the land deterioration problem and present sustainable solutions. You can see Food Tank’s full list of 14 distinguished soil-saving efforts here.
If the world is able to learn from these endeavors and implement soil protecting techniques in all agricultural activity, we can protect the land used for food production, which takes up almost half of the planet’s land surface. Furthermore, in successfully maintaining healthy, fertile soil we may even be on our way to sustainably providing food for all for years to come.
As many locavores might agree, living the seasons by what is seasonally available makes for a lot of excitement when the harvest of certain produce arrives. With cherries comes the knowledge that the heart of summer has arrived and plenty of pit spitting at the beach! Cherries have a short growing season with the peak of it falling at the height of summer.
Cherries can only grow in cool climates because their seeds must be chilled before they are able to germinate. The trees blossom every spring in a beautiful celebration of warmth arriving after a long winter. Despite their affinity to colder climates, cherries are susceptible to damage from rain, hail, and other weather, which contributes to their higher price compared to other fruit. Cherries come in a seemingly endless array of varieties ranging from tart to sweet and pale yellow to both deep and bright red.
Cherries have been enjoyed for millennia all over the world. Their indigenous range was broad, extending through most of Europe, Western Asia, and parts of Northern Africa. Today, around 40% of the world’s cherry crop is produced in Europe, while about 14% is produced in the United States.
FarmRaiser currently works in two parts of the country, both of which are known for their production of cherries!
Cherries in Washington
Washington is the birthplace of the famed Rainier cherry variety, which is a cross of Bing and Van cultivators. They were named after the iconic Mt. Rainier. They have a notable creamy and pink color, and are very sweet. Washington, along with Oregon and California, are the leading producers of sweet cherries in the nation.
Cherries in Michigan
In Michigan, the most productive cherry growing region is the Traverse City area, which has led the town to claim their title of “Cherry Capital of the World”. Cherries first arrived there in 1852 when they were brought over by the first European settler in the area. Peter Dougherty planted an orchard on Old Mission Peninsula where the sandy soil, cold Artic winds in the winter, and warm summers provides the perfect climate for cherry cultivation.
Michigan produces over 70% of the tart cherries grown in the United States on over 3.8 million trees. Michigan also produces sweet cherries, which can be found at roadside stands dotted throughout the state. There is truly nothing better than a sun-warmed bag of cherries as a summer road-trip snack!
Cherries are known for their use in pies and other sweet dishes, but there are plenty of savory uses for them as well! Here are a few recipes to help you make the most of this summer’s cherry crop!
Planting a seed, tending to it, and watching it grow until it flourishes into a mature plant can be a magical experience. Planting a seed, and watching it mature until it produces a fruit that you can consume can be life changing. Observing this process helps adults and kids alike understand where the food they eat comes from. Food is no longer anonymous or mysterious. Not to mention, something you grow yourself always tastes better than something bought at the grocery store.
In recent years, schools across the country have been putting in school gardens and providing children with the opportunity to experience the joy of growing food. The gardens provide a safe and holistic environment for children to practice working cooperatively in groups; to learn how to plant, grow, harvest, preserve, and share food (an invaluable lesson that many people today never learn); to hone artistic skills by designing and implementing garden plans and creating art inspired by the garden; to have a hands-on experience while learning science and nutrition; to move their bodies and engage with their classmates. Schools that have started a garden program have done so in different capacities. Some gardens are small, and tended by volunteers or clubs. Some schools have built gardens that are big enough to supplement or even fully accommodate the needs of the school cafeteria. Some schools have found creative ways to integrate garden education into the general curriculum.
Children receive many benefits from working in the garden; here is a list of a few of them.
Some studies have shown that exposure to “greenness” (like a garden or natural area) significantly improves children’s cognitive functions, which could suggest that giving children a break from the classroom to have time outside would actually improve their performance in school.
Working in the garden has been shown to encourage children to have their own gardens as adults, which in turn encourages them to eat a well-rounded and healthier diet.
Gardening gets kids out of the house, away from screens, and gets them to move their bodies in a meaningful and purposeful way.
Seeing fruits and vegetables grow helps kids gain an increased understanding of seasonality and food production.
Development of a sense of responsibility, liability, and consequences. Working in the garden gives children the chance to receive immediate feedback for the effort and quality they exert. Hard work yields a bountiful harvest; negligence will not bring forth vegetables and fruit.
Gardening is a fun, engaging, and incredibly rewarding. It is something that children can take pride in and is therefore incredibly good for children’s self-esteem.
