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, www.allergykidsfoundation.org  and author of the book, The Unhealthy Truth: How Our Food Is Making Us Sick and What We Can Do About It. ©2010

Stirring Interest In Organic Foods

Farm is part of effort to offer schools fresh, local items

By John-John Williams IV | Standing amid rows of lush, multicolored vegetables, Jeanette Orrey of England basked in the sunlight drawn to the main greenhouse of the Baltimore school system’s Great Kids Farm at the Bragg Nature Center. She ate a handful of leafy sprouts, urged on by her enthusiastic tour guide. She shook her head with approval.

“This is how every school system in the States should be,” Orrey said. The former school lunch employee-turned-advocate was among a group of six who visited the school system Wednesday to learn more about the city’s efforts to provide school lunches made of fresh, local organic foods. In addition to Baltimore, the group’s tour includes schools in New York City and Arlington County in Virginia. “My goal is that no child will go hungry and that the next generation will have an idea where their food comes from and how it is produced,” said Orrey, who has led her nation’s efforts to provide local, organic foods in schools.

Tony Geraci, director of food and nutrition services for Baltimore schools, served as the group’s tour guide of the 33-acre farm equipped with several greenhouses, a number of honey-producing beehives, 50 chickens and six goats. In the less than two years since the farm has opened, Geraci and his staff have transformed the former orphanage into a self-sustaining organic farm with the potential to become the home of an “agri-hospitality” charter school.

Farm to School programs:

  • Help farmers access new markets
  • Provide students with healthful, local food
  • Keep dollars circulating locally
  • Help fight the growing childhood obesity epidemic

More than 2,000 students have visited the farm. In addition, fruit and vegetables grown there have been used to support 25 families with food, according to Geraci, and six local restaurants purchase produce from the site. Since Geraci took the job two years ago, he has made a major push to offer organic, locally grown foods in city schools and launched “meatless Mondays,” which encourages students to include more fruit and vegetables in their diets. Geraci also hopes to convert a former Pulaski Highway warehouse into a 37,000-square-foot central kitchen where cooks can prepare local foods and then ship them to school cafeterias for final heating and assembly. The project is expected to cost $3 million.

The visitors were exposed to another of Geraci’s planned initiatives when they ate lunch prepared in part by hospitality students at Edmondson-Westside High School. Eventually, Geraci hopes that the students will be able to cook meals using foods grown at the farm.

“I think there is a huge problem with the disconnection between children and food and where it comes from. I think that Tony is trying to address that with the children and the whole community,” said Orrey, whose visit was sponsored by Animal Welfare Approved, an Alexandria, Va.-based group that monitors family farmers who raise animals and have high standards for the animals’ welfare.

Orrey and the other guests gushed over the lunch prepared by the students. It was Orrey’s first time eating cornbread. Noelle Bright, a 16-year-old junior at the school, said she would enjoy cooking with products grown locally. “I think it’s better,” she said. “It just has a better texture. It’s fresh.”

Copyright © 2010, The Baltimore Sun

In Wisconsin

In May, legislators passed changes that will enable more schools to buy food from local farmers, cook fresh meals, teach healthy eating, and plant school gardens. Wisconsin-based Organic Valley has been a huge supporter of this legislation and explains the significance of this legislation in their monthly newsletter Rootstock: “This is an enormous opportunity for families and for farmers. Helping more schools serve healthy, local food would be a major step forward towards a future where everyone can enjoy food that’s good for us, good for the planet and good for the farmers who produce it.” Slow Food USA’s Time for Lunch campaign website (www.slowfoodusa.org/index.php/campaign/time_for_lunch/) makes it easy for you to email your legislators and learn what can be done right in your own neck of the woods.

Learn more about other Wisconsin and national efforts:

  • www.farmtoschool.org – the national Farm to School site
  • Farm to School connects schools (K-12) and local farms with the objectives of serving healthy meals in school cafeterias, improving student nutrition, providing agriculture, health and nutrition education opportunities, and supporting local and regional farmers.
  • www.reapfoodgroup.org – Research, Education, Action & Policy on Food Group is a non-profit organization located in Madison
  • www.cias.wisc.edu/economics/great-lakes-region-farm-to-school-program-network/ – Great Lakes Region Farm to School Networkwww.farmtoschool.org/state-programs.php?action=detail&id=12&pid=59 – Information on the Wisconsin Homegrown Lunch Group
  • http://seedmagazine.com/content/article/food_fight_round_1/ – Seed Magazine has started a very interesting series of debates focused on food production. They ask the question: What does “sustainable agriculture” truly mean—and what should it look like? Visit this site where two experts square off on the true causes of food insecurity.

Maximize the Benefits of Green Tea


Adding a spritz of lemon to green tea might give you a bigger health boost. Researchers say the citrus juice creates an acidic environment that can help free up more antioxidant compounds for the body to absorb after digestion.

Green Goodness

By now, your garden lettuce is probably on hiatus until fall, but that doesn’t mean your greens intake has to diminish to nothing for the next eight weeks. True, many greens just taste best from the garden, but chances are you’re not growing things like collard greens, mustard greens, beet greens, fennel, and bok choy…so the grocer’s varieties may suit you just fine. Don’t pass these beauties up! They’re full of nutrients and fiber and can be eaten in a variety of ways. Here are a few top picks of some good greens and how to consume them.

