Why I Buy Local Community Supported Agriculture

My family and I eat a lot of produce and we buy all organic. This obviously can get pretty expensive, especially when you’re looking for GOOD organic fruit. Health food stores usually have beautiful selections of organic produce, but only if you’re willing to pay the big price tag. Big chain, mainstream grocery stores often have at least some organic produce at perhaps a slightly lower cost, but it does not always look very appealing and it tends to sit on the shelf longer with slower turnover and I find by the time I get it home, it just spoils pretty quick. And no matter which store you buy your produce, its more than likely been picked prior to its prime ripeness, traveled sometimes thousands of miles, and ripened in a truck (or still hasn’t ripened at all)! Because the nutrient levels of the fruit or vegetable reach their peak once they have fully ripened on the plant, ripening on the truck does not allow for optimal nutrition from the produce.

So, what are we to do? One option is farmers markets. I find the prices at farmers markets can be somewhat reasonable and they often do have organic stands, but not always. These can be a great option when the market near you is offered at a convenient time that works into your schedule. Farmer’s markets may also be seasonal, open only May-September or so, which doesn’t help us get fresh produce for half of the year.

Another option (my favorite) is Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). This a small farm local to you that grows (usually) organic produce to sell to local residents of the community. Here’s how it works. Each CSA has a predetermined number of weeks for which you will pay upfront and receive a produce box for each of those weeks (although some do have payment plans or allow week by week payments). For example, you will pay for 10 weeks of produce and for the next 10 weeks, you will receive a box each week. Every week, the farm will pack your box, in the size you choose depending on how much you eat, of fresh produce for that week. You’ll pick up your box at a designated location and a time , although some will even deliver, and then enjoy everything they’ve packed for you. Its that simple! The number of people joining CSAs has been on the rise in recent years and here are a few reasons why, along with a few things to keep in mind when considering joining.

Reasons to Join:

  1. You support small, local (often family operated) farms, rather than big business agriculture. These are full-time farmers who have a passion for farming and often work very long days. They are not part of the big business agriculture who often make big profits. Of course, the small farmers need to make money too, but they do not get any subsidies from the government (as big farmers usually d0). They do this because they love it and want to provide wholesome organic food to their local community. Supporting them means you support a small business owner who puts care into growing your food!
  2. Your produce will be extremely fresh, like picked the day before or early that morning right when its perfectly ripe. It doesn’t get much fresher than that! This means the flavor is best and the nutritional value is at its peak. No ripening in a truck or being picked a week early.
  3. The cost is much lower than what you would pay at any grocery store for organic because you remove the middlemen (truck drivers, retail stores, etc) from the process. In a CSA, the food goes directly from the farmer to the consumer (aka, you) allowing pries to stay much lower.
  4. You get to know the farmer! Often when you go to pick up your box of weekly produce, you will meet the farmer, or one of the helpers, that helped grow the food! I love this aspect, because it really helps you feel so much more connected to your food and where it came from. You can ask questions about the farm, the food, or even ask for tips on preparing it. Many times, you can even take a trip to the farm and see all your food actually growing. This is especially fun for kids to see where the food comes from and how it all grows. We visited our farm recently and the kids got to help the farmer and then bring home some of the veggies they picked themselves! This is a great way to let kids feel connected to their veggies!
  5. You will get produce you have never seen or heard of before, and this keeps things interesting. So many people tell me they get bored of eating all the same veggies every week and they don’t buy other stuff because they don’t know what to do with it. It may seem daunting to get something that you haven’t a clue about, but the farmer can give you great tips on how to cook it up or eat it raw, and it’s so easy to go online and type in something like “Swiss chard recipes” and you’ll get great ideas of what to do with Swiss chard. Just pick the recipe that looks the most appealing (and quickest) and whip it up. You may just find a favorite new food or something your kids will actually eat because they love it!

