Archive for greening up


Next Step for Clean Food

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Let’s look at another way to make healthy changes in the way we eat. This time we are going to focus on what is essential in our diet, and which items are just plain dangerous. What things do we need to have as a part of our meals and how does this look when we get to the grocery store?

If we reduce the grocery list to the bare essentials it could look like this:  vegetables, fruit, protein, grains, seeds, nuts, and dairy. Paper products, cleaning products, and personal hygiene products are not foods, so they are a separate expense, and just for the moment we will take them off the grocery list.

When we get back to basics, the handiest way to get there is to use a menu. You don’t have to make them up yourself; you can find endless menus on line. The advantage of making them up yourself is taking into consideration your families likes and dislikes, needs and eating patterns. Some people need 6 small meals a day – more like a series of snacks – and another person likes 3 meals a day. You get the idea. Another thought…eat less of everything to reduce your food bill. In America, we are sending 40% of the food we grow to the landfill! So waste not; want not!

Let’s get into why I buy foods that fill a specific criterion. Let’s take one typical breakfast as an example. I am a person who needs protein and good fats in the morning or I am fading away by 10 am. Some days I have an egg (free range, vegetarian feed, no antibiotics), with mushrooms or green onions and cheese (no rBST), a piece of  organic whole grain toast and butter with a little local, raw honey.  Why the specific types of each ingredient? Read on…

Eggs from factory farms are not good for you. The hens are stressed so their eggs have high LDL cholesterol, and also antibiotics. The free range hens that are fed a diet high in grains, or better yet can forage outside, and don’t need antibiotics because they are not packed together tightly, give us eggs that are much lower in LDL cholesterol and much higher in HDL (or good) cholesterol. Stressed, unhealthy hens = unhealthy eggs. The original research on eggs being high in ‘bad’ cholesterol came from factory farms.

Let’s look at bread now. Bread never used to have ingredients we couldn’t grow and couldn’t pronounce. Most breads had whole ground grains, yeast or starter, water, salt, and maybe an oil. It was that simple. It was made fresh and sold fresh, so no preservatives were needed. We can still get bread like that. However there is one more problem now. If the ingredient list contain any corn products, any soy products, and/or any canola oil, (and is not organic) you are eating a Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) which contains pesticides in every cell. I can find bread that is ‘clean’ and not organic in most supermarkets; however it is just as cost effective to buy organic bread on sale and freeze it. Are you getting the idea? Local raw honey is good for me and helps protect me from local pollen allergies if I have a teaspoon or so a day.

If we simply cut out the foods that, as Michael Pollan says, are “food-like substances”, we will decrease our food bills even if all the other foods we buy are clean and/or organic and more expensive. We will also decrease our medical bills. Here is a list of the “dirty dozen” foods no one should buy unless they are organic because of pesticide residue:  Apples, Bell Peppers, Celery, Cherries, Imported Grapes, Nectarines, Peaches, Pears, Potatoes, Raspberries, Spinach, and Strawberries. If it is too expensive, buy on sale or have as a treat. If you want more information on these and other best green practices go to or other similar websites.

So the key concepts to changing the way we eat might be summed up this way:  simplify; buy and eat whole foods;  learn how to cook them; read the labels and avoid GMO’s; and beware of all the toxins in prepared foods! (


Wild Foods & Forgotten Fruits

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In my last blog I talked about finding wild food in the city, and touched on a few choice ‘weeds’. Of course there are many more, and I’ll be going into more detail on my new website – – when it is up and running in a week or so. There will tips, uses, pictures and recipes!

Actually, this is the second part to the last blog, and the focus is Forgotten Fruits. Most of the weeds I talk about are just about everywhere. The desert is an exception (sort of) because the weeds I’m highlighting are brief visitors only after a good rain. The fruits are also very different. On the urban desert scene you’ll find oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruit, figs, and pomegranates. All wonderful, however at the moment, I’m in a more temperate zone, so I’m going to discuss these urban neighborhoods – specifically older neighborhoods.