Mustard Greens – the leaves of the mustard plant, Brassica juncea, have a pungent, peppery taste. Use them in place of swiss chard or collards or add them to any dish for extra flavor. Mustard greens provide 9 vitamins and 7 minerals, including the antioxidant vitamins A, C, and E.

As a member of the cruciferous vegetable family, it has powerful cleansing properties. Cruciferous veggies help prevent cancers including breast, prostate, and colon; however, eat them cooked or fermented because the raw form of these vegetables can disrupt thyroid function.

Bok Choy – Another member of the cabbage or cruciferous family, bok choy’s crisp mild texture makes it ideal for stir fries. Whether you use regular or baby bok choy, choose leaves that are crisp and green, not yellowed. Bok choy is also delicious when finely or coarsely chopped and added to quinoa or millet. High in vitamin C, calcium and vitamin A, bok choy also contains glucosinolates, which may prevent cancer. Where thyroid concerns exist, be sure this veggie is cooked or fermented when eaten.

Fennel– The seeds of this plant are a common cooking spice; the fresh variety is also very pleasant. Fennel is crunchy and slightly sweet, a refreshing contribution to Mediterranean cuisine. It is rich in phytonutrients (rutin, quercitin, and various kaempferol glycosides), vitamin C, fiber, potassium, manganese… it’s basically a nutrient powerhouse. The stalks can be cut up and added raw to salads or sautéed with your favorite vegetables. For an out-of-this world treat, make a soup of puréed broccoli and fennel in a vegetable broth.

Beet Greens – Have you been throwing out the tops of your beets? Give those greens a chance! Sautéed with other veggies, added to soups, or eaten as a side dish, beet greens add color and flavor to any meal. They are high in vitamins K and A as well as anti-oxidants beta carotene and lutein.

Kale – The deep green leaves of the kale plant provide an earthy flavor and more nutritional value for fewer calories than almost any other food. It is exceptionally high in vitamins K, C, and A, and manganese. Not only that, in one serving of kale, you can fulfill over 10% of your daily recommended intake of fiber, calcium, B6, potassium, iron, copper, and tryptophan. In addition to its glucosinolates, kale is rich in a flavonoid called maempferol, which has been shown to protect against ovarian cancer. Yeah, it’s a keeper. Eat it raw with other greens in a mixed salad, fermented, or cooked in any array of dishes.

Swiss Chard – Available throughout the year, Swiss chard’s season runs June to August – so when lettuce ends, Swiss chard begins! This veggie, similar to kale and spinach, is easily added to salads or cooked dishes, and boasts a vast array of nutritional benefits. Chard belongs to the same family as beets and spinach with a similar taste: beet green bitterness and spinach leaf saltiness. Both the leaves and stalk of chard are edible, with the white stalks being the most tender. One serving alone provides 716% of your daily recommended value of vitamin K! (vitamin K plays a role in skin elasticity, blood clotting and bone health.) Chard also has high values of vitamins A, C, and E, plus magnesium, manganese, potassium, iron, fiber, calcium, folate… it’s all in there. One great way to gobble it up: sautée chopped leaves and stems with some chopped garlic in a small amount of animal or vegetable fat until the leaves are just wilted. Season with salt and pepper.

So if you haven’t figured it out already, greens are good for you! They’re packed with nutrients and fiber, yet low in calories and low on the glycemic index. Rich in phytochemicals, carotenoids, flavonoids, and other powerful antioxidants, greens are good cancer fighters. And in lactose/dairy sensitive diets, leafy greens are a great dairy alternative. They’re lower in calories and fat than milk, have no sugar like some non-cow “milks,” and are not highly allergenic foods. Yet you still get the high levels of calcium, plus a lot of other great nutrients. Don’t pass these beauties by on your next trip to the farmer’s market or grocery store. Green is good!

(Nutritional information for this article taken from World’s Healthiest Foods, www.whfoods.org, and www.nutritiondata.com).

TUSCAN KALE SOUP

Ingredients:
Extra virgin olive oil
1 lb of Italian sausage
3 large potatoes
1-2 cloves fresh garlic, finely
minced
1/2 yellow onion, finely diced
Sea Salt
1/2 cup white Arborio rice, do not
rinse
4 cups spring or filtered water
4-5 leaves fresh kale, rinsed well
Roasted red peppers, to garnish

Directions
Place about 2 tablespoons oil, garlic, and onion in a small soup pot and turn the heat to medium. When the vegetables begin to sizzle, add a pinch of salt and saute until the onions are translucent, about 3 minutes. Stir in rice to coat with oil. Add water, cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cook for 20-25 minutes, until the rice is quite soft. Season to taste with salt. Slice the kale into bite-sized pieces just before stirring them into the soup. Simmer, uncovered, just until the kale is tender, about 3 minutes. Serve garnished with minced roasted red pepper. Makes 4-5 servings.

Note: To roast a pepper, rinse and dry the pepper and place over an open flame. Cook, turning, with tongs, until the outer skin of the pepper is completely charred. Transfer the pepper to a paper sack, seal, and allow the pepper to steam for about 10 minutes. Gently rub the charred skin from the pepper and rinse gently to remove any charred residue. Roasted peppers will keep, refrigerated, for about a week. Or simply open a jar of roasted red peppers.