Monday, July 31, 2006

I Believe in Organic Valley

Sunday I had the great pleasure of taking my family to the Organic Valley Kickapoo Country Fair. This is our second year attending the fair, and it was again a wonderful experience. I am a big-time Organic Valley advocate, because they are the future of Organic. They enable small family farms to be distributed on a national scale. Their system is so real that you can see the inner workings every year at the fair. In fact, I wouldn't doubt that if you called OV up, they'd arrange a tour for you at your convenience. The headquarters actually look a lot like the corporate logo, a large modern office structure but it looks like a barn. They have 20' swaths of native prairie planted on both sides of the long drive up to headquarters. Their aluminum roof channels rainfall into a system of giant holding tanks, which are tapped to water the vegetable gardens. They are as real as real can be. They are also located in one of the most beautiful parts of the country-the "driftless region" of the kickapoo valley, with rolling green hills, forests, streams, and rock outcroppings.

Each year the fair brings together many of the OV farmers, as well as other local organic farmers, artisans, coffee roasters, food co-ops, musicians, eco-organizations, and more. We passed booths with t-shirts with 'liberal' slogans on them, a fundraising booth for Habitat for Humanity that was selling organic ice cream, a hand woven rug stand, a booth for Chelsea Green publishing, a corn pellet stove manufacturer, an alternative energy cooperative, and the like. Good food and drink were in abundance. OV had a large crew of people separating recyclables from trash from compostables. (Even the paper plates, 'plastic' cups and spoons, and water bottles were compostable, thanks to OV.) The kids and I enjoyed making crafts and checking out the animals. (OK, the kids were a little wilted from the heat, a bit pouty, but it was still really neat. Meanwhile Beo took a course on Resources for Organic Gardeners and Farmers. He had to pass up a course on 70 mpg, 0 Emissions vehicles and Sustainable Building to attend that one.

After a lunch of a veggie burrito, pesto pasta salad, organic milk, and fruit, we headed on to a bus to tour one or OV's dairy farms. It is nestled in the hills about 20 miles from OV HQ, run by a really swell guy and his wife. The farmer told us a bit about how he and his wife got into organic dairy farming. They were drawn in by the appeal of seasonal milking. This means that they follow the cow's natural milk cycle, instead of forcing them to milk year round. The cows are allowed to "dry up" in November, and milking resumes in March. I love that system--it seems so much more--well, natural! The farmer took us out to the high pasture, and talked about the challenges of managing the balance between the natural grasses and clovers that grow there, along with what the cows like and need. He does semi-intensive rotational grazing (12 hours in one spot of field) but makes sure the cows are happy no matter what. He gets more milk out of them that way--but I'll take happy cows no matter what the motivation. So yesterday, with the heat, the cows not only had about 3 times the pasture space that they normally did, but he had opened up the lower "emergency" pasture to them. The lower pasture is in a valley and has lots of shade, so the cows can go down there to cool off if they feel like it.

This particular farmer has about 39 cows. We heard the OV represenative talking about how they breed for cows that like being out on pasture. He explained that if they stuck holsteins out on natural pasture, they'd hardly know what to do with themselves. So we heard about highly mixed cows--milking shorthorn, jersey, and more. The farm that we were at uses a bull as well as AI. The family built their own home on their land, as well as building the milking parlor. I was really impressed with how clean the milking parlor was. I realize they were prepped for a tour, but it was a working farm and I think it probably is kept that clean. The only ethical problem left that I can see is what happens when a bull calf is born. He had two there at the farm yesterday. I think I heard him say they were the only two born that year. Conversations overlapped and answers got hard to hear, but I thought he was saying that they keep them for a year and then they go into the OV meat production area. I have to say that I feel like that particular impact is a small one, ethically. Environmentally there is very little impact (one of the calves we saw was in a smaller penned area with pasture), and it fills a market demand in a very positive way. ( Even if I'm not going to eat it, I would much rather the cow be grazing pasture in the Kickapoo Valley than being raised in a stall fed on corn at an Aurora facility.)

It's hard for me to explain how powerful the experience really is. I feel incredibly un-eloquent and choppy--I could write for pages on why I feel so strongly about OV. It's too easy to get caught up in the details, and I want to be able to share everything about how amazing the farms are, and how much the farmer cared about his cows. He had names for each of the cows and would laugh as he shared about their personality. The cows were so docile, even friendly and sweet. They seemed to have the perfect life, having all of their natural needs met and with quite a view to boot. I know a lot of people have doubts about the humanity of milk, and the veracity of organic. I can honestly say that I feel even better about Organic Valley after having seen the workings of the farm than I did even before I went out there. If you are a milk drinker, and you believe in Organic, Organic Valley is the company to support. If you'd like to see more about the fair, you can visit OV's webpage.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Getting By

There are definitely days where it feels like we're just getting by. The kids have been sick. Last Thursday, Sprout woke up the sickest I've ever seen him. The doctor had us come in, diagnosed a 24 hour tummy bug, and sent us home. The next morning Sprout was on his feet again, but by that night he'd somehow picked up the upper respiratory crud that Bird and I have had for a month. He's been coughing so much that he has trouble breathing and wakes up through the night. Bird got immunizations yesterday and woke up during the night (5 times) feverish and generally miserable. Today she was a wreck. She could barely stand to be touched. The doctor's instructions to wait it out w/ Tylenol can be so frustrating.

