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Apps That Can Help You Eat Sustainably

There’s no getting around it: shopping for food in an ethical and sustainable manner is difficult. The information needed to do so can be hard to find, and is in many cases unknowable to a non-expert. Transparency is not a main prerogative for most products offered in groceries or restaurants. Far from it — products claiming to be organic or healthy are often that in name only.

Enter: HowGood, Happy Cow and Seafood Watch.

Continuing a recent series of posts on technology and sustainability (see earlier posts here and here), the Clean Fairfax blog will explore several mobile applications that can help you shop for food in a more sustainable manner!

HowGood

HowGood is a rating system and app that helps shoppers understand growing guidelines, processing practices and company conduct behind each product. Walk into any HowGood affiliated store (Giant Food is currently the only partner in Fairfax County — with more coming soon) and pay attention to the labels. Many products will have HowGood “Good” “Great” or “Best” ratings on their tags, relating to their overall sustainability scores. How are these ratings created? HowGood collects comprehensive information on products from the USDA, Fair Trade USA, Rainforest Alliance and 350 other sources, and rates according to 70 different indicators. Using your phone, you can also scan any barcode in the store and view a breakdown of a product’s rating, or better yet you can map out your entire grocery list using the app. The days of wondering if that box of granola is actually organic or sustainable are over!

Happy Cow

A go-to app for vegetarians and vegans, Happy Cow is Yelp for sustainable dining and grocery shopping. The concept is simple: vegetarians want to know which restaurants are truly amenable to their green lifestyles, and just as importantly, they want to know which restaurants have the best food. Download, search, enjoy. Enough said!

Seafood Watch

Much to the chagrin of conservation groups, it seems that anything goes out on the open seas. Unsustainable fishing practices are unfortunately still commonplace today, literally leading to classic cases of tragedy of the commons. In response to overfishing, Monterrey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch is taking a novel approach to this issue by helping consumers and businesses make better seafood choices for a healthy ocean. The Seafood Watch app keeps consumers informed about the latest recommendations on which fisheries are currently sustainable. More on Seafood Watch’s recommendations:

Buy “Best Choice” recommendations first, they’re well managed and caught or farmed in ways that cause little harm to habitats or other wildlife. You can also buy “Good Alternative” recommendations but be aware there are concerns with how they’re caught or farmed. Don’t buy “Avoid” recommendations because they’re overfished or caught or farmed in ways that harm other marine life or the environment. — Seafood Watch

For example, Seafood Watch currently suggests that Virginians buy farmed Arctic Char and Tilapia, but urges residents to avoid imported Mahi Mahi and Bluefin Tuna. See a fish that sounds delicious on a menu or at the fishmonger? You can search specific fish on the app to see if it’s a sustainable choice.

Increasingly, there are less and less excuses not to shop for food in an ethical way. Step up!

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Food: It’s a Terrible Thing to Waste!

Clean your plate: children in India/Africa are starving! Many of us heard this injunction growing up. Insufficient food is a huge problem in many countries, but even here in Fairfax County 44,000 residents receive help from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) because they are unable on their own to get enough food to eat.

Some individuals, grocery stores, restaurants, etc. try to close the loop and donate “extra” food to those in need, but Sustainable America estimates that 40% of food in the United States is wasted.  For more information on eating out without wasting food:  http://www.sustainableamerica.org/blog/eating-out-without-wasting-food/

Leftover food that cannot be used by others is an environmental opportunity. This past spring, Fairfax County’s Solid Waste Management Program announced its launch of a pilot composting program “to encourage the growth of local companies that collect food waste (also called organic waste) from homes, events, businesses, etc., and turn it into compost. The compost can then be used as a high-quality soil amendment in residential backyards, farms, and landscaping projects.”

What makes this type of large-scale composting appealing is that items that normally would not go in a smaller household composting operation such as bones and meat and paper products can be included.

To date, two composting companies, Compost Crew and Veterans, have registered with the program. The County has reviewed these companies’ equipment and operations, thus providing some assurance to potential customers that they are operating in a safe and sustainable way.

To participate in this pilot program, contact Compost Crew at http://compostcrew.com/signup/ or Veterans at https://www.veterancompost.com/our-services/

Bottom line: Try not to waste food, but if you do have organic scraps, put them to good use!

What’s for lunch?

As children head back to school, it is easy for parents to get into what I call the “fast and furious” mode, particularly when it comes to packing lunches. Although the school year pace often feels frenetic, we all want our children to get the healthiest food. That may take some careful thinking.

Now is a great time to consider your shopping choices and stock up on the products you want your children to eat—and also consider using sustainable lunch containers.