I live in an area that was settled just before 1900. We have the benefit of all the fruits that were planted as a normal part of backyards and essential to the life of that time. Now we have a generation that has no idea what these fruits are, if they are safe to eat, or what to do with them. This is not a blanket statement by the way, just an observation on the times and the people around me.

In a six block area around my home there are apple, apricot, plum, cherry, crab apple, and peach trees, all producing regularly, and all delicious. There are also June Berries (Service berries, Sasketoons, Shad bush), grapes, raspberries, mulberries, huckleberries, and gooseberries. Most important (to me) I even know where elderberries are!

When there is a bumper crop, these wonderful, organic fruits fall into the street and rot. I am constantly amazed at the ability to step over these delicious ripe fruits while on the way to the grocery store to buy the same thing shipped 1500 miles unripened, arriving expensive and tasteless.

So as much as I can, I go collect this fruit. When I spot a good tree loaded with fruit, I knock on the door and ask. If no one is home, I leave a sticky note with my request, a business card, and my phone number. No one has refused, and I always offer to share the bounty with the home owner – whether it’s jam, jelly, canned, fresh, or dried fruit.

On these long summer evenings, finding food in the city is a pleasant past time and a way to get to know your neighborhood. It can bring food to your table both now and in the winter, and it lets the people around you see another way of providing for themselves. A heartening prospect in uncertain times with questionable food.

So on your walks around your neighborhood, explore the food opportunities and let me know what you find!


Urban Foraging

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Urban foraging may sound like an oxymoron to you – how can you find food in the city, much less find enough to consider it foraging? Actually there is a lot of food to be found without going too far from your doorstep. Now I want to note that I live in Denver, Colorado so I am not talking about New York City, although the neighborhood fresh foods programs and vacant lot or roof top gardens there are becoming far more common than you might think!

I am actually meaning something more basic than growing veggies and fruits in the city. I am teaching people about the plants that are already growing and ready for the picking. The greens are in full swing right now, and you can find enough to eat to make a salad for your family almost anywhere. You just need to adjust your sight to the cracks and crevices, alleys and yards, road cuts and ‘wild’ areas of neighborhood yards and parks.

In a short time, I can have enough of these nutritious plants for a pot of greens or a fine salad. Gone are the days when iceberg lettuce was the mainstay of a tossed salad! Now we are regularly using baby spring greens, arugula, sprouts, red and green leaf lettuces, and (believe it or not) weeds! Dandelions have come back into favor to the point where I can find a large bunch at the natural grocery for an unfortunate price, or go pick my own!

A short story of the lowly dandelion: these plants were so well thought of by our Founding Fathers and Mothers that they were brought over on the Mayflower as an essential food and medicinal plant. It was known as an indispensable addition to the yard/garden, table and medicine cabinet. All of it is edible and nourishing. The flowers can be dipped in batter and fried like squash blossoms, the young leaves are delicious in salad, and the old leaves make a good pot herb like kale or collards. The roots can be boiled, diced up in soup or stew, as well as roasted and ground for a hot drink. The uses go on and on!

There are some caveats to foraging that I want to make very clear before I mention the next lovely foods for the table. First of all, know where you are picking and whether the plants have been exposed to pesticides or herbicides, car exhaust or old dumping sites for toxic materials. Second, never gather wild foods unless you know what you are picking. There are very few poisonous wild plants however the few that are poisonous are really deadly. Third, stop using chemicals on your lawn and try to get your whole neighborhood to stop as well. The last item is to use 50% of your regular greens with the wild ones since this is not yet a common table item for you. Always start slowly or you will really clean out your system! Not such a bad thing…if you expect it!

I will only mention a few more very common wild plants here today. They will go very well with the dandelions in a salad. Find a good book or a knowledgeable person to show you the first time. My current favorites are: lambsquarter, sorrel, clover flowers, especially red clover, chickweed, and purslane. Each is a good foil for the more bitter dandelions, all can be eaten raw, and each has an abundance of nutritious qualities. As an example, purslane, a low growing tasty succulent, is good raw or sauteed, and has more Omega 3 fatty acids than most fish!

This is local, organic, sustainable, nutritious, and tasty at it’s finest! Eat your weeds, Friends, and enjoy!