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A lot of consumers think they are doing a good thing by buying cage-free eggs. And they are. Supporting growers who provide more humane conditions for their chickens is a positive thing. But if you conjure up a vision of chickens pecking in a pasture when you reach for that carton of cage-free eggs, think again. Cage-free does not mean chickens roam freely, or even that they have access to the outdoors.
This article about the largest egg producer in Oregon expanding cage-free to 8 percent of its total production offers a good examination of the issue. Check out the photos of a cage-free henhouse teeming with some 40,000 chickens.

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Mr. Moon and his chickens on his farm.

Mr. Moon and his chickens on his farm. Photo courtesy of Thomas Osborne.

Safeway is taking a step in the right direction with its certification requirements for humanely produced eggs (see this Seattle Times article). But we’ll continue to buy our eggs from John Moon, an eightysomething farmer in Terrebonne, OR who produces free-range eggs, honey and vegetables on his farm near us.

Here in the Northwest, we love salmon and work to protect our salmon runs. Wild salmon could potentially be threatened if GMO farmed fish escape, not to mention the unknown effects on human health. The possible benefit of somewhat cheaper salmon is not worth the enormous risk. Sign this petition to let the FDA know you won’t eat genetically modified fish.

The familiar mantra reduce, reuse, recycle also implies use up what you have, don’t buy more than you need, don’t waste resources. So I was horrified to learn of the extent of food waste in America.

Today we visited the Benziger winery in Glen Ellen, CA. We only had time to visit one Sonoma-area winery and chose Benziger because of their sustainable/organic methods. We’ve toured a lot of wineries in Napa and were familiar with crushing, the role of oak barrels, caves for cellars and all that.
What is interesting about Benziger is their biodynamic approach. Biodynamic horticulture seems to be essentially the same as permaculture.

Sheep contribute to the biodynamics at Benziger Winery.

Sheep contribute to the biodynamics at Benziger Winery. Photo by benziger.com.

At Benziger they are¬† cultivating grapes of several varietals, but they also have 60 head of sheep that they turn out in the vineyards at certain times of year. Sheep mow down weeds and their hooves cultivate between the rows as tilling would do. In addition to sheep, they also raise cattle. They use manure and compost to enrich the soil. One tip new to me: They grow, harvest and dry yarrow, which they say helps jump-start decomposition when added to the compost pile. I have lots of yarrow on our property, so I’m going to try this in my three compost piles.
They capture and recycle water and have reduced water consumption from 24 gallons per barrel of wine (conventional methods, which they started with) to five (current sustainable, biodynamic methods).
There are gardens within the vineyards devoted to attracting beneficial insects. Groves of olive trees as well.

Vineyard at Benziger Winery

The beautiful vineyards at Benziger Winery. Photo: benziger.com.

I have yet to see an ugly winery, but this one is quite beautiful in a simple, unpretentious kind of way.

Disturbing news today that genetically modified alfalfa has been approved. If you are a horse owner (like me) then of course you care if you feed alfalfa. But if you’re an urban dweller, you should care because of biotech contamination. What’s that? It is what happens in farm fields every day. Fields of crops attract pollinators and birds, who range widely, spreading seeds from one place to another, just as the wind does. Therefore, if a field of organic corn, for example, is near a field of genetically modified corn, wind, pollinators and birds can contaminate the organic field with seeds of modified corn. And what if that modified alfalfa might be growing near a wheat field that’s a source for flour you use in cooking? Read more about it.

Thanks to Slow Food High Desert, I discovered this “Nightline” segment on a family who grows all their own food, keeps chickens and goats, harnesses solar power, recycles graywater and makes their own biodiesel — all on a regular-sized suburban lot in L.A. Watch this amazing video!

Ever since reading novelist Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle,” an account of her family’s effort to eat only what is produced in their county for an entire year, I have been thinking about whether I could become a localvore. Could I live without orange juice and grapefruits? Easily! I hate citrus. Give up bananas? Not so easy. Give up coffee? Definitely not.
But I know that I CAN make a little more effort to buy food produced locally whenever I can. I live in a rural area, so it’s easier for me than for many people. I have a great vegetable garden in the summer. If I had a greenhouse, I could have lettuce and other cool-season crops year round and probably even tomatoes for five months. There is a producer of hothouse tomatoes about 20 minutes up the highway. There are a few producers of all-natural beef and pork near me. One is only two miles away. I’m already buying my organic, free-range eggs from a woman nearby. There’s a dairy in my town. A winery less than 5 miles from my house.
It’s not as convenient as stopping at the supermarket on the way home, and I might drive a little more, but I would be supporting local growers. I’m starting to build my map, to see what I can source nearby.
Check it out. Make your own!

Interested in living sustainably? How you feed your family is an important part of it. Tonight the High Desert chapter of Slow Food is hosting a free screening of the film about the local food movement in the Northwest, “Ingredients.” View the trailer. Be there!

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