The Food Safety Shell Game

What isn’t being discussed in Congress during the ongoing debate on the broken federal food safety system, is the root cause of the most serious pathogenic outbreaks in our food—the elephant (poop) in the room.

The relatively new phenomena of nationwide pathogenic outbreaks, be they from salmonella or E. coli variants, are intimately tied to the fecal contamination of our food supply and the intermingling of millions of unhealthy animals. It’s one of the best kept secrets in the modern livestock industry.

Mountains of manure are piling up at our nation’s mammoth industrial-scale “factory farms.” Thousands of dairy cows and tens of thousands of beef cattle are concentrated on feedlots; hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of chickens are confined in hen houses at one location for the production of eggs and meat.

Livestock producing manure is nothing new. But the epic scale of animal numbers at single locations and the incredible volumes of animal waste is a recipe for disaster. It eclipses anything that was happening on old McDonald’s farm.

Feces carrying infectious bacteria transfer to the environment and into our food supply. Feeding heavily subsidized corn and soybeans to cattle, instead of grazing the ruminants on grass, as they were genetically designed to do, changes the pH in their digestive tracts, creating a hospitable environment for pathogenic E. coli to breed. The new phenomenon of feeding “distillers grains” (a byproduct of the ethanol refining industry) is making this risk even more grave.

The current near-nationwide contamination in the egg supply can be directly linked to industrial producers that confine millions of birds, a product of massive, centralized breeding, in manure-rich hen houses, and feeding the birds a ration spiked with antibiotics. These are chickens that the McDonald family would likely have slaughtered on the farm because they were “sickly.”

Thirteen corporations each have more than 5 million laying hens, and 192 companies have flocks of more than 75,000 birds. According to the industry lobby group, United Egg Producers (UEP), this represents 95% of all the laying hens in the United States. UEP also says that “eggs on commercial egg-laying farms are never touched until they are handled by the food service operator or consumer.” Obviously, their approach has been ineffective and their smokescreen is not the straight poop.

In addition to our national dependence on factory farms, the meatpacking industry, like egg production, has consolidated as well, to more easily service the vast numbers of animals sent to slaughter from fewer locations. Just four companies now control over 80% of the country’s beef slaughter. Production line speed-ups have made it even harder to keep intestinal contents from landing in hamburger and meat on cutting tables.

All of these problems are further amplified by the scope of the industrial-scale food system. Now, a single contamination problem at a single national processing facility, be it meat, eggs, spinach, or peanut butter, can virtually infect the entire country through their national distribution model.

As an antidote, consumers are voting with their pocketbooks by purchasing food they can trust. They are encouraging a shift back towards a more decentralized, local and organic livestock production model. Witnessing the exponential growth of farmers markets, community supported farms, direct marketing, and supermarket organics, a percentage of our population is not waiting for government regulation to protect their families.

The irony of the current debate on improving our federal food safety regulatory infrastructure, now centered in the Senate, is that at the same time the erosion of FDA/USDA oversight justifies aggressive legislation, the safest farmers in this country, local and organic, might be snared in the dragnet—the proposed rules could disproportionally escalate their costs and drive some out of business.

While many in the good food movement have voiced strong concerns about the pending legislation—it’s sorely needed—corporate agribusiness, in pursuit of profit, is poisoning our children!

When Congress returns to Washington, we have no doubt that food safety legislation, which has languished for months, will get fast-tracked. In an election-year our politicians don’t want to be left with egg on their face.

We only hope that Senators will seriously consider not just passing comprehensive reform, but incorporating an amendment sponsored by John Tester (D-MT), a certified organic farmer himself, that will exempt the safest farms in our country—small, local direct marketers. We need to allocate our scarce, limited resources based on greatest risk.

Farmers and ranchers milking 60 cows, raising a few hundred head of beef, or free ranging laying hens (many times these animals have names not numbers), offer the only true competition to corporate agribusinesses that dominate our food production system.

Mark Kastel and Will Fantle are codirectors of The Cornucopia Institute, a farm policy research group based in Cornucopia, Wisconsin. Reprinted with permission. Contact:, 608-625-2042

Take Note of Your Roots

Try these colorful veggies when the weather turns cooler. All summer long we have relished in the fresh berries and vine ripened tomatoes, but when the leaves turn and the snow flurries begin, there are a variety of veggies that you may have overlooked: Root Vegetables. High in nutrients, these veggies go great with any meal and they also make plates more vibrant with their brilliant colors.

