Browngirl Going Green

The Antidote to Browngirl’s Eco-Blues: Garden Bounty
July 7, 2010, 2:22 am
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The BP oil spill is still depressing, the City of Oakland is nearing hysteria over the upcoming verdict in the murder of Oscar Grant, and Obama still hasn’t lived up to our expectations. But some things in life are still beautiful: here are some photos of some veggies I’ve been growing in the backyard of my friend T. She grew the zukes, I grew the tomatoes (which are just starting to come in), beets and onions. Yummy and gorgeous!


Freedom Food

Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones, aka The Black Farmer (photo from The Black Farmer web site)

I found these two sites while I was poking around on the Internet, and it made me feel hopeful for the possibilities for the food industry in this country.

The Black Farmer is, indeed, a Black farmer (that is, a farmer of African descent), who lives and farms in the West Country of England. He raises outdoor bred pork for sausages (or ‘bangers’ as British people call them) and other animals for meat. I have to say, just by reading the site and watching the video, those sausages do look damn good. And to know that they are humanely raised, outdoors, and are, as the site states ‘gluten-free’, makes them sound even better.

The Black Farmer claims that his meat products are 100% British Freedom Food, which piqued my curiosity. As you can see on the site, Freedom food is the British Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ official designation for meat, fish and any other game that has been raised in a humane fashion. The agency has created standards for the welfare of animals that are raised for human consumption, and these standards are posted on web site.

The RSPCA says that the standards, “cover every aspect of the animals’ lives, including feed and water provision, the environment they live in, how they are managed, health care, transport, and humane slaughter/killing. The standards are designed to ensure that all animals reared according to the requirements have everything they need for a good quality of life, whether they are kept on large or small farms, or in indoor or outdoor production systems.”

It doesn’t surprise me that the Brits have something like this in place, and that the RSPCA is a royally recognized charity (on the web site they state, “Her Majesty the Queen recognises the work we do for animals in England and Wales, and that our reputation extends worldwide) is not surprising either. The Royal Family are well-known conservationists and animal lovers, and Prince Phillip is a former President of the Board of Trustees of the World Wildlife Fund.

It would be cool to have a similar designation scheme in the United States—instead of having to rely on vague labeling like ‘hormone-free’ or even ‘free-range’. What do those mean exactly? And what government agency (if any) would define, measure and enforce these standards? Since nothing like this exists now in the US, it’s nice to envision something like Freedom Fund in this country. Has a nice ring to it, too.

Gardening Update: Beets, Broccoli and More Onions
March 10, 2010, 1:31 am
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Just a quick post to give you the update on the garden I’m planting in my friend T.’s backyard raised beds. First, the cats that are digging up the beds are irritating me, although they haven’t done as much damage as I thought they might, which I attribute to the rain keeping them at bay.But I got a good tip from my friend Cathy about using old coffee bags (or any burlap bags, I’m guessing) to help keep kitties from digging up our beds and using them as litter boxes. Ick!

My husband and I spent a couple hours in the garden last weekend, planting more of the onions plants that I had (there were like 36 of them and I didn’t realize how much space they’d need, but I planted some of them closer together and plan to harvest them as green onions/scallions), as well as sowing some beet seeds and putting in some broccoli plants that I got at the Temescal Farmers Market. The nursery says that these broccoli are easy to grow, so I’m hoping that’s true as I’ve never grown broccoli before.

Next I’ll be sowing some lettuce seeds in pots, which I will eventually bring back to my yard behind my building, which is too shady to grow things like tomatoes but seems to do well for herbs and lettuce. Hope to post some pictures of the garden soon too, so stay tuned.

