August on the Farm
Making a Difference for the Environment with Our Food Choices!
By Peggie Griffin
As a result of the disastrous oil spill, Alabama Sierra Club Chapter Executive Committee members have had an on-going discussion of the ramifications of the oil spill: how it should be cleaned up and what regulations/rulings are necessary to prevent future oil spills. Of course, these discussions always end with the thought that we as a nation need to be less dependent on oil.
Industrial agriculture is embedded deeply in this struggle – beginning with the tremendous oil requirements of Big Ag. The Sustainable Table website is a good resource for learning more about Big Ag and its downfalls. Here is an excerpt about energy use:
Conventional food production and distribution requires a tremendous amount of energy—one study conducted in 2000 estimated that ten percent of the energy used annually in the United States was consumed by the food industry.ix Yet for all the energy we put into our food system, we don’t get very much out. A 2002 study from the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health estimated that, using our current system, three calories of energy were needed to create one calorie of edible food. And that was on average. Some foods take far more, for instance grain-fed beef, which requires thirty-five calories for every calorie of beef produced. x What’s more, the John Hopkins study didn’t include the energy used in processing and transporting food. Studies that do estimate that it takes an average of seven to ten calories of input energy to produce one calorie of food.
Accounting for most of this wasteful equation are the industrial practices upon which our food system is built. These include inefficient growing practices, food processing, and storage, as well as our system of transporting foodstuffs thousands of miles between the field and the end consumer.
The biggest culprit of fossil fuel usage in industrial farming is not transporting food or fueling machinery; it’s chemicals. As much as forty percent of energy used in the food system goes towards the production of artificial fertilizers and pesticides. (See http://www.sustainabletable.org/issues/energy/ for the entire article.)
Of course, we feel that sustainable agriculture is a much more efficient way to produce our food. Sustainable farms save energy by selling locally, using natural fertilizers such as manure and compost instead of chemical fertilizers, using natural pest control methods, and performing much less mechanized work. As you have heard me say many times, when we spend our food dollars, we are voting for the food system we prefer. Who are you voting for – Big Ag or sustainable agriculture?
This month, I am featuring a farm that I have wanted to write about for a long time. They are a wonderful example of how a conventional farm can become sustainable.
Farm of the Month: Jay’s Garden Variety
Farmers Jay and Les Rivett with a table displaying some of their herbs.
The little town of Henagar, Alabama, has been in the Alabama Sierra Club spotlight for many years - because of the confined animal feeding operations located there. Now I am happy to be writing about a beautiful example of what should be happening in our Alabama food system.
Jay and Les Rivett call themselves “transitional growers” who are developing sustainable farming practices. They have been active in the Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network, and are using the resources from that organization (as well as their own ingenuity) to increase their knowledge about how to grow more sustainably and chemical-free.
They are now growing on 3 acres and participate in the Chattanooga Market and the Mentone Farmers’ Market in the Square. They also helped to start the North Sand Mountain Farmers’ Market in Sylvania. To be a successful farmer, you have to be diversified in both what you grow and in how you sell – and that definitely describes the Rivetts’ practices. In addition to the farmers markets, they also offer U-Pick, offer a few CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) shares, and participate in the Clean Foods Network, a North Alabama on-line and CSA market comprised of sustainable, certified naturally grown and transitional farmers who are dedicated to providing clean, fresh food.
Jay’s Garden Variety farmers’ market display, showing off their bounteous crop of vegetables and flowers.
Jay and Les encourage visits to their farm – and isn’t this what we recommend - “Get to know the person who grows your food!”! If you do visit, you will observe a wide variety of vegetables – such as broccoli, arugula, mustard, kale, spinach, lettuce mix, squash, okra, beets, beans, peas, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant – depending on the time of year. You might also see strawberries, blackberries or muscadines.
They are also known for their herbs in season and dried herbs all year long. To remember four of the herbs they grow, you can sing the well known line to Simon and Garfunkel’s Scarborough Fair, “Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme”. In addition, they grow oregano, basil, marjoram, dill, lemon grass, tarragon, peppermint, lemon balm, spearmint, lavender, and lemon verbena.
As I mentioned, tours are encouraged. Jay’s Garden Variety is a part of the Alabama Agri-Tourism Trail. They do a presentation on the history of herbs and how to use them; you will also view their growing techniques on plastic mulch with irrigation. They also have a new water catchment system. You can even bring a lunch and enjoy their trail and picnic area surrounded by ferns and native plants. Just send them an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to visit.
Jay and Les are active in many agriculture organizations. They are on the board of the North Sand Mountain Farmers Market. They also participate in Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network, Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group, Alabama Fruit and Vegetables Growers, and Master Gardeners. They are listed in Chattanooga TasteBuds Guide.
To learn more about Jay’s Garden Variety, you can go to alabamaagritourism.com, localharvest.org, cleanfoodnetwork.locallygrown.net, and northsandmountainfarmersmarket.org.
Recipe of the Month – Les has provided us with a wonderful-sounding recipe, using tomatoes and okra that are abundant in gardens and at the farmers’ market right now. I can’t wait to try it out!
Okra and Tomato over Rice
1 lb Okra- fresh is best, unbreaded frozen will work
1 med onion-chopped
¼ cup 100% vegetable oil-enough to coat the okra well
1 Quart tomatoes – diced or stewed
1 fresh Cayenne pepper or ¼ teaspoon dried Cayenne Pepper
½ t garlic or 1-2 cloves-minced
½ t Louisiana Hot Sauce
Cut okra into circles. Heat oil in a large iron skillet; add the okra when it is hot. Stir the okra with a spatula, keeping it moving so it doesn’t brown. It takes about 20 minutes to “deslime” it. When the okra stops sticking to the spatula and will separate from each other it is ready. Add the onion and stir until the onion is clear. While cooking the okra, put tomatoes in a sauce pan with seasonings. Let simmer while okra and onions are finishing. Add okra to the sauce pan. Simmer together for 5-10 minutes. Serve over rice (which can be left over). Great with Chicken or Sausage. Keep the Louisiana Hot Sauce on the table for those who want to spice it up.