This is their story

1.    Summarize your project/business in one sentence. 

The Urban Worm harnesses the power of vermicomposting, utilizing the humble earthworm to provide solutions in sustainable waste management and sustainable agriculture.


2. How long have you been in business/running your project?
 

Since December 2013 after being selected for the Women in Social and Environmental Enterprise program (WISEE) which provided me with a small start up grant and business model support.

saynotofoodwaste-urbanworm-uk-usa-compost-garden-organic-earth-planet-sustainable-healthy-1

3. Why did you decide to start the company/project?

After completing my MA studies in Human Security and Environmental Change, specializing in Urban Food Security and Urban Agriculture I had to make the decision to either leave my native city (Nottingham) to find employment in my field or create an opportunity for myself and for my city, so The Urban Worm began.

Everybody of course has to eat and  building sustainable food systems will be at the heart of our ability to thrive in the face of adversity. Climate change, desertification and natural resource depletion are undermining global food security and the current corporate driven, energy intensive, unjust and chemical ridden model is neither sustainable or successfully meeting the nutritional needs of the world. We need to empower a different model that is local, organic and community driven and vermiculture provides the foundations for this movement by producing a superior organic fertilizer and compost. Worm castings are teeming with beneficial microbes essential for healthy plant growth and disease suppression with exceptional water holding capacity, perfect for urban gardens and extreme weather events which we are experiencing more of as a consequence of climate change.  The process of vermicomposting not only provides a high value by product, but the process is an efficient, low tech and cost effective system for a sustainable management of organic waste, as opposed to diverting the waste to landfill which further contribute to climate change as gases emitted from food waste are 31 times stronger than carbon dioxide.

By managing our waste at home we can make a positive contribution to building the foundations for sustainable societies and vermicomposting can be done on a very small scale, even if you live in a flat you can keep worms in your cupboard, the process is odorless and perfect for indoors.

saynotofoodwaste-urbanworm-uk-usa-compost-garden-organic-earth-planet-sustainable-healthy-4


4. What has been your biggest achievement so far?
 

Having the opportunity to travel to learn has by far been my greatest achievement. I was awarded the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust (WCMT)  travel Fellowship to research vermiculture in the USA and Cuba, and this opportunity to learn has been inspiring and is wonderful to make international connections with like minded people, building a wider community of vermicomposting enthusiasts, sharing knowledge and passion. As I  I write this I am in New York preparing for the next Cuban leg of my research. Whilst traveling the west coast I saw vermicomposting in prisons, zoos, schools, colleges, universities as well as successful businesses,  it has been incredibly inspiring and presents a blueprint for developing institutional sustainable organic waste management in the UK. This will be the next achievement, so watch this space. From Cuba the learning will be vast as Cuba is considered to be the global leader in vermicomposting as after the breakdown of the soviet union they lost 80 % of their imports of synthetic fertilizers over night and so a sustainable alternative was called for, and the organic movement began, with worms.


5. How do you measure success?

Tricky one! I guess on a personal level success is to receive love, which I never feel in short supply of! On a professional level success is having influence to make positive change, locally and globally.

saynotofoodwaste-urbanworm-uk-usa-compost-garden-organic-earth-planet-sustainable-healthy-2

6. What have you learned in the process? 

That  worms  definitely don’t like too many apples- I had a massacre situation a few years ago after a community apple pressing day. Sad, sad day, too much acid, a lesson learned the hard way.


7. What advice would you give to someone trying to break into the worm farming industry or  simply starting a wormery at home.

