A unique and viable approach to establishing local food self-reliance and building stronger communities.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Kale joins the "Dirty-Dozen' list: and How to Grow Your Own Kale

Kale - a generous plant!
Every year, the Environmental Working Group publishes the findings of their analysis of concentrations of farm-chemicals in popular produce. This CNN article goes into more detail about this year's study. Unfortunately, kale and collards - two of the most nutrient-dense foods available, have made it onto the list again.
 
Below is a  a re-post of an article we published back in 2019 with other useful links on the topic of farm chemicals in food and some tips on growing your own garden-greens. If you're local and have some garden-space to add some kale, chard or collards, let us know soon so we can start some "starts" for you.

The re-post:
In recent weeks (April 2019) we've seen several headlines announcing that kale has made it onto the "Dirty Dozen" list for the first time in ten years.  The "Dirty Dozen" list is compiled each year by testing thousands of samples of fruits and vegetables from different sources to see which have highest concentrations of herbicides and pesticides LINK. And the farm chemicals are not just showing up on the vegetables themselves, studies have shown that, people being tested have increasingly been found to have these chemicals show up in fluid samples such as blood and urine (see links below). 
 
It is unfortunate that kale has returned to the "Dirty Dozen" list as, in the past few years, it has shown a surge in popularity. Its recent following is not surprising as it tastes similar to broccoli and it is at the top of another list - The Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI), that rates foods by their nutrient density. Kale (and collards) have the densest concentration of nutrients, per calorie, of a wide range of foods tested. (PDF of 72 tested foods) (explanation of chart). On the positive side of things, people who have switched to an all-organic diet have been able to reduce these chemical residues by as much as 90% in as little as two weeks (see links below).

Kale is the most nutrient-dense plant tested! (PDF of 72 tested foods)(explanation of chart)
So, if you'd like to incorporate more organically grown kale into your diet  and you're on a budget (we've noticed that prices for organic kale have really risen in the past few years...) perhaps you'd like to try and grow your own!

Kale is very easy to grow! Here's our POST on growing kale.
Grow your own kale: Kale is super-easy to grow and 2-4 plants will easily keep a family fed over the course of the summer. If your climate isn't too harsh you can grow a second crop that will produce food through the fall and winter too (though at a much slower rate). Here's our POST on growing kale.
Our CSA provides delicious, nutritious food May to November. More info HERE.
Or,  if you live in our area, you can join our CSA and receive a large box of delicious organic produce on a weekly basis - including copious amounts of green-leafy vegetables. We still have some CSA "shares" to offer. Over six-months of vegetables and fruits for $700. More info HERE.
How we grow our food at the Sharing Gardens: Because we are not a commercial farm, all our labor is provided by volunteers and we are under no pressure to produce food on a forced timeline to get it to market ahead of the other farmers in our area, our food is slow-grown, with less water-weight and hence more nutrient-dense. We fertilize primarily with compost derived from leaves, grass, weeds and food scraps, wood-ash from our wood-burning stove and with worm castings we harvest from the paths of our greenhouses LINK. We do not use commercial fertilizers. The wood-ash and the composted tree-leaves both provide re-mineralization of our soils because the tree-roots pull up minerals from deep within the soil. Without forcing our plants to grow fast with high-nitrogen fertilizers, or animal manures, they are more resistant to diseases and insect infestations that are caused, in part, by the thinner cell-walls of plants forced to grow unnaturally quickly.

Or, if you live in our area and would like to eat the kale we donate to Monroe's Food Pantry, you can shop weekly for free at the South Benton Food Pantry (some income-criteria required).

Sign posted at the Food Pantry to encourage more kale-eating.
Related links:
 

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Gallery of Gratitude-Garden Update

Hello folks, Spring has sprung here in the southern Willamette Valley of Oregon. Oh sure, we could still get some frosts but daffodils and crocuses are blooming, hazelnut trees are casting their pollen to the wind and some of our Asian pear trees actually have buds opening (we hope they can hold off till the pollinators begin to fly in earnest). 

With all these signs of spring, can summer, with its luscious, ripe tomatoes be far behind?

