Why We Choose to Support Local Farms

Today, I was excited to find an article in the Huffington Post that outlines several reasons why, and ways, to avoid factory farmed food products and why it is so important to break our reliance on grocery stores. You can find that article here.

I don’t necessarily want to repeat what the author has already written. But because this blog is centered around our journey to become more self-sustainable and more aware of our purchases and consumer choices, I felt compelled to share why it is important to us to know where our food comes from and why we support our local farms.

I’m not going to lie to you or try to pretend that we are something we are not. We have Pop Tarts in our house. We sometimes have to buy meat at a traditional grocery store. Drinking Pepsi is one of my biggest vices (though I am trying very hard to moderate my consumption of it, for health reasons). Sometimes I give my children boxed cereal because it is quick and easy. And every member of my family enjoys a good fast-food burger when the mood hits us. Even though I want to have backyard chickens someday, we don’t have a coop and a flock on our property. I have the blackest thumb of anyone I know–I couldn’t even keep potted herbs alive for longer than two months. We don’t grow a bit of our own food.

However, when you have children, and as you age and develop health issues, you start to pay more attention to ingredient labels. I notice a behavioral change in my children when they consume food with artificial food coloring and dyes. I am noticing that I have adverse reactions to traditional dairy products, when consumed in higher quantities (i.e. yogurt is okay, but drinking straight milk can have troublesome side effects). I’m realizing that I can’t handle fatty, overly sweet, or highly greasy foods anymore without, um, paying for it a few hours later. I’m troubled when I realize that there are ingredients on our labels that I cannot pronounce, let alone define. I’m frustrated that high fructose corn syrup is in seemingly everything I feed my little ones–and it’s not the corn syrup in and of itself that is a problem for me, but that, due to it being inexpensive, companies make things twice as sweet as they used to be because they can–hey, this stuff doesn’t cost much anyway, and the kids love sweet stuff, so throw twice as much in there because it will sell! One of the reasons we cut traditional cable is because we got so tired of commercials telling us we had to buy, buy, buy or we would somehow be lacking “the good life,” and commercials trying to get my children to eat neon colored fake foods are part of that. While we do enjoy meat and animal products in this house, it breaks my heart to know that animals are crammed into feces-laden, disease ridden feedlots, and that they are abused, tortured, neglected, sickened–all to sell eggs or a chub of ground beef to the grocery store. And what comes of these feedlots and slaughterhouses, not to mention factory farms where the crops are assaulted with pesticides and chemical fertilizers? Well, all of the sickness, and the chemicals, and the toxins go straight into the ground or the water supply–and of course they can enter your food. Think of all of the outbreaks and recalls with veggies and meats in recent years….

We shared a CSA with my in-laws last year. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, CSA stands for community-supported agriculture. Some farms offer a program where customers can purchase a “share” of what the farm produces at the beginning of the season. The payment in early spring helps fund the farmer’s endeavors. In return, you get a box or a bag chock full of the farm’s harvest every week throughout the growing season. You essentially own a share of the farm’s bounty. This is really something that I believe in because you are giving not only financial support to a local farm, but you are also showing faith in them and what they are doing–and what these small farms are doing is so important, both to our families and our food system in general (the animals, the environment, etc).

(One of our weekly bags from last year’s CSA share.)

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I encourage you to visit one of your local, small farmers. There are few things more rewarding, and honestly, one of the most responsible things you can do for your family, is to talk to a farmer and ask him/her about the produce they grow–how it’s planted, tended, harvested. With a local farmer, you can go straight to the source to ask where your food is coming from, where it originates. You can actually see it growing in or roaming the fields. Go to a large company, like the corporations that govern feedlots, and chances are they will drive you away quicker than you can blink. They don’t allow cameras or questions, but a small farmer will (I can’t tell you the number of times that I have visited local farms JUST to take pictures). If you’re not interested in physically going to the farm, many communities have farmers’  markets where you can see what has been harvested (usually that morning, not weeks ago and then trucked across the country, like factory farms will do), and you can ask questions of the farmer or the workers.

(Besides…picking your own strawberries at a local farm reaps a huge savings, money-wise, and the berries are far more yummy.)