Just do it, the earth needs you.  We need more worm farmers, rural and urban and the process is very easy and can be set up for a very small cost. If not for profit we need to produce as much ‘black gold’ aka worm castings as we possibly can, even if we live in an apartment we can all make a positive contribution.  What greater contribution to the world can we make but to make earth again? Even if you don’t have a garden, a gardener or community garden would be very grateful for your gift. There is an abundance of information on the internet on how to get started and I have written a worm care guide available for download for free from our website www.theurbanworm.co.uk

saynotofoodwaste-urbanworm-uk-usa-compost-garden-organic-earth-planet-sustainable-healthy-3


8. What’s next?
 

On return from my WCMT travels, besides catching up with friends and family, and checking up on my worm culture, I will be working on a project that introduces vermicomposting into prisons in the UK. Institutions need to play a key role in practicing sustainable waste management and the USA has some incredibly successful models, notably Monroe Correctional Facility  in Washington.


9. Anything else you want to add?
 

Feed the worms, feed the soil, and feed the soul.

saynotofoodwaste-urbanworm-uk-usa-compost-garden-organic-earth-planet-sustainable-healthy-6

10. Fun question: what was the best meal you ate this week?

Whilst visiting my family in New Jersey we went to a delicious Italian restaurant in Glen Rock called Rocca, all local and organic produce. I had a bruschetta to start and spinach gnocchi for my main, perfect!

Before Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables there was 2nds

How do you spot an innovator and what does it even mean? For me it is someone that addresses the needs of the future by reading and understanding the signs of today. The great thing is that innovation comes from all countries, fields and areas. It can be a person, an organization or a company.

Screen shot 2014-08-21 at 10.20.17 AMToday I want to focus on Hometown Harvest, a company that was selling ugly fruits at a cheaper price before Intemarché launched its Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables campaign. You see, Hometown Harvest is one of the original adopters of such an idea and has been offering this service to customers every few weeks. Its clients and customers can buy uglier produce in bulk at discount prices and use the goods in canning, baking pies or anything else their hearts desire.

Considering that eating healthy is something on everyone’s mind these days, such offers are becoming popular! Whether this change is driven by GMO labeling campaigns, farmers’ market trends, or the cold facts of science, which reveal the dangers of processed food, people are listening!

Screen shot 2014-08-21 at 10.21.19 AMSince most stores avoid offering cheaper items in fear they will lose profits from their regular line, we wanted to ask Hometown Harvest about their experience. Founder Tony Brusco answered our questions and explained his strategy. A fun fact about Tony: he is also a farmer! This makes him very aware of what it’s like to be on all sides of the agriculture business: as a producer, retailer and consumer.

So without further adieu, we invite you inside the world of a modern innovator and sustainable business owner Tony

Can you give us a little history about the 2nd philosophy? Honestly, offering seconds for canning and sauce is very common in the agriculture community.  We began to offer it about two years ago, simply because we had a pile of fruit that was good, but simply not pretty.  It was really a shame to have it go to waste, so we began to offer it as an option. Last week, there were some weeks we had more orders for 2nd than we had produce to give.  So offering this, has helped farmers get something for the 2nd and helped our customers get a great deal.  

Did something specific spark this idea for your business? Eating healthy is something on everyone’s mind these days. When I was a vendor at the farmers market, I would often buy a case of tomatoes like this, so that my wife can put them away for winter.  We have offered these [2nd produce] for a couple of years. 

Why incorporate 2nd into a business? Offering 2nd to our customers helps the sustainable farmers in the community (which in turn allows them to keep farming, and continue to take steps to become more sustainable).  It finds a home for really good food, that otherwise would be tossed.  And it helps to overall reduce food waste.  

How does this connect to sustainability and food waste? One of my personal goals with our business, is to become a zero food waste facility.  We are very close now, but are not 100% yet.  I, like you, hate to see any food go to waste.  There is no reason why that produce item cannot be donated to a food bank, or converted to animal feed. 

Some companies or organizations are afraid their business will suffer if people start buying more produce at a discount. Does it affect your business? Not really.  I feel that these products are being purchased for a specific purpose.  I also see this as a “perk” for being a customer of ours, and being so connected with local farmers.  