This post is an update about winter at the Sharing Gardens with a gallery of pictures to bring you our latest news.

We've begun hundreds of 'starts' in our raised-beds and many more in pots on our potting table. It won't be long before we're enjoying the very first spring-greens: lettuce, spinach and beet-tops, with enough to share with our supporting circle of volunteers and CSA members.


 

Summertime bounty - Sharing Gardens CSA

Speaking of our CSA, it looks like this is going to be our best season yet! Our raised beds have the most beautiful, fluffy, nutrient-dense soil. For the last two years, we have stopped using manures, other animal by-products and commercial fertilizers to create soil-fertility (veganic agriculture). Our food is slow-grown, without the use of any chemicals. Our gardens not only feed our CSA members and volunteers, and serve two food pantries but we provide habitat for much local wildlife as well. Last year, members' costs averaged out to be about $2.00/pound for some of the finest, freshest organically grown produce around. Our prices haven't risen in three years though the quality and variety of foods we offer has multiplied.

We still have a few spots left so let us know if you'd like to become part of the Sharing Gardens "family". (Pick-up sites in Junction City, S. Corvallis and at the Sharing gardens in Monroe). LINK to CSA


Mushrooms: We've been mixing "mushroom compost" (hardwood sawdust blocks impregnated with mycelium from various edible mushrooms) into our raised beds and potting mix. The compost is a by-product of a local, organic commercial mushroom growing company. The compost adds "tilth" to the soil, worms like to eat it and the mushrooms also provide a slow-release nitrogen in a form accessible to plants. A side-benefit is that we're having mushrooms fruiting right in our garden beds! The mushroom compost has been fruiting since January and we've grown and given away over 50 pounds of shiitake, oyster and chestnut mushrooms. If this process continues into the warmer months, we should have plenty of mushrooms to continue to share.

Blocks of mycelium-infused sawdust (rt) are shredded and mixed into our raised beds.

Chris and Jim sifting oyster-mushroom blocks.

Chris harvesting oyster mushrooms.

Here's an oyster mushroom coming up in a patch of onion plants! We also have chestnut and shiitake mushrooms fruiting.

Our latest greenhouse is done! We've named it the Phoenix because it's made almost entirely from salvaged materials, many of which came from our neighbors the Dillards, who went through a period of construction and re-landscaping on their land in 2019. They gave us all the cinder blocks we needed and much of the lumber for the arches.

Framing the Phoenix greenhouse. All materials, with the exception of some lumber, screws and hinges are salvaged and re-purposed.
The Phoenix was the pet project of Chris and our friend Donn Dussell. They started work on it in late fall and just finished it this month. It will extend our growing season both earlier and later. With our two other larger greenhouses, we now have approximately 3,000 square/feet of greenhouse space!

Though we didn't document all the steps for making this style of greenhouse, we do have a step-by-step guide to making a greenhouse out of a carport frame. Here's the link.

Donn, leveling the cinder-block base.

Chris and Donn carrying trusses.

...installing cross-pipes salvaged from Barbara Standley's nursery.
 
Inside the Phoenix. Raised beds all around the sides and a wide bed in the middle. The grass clippings and leaves are spread in the paths which become worm-compost which we harvest in the fall. See post on how we do this.

A beautiful early-morning view from the backside (north) of the Phoenix.

We'd like to expand our group of volunteers this year. Volunteering provides a hands-on experience in growing food in a healthy, sustainable way. We have activities for all levels of interest and abilities but would especially like to find a few committed folks with strong backs and the flexibility to participate in some of the more rigorous aspects of growing food. LINK to volunteering.

Come, join the fun at the Sharing Gardens!

We have so much to be grateful for!
Thank you to the many donors who are already making this a year of abundance. In addition to those mentioned earlier in this post, thanks to:

John Kinsey for the hundreds of pounds of compost he makes in his giant worm bins and the coffee grounds he gathers each week in town. Here he is in his Elephant garlic patch.

Catherine Henry - for all the thoughtful ways she supports the project (most recently: seed donations)!  

Becky Bauer - for all her help processing produce to be dehydrated,  taxi service to dental appointments, for friendship and all the other support for us and the project. 

