Veggies Fresh from the Farm–Without Getting Dirty!

…well unless you want to…

Imagine receiving a weekly delivery of farm fresh vegetables, flowers, dairy and pasture grazed beef every week without getting one ounce of dirt on your hands…for those that agree that a little dirt won’t hurt you, there are ways to get your farming fix by helping to plant crops for your local farmer and with each delivery you’ll smile knowing you played a part in cultivating the delicious bounty before you.

This perfect balance of free veggies with or without dirt does exist, and it’s called Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) my friends!

Community farming initiatives started out in Japan and Chile in the early 1970s, with influence in the United States coming from the biodynamic agricultural traditions of post World War II Europe from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. The idea crossed the pond in 1986 and the idea of CSAs was born simultaneously at Indian Line Farm in Massachusetts and at the Temple-Wilton Community Farm in New Hampshire.

CSAs help to create a local, safe, and sustainable community. When people share in the harvest and even planting of their own food they feel a sense of pride. The benefits of owning a share in your local CSA is knowing exactly where your food is coming from, how it’s grown, and who the farmer is, minus the concerns of genetically modified organisms, cruel animal farming practices, and the contribution to fertilizer laden ecosystems from harsh over use. Because they are not government funded, the best part about CSAs is that all they need to thrive is involved members, farmers looking for community support, green thumbs and a good piece of land.

CSAs do have a few drawbacks just like anything else in this world. Shareholders must adjust to eating with the seasons and the inconsistencies of the harvest. Many CSAs will send out surveys asking what’s working and what families would like to see grown, but the farmers make the final call, and with any CSA, you take what you get.

But the thought of paying half the price of retail for locally grown produce, flowers and locally raised dairy and meat products outweighs any negative aspects in my opinion. If you keep track of how much you spend on average in the produce section or your local market each week–then multiply that by 26 you’ll have a figure to compare with what a six month share at your local CSA would be.

Great websites like Local Harvest and Sustainable Table can help you find local CSAs in your area, the farmers are more than happy for you to contact them regarding CSA product and pricing information.

Love your farmer–eat locally!

Posted by Amanda| follow me on Twitter

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Become a Jedi of the Farmer’s Market

Now that spring has officially sprung itself here in our lovely state of Rhode Island my thoughts are drifting towards the 2010 farmer’s market season. I am a huge fan of the Aquidneck Growers’ Market; I get there early so that I can get first dibs on all the goodies while sipping on an icy cup of deliciousness from Custom House Coffee. Since buying locally is the biggest way to high five mother earth I thought I’d put together some tips and tactics in preparation for the upcoming season–to make sure you find the produce you are looking for.

Straight from the horses—or in this case farmer’s mouth

Don’t be afraid to talk to the person tending the booth—it is an amazing opportunity to speak with the people who grow it–they want to answer your questions! Ask where your food comes from, are they certified organic? If not ask why, I guarantee they’ll have a good reason…maybe they are a very small family run farm who practices sustainability because the price tag of organic just doesn’t add up…but hey…sustainable farming is great too!

If you don’t know how to cook parsnips, rutabagas, artichokes or that some squash blossoms are edible (and delicious when panko breaded and fried!), ask for suggestions on preparing them.

Make a list, no need to check it twice

Knowing what’s in season won’t be very hard to figure out while you are at the farmers market since it will be all around you…but doing a little recon before making any purchases will help you out in two ways.

  1. Do a little research for in-season produce and look at seasonal menus to help you figure out what you’d like to be looking for and what to do with your locally grown haul. Oranges and Avocados don’t grow in Rhode Island in May…but Asparagus does!
  2. Make a loop around and take in all the sights before buying (I like to grab a coffee and a blueberry muffin…grazing while I take in the sights) you’ll kick yourself if you find amazing looking basil two tables down…for half the price!

It always helps to have a few loose ideas in your head as to what you are going to do with your produce…often the grower will want to hear about that delicious blueberry trifle you made the week before, your feedback can help them sell to the next person who doesn’t know what they’d do with a pound of fresh berries.