Is there a specific type of produce that can be sold as 2nds? We offer seasonal items.  So we only carry what is in season.  Therefore, the list of ends that is offered is restricted to what we have.  During the mid to late fall and winter you will not see tomatoes, but you will see apples and carrots for example.  The list is not huge primarily because in some case, a product goes from great to really bad in a very short period of time. Offering #2 of a product is fine. It is an item that I believe is still great, just not pretty.  That is different from offering a product that is on the border of being bad.  

What happens to the produce that doesn’t get sold even as 2nds? Is it donated? Really depends.  If the item is sorted out on the farm – typically the item is composted or left in the field. If the item comes to us, [that] item is ether donated to a food shelter – we work with Martha’s Table and the Frederick Rescue Mission, or if it is in bad shape, tossed.  In the near future, produce in this shape, will [be] fed to pigs – we currently don’t have an outlet for this yet.
 

Do you educate your consumers about being more flexible when buying produce (ex: produce is delicious even if disfigured), or how to know if something is good or bad? With the exception of our #2 – we aim to provide high quality produce.  If an item is a little ugly – yes we will do some education – and for the most part our customers are ok with this.  They are supporting local farms, and understand that not everything will be perfect.  

Whether you do educate them or don’t, do your customers show any interest in this (sending you stories, asking questions, etc)? They show interest by purchasing ends or buying the ugly carrots.  They do not typically share stores, although I am sure I have heard a few over the years.

After starting this 2nds campaign has the behavior or awareness of customers toward wonky food and food waste changed? Not really.  Again we have offered this for a few years now.  In the beginning we might have had some positive reaction to us offering 2nds, but at this point, our customers know that we offer this at certain times of the year.

Are there any figures or percentages that demonstrate how the 2nd campaign impacted your business? It is hard to nail down % of sales increased through this offering.  I can tell you that we typically sell a few thousand pounds of ends each year.  

I want to thank Tony and Hometown Harvest for talking to us and sharing the story of their innovative work. I also want to thank my friend Angela for introducing me to their work!

I personally believe that innovation can come from anywhere, at any time. The best part – once the new habit catches on it becomes the norm. I hope that more companies and stores adopt this practice, and that those who haven’t yet can create similar campaigns and spread awareness. The hope is that these campaigns grow into something more solid and become a tradition, not just a passing trend.

If you have any questions or know other organizations worth a mention, let me know.

Happy innovating!
Hokuma

Lost in Translation: How New Food Communicates With Body

Dear Friends,

Today we will focus on our food through a more technical and biological lens. Let’s put on our thinking caps and embark on this journey.

salad.fruits.veggies.healthy.health.food.saynotofoodwaste.sustainable.nature.fresh.organicAs you know, our body functions through the billions of cells that communicate between each other.  And our organs are made of cells that relay this exchange of information. The language of our cells is made of stimuli such as energy and other chemicals. But, in addition to our body’s ability to communicate between its own cells, new research shows that it can also communicate with plant cells! (Here I’m referring to fruits, vegetables and other foods derived from plants. But, this can also include meat, as many of today’s cows consume GMO corn.)

new study found that there is an inter-species communication between plants and mice cells. They found that exosomes, small vesicles that take part in the cell communication were able to send orders to mammal cells and impact their gene expression. These tiny particles known as the exosome-like nanoparticles (EPDENs) of edible plant cells helped decrease inflammation in the animal cells. 

turmeric.saynotofoodwaste.healthy.health.sustainable.planet.nature.organic.freshSo how does this new study affect us humans? Well, now that we know that plant cells communicate with our body cells we see that their interaction is beyond just feeding and nourishing our system with vitamins to help develop our growth. We find that consuming certain plants changes the way our body cells behave. So, a patient who is suffering from internal inflammation can consume certain doses of turmeric to help reduce inflammation.  Which is more natural and healthy than drinking various pills or consuming certain medication.

This also implies that after thousands of years of communication, our cells might find it hard to communicate with new food products that are more synthetic and have an altered DNA due to the GMO practices. This means that as our bodies consume new plants not naturally found on our planet, this information can negatively affect how our cells behave and how their genes are expressed.