Vinegar based slaws are tangy and crispy, a fantastic addition to any sandwich or as a simple and healthy side. This fennel and citrus recipe is a wonderful substitute for creamy, rich mayonnaise-based potato salad. Mayonnaise is highly processed, calorically dense, and contains many hydrogenated fats – so it’s best in moderation. If you’re determined to include Potato Salad in your 4th of July meal, try this vinegar based Tarragon Potato Salad, instead of the classic “mayonnaise approach”.
If you’re planning on having the grill going, don’t forget to roast some local veggies!
Simply toss some summer veggies in olive oil, salt, and pepper then roast on the grill. Here’s a more thorough recipe, but don’t feellimited to only those vegetables! You can grill most veggies and there are many in-season and available at your local farmers market this time of the year.
Try using local & grass-fed beef for your burgers.
Hamburgers are a 4th of July classic, and though they have a reputation of being an unhealthy food, there are some easy changes you can make to improve their health benefits without sacrificing flavor.
First of all, buy grass-fed, lean beef. Many people don’t realize that the animal’s nutrition and lifestyle dictates the quality of the nutrients you receive when eating meat. The label “grass-fed” implies that the animal was fed only hay and grass for its whole life, which is the natural diet of cattle – making the animal’s meat have more nutrients and better fats. Interested to learn more? Check out this list of Ten Reasons to eat Grass-Fed Beef.
Burgers can be a great source of protein and when coupled with a whole grain bun, healthy condiments, and plenty of veggies – they can make a complete meal. This 4th of July just remember that not all hamburgers are created equal.
To end your meal, why not take advantage of fruit’s natural sweetness?
Early July is the perfect time for strawberries, and Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie is one of summer’s classic combinations. Head to your local farmers market to find strawberries and rhubarb. Or, if you’re lucky enough to live in a place that has blueberries available right now, try a strawberry-blueberry shortcake for a red, white, and blue, dessert that everyone will love.
Happy 4th of July! Enjoy your loved ones and the weather, but most of all be sure to eat good food!
Since the Medieval era asparagus has been praised as a harbinger of spring. However, its history as a food source and medicineextends back much further than that. Ancient Greeks and Romans ate it fresh when in season, and dried it for use during the winter. It even appears in artistic friezes from Egypt, pictured as an offering, dating as far back 3000 BC!
Today, asparagus continues to be enjoyed all over the world. It is featured in Asian, European, and North and South American cuisine. Michigan alone produces up to 25 million pounds of asparagus each year, ranking third in the nation. One quarter of that crop is sold fresh while the rest is usually frozen or canned.
Why is Asparagus Good for Me?
Because of its many health properties and its rich nutrients, asparagus has been enjoyed as a vegetable and in medicine for millennia.
Asparagus has plenty of great nutritional qualities – here are a few star points:
It’s low in calories – less than 4 calories per spear!
A good source of potassium.
A source of fiber (3 grams per serving).
A significant source of vitamin B6, which aids in metabolism, brain health, and liver detoxification.
One of the richest sources of rutin, a compound which strengthens capillary walls.
Excellent source of vitamin K, a vitamin found in dark green (usually leafy) vegetables that promotes healthy microbiota in the gut
Where Can I buy Michigan Asparagus?
Asparagus is a popular spring and summertime dish, so it’s usually available at your regular grocery (just make sure you check the label to ensure it was produced in Michigan and that it’s organic). Michigan asparagus season usually runs from early May through mid June. However, it’s always fun to meet the people who cultivated the Asparagus in person. Shopping at your local Farmer’s Market is a great way to foster that relationship, as well as to maintain a closer relationship with the food you are buying for yourself and your family. Here’s a link that will help you find a Farmer’s Market in your area – there are hundreds in Michigan! Aren’t we lucky?
How Should I Eat My Asparagus?
Asparagus is a spring favorite for many, and a really easy vegetable to prepare. It can be simply steamed, sautéed, or grilled and seasoned it with a little olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.
However, if you’re feeling a bit more inspired or adventurous you could try some of these tasty looking asparagus confections from this list compiled by The Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond.
Doing a portion of your shopping at your local Farmers Market is an easy and enjoyable way to insure that you are eating with the seasons and supporting your local economy.
The concept of a market has been around for millennia.
The first agricultural revolution allowed human beings to settle in one place and support themselves with cultivated crops and domesticated animals. It gave them the freedom to specialize in one task and then trade for whatever they still needed. Market places sprung up to facilitate that trade and still prevail in many places as the primary gathering and shopping place. Despite their many benefits, our society has moved away from patronizing markets in favor of the convenience of supermarkets. Farmers markets offer so much that your local supermarket cannot – fresher food, kinder vendors, and an overall better shopping experience.