Things to Keep in Mind

  1. You may not know what types of fruits and vegetables you are getting until you pick up your box or sometimes the day before. This can be a challenge for people who like to plan ahead, but if you are flexible with your meals, this can be a lot fun. It keeps me on my toes!
  2. You may have to pay upfront for many weeks worth of produce, which can be a challenge. But keep in mind that once you pay for it, you won’t have to spend money on produce again for a couple of months. Find out how the local CSA near you expects payments.
  3. You will likely get food that you just don’t like. As I mentioned above, you will get stuff you never knew existed and with that comes the risk of not liking it. On the flip side, you may love it, or maybe your kids will.
  4. Make sure you order the box size that best fits the needs of you and your family. If you’re not used to eating a lot of produce, but just want to give it a try, maybe just start with the smallest box. You don’t want to have to throw out anything at the end of the week.
  5. You’ll only be getting produce that’s in season in the area you live. If you live in Kansas, you won’t be getting food grown in Florida or California. But you will be getting food local to where you live, which is one of the foundations of macrobiotic health, connects you to your own environment.

You can find CSAs local to you at www.localharvest.org.

Are you already part of a CSA? How do you like it or not like it? Where do you like to buy your fresh produce and why?

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My Own Homemade Aloe Gel

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I’ve always wanted to make my own aloe vera gel since hearing about the benefits. I’ve always grown my own aloe and if I needed some of the gel for one of my kids cuts or scrapes or if I just had a dry skin patch, I would just cut off a piece of the leaf and get whatever amount of gel I needed. I just didn’t have time to make a batch of the gel, even though I had heard it was really simple to make. Can you relate?

I was at the health food store a few days ago and they had these gorgeous leaves. I just couldn’t resist buying them. I didn’t think about it much. I just grabbed a couple of them and threw them in my cart and decided I was finally going to make this gel already!

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So, once I got home and put my groceries away, I decided to watch quick video on how to cut up the leaves and get the gel out. Oh my gosh! It looked so easy and I was SO grateful it wasn’t going to take much of my time. I started cutting and slicing the skin off and putting my gel into a bowl. I took a potato masher and mashed it all up really good ( you could also use a blender and next time I will probably do that). It was pretty slimy and chunky at first, so I had to be careful and go slowly, but it was still pretty quick. Once it was all pretty mashed up I added 500mg of powdered citric acid (you can also just smash up a vitamin C tablet if you have that) to preserve the freshness. It will last at least a month this way.

And that was it! Cut off the skin, set the gel aside, mash it up and add vitamin C! I couldn’t believe how soft my hands were after handling the gel, and into the next morning as well.

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What I plan to do with it: I found the perfect jar to store it in. I plan to mix some of it in with my favorite body lotion with maybe an essential oil or two to keep my skin extra soft and moisturized. I’ll probably mix some of it into a yogurt when my daughter’s constipation flares up since it helps with digestion. And some of it, I’ll put in my morning smoothie since it boosts immunity and reduces inflammation. In the summer, I’ll definitely have some around to soothe the extra sun and pool chlorine exposure on our skin.

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Now that I know how easy it is to make this, I will make it more often to use how I want.

Do you make your own aloe gel? What do you use it for?


How Honey Can Improve Your Health

Many years ago, I discovered an intense love of honey. Being on a strict budget, I was buying the cheapest jar of honey I could find, but I had no idea that not all honeys were created equal. Well, I’ve since learned better. The right kind of honey, meaning real honey, provides so many health benefits and is an extremely nutritious food.

When bees make honey in their beehive, it is loaded with the extracts of pollen they bring back from the flowers. This raw or unpasteurized honey that comes straight from the beehive is extrememly nutritious because of the pollen it contains. This is what gives it its very strong anti-fungal, anti-viral, and anti-bacterial properties. However, most honey on the market is highly processed using ultra-filtration where it is heated to very high temperatures, often watered down, and filtered. This is done to improve the color and texture and present crystallization. However, this process removes all of the nutritious pollen, leaving it as just another sugary condiment.