Onions and Arugula
February 18, 2010, 2:46 am
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I wasn’t planning to plant today, but when I got ti T.’s house to water my onion seedlings (it’s been unseasonably warm these past few days), I was so excited about getting started with my new garden project that I started digging in the dirt. I put in about 20 yellow onion seedlings today, as well as some arugula seeds in between. I’m trying out the biointensive or Biodynamic/French-intensive gardening method, which entails planting seeds/seedlings in a fairly concentrated way in order to save space and more effectively use resources like water and fertilizers, and to help plants naturally fend off pests by companion planting. For example, onions and garlic because of their smell can be very effective at repelling certain unwanted pests.

I don’t actually know if arugula and onions will grow well together, and had planned to grow beets with the onions instead, but I forgot the beet seeds at home and couldn’t wait to plant the arugula. But since I’m growing the arugula from seeds I can always transplant them to another bed later, and plant the beets with the onions like I planned originally.

Some other veggies I’m planning to start growing this season are radishes, a few of different kinds of lettuce and broccoli rabe. I LOVE broccoli rabe, so I hope it grows well for me. I’ve been referring to the bookGolden Gate Gardening, the seminal gardening text if you’re growing veggies in the Bay Area. While it’s not exclusively about organic gardening, it does have a lot of valuable information about how to garden more naturally and minimize using chemical pesticides. I don’t plan on using any chemicals in the garden, but may have to put in some fencing to keep the neighborhood cats away.

Are you gardening at home or in a community garden? What are you planning to grow this year? Would love to hear about your garden and share tips.

The Pig is Coming! And Other News

So we are FINALLY getting our pasture-raised, all-natural-feed pig delivered this Saturday from Godfrey Family Farms. The delay was on the butcher’s end, I guess, since the pig was slaughtered on my birthday (coincidence, but an interesting one) back at the end of December. I organized this purchase, pulling together five other buyers from Oakland and Berkeley via the Bay Area Meat CSA and my personal network of progressive foodie friends, mostly people of color. I’m very excited to cook and taste an animal that I purchased directly from the farmer, whom I will meet on Saturday and whom I’ve spoken to on the phone and communicated with via email. I wrote an earlier post that you can read for more background on our pig. This is all in an effort to eat more sustainably and humanely raised animals, and while I haven’t gone completely 100% sustainable in this regard, I’d say about 90% of the meat I consume now is at least hormone- and antibiotic-free, if not free-range/pasture-raised.

Of course, it’s impossible to know if stores’ labeling practices are completely forthcoming and honest, which is why I’m glad to be meeting the Godfreys on Saturday and taking home some of their pork. I’m hoping to have a little dinner party with a few friends at some point to hopefully turn more people on to buying meat in this way. I have to say, while it was definitely time-consuming and not very convenient, it’s so far been an interesting experiment in farm-to-table shopping, and is something I think more people will need to do more of if we want to have a truly sustainable, green, locavore-based food distribution system.

In other eco-news, through the networking magic of the Internet I’m happy to have connected with another woman of color writer, Dianne Glave, whose blog, entitled Rooted in the Earth is a precursor to her upcoming book, Rooted in the Earth: Reclaiming the African American Environmental Heritage. Obviously, there are lots of connections between what Dianne writes about (much more eloquently than I do, I must add) and what I strive to describe in this blog. I’m excited about Dianne’s book and hope that it signals a wave of environmental non-fiction by people of color in the US that is long overdue.

Lately, I’ve been reading The World Without Us by Alan Weisman, which is fascinating and offers a lot of information to absorb about what the Earth would be like if human beings disappeared from its face completely. The predictions will no doubt surprise you, and make you realize how much energy we expend everyday to maintain our modern civilization. Mr. Weisman is such a skilled writer that you feel as if you’re seeing the landscapes that he writes about, both ancient and modern, before your very eyes.

There’s some really good environmental/scientific non-fiction out there these days that is both highly educational as well as entertaining—two that I read last year that were among my favorite books of the whole year: Farm City by Oakland-based writer and urban farmer Novella Carpenter, and Fruitless Fall by Rowan Jacobsen. I look forward to reading Ms. Glave’s book and adding it to my growing collection.