Cathy Rose (left), though a woman of modest means, always extends herself graciously with generosity. This year she's pledged $10/month through an auto-payment program with PayPal. Every month when we receive the notice that its been deposited to our account, it brings a smile to our faces. It's like a little gem of generosity

A small thing, but the South Benton Food Pantry continues to allow us to put the Garden's trash in their bins as needed. Thanks, Janeece (program manager) for this service.

And last but not least David Roux and Dallice Drake made a donation of $250 to help us make healthy food available to those most in need in our community.

And remember: “We may need a doctor, a priest, a policeman, and a lawyer a few times during our life. But we need a farmer three times every day.”

Jazmin delivering veggies to the food pantry.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Why We Grow and Eat "Organic" Food

Organics - Better for Health!
We recently came across an article that revisited the incredible results from a 2019 study of four families who radically reduced the traces of insecticide, fungicide and herbicide residues found in their urine from switching to an organically-grown diet for just six days (study linked below). And, while this is a very small sample of people to test, the results are striking!

Chris and I eat almost exclusively organically grown foods when we're at home. At 71 and 58 years old respectively, we are both very healthy. Neither of us has seen a doctor for any reason since we met 13 years ago! We take no prescription medications and, in fact had a bottle of aspirin pass it's expiration date in our medicine cabinet because we were too slow in using it for occasional muscle soreness or headaches! We each have had two colds in the last 13 years but no other illnesses that caused us to be bed-ridden for even a day. Our food is our medicine (along with other healthy lifestyle practices including the practice of generosity, meditation, stretching and exercise practices and limiting electronics usage) and we feel strongly that a societal shift towards an organic, whole foods, plant-based diet would have significant positive effects both on people's personal health and the health of the natural environment as well.
Image credit: Maria-Marlowe
We are at an advantage over most people as our large gardens provide a high percentage of the foods we eat but for many years we have made it a priority to let our food-budget reflect our values and we only buy groceries that are organically grown. The only times we don't eat organic are when we eat out at restaurants or are visiting friends, which amounts to one or two times per month.

This post offers an overview of what we feel to be the most important reasons to shift to an organic diet. For those readers who have the financial means to make this shift entirely, we encourage you to jump into an organic life-style whole-heartedly. We also encourage you to cultivate relationships with local farmers through shopping at farmer's markets and co-ops that feature local, organic foods or joining a CSA. See also: Seven Tips for Shopping at a Farmer's Market

We realize that, for many people who are living close to the edge financially, that committing to buying all your groceries organically-grown may be impossible at this time. If that is the case, consider making smaller incremental changes such as committing to only buying organically and humanely produced animal products (where farm chemicals become most concentrated) or only buying organic "treat foods" (whatever that means for you). Their higher prices may encourage you to eat less of these items which will be better for your own health and  for the health of the planet.

Another option to increase your intake of organic garden-produce is to start your own garden, or start or join a community-garden. LINK: So, you want to start a Sharing Garden.

We like to remind ourselves as we adopt new lifestyle choices that "it's a direction, not perfection." Be gentle on yourself as you make new changes and, if sometimes you decide to eat something on your "no-no list", do it consciously, do it with joy and then re-commit to following your chosen dietary guidelines once again. Happy eating!

Image credit: Enki quotes.com
So, here are some of the top reasons we feel it is important to eat organically grown foods.

Healthier for you: Ingesting farm chemical residues isn't good for your health. Many of these chemicals can build up in one's tissues over time so, even though we may only eat small amounts with each meal, their accumulated amounts can be significant over a life-time. Also, children tend to be more susceptible to environmental toxins as they are building new tissues at a faster rate than adults. LINK - How much Glyphosate is in the foods I eat? LINK-Pesticide Action Network
Any farmer who grows "organically" may not use herbicides, pesticides or fungicides - unless they have been approved by the organic-certification agencies.
Slow-grown food is more nutrient-dense.
More nutrient dense? The truth is, most organic-farmers struggle under the same competitive conditions as farmers who grow using conventional practices. This means, they need to invest the least amount of money in fertilizers and other soil amendments, and grow their produce as fast as possible, to get it to market ahead of their competitors to make the most profit. These practices lead to more "water-weight" and less nutrient-dense foods. This means that the vitamin/mineral content may not vary much between organic and conventional farmers.  On the other hand, some studies suggest that, on average, organically-grown produce is consistently more nutrient-dense and lower in pesticides and heavy metals. LINK-Large study 

