Cooking with Cornmeal

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Farming, Food and Drink, Locavore, Recipe, Tricia Dameron | Posted on 30-06-2010

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Ressler Farms cornmeal

Larry Ressler's cornmeal.

I met Larry over a year ago. He was a new co-op producer—selling eggs and smoking wood—and was visiting co-op pick-up sites to meet his customers. We chatted and he asked what unmet demand there was in the co-op. Besides the typical needs at that time—produce, chicken, and bacon—I mentioned cornmeal.

Later he wrote to let me know he planted meal corn. He periodically dropped a line updating me on the corn's progress. In late June he lamented his corn was 6 inches tall, while his conventional-farmer-neighbor's corn was 6–8 feet tall. By September his corn was catching up: “It’s as big as an elephant’s eye (or something like that),” he said.

In late February Larry's cornmeal was ready. He sent me about one pound of finely ground cornmeal. It was a precious gift; I knew how much effort, thought, and consternation went into it.

This year Larry is growing about three times more corn than he did last year. Let’s wish him luck to endure this crazy weather and prevail against hungry raccoons.

Here's what I made with the cornmeal:
apple cobbler

I made one of my favorite desserts, cornmeal cobbler.
This time I made it with some apples I canned last year. But I’ve made this cobbler many times: with blackberries, blueberries, peaches, and pears. You can add different spices to the cobbler batter to complement the fruit you’re using. For instance, I added
cardamom when I made the pear cobbler.

 polenta and mushroom gravypolenta, kale, and pepper bake

I made polenta, which I baked on top of sautéed kale and roasted red peppers. Cold polenta forms a firm loaf, so I sliced the refrigerated leftovers, pan-fried the slices, and topped them with Om Gardens mushroom gravy.

lemon berry cake

I also experimented with a lemon berry cake recipe. I really liked the dense, lemony, cake-like topping that soaked up the juices from the cooked strawberries. When cooked, the batter forms a nice crisp glaze on top. This cake gets baked in a pie plate. (Disregard the springform pan in the photo. That was a bad idea.)

Lemon Berry Cake

:: 3 c strawberries, hulled and sliced (any type of berry will do)

:: 1 3/4 c sugar, divided

:: 1 c melted butter, cooled

:: 3/4 c flour

:: 1/4 c cornmeal

:: 1/2 t lemon extract

:: 2 eggs

Put sliced strawberries in a pie plate. Stir in 1/4 c sugar. In a medium-size mixing bowl combine the remaining 1 1/2 cup sugar with the melted butter, flour, cornmeal, lemon extract, and eggs. Stir until smooth. Spread evenly on top of strawberries. Bake for 40 minutes at 350˚.

Posted by Tricia Dameron. This post originally appeared on Oklavore on 6/18/10.

Money for trash and the perks aren’t free

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Change, Compost, Consumption, Environment, Local Government, Oklahoma City, Recycling, Tricia Dameron, Waste Management | Posted on 25-08-2009

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by Tricia Dameron

City living definitely has its perks. One perk I’m enjoying since we moved to inner-OKC a mere three weeks ago has been curbside recycling. What a treat! Previously we lived in an unincorporated area and had to haul our recycling to a drop-off center during Saturday morning errands. Everything had to be sorted and it was common for the dumpsters to be overflowing with recyclables, resulting in us carting our waste back to the house.

Today is trash day in my new neighborhood and as I made my way to the office, I pondered the missing “Little Blues” at many of my neighbors’ curbs. I cannot comprehend why someone would opt out of curbside recycling. Because of my various residences, taking recycling to drop-off centers has always been a highly regarded pain in the butt. Comparatively, curbside recycling is a luxury. As of July 2009 26 percent of OKC trash customers set out their “Little Blue” every week and 52 percent of the same participate in curbside recycling, according to Mark Jordan at Recycle America. Perhaps you’re asking yourself, “What is the difference between set-out rate and participation rate?” I’m not clear on that yet, but check back for more information in the comments.

I wish Oklahoma City had a residential pay-as-you-throw program. I recycle and compost without financial incentive, but it would nice (and logical) to pay less when I use less (landfill space), as it is with gas, electricity, and city water. For $16.23/month, you can fill two 90-gallon “Big Blue” containers per week. A third 90-gallon cart costs an additional $2.76/month. I can request a smaller cart, but I’ll pay the same if I dispose 7 gallons or 180 gallons of waste per week. I wonder if there has been any correlation between pay-as-you-throw programs and multiplying illegal dump sites?