So not only are we what we eat, but we also become what we eat. Thus, it’s  worth paying attention to the types of food we consume and putting organic produce on our plates, as our bodies evolved to love them. Pretty shocking findings! Right?

FREE attracts, but it doesn’t retain

small portion.expensive.organic.valuable.workhard.needmore.eatless.feelgood.saynotofoodwaste.We are like guinea pigs who have been trained to jump on all offers that spell out in BOLD CAPITAL LETTERS the word – FREE!!!

Don’t believe me? Next time you see those words, whether for free courses, free drinks, free food, free trials, or anything else, see if you agree to click on a link, attend an event or sign up for an offer. If so, don’t worry, it’s all part of the priming phenomenon telling you that you have something to gain, and nothing to lose, so why not go for it. This is true even if you don’t need any of the free products.

But here’s the catch. While these FREE offers will attract people to your cause, unless your product or service seems valuable, all these crowds won’t stick around for long.

Yesterday I was at a pool party. Sitting around the table, talking, laughing and having fun, we began discussing the price of food and how eating healthy or organic leaves a big dent on our wallet. A friend, who usually shops at Giant, mentioned that he once gave Whole Foods a try. Having bought half the items he usually did, and paid over $300 dollars, every time he would open the fridge he was reminded that the produce in front of him came at a ridiculous price and he made an effort to make them last longer.

pew.cost.food.income.disposable.value.appreciate.expensive.organic.sustainable.happy.saynotofoodwasteA new PEW Chart indicates that Americans are very lucky to be spending only a small fraction of their income on produce. Of course, this varies depending on your salary. Nonetheless, in recent years we have more calories to indulge on, and with all these Buy One Get One Free deals, we feel we are missing out if we don’t take advantage of them. Sadly, it makes us appreciate this food a bit less and feel less sorry if some of it gets wasted or thrown away.

This is completely different for those who spent an evening in a very expensive and luxurious restaurant, where a small appetizer could cost almost $20 dollars. Yes, maybe we are also paying for the plate design and atmosphere, but the actual meal isn’t worth that much. Still, we accept the cost, eat slower, indulge longer, and somehow value the food more. And since it takes us about 20 minutes to realize that we are full, all that slow eating even helps us feel full.

work hard.appreciate.food.sustainable.good.happy.easy.saynotofoodwaste.organic.expensive.betterThe slow and conscious culture of eating is the complete opposite of the ‘fast-food’ culture we see all around us. But if we truly want to value something, whether food, work, relationships or anything else, we know that the harder we work for something the more valuable it seems, as was shown in a study by John Hopkins University.

So that saying “easy come, easy go” is very true. And if you don’t believe me, why not conduct an experiment? Gather some friends and go to a fast-food joint. A day later, find a highly rated and expensive restaurant, and see whether paying more for your food makes you more appreciative of it.

In the case of my friend, his trip to Whole Foods was the unintentional experiment he needed. How about you, do you appreciate your food?

With lots of love,
Hokuma

Natural vs Organic

It’s Friday, start of the weekend! After celebrating your freedom from work, you are likely to wake up on Saturday and find your fridge empty.

So you will head to your nearest store, most likely a big supermarket, offering a variety of produce down endless aisles. Not only do you have to debate what items you need and what items you buy for pleasure, but you now have to remember that it’s the new year and you promised yourself to be healthy.

You pay closer attention to the items, some have weird ingredients, most with names you can’t pronounce. Some have sell by and best by dates, which you remember from our previous post and easily get past it. But then you stumble upon ‘natural’ and ‘organic’.

Knowing that being all natural is a good thing, you start wondering, but which one is better? Organic is definitely more expensive, but does price determine quality? If you live in America, the answer is – YES.

Apparently natural does not mean the product doesn’t have GMO’s, nor that it’s antibiotics free. And no, it doesn’t mean it was grown without hormones and toxic pesticides. So you wonder….why in the world does it say – natural? There is definitely nothing natural about GMO’s and toxic chemicals.