It’s no surprise that the more popular root vegetable is also one of the most nutritious. Carrots are high in beta carotene, which gives them their bright color and helps fight against cancer. Beta carotene can also fight against hyperglycemia and diabetes. If that isn’t enough, researchers are now breeding carrots with different colors to help fight harder. They have successfully produced a red carrot that is high in lycopene, which will help protect against prostate cancer. They also have a purple variety with anthocyanins, which is the same cancer fighting antioxidant that is found in wild blueberries.

Sweet Potatoes
Most of us are familiar with sweet potatoes at Christmas when they are covered in marshmallows and not looking too appealing. Well the other, dryer side of sweet potatoes, provides a whole array of sweet goodness. Sweet Potatoes also contain lots of beta carotene, vitamin C, and proteins called trypsin inhibitors, which researchers say shows promise as a powerful antioxidant.

The common beet comes boiled or pickled, which gives them sort of a bad rap. However, when they aren’t floating in vinegar, these roots have a great rich flavor. They are also a great source of minerals like iron and are high in anthocyanins, the same pigment found in berries and red wine that can protect the heart.

Usually served at Thanksgiving, these nutty roots veggies have glucosinolates, which stimulate the body’s own antioxidant systems. In Newfoundland, turnips are usually cooked in a stew with yellow peas that highlight their flavor.

These roots are a cross between a turnip and a cabbage. Rutabegas are crucifers and contain glucosinolates. They are also high in fiber, vitamin C, and calcium. These root veggies take their place best in Norway where they are cooked with potatoes, carrots, onions, and lots-o-lots of butter to create rotmos, or root mash.

These roots rarely get the attention they deserve. They are low in calories and high in vitamin C. Daikon is a large white radish used in a lot of Japanese dishes for its mild, sweet flavor. Macrobiotic cooks pair Daikon with fried foods to counter their fattiness and to ease digestion. Daikon has an excellent source of vitamin C and folate, and both kinds of radishes have anti-cancer components found in them.

Burdock Root
This slender brown root has a crunchy texture and a sweet taste. Like Daikon, it is used a lot in Japanese cooking. Macrobiotic chefs use burdock root to counter the effects of sugar. It is historically thought of as a blood purifier and diuretic; burdock is extremely high in potassium and fiber and contains a variety of cancer fighting components.

Tip: Don’t cube potatoes before boiling them. When you boil them with the skins intact, the Journal of Food Science found that they have a 50 % higher potassium level than those cooked in cubes. It may take a while longer for dinner, but you will reap the healthy benefits.

During the months when the produce aisle seems a bit bare (no locally grown tomatoes or piles of fresh corn in sight), take advantage of the ever-growing variety of root vegetables that are showing up everywhere.

Rough, rustic, and roasted, the root vegetables featured in this dish are filling, comforting, and nutritious.

Roasted Vegetable Ragout

Serves 4

What you need:
6 cipolline onions
4 baby turnips, or 2 large, cut in eighths
1 small celery root, peeled and cut into wedges
½ pound whole baby carrots
3 new potatoes, halved
2 leeks, white part only, cleaned and cut into
¼-inch rings
2 parsnips, peeled and quartered
8 Brussel sprouts
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 sprigs each of fresh thyme, rosemary, and parsley
½ cup white wine
2 cups vegetable stock, or low-sodium canned
1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes
1 bay leaf
2 cups coarsely chopped Swiss chard
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

What do to:
Preheat the oven to 475 degrees.

In a heavy roasting pan, combine the vegetables and olive oil and toss to coat. Roast 20 to 30 minutes, turning every 10 minutes, until the vegetables are nicely browned.

Meanwhile, tie the herbs together with kitchen string. Transfer the pan to the top of the stove. Add the wine, stock, tomatoes, and herbs and cook over high heat for 15 minutes. Stir in the Swiss chard and cook 2 minutes more.

Season with salt and pepper. To serve, spoon the vegetables and sauce over polenta.

Carrot and Potato Tsimmes

Serves 8

What you need:
4 large sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/8 inch thick
2 large white potatoes, peeled and cut into
½-inch chunks
1 bunch carrots, peeled, tops removed, and
cut into ½-inch chunks
½ cup pitted prunes, cut into ¼-inch slivers
¼ cup honey
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
½ cup vegetable stock
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into small dices
Lemon juice to taste

What to do:
Preheat oven to 350°F. In a medium saucepan, cover sweet potatoes, white potatoes, and carrots with lightly salted water and simmer over medium heat about 15 minutes, until tender but firm. Drain and place in a large baking dish with prunes, honey, cinnamon, and ¼ cup vegetable stock; stir to combine. Dot with butter.