Eco-friendly lunch boxes/bags:  Look for zero to minimal

synthetic materials or bags/boxes made of recycled synthetics.  Be open-minded about materials you may never have thought of before like stainless steel and wool!  Also, consider reusables for packing individual items like sandwiches, fruit, chips, etc. rather than single-use plastic bags.

http://smartmommyhealthybaby.com/smart-mommy/products-for-moms-on-the-go/lunch-bags-and-food-containers/

Alternatives to foods with GMO’s: http://www.gmoinside.org/non-gmo-lunchbox/

Healthy foods kids might like: https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/healthy-lunches-for-kids

Spotlight on Eco-Friendly Business: THE INSIDE SCOOP

The Inside Scoop               

Owner: Daniel Azar

Opened for business: 2/14/2014

The Inside Scoop, a local food truck selling organic homemade ice cream and treats, made some eco-friendly changes after participating in Clean Fairfax’s SpringFest, an annual celebration of Earth Day that encourages sustainable practices.

According to owner Daniel Azar, “SpringFest’s requirements prompted me to look for alternatives that I used for that event.  After that, it stuck, and I started phasing out as much plasticware as possible.” Daniel also noted, “There is a growing concern over how much non-compostable waste we are producing.  All you have to do is google ‘landfills’ and you’ll be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of garbage that will never break down.  There needs to be more laws in place (such as California’s required recycling), but also grassroots efforts to help raise awareness and make changes, without needing to wait for a federal mandate, because it’s just the right thing to do.”

Daniel found that depending on the item, it was either the same price as plastic or a little higher, but went on to say that the slight increase in cost should be a trivial concern to businesses, small and large, because “our environment, our ecosystem, is worthless if we can’t live in it.”

His recommendation to other businesses is to “not let the bottom line be more important than the overall health of both ourselves and all of our neighbors: Fourlegged, bipedal, winged or otherwise.”

EXAMPLES OF ECO-FRIENDLY PRACTICES USED AT THE INSIDE SCOOP:

Avoidance of single-use plastics (straws, packaging, utensils, dishes, containers, bags) 

Phasing out of plastic dishes and spoons for paper and wooden ones.

Energy conservation 

Turn off and unplug any appliance not currently in use.

Recycling

Recycle at every opportunity!

Local sources

Dairy, heavy cream, and several ingredients & toppings are

locally sourced from farmers markets right here in Fairfax County and from our nation’s

Dairy State: Pennsylvania.

Organics

Dairy, agave & heavy cream are Organic.

Fair-trade 

The coffee in Espresso Chip ice cream is Fair Trade.

Composting

Wooden taster spoons, teaspoons & paper cups are all compostable.

Waste Prevention (e.g. donations of unsold product to needy)

Donated to 3 different homeless & needy shelters in the D.C Area.

Support this eco-friendly business and enjoy some yummy ice cream and treats:

http://www.theinsidescoopcreamery.com/

 

 

Prime-time for Farmers Markets: Lots of Fresh Produce and Special Events

July and August are definitely the best months to get to the Farmers Markets in this area. According to the Virginia Harvest Calendar http://www.vdacs.virginia.gov/pdf/producechart.pdf published by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services this is when most of the produce is being harvested, so you will find great abundance and variety at the Farmers Markets. Also, August 2-12 there will be special events to celebrate National Farmers Market Week. (see July 26 Facebook post @CleanFairfax)

Go eco-friendly:Bring plenty of reusable tote bags, reusable produce bags, and reusable containers. Clean Fairfax is encouraging Fairfax County residents to join the #plasticfreeproduce movement. Also, consider composting the remains of your fruits and vegetables.

Why support the Farmers Markets?

1. Freshness:

Fruits and vegetables are guaranteed fresh since they are local. You can talk directly to the farmer to find out about the produce you are purchasing.

  1. Protect the Environment:

Food in the U.S. travels an average of 1,500 miles to get to your plate. All this shipping uses large amounts of natural resources (especially fossil fuels), contributes to pollution, and creates trash with extra packaging. Conventional agriculture also uses many more resources than sustainable agriculture and pollutes water, land, and air with toxic agricultural by-products. Food at the farmers market is transported shorter distances and is generally grown using methods that minimize the impact on the earth.  (Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture)

  1. Support Family Farmers:

Family farmers need your support, now that large agribusiness dominates food production in the U.S. Small family farms have a hard time competing in the food marketplace. Buying directly from farmers gives them a better return for their produce and gives them a fighting chance in today’s globalized economy.  (Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture)

  1. Promote Humane Treatment of AnimalsAt the farmers market, you can find meats, cheeses, and eggs from animals that have been raised hormone- and antibiotic-free. Also, they are often openly grazed and cage free rather than forced into cramped feedlots and cages.
  2. Connect with Your Community

Farmers Markets offer a communal gathering place for neighbors.