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When I think of this subject, I tend to think of chickens. I have an inherent fascination with chickens. They are just fun to watch. One of the things that brightens my day is seeing the chickens roaming around in the mornings on a farm–they wander the property, usually not too far from the barn, picking at the ground for bugs, scratching, clucking to one another as they make their rounds. The resulting eggs are so tasty–far better than anything from the store–because they eat natural foods, and they are healthier creatures to start with because they can live how nature intended a chicken to live. The eggs are beautiful, unique, various colors, different sizes. They are the total opposite of uniform, colorless eggs from chickens that have been packed by the thousands into a building, where the only thing they have to peck and scratch are each other, where there is no room to roam or, simply put, to be a chicken.

I’m blessed to live in a rural area that has multiple farmers’ markets, several CSA opportunities, many more local farms, etc. I understand that it isn’t as easy to simply avoid factory farms. I get it. I mean, I live in the middle of an ideal community for it, and I still go to the standard grocery store when needed. But it is so easy to make one or two changes. Maybe your choice is to grow your own herbs in pots, or to buy eggs from the farm instead of the store, or to attend the market once a week or once a month, or to choose one fruit or vegetable to buy organically–the thing is, even that one small step matters. It’s voting with your wallet. If everyone committed to one small thing, think of what we could do?

What is your small baby step going to be?

(Taking your little ones to the farm and teaching them to enjoy it and to make a habit of it…that is one small step.)

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A Month of Gratitude, #1–Plus, A Very Special Announcement!!

It seems to be a blog and Facebook tradition to document one thing you are grateful for every day in November. Obviously, you know I am grateful for my family, friends, shelter, my health, and the traditional things most of us are thankful for every day of our lives. My gratitude for those items are beyond expression, and are really a given. I want to ponder the more unconventional things I have reason to be thankful for–the things we often take for granted.

And so begins the first thing I want to express gratitude for (although none of these items will be in any particular order). Today, I am grateful for wheat. Wheat is often called “the staff of life,” and it is a crucial part of so many things that we enjoy–breads, pastries, cereals, pastas–and even things you wouldn’t expect (did you know they can make doors out of wheat?). It is often abused (the nutritious parts of wheat are often removed during processing for store bought foods and flour), and as such, it gets a bad reputation for being unhealthy. Yet, there is growing evidence that some (not all) gluten sensitive individuals experience relief and can enjoy wheat based foods when they mill their own flour from fresh wheat.

We consider ourselves “preppers” on a small scale–we don’t believe in doomsday, but we do believe in emergencies such as extended power outages and blocked roadways (we experience both on a regular basis in the country), and also the inability to travel in inclement weather (we also are snowbound frequently). One of the things we store is wheat in buckets, and I have been extremely grateful of late to find a local source of non-GMO, organic white wheat for home milling.

(Excuse the poor photo…taken from my phone’s camera, but buckets of wheat such as this one are commonly seen in our home.)

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Without this valuable grain, we would be without so many things that we enjoy, and so today, I am expressing my gratitude for this simple plant.

And this subject also leads to my special announcement–yay!!

On Saturday, November 23rd, at 10:00am, This Path Less Traveled (and yours truly) will be cohosting a class with Goodness Grows (an organic farm in Bedford, PA) on milling your own flour. This will be the first in what I am hoping will be monthly classes sponsored by this blog on self sufficiency skills. The class will be held at this picturesque, historic farm itself, outside of Bedford, Pennsylvania (5360 Bedford Valley Rd  Bedford, PA 15522). You will have the opportunity to try a few different types of grain mills (both electric and manual), and you will leave with a few pounds worth of flour of different varieties of grains to use in your Thanksgiving cooking and baking. Registration IS required either by email (laurashelton115@gmail.com) or by RSVPing on the event page, which will be located on This Path Less Traveled’s Facebook page. There will be a $5.00 fee per participant in order to cover the cost of the non GMO, organic grains you will be milling, and that fee will go directly to Goodness Grows to cover the material costs.

For those who are not local and cannot physically attend, class materials will be posted online so you can virtually participate in the class as much as is feasible.

