Amy’s Kitchen, Organic Foods

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Discover more about all things organic. Do you want to plant some veggies? Interested in learning more about organically grown products and produce? We  with some information and ideas. Keep checking back as we are going to talk about GMOs (genetically modified organisms) in food and recommend other great producers of tasty organic foods.

Archive 2010

Ways to Farm even if you are not a Farmer

If you want to experience the benefits of chemical-free farming yourself—besides buying and enjoying the food—there are several ways you can get a farm experience without quitting your day job or selling your house and heading to the countryside.

Don't own a farm? No problem. Here's how to farm without being a farmer:

1. Start or join a crop mob. A recent New York Times article described the phenomenon of "crop mobs," in which dozens of volunteers gather on a farm for a day to perform tasks that could take an individual farmer days or weeks to complete, such as erecting a hoophouse, mulching field beds, or painting a barn. Participants include other farmers as well as people who want to help out, meet local farmers, and get some exercise. To set up such a group in your area, query local, sustainable farmers in your county about projects they need help with (and when), ask how you can help, and then find like-minded helpers and schedule your own crop mob event. If you belong to a CSA (see below) or shop at a farmer's market, start the conversation with the farmers there.

2. Become a WWOOFer. The World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms program lists organic-farm host families from all over the world who allow people of all different backgrounds the opportunity to spend a week or even months on sustainable farms. Each host family lists the length of stay and expertise level required for volunteers, but many require a visit of just a week or two (perfect for a volunteer-vacation experience) and no immediate farming skills. The volunteers get room and board, and take home invaluable advice they can apply to their own garden—or who knows, maybe one day to a farm of their own. Experiences range from vegetable farms to organic dairy or shiitake-mushroom-growing operations.

3. Join a CSA. Community-supported agriculture involves buying a share of the season's harvest, and it's a great way to ensure a variety of healthy food during the growing season. Some CSA programs even offer meat, cheese, and eggs. But if you want a more hands-on experience, ask your CSA farmers if you can lend a hand. Some programs even let you pay a lower fee if you provide a weekend of volunteer time during the growing season, and some farmers may welcome your help on packing and distribution days. It's a great way to get your hands dirty and become friends with your local farmer. Find hundreds of CSA programs at

4. Grow a farm crop. Even if you only have a small patch of land, you can still grow a farm crop, and what could taste better than sweet corn grown in your own backyard? Contrary to what you're used to seeing on farms, you don't need to plant rows of the starchy vegetable. For growing sweet corn at home, opt for a square plot in lieu of rows, to maximize use of space. According to Organic Gardening magazine, you can use a Zuni Native American trick and plant the corn in hills in the square patch. For details on growing sweet corn, visit For other ideas, check out our story, Grow Your Own Farm on Less Than an Acre.

Nothing but Flowers

The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake left many of San Francisco's urban freeways structurally unsound. (Back then, there were many, carving up the core of the city.) But the flipside was a boon: The teardown of broad segments of elevated road has led to the revitalization—the reinvention, really—of neighborhoods like Hayes Valley. It has also given the city chunks of unused space, including the stretch between Laguna, Octavia, Oak, and Fell Streets, where ramps to the old Central Freeway haven't led anywhere in years.

Hayes Valley Farm

San Francisco plans to develop this lot eventually, probably with mixed housing and green space. But a clever new project has been conceived for the interim years: an urban agriculture cooperative called the Hayes Valley Farm. "The Hayes Valley Neighborhood association contacted the Mayor's Office of Economic and Workforce Development to 'activate' the lots," says Chris Burley, now the project's director. Agriculture was the idea that moved everyone. "We've all seen the power of gardens to transform a space," he says.

First, they had to transform some soil. Raising crops around an ex-expressway has meant thorough testing of the ground to ensure safe lead levels (all but one patch of the site have passed), and extensive layering of organic matter. But now they're off and planting. "[We've] potted up one hundred and fifty fruit trees which will be available for sale to homeowners around the Bay Area," Burley says. "We are also planning on growing vegetable starts in a greenhouse."

As importantly, residents have gotten the chance to work their own urban acres. Much of HVF's labor happens at "work parties," where locals—including young students—learn farming skills and something like the value of tilling with a neighbor. When Burley comments, "at this stage we are allowing things to grow organically," it's interesting to realize he's talking about the community, not the crops.

Build your own Orchard Mason Bee Habitat

orchard mason beeWe’ve been hearing a lot about the decline in bee populations. Orchard Mason Bees are a type of bee that rarely sting and provide a huge benefit to your garden by pollinating your vegetable garden and flower beds.

The Orchard Mason Bee does not live in a nest like other bees; it lives in wooden blocks, but does not drill holes and destroy wooden items like other bees. It uses holes that are already available. The male Orchard Mason Bee can not sting and the female rarely stings.

Be sure to be cautious of the use of insecticides around bees and especially during open bloom. Use products that are recommended, and during times that the bees will not suffer.

It is a great idea to have bee boxes in our backyards because the blue orchard mason bee will only lay eggs in pre-existing holes. She is not capable of making nesting holes herself and will potentially lay fewer eggs if she can't find adequate housing.

Bee boxes are easy to make, and having mason bees around will help your garden grow. To make your own bee box, follow these simple steps:

Bee Habitat

Bee Habitat

• Find an old or new 4x4" block of wood that has not been treated.
• Using a 5/16" drill bit, drill deep holes into the side of the wood being careful not to drill through the end.
• Ensure that the holes are clean as these critters tend to be very finicky about their nesting areas.

Bee Habitat

• Find a piece of wood that is 7 inches long and 1 inch thick. Nail this piece to the top of the bee box to protect the holes from rain water.

Bee Habitat

• Hammer a hook into the back of the bee box. Using this hook, hang up the block in an area that is south- or east-facing (exposed to morning light). The box should be about 4 feet off the ground and is most efficient if it is placed near native plants and/or fruit tree blooms.


GM Crops Kill Lady Bugs; Science Suppressed

A recent article in Nature Biotechnology (PDF) reveals data, formerly suppressed by the biotechnology industry, that demonstrate a transgenic variety of corn is fatal to ladybugs. In 2001, at the request of seed company Pioneer Hi-Bred International, university scientists conducted research on a new variety of transgenic corn containing the binary toxin Cry34Ab1/Cry35Ab1. The scientists found that nearly 100% of ladybugs fed on the corn could not survive past the eighth day of their life cycle.

Pioneer prohibited the scientists from publicizing their data and, when applying for regulatory approval for a corn variety containing the same toxin, submitted different data that made no mention of potential harm to ladybugs. Scientists are often barred from publicizing data that is unwelcome to biotechnology companies, particularly when the corporations themselves commissioned the research.

Based on claims of business confidentiality and strict contracts with researchers, companies are able to keep unwelcome data under wraps and scientists’ hands tied. Companies routinely deny scientists’ research requests and suppress research by threatening legal action, a practice one scientist describes as “chilling.”

In February 2009, 26 corn-pest specialists anonymously submitted a statement to U.S. EPA decrying industry’s prohibitive restrictions on independent research.  “The risks of genetically modified crops are coming to light in spite of industry’s attempts to strangle the science,” observes Kathryn Gilje, executive director of Pesticide Action Network North America. Ireland recently banned GM crops in favor of developing agriculture that emphasizes proven agroecological solutions.

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