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 2011

The country of Bhutan plans to be completely Organic by 2020.

Organic farming is fast gaining popularity in the picturesque valley of Bumthang. Organic farming was introduced in 2008 with the formation of a farmers association in Choekhor Geog. The association had only five members. Now the number has swelled to 50.

Farmers grow vegetables like spinach, potato, onion, garlic, cabbage and coriander. These vegetables are in high demand among hoteliers, office goers and the business people.

Tshering Lhaden, a farmer in Chhoekhor Geog, said “there is no dearth of buyers. Hoteliers and civil servants rush to buy them soon as we bring them to the market.”

Encouraged by the success, more and more farmers are taking up organic farming. One of the most recent farmers to take up organic farming is Ap Chechey.

“I saw my friends making good money by selling organic produce. Hoteliers who cater to tourists and civil servants prefer organic produce. So I decided to go organic,” said Ap Chechey.

The officiating district agriculture officer believes that “in a few years time, Bumthang will be one of the leading dzongkhags in organic farming with more and more farmers taking interest in organic farming.”

The local market is only going to grow with the construction of Mangdechu Hydropower Project in Trongsa scheduled to begin by the end of this year.

How I became the smallest farmer in the Midwest

A Chicago gardener discovers that the 'mistakes' in his vegetable garden are easily sold at a neighborhood market, making him arguably the smallest farmer in the Midwest.

Gardeners are widely known as generous folks, eagerly giving away home-grown flowers and food to anyone who asks. The late-summer surfeit of produce often forces us to be extra-generous.

But this year, I took the exchange a step further. This year, I sold a good part of my harvest, making me arguably the smallest farmer in Midwest.

Unexpected harvests

Like any less-than-expert gardener, my vegetable patch generally turns out about 50 percent different than I planned.

This year, for instance, I wanted to try companion planting, so I sowed zinnias with my baby broccoli. An early heat wave murdered the broccoli, leaving the flowers to take over an entire bed. I now have enough to cover a Rose Bowl float.

The same mad, Murphy-esque method left me with an enormous sage plant but no potatoes to season with the herb; hundreds of grape tomatoes but only a handful of slicing ones; and an equal number of delicious but pea-sized heirloom cucumbers.

You could say I specialize in hard-to-eat crops.

Found: a solution

To buy all the ingredients I had failed to grow, I headed to a storefront grocery in my Chicago neighborhood, a friendly shop called Open Produce. It’s a small operation run by young people that stocks a little bit of everything, including lots of local produce.

One day, bummed out by my inability to grow anything approaching a staple, I propositioned the store manager: "Would you like some flowers? For the store, I mean?" Darned if the answer wasn’t yes, with $5 of store credit as my reward.

Emboldened, I offered again and again. "Would you like some sage? Tomatoes?" I got only a few bucks per sale, but it felt like big sums because I had converted my produce into a few dollars.

Moreover, to learn that someone would buy my mistakes made me wonder what other oddly desirable things I could grow. Super-hot peppers? Decorative gourds? Pink peppercorns?

The booming interest in heirloom edibles has meant that seed houses are selling some truly obscure quasi-useful varieties that became rare for a reason. Invariably, they end up in my small plot.

I just planted marshmallow and licorice. Place your orders now.

Why We Should Label Genetically Engineered Food

I’ve recently been activated on the genetically engineered food, or GMO, issue: If nothing is done, any crop or animal with significant market volume will be genetically engineered within the next 10 to 20 years, and consumers won’t know. The main arguments for labeling are:

1)    American consumers have a right to know and judge for themselves what they put in their own and children’s bodies. We don’t need Mama-Monsanto-knows-best force-feeding us untested, potentially unhealthy GMO food because we can’t be trusted to make our own informed decisions.

2)    GMO presents health risks, for example pesticide from GMO corn showing up in mothers’ and babies’ blood.

3)    GMO herbicide-tolerant crops require more chemical herbicides, which is breeding herbicide-resistant superweeds. GMO = chemical companies selling more chemicals.

4)    GMO is contaminating the non-GMO seed supply, interfering with farmers’ right to farm free of GMO.

5)    Yield improvements are negligible, and GMO equals chemical-intensive fertilizer/herbicide/pesticide farming, which is not economically or environmentally sustainable.

6)    If GMO supporters think GMO is so great, then they should proudly embrace GMO labels.  Great quote from a Consumers Union spokesperson in a Chicago Tribune piece: “‘If companies say genetic engineering is fine, then OK, let’s label it and let the consumers make their own decisions,’ said Michael Hansen, a senior scientist at Consumers Union, which produces Consumer Reports. ‘That’s what all the free market supporters say. So let’s let the market work properly.’”

GMO as applied to agriculture is a tragedy, especially in the developing world.  Biotech likes to market GMO as vitamins in drought-resistant rice to starving people, but GMO varieties that have been commercialized are generally pesticide/herbicide resistant so Monsanto can sell more chemicals, which is breeding resistant superweeds, and yield improvements are marginal.  There’s also been an epidemic of farmer suicides in India as farmers go into debt for GM cotton and then kill themselves. GMO is basically chemical companies selling more chemicals, which farmers in the developing world neither need nor can afford.  And synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers are all petroleum based so will continue to climb in price, and that isn’t sustainable environmentally or economically.

The UN published a great (and relatively short) report last year about how “Agro-Ecological,” ”less chemical-intensive, more knowledge-intensive” agriculture is what the world needs, and it’s worth reading through. Knowing what plants to intercrop to minimize pest pressure, promote water retention, and build soil fertility naturally is agriculture that is knowledge based, which can’t be monetized and thus is universally opposed by biotech.  Biotech concerns own the Obama U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) as much as every other previous administration.  Obama’s USDA just commercialized Roundup-ready alfalfa—only 7 percent of alfalfa right now is even sprayed with herbicide, and contamination of non-GM alfalfa is inevitable.  Also, a GMO corn for ethanol was recently commercialized, which is a sad, perverse incentive of the subsidy schemes in place that promote huge overproduction of corn; corn kernels should not be making biofuel, as the energy return is almost nil versus the energy inputs (compared to sugar cane or cellulosic feedstocks like switchgrass and waste straw).

On a personal front, my dad developed the industry-standard, most-used firefighting foam concentrate for Monsanto in the ’80s, used in structure and forest fires in the U.S. and around the world.  (Phoschek WD 881).  I grew up selling firefighters on foam with my dad, and we have a rad fire truck in his honor you can check out at In addition, our company had to drop our Dr. Bronner’s food products in the late ’90s because they were based on soy ingredients that we could no longer obtain in non-GM form (about 5 percent of our business at the time).

I’m fine with cool uses of genetic engineering, like E. coli making insulin, better algae for biofuels, and stuff that is not about Monsanto controlling and contaminating the agricultural seed supply and selling more chemicals.  This has to stop, or we all will be living on Planet Monsanto within a couple of decades.

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