Hope to see you at the class!

Hopeful Eating

I find myself sometimes getting lost in online conversations on internet forums or Facebook. There are so many controversial subjects these days, particularly among the parenting set–vaccinations, the breast vs. bottle debate, the safety of cosleeping, modes of discipline (or lack thereof), etc, etc, etc–and it is enough to drive me mad. I find myself often becoming so depressed by the fighting over what is right and what is wrong, and yet, I admit that there’s a part of my nature that gets sucked into these conversations and watching others argue. I watch, I become frustrated or angry, and then I find myself disheartened for the rest of the day.

Perhaps the most heated discussion I find is about what we’re eating, or not eating. There are so many hot button subtopics. Are GMOs safe for consumption? Are organic foods really the best? How can we stop the decimation of our environment created by these monocrop farms of corn and soy that are grown and maintained via the use of chemicals? How can we end the cruelty that occurs in overcrowded, unhealthy factory farms that are filled to the brim with thousands upon thousands of animals suffering together in such a small space? There’s rampant hunger due to the faltering economy. There are arguments over food stamps. There is wariness toward corn syrup, processed foods, additives, dyes, refined sugars. We worry about obesity and food related illnesses; we see malnutrition in American children. We worry about the origins of our food, the fact it is being trucked to us over thousands of miles, and sometimes, across continents. We have more and more people using the resources of food pantries. Our children are constantly bombarded by clever advertising that tries to encourage them to eat all of the wrong things.

It’s enough to just make you sad. It seems hopeless and futile. Where do we even begin to fix things? Where do we find honest answers? And will we find the answers in time to save our children and our future, our earth?

You can see why the discussions get so hostile. Sometimes, though, I feel like the anger ends up making things worse. We get enraged, fight with each other, just to win an argument on Facebook, and in the meantime, what is actually being accomplished? Is anything getting better? Are changes being made? Instead, we fight just to fight because we are upset, and we want changes, and we don’t know where to begin. We engross ourselves so much in the negative that we become blind to what reality actually is.

After a trip to a local organic farm, one where we receive our CSA, in fact, it dawned on me. At times, things do seem hopeless when it comes to the Standard American Diet (with the apt acronym of “SAD”). But, if we stopped fighting for a minute, stopped relishing our anger, stopped insisting that WE, and only WE, have the answers, we might truly see the good that is happening around us.

Change is happening. It is slow, it will take work, but it is happening. As I stood overlooking acres of organic farmland, I thought, how can we not see it?

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Organic foods are becoming more accessible to the masses. I can find them in discount stores, in the supermarket, at the farmers markets. More and more people are voting with their forks and wallets by demanding organic foods, and you can see this in the grocery store as the natural and organic sections grow bigger and bigger. Organic foods are the fastest growing subset in the food industry right now.

We might not have all of the answers regarding GMOs, but there are more and more people asking questions. Many are demanding that their foods be labeled. They are asking companies about whether or not they use genetically modified ingredients in their products. We want to know what is IN our food.

Along those lines, more and more are wanting foods made with simpler, and known, ingredients. We are looking at the labels before we buy a product. And when natural or unprocessed foods are hard to obtain, we are learning to make foods from scratch–mill our own flour, make our own bread, canning and preserving fresh produce ourselves.

We are becoming locavores. We want to know where our food comes from–we go to farmers markets, we join CSAs, we buy food directly from farms ourselves. We are buying our food in such a way that we can personally ask our farmers how they care for their livestock and how they grow their crops. Schools and businesses are adopting farm to table methods.

We are growing our OWN food. We are becoming gardeners, caretakers of backyard chickens and goats. We are learning to reap our own harvest from our own land.

I think we can become so fixated on the arguments, the worries, the problems, that we don’t see what is around us, and that change is happening. Change doesn’t happen by yelling at someone behind a computer screen. It occurs when we take action, take charge of our diets.

I have a lot of hope in what I see.

Thank You, Farmers

Dear local farmers,

I wanted to say thank you at the close of this season’s farmers market and the CSA year.