Money talks…debit cards walk…

Please oh please do not get frustrated when the farmer forgets their credit card machine at home…unless you are at in indoor farmer’s market most of the time there is no electricity at such events. You’d think this was common sense…but since I’ve seen it—I had to put it out there…

Also don’t be afraid to use your cash to shop for bargains—it doesn’t hurt to ask especially if you are at the tail end of the day—if two items for $5 instead of $6.50 will work.

Tote along for the ride…

Since fresh produce hasn’t been dipped in wax or petrified to survive shipping thousands of miles it will absolutely bruise and damage easily. Collapsible market totes, boat tote bags and coolers will become your new bff and always go with you to the market. Damp paper towels or cheese cloth in water proof containers or baggies will protect herbs from wilting on your way home—and can be used in the refrigerator to help keep them a little longer. Chances are your farmer will have a few recommendations for storing, watering, and enjoying your purchases.

Do or do not…there is no try.” ~Master Yoda

Happy hunting–see you at the market!!

Here are a few great websites to help you along your journey:

Local Harvest

Epicurious’ seasonal map

Farmers Market online in season listing

Posted by Amanda| follow meow on Twitter

Have an eco and wallet friendly Valentines Day

How do you stay green and celebrate a holiday that is as artificially created as cubic zirconia? I’ve been asking myself this question for a couple of weeks prompted by facebook posts and tweets about Valentines Day gifts. I’ve fielded questions from people asking what my boyfriend and I are doing for Valentines Day or even worse what I’m planning on buying him…which by the way, I am clueless and have no answer for…or do I?!

Don’t get me wrong I’m a fan of romance—when it’s genuine, heartfelt and thoughtful. Romantic gifts do not include a teddy bear wearing an ugly heart shaped necklace—unfortunately large advertising jewelry stores will lead thousands of men and women to believe that it does by cramming poorly acted commercials conveying so down TV viewers throats every five minutes…but wait it comes in an extra fugly jewelry box!

While the greenest way to celebrate Valentine’s Day would be to stay in, cook a meal made from fresh locally caught fish, grass fed beef and produce from within 250 miles of your home, I do realize that there are folks out there who still like to shower their significant other in gifts.

Here are some of my favorite gift ideas (which are in no way hints for my boyfriend, thankfully he is 100% competent in his gift giving abilities) that I also think are affordable, green and cool!

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The Green Glass Company makes beautiful tumblers, vases and even candle holders out of re-used glass bottles of all types.

If you live in a state where you can actually by wine in the mail (boo to Rhode Island for not allowing it…) there are a few Organic Wine Companies that do wine of the month clubs. This would be a great way to make Valentines Day last all year!

Any of you absolutely dread or even loathe the greeting card section of any store like me… Well how about shopping online for a gorgeously handmade card that is crafted with love like those found at Designs by Becca at my favorite online store of all time Etsy.com. What about those that aren’t quite “In Love” with their Valentine but in a serious state of liking…even adoration…? These cute witty cards from UpUp Creative can help you express yourself in a non-dramatic over the top kind of way.

Chocolate is always a great idea, how about putting a little extra effort in and make them at home…they’ll be fresh, local and your Valentine will adore you for making them by hand.

Instead of over-priced roses, how about a small rose plant—or if you know your Valentines favorite flower, shrub, fruit tree, etc. how about buying a baby one that they can plant outside in the warmer months?

Of course for those of us who are great procrastinators it may be too late for this year, but you get the idea…you don’t have to spend a ton of money, or buy useless senseless things to show your Valentine you care. Instead make wise choices that are not only eco friendly…but are wallet friendly too!

Posted by Amanda| follow me on Twitter

Did you know…you could shop for the Earth?

