I’m Halfway There! A Week 2 Update

This is my review of the 2nd week of Rice, Beans & Mixed Greens. It’s been a hard week, but a good week. I’ve had some fun bartering opportunities and gotten to volunteer with some young farmers.

There are some exciting things coming up for the final 2 weeks of my $30 of food in 30 days challenge. Stay tuned at https://ricebeansmixedgreens.wordpress.com/.
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April 25, 2008 at 9:20 pm 8 comments

The Global Food Crisis & You

basmati_rice  I decided that I was going to do the $30 for 30 days project months ago, so it’s an incredible coincidence to me that just as I began the new became dominated by the global food crisis. For those of you unfamiliar with this story, a terrible confluence of drought, increased global demand for meat, rising biofuel production, rapidly rising fuel prices, and political instability have led to huge increases in the cost of food worldwide. As an example, in the last year, the wholesale price of rice has more than doubled globally.

This is a serious problem on a number of levels. For one, more people than ever throughout the globe – especially in developing countries – are at risk of starvation. For the 1,000,000,000 people on this planet living on $1 per day or less (now you know where that food budget comes from), a small cup of rice can now cost their entire income. Aid organizations are struggling to buy enough food with their limited budgets and have had to cut back on food aid in many places. These shortages particularly affect children not only in the present, but for the long term. People who have suffered from malnutrition as children have lifelong gaps in health and mental development*. In short, a food crisis now becomes a human capital crisis in 20 years.

At the risk of being even more dour I won’t talk about food riots and political instability stemming from hunger and its resulting anger.

Ok, enough about these global problems. This project, at its heart, is about the small things that we can do to make a difference in this world. Like many global problems, one individual’s actions CAN make an impact on the global food crisis. Here are a few small actions you can take to decrease your impact on the global food system.

What You Can Do

  1. Eat fewer cows. It takes about 20 pounds of grain to produce 1 pound of beef. If that grain was fed directly to humans, there would be no food shortage. I know it’s not practical for most people to give up meat entirely, so I suggest having several meatless meals per week. Breakfast is an easy place to start. If that is still too difficult, shop around for grass fed beef, which is available in many markets throughout West Michigan. As a bonus, cattle production is responsible for 18% of global Carbon Dioxide emission. By cutting down on beef, you could reduce your carbon footprint as much as if you switched to a hybrid car.
  2. Eat more local foods. On average, each item on an American’s dinner plate has traveled 1500 miles to get there. In West Michigan we have access to a huge variety of fruits, veggies, dairy and meat all grown within 100 miles or less. This is not the best time of year to shop for most of the produce from this region, but it is a great time to start researching sources. Here is a list of farmers’ markets in the area. The Greater Grand Rapids Food Systems Council publishes a Local Food Guide that I’ve found very helpful. For even more information, check Local Harvest. Also, feel free to list your local food sources in the comments section.
  3. Grow your own. My post on home and community gardening shares lots of tips for starting to produce some of your own food. Unless you have a LOT of land, you probably aren’t going to grow grain, but you can definitely supplement your diet and incorporate the most local food source of all into your dinner plans.

I know this post is a little more abstract than rest of this project, but I think this is a great example of how local actions really can have a global impact.

*Referenced here: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3762/is_200201/ai_n9022740.

Photo by Cris DeRaud.

April 23, 2008 at 6:35 pm 9 comments

You Can Be a Gardener!

Garden Veggies After this awesome weekend in West Michigan, spring is definitely in the air. If your thoughts aren’t turning to love, they may be turning to gardening. For most of us that live in apartments or houses on small lots, gardening might mean a few flowers growing in pots or a small garden bed out front. However, with just a little creativity and work you can turn a small piece of soil into a productive vegetable garden and enjoy fresh, tasty, locally-grown food. Even if your thumb is the opposite of green, here are a few ways you can grown your own food.

Backyard (or Front Yard!) Gardening

If you have any space at all, even a windowsill, you can grow a few kitchen herbs and some common types of veggies. It’s really fun to be able to walk outside on a nice summer day and pick your dinner! Some common types of urban residential gardening are:

  • Container gardening. This is simply growing veggies, herbs and even some fruit in pots, flower boxes and window boxes. This site can help you pick out good varieties of veggies to grow in containers. I do this because my yard is pretty shaded and the soil is mostly clay and rock. At the very least I always plant a couple of cherry tomatoes, a small herb box, and some jalapeno peppers. In addition I have grown mixed lettuce (works well, short growing season) and swiss chard (a total dud).
  • Square foot gardening. If you have a small yard, but have decent light you could try square foot gardening. This is a way of planting large volumes in a small space. It requires some attention to the soil – you’ll need some compost – but it looks like once the initial setup is done it’s pretty low maintenance.
  • Plant the lawn! This one may seem a little goofy, but some people turn their front yards into vegetable gardens. This story talks about a group in England who helps people petition to their local councils to get permission to do this. Depending on where you live, you may or may not need permission to plow up your lawn and plant kale instead, but please check into the legalities before you buy a tiller 🙂

Community Gardens

If you have absolutely no space and/or no talent for growing anything, or you just like to work in teams, then community gardening may be the thing for you. In community gardening generally residents of a certain geographic area such as a neighborhood, have access to a plot of land that they can plant. There may be a small fee associated with using the land or to help pay for water, tilling and the like. Some community gardens assign individual plots to individuals and families. Others are more of a communal effort with everyone helping out a certain number of hours in exchange for a share of the crop.