Thank you for waking up before the sun each and every Thursday so my little family could enjoy the simple abundance that can only be found at a community farmers market. Thank you for keeping your costs low so that we were able to bring home bright, fresh produce each week. Thank you for answering my inane questions (“What IS that?”), for dealing with rude customers, the “bargainers,” the line-cutters, the unpredictable weather, and the unruly children (sorry), and also for helping my little ones learn that the market is a place of wisdom, perseverance, and kindness.

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My daughter with a sunflower, given to her by our CSA share farmer at the market.

Thank you for reminding me to appreciate the little things–a late summer bouquet of flowers, the glory of autumn’s pumpkins, the sweet newness of a baby goat exploring its big, wide world.

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Sugar

Sugar

Thank you for teaching me the value of leaving my comfort zone by enabling me to accomplish things I never believed I could do. Thank you for the encouragement to learn traditional arts and the homesteader’s way. Thank you for the strawberries to dehydrate, the apples to can and preserve, the flour to bake with, the lessons on soapmaking.

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applesauce

Thank you for teaching my family about community. Thank you for showing me the importance, and value, of community supported agriculture (our CSA). Thank you for the festivals, the hayrides, the walks along your fields for no good reason, the gatherings, the classes. Thank you for giving my family the joy that comes in knowing where our food comes from and allowing us to participate in it.

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Farm festivities.

Farm festivities.

Above all, thank you for providing my family REAL food, nourishment, sustenance, that we cannot find in equal anywhere else.

Thank you for the inspiration you have given me to do better, live better, FEEL better.

CSA Updates

Sorry for the delay in postings…between sickness, our oldest son starting kindergarten, and my picking up a part time job, I’ve been neglecting the blog a lot. I haven’t even been taking pics of our CSA shares, either. I’m as tired of stock footage as anyone. My apologies. There will be lots of posts coming in the next few days, including a giveaway, so stay tuned for those.

For the last few weeks, our CSA shares have been exceptionally good–we’ve had lots and lots of squash (several varieties), zucchini, tomatoes and tomatillos, watermelon, organic whole wheat flour, heaps of sunflowers, peppers, apples, and beans. I’m sure I’m forgetting some items…that is the down side for not updating like I should. I’ve never been much of a fan of squash, but now I am OBSESSED with spaghetti squash…I feel like I am making up for years of lost time!!

So, for you foodies who are reading this…any good ideas for using tomatillos?

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Tomatillo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Catching Up on CSA Happenings, and a Bit About My Choice to Use Advertising

I forgot to post about last week’s CSA share, and I’ll post about this week’s, too.

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Isn’t this a gorgeous share this week? Last week, we had peppers, squash, zucchini and cucumbers, plus some peppers and onions and basic, and for two weeks now–sunflowers! This week added whole wheat flour, pattypan squash, spaghetti squash, butternut squash, cabbage, and nectarines and apples! So excited to use them!

If you have noticed, on the right hand side of my blog, I have started working with advertisers. I have had many blogs, and I fought this before because I couldn’t find a program that fit my desire to stay true to myself–I in NO way wanted random companies on my blog. I mean, what if they were dishonest or shady? I refused to post anything that I didn’t get to have a say in. I found a marketing center that has allowed me to apply for and then choose who I want to work with, so every advertiser has been a company I love and enjoy buying from or using. For example, we are Honest Company subscribers, Merrell makes my FAVORITE SHOES, Emergency Essentials is where we go to for our food storage, etc. You know that if I post it, I use it or know it. So, check them out!

CSA Share for July 18th, Plus Farmers Market Haul

We received a bountiful CSA share today, and plus, I snagged some summer goodies at the market while I was there. The CSA share included bags of yellow and green beans, broccoli and cauliflower, leeks, zucchini and cucumbers, fresh basil, kale, and–get this–wheat berries! We have a new wheat grinder, and I can’t wait to make some of my own flour! (Perhaps I should blog the adventure?)

In addition, the bright, juicy peaches were hard to pass up, as peach season is now upon us, and on impulse, I purchased a vibrant summer bouquet.

I encourage you to find a farmers market near you! There are some wonderful summery treats waiting for you!

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