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Just a heads up to all you Rhode Islanders! If you haven’t seen the commercial yet, there is a new store offering eco friendly alternatives for shopaholics in Wakefield and East Greenwich. It’s called THE Did You Know? STORE. Here is their mission:

  1. To give consumers an environmentally conscious alternative to everyday products
  2. To support recycling and reuse, organic farming, fair trade, and less waste
  3. To allow consumers to be able to choose affordable eco-friendly products without sacrificing quality and without having to completely change the way he or she lives.

 It has some great apparel (really cute t-shirts), and stuff for your pets babies and kids, among other things. The founder, Claire Hall (a URI graduate) is quoted on her website saying “I want a store that is about more than just selling green products. I want to provide people with information that will help them make eco-friendly choices in their everyday lives.” You can take a look at THE Did You Know? STORE here, or check our their blog here. Happy Shopping!!

Posted by: Ashley (intern)

Saving trees while saving $Green$

Have you ever gotten one of those supermarket circulars and you get all excited to save some money and then you only find 5 good coupons, you use one and the rest expire in your wallet? Ever wonder how many trees are chopped down so that millions of us can do the same thing? (If you want to find out just how much, and read about another coupon alternative check out Joe’s blog post on rethinking the coupon clippage)

Well, if you are the proud owner of an iPhone then I have found another substitute for clipping paper coupons, and its super easy. The Coupon Sherpa is a new iPhone app that lets you search for coupons, save them, and then when you’re paying at the grocery store they can actually scan the barcode from your phone. It saves time, trees and MULA!! (Check out Ecoscraps for a tutorial video and some words from the Coupon Sherpa’s creator)

Posted by: Ashley (intern)

A Year of Greener Living

Earth Day 2009 marks the one year anniversary of our family’s transition to sustainable living. For us, this meant more than simply taking advantage of our town’s recycling program; it is the one year mark of changing the entire way we live and how our family will impact the earth. Some of our changes were simple, some of our changes were massive, some were inexpensive, some have upped our budgets; all of our changes are innate now and that was always my goal.

 

Pictured below: Abby and Max after one year of green living.

 

 Max and Abby on 4.18.09

 When we decided to build our new house environmentally friendly and sustainable in April 2008, I realized that we there were things we weren’t doing that we could be doing. Our family has made a lot of changes this past year, and I decided that our Earth Day post 2009 could serve  to review how we’ve gone green and to challenge others to review their lifestyles and see if there were more things they could be doing.

 

1.       No more bottled water. Seems simple right? We had always recycled all our plastic bottles but I never thought about the waste stream we were creating. We all bought Kleen Kanteens or equivalent and have switched completely to tap water.

2.       Switched to CFLs. Again, simple enough but I had a hard time justifying getting rid of light bulbs that worked to make the switch. Ultimately I couldn’t ignore the statistics that stated things like “a global switch to efficient lighting systems would trim the world’s electricity bill by nearly one-tenth”. We’re not global but in one year we’ve lowered our monthly kWh usage by an average of 180 kWh per month.

3.       Organic eating. This is one place we have increased costs. I used to shop at our local Belmont but they just do not carry enough organic produce, so out of season I head to Whole Foods. On average I spend $100 more per grocery shopping trip (which is about 2 times per month) but I have the whole family on board on the importance of eating foods free of preservatives, hormones, pesticides, trans fats and processed sugars. I’ve changes family recipes, even creating some that are simply better than they were before. I think over time, these costs will level out, but this change was worth it.

4.       Going local. From shopping at local farms to buying from local retail shops, I have dedicated myself to buying things from gifts to clothes within our community. I’m kind of lucky in that I live in a small state and nearly everything is local to me, but when it comes to this I really focus on shopping in Wakefield and Narragansett. It’s really not that hard and I’ve gotten to know so many of my neighbors!

5.       Conserving water. We added aerators to all our faucets and I only run the dishwasher when full. I scrape, don’t rinse. We pee 3 times before we flush (TMI, sorry, but we still have 1.6 gpf toilets and can’t afford buying new ones). Jeans get worn three times before washing, pajamas get the same treatment. If we have water left in a glass or a pan, we use it to water the plants. Being green means not wasting blue!!!