National Farmers Market Week with cooking demonstrations, games, kids’ activities, raffles for gift baskets and more is running from Wednesday, August 2 to Saturday, August 12, 2017 at the Fairfax County Farmers Markets. Watch the promotional video (https://goo.gl/MHQGte) for additional information.

For directions and vendors at each market visit

http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/farmersmarkets or call Community Horticulture at 703-642-0128.

The Case for Organics and Farmers Markets: Trump’s Chlorpyrifos Approval

 

President Trump has signed an order denying the petition by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) to ban chlorpyrifos (Lorsban), a pesticide that some say causes neurodevelopmental effects in children at exposure levels below EPA’s existing regulatory standard. The EPA claims that the “science addressing neurodevelopmental effects remains unresolved.” The next reevaluation of the safety of this product is not scheduled until 2022.

Not willing to take the risk?  According to the Virginia Cooperative Extension, when it comes to local produce, this will allow peanut growers in our area to continue to use this insecticide. The Environmental Working Group suggests that if you want to avoid feeding your family produce that may contain chlorpyrifos residue even after it has been thoroughly washed, choose organic versions for these fruits and vegetables:

  • Imported peaches from Chile (20 percent of samples tested positive)
  • Imported nectarines from Chile (13 percent of samples tested positive)
  • Imported bell peppers from Mexico (22 percent of samples tested positive)
  • Imported hot peppers from Mexico (15 percent samples tested positive)
  • Domestic and imported cilantro (27 percent of samples tested positive)

Unfortunately, chloropyrifos is not the only potentially toxic pesticide in use. There are a number of organophosphates, chemicals that are specifically designed to damage an enzyme in the body called acetylcholinesterase, that are responsible for 70% of pesticide use in the United States, according to PANNA.

The argument for consuming organic produce is compelling. Consider buying organics and seeking out fresh LOCAL produce at area Farmers Markets.  You can just ask the farmer what is used to manage pests and make an informed consumer choice.

For more information about Fairfax County Farmers Markets and organic produce check out  https://ourstoriesandperspectives.com/2016/07/27/fairfax-county-farmers-markets/.   A listing of all area Farmers Markets can be found at www.cleanfairfax.org — Programs.

Spring into Composting

As we head towards Spring, this is an excellent time to consider composting: The warmer weather tends to break down organic materials more quickly, and you don’t need to brave the cold to get to an outdoor bin.  Also, if you start now, you should end up with some excellent quality soil for your summer garden!

 

Why bother? Composting reduces the amount of garbage you create and therefore the amount of landfill space filled, or in the case of Fairfax County, the amount of ash waste produced by incineration. By not purchasing compost or fertilizer for your garden, composting not only saves you money, but it also saves fossil fuels since many commercial methods of producing compost and fertilizer use machinery that runs on oil/gas. Composting also saves your garbage disposal from overworking. And you are creating rich soil to add back to the earth!

What can be composted in a residential setting? Just about any non-meat food scraps or organic yard waste. Here are some exceptions from Eartheasy, Solutions for Sustainable Living: perennial weeds (they can be spread with the compost) or diseased plants; pet manures if you will use the compost on food crops; banana peels, peach peels and orange rinds since these may contain pesticide residue; and, black walnut leaves (leaves create a chemical toxic to many plants called juglone, and though it breaks down fairly quickly in compost, may not be work the risk).

 

How do you get the materials to compost? If you have an outdoor area available to you, there are several options. You can purchase a composting tumbler or a bin. Purchased composters will be accompanied by directions. If you build your own bin, or fence an area to be your compost pile, or just start a pile, you will need to stir it up periodically and keep it moist.

 

Rodale’s Organic Life suggests the following for starting a compost pile more scientifically:

Start by spreading a layer that is several inches thick of coarse, dry brown stuff, like straw or cornstalks or leaves, where you want to build the pile. 2. Top that with several inches of green stuff. Continue layering green stuff and brown stuff with a little soil mixed in until the pile is 3 feet high. For more info, go to www.rodalesorganiclife.com/garden/how-compost

 

What is the apartment-dweller with no access to outdoor space to do? Fortunately, there are some excellent technologies that make composting possible even for people living in apartments.   http://earth911.com/home-garden/bokashi-composting/?utm_source=New+Earth911+List+-+2015&utm_campaign=877c6ea77f-Tuesday+Emails+2.13.17&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_5e8b4dc609-877c6ea77f-167852373

 

Early March is a great time to “get back to the earth”—literally!