If you know any other books that you think I or other people who read this blog might like, please share them. I’d love to hear about what you’re reading.

Link Up
February 1, 2010, 5:45 pm
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I’ve posted a bunch of new links in the sidebar to the left that I’ve been wanting to put up for awhile. If you’re a person of color looking to learn more or get into some green stuff, check ’em out. There’s a couple links on local Bay Area restaurants where you can eat mostly organic, locally grown, sustainable food (including humanely raised meat) from a variety of cuisines, such as Farmer Brown in San Francisco which has some slammin’ fried chicken. And if you want to have an event catered and need some good vegan (yes, I said VEGAN) Filipin food, check out No Worries Catering, based in the East Bay. No Worries is going to start selling food at the Jack London Farmer’s Market in April—woo-hoo! Guilt-free vegan kare-kare (oxtail soup)!

The Bay Area is a great place to be if you’re a brownperson trying to go green. Not only are there tons of places to get grub that’s wholesome and natural, but there are also activist organizations to support and get involved in, urban gardens to help out in, and tons more stuff. I’m just starting with the links I’ve got up right now—more will come soon. If you have any suggestions for links I should put up—especially blogs by other people of color about environmentalism or going green—please let me know.

Waiting for Our Pig
January 21, 2010, 10:25 pm
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I’m in the (hopefully) last days of a seemingly endless wait for the delivery of the humanely-raised, pasture-raised whole pig (yes, I said PIG) that I bought with six other Bay Area foodies via the Bay Area Meat CSA, which is essentially a big, complex network of message boards that help folks self-organize a collective purchase of a sustainably-farmed animal. More about CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture programs) in general here, and a good article about Bay Area folks buying meat through CSAs here.

Since I saw the excellent documentary film Food, Inc. several months ago with my partner, Henry, I’ve been trying to only buy and eat meat from sustainably-farmed and humanely-treated animals. (You have to watch the film to get a sense of why it would cause this dramatic behavior-change). This is a lot harder than it sounds, although it’s much easier to do it in the Bay Area–where there are many local farmers that are dedicated to raising and selling these kinds of animals. I’m not going to get into the vegetarian/vegan vs. meat-eater argument here (but I will at a later time), but I will say that I love meat. I also love animals–and I don’t, thusfar, see a contradiction between the two.

So I figure the least I can do is get my meat from places that aren’t torturing the animals or turning them into strangely mutated creatures (like the conventionally raised chickens that can’t walk because their breasts have been made so huge by hormone-laced feed), but instead are treating the animals with respect and giving them fairly good, happy lives.

Ironically–or serendipitously, depending on how you look at it–‘my’ pig, which we’re getting from Godfrey Family Farms in Marysville, Calif., was killed on my birthday (December 30). This made me pause and reflect on the fact that I was soon going to knowingly eat meat from an animal whose life was unnaturally ended on the day of my birth. And while that knowledge isn’t going to stop me from enjoying that meat, I’m sure, it does make me more deeply respect and honor the animals that I eat in general.

My family is from the Philippines, a largely rural country–and they are mostly peasants. I say this with no irony and with the utmost respect. My people (starting with my mother and going back generations upon generations) worked the land, fished and lived off of nature’s bounty. I’m of the first generation in my family removed from this earth-based culture and lifestyle, and I know I can learn a lot from my family about how to live more in touch with nature. I have family members who have killed animals with their own hands (fish and chickens and goats, and probably pigs), but who I think have more respect for nature and a deeper understanding of their relationship to it than many vegetarian, Prius-driving, organic-produce-buying, self-proclaimed environmentalists that I know. Because my family’s relationship to nature is not intellectual or political or based on something they read in a magazine or a book. Their relationship is based in the way they have fed and sheltered themselves and their children–in the way they had to survive.

And so I strive to have a similar relationship with my food as my ancestors have–in a more modern way. And so I wait, guiltlessly, for my pig, and look forward to eating its meat–with gratitude and respect.