Cover and bake for 30 minutes. Remove cover, stir gently, rotate dish, and bake uncovered for another 10 or 15 minutes, adding remaining vegetable stock if mixture becomes too dry. Garnish with lemon juice to taste. Serve warm.

Eat Local Challenge Hot Spots Guide

Here’s a little guide to make eating out easier during the 4th annual Eat Local Challenge. These great people are bringing fresh, local fare to you every day. They are making a difference in our community and our local sustainability.

Badger Brew Express
405 S. Main St, Rice lake, WI
715-736-brew (2739)
Lots of homemade and local treats. Stop in and experience the goodness. We’re all over the social networks: Myspace, Twitter, Facebook, and You Tube, just search for Badger Brew Express!

The Bullfrog’s Eat My Fish Farm…
Dedicated to the genius of “Bullfrog Fresh” RAINBOW TROUT, Smokin’ GOOD FISH and more…
Open Casually Year Round for Farm Retail & Pondside Fishing
Seasonal Hours & Days- SEE WEBSITE OR CALL THE FARM: Mid May through September open with vigor on Sunday Afternoons-
Hoots & Happenings featuring Shorelunches & Occasional Live Music…
*Group Outings & Educational Tours by Arrangement can happen most any time…
Founder: “Preservation of Character Society”.
Using a rural way to tell a story… *ADVOCACY * PROMOTION * EDUCATION

Harmony Corner Café
210 S. Barstow Street, Eau Claire, WI 54701 (715) 838-8760
We carefully hand-craft all of our breads which are made with organic flours, locally produced organic eggs, and hearty, healthy ingredients.

Café Wren
We support a number of local food producers.
Beer – WI/local breweries
Wine – Trade River Winery (Grantsburg)
Milk – Crystal Farm Organic Dairy (Osceola)
Produce – Burning River Farm CSA (Frederic)
Honey – local
Maple Syrup – High Point Syrup (Frederic)
Eggs – John & Pat Mattson (Luck) cage free
Berries – when available
Apples – Baker Orchard (Centuria)
Beef – Smokey Meadows (Luck)
We obviously use as many local ingredients in our food (soups, salads, sandwiches) during the peak season (May–October).
We also purchase foods that we can store and use throughout the winter (freezer and root cellar)

The Creamery Restaurant + Inn
E4620 County Road C
Downsville, Wisconsin 54735
Our restaurant and cafe food and bakery items are prepared with the best fresh, seasonal and local ingredients available. Our Bakers and Chefs prepare all food from scratch, in-house. We support local organic farmers and producers, and foragers. We change our menus to reflect the best of the seasonal harvest.

Haymarket Grill
101 Graham Ave., Eau Claire, WI 54701
Phone : (715)-552-3400

405 S. Barstow Street
Eau Claire, WI
(715) 835-6621
Proud to offer local fare this September.  Come in and join us for dinner!

The Goat Coffee House
408 Water Street, Eau Claire, WI 54703-5663
(715) 831-4491

The Nucleus Café
405 Water Street
Eau Claire, WI 54703-5664
(715) 834-7777

Grand Avenue Café
119 West Grand Avenue
Eau Claire, WI 54703-5326
(715) 831-1100
Raw Deal
603 South Broadway Street
Menomonie, WI 54751

Green Bakery (Colfax)
Find gluten-free breads at Just Local Food in Eau Claire, Kirkwoods grocery in Colfax, and more
Grandma’s Bakery (Hayward)
16052W U.S. Highway 63
Hayward, WI 54843
715-934-4040, email
Delicious and delightful certified 100% gluten free foods and preservative-free foods from a most unique and passionate production house in Hayward, Wisconsin!

Foster Haus Cheese House
E10934 County Hwy. HH
Osseo, WI 54758
Here at Foster Cheese Haus, we are committed to supporting of all the bounty grown and produced in Wisconsin.

The Pourhouse
Menomonie Street
Elk Mound, WI 54739
(715) 917-1020
The Pourhouse serves daily lunch specials, and all their sandwiches and pizzas are made from local and organic ingredients.