Recycling can also be incentivized by container deposit legislation (also called a “bottle bill”), which requires a refundable deposit on beverage containers. Seven states with bottle bills studied litter rates and found a substantial reduction in beverage container litter. Oklahoma Department of Transportation spends $3.5 million/year cleaning up litter along state highways. A 1998 litter survey found beverage containers to be the fourth highest source of litter in Oklahoma.

Iowa, with land area and population comparable to Oklahoma, enacted a bottle bill in 1978. If Iowa can do it, why can’t Oklahoma? Several attempts to enact a bottle bill have failed in the Oklahoma Legislature. In 2008 a measure creating a task force to simply study container deposit legislation didn’t even get a committee hearing.

Spending taxes to pick up litter will never cure the problem. And burying reusable materials — materials that save money, energy and natural resources — comes straight from pages of “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed,” by Jared Diamond. Both practices seem antithetical to the fiscally conservative values of the political majority here in Oklahoma.

Census of Agriculture

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Direct Farm Sales, Farming, Local Economy, Tricia Dameron | Posted on 09-03-2009

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by Tricia Dameron

Data from the 2007 Census of Agriculture was released in early February. The Census of Agriculture is conducted every five years; this is the third time it was conducted by the USDA. Prior to 1997 it was conducted by the Census Bureau. It's full of fascinating information about agriculture in our state and country. For example:

  • Compared to 2002, 10,350,621 more meat chickens were sold in 2007, from 235 fewer meat chicken farms [Table 27]
  • The average age of the Oklahoma farmer is 57.6 [Table 1]
  • The number of female farm operators in the U.S. increased 30% between 2002 and 2007 [Table 50]
  • U.S. sales of organic foods rose to $1.7 billion from $393 million in 2002. That's an increase of 335% [Table 2 and Table 48]
  • Oklahoma had 46,224 acres of harvested cropland, of which 8,887 acres (19%) were organic crops [Tables 8 and 48]

But here's the kicker: In Oklahoma direct farm sales rose to $11.5 million from $3.7 million in 2002. That's an increase of 209%. How does this compare with our neighbors? New Mexico: 70%; Texas: 51%; Arkansas: 44%; Missouri: 43%; Colorado: 30%; Kansas: 3%.
In fact, Oklahoma had the largest increase in the country! The runner-up was Oregon with an increase of 163%. [Table 2]
Venues for direct farm sales include farmers' markets, roadside stands, CSAs, pick-your-own sites, online sales, the Oklahoma Food Cooperative, and farm-to-school programs.
So, what can we do to encourage this growth? Are there any public policy changes that would nurture a thriving local agricultural economy?

Note: Revenue figures are not adjusted for inflation. All figures are rounded up.

Compostable Corn-Plastic? Yes and No

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Compost, Public Works, Science, Tricia Dameron, Waste Management | Posted on 23-01-2009

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by Tricia Dameron

New "bioplastics" are labeled "compostable" but require industrial composting processes.
Human ingenuity has discovered yet another use for corn: bioplastic,
specifically in the form of 
disposable flatware. Have you seen these
products? You might not even know the difference, except that they melt
a lot easier. They look just like their petroleum-based counterparts.
What's the attraction? Well, for one, they are not made from petroleum.
That's a plus. But, they are made from a foodstuff, which is a growing
concern in this age of corn ethanol. Another advantage of polylactic
acid (PLA), the technical name for the resin, is that it's compostable. Well, at least that's what one
would assume from reading the product label. However, that's not the
complete Five months in the compost pile has caused no change in the "compostable" corn-based plastic cups.
story. It's compostable, yes, but only in a commercial
facility.  According to this Scientific American
article, there are only 113 
industrial-grade composting facilities in
the U.S. I wonder how many of these facilities accept public drop-offs?
Some of these products are labeled with the term "biodegradable." To be
clear, these items are not biodegradable in a landfill; they might
degrade in 100 or 1,000 years. Landfills are designed to entomb our
waste to prevent contamination of the environment; in turn, the
"bio"—the sun, air, fungus—of "biodegrade" is removed from the process.

Products marked code 7 are accepted by Waste Management, but it is unclear whether they are actually recycled.
So, if backyard composting doesn't work, can you put them in your
recycle bin? Apparently, it's not that straightforward. NatureWorks, a
PLA manufacturer owned in-part by Cargill, says PLA has no negative impact on the quality of flake produced from recycling PET and HDPE plastics. Yet, this Smithsonian article states that PLA is considered a contaminant when found in the recycle stream of PET. Some bioplastics may be imprinted with resin code 7. If so, these are accepted by Waste Management in Oklahoma City, but are they actually recycled? No industry representative would go on the record to confirm or deny it.

