Beyond Sustainability: The Promise of Regenerative Agriculture

 

image by ethanappleseed via Flickr

image by ethanappleseed via Flickr

 

We hear so much — and rightly so — about our dwindling resources and the need to use our resources wisely. “Sustainable agriculture” is a term that appears in the news and social media, but how many are familiar with the term “regenerative agriculture?” Regenerative agriculture is a model of agriculture that renews and restores the soil, making it it possible to produce highly nutritious food.

The Rodale Institute  describes regenerative agriculture as “farming like the Earth matters.”  For decades, modern agriculture has relied on synthetic fertilizers, chemical pesticides, excessive tillage and other practices that deplete the soil.  These methods have resulted in the loss of up to 75 percent of the soil’s organic carbon — a substance that is vital for soil health. At the same time, these agricultural practices contribute to excess greenhouse gas or carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, which in turn contribute to climate change.

Fortunately, regenerative organic agriculture makes it possible to reverse this destructive cycle. This farming method does not rely on technological advances that are available to only a few industrial farms.  It emphasizes practices such as crop rotation, composting and conservation tillage — practices which help to keep carbon stocks in the soil and prevent harmful CO2 emissions. Carbon is returned to the soil instead of the atmosphere, and the replenished soil produces nutrient-rich crops.

Conservation tillage, for example, leaves residue on the soil from the previous year’s crops. According to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, this practice can reduce erosion up to 60 to 90 percent, improve soil quality by allowing organic matter to decompose, and reduces air pollution form diesel fuel. Conservation tillage is an example of regenerative agriculture methods that return organic carbon to the soil.

We can all take steps to encourage “farming like the Earth matters.” As consumers, we can seek out and buy locally raised, organically grown food whenever possible. We can learn and spread the word about improving our food supply and the way our food is produced.

You can find out more about regenerative agriculture at the following links:

Rodale Institute: The New Farm

Organic Consumers Association: Regenerative Agriculture — Sowing Health, Sustainability, and Climate Stability

 

Your Food: Don’t Let the Word “Natural” Fool You

When it comes to food labels, we consumers would surely appreciate a high level of trustworthiness. Take the word “natural,” for example.  I like to think that “natural” foods are just that — natural, free of unwanted chemicals and chemical processes. According to a recent survey by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, for example, 89 percent of people surveyed believed that a “natural” label on meats mean that the meat does not contain growth hormones, and  87 percent believe that no chemicals were added during processing.

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Labels do not necessarily tell us how food is raised or processed.

Turns out, however, that it’s not as straightforward as that. Civil Eats recently interviewed Urvashi Rangan, PhD, the director of Consumer Reports Food Safety & Sustainability Center. She explains that the term “natural” is misleading, and that it means simply that “nothing artificial is added to the cut of meat itself.” Unlike the term “organic,” Dr. Rangan explains, the term “natural” is not verifiable and is not backed by any government standards. So-called natural foods can contain a variety of ingredients, including artificial colors, preservatives and GMOs.

The Food And Drug Administration (FDA) has refused to impose strict standards for the use of the term “natural” on food labels, in spite of the fact that misleading labels can affect the health of consumers. For example, a person who is allergic to a certain preservative could unknowingly eat food labeled “natural,” believing that the label is backed by strict standards.

But the good news is that people are stepping up to demand reliable food labeling standards. There is still time to sign a petition  sponsored by Consumer Reports to ban the use of the word “natural” on food labels. The reasoning behind the petition is that it is better to leave the term “natural” off food labels altogether, rather than to continue with misleading use of the term.

You can also look up food labels and see for yourself at Greener Choices, The page has tools that help consumers check foods based on logos, product type, and more.

I hope you’ll take advantage of these tools that are readily available. The more we know, the more we can make informed, healthy choices, both as consumers and as citizens.

Book Review: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, by Anthony Marra

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 A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra takes us into the lives of several individuals and families in war-torn Chechnya. Set in the mid-1990s and early twenty-first century. the book is a history lesson as well as a masterfully written story. The novel begins as an eight-year-old girl named Havaa watches her father’s abduction and the destruction of her family’s home. A neighbor named Akhmed takes the girl to a hospital, hoping to find a safe place for her to stay.  Sonja, an overworked surgeon at the hospital, reluctantly agrees to shelter Havaa at the hospital.

In the book, Anthony Marra gives us insight into the lives of the characters by skillfully switching perspectives and decades. Although the story of Havaa, Akhmed and Sonja takes place over five days, Marra provides a detailed look into the lives and histories of the characters, their families and their neighbors. The reader witnesses the horrors of the war in Chechnya through the eyes of ordinary people as they struggle to survive and keep their loved ones alive. Marra has written the narration and descriptive passages in haunting language that is alternates between joy and heartbreak.

As I read A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, I often forgot where I was. The characters and the landscape are vivid and believable, making the violence and terror just as real. I am sure that this book will become a classic that will memorialize the war in Chechnya and all who lived and died at the time. I highly recommend this book, not only as a great novel, but as an opportunity to learn about Chechnya, its people, and the resiliency of the human spirit.

If you would like to know more about A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, you can read Chapter One or find more information about the book.