 

 

 

Clean(!) Dry Cleaning

Dry cleaning is amazing: you bring in your wrinkled, stained clothing and several days later pick up crisply pressed clean clothes. There is, however, that faint chemical odor. Therein lies the problem!

In 1996, the National Institute for Occupational Health (NIOSH) found that the leading dry cleaning chemical, perchloroethylene, commonly known as PERC, was indicated in causing several types of cancer and had been evident in many hazardous waste sites. Since then, laws have been passed to regulate the exposure of dry cleaning employees to PERC, but most estimates indicate that it still remains in use in 75%-85% of dry cleaning facilities today.

So, what to do with your “Dry Clean Only” clothes?

Some alternative chemicals that seem to have fewer adverse health effects include DF-2000 made by Exxon-Mobil, EcoSolv made by Chevron-Phillips, and a silicon-based treatment called siloxane D5 or GreenEarth that is also found in many personal care products.

According to the EPA, if clothing from the dry cleaners has a strong smell, bring it back and ask them to re-clean the garment. The finishing process of dry cleaning should get much of the chemical smell out of the garment. Another way to potentially reduce the personal hazard of chemicals is to allow the clothing to “off-gas” by removing the plastic bag and letting the clothes sit in an open area.

If you want to truly get that dry clean effect without chemicals, the two most effective natural processes are wet cleaning and liquid carbon dioxide cleaning. Wet cleaning is essentially very gentle washing with controlled amounts of water and non-toxic biodegradable detergents. CO2 cleaning uses high pressure to convert the gas to liquid to wash the clothes, and then with a release of pressure, converts it back to a gas to dry the clothes.

According to the Mother Nature Network, it is important not to just go with a dry cleaner that advertises “organic” or “natural” because there is no legal definition for these terms when it comes to dry cleaners and there is great variance.

ASK your dry cleaner how they plan to clean your clothes. Then, make an informed dry cleaning choice.

Find your nearest eco-friendly cleaner here:
http://www.nodryclean.com/map/zip.html

#EcoMonday #Environment #GoGreen #Sustainable #cleantech #greenbiz

NODRYCLEAN.COM

A Lot on My Plate – You Are My Sunchoke

Sunchoke and Spinach Soup

  • 3 ½ cups scrubbed and peeled sunchokes, cut into 1-inch pieces [Tuscarora Mountain Farm, Spring Run, PA]
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 medium yellow onion, cut into 1-inch pieces [Porter Farm, Elba, NY]
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup spinach
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • Fresh thyme for garnish

Start by preheating the oven to 375 degrees. While it’s heating up, clean and cut your sunchokes and onion. On a large baking sheet, toss together the sunchokes, onion, and garlic with 2 tablespoons of oil and a couple pinches of salt. Cook for 15-20 minutes or until the sunchokes are fork-tender.

In a medium pot, combine the roasted vegetables, spinach, milk, broth, and a couple more pinches of salt. Bring to a low boil and cook for 3-5 minutes, until the sunchokes are easily squashed with a fork. Transfer to a food processor and blend until creamy, adding salt to taste. Top your bowl with the fresh thyme, parmesan cheese, maybe some caramelized onions, and/or your favorite bready croutons.

20160202_195443

(Now that my camera itself has improved, I clearly have some work to do in the composition department…)

So despite a number of unexpected developments and adventures with this recipe, it somehow still tasted sweet, nutty, and delicious. The original recipe didn’t use spinach, but I had some hanging around and figured a little greens never hurt anyone. I neglected to change the amount of liquids I added, so I ended up with more like a hot veggie smoothie than a creamy soup. I’d also never actually used my food processor before, so I wasn’t quite sure how to go about that. BUT somehow it still all worked out and was pretty tasty!

I’d also never even seen, let alone cooked or eaten, a sunchoke before. But I can tell you for sure I will be again! Not only are they actually really amazing for you, but they’re much sweeter and tastier than I was expecting. When I got them in my bag I wasn’t quite sure what to do with them, but that was part of my plan when I signed up with 4P Foods, I wanted to break out of my cooking comfort zone a little and check out some new vegetables. And this was my chance! Most of the recipes I initially found for sunchokes (or Jerusalem Artichokes) were just plain roasted, but I always find those recipes a little boring and better for side dishes. But since I’m a vegetarian (and a working adult) I don’t always have time or means to make a full side-dish + main-dish setup. So I looked around and found this interesting recipe for soup. I’d just gotten my new food processor, so it all seemed ready to work out! And boy, did it. I’m definitely a sunchoke convert now! Some fun nutritional facts about these funny-looking tubers is that they’re a great source of dietary fiber, iron, B-vitamins, and minerals like potassium.