Archive for June, 2016

Appreciate U.S. Agricultural Policy and the Farmers Who Grow Our Food

Posted on June 22, 2016 by Leave a comment

The closest simple definition of basic U.S. Agriculture Policy can be reflected in United Nations definition (see below). I could not find a simple statement from the U.S Government, after searching for a half an hour on the internet. I remember hearing it explained during my classes at the University of Georgia when I was studying for my agriculture degree.

Food security (Source Wikipedia)
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) defines food security as existing when “all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”. The four qualifications that must be met for a food secure system include physical availability, economic and physical access, appropriate utilization, and stability of the prior three elements over time.”

In other words, we need food to be:
1) Readily available for the foreseeable future
2) Available at relatively low prices
3) The food needs to safe for consumption
4) The food needs to be nutritious

Honeybees Pollinate CA Cantaloupes!

Honeybees Pollinate CA Cantaloupes!

Formulating agricultural policy for the United States is a complicated process and has evolved over the history of our country. Changes to agriculture policy continue as innovations in technology change the way our food is grown, how it is consumed within the U.S. and how it is exported all over the globe. Agriculture exports contribute positively to our balance of trade. Often we hear of a negative U.S. trade balance because of our imports of electronics, machines, vehicles and oil. Agricultural products are an very important part of our nation’s economy. Changes in agricultural policy due to legislation, the farm bill (including subsidies), the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) , EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), and other influences, contribute to the evolution of farming. More than three million people farm or ranch in the United States. Over 22 million people are employed in farm or farm-related jobs, including production agriculture, farm inputs (fertilizer, seeds), processing (wheat into pasta), marketing and sales (wholesale and retail).

On June 19th, 2016 you may have noticed the headlines about the failed economy and food policy of Venezuela. Even though Venezuela has some of the largest oil reserves, the people were rioting because they did not have enough food. Transportation of food was under armed guard, soldiers stood guard over bakeries, mobs stormed grocery stores, pharmacies and butcher shops. As I read the news, it made me think how thankful I am that we have the wonderful farmers, ranchers, dairy men and women, and all the other agricultural producers that we have in the U.S. We also have a government that, for the most part, is dedicated to the success of our agricultural businessmen and women.

The political stability of a county is really based on the overall health of a well fed population. Without a well fed population, it could be political and economic chaos. In the U.S., most of us take for granted that food will always be available and have not thought about a limited supply of food. This is different than not having enough money to buy available food. Can you imagine a time when there would be no milk, bread or eggs (the staples for every run on the grocery store during an emergency)? In this country it is unimaginable.

Farmers in the U.S. need to have the availability of government backed programs in order to remain in business. Let me give you an example. Once I was given the opportunity to buy my own farm. When I did a ten year forecast, it became obvious that within ten years of up and down profitability, I would need to plan for at least one year of total crop failure, not only zero income, but the loss of all my input expenses for that year. When I factored in the income needed to repay the debt for the “lost year”, my financial future did not look so good. I passed on the opportunity. Farmers are at the mercy of the weather which is totally out of there control, with few exceptions. An exception would be if the farmer has irrigation. Farmers need economic breaks to “weather” the bad times, so they can consistently continue to produce food for our county. We need farmers to continue to be in business.

Many times we hear, in a negative way, that mainstream farms are made up of “Factory” farms, when the truth is that over 95 percent of U.S. farms are owned by individuals, individual families, family partnerships or family corporations. Farms have had to get bigger because prices for most agricultural commodities have not risen along with the prices on nonagricultural goods. The only way for farms to remain profitable is to become bigger and make less money on a per unit basis, but grow and sell more volume. The individuals, individual families, family partnerships and family corporations are predominantly the same people who once owned smaller farms. The less innovative, less ambitions, less hard working, poorer managers have left the business, as within any industry. Without these surviving experienced, innovative agricultural businessmen, your food supply would not be what it is today.

Yes, there are those that will belittle the large “Factory” farms, and claim that we should all go “organic” or “buy local”, but the food security of our nation is dependent on main stream agriculture. Recently farm programs are now also including smaller farms, to encourage farming at almost any level, so local growers and organic growers can also benefit from some agricultural programs. It is important to support all agriculture to meet the needs of our county. When the organic, or local guy is out of product, you can still go to the grocery store and be confident there will be something to eat every day of the year!

Donate to a Food Pantry!!