There are plenty of reasons to love your local market!
Live in Michigan? Michigan is the second most agriculturally diverse state in the nation, after California (really!). Your market is full of a diverse selection of local fruits and vegetables, meat, dairy, eggs, baked goods, and more! In fact, I’m able to purchase just about all of my groceries (save some grains) at the local market.
The produce is fresher! Generally, the items sold at a farmers market are from no further than 200 miles away and often the plants are ripened fully on the vine and picked the day before market, which means they have a richer flavor.
I enjoy cooking and tasting new food, and the people who best know how to prepare it are right waiting to share their insights. So when you head to market, be sure to ask the vendors their favorite ways to cook what they sell. My best discovery last summer was the humble, wonderful, and truly succulent pattypan squash- absolutely delicious when stuffed with rice, cheese, and sausage then baked.
You get to personally thank the farmer who grew your food!
Farmers Markets are (often) open all year round, and even when it’s cold there are a variety of products available! Squash, root veggies, onions, garlic, and apples are all staples throughout the cold months.
Buying local food is good for the environment too!
In America, the average meal travels 1,500 miles from farm to plate. Imagine how drastically carbon emissions could be reduced if the majority of the food we purchased was produced within 100 miles of our home? Farmers markets help make that goal achievable. It is true that there are some products that simply aren’t available locally, but why purchase a tomato that was grown in Mexico when you can get one grown close to home? Shopping at the market also gives you the opportunity to have an in-person conversation with the farmer, and the chance to ask about the methods they employed to produce the goods they’re selling. So you can know whether harmful pesticides and herbicides were used in growing your food.
There’s a spark of life at the farmers market that is just absent in even the most beautiful grocery store.
We can’t recommend enough that you find a farmers market near you and make a point to check it out sometime this summer. You surely won’t be disappointed, and hopefully you’ll even find a new favorite place to shop!
We all lead busy lives. Often times, our individual interests, goals, passions, and responsibilities pull us away from the people we care about. Therefore, it is essential that we all to take the time to slow down occasionally and re-engage with loved ones. Dinnertime provides a wonderful opportunity to take a break from the rest of the world, take an interest in your family, laugh, recharge, and, through storytelling and sharing, form a sense of your family identity.
Family dinners are incredibly beneficial. Sharing a meal brings family together, gives each person an opportunity to share what happened during their day, the chance to listen to one another, celebrate successes, and offer comfort for difficulties. This engagement can play a huge role in families creating a strong bond and support system. Family meals also help children to develop a sense of confidence, security, and a feeling of place and belonging. Some studies have even shown that family meals promote brain functionality that results in better performance at school; for example, dinner conversation acts as a better vocabulary-booster than reading for young children.
Family meals don’t need to be a stressful affair. The meal can be simple. Many people prepare a week’s worth of meals over the weekend and then freeze or store them so they can be reheated when they’re needed throughout the week. There are thousands of recipes that can be prepared and then served in this fashion. In order to allow your children and young adolescents to reap the benefits that family meals offer of a reduced risk of eating disorder and obesity, it is important to serve wholesome meals. Just remember that it may take a child multiple (sometimes up to 10-15) exposures to a new flavor – like broccoli – before they develop a taste for it, so be patient. Here are some healthy ideas:
Spaghetti Sauce (Made with Fresh Tomatoes): Make a large batch and freeze what you don’t need to use for future meals, serve with a salad. Go easy on the salt and try using whole-wheat noodles. This tomato sauce is a great way to encourage kids to eat their veggies.
Grilled Salmon: Salmon (and other fish) doesn’t take long to cook, making it a great option for a quick and healthy dinner. It can be served on top of a salad, or beside grilled or sautéed vegetables. If you or your children aren’t fish fans you could try a White Fish, it lacks the “fishy” flavor that so many people abhor. Try to buy sustainably harvested wild caught fish if you can, it’s better for you and the environment.
Slow-Cooker Beef Stew: Slow-Cookers (or Crock Pots) are the perfect solution for busy lives. This recipe can be prepped the night before so, as long you remember to turn the pot on in the morning, you can come home to a fully cooked meal.
