Sunday, October 30, 2011

Not-So-Green Chili Stew

Remember the Red Roasted Tomatillo Sauce? Here's what you do with it.
I posted a recipe on our other blog a few weeks ago for a  Red Roasted Tomatillo Sauce recipe. I promised to post this recipe but I just kept forgetting to. Well, here it is finally.

My mom taught me how to make the first version of this back when I was in college. It became a staple for me because it was tasty and easy to make. It was originally made with canned enchilada sauce, canned green chilies, pork, onions and potatoes.

Over time the recipe obviously evolved substantially.  It made it's largest change when we wanted to make it one day and didn't have any enchilada sauce but plenty of tomatillos - which we simply threw in the food processor. For that recipe you just replace the sauce with 2 1/2 lbs of tomatillos, 4 tsp chili powder and 4 tsp cumin.

Even though we've eliminated all of the commercially canned ingredients, this is still a surprisingly easy recipe to make.

Not-So-Green Chili Stew
1 quart of Red Roasted Tomatillo Sauce
1/2 lb pork loin, cut into 1/2" cubes
1 c nixtamel or hominy
1/2 lb roasted green chilis, remove skins and seeds and chop
1 lb potatoes, cut into 1/2" cubes
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 c chicken broth
2 Tbs oil
Hot sauce to taste
Sour cream and/or cheddar cheese

1. Heat a dutch oven over medium high heat and add oil and then pork and garlic. Cook until pork is browned.
2. Deglaze dutch oven with chicken broth.
3. Add remaining ingredients except sour cream/cheese and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are very tender.
4. Serve topped with sour cream and/or cheese.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Costs

When we took on our year we gave quite a few reasons as to why we decided to do it. We wanted to eat healthier. We wanted to know what was on and in our food. We wanted to make sure farmers were paid fairly for their hard work. One reason, though, I never really touched on, but in actuality was one of the biggest reasons we did it.

We needed to save money.

In September of 2010 I was facing another possible pay cut at work. After spending over 2 1/2 years at part time and not being able to find a second part time job even after sending out dozens of resumes and applications every week (told time and again that I was overqualified) we had to make cuts, and unfortunately food was going to have to be one of them (cell phones, cable, and commercial beauty products also got the ax).

When I used to shop at the large chain supermarket I could easily spend $250 a week on groceries. Usually it was nothing but crap processed food but we did buy a lot of produce. I then started to make the switch to only shopping at Trader Joe's and the farmers market. Once a week I'd go to Trader Joe's and spend between $80 and $140 a week. It was usually higher in the Winter because we had less produce growing in our garden. Every Saturday we would spend $40 at the farmers' market. So every week we spent between $120-180 every week on food. Less than what we were spending compared to the large chain supermarket, but we still needed to cut it.

But, this also didn't include what we spent eating out. I can't really say how much that was, but we went out at least once a week, but usually more like twice a week. On average we'd probably spend about $30 per meal out. It added up quickly.

One of the first things I'm asked by a lot of people is how expensive it is to eat like this. There's an assumption that now that we buy all of our food from the farmers' market and from shops that specialize in local and organic food that we're actually spending more on food. It didn't turn out that way.

I kept track of all of our expenditures on food over the year. We ended up averaging $84/week. So if you included two meals out in a week totaling $60/week plus the grocery store bill we were saving $96-156 a week. Even without including eating out we still saved $56-96 a week.

The biggest change, and what saved us the most amount of money, was processing all of our own food. Bread is a prime example. A loaf of plain white bread costs between $2.50 and $4.50 at the grocery store. Making a loaf of bread at home costs less than $0.50. If we make 1 loaf per week, we save over $100 per year just on bread. Of course store bought, basic white bread doesn't compare to homemade bread so in reality the savings was greater.

Buying in bulk was also key. We have a very small house - only 750 sq ft. Organization is key for us and buying in bulk can prove difficult because of our size limitations. But we make it work. We have a chest freezer because we buy whole or partial animals. The cost of an organically raised pig that we bought live and had slaughtered and butchered came to $2/lb.

I won't lie. It takes a lot more planning and definitely more work, but we decided that we needed to save the money and eat better and so this is what we had to do.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


I've been asked quite a few times here and over on the FB page about our recipes. I only have a few on this blog, but on our other blog, Dog Island Farm, I post a recipe every Sunday. What I can do is post the recipes both over there an over here on Sunday so everyone gets to enjoy them. For now though, I'll post my go-to bread recipe (though I don't have any photos right now to share).