I haven't been putting in nearly enough hours at work, and I feel once again like I'm putting out fires and clinging to the edge, trying to build up a stronger base for my program. I have so many ideas for the program, they're just so hard to implement without being able to get in the office and have hours at a time to just work.

Beo and I have been discussing our eco-landscaping, and it seems to make so much sense for us. Lately though, I've been worried and nervous. What about my Sweet William that the grasshoppers decimated this year? What about my splits that died back to almost nothing? I can't have that happening if folks are paying me to design their gardens. Suddenly I stopped noticing all of the successes and started noticing the browned yarrow, the leggy columbine, the rusty lilacs.

All of this has snuck up and I've seen my shopping addiction peeking out--not rearing it's ugly head, just whispering over my shoulder. So I've decided to kick my own rear. I have to be tough on myself, in a good way. When I decided to do some therapeutic knitting, I decided that after 2 years I would stop giving myself guilt trips for unfinished projects, rip them apart, and start something I really wanted to do. I stopped trying to get through the novel that I detested, and asked Beo to ask the librarian to reccomend something. These may seem like smal things, but to me, they're huge. I put major expectations on myself, and allowing myself to forgive and move on is the best way to be more kind to myself. You know what? I deserve it. I really do.

You know what else? We had a frog in our garden. A sweet little lepoard frog that had the kids doing the scuffle-pause-scuffle-pause dance across the yard as they bent to check out the hoppy little guy. Small pleasures, small measures of success. Maybe our clients would forgive the browning bee balm in exchange for a frog here and there.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Garam Masala

This one's for my beloved Virtual Veggies. I stopped into a BCBG/MaxAzria outlet and was looking at these cute tops. I picked one out before I saw this one, then saw this one and I decided the VV gods were with me. Thank you to a very tolerant Beo for not only humoring me by taking such a ridiculous picture, but suggesting the secret Virtual Veggie sign. I love you, VVers!

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Simple Pleasures

Oh, how I love laundry dried in the sun. The sun is a great
natural disenfectant and stain remover. The wind pulls out the wrinkles and gives a fresh snap to the clothes. And the smell, the smell... There's something so pure and wholesome about the act of hanging laundry out to dry. It's meditative to me, shaking out the clothes, pinning them up, then later feeling them, warm and dry, taking them out and folding each one into the basket. I sometimes feel a little "Donna Reed" when I hang out the laundry, but always with a bit of a smile.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Garden Updates

I'm still sometimes amazed when I'm weeding or watering and I stand up and see the yard as others must see it. I can't really bring myself to be humble about our landscaping. I think we've done an amazing job. I wish I had more time to putz around, move things, etc. Sometimes I second guess our choices, but really the only thing I would probably do differently is to have put down some dang landscaping cloth when we did all of the plantings! I plan to start to do that next year before we re-mulch, but it will be a long process. If we're still here. I've got too much going on in my head to write much without going on forever, so I'll share some pictures instead.

The kids planted a hummingbird mix this year, and we got the most beautiful little patch of flowers! I've never seen one of those mixes turn out so well. These pink poppies are stunning.

The rain garden is coming along nicely. It's draining properly, but we got a double dose of rain this week so we'll see how well it handles the saturation.

This is the "prairie" we installed at the side of the house is also doing well.

The front bed along the house. We've had so many monarchs this year, and if I'm not mistaken we've finally lured a chipmunk! I wish the yarrow would stand up, then this bed would be nearly perfect.

We have two great clumps of black-eyed susans. They're one of my favorites.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Happiness Is...

McDonalds? I wanted to title this post something else, but it would have violated the terms and conditions from the McDonalds media website that provided the photos for the post. I've been slammed today with evidence of what a fantastic job McDonalds has done in making McDonalds equate to a family event.

This morning, Beo took Sprout on his first ever fishing trip. I got up to see them off. As Sprout loaded up, Beo confessed that his first thought was to take Sprout to McDonalds (where we have not set foot for at least 6 months) to get a breakfast sandwich--just to make the day more special. He was shocked to see himself trying to make their special father-son day even more special with a trip to McDonalds. Sprout had organic yogurt for breakfast instead. I think he probably would have told Beo that we don't eat at McDonald's because of the "icky chemicals" anyway.

When I was little, fast food was definitely a special treat. Even on long drives my Mom would pack PB&J sandwiches and apples. I remember the first time that we actually stopped for fast food on the 14 hour drive to my grandparents. I was in middle school. I also remember the first time my Dad stopped at a gas station and actually got snacks and drinks, not just gas. At that time I was in high school. Those kinds of convenience foods had never been a part of everyday life. Today, one third of America's children eat fast food every day.