FTC Disclaimer: I received this book free of charge from Blogging for Books for this review.

Compassion Bloggers: Back to School!

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The phrase “back to school” always brought mixed emotions when I was a child. Summer was over, and that meant the end of days at the beach, homework-free nights, and sleeping late. On the other hand, I was excited to start the new school year in the next grade and see friends I had missed during vacation. Even now, I feel that indescribable pang when Labor Day weekend rolls around.

As a child sponsor through Compassion International, I am especially aware of the blessings that education provides for children in developing countries. In developing countries, for example, only 66 percent of primary school-age children attend school, compared with nearly 80 percent worldwide. Only 49 percent of secondary school-age children worldwide attend school, and more than half of the children who do not attend school worldwide are girls.

“Arise, shine;
For your light has come!
And the glory of the Lord is risen upon you.”

Isaiah 60:1

The important role of education in releasing children from poverty is a major reason why I sponsor a child through Compassion International. The organization’s holistic approach includes educational opportunities, health care and instruction, and life-skills training. Sponsors write letters to their sponsored children, and let the children know that they are valued in a world that can seem so cold and dismissive.

Compassion International’s Christ-centered programs motivate and encourage children to reach for the stars!

You can learn more about Compassion International by visiting the organization’s website and reading about its Holistic Child Development Model.  Here’s to a blessed and inspiring school year around the world!

 

 

My Book Release: I Left Her There — Poems and Short Fiction

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I’m pleased to say that my first book, titled I Left Her There: Poems and Short Fiction, has been published! It’s actually been fun putting the book together and sorting through my writing from the past ten years. I revisited some of my greatest joys and most difficult heartbreaks, and the journey has given me a breath of fresh air and an even greater love for writing.

My husband John has persistently encouraged and exhorted me to do this. My parents gave me the freedom as a child to search for and express my creativity. And of course, my friends — particularly my fellow writers — continue to inspire me with their dedication to the craft.

The book is available at Barnes and Noble and Amazon, in paperback and for Kindle. Hope you’ll give it a read!

Your Food: The Push For Cruelty-Free Poultry

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Like many consumers, my husband and I do our best to buy sustainably produced foods, such as free-range eggs. We have been uncomfortable, however, knowing that free-range does not necessarily mean cruelty-free. The sad truth is, farms that raise egg-laying hens usually rely on large hatcheries for their supply of hens — hatcheries which routinely kill the male chicks shortly after they hatch. According to a report from the Daily Telegraph, male chicks are typically placed on a conveyor belt and minced alive or gassed.

Fortunately, sustainable farmers have found a better way! Turns out that centuries-old farming practices are making a comeback — and rightfully so.

Eatwell Farm: Pioneering the Next Generation of Humane, Sustainable Poultry from Nigel walker on Vimeo.

One of the leaders in the effort to produce eggs in a sustainable and humane manner is Nigel Walker of Eatwell Farm in California. Walker is raising heritage chickens, which are breeds that were naturally bred in the United States prior to the mid-twentieth century. These dual-purpose breeds do very well outdoors and have long lifespans. The sustainable food blog Civil Eats notes that instead of relying on hatcheries, farmers will be able to breed their own male and female chickens and raise them sustainably and humanely for eggs and meat.

Sustainable agriculture offers a variety of benefits. Besides living healthier and happier lives, for example, free-range chickens provide natural fertilizer for plant crops and produce better tasting eggs and meat. When we step away from the factory farm and embrace the independent family farm, we regain our connection to the food we eat.

The change will not be instantaneous, but it is encouraging to know that groups such as The Livestock Conservancy are working to protect and promote sustainable agriculture.  To learn how you can help Eatwell Farms and the movement toward humanely raised poultry, visit Barnraiser.

Book Review: My Paris Kitchen, by David Lebovitz

My Paris Kitchen

 

Many people who love to cook dream of packing up and moving to Paris. David Lebovitz did just that, and we can vicariously visit the City of Light and its culinary treasures through his book My Paris Kitchen. Along with recipes and photographs of Paris and sumptuous food, Lebovitz shares wisdom and cooking tips. He recalls his job interview with Alice Waters at Chez Panisse, reflects on the benefits of using a mortar and pestle versus a food processor, and lists the tools and ingredients for a Paris kitchen.  The recipes, which include first courses, main courses, side dishes and desserts, take center stage in this book.

As I look through recipes such as  “Cherry Tomato Crostini With Homemade Herbed Goat Cheese,”  “Butternut Squash Bread Soup,” and “Almond Cakes With Browned Butter,” I mentally rearrange my shopping list and look forward to trying these dishes. The recipes are accessible and understandable, and make me want to delve into these flavors and ingredient combinations.

I highly recommend My Paris Kitchen by David Lebovitz. The recipes alone make My Paris Kitchen a must-have for the cook, but the engaging stories and photographs make the book an entertaining read for anyone who loves to learn about international cultures. If you enjoy reading about cooking, travel or both — even from the comfort of home — you’ll want to add this book to your collection.

If you want to find out more about this book and the author, you can read more information on My Paris Kitchen or David Lebovitz.

FTC Disclaimer: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.