This basic bread recipe we use for just about anything - loaves, rolls and pizza crust.

In a large mixing bowl mix together:
3 cups flour (we use Giusto's Peak Performance flour, but any bread flour should work fine. If you use whole wheat you'll need to allow it more time to rise)
1 Tbs kosher salt
2 Tbs sugar
2 1/2 tsp yeast

Add to the dry ingredients:
1 cup warm water
2 Tbs oil

Mix ingredients until combined. Knead for at least 10 minutes. You'll notice that when the gluten develops and the dough, when pulled, will stretch rather than tear. Put a light coating of oil over the dough and allow to rise in a warm dark spot. I like to keep it in my oven to rise.

Once it's doubled in size punch it down and flatten it into a rectangle with one edge as long as your loaf pan. Taking one edge, roll the dough so that you end up with a log.

Grease a loaf pan with butter and then dust it with flour. Add dough roll to loaf pan and allow it to double in size again.

Bake at 450 deg. F for 25 minutes or until nicely browned.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Wal-Mart Produce

My friend Lisa recently sent me a link to a reddit post about Walmart and farmers. I found it intriguing so I decided to look into it further. The post is as follows:

As a former employee of a vegetable farm, let me give you an explanation of how selling vegetables to Wal-Mart works. First you make an agreement with Wal-Mart to sell them X bushels of produce at Y price/bushel. You spend the entire week ramping up production, bringing in more pickers and hiring more packers to ensure you get your X bushels of product. You are especially picky about the quality of your product, because Wal-Mart's business represents a dynamic increase in sales and you want to impress them. You have everything picked, packed and prepped for Wal-Mart's pick-up (they always want to make the pick-up, rather than pay you to deliver) on Friday.
Now the fun begins. The Wal-Mart inspector starts going through the produce that you picked and prepped for a Friday pick-up, at 6:30pm Tuesday. He/she immediately begins marking crates as below agreed upon quality, assuring you that you will be compensated full-price for these crates, and that he/she is just marking them so that the produce that is below grade is sent to Mexico or something. Finally, the inspector allows the fruit to be packed into Wal-Mart's non-refrigerated truck at about 8 o'clock. Again, you're paying your employees to wait to do this the whole time. They close up the truck, and tell you that you should receive your payment in a few weeks, and have you sign a receipt.
This is where it gets fun. The truck doesn't take the fruit to the nearest refrigerated Wal-Mart Distribution Center. Instead, it goes another day out of its way, to unload. When it gets there, the unrefrigerated fruit is inspected again. It's now been 5 or 6 days since it was supposed to be delivered to the refrigerated distributorship and there's been about a 30% loss of product. You're contacted by Wal-Mart and told that the product was not in the agreed upon condition and that they will be deducting a loss-penalty of 50% to your agreed upon price and will not be paying for the 30% of lost product. However, they will keep that lost product and use it in some sort of paste or juice or other form of private label Great Value product that can use the product. You protest Wal-Mart's unilateral negotiation and they tell you that they can refuse delivery of the product and have it shipped back to you, but you'll pay for the shipping (Pay Wal-Mart's trucks, not yours). You threaten to sue, and they remind you that they have a 100millon dollar retainer with the very best lawyers money can buy, and that while you will probably win the case, you'll be in litigation for at least 10 years (because Wal-Mart's already paying these guys anyways) and at best you'll get your agreed upon price, while paying your own lawyers $400/hour for 10 years to sue them for what amounts to $50,000.
So you swallow your pride, you take your 75% loss on the signed contract and then they ask you if you'll be able to make your next shipment, as per your contract, Wal-Mart has the ability to extend, however, because China is selling them Lead contaminated produce at 10% what you're selling, they're renegotiating the prices for "market value"
And thats when you send them the stuff you throw out when you sell to Krogers.
EDIT: bluegender is correct
TL;DR - Wal-Mart screws their suppliers, laughs at lawsuits, and then demands you uphold your end of the contract, all in the name of saving you money. 

Michael Pollan comments on this for the New York Times. 
Wal-Mart’s big-foot entry into the organic market is bad news for small organic farmers, that seems obvious enough. But it may also spell trouble for the big growers they’ll favor. Wal-Mart has a reputation for driving down prices by squeezing its suppliers, especially after the suppliers have invested in expanding production to feed the Wal-Mart maw. Once you’ve boosted your production to supply Wal-Mart, you’re at the company’s mercy when it decides it no longer wants to give you a price that will cover the cost of production, let alone enable you to make a profit. When that happens, the notion of responsibly priced food will be sacrificed to the need to survive, and the pressure to cut corners will become irresistible."
Unfortunately, probably afraid of lawsuits from Wal-Mart there doesn't appear to be more info out there. There was a response to this post from someone whose family was in agriculture saying that this was a typical scenario for Wal-Mart.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


We've got a ton of new faces around here which is awesome! Thanks for following us!