Family dinners are an easy thing to incorporate into your family routine- everyone has to eat, so why not eat together? There is no exact formula for how many meals you must eat to get the benefits mentioned above, but safeguarding even just one meal a week can have a tremendous impact. In my house, Sunday night was family dinner night. It didn’t conflict with sports practices or meetings and gave us a chance to reflect on the past week and prepare and plan for what was in store during the next.
I challenge you to take the time this week to intently focus your attention on your people, instead of work or daily challenges. I think you will find, as my family did, that it will help bond your family into an ever more closely knit unit.
FarmRaiser Founder and CEO Mark Abbott describes here what led him to create his organization and, at the end of the post, you’ll learn how you, too, can set up a FarmRaiser fundraiser in your own school.
A New Idea for Healthy School Fundraisers
By Mark Abbott
Our company, FarmRaiser, is a new idea for healthy school fundraisers.
We use a web and mobile platform that connects schools with local farmers and food artisans to help students sell healthy, locally grown or made products to raise money for school activities.
So many schools today resort to candy, processed foods, and items with a three-month shelf life like tubs of cookie dough to raise much needed funds. Worse, my children’s previous elementary school once promoted ‘family dinner night’ at McDonalds, where the energetic teachers donned aprons and served fast food to the kids and their families to collect 10% of profits from every transaction that night. For anyone following The Lunch Tray, I probably don’t have to describe the visceral reaction I had to this well meaning, but terrible idea.
We live in a time where obesity rates in kids have been skyrocketing and processed food aisles overrun the grocery stores. And despite some really great educational programs about the need to be active and the benefits of a healthy, balanced diet, when it comes to product fundraising we’re sending mixed messages. You should eat healthy and exercise more, but sell this candy because we really need the money. So FarmRaiser is a practical alternative that fits with the growing movement to support sustainable farming.
It works like this: Our platform partners with local farmers and food artisans who have products that schools can sell, most grown or made within 30 miles of the school. Students and their school select the items they’d like to promote, and the school gets a dedicated webpage on our platform with stories about each one. There they learn about the farmer and some fun facts about the items they’re selling. Students can also be involved in visiting the farms and can help package food on delivery day if they choose to do so.
Some of our best-selling products have been apples, seasonal veggie baskets (like a one-time CSA delivery), honey, and locally roasted coffee. We have even offered you-pick blueberries in a FarmRaiser (families purchased coupons to pick blueberries at a later date) and they generated a lot of excitement. Another feature of FarmRaiser is the community basket, where customer/supporters can choose to donate their purchases to a charitable venue selected by the students — often a food bank or students in need at their own school. It opens the door to helping those in need eat local food as well, and teaches the students about helping others.
Personally, I have always tried to eat local foods in season (a concept my wife, who prefers to eat
strawberries year-round, still has a hard time understanding). I have also always tried to give my kids a connection to where their food comes. I have such vivid memories of tasting that first Michigan sweet corn in late summer, and how it was well worth waiting for—there was nothing better. I want my kids to have similar memories, to know where their food comes from, and to support the people producing it. I also hope that when they’re raising their own kids they’ll look back at the industrialization of our food—the aisles upon aisles of over-processed, sugar-laden offerings, and grimace. They’ll wonder how anyone survived their childhood on such a diet.
Of course FarmRaiser is just a small part of this growing movement, but we like to think we’re making a difference and giving others the chance to do so as well.
Mark Abbott is the Founder and CEO of FarmRaiser, as well as the parent of two kids. He is a nationally recognized expert in service-learning and civic engagement, an experienced grant making executive, and an entrepreneur with start-up experience in the non-profit and for-profit sectors.
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Many thanks to Mark Abbott for coming by TLT today! If you’re interested in starting a FarmRaiser in your area, just enter your information on the home page of the organization’s website or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s a simple idea born in part from my frustration with the sea of candy and processed food (cookies and pizza kits) that have become associated with school fundraising, which my kids were consistently asked to sell. The concept struck like a lightning bolt when my son, then 8, announced after selling $300 worth of candy to our neighbors: “We wouldn’t eat any of this at home dad.” He was right, and his observation led to the creation of FarmRaiser.
While FarmRaiser is most cued in when it comes to local food, we want to encourage you to go local with any gift you might be purchasing this year. That includes food of course, but also toys, art, jewelry, books, and so much more! By supporting a local artisan or local business, more of your money spent will stay right in your community – brightening both the lives of your gift-receivers and those people who own businesses nearby!
Here are a few pro tips and suggestions for supporting more local businesses this holiday season!
1) Keep an Eye on our Facebook Page: From now until Christmas Eve, we’ll be posting gift ideas from our incredible FarmRaiser vendors. Maybe you’ll be inspired to buy what is posted or look for a similar business in your own community!