Well in America, natural means that maybe, just maybe, your produce has low levels of environmental pollution….that’s about it. No, really….that’s about it. Here’s a chart to prove it. Crazy right?

Screen shot 2014-01-31 at 7.46.40 PM

Somehow, knowing this you start feeling more like a puppet on the strings of money making corporations. It even makes you reconsider dictionary terms for words, such as natural – “Biology: Not produced or changed artificially; not conditioned; not altered, treated, or disguised.” (Dictionary)

Looks like someone got the definition of all ‘natural‘ wrong. Looks like it may have been you. And now that you know, what are you going to do about it? Hopefully share with everyone so that we stop being played by corporations.

Written by Hokuma Karimova

Source: http://www.stonyfield.com/blog/natural-and-organic/

What is Food?

         Indian_hybrid_OrangeToday I would like to highlight some basic facts about food that on the one hand can be obvious, but on the other hand are not very well known. So the question we start with is: What is food? Of course food is anything that gives us energy and it exists in many forms. But what is it really, from a scientific point of view?

        Any kind of food is a composition of 4 main components: fat, carbohydrates, protein and water.  Sometimes produce don’t have all of these molecules, for instance butter doesn’t have any proteins. Below is an excerpt from ‘On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen’ by H. McGee that defines these 4 food components. 

Water is the major component of nearly all foods and of ourselves! It’s also a medium in which we heat foods in order to change their flavor, texture, and stability. One particular property of water solutions, their acidity or alkalinity, is a source of flavor, and has an important influence on the behavior of the other food molecules.

Fats, oils, and their chemical relatives are water’s antagonists. Like water, they’re a component of living things and of foods, and they’re also a cooking medium. But their chemical nature is very different, so different that they can’t mix with water. Living things put this incompatibility to work by using fatty materials to contain the watery contents of cells. Cooks put this quality to work when they fry foods to crisp and brown them, and when they thicken sauces with microscopic but intact fat droplets. Fats also carry aromas, and produce them.

Carbohydrates, the specialty of plants, include sugars, starch, cellulose, and pectic substances. They generally mix freely with water. Sugars give many of our foods flavors, while starch and the cell-wall carbohydrates provide bulk and texture.

Proteins are the sensitive food molecules, and are especially characteristic of foods from animals: milk and eggs, meat and fish. Their shapes and behavior are drastically changed by heat, acid, salt, and even air. Cheeses, custards, cured and cooked meats, and raised breads all owe their textures to altered proteins.orange

I would like you to acquire a tool. After this reading you will be able to tell how much water there is in any kind of produce. I want you to grab any kind of product you have close to you and look at its Nutrition Facts. You will find information about the products serving size and the quantity of fats, carbohydrates and proteins. In order to count water quantity you need to sum up the three components and subtract it from the serving size. This way you get the quantity of water and from this you can easily get the percentage of water. To show you how it works, I am going to give an example with an orange.

As a sample we take 100 g of an orange. Adding up fat – 0 g, carbohydrates – 12 g and proteins – 1 g we get 13 g. The water quantity in an orange equals 87 g, which stands for 87 % of the whole fruit. You can do it with any kind of food. You just need to type in Google the type of food and nutrition facts. Go and explore this world and see how much water you consume!

posted by Piotr Wielezynski

Importance of soil to agriculture.

320px-SoilWe all know that soil is a key element of agriculture. Without it we wouldn´t be able to grow plants, which are used as food for both humans and animals. In this blog post I would like to focus a little bit more on the technical side of soil and explain some of its chemical and physical properties.

There are different definitions of soil, depending on the approach we want to take. For us (from the agricultural point of view) it is an unconsolidated mineral or organic material that is on the surface of the earth in which we grow plants. From a geological point of view, we would probably look at how it was formed and what kinds of layers it has. As far as food is concerned it is important to study a couple of its properties that are fundamental for plant growth.