In
situations where reusable plates and flatware are not feasible, it
would be nice to have an option like these corn-based plastics—an
option made from renewable resources that biodegrade. However,
at this point it seems our infrastructure does not support the intended
benefits of these products. It would also seem that there needs to be truth in marketing to reflect these limitations.

Buy Less, Buy Local, Buy Well

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Business, Community, Finances, Tricia Dameron | Posted on 01-12-2008

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by Tricia Dameron

How is it that a country with such pride—heck, we’re proud about how much pride we have—has become so dependent on other countries? Somehow the pride is ignored or repressed as we pass through the big-box sliding doors. Why is this acceptable? How did we get here?

My brain has been assaulted by these questions for the last few days. I know the basic answer: it’s more profitable for U.S. corporations to set up shop in countries with a cheap and plentiful workforce and meaningless or nonexistent environmental and occupational safety standards. Americans demand cheap products, so we export the external costs of our voracious appetite for stuff. Every time we purchase these products we are saying, “I approve this behavior. In fact, let me encourage it.”

I have little appetite for something I used to enjoy—shopping. On Black Friday my mom and I were walking around Hobby Lobby. I could not find a single item that was made in the United States. I laughed at the irony of a pack of red, white, and blue stickers with patriotic sayings like, “America be proud!” The tiny words on the label read “Made in Taiwan.” As I walked around earnestly searching for something, anything, made in the US, I thought of the anthem by James McMurtry: “We Can’t Make it Here.”

That big ol’ building was the textile mill that fed our kids and it paid our bills
     But they turned us out and they closed the doors
     We can’t make it here anymore

(http://www.jamesmcmurtry.com/we_cant_make_it_herelyrics.htm)

I’ll stop lamenting about my trip to Hobby Lobby, though, and start seeking out alternatives. I suspect the classic “vote with your dollar” saying still applies. When my husband and I first joined the Oklahoma Food Co-op, our orders would be about $25-$50. Three years later, the monthly orders constitute the majority of our grocery budget. To accommodate for increased food expenses, we decided to cut back in other areas because supporting local farmers and eating clean food is a high priority. Now we need to attempt to make sustainability a priority in all our purchases. Part of this is buying less. But we all need stuff at some point. You can dumpster dive, buy or trade on Craigslist, or buy used. Another option to consider is supporting local businesses and buying handmade. On December 6th in Oklahoma City, there will be an opportunity to support both at the Deluxe Indie Craft Bazaar. All of the 50+ vendors are Oklahomans and all items are handmade. If you can’t make it to Deluxe, you can always shop local and support crafters on Etsy and the Co-op (where there is more than food). There will certainly be exceptions and missteps, but overall, when I need something I’ll look to these alternatives. I’ve already found that my perceived “needs” can be moderated based on what’s available. I believe we can incite change with our purchasing decisions.

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance has compiled the top ten reasons to support local businesses:

Local Character and Prosperity
Community Well-Being
Local Decision-Making
Keeping Dollars in the Local Economy
Jobs and Wages
Entrepreneurship
Public Benefits and Costs
Environmental Sustainability
Competition
Product Diversity

Do you have anything to add to their list? Have you tried to avoid purchasing anything in particular? What factors inform your purchases?

Parsing Proposed Changes to the Endangered Species Act

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Current Affairs, Endangered Species, Politics, Public Works, Science, Tricia Dameron | Posted on 13-10-2008

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by Tricia Dameron

In August, the Department of the Interior proposed self-described “narrow” changes that would revise the consultation process (Section 7) of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), as well as clarify the lack of interplay between greenhouse gas emissions and the role of the Act.

As it currently stands, the Act requires federal agencies (referred to as ‘action agencies’) to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (referred to as ‘Services’) on planned projects—such as dams, highways, mining, logging—that may affect plants and animals (or their habitat) that are listed on the endangered or threatened species list. Informal consultations are required if there is no effect or if the effect is insignificant or impossible to measure; in any case, a consultation (formal or informal) is required. The rule change will require action agencies to consult with the Services only if the project will likely harm a listed species.

Mark Howery*, a wildlife diversity biologist in Oklahoma, summed it up by saying, “Right now, the USFWS has the final authority for determining what actions constitute a significant impact to endangered species and which ones don’t. Where there is a conflict in interpretation, the burden of proof, so to speak…falls on the other federal agencies. I believe that if the proposed rule change takes place, what it will do is shift that burden of proof on to the USFWS when there is an interagency dispute.”