Farmers Markets

Eau Claire Downtown Farmers Market
Until end of October, Wednesdays and Saturdays 7:30am-1pm,
Thursdays, noon-5pm,
Sundays til Sept 12, 10am-2pm
Farmers Market Pavilion in Phoenix Park, Eau Claire, 715-834-5697

Eau Claire Farmers Market
Mid-June thru October, Tuesdays and Saturdays, 7:30am-1pm
Oakwood Mall (front lot by Macy’s); Highway 53 South to Golf Rd. 715-835-5307

Festival Foods-Eau Claire
Sundays, Until October, 8am-2pm
3007 Mall Dr. Eau Claire

Chippewa Falls Main Street, Inc
Thursdays, Until October,
Corner of Bridge and River Streets.

Menomonie Farmers Market
First Saturday in May thru last Saturday in October
Wednesdays, noon-6pm, Saturdays, 8am-1pm
Wilson Park (on Wilson Ave. between 7th and 8th Streets). 715-265-4271, ext. 330

New Richmond Market
Saturday mornings until sold out, July through October.
Heritage Center parking lot at 1100
Heritage Drive, New Richmond. One block off Hwy 65 between AmericInn & Suzanna’s restaurant. 888-320-3276.

Barron – Country Lane
Farmers Market
Thursdays 2-8pm
3 mi. north of Barron on Rural 16th St. 715-637-5367

Durand Farmers Market
Saturdays, June to September,
High School Parking Lot.

Rice Lake Farmers Market
Saturdays, end of June-October,
37 S. Main St. Rice Lake Chamber of Commerce Parking lot;

Hayward Farmers Market
Mondays 1-5
Parking Lot of Feed Mill in Hayward

Spooner Farmers Market
Saturdays, 8:00 am – noon
Beaverbrook Road and Hwy 63,
Spooner WI

Stanley Farmers Market
Until October,
Soo Park across from the Stanley
Republican building on First Avenue
8-2 Saturdays, June 19 for Rodeo Days weekend and Friday, August 14 for
Customer Appreciation Day and the
annual Stanley Yellowstone Trail
Sale-ing thrift sales weekend
(Friday and Saturday).

Mead: Another Way to Keep it Local

By Rebecca Gorski and Billy Gilgenbach | September is the month of eating local, but don’t forget about your drinks! With the harvest season in full bloom, it just makes sense to try to use and preserve everything available for the long winter months ahead. Can you imagine sipping a nice refreshing glass of homemade wine while you’re sitting by the fire and remembering the sunny warm days you harvested the ingredients? Enter Mead.

If you’ve ever tried mead yourself, or know anyone who has, you’ll understand that making it and drinking it would be a real treat. Not to mention that mead comes with an interesting history, dating back into ancient times, covering parts of Europe, Asia, and Africa. It’s one of the first known fermented beverages.

If you are a locavore — or just enjoy good local food and drink when you can — you may have heard of mead, or honey wine. The process of making mead is relatively simple and low-energy, and enjoying the beverage provides you with another great way to use and preserve what the season has to offer. Another incentive to brewing your own is that commercially produced mead is at best, difficult to find, and if you do find something labeled “mead,” often times it is just a white wine that has been sweetened with honey, not the real deal.

For those of you who have never heard of mead, it is an alcoholic beverage made from honey and water, which is fermented using yeast. The possible flavors you can come up with when making mead are endless. The flavor can vary depending on the source of honey; you can alter its taste by adding fruits and spices; and the yeast you use for fermentation and the aging procedure all play a key role in what type of mead you produce.

As honey harvest is upon us, so is the end of berry season. Two things that go well together: honey and berries. Source yourself some local honey and talk a walk in the woods to gather berries (if you miss berry season, go with straight honey). Then, forage for your supplies. This can be made much easier if you head over to a home brew shop, like Cap-n-Corks in Eau Claire. They have all the supplies you’ll need and they are a family-run business who can provide you with all the friendly wisdom you’ll need for making your own beverages. For a pretty low investment, you can get a wine-making kit that contains everything you need to start making mead: buckets, glass carboys (the 5-gallon glass container that holds the wine during fermentation), corks, the tool you need to place the corks, even a hydrometer, which measures the sugar content of the wine (sugar content controls the alcohol volume).

The process for making mead is rather simple and is best explained by the modo: “keep it local; keep it simple.

As mentioned earlier, the first step is to find a source of raw local honey. Raw meaning it has not been heated over 103?, which ensures all the enzymes are still healthy; local, to keep the bees and farmers busy, and it just makes for good mead. It’s best to get honey that is unfiltered. Local honey can be found easily at the local farmers market or on Craigslist. To make a batch of mead, you will need about five gallons of honey.