There are two important aspects as far as soil properties are concerned. First we focus on its hydraulic conductivity, the ability of the soil to manage, hold and drain water. Second, we look at its nutrient management, which in addition to the above-mentioned factors analyzes the organic matter content, cation exchange capacity and coatings on sand grains.

All the above-mentioned properties determine the texture of soil. Every soil is a mixture of three main SoilTrianglecomponents: sand, clay and silt. A very useful tool to verify a given soil texture is the soil textural triangle that you can see on the right. It shows you what kind of soil you are working on by taking into consideration the soil’s components. Loam is the most fertile type of soil and has a mixture of these components.

For example, a more sandy soil will have a high hydraulic conductivity and a low water holding capacity. Water drains through sand very easily and if too much water enters this kind of soil it can lead to nitrate leaching which can be lethal to plants. Sandy soils need a special kind of irrigations systems. Most of farmers try to irrigate these soils many times throughout a day with small quantities of water. This helps the plants efficiently use the water supply without it washing away all the necessary nutrients.

There are different solutions to enhance sandy soil performance. One of them is to add more of the organic matter content. The organic matter is a mixture of living and recently dead materials such as previous crop residue, livestock waste or simple organic matter, such as leaves. The organic matter does two things for our soil. It adds water holding capacity and nutrient holding capacity. You can envision this process by comparing organic matter to a sponge. Of course, there is a limit to how much of the organic matter you can introduce to soil. If there is too much of it, in addition to supplying plants with too much nutrients it will start oxidizing, which provides an additional supply of nutrients.

Soils that have a higher percentage of clay will have a lower hydraulic conductivity and a high water holding capacity. Sometimes when there is a compacted layer of clay underground it can lead to flooding after heavy storms. Water does not have anywhere to go in such a short time, so its level goes higher and eventually floods our plants. Moreover a higher percentage of clay and silt in the soil will increase the cation exchange capacity. It is an ability of the soil to hold positively charged nutrients called cations (calcium, magnesium, potassium and ammonium–N).

On our planet we have 12 different soil types known as orders. Each one of them needs a different treatment and farmers should know about these practices. How a farmer manages the farm can have crucial impacts on the environment. Unfortunately, many of the farmers are not familiar with the information mentioned in this blog. Many times, poor water management can lead to severe contamination of near by watersheds. We need to remember that farming is a complex process that also needs studying and a constant exchange of information. We encourage individuals, both farmers and non-farmers, to sign up for various online courses on Coursera. A free course on Land Misuse and Management can be accessed through here.

Link to the Coursera course: https://www.coursera.org/course/sustainableag

posted by Piotr Wielezynski

Save the plants!

plants-1Lately I have been thinking about how people are becoming more and more unaware of what nature is. We are used to living in the cities, which makes us totally disconnected from the rest of the world that surrounds us. In my opinion people become more human being “out there” than being closed in a concrete jungle, where they fight between each other for no particular reason. What we can also see is that people are much nicer in the nature. They smile to each other, want to help, respect their environment and… I realised that being “out there” in the nature and doing nothing, just living is more educational than doing tones of stuff in the city.

Being disconnected from the nature make us forget about many things that are fundamental for our life or sometimes surviving. One of these fundamental elements is food. Nowadays very few people know how to manage a garden. I would even risk to state that very few people know how to identify all the plants from which we gather our food. How does the pineapple grow, or a watermelon, or would you be able to differentia potatoes from beetroots?Actually most of food comes from plants. Of course, produce such as cheese; milk or meat par excellence comes directly or indirectly from animals. But if we start thinking what does a cow eat we again come back to plants. Sugar that is used in so many things that each one of us love so much, also is made from a plant – sugar cane or in colder places sugar beetroots are used. It means that without these plants we wouldn’t be able to eat cookies, cakes, ice cream nor drink juices.