2) Shop Downtown: Downtown shopping districts are often made up of locally owned stores. While the products won’t all be made locally, supporting a locally owned business still ensures more money is staying in your community! 3) Visit your Local Farmers Market: More and more farmers markets are staying open all year round or hosting special holiday markets – make sure to take advantage as markets are often a great place for gifts! Value-added products like jams and soaps are commonly found at markets and make great gifts, but you can also think outside the box! A few vegetable farmers at our local market allow you to purchase credit in their stall — a gift of farm credit means weeks of market shopping without needing any cash!
4) Go to Art Fairs: Every community has one or more (I think we have 20 or more!) holiday art fairs with vendors of all types. These are members of your community who have special talents to create beautiful or useful products which make great gifts! Often a community will have a variety of these events, find one that you think will fit your style!
5) Make Big Box Stores your Last Resort: Sometimes it is so easy to stop in a big box store that sells everything under the sun to find your holiday gifts — consider saving that option as a last resort this year, visiting locally owned stores first!
Naturally Nutty Peanut Butter began with a Mom in Traverse City who loved peanut butter and began searching for a pure, healthy product with all natural and organic ingredients that she could
feel good about feeding to herself and her kids. When she couldn’t find the perfect product she was looking for, she decided to create it herself! Naturally Nutty offers a variety of nut and seed butters featuring many unique recipes such as cherry butter toffee peanut butter and pepita sun oatmeal seed butter. Each recipe is created in small, careful batches to ensure health and happiness for peanut butter lovers of all ages!
Evergreen Market is a local foods market just north of Traverse City that features Michigan-made products and locally grown foods. Evergreen Market works with over 50 local farmers and a variety of local food producers to stock their shelves, but they also make many of their own unique products. Homemade pies, tamales, kale chips and apple granola bars just to name a few! If you are in Traverse City, be sure to stop in and check them out! With a great variety of products, there is sure to be something for everyone in the family.
Second Spring Farm
Second Spring Farm is a certified organic vegetable farm located near Cedar, Michigan on the beautiful Leelanau peninsula. Founded by Reid Johnston in 2008, the farm strives to produce some of the most delicious, nutritious, and beautiful vegetables in northern Michigan – and they’re definitely succeeding! With absolutely beautiful produce piled high, their market stand is easily one of the most colorful you’ve ever seen. Second Spring’s produce is available at area farmers markets, Oryana Natural Foods Market, and is frequently found on the menus of local restaurants.
Fresh Food Fairy
The Fresh Food Fairy thinks that fresh food is the best! And we think The Fresh Food Fairy is pretty great, too! Not only does she make small batches of kale chips, using locally grown kale and organic ingredients whenever possible, but she also offers nutrition programs for students in Kalamazoo schools to help them make positive associations with fresh food. Her kale chips, also known as “Kaleamazoo Chips”, come in two unique and delicious flavors including “Lemony Kick-It” and “Lime Coconut”! We are happy to be offering these fun and healthy snacks in Kalamazoo campaigns.
Water Street Coffee
Water Street Coffee is a local coffee roaster in Kalamazoo, Michigan. They source the finest green coffee beans and craft them by hand in their roasting machines, carefully monitoring the roasting process to reveal unique flavors and ensure a high quality cup of coffee every time! Frequent taste testing also ensures the quality of their roasts batch after batch. Water Street Coffee also has four cafés in the Kalamazoo area. If you are in the area, be sure to stop by for a delicious cup of coffee to warm you up on a cold winter day!
BarrieBeau Herb Farm
At BarrieBeau Herb Farm, herbs, flowers and heirloom vegetables are organically grown and preserved in each of their products for you to enjoy. BarrieBeau Herb Farm was established on the belief that herbs and flowers deserve special attention in our lives to enhance, soothe and nourish our souls and bring harmony into our homes. Some of her products include a culinary herb rub, herb infused jelly and a variety of organic herbal teas! We are so happy to now be offering these products in our Grand Rapids campaigns!
Grand Rapids Coffee Roasters
Grand Rapids Coffee Roasters are a locally owned micro-roaster, known for their exceptionally smooth and well-balanced coffee. They say this is because they roast their coffee slowly and over a lower heat to ensure a smooth, never bitter cup of coffee! Their coffee roasting facility is open to the public every Saturday from 10am-3pm. Come pick up some coffee, see how the magic happens and enjoy custom roasted coffee while you wait!