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Now that we know not all honey is equal, here’s what you want to look for when choosing your next jar of honey. Any honey you buy should be from a local bee farm (most honey from grocery store chains is from China). Make sure the jar says “local” and also “raw” or “unpasteurized” honey. This means it most likely came from a bee farm directly from the bee hive without any processing or heating. Usually the raw honey jar will state the location of the farm and it should be a location somewhat close to where you live. You’ll most likely find this type of honey at the farmer’s markets or natural food stores and occasionally the large chain grocery stores do have one or two local raw types of honey to choose from.

Honey can be even more appreciated when you realize it takes 60,000 bees visiting 2 million flowers to make just one pound of honey!! Yes, bees are amazing!!! And there are over 300 types of honey, and depending on the nectar source, they all have subtly different colors and tastes. So, if you decide to buy raw honey, here are some of the benefits you might reap.

Benefits of Raw Honey

  1. A good boost of antioxidants – some types of honey actually contain as much antioxidants as vegetable and fruits!
  2. Strengthened immune system – raw honey can actually kill bacteria and fungus since it contains a natural antiseptic. Its even been used to fight on bacteria that have become resistant to antibiotics.
  3. Improved digestion – Since raw honey doesn’t ferment in the stomach, it can help with indigestion. It also has probiotics, which help with digestion and it may help with diarrhea as well.
  4. A boost of phytonutrients – Because the raw honey comes from plants, it also offers phytonutrients just as plants do, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.
  5. Soothing a sore throat – adding raw honey to warm water can help soothe a sore throat and suppress a cough.
  6. A good dose of trace enzymes, vitamins, minerals and amino acids – Raw honey contains vitamin B6, niacin, thiamine, pantothenic acid, and riboflavin, copper, calcium, iron, manganese, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, sodium, and zinc. It also contains important enzymes and amino acids including proline, phenylalanine, tyrosine.
  7. Reduced allergy symptoms – Bees get the pollen spores from plants local to your area (yes the honey has to be local to your area), so by taking a small amount of the raw honey prior to the allergy season, you could be introducing your body to a small amount of the allergen/pollen into your system. Over time this may build up your natural immunity against the allergen.

How to Use Honey

  1. Put in in coffee or tea in place of the usual white sugar
  2. Spread it on toast or a bagel in place of jam
  3. Use it in baked goods in place of sugar (here’s how to make the substitutions)
  4. Make a mixture of warm water with lemon and honey to help with a sore throat
  5. Add it to a smoothie for extra sweetness
  6. Use it in a DIY face mask or moisturizer to help with acne or eczema
  7. Use it as a hair mask or shampoo to give your hair more shine and to help with dandruff.

When to use caution

If you are diabetic, honey of any kind may spike your blood sugar and you should be extremely careful with the amounts you consume, if any at all. Additionally, babies under the age of one year should not consume raw honey, as it can cause botulism.

Do you already use raw or unpasteurized honey? How has it helped you with your health?


Changing Your Salt Can Change Your Health

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So, apparently salt is good for you? Yes, in fact it is! No, its not the table salt you’ll find at the your favorite restaurant or in your bag of potato chips at lunch time, but there are other types of salts that provide tremendous health benefits. Our body needs salt for basic body functions, like cardiovascular and nervous system health as well as cellular function. Several years ago, we switched to a healthier salt at our house and here’s why.

Sodium Chloride

Traditional white table salt, the kind that most of us are familiar with (aka sodium chloride), is used commercially and found primarily in processed foods and is also found on the tables at restaurants. It’s made in commercial processing plants, treated with caustic soda to remove any minerals, bleached, and treated with aluminum hydroxide (an anti-caking agent) to ensure it pours well. Aluminum hydroxide exposure can also have its own negative side effects and salt with added iodine can create thyroid problems.