What do these changes actually mean? Has the Department of the Interior tried to foresee the unintentional (or perhaps intentional) consequences? After reading the proposed changes, I am left with more questions than answers. Below is my attempt to parse some issues of importance to me.

What good will result from these changes?

Ken Collins is a biologist with the USFWS and does consultation work in Oklahoma. He says the changes could reduce the consultation and litigation workload. “The FWS is often sued on decisions we make or assist in. If the Federal action agency would make the determinations, as outlined under the new regulations, future lawsuits would likely be directed at the Federal action agency who made the determination and not the FWS.”

What incentives encourage the action agencies to conduct a fair assessment?

Litigation. ESA watchdog and interest groups that initiate litigation will have to navigate the bureaucracy of multiple agencies, rather than just two.

What about agencies that do not have in-house biologists?

“[M]ost agencies other than Forest Service, [Army] Corps [of Engineers], and [Bureau of Land Management] typically have very few biological staff in house. They would either need to hire additional staff or allow consultants to gather information and discuss the possible effects. The final determination would still be made by the federal action agency in those cases,” says Collins. The proposed rule assumes federal agencies have acquired adequate expertise from working with the Act for nearly 35 years, but it requires no qualifications on behalf of the staff conducting the self-consultations.

What about the provisions related to climate change?

The proposed rule summary states: “[T]here is no requirement to consult on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions’ contribution to global warming and its associated impacts on listed species….GHG emissions from building one highway are not an ‘essential cause’ of any impacts associated with global warming. Moreover, any such effects are later in time, but are not reasonably certain to occur.” The revised ESA will not acknowledge the complicated situation presented by climate change and will not attempt to mitigate losses of species or habitat due to climate change or the causes of climate change.

Rather than conduct a thorough overhaul of the ESA or leave it to its successor, the current administration is hastily pushing the mutated ESA through while many constituents are consumed by the economy and the elections. Neither is there hope for Congressional deliberation—the changes do not require [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rulemaking] Congressional review or approval.

Oklahoma has 19 of the 1,358 threatened and endangered plants and animals.

The public comment period for the proposed rule ends Wednesday.

 

*Editors Note: Mr. Howery agreed to speak with Fresh Greens as a private citizen. His comments should not be construed as representing the views of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife or any other state agency.

Feeding the Worms

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Compost, Organic Gardening, Tips, Tricia Dameron | Posted on 05-09-2008

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by Tricia Dameron

I was first exposed to worm composting during my stint working at the Hike Inn in the mountains of north Georgia. The lodge had an extensive setup to accommodate the kitchen and paper waste of about 150 guests per week. The worms feasted on all that waste, and we used the castings (poo) to fertilize our garden. On the guided facility tour, guests were enthralled with the story of the disappearing khakis—after being in the worm bin for about a month, all that remained was the zipper and button!

Vermicomposting
When I came down from the mountain, I scaled back the worm setup I learned at the Hike Inn to accommodate my city apartment. My own operation consisted of a plastic bin with holes drilled in the sides for air circulation. I educated my friends and family on what was and was not "worm friendly." For example, coffee grounds: worm friendly. Old pesto: not worm friendly (Red wiggler worms breathe through their skin and oil coats them, hindering respiration.). Of course, you can experiment on your own. Some items are deemed unfriendly not because the worms object, but because of the other critters you will attract or the smells that will ensue.

Vermicomposting provides for some "learning opportunities," like the time my worm bin was invaded by soldier flies. A friend and I spent an afternoon picking out the larvae and tossing them over the balcony, only to find out later that the flies pose no threat to worm health. The bin was stored outside, so it made no matter when the flies started stumbling out of the bin to take flight. Then, in the winter of 2006, my worms all decided to escape and would dry up and die in their dash for freedom. I felt like such a bad mom. (My maternal shortfalls aren’t limited to worms. Until recently, I raised an avocado tree that sprouted from a pit I tossed in the worm bin. It died, too… My green thumb is having a prolonged germination.) 


 
Worm flow
If you manage to keep your worms alive over winter,
there’s a place to take the waste when the heap is frozen. Besides the practical purposes, a worm bin is an educational tool showing how to turn “waste” into green energy for the garden. Peeking around inside is sure to amaze little kids and adults, alike!

If you are interested in worm composting, let me know (oklavore@gmail.com) and I’ll email you a vermicompost primer I created in grad school. If you are interested in more in-depth instructions, check out Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof, the late Worm Woman.

Some helpful links:

The Worm Woman

Worm Solutions: local worm farm