The most mysterious and mesmerizing part of all this, is that if you don’t know the plants, you can walk the forest in search of food and never find anything to eat, even if all the nutritious food is right there in front of you. A great example of that is when in the community we walked past various plants that seemed like anything else you can find in the forest, and our native guides would tell us: This is ginger plant, this is yucca plant, this is the avocado plant, and here you have a cinnamon tree. If it weren’t for their deep knowledge in the natural world, I would have never have remembered where really does our food come from. I guess being exposed to supermarkets for all your life, really closes in your world, and disconnects you from the full food chain that all our ancestors were in tune with.

A really interesting fact about all these plants is that if you tear off a leaf from say a cinnamon tree, or a ginger root and chew it, the flavour of the actual fruit or vegetable suddenly comes alive in your mouth. I guess that could also be one way to survive in the forest, chew all the leafs that you come across to find the right one, but that seems like a very inefficient way to find food. The best process is to start re-learning all the essential skills our ancestors had, and get back in tune with the natural world. After all, without all these plants, forests, and fertile land….what would we have left to eat??

posted by Piotr Wielezynski & Hokuma Karimova

Appreciate your food – part 2.

Nowadays the word ‘organic’ sounds like something exotic, healthy and expensive. A luxury that many feel is out of reach because it can consume a good portion of the budget. So instead of buying overpriced organic vegetables and fruits, they simply dream of it while biting into tasteless burgers at McDonalds or vegetables and fruits from a local supermarket chain. With this in mind, you somehow get the idea of why walking through the aisles of an organic store, with the smells of fresh basil, orange and strawberry in the air could suddenly feel so foreign, exotic and simply out of reach when you try to bring it all to the checkout counter.

Well, we hate to be the barriers of bad news, but if it’s bad news for the corporations and good news for the average citizen of the planet, then it seems like good news after all. The truth is, eating organic is actually more accessible than you think. Basically, it all comes down to you and how much you’re willing to experiment with it. Another good piece of news is that eating well and fresh doesn’t require neither much of your time nor money.

The reality is this: all you need to lead an organic life is a small garden with good soil, access to water and at least 6 hours of sunshine a day. If you’ve got the basics, then the rest is a piece of cake. If you live with other family members such as brothers, sisters, parents, significant others and maybe even kids, then you work is even less than you can imagine.

All this talk of organic and fresh food is making me imagine a farm out in the middle of nowhere, with a beautiful drop back of mountains, trees, sounds of small creeks and fresh air. While all this is nice to have, it is not necessary for eating healthy, and a fresh garden can be yours in a middle of a crowded, overpopulated and bustling city. And the benefits of having a small garden are countless. Here are just some of the things you can get in addition to fresh food:

1. Know the exact source of you food. With recent food scandals and recalls of all types of food: contaminated spinach, horsemeat in burgers, and paying for one type of fish but receiving another in a sushi restaurant, it has become hard to trust that the food you pay for is actually of quality, fresh and good for you. All this worry is automatically cancelled when you become your own producer and provider of food.

2. Satisfaction of eating what you grow. Growing your own food not only means you know it is of quality, but you can feel proud of yourself for growing it. Suddenly the tomato tastes much sweeter, the basil is more flavorful and cooking becomes a passion, rather than a chore. In a world where money can buy anything, you suddenly feel appreciation for doing something with your own hands and knowing that it’s a product of your creation.

3. Eating local. Literally from your own back yard. This means that you don’t have to worry about fair trade, food mileage, use of gasoline, use of pesticides, waste of land, water, and genetically modified food. By growing your own food, not only do you decide the seeds that are planted, watch the first green stem peek out of soil, see the fruits of your toil slowly ripen, and when its time to consume, carry them straight from the garden, directly into your kitchen and onto your plate. In the end you have a delicious and memorable meal, something rare to come by nowadays.

4. Save money. In addition to the feel good effect growing your own food has on your self-esteem, it can have an even bigger impact on the money you save. You can buy seeds of vegetables and fruits for just a few dollars at a local store. Then enjoy a bountiful harvest that can be frozen, preserved or made into jam for future consumption. Suddenly going to the supermarket means buying only essentials, and cutting down on costs of ridiculously overpriced ‘organic’ vegetables or fruits.