6.       No paper. No plastic. I always use my own bags. I don’t think about it, I always have one with me, no matter where I am from a local shop to the grocery store to the mall or the pharmacy, I always have them with me and even keep 2 EnviroSaks in my “World’s Greatest Mom” bag.

7.       Less driving. In total, since April of last year, I have only driven 7211 miles in my car. My husband and I commute together 2 days per week as our schedules allow. I shop locally when I am at work and all the shops are within walking distance or at least within a mile of my office. When I do have a lot of places to go in one day, I drive in a sensible pattern to minimize the distance travelled.   My two biggest offenses: my parents live 40 miles away (but on the way to Whole Foods!) and sometimes I have to drive for a business trip. I try not to drive needlessly and I think, do we need it before I get in a car. My gas bill is 68% less than the same period the year before, granted gas is cheaper, but I also drove almost 3000 less miles than the previous year!

8.       Educating my children about how they can help the earth. My daughter loves to pick up trash. She reminds her brother to turn off the water. They both shut off the lights. She looks for the word organic on the food she picks and will turn down treats that have been proclaimed by me as junk. When she outgrows clothes, she lists who they can be given to and she makes the same suggestions for toys. For her birthday we agreed to a home-grown party with no presents but donations to help our local animal shelter. She is turning six and she gets it; she doesn’t feel like she’s giving anything up while living a greener, healthier life. She just lives and this will change our world.

9.       I started a Green Blog. We have logged more than 18,000 readers to our website since our launch six months ago, we have shared our ideas, our views, and our knowledge with others and hopefully we have inspired them. Our green community is alive and it is growing and I hope it will continue to be a sustainable force.

10.   Building a green home. This is the biggie; this blog, our website is dedicated to our journey through building a green home. It is what has made me undergo the changes we have and preach to anyone who will listen. We are still 4-5 months from project completion, but it has taught me so much about what we can all do to green our homes.

 

This year has really improved me and I am proud of the commitment that I have made to living sustainably. Making the decision to build a green home was all about my children, but it changed me in a way that makes me a better inhabitant of this planet. I try to remember I am just passing through; my footprint should be in the good I can do.

posted by KDL | follow me on Twitter: newscaster

Organic and Healthy Alternatives

Like so many of my fellow college students who wake up far too late to make a balanced nutritious breakfast, I am a huge fan of Pop Tarts. Smores are my fave. Their down side: 8 million grams of fat and sugar (I’m rounding) and whatever else they shove into those shiny silver packages. Its kinda gross, especially when you eat a family size box in two days…(guilty). But I have found a glimmer of hope! We here at Caster got some samplings of Nature’s Path products so I decided to do some research on what they’ve got going on. Lo and behold they make healthy toaster pastries!!! Totally organic, has real fruit fillings, and low sodium. They’ve got apple cinnamon, brown sugar maple cinnamon, bluberry, cherry chocolate stripe…and you can get them with or without frosting.

BUT THE FUN DOESN’T STOP THERE PEOPLE!

Oh boy, they’ve got cereal, bread, waffles, snacks, bars, baking mixes, kids stuff…and all different types and flavors. If youre looking for some organic and healthy alternatives I definitely suggest checking out their website. They have the ingredients and nutirition facts for each product on the website, and you can make purchases from the site as well. The best part about the site though is they have sections that explain organics, sustainability, and some tips on living healthier.

For all you local Rhode Islanders they have product on Main Street in Wakefield at the Alternative Food Co-op and Daves Marketplace in North Kingstown. Providence, Smithfield, and Newport also have stores carrying Nature’s Path goodies. They’re all over the world so to find a store near you check out the Where to Buy section of their site. After you try it leave us a comment about your favorite Nature’s Path snack!

Posted by: Ashley (intern)