Posted on June 17, 2016 by Leave a comment

West Valley Food Pantry, Woodland Hills, CA

West Valley Food Pantry, Woodland Hills, CA

West Valley Food Pantry
5700 Rudnick Avenue
Woodland Hills, CA 91367
(818) 346-5554

http://www.westvalleyfoodpantry.org

We find that as we garden, we regularly grow more than we can use or give away to our friends and neighbors. What to do? After asking around, we located a local Food Pantry. The food pantry serves 11 communities near Los Angeles. The average client of our food pantry receives enough food for about 3 days, but can only receive food once each month. The Food Pantry provides for about 50 clients a day, 5 days a week or about 1100 bags of food a month. The food pantry sources about $10,000 worth of food a month using, donations, coupons and bulk discounts. Additionally, food is donated from commercial businesses such as grocery stores and restaurants. One group of items that is not readily available from donations is fresh fruits and vegetables!! What seems like a small donation from us to the food pantry, is much appreciated when we are able to donate. We normally bring between 20 and 100 lbs of produce when we donate. So far, we have donated, Swiss Chard, Mustard Greens, Collard Greens, Kale, Onions, Squash, and Cucumbers. The Volunteers at the food pantry divide what we bring into small “bunches” that they include in as many bags of groceries as they can. This small effort allows a lucky few to enjoy the fresh vegetables we donate.

If you have extra produce, take the time to locate a local food bank and see what opportunities there are for you to donate!

Swiss Chard ready for donation

Swiss Chard ready for donation

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Vegetable Lasagna

Posted on June 17, 2016 by Leave a comment

One of our favorite summer dishes is Vegetable Lasagna. You can really make this any time of year with produce from the grocery store, but using the fresh picked vegetables from your own garden extends the adventure of growing your own food. What you pick from the garden varies and so you are “inspired” to adjust the recipe to what vegetables you have on hand. Our recipe is focused around summer squash, eggplant, and tomatoes, but the combinations you can use are many. This is a baked, layered dish and the number of layers will vary depending on your pan size, number of people to feed, etc. Of course, you can add meat to this recipe!

Basic Ingredients; Squash, Eggplant, Fennel bulb, Onion, Fennel seed, Peppers, Tomato sauce, Bread crumbs

Basic Ingredients; Squash, Eggplant, Fennel bulb, Onion, Fennel seed, Peppers, Tomato sauce, Bread crumbs

Ingredients:
1) Extra virgin olive oil
2) Bread crumbs
3) Onion
4) Peppers (almost any kind or combination)
5) Squash (Yellow, Zucchini, or similar)
6) Eggplant (we prefer the Chinese long purple, if you can find them or grow them)
7) Fennel bulb sliced or diced (optional)
8) Parmesan cheese grated
9) Fennel seed (optional)
10) Salt
11) Pepper
12) Pasta sauce, fresh tomatoes or a combination (if you use only fresh tomatoes, then you also need to add typical Italian pasta sauce seasonings)
13) Mozzarella cheese grated or sliced

Note: Fennel seed is the main spice in Italian sausage which gives it it’s distinct flavor.

Putting it all together: (pre-heat oven to 325 degrees)
1) Pour and spread a thin layer of olive oil on the bottom of the baking dish.
2) Sprinkle a thin layer of bread crumbs.
3) Add a thin layer of diced onions.
4) Add a handful of diced peppers (we used a mild green pepper).
5) Spread a layer of sliced squash (we used yellow and zucchini).
6) Spread a layer of sliced eggplant.
7) Dice or slice one half of a fennel bulb and spread evenly.
8) Sprinkle a teaspoon of fennel seed evenly.
9) Season with salt and pepper.
10) Sprinkle grated parmesan cheese
11) Add spoonfuls of pasta sauce.
12) Repeat the same layers for multiple layers.
13) When finished with the top layer, spread pasta sauce thickly over the entire top of the casserole.
14) Bake for approximately 1 1/2 hours and remove to add mozzarella cheese.
15) Bake for an additional 20 minutes or until the mozzarella cheese is melted and browned to your satisfaction.
16) Bake at 325 degrees.

First Layer, bread crumbs, peppers and onions

First Layer, bread crumbs, peppers and onions

Yellow Squash

Yellow Squash

Zucchini

Zucchini

Diced Fennel Bulb

Diced Fennel Bulb

Chinese Eggplant

Chinese Eggplant

Grated Parmesan

Grated Parmesan

Add some sauce in a middle layer

Add some sauce in a middle layer

Fresh tomatoes are always good!

Fresh tomatoes are always good!

Top layer of pasta sauce

Top layer of pasta sauce

Add cheese 12-20 minutes before taking out of the oven

Add cheese 12-20 minutes before taking out of the oven

Ready to eat!!

Ready to eat!!

Vegetable Lasagna!

Vegetable Lasagna!

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Freezing Green Beans

Posted on June 14, 2016 by Leave a comment

When growing our pole beans this year we grew more than we were able to eat fresh and decided to freeze some extra beans for later. Freezing green beans is a relatively simple process that can be done with items you most likely already have in your kitchen. The steps for freezing include preparing the bean, blanching, cooling, and packaging the end product. Blanching is the process of heating the vegetable to stop enzyme activity from further ripening and/or deteriorating the quality of the beans while it is frozen for months or years. Blanching preserves flavor, color and texture.

Picked beans!

Picked beans!

What you need:
1) Beans
2) Large pot of boiling water
3) Large bowl of ice water or cold water
4) Packaging containers

The "String" of a string bean!