Because sodium chloride can have negative effects on our health when consumed in high amounts, medical professionals and organizations have been recommending low salt diets. However, most people don’t know that too little salt can also pose health risks, like stroke heart attack, insulin resistance and death. Low salt products often replace the salt with potassium chloride, which may be even worse than sodium chloride.

Here are some common health problems associated sodium chloride.

  1. High blood pressure – increases the thickness of your blood, leading to high blood pressure.
  2. Reduced nerve and muscle function – can lead to muscle cramps, tension and dizziness.
  3. Kidney problems – can throw off our body’s sodium-potassium balance, making our kidneys work extra hard to filter this excess salt, leading to kidney stones or kidney failure.
  4. Osteoporosis – too much sodium chloride reduces how much calcium is absorbed and used in our bodies, resulting in porous bones and possible fractures.
  5. Intestinal disorders – can cause acid reflux and is a known risk factor for peptic ulcers and gastrointestinal cancers.
  6. Dehydration and fluid retention – draws water out of the cells and tissues, causing potential fluid retention, especially in the lower legs.

Sea Salts

Despite the health concerns related to sodium chloride, other salts can actually be beneficial to your health. Sea salts are harvested by evaporating sea water and have some amounts of trace minerals, but the quality can vary greatly and some may have contaminants, like plastic from ocean pollution.

Himalayan Pink Salt

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Himalayan salt is what I recommend as the healthiest of all salts. It is mined from the ancient sea beds in the Himalayan mountains and can provide many benefits when used in moderation. Unlike sea salts, Himalayan salt does not have contaminants. It provides over 80 essential minerals and trace elements, in their natural form, including potassium, calcium, magnesium, copper an iron, which are essential to our health. It has a beautiful pink color and also tastes much better. By switching to Himalayan pink salt, here are some of the many benefits you will experience.

  1. Improves your body’s pH balance – removes acidic toxins from the body and works to bring your body to a healthy pH (slightly alkaline).
  2. Improves nutrient absorption – adding trace minerals to your diet actually helps the body absorb other essential nutrients from your diet.
  3. Improves muscle function and strength – muscles actually need real salt for proper functioning, especially after a workout or sweating.
  4. Antihistamine function – can help clear up lung congestion and excess mucus
  5. Reduces the risk of osteoporosis – the mineral content of this pink salt can improve bone density, preventing osteoporosis
  6. Reduces the risk of kidney problems and heart disease – this salt does not overwork your kidney or cardiovascular system
  7. Maintains proper intracellular water levels – pink salt does not disrupt the fluid balance of the cells and will not lead to water retention

Himalayan pink salt substitutes 1:1 for any other salt you’ve been using at home. Clearly, it offers many benefits to your health and should not be considered “bad” for you like sodium chloride. Do you already use Himalayan pink salt? I would love to know if you plan to make the switch to!


Easiest Butternut Squash Soup Ever

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Just in time for Fall, this is seriously the easiest butternut squash soup ever and it’s completely vegan, super nutritious and absolutely delicious! I made my own gluten free garlic bread to go with it. Butternut squash is loaded with fiber, potassium for strong bones, vitamin B6 for healthy nervous and immune systems, and more. This recipe is super easy and makes about 6 servings.

1 onion, chopped

olive oil, about 2 Tbsp

1 large butternut squash or two medium, peeled, seeded and chopped into 1-inch pieces, or about 3 pounds if you buy it chopped in a bag.

6 cups of vegetable (or chicken) stock

Nutmeg, salt and pepper

  1. Place the 1-inch pieces into a large pot.
  2. Add the 6 cups of vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Let simmer for 35 minutes.
  3. In the meantime, sautee your onion in olive oil until golden brown. Let sit until the squash is done.
  4. The squash should be really soft after 35 minutes. Scoop out the squash pieces and add to blender or food processor with just some of the liquid and all of the onion. You may have to do half of the soup and then the other half if it doesn’t all fit in the blender at once.
  5. Blend until smooth. If it’s too thick, add more liquid until you get the desired consistency.
  6. Return it all to the soup pot to warm it up again. Add and stir in nutmeg, salt an pepper to taste. Then serve.

