Sustainable Food Choices – The Journey to Backyard Gardening

Over the past year, I have been contemplating our choices as a culture when it comes to food. Without getting into all the ins and outs of the many heated sides of this debate – organic vs. non, local vs. shipped, vegetarian vs. vegan vs. meat, raw vs. cooked, gluten vs. non, preservatives, pesticides, and food dyes, oh my! – suffice it to say that, for now, the one conclusion I have come to with certainty is that something has to change. Both for our health and for our society as a whole, we have to begin making choices that are more sustainable. Already, in our generation, we are beginning to see the consequences of bad, hasty, or financially motivated decisions and those consequences will be magnified many-fold for our children and grandchildren if we don’t commit to change. I am convinced that this change cannot begin with the government or the big businesses involved. It has to begin with us. Each consumer making more informed and socially conscious decisions to benefit not only themselves, but society as a whole and thus their own posterity. Even small changes, when implemented by the multitudes, can have a vast impact on the big picture. I am sure our food choices will continue to change and grow as we learn more and more about the way things are vs. the way we believe they should be, but for now, my family is making some changes that we believe will benefit our health, our home, our happiness, and our culture.

One major change is that we are attempting to buy as much as we possibly can from local providers. We are fortunate to have a prolific farmers market in our area that is open year round and provides locally grown, organic produce, dairy, meat, eggs, plants, soaps, and much more. We have found that we can buy all these things directly from the farmers, speak to them about their farming practices, and get advice about our decisions for almost the same price that we can get them at the grocery store. The only loss is in convenience, and that convenience comes at too high a cost. Whatever we are not able to get at the market, we will continue to buy at the grocery store – and, trust me, our choices are not always as noble as we would like them to be – but at least these concessions are a less pervasive part of our overall diet.

The second big change that we have made is very near and dear to my heart, as it has become a fulfilling and beautiful part of my everyday life. I have built and cultivated an extensive back yard vegetable garden. It is the most beautiful thing I have created since Owen and I am probably a bit too proud of it. But if it’s growth and success continues at the rate it has thus far, we will have organic, home-grown vegetables to last us through the summer and well beyond. It doesn’t get much more local than that! Anyone who has read some of my previous posts on aesthetics knows that I firmly believe that just because something is useful does not mean it has to look simply practical as well. I built my garden with my own two hands and I knew from the start that I wanted it to be a thing of beauty as well as a source of nutrition. I could easily have just plowed the “back forty” into rows and started planting (which is certainly a viable option for some, don’t get me wrong), but instead I laid out and planned 4 raised beds, leveled into a hill, framed, and surrounded by walkways. I chronicled my garden building journey with many pictures and decided to share some of them here with you. Hopefully a few of you may find inspiration as I have and be led to create your own oasis of food production.

Owen wanted to know what exactly was going on when I came home from the store with all these crazy supplies.

Owen wanted to know what exactly was going on when I came home from the store with all these crazy supplies.

After cutting the necessary landscape timbers into half lengths, the next step was to lay out the location of the beds.

After cutting the necessary landscape timbers into half lengths, the next step was to lay out the location of the beds.

The first bed I attempted to till up by hand. Needless to say, for the next three, I rented a tiller.

The first bed I attempted to till up by hand. Needless to say, for the next three, I rented a tiller.

Here, all the beds were tilled and the hill was leveled out and ready for the frames to be assembled and put in place.

Here, all the beds were tilled and the hill was leveled out and ready for the frames to be assembled and put in place.

Owen was a huge help in building the frames ;)

Owen was a huge help in building the frames ;)

And lifting them into place!

And lifting them into place!

Now all the frames were in place and I discovered the need for retaining walls to prevent the soil from washing out underneath the low end of the hill.

Now all the frames were in place and I discovered the need for retaining walls to prevent the soil from washing out underneath the frames at the low end of the hill.

Aiden was a big help in building the retaining walls! I used cinder blocks that I filled with soil so that they could be used for plants as well.

Aiden was a big help in building the retaining walls! I used cinder blocks that I filled with soil so that they could be used for plants as well.

And here aesthetics came into play. I could not abide mismatched retaining walls and bed frames, so I spray painted them.

And here aesthetics came into play. I could not abide mismatched retaining walls and bed frames, so I spray painted them.

After I completed the beds, there was a significant mud problem at the bottom of the hill. So I created a walkway. A friend gave me ALL of the bricks that he needed out of his way and I filled it will builders gravel (not landscape gravel - they are essentially the same and the builders variety is 1/3 of the price).

After I completed the beds, there was a significant mud problem at the bottom of the hill. So I created a walkway. A friend gave me ALL of the bricks, saying he needed them out of his way, and I laid them out and filled them in with builders gravel (not landscape gravel – they are essentially the same and the builders variety is 1/3 of the price).

Then it was finally PLANTING TIME!

Then it was finally PLANTING TIME!

Baby plants full of potential. The pea trellises were $30 a piece at the garden store and I needed 4! I could not stomach this so I spent $15 on a bunch of stakes and some garden twine and made my own.

Here are my baby plants, full of potential. The pea trellises were $30 a piece at the garden store and I needed 4! I could not stomach this, so I spent $15 on a bunch of stakes and some garden twine and made my own.

The addition of angled trellises for the squash and zucchini.

Later, I added angled trellises for the squash and zucchini.