The Greater Grand Rapids Food Systems Council maintains a list of community gardens in the Grand Rapids area. Take a look and see if there is one in your neighborhood! If you don’t see a community garden that is accessible to you, think about starting your own. I have a co-worker that lives in an apartment complex with a large amount of green space. She’s going to ask the management for permission to start a small community garden on the grounds.

Blandford Farm

Plowing the Blandford Farm the old fashioned way! If you don’t have the time or interest to take care of a garden during a whole growing season, but you still want to play in the dirt, you can volunteer to help at the Blandford Farm. This is the first time in over 20 years that Blandford Nature Center & Mixed Greens will have a functioning farm plot and they need your help! While the bulk of the farming will be handled by the Youth Farm Team, they are looking for volunteers to help with weeding and lots of other tasks throughout the summer.

While you won’t be paid in produce, you will definitely have a cool experience of contributing to a real working farm right in the middle of city of 500,000 people. The picture on the right is from this Sunday’s Dig In! event. For me, the highlight of this day was seeing the 1 acre farm plot being plowed by farmers using teams of Belgian horses. It’s really crazy to think that all of this was going on just a few blocks from a bus stop.

If you’re interested in volunteering, check the Volunteer page or contact Kristen McPhee Laura Worth at lworth(at)blandfordnaturecenter(dot)org or (616) 735-6240.

Veggie photo by Meliha Gojak.

April 21, 2008 at 8:14 pm 9 comments

A Gut Check Moment

Alright, I’m sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly of this project. Today was pretty ugly for a while.I REALLY wanted to quit this whole project, but I’m sticking in there. Thanks to everyone for their support and encouragement. Without all of you, I don’t think I’d make it.
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April 19, 2008 at 8:55 pm 11 comments

Week 1 Update + An Invitation to Dig In!

Well, I’ve lived through 7 whole days on this project! Last night I took advantage of the great weather to go out on my deck and record an update video. I tried to answer most of the frequently asked questions I’ve been getting. If I left anything off, please let me know and I’ll try to address them during the Week 2 update.

Dig In! at Blandford This Sunday
I also want to let everyone know that I’ll be stopping by the Dig In! event at Blandford Nature Center this Sunday. This is going to be a really fun event. From their website:

You’ll see real horse-drawn plows working the land, and have a chance to participate in projects to support our first youth and community-based growing season in 20 years. In addition to meeting our youth participants, you can learn all about our upcoming summer program on the farm, and ways you can get involved. Activities include planting seeds, spring ecology tours, lessons for kids connected to nature and food, hiking, picnic areas, and a Homestead Day in our historic buildings.

If you’d like to meet me in person, I’ll be volunteering from approximately 1-4:30pm.

April 18, 2008 at 5:25 pm Leave a comment

I’m Going to be on Mitch Albom Tonight!

This is short notice, but I just found out I’m going to be interviewed on Mitch Albom’s radio show tonight. Ahh!!!! The good news is, Mitch is a really nice guy (he wrote Tuesdays With Morrie) so I don’t think he’ll ask me any scary questions. He also is really involved in the Detroit nonprofit community, so he knows how this whole fundraising thing works.

If anyone would like to listen, I’ll be on at 5:58 Eastern time on WJR AM 760 from Detroit. You can listen on the Internet at their Listen Live page.

Wish me luck!

Update: People have asked if this interview is available online. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find it. If anyone else has better luck, please let me know in the comments.

The interview went well. Mitch seemed much more interested in what I could possibly be eating than the fundraising aspect of this, which was a little disappointing, but overall I was happy with the interview.

April 15, 2008 at 2:34 pm 8 comments

Dandelions – The Dirty Truth

I had grand plans to make a video of me foraging for dandelions this weekend. Unfortunately, I only had time to go out on Saturday and the rain foiled my plans. I picked a good amount anyway and decided that I would share the muddy dandelion cleaning process with all of you.

I also had a chance to look up the nutritional information on dandelions. Did you know 1 cup of raw greens has 112% of the RDA of Vitamin A? Read more about the incredible, edible weed at NutritionData.com.

April 14, 2008 at 6:11 pm 7 comments

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Would you like to support Blandford Nature Center & Mixed Greens? You can make an online donation through Network for Good or PayPal If you'd like to donate a more traditional way, check out the Donate page at MixedGreens.Org.

I would appreciate it if you mention Rice, Beans & Mixed Greens in your donation.