The “String” of a string bean!

The Processes:
1) Remove the ends of the beans and the strings, if the beans are “string” beans. For stingless beans this part of the process can simply be done with a knife.
2) Cut or “Snap” the beans into bite size pieces.
3) Blanch the beans for 3 minutes in boiling water. Add small batches of beans to large pot of boiling water (At least one gallon of water per pound of vegetable to be blanched). Start counting the 3 minutes after the water returns to vigorous boiling. The water should return to boiling after one minute.
4) After blanching immediately place the beans in an ice water bath.
5) When the beans are cooled, drain and package the beans.
6) Label your containers with a date.
7) Place the bags separated from each other in the freezer. When they are frozen, you can place the packages closer together.
8) The frozen beans will keep for a long time, but are best used within 12 months for best quality.

Ends, and strings removed from the beans

Ends, and strings removed from the beans

Beans, strings removed and "snapped"

Beans, strings removed and “snapped”

Blanching in boiling water

Blanching in boiling water

Cooling in the ice bath

Cooling in the ice bath

Blanched beans ready for packaging

Blanched beans ready for packaging

Packaged beans ready to be labeled and placed in the freezer

Packaged beans ready to be labeled and placed in the freezer

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Growing Pole Beans 2016

Posted on June 14, 2016 by Leave a comment

We have grown green beans as Pole Beans and also Bush Beans. Bush beans grow close to the ground and are usually less than 2 feet tall and normally about 18 inches tall. Pole beans on the other hand, will grow about as tall as you make a trellis. We made our trellis about five feet tall out of well used “Tomato” cages. Trellises can be made a variety of ways and with a variety of materials. The purpose of the trellis is to give the vines of the pole beans something to climb upwards and to make the beans accessible for picking. Without a trellis, the beans will just grow flat on the ground and defeat the purpose of picking pole bean varieties.

Pole bean seedlings with "Tomato" cages

Pole bean seedlings with “Tomato” cages

Most “newer” bush bean varieties have been developed to be stingless, but many of the older and very flavorful pole bean varieties have strings. The strings need to be removed when preparing the beans for cooking. The strings in more mature beans have a threadlike texture and do not chew easily when eating the beans. The string will be coarser and more developed as the bean matures and the seeds grow larger. Younger less developed beans will have no strings or a less developed string. When choosing pole bean varieties, read the seed description carefully so you know which varieties have strings and which do not. However, some of the beans with strings have a wonderful flavor and should not be avoided due to this characteristic. Removing the strings just takes a few more minutes during preparation and is well worth the extra time.

The "String" of a string bean!

The “String” of a string bean!

We wanted to grow several pole bean varieties but did not have the space to plant multiple rows of different varieties. Our compromise was to mix the seed of several varieties so the different varieties grew together in a mixed planting. We planted Blue Lake, Kentucky Blue, Kentucky Wonder, and Kentucky Wonder Yellow Wax bean. Some bush and pole bean varieties can be harvested as green beans or as shelled dry beans, if left to fully mature and dry.

Pole beans blooming and setting beans

Pole beans blooming and setting beans

When planting beans, peas, and other legume crops, we inoculate the seed with rhizobia nitrogen fixing bacteria. Rhizobia bacteria establish themselves in the roots of legumes, forming nodules on the roots of the bean plants. The bacteria fixes nitrogen from the atmosphere and make it available to the plant. The available nitrogen reduces or eliminates the need to fertilize the beans with nitrogen fertilizer. Many soils naturally have this bacteria present at planting, especially if beans, peas, clover, or other legumes have been grown there previously.

We plant the beans about an inch deep in the soil and water them immediately. Plant after the danger of frost has past, and the soil has warmed, unless you plan to cover the seed and seedlings with a fabric cover. The beans should start to germinate after about a week.

Bean seedlings are susceptible to losses during germination, so we plant the seed close enough to allow for this expected loss. Poor germination, fungal diseases and insects contribute to seedling loss. As germination progresses we thin the seedlings to about 4 inches apart leaving only the strongest plants.

After the first set of true leaves develop we apply an insecticide, to combat insects that attack the seedlings. We apply an insecticide periodically as the bean plants grow, if we notice an insect problem. Our plants developed mites this year. We have not yet found a product that is really very good at controlling these pests. The best mite control is achieved with a natural predator.

We set our tomato cages over the seedlings once they became established and we had controlled all the weeds. The beans will grow rapidly and will begin to bloom. After bloom, the beans will set and form the beans. Pole beans will keep blooming and producing, if the plants remain healthy. It helps to keep the plants healthy, if care can be taken during picking to reduce injury to the vines.

Pole beans at during harvest

Pole beans at during harvest

Keep the beans watered and as pest free as possible for high quality beans. Experience will teach you when to pick the beans. Eat a few as they develop. Usually the beans are picked after they have become big enough for the beans to develop, but prior to the shape of the bean seed becoming too distinct.

Picked beans!

Picked beans!

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