Some of the first fruits.

Already, we’ve been able to harvest some first fruits!

Today, the plants are enormous and lush. We're getting some fruit almost every day. This also shows the bean trellises I built from sticks I found around the yard and some zip ties.

Today, the plants are enormous and lush. We’re getting some fruit almost every day. This also shows the bean trellises I built from sticks I found around the yard and some zip ties.

Voila!

Voila!

Let me know what you think. And please share some of your gardening success stories. I can use all the help I can get!

Can Pizza Be Part of a Healthy Diet? ABSOLUTELY!

My husband and I are attempting to re-focus our efforts on healthy eating. Of course, this means a variety of things to a variety of people.  My understanding of the phrase “eating healthy” might make other, more devoted dietitians laugh at my mediocrity.  But regardless of where your standards lie, pizza is generally not on the list of things one thinks of when imagining a healthy meal. At least not any pizza you can buy “hot and ready” for $5.99 plus tax and grease.  But what about the type of pizza you can actually still call a pie? One made with all fresh, farmer’s market ingredients?  I’ll let you decide for yourself, but in my book, it is a resounding YES! and my family thought so too.

Italian Vegetable Pizza Pie

The Crust –
French Bread Dough (your own or ready-made)
1 tbsp Olive Oil
1 tbsp Dijon Mustard
Freshly Ground Black Pepper
Italian Seasoning
1 tsp Minced Garlic

Pre-heat oven to 350′  Start with your favorite recipe for french bread dough, or buy it ready-made at the grocery store.  I used the french bread from Pillsbury’s new line of “all natural” doughs, but I’m sure many of you would prefer to make your own. Roll  out the dough on a greased cookie sheet.  (If it keeps pulling back on itself, roll it out on the counter first and then place it on the greased sheet.) Brush the dough with the olive oil and Dijon and sprinkle with black pepper, italian seasoning and garlic.

The Filling –
1 Large Fresh Tomato, Halved and Sliced
1/2 Yellow Squash, Sliced
1/2 Zucchini, Sliced
2 Large Baby Bella Mushrooms, Sliced
2 Green Onions Sliced
Handful of Fresh Spinach Leave
6-8 Large Fresh Basil Leaves, Chopped
1 Container of Crumbled Feta Cheese
More Freshly Ground Black Pepper

After slicing the tomato, remove all the seeds and discard (so they don’t make the dough soggy). Dry the tomatoes on paper towels and arrange in a circle in the center of the prepared dough. Layer all the remaining vegetables on top in the order that they are listed. Sprinkle with the freshly chopped basil and ground pepper and crumble the feta cheese over the top. Stretch and roll the dough over the top of your layers and pinch together.  If you cannot get it to stay up, you can pin it with toothpicks or kebab skewers. Bake in the oven at 350′ for approximately 30 minutes or untill the crust begins to brown.  In the last 3 – 5 minutes, bring the oven temperature up to about 400′ to brown the crust and make it crisp.  Tada!

If you give this recipe a try, I would love to hear how it goes!  Or, if you’re like me and you never stick to a recipe, tell me about any improvements or changes you make along the way.  Happy cooking!

Everyday Discovery

Today, I visited a place that is almost too fantastic to be believed.  There was a veritable jungle of strange and exotic plants never before seen, with flowers ranging in color from stark white to violet  to bright red and yellow.  And not only that, but there were enormous insects.  Lady bugs as big as basketballs, dragon flies that could lift a puppy and carry it off, and butterflies of wildly different colors soaring overhead.  There was rain that would start at the drop of a hat and then stop almost as abruptly as it had begun.  Not to mention the water fountains of all shapes and sizes.  And next to those you could find many small, sandy beaches with tiny statues propped up in the sand.  Why were they there?  Were they the tribute of some miniature race of people to their ancestors or deities?  This theory could be supported, perhaps, by that fact that there were tiny tractors next to many of these small beaches.  The bugs in this place were easily larger than these tractors, whose purpose remains a mystery.  As I continued to walk, my senses were overwhelmed by the glorious aroma that permeated the air.  Pungent and sweet and vivid.  My mouth began to water as I realized that the smell was fruit.  Not like any fruit I had ever seen before, but fruit none the less.  The array of shapes, colors, and sizes was dizzying.  From fruit the size of my hand to fruit the size of my head.  Some round and soft, others hard and oblong, and still others spiny and ugly as though they were begging not to be eaten. Mountains of fruit, as far as the eye could see!  And it didn’t stop there.  As I explored this strange place further, I discovered that there was also a staggering amount of vegetables, nuts, and grains.  Each forming their own little mountain, although their smell was not nearly so alluring.  And everywhere were I looked, people were busily milling about with their heads down.  Sniffing and poking and prodding.  Looking up only if they happened to bump someone or something else and only long enough to mutter, “excuse me”.  It was almost as if they didn’t realize what a strange and exotic place this was.  As if they just took it for granted that a place as magical as this should exist in the middle of the city.  I hope I never become one of them.  As we were driving away, I looked over my shoulder trying to take note of something I could identify this place by, so I could be sure to find it again.  There was a big sign I had missed as we arrived that read, “Farmer’s Market”.  Since I cannot yet read, I don’t know what it meant, but I will remember what it looked like and I WILL find it again.
– A two-year-old’s first experience of a farmers market.