Chew on This: Local Food is a Win-Win

September 25th, 2013 | Posted by Dawn Bertuca in Conscious Parenting | Food | Living On Purpose - (Comments Off on Chew on This: Local Food is a Win-Win)

Some of the laying hens at Nature’s Choice Farm.

This past weekend, my hometown held its first-ever, local-food Harvest Festival. All the food and drink was grown, raised or created within about 250 miles of our town, with most of it from within a 30-mile radius. Guess what? The festival sold out of food within the first 90 minutes. Local food is hot.

In restaurants and in home kitchens, more and more people are turning toward locally produced food because it is fresher, has less impact on the environment and is good for local economies. It seems that many people, given the choice, would rather spend their dollars locally and help small farmers in their communities. Eating local—and involving kids in the process—is also a great way to connect kids with their food and promote healthy eating.

Over the summer, my daughter and I paid a visit to Nature’s Choice Farm in Grant Park, Illinois, about an hour from downtown Chicago. We’ve been buying our meat and eggs from Nature’s Choice Farm for about a year now. The pasture-raised (grass-fed) beef, pork, chicken and turkey is not only delicious, and healthful, it is locally and sustainably raised on a small farm within a short drive from our home. The meat is also processed within the state of Illinois. We normally pick up our meat and eggs at the farmer’s market or at a local delivery site, and we’ve had the chance to meet the farmers, Eric and Samantha Sexton, on many occasions. But visiting the farm in person gave us an even greater appreciation for the work they do and the quality of the food they produce.

Our beef comes from this small herd of grass-fed cattle raised about an hour from downtown Chicago.

On our farm visit, we rode behind the tractor for a tour, indulged in a pig roast, and gathered our own eggs from the hen house. For city and suburban kids, who may have never seen an egg outside of a grocery store, the chance to pick up an egg still warm from the chicken’s (ahem) bottom was truly an “a-ha” moment! For me, it was gratifying to see the pigs, cattle and chickens out in the open, free to roam and graze, in a peaceful, pastoral setting. The contrast to large “factory farms” was pleasantly apparent. Yes, this is a small operation. Even with a dedicated customer base, Nature’s Choice raises a herd of fewer than 40 cattle in any given season. (more…)

Bite it!

If you asked your kids “where does food come from,” what would they say? Costco? McDonalds? The Grocery Fairy? 

With the busy lifestyle many of us lead, it wouldn’t be far-fetched for kids to grow up thinking that everything they eat comes out of a plastic package. The trouble is, the overwhelming selection of “convenient” food options available to today’s kids can make healthy whole foods seem less appealing. If you share my goal of helping your kids learn to select healthy foods. then you want them to know where “real” foods come from. If they can see, touch, and learn about whole foods and have fun doing it, they just might (someday) choose to put healthier foods in their bodies!

So, nourish your kids and your parent-child relationship with these five tips for helping kids connect to their food:

1. Visit a farmers market. What a perfect time of year to see the bounty of the harvest! Take a walk through your local farmers market and let kids see, smell, touch and taste some real food. Many times you can talk directly to the farmer who grew the food. Find your local farmers market here.

2. Get out in the garden – it’s not too late. If you didn’t plant a garden this summer, it’s actually not too late in many areas to plant cold-weather crops such as kale or spinach and watch your food grow.Visit your local nursery or garden center to find out which plants can still be grown in your area. Many urban areas also have community gardens where you can take a tour or volunteer to do a little gardening work. Check the directory here to see if there’s one in your neighborhood.

3. Trace your grapes. As I mentioned in my previous post, there are some fun tech tools you can use to trace your food back to the farm. Check out the HarvestMark app and website to find out where to get produce you can scan and trace. In addition, RealTimeFarms.com is a “crowd-sourced nationwide food guide” that lets you trace your food back to the farm or, conversely, find healthy food produced and sold locally. Tip: try searching “pumpkins,” then go buy them at the farm! You might be surprised at the local farms you didn’t know existed.