This is why it is important to know your farmer so you can confirm that their food is slow-grown and that the farmers are replacing the minerals that get depleted in their soil from harvesting crops.
Adding compost-tea to our gardens is one way we replace many of the nutrients that are depleted through harvesting.
GMO versus organically-grown:  There is still debate about whether foods produced from Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO's) are a health risk to humans. We are strongly opposed to them because of the compelling research pointing to the possibility that eating GM plants, or livestock raised on GMO feed can lead to leaky-gut syndrome and a whole slew of health problems including severe food-allergies, learning disabilities and autism-spectrum disorders in children. LINK Institute for Responsible Technology-a GMO watchdog group. Genetically Modified plants and animals have the potential of interbreeding with plants and animals that were not genetically modified, with unforeseen consequences. Some GM plants (corn and soy) are specifically bred to be resistant to Round-up and other herbicides meaning large amounts of these chemicals can be used to grow them. This leads to well-documented cases of super-weeds that have become resistant to herbicides and require ever stronger chemicals to keep them in check. LINK: The Dangers of Round-up Ready Foods, LINK-GMO Health Risks  Also, GM corn and soy are used extensively in livestock-feed so you can imagine how these farm-chemicals concentrate in their tissues.
We feel strongly that it is important to avoid eating any genetically modified plants. We feel it is especially important to avoid eating animal-products (meat, dairy, eggs) from animals fed on GM feed.
Sharing Gardens - 2019
But what about just eating non-GM foods? Well yes, this is a step in the right direction but just because something is non-GMO does not mean that it's grown without farm chemicals. Industrialized farming uses plenty of chemicals in growing the food. Did you know that it is also a legal practice for farmers to use Round-up as a desiccant (which causes withering and drying in plant tissues) to artificially dry crops if conditions are too wet for the crops to fully ripen in the field? LINK-Wikipedia, LINK-EcoWatch.
By definition, organic farmers are not allowed to grow Genetically Modified crops, or feed them to their livestock.
Better for the environment. Anyone following the news knows that our environment is under attack from all sides. Industrial farming is one of the biggest culprits.

Pollinators are under siege from the practices of growing "mono-crops" (all one variety) for thousands of acres, offering no variety in their diet of pollen, and many farm-chemicals are damaging to their health as well. LINK - Why growing sunflowers is great for bees.

Honey-bee on tansy. We let some weeds flower in our garden intentionally as they provide important pollen-food for beneficial insects. Here's some good news: Grassroots bee petition in Bavaria forces greener farming practices: 
Soil health: Industrial farming - through over-tilling and depleting soil of organic matter makes soils void of all life and destroys the structure of the soil itself which no amount of added fertilizers and chemicals can restore.
Healthy soil means healthy soil-organisms. Eight-year old, Ricardo holds an earthworm found in our gardens.
Industrial farming is a major source of water-pollution. Industrial farming has negative effects on the world's water for many reasons. Here are a few: Heavy Metals build-up; Algae Blooms, Dead-zones and Acidification; Nitrates; Pathogens and Over-use of water reducing water-levels in our aquifers. (LINK-How Industrial Agriculture Effects Our Water)

Many bird species have a hard time finding enough insects to feed their young. Farm chemicals tend to concentrate in the tissues of animals, the higher-up you go in the food chain as Rachel Carson so famously proved in her landmark book from the 1960's titled Silent Spring.