5. Eating healthy. This is the rare case where cutting down costs means that you can actually eat healthy. Fresh and locally sourced food, filled with all the right vitamins and none of the pesticides or herbicides. You know exactly what went into growing it, and what you are putting inside of your body. In fact, a study by Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that preschool children who almost always ate homegrown produce were more than twice likely to eat five serving of fruits and vegetables a day and like them, in comparison to kids who never ate homegrown produce.

6. Good source of exercise. If the earlier point of eating organic and healthy food while saving money is not enough to convince you to grow your own food, then maybe seeing it as an exercise could do the trick. It is recommended that we all exercise for at least 15 minutes a day and gardening could help you do just that. Plus, you don’t have to leave the house, pay gym membership or try some extreme sports to do that. And if you’re doing it with family, then it even lets you spend more time physically communicating with family, something our current virtual reality rarely allows us to do.
Resources:

1.The Benefits of Growing Your Own Food: Boost Your Health and Your Bottom Line by Liza Barnes & Nicole Nichols. http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/nutrition_articles.asp?id=1275
2. Backyard gardening: grow your own food, improve your health by Heidi Godman. http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/backyard-gardening-grow-your-own-food-improve-your-health-201206294984 

Posted by Hokuma Karimova

Plastic can be good!!

We have already heard a thousand of times that plastic is bad, is toxic, is not biodegradable, or is already inside of our bodies. And yes, we cannot live without it, because it is a cheap material and many things that surround us are made of it. Can you imagine me typing this text on wooden or metal keys? Yes you can, but I would be considered as a hipster or a rich kid that doesn’t know what to do with his money. In this entry I would like to present one of the few good ways of using plastic.

I decided to write this text because I have already encountered a couple of articles talking about the same idea, which can be of a help in the fighting with food waste, or at least in its reduction. Last year, two authors Stephen Aldridge and Laurel Miller, wrote a guide about the new trends in the packaging industry called “Why Shrink-Wrap a Cucumber?: The Complete Guide to Enviromental Packaging”. So why is it good to use a plastic foil on vegetables? As the authors claim “an unwrapped cucumber will lose 3.5% of its weight after just three days of sitting out. Shrink-wrapping slows evaporation, keeping the cucumber fresh longer: A wrapped cucumber loses a mere 1.5% of its weight over two weeks.” I, as probably many others, was shocked to hear that. Each time I saw fruits, vegetables or bread wrapped in some artificial plastic foil I was trying to avoid it taking the next aisle in the supermarket.

I don’t need to tell you how much of a deal breaker it can be, as far as reducing food waste is concerned, or the fact that it will save many other natural resources in the process. Last year, Tesco made a test (The results couldn’t be found) trying out new packaging technology on fresh produce. The Guardian claims, “Tesco estimates the new packaging could lead to a potential saving of 1.6m packs of tomatoes and 350,000 packs of avocados every year. If successful, it could be rolled out across 80% of the varieties of tomato it sells.” Another supermarket that is trying to be “eco-friendly is Marks & Spencer. “Trials in M&S stores showed a minimum wastage saving of 4% – which during the peak strawberry season would equate to 40,000 packs, or about 800,000 strawberries.”

Of course plastic is bad, but part of this is because we use it in excess. Maybe if we would use it for good reasons, and than reuse it or recycle, then it would become a very “green” or “sustainable” material. There is also a possibility of using bio-plastic, which is another good solution for many of today’s plastic related problems. There is a Polish saying, “it is not as bad as they write it” (Nie taki zły jak go piszą). Maybe this saying is very applicable to the case of plastic.

References:

  1. http://www.fastcodesign.com/1671246/why-shrink-wrapping-a-cucumber-is-actually-good-for-the-environment#1
  2. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/feb/07/tesco-new-packaging-food-waste
posted by Piotr Wielezynski