Later that morning as I waited for Bird to finish her snack, I flipped through a parenting magazine. Towards the back was a full page ad for McDonalds. The majority of the page shows a black and white image of a young girl in a tutu and tiara, clutching a happy meal. She is pictured from the back, running towards her mother who is blurry in the background, carrying a large McDonalds bag. Beneath the photo, in a scrapbook looking setting, is the following. I kid you not.

she took the stage and did exactly what all great ballerinas do. she waved to her mom. and later, as we were eating our McDonalds food, celebrating a girl's first ballet recital, her munching on Chicken McNuggets made with white meat, fresh Apple Dippers and a low-fat milk jug, and me enjoying an Asian Salad with warm all-white-meat chicken breast, it occurred to me that if i had to choose only one day to replay the rest of my life, this would be hard to beat.

I'm not really sure what to say from here. I literally stared at the page in open-mouthed shock. I won't even get into the errors in English Language. This company, this magazine, wants me to believe that memories are to be made from over processed, fat filled, chemical laden industrial food intake events. Disgusting--not just nutritionally, but to me, ethically. Yes, McDonalds has started carrying much healthier options, calorie and fat wise. The Happy Meal they describe is 380 calories and 13 grams of fat. That's not hideous. What's hideous is the quality of the food, and the equation of happy memories with taking your kid to a fast food joint. (Once again, the McDonalds corporation media website forbids me from using such words as "Chemical" with "Mc" in front of it. Otherwise I would.) I also wonder how many kids actually make those particular choices at McDonald's. After all, there's a meal just for big kids--to make sure they get enough to fill those big tummies.

I suppose this is really what McDonalds has long been about--providing an oh-so-convenient family meal, so that the family can just sit back and enjoy eachother's company without worrying about things like meal preparation, cleanup, or nutrition. Yet in today's world, this relationship is even more offensive to me. According to the American Obesity Association, "approximately 30.3 percent of children (ages 6 to 11) are overweight and 15.3 percent are obese. For adolescents (ages 12 to 19), 30.4 percent are overweight and 15.5 percent are obese". How can we continue to swallow what we're been served--on our plates, and in our advertising? This mentality has to end. Attending a potluck lunch at my in-laws chuch yesterday, I watched two visibly overweight pre-teen girls repeatedly filling their plates. After eating approximately 3 times what I had eaten, the younger girl came back to the table with another full plate of cheesy baked pasta. Her caretaker scolded her and said: "Well you better eat every last bite of it!" She then turned to us and said: "That's what my Daddy always told me. 'If you take it, you eat it.'" I couldn't keep the look of sheer disbelief off of my face. The girl's sister soon returned to the table with 4 pieces of cake on her plate.

I realize that our dietary patterns are not the norm. That said, I don't see why they shouldn't be. Shouldn't the fuel we put in our children's bodies be of the utmost importance to us? Shouldn't the longterm consequences of feeding cheap, fast food outweight the "cost" of healthy foods? At first my thought was that I was "lucky". The last time we ate out, Bird asked if she could have fresh melon instead of french fries. I realize now that it's not "luck" at all, but the fact that she's been provided with fresh, organic fruit, and realizes how much more satisfying it really is than fried, tasteless starch. I have yet to make that realization on my own, but I have hope for Bird (and Sprout) that having formed these preferences now, she may carry them on in life. For now, I choose not to worry about my kids getting ostracized for telling their classmates that they don't eat McDonald's because their food has "icky chemicals". My kids are good-looking, intelligent, and funny. They'll have plenty of friends. Maybe, just maybe, one of those kids will tell their own Mom that they don't want to eat at McDonald's next time. Maybe there will be one more child released from a childhood of McDonald's Memories. I've never liked clowns anyway.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Television Free Week

It's done, we made it! One week with no TV. It wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it might be. Granted, it was a holiday week and we had my Mom and Dad here to visit with for two of the days. Even then, it wasn't all sunshine and roses. I definitely had to spend more one-on-two time with the kids. In fact, when adding up my time sheet for this week I was shocked to see I only had 7.5 of my 15 hours in--and 4 of those were Holiday hours which I didn't actually work. So I would definitely have to work on finding a way to work more with no TV. The biggest difference, and most significant, was that the kids really played together. ,They played with their toys instead of just dumping them out and forgetting about them. They pretended to take their whole little Dora the Explorer family camping. They dressed up dolls. They did puzzles. I don't remember ever seeing them play so much with their toys, and certainly not without begging them to play for a while, and definitely not together. Bird did develop some nasty habits like pushing or hitting Sprout when he got in her face. Sprout definitely got in her face a bit more. They both have such strong personalities, but for the most part, this week they were able to just hang out. We did lots of outside activities. Beo brought home a kiddie pool and a novelty sprinkler that shoots balls out the top. The kids couldn't have had more fun at a waterpark.

The TV will not stay off, but it will definitely have a lesser role in our house. Having it in the basement makes sure of that. I don't feel guilty letting them watch some TV though. They watch good age appropriate educational stuff, mostly PBS. When they watch Nick Jr. on Saturday mornings (when it's on regular non-cable stations), they have to turn off the TV during commercials. My goal is that the kids won't default to TV anymore when they're bored. They'll keep learning how to play again, and get more Mom time in the process.