Thorin, Eliza and Adri harvest cabbage, 2018.
Be aware too, that this principle of chemicals concentrating in tissues applies to foods raised for human consumption too. The accumulation of these chemicals in our own bodies will therefore be less with a plant-based diet. The more meat, dairy and eggs one eats, that are not organically-raised, the higher concentrations people have in their bodies of these chemicals. Bear in mind too that the quality of life for livestock animals grown organically is more humane as well.
Organic farming practices keep our air, water and soil healthier and can even contribute to the increase of viable habitat for wild plant and animal species.
Organic farming is better for the farmers and farm-workers who grow our food. Sharing Gardens volunteers digging potatoes 2018.
Healthier for the farmers and farm-workers: When we use our purchasing power to make a statement about our values, we are directly contributing to healthier lifestyles for everyone involved in the food-growing community. LINK - Agricultural Chemicals and Human Health
In this complex world of competing dietary studies which often offer contradictory results it can be difficult to know who to trust and which dietary practices will be best for your health and the health of the environment on which every living things depends.

If you have been feeling on the fence about whether to make the commitment to eating more organically-grown foods, we hope this post has helped you make that shift. Just remember that wise saying, "You can either pay your farmer now, or pay your doctor later." We think this is good advice.

Get to know your farmers! Chris and Llyn in the Sharing Gardens, your friendly, neighborhood "farm-acists".


Bella loves kale!
Other relevant LINKS:
Synopsis of "Organics for All" Urine study

Organic diet intervention significantly reduces urinary pesticide levels in U.S. children and adults - Science Direct 

What the pesticides in our urine tell us about organic food - The Guardian

The States in America That Use the Most (and Least) Glyphosate - Zero Hedge

What's in standard 'fast food'?

Great, short video on "Why Eat Organic"
 
How to Wash Vegetables and Fruits to Remove Pesticides
The Sharing Gardens is a registered charitable and tax-exempt organization. We exist primarily through donations. If you have benefited from our project or site please consider making a donation through PayPal (a receipt will automatically be provided for your tax records).

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Onions and Lettuce and Peas, "Oh My!"

It's early Spring in the Sharing Gardens. Oh sure, we could still get plenty more freezing nights and even some significant snowfall before Spring is fully here but the first crocuses and daffodils are budding, the days are noticeably longer and the air carries hints of the earth's slow warming.  Since we have several greenhouses, February is the time for starting the cool-loving crops like lettuce, cabbage, kale, broccoli, collards, celery, parsley, onions and peas. We have also seeded beets and carrots directly in the ground in greenhouse beds. Here are some previously written posts about how to start some of these crops in your own garden.
 
An early crop of red and green lettuce grown in our greenhouse.

Lettuce and other seedlings, Spring 2012
Our first CSA box-2018.
Please note that, while we do our best to update our posts to reflect our current methods, gardening is a dynamic art-form which we're always developing and these posts may not reflect our current practices. Happy gardening!

Valentines Day: Time for Pea Planting: Since our soil outside the greenhouses doesn't really warm up enough to germinate peas till later in the Spring, we've developed a method for starting the peas in pots, in the greenhouse which we then transplant outside once the soil warms up and the plants can outgrow slugs and snails. Valentine's Day: Time for Pea Planting LINK

John and Llyn transplanting peas grown in pots, in our greenhouse.
Lettuce: Growing from Seed: Lettuce is fairly easy to grow in our climate. You won't believe how sweet and delicious home-grown lettuce is compared to lettuce bought from the store! LINK

Lettuce: Saving Your Own Seed: If you leave a lettuce plant in the ground, very often it will "bolt" and go to seed (especially in the heat of summer). Lettuce-seed is easy to save and one plant can produce enough seed to grow lettuce for a whole neighborhood for years to come! That's "nature's economy" at its best! LINK

Delicious, home-grown lettuce.
Onions: Growing from Seed: Here's a method of growing onions from seed that will also produce copious amounts of onion-greens as well. LINK and LINK

Onions, grown from seed.
Carrots: growing from seed:  This post includes instructions for preparing the ground for carrots to grow and a short video-clip about planting carrots. LINK

Wish List: Spring is a time for cleaning out one's sheds and closets to make room for the new. Here's an updated wish-list of items that we can use in the Sharing Gardens or pass along to other gardeners in the area. Let us know if you can use anything and we'll see if we can help you out. Wish List

The Sharing Gardens is a registered non-profit and tax-exempt organization. We exist primarily through donations. If you have found benefit from our project or our site, please consider making a donation through PayPal. A receipt will automatically be provided for your records. (Click button below.)