Serve with bread rolls, garlic bread or a side salad and enjoy!


Weekly Fresh Prep

I’ve recently started doing my weekly fresh prep for three reasons (we’ll get to what fresh prep is in just a minute).

1. I wanted my kids to be able to get to the fruits and veggies easily. 2. I wanted my own fruits and veggies to be easier to access for cooking meals because some nights the time it took to wash and cut the veggies was just daunting. 3. I needed an easier way to dispose of the compost we collected each day. Every day, I would collect large handfuls of food trimmings for the compost pile that were too large to leave in the house, but too small to make it worth a trip to the compost pile.

Can you relate? I just needed all these foods ready to go, for the kids, for me and for the compost pile. So, began weekly fresh prep, the washing, chopping, and storing of the week’s fresh fruits and veggies.

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Here is our spread of foods for the next few days. It takes about 45 minutes to wash, chop and store all of these foods, but the meals during the week go much more quickly and smoothly and we all have healthy snacks ready to go during the week.

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This bowl of red grapes was full when I took the spread photo, but my kids saw it and started munching. The grapes have been washed, cut in small bundles and I just set it in the fridge, open without a top so they can just reach in and grab a bundle or two.

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These carrots and leeks have been cut and prepared for a couple of soups I’m planning to make this week. The onions will last in the fridge for about three days, the carrots for much longer, a little over a week.

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These are all great snacks to munch on or just for grab and go if we want something to munch on. You can dip them in your favorite dip or eat by themselves. I’ll be adding some celery to the soup I’ll be making this week, so I probably should have sliced some today when I was chopping. I also keep apples on a shelf so we can just grab them, but forgot to photograph those.

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Here are some of the fixins I like for a salad or a veggie sandwich for lunch or dinner – lettuce, sprouts and bell pepper. I don’t slice the tomato until I’m ready because there is nothing more heavenly than a fresh tomato. It loses something after its been cut and refrigerated. I’ll eat a salad or veggie sandwich a few times this week and this will all least a week in the fridge (or the counter in the tomato’s case).

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I chopped all my cabbage for the sauerkraut I’ll be starting this week. I’m not sure what day I’ll mix it, but since cabbage will last a good week, it might be something I make toward the end of the week.

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I know I’ll be making roasted broccoli with garlic (I’ll post the recipe once I make it) this week, so I washed the stalks and cut all the flowers off. They’ll last in this bag for about 5 days.

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All this good stuff will sit on the counter either to ripen (avocados, pears, pomegranate) or because they are better at room temperature or have no need to be refrigerated (tomatoes, bananas, lemons, butternut squash). Hopefully these avocados will be ripe in about four days. We go through a lot of bananas at our house. We use them in smoothies and just eat them as a snack. If they go brown before we can get to them, I turn them into a paleo banana bread or freeze them for smoothies.I’ll be making a pear cake this week, so we have extra pears. I use lemon in my tea every morning. The butternut squash will get turned into soup this week, but I know if I don’t get to it, I know they’ll still be fine next week too.

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I make a beet juice a couple of times a week so I always have beets on hand. I’ll usually throw in a few other veggies and a fruit to sweeten it just a bit.

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This week I bought some fresh aloe so I can make my own aloe vera gels. I’ll leave them in the fridge and make it in the next few days.

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And here we are at the end of our chopping session. I have good size box of food trimmings to take to the composter. I love that I can take most of it out at one time instead of some every day. Now, during the week, I’ll just have smaller amounts that I can save up in the house and take out when I get to it.

Prepping your fruits and veggies all at one time is SO worth it! Yes, you have to make the time, but do it while you’re watching TV, listening to music or your favorite podcast, talking to your kids or your spouse (or better yet have them help). You might just start munching on some of it while your working on it.