Even though our year is over, we're continuing on and I'll still be posting regularly here. We are more than happy to answer any questions you have and if you need any advice just let us know. We totally understand that it can be really daunting if you don't know where to start.

In the meantime, here's a silly picture of our dog, Squeak, playing in the sprinkler.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Setting it Straight

We've been getting quite a bit of press lately, which is cool, but some of the spin that the media has put on what we're doing is just flat out wrong and sensational so I want to get the record straight here on the blog. Most of you that follow us are probably well aware that what has been said is sometimes completely false, but there are also quite a few new people reading this so I just want to clarify some things.

So here are the top falsehoods that have been said:

We're doing this because of the recent food outbreaks
False. While it's a bonus that we don't have to worry about food recalls it's not something we think about that much.

We have lived exclusively off of our 1/4 acre for a year
That's false too. Just read the rules and you'll see that for the first 9 months we were going to the farmers' market, bought our staples from a buying club that sources local organic food, and shopped at local merchants that sourced local meat, dairy, and other products. The last 3 months we didn't buy any food but we still used stuff that we had on hand that we didn't necessarily grow.

You have to have a garden and livestock to eliminate the grocery store.
Completely false. This bothered me a great deal because the reason we were doing this was to help show people that even if they live in an apartment they can reduce their dependence on grocery stores. From October 1st to late June our garden was barely productive so we couldn't rely on it for all of our food. But it showed us that you don't need to grow and raise your own food to be grocery-store free.

They've saved X amount of money
This seems to be a moving target. Some of the reporters want to include the money saved on groceries *with* the money we've saved by gardening. I try to keep the two independent because we gardened a lot before we took on our year without groceries. So you'll see numbers ranging from $4,000 to $9,000 depending on what they want to share.

And then there were some things that we did say during the interviews that were "conveniently" left out for the sake of journalism:

Why we're really doing this
I've developed a pretty severe intolerance to soy and canola, which are in nearly everything. I was getting tired of wading through all the product additives that were made from soy but didn't actually say "soy" in the name. The best option I had was to eliminate processed foods from our diet.

We then learned that most farmers don't get very much money for the food that they grow (Walmart is one of the worst) and that most food at the grocery store isn't even from California or the U.S for that matter. We decided that it was really important that the money we spend on food goes almost entirely to the farmer. Buying directly from farmers not only helped support small family farms, but it also helps keep money in our community.

Don't take it all on at once
I'm a huge believer that raising livestock and growing produce isn't for everyone. There are other things you can do to change the way you eat without going as far as we have. We've also been doing this for over 6 years, steadily building up to where we are now.

Our neighbors actually enjoy what we're doing
They like to come over and visit with the animals, they enjoy the produce and eggs we bring them and we create an open dialogue with them to address any concerns they may have. We make sure the noise and smell are at a minimum (many of the reporters have commented about the lack of smell) and that everyone is happy, from our neighbors to the animals.

Hopefully that's cleared up some of the misconceptions to those that are new to the blog. I'm more than happy to answer anyone's questions as well.

Monday, October 3, 2011

How Safeway Creates Food Deserts

I live in a community that has a lot of poverty. When we attended the Healthy Eating Active Living Cities Workshop a few months ago, we learned the locations of all the food deserts in our city.

An area is considered a food desert when there is no grocery store within a certain radius.

One of the largest ones is downtown. Standing right next to downtown is a church that occupies an old Safeway building. What I never understood was why that building couldn't be used as a grocery store again. In some of the other food deserts there are also buildings that once housed grocery stores but now house other businesses like furniture stores. Safeway has since moved out to bigger and better properties in other areas of the city.

So why haven't new grocery stores been able to come in to those areas? Because they were once owned by supermarket giant, Safeway, and now Safeway has put deed restrictions on those sites barring any future grocery store from using the property. In some instances, due to site limitations and availability these are the only places a grocery store could feasibly be located. So in the name of profits, Safeway has decided to create food deserts in my city. They put their profits above the health of our community, about the health of children.

This just drives home my commitment to no longer buy food from grocery stores.