Next, find out what fruit is in season and either go harvest some, or purchase what is accessible in your area at the time. However, if you want to keep it real simple, skip the fruit altogether, as plain honey mead is just as good. If using fruit, some say it’s best not to wash it, as fruits have naturally good yeasts on them, which along with the raw honey, help to ensure that your fermentation gets off to a good start.

Then find a clean vessel, usually glass or ceramic (plastic food-grade works as well), and make the honey water solution of 4 cups of water to 1 cup of honey (4:1). Dissolve the honey in the water. Try to avoid city tap water, as it most likely contains chlorine, which may affect your fermentation. The amount of the honey water depends on how much fruit you choose to use. At the least, use one quart of fruit to one gallon of honey water. The fruit can be increased depending on how much you want it to shine through.  Before adding the fruit to the honey water, make sure to wash your hands well. Then squish and squeeze the fruit right in the vessel. This will really get the fermentation going quickly, usually in 3-5 days.

After the fruit has been added, cover the vessel with a towel or cheese cloth, and secure with a rubber band. Stir with a clean utensil at least twice a day.

Once it becomes bubbly and fragrant, transfer to a clean jug and attach an airlock (which is attached using a cork). If the jug is not full, add honey water mix until roughly 80% full. Leave room for the yeast to dance around, or they will move the party out of the jug.

Leave for a couple of weeks until the bubbling has stopped. You can either enjoy now or transfer to another jug to help clarify and age the mead. You can do this a few times over the next several months to clarify and age the mead. If you so choose, bottle and enjoy over time. However, a great mead can take up to two years.

Shopping Carts and the Health Care Fight

Including the USDA in health discussions could lead to better subsidies for organic farms — and healthier Americans.

By Robyn O’Brien | The less we spend on food, the more we spend on health care,” said Michael Pollan on Oprah.

Today, Americans spend almost 20 cents of every dollar managing disease — diabetes, allergies, asthma, cancer, obesity — and only 10 cents of every dollar on food.

The jury is still out on what exactly may be causing all of these epidemics, but genetics don’t change that quickly, the environment does. And increasing evidence points to the role that diet is playing in the onset of disease.

In a perfect world, we’d all be growing our own organic vegetable garden, but most of us don’t yet live in that world. With picky eaters, limited time and a limited budget, we are trying to do the best we can with what we’ve got and are frustrated by the price discrepancy between conventional food and “organic” food at the grocery store.

But have you ever wondered why organic food costs more?

Organic food costs more than its conventional counterparts because our taxpayer dollars are not used to support organic farms to the same extent that our dollars are used to support conventional farms. Under our current system, it is more profitable for farmers to grow crops laced with chemicals than organic ones because they will receive larger government handouts from the USDA Farm Subsidy program, more marketing assistance, and stronger crop insurance programs.

If farmers do choose to grow organic crops, it costs them more because not only do they not receive the same level of financial handouts from the government, but they are also charged a fee to prove that their crops are safe and then on top of that, they are then charged a fee to label their crops as “organic.” As a result, organic farmers have a higher cost structure — with added fees and expenditures required to bring their products to market — while our taxpayer dollars are used to subsidize the crops with the chemicals.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to use our taxpayer dollars to subsidize the crops without chemicals given the increasing evidence pointing to the impact that these environmental insults are having on our health? What if our most powerful weapon in the war on health care is a farm subsidy?

Health care reform could begin at the USDA, with an equal allocation of our taxpayer dollars between organic and conventional farming. The USDA could continue health care reform by providing equivalent marketing assistance and crop insurance programs for organic crops and by eliminating the organic certification fee farmers are required to pay in order to label their crops as “USDA Organic.”

If we invite the US Department of Agriculture to be part of health care reform, the USDA could level the economic playing field for the farmers, enabling more farms to grow crops free of chemicals, synthetic and genetically engineered ingredients which would, in turn, increase the supply of these crops in the marketplace — which, as any good economist knows, would drive down costs. Organic food would be more affordable to more of us.

Safe food is a social justice issue that our taxpayer dollars could be used to support. Perhaps it’s time to invite the USDA into the health care debate and address the current system under which our taxpayer dollars are being used to externalize the costs of these chemicals onto the health of our families. With the USDA at the table, health care reform could begin on the farm allowing the most powerful weapon in the health care debate to be a grocery cart.

Robyn O’Brien is founder of AllergyKids Foundation,  and author of the book, The Unhealthy Truth: How Our Food Is Making Us Sick and What We Can Do About It. ©2010