What do you do to help your week go more smoothly with food? What changes could you make to make it even easier?


Why Eat Those Pumpkin Seeds

Tomorrow we’ll be carving our pumpkins and with that comes our tradition of roasting the seeds. They are a quick, delicious snack with so many health benefits that I’ve listed here. If you’re not sure what to do with them, I’ll give you some tips and share recipes I’ve been trying over the years that will hopefully inspire you to give them a try as well.

1. Benefits from magnesium – Magnesium is an important for many functions of our body, like the creation of ATP, the synthesis of RNA and DNA, the pumping of your heart, proper bone and tooth formation, relaxation of your blood vessels, and proper bowel function. It has also been shown to reduce blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. Pumpkin seeds have 190mg of magnesium in just a 1/4 cup.

2. Benefits from zinc – Zinc is important for a strong immune system, cell growth and division, sleep, mood, your senses of taste and smell, eye and skin health, insulin regulation, and male sexual function. It also works as an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant and protects against osteoporosis. Since the body cannot store zinc, it’s important to get enough each day. If you’re pregnant, zinc is even more critical for the baby because of cell division in your growing baby. Pumpkin seeds have 2.5mg of zinc in just a 1/4 cup.

3. Benefits from vitamin E – Pumpkin seeds are not especially high in conventional vitamin E, but they do contain multiple forms of vitamin E, which may make the vitamin more bioavailable to the body. Pumpkin seeds have 1.05 IU/0.7mg of vitamin E in just a 1/4 cup.

3. Benefits to menopausal women – Pumpkin seed oil is high in natural phytoestrogens, and some studies have shown this to significantly increase HDL cholesterol levels and reduce blood pressure, hot flashes, headaches, joint pains and other menopausal symptoms.

4. Benefits as an antimicrobial – The role of unique proteins in pumpkin seeds seems to be the source of its many antimicrobial, anti-viral and anti-fungal benefits.

5. Benefits for sleep – Pumpkin seeds are a rich source of tryptophan, which is converted to serotonin and then melatonin. Try eating some a couple of hours before bedtime with a small piece of fruit and see if it helps you sleep better.

6. Benefits of antioxidants – Many phenolic antioxidants and antioxidant phytonutrients, like lignans, are found in pumpkin seeds. Because of the diverse mixture of antioxidants in pumpkin seeds they may provide antioxidant effects that are rarely found in other foods.

7. Benefits from alkalinity – When the body is alkaline, disease cannot grow, so its important to create an alkaline environment in our bodies. Raw pumpkin seeds are one of the only seeds (the other is hemp) that help to create alkalinity in the body. By creating alkalinity, we are reducing inflammation in our body and therefore our risk of many chronic diseases.


How to prepare: When eaten raw, you’ll get the most benefits from the healthy fats. And because they contain anti-nutrients, like phytic acid, which can get in the way of nutrient absorption, it is important to soak or sprout them before consuming. This gets rid of the phytic acid so your body will get the most nutrients out of the seed.

To get the seeds from your pumpkin, just scoop out the seeds, place them in a big bowl, remove the stringy pulp, then rinse them in a colander. To dry the seeds, place them in a single layer on an oiled baking sheet and bake in the oven for 30 minutes.

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Roasting pumpkin seeds: Once they are dry (or once you’ve bought yours) here is a fun list I’ve been using to try different flavors. Find the one you like best! You can eat with or without the shell. The shell is completely edible by the way (I had no idea!). Enjoy!

Simple ways to enjoy:

  1. Sprinkle them on a salad or sandwich
  2. Blend them up into a smoothie
  3. Mix them into a cooked vegetable dish, like spinach or chard
  4. Eat by themselves as a healthy snack
  5. Add them to your favorite rice or quinoa dish for a nice crunch

How do you prepare your pumpkin seeds? Do you have a favorite recipe?