4. Visit a CSA or farm. Over the summer my family visited Critter Barn, a working educational farm in Zeeland, Michigan. The kids got up close and personal with the animals, and our 13-year-old guide gave us a great tour, explaining about egg production, sheep shearing, and many other aspects of farming with animals.  Beyond the fun of being able to walk a goat, brush a bunny, and pet a turkey, it was a realistic and eye-opening look at the responsibility that comes with eating animal products. I highly recommend it!

In addition, many community-supported agriculture (CSA) farms encourage visitors or host volunteer work days. This ia great way to get first-hand understanding of where food comes from.There are even farms that will come to you! Check out the wonderful work of Truck Farm Chicago – a mobile educational unit that brings the growing farm to your kids.

5. Cook with your kids. Even if they won’t eat those vegetables (like one of my kids), take them into the kitchen and show them how to clean, chop and cook those veggies. They might sneak a taste when you’re not looking!  For ideas, check out the kid-friendly and healthy recipes on Letsmove.gov

Deepening your kids’ understanding of food is truly rewarding. Not only are you helping fulfill a basic need for survival, you’re also laying the groundwork for health and growth. Ideally, your kids will learn to make healthier food choices by feeling more connected to their food. Have some fun with food this fall!

I’d love to hear anything you’ve tried to get your kids more involved with cooking and eating healthy. Say hello in the comments!

Where Did Your Food Come From? There’s an App for That!

September 4th, 2012 | Posted by Dawn Bertuca in Conscious Parenting - (Comments Off on Where Did Your Food Come From? There’s an App for That!)

How do you feel about buying groceries at the big- box store or warehouse club? I have to admit I feel uneasy about buying “fresh” food at Target. It just doesn’t feel right to me. Because the store seems so far removed from a “real” grocery store, I feel like I’m getting a product that’s not really fresh, or is overly processed. In an ideal world, I’d grow all my own produce or buy it all at the farmers market from a local farmer. However, that is not always practical in my suburban life, so I find myself picking up apples at Target along with the cleaning supplies, or buying grapes along with the paper products at Costco.

So the other day I was washing some Costco grapes. (As an aside – did you ever wonder about that white residue on grapes? Turns out it’s a totally natural waxy substance, called bloom. It’s not pesticide residue – but wash your grapes anyway!)  I noticed this little declaration on the grapes’ plastic box: “Trace me!” alongside a QR-type code. I tried to scan the code with my QR reader, but it didn’t work, so I went to the website listed on the box: www.HarvestMark.com, and typed in the 16-digit code on the grapes package. The website took me to a page about Anthony Farms, where I learned about the origin of my grapes, including the region in which they were grown. I would have liked  information about when the grapes were harvested and packed, but that information was not available. Still, I was impressed with the intention behind this technology, which is to connect consumers back to the farms their food is coming from.

“Food traceability” is becoming a buzz-worthy issue, as it should. Eating safe, healthy food should be everyone’s concern. Knowing where your food is coming from, rather than just accepting the packaged food that shows up at your local store, is a step in the right direction. It’s a way for consumers to take ownership of what they are eating, even if they are unable to grow their own food. HarvestMark, especially when it becomes more widely adopted, will definitely be useful for me as a shopper. I’m concerned about food safety, and I like to buy produce grown in the U.S. if possible, so this is one way to feel more certain about the food I’m buying. Recalls and other issues are also reported on the HarvestMark site (although it should be pointed out that these are strictly voluntary by the food producer).

I also downloaded the  HarvestMark app for my smartphone, which inludes a code reader that enables you scan groceries at the store to see their origin. Here’s where the fun comes in for the kids. Scanning and reading about where produce comes from would make a fun and educational “techy” activity for any home learner. 

What do you think? Would you use technology like this to track your food? Do you care about food traceability? How do you deal with it?