Safe Seeds?

Over the weekend, at the suggestion of a close friend, I was urged to read an article in the New York Times about the commercial seeds used to plant home gardens.  As crunchy gardeners, my husband Aaron and I plant our small plot from seed, and cultivate it without the use of pesticides or harsh chemicals, fertilizing it with our own compost and other alternatives like epsom salt, as needed.

Upon reading this article I was shocked to find that even if we spent all our effort trying to grow our own organic, “safe” produce, that the truth of the matter is we need to be worrying about where the seeds came from to begin with.  Aside from even being concerned about genetically altered versions, the article suggests that because seeds come from older, more mature plants, they are exposed to even more pesticides and harsh chemicals than those plants of the actual produce grown for consumption.  Farmers that are growing crops for seed do not have to abide by the same standard as those growing for consumption, they are allowed larger quantities and more extreme uses of pesticides, since they have a longer growing season in order to cultivate their product.  Most seed companies do not disclose how their seeds were grown and harvested.  So just like every other consumer product we buy, buyer beware!  Read labels and do your research!  I know we will be before even starting our garden this year.

Some "Un-crunchy" Seed

Some “Un-crunchy” Seed

Where do you get your seeds from?  Any tips on how to maintain the most organic garden possible?

A Food Shopping Strategy

As I work on my grocery list for shopping tomorrow, I start to dive through my recipes and explore new ones to try.  I’m much of a type A personality in this department, I have developed a grocery and cooking strategy so I have enough to last my family 2 weeks (sometimes more) of healthy meals.  I hate going to the grocery store or other food resources a few times a week, as I have enough to juggle on my plate already, between working full time, keeping up with housework, enjoying one of many crunchy hobbies, and now being a new mom.  It’s also proven that many small trips to the store lead to more impulsive buying, and hence spending more money.  My strategy also helps in that every night there’s no searching for what we’re going to eat or spending money on take out, there is a list posted on the fridge, that’s what we have to pick from and all the ingredients are within my fridge and pantry, ready to rock.

I have a great checklist on my fridge that organizes food items by category, hence helping to make sure you don’t forget something when you are in that section of the store or say at your local produce connection.  I believe I got it at Target for only a few dollars, you could also make your own and print multiple copies.  I’ve seen some great templates on Pinterest for things of this nature.  As we finish items, I check off that we are in need of something over the 2 week period.  Then when the fridge and cabinets start to empty and it’s time for another trip, I use the same checklist to add any items I’ll need for the next 2 weeks of meals, in addition to any odds and ends I checked off previously.  I get out my recipes, cookbooks, and sort through some new resources I may have found, coming up with 8-10 meals, and a few additional items (think muffins, hummus, quinoa salad) for breakfasts, snacks, or easy lunches.  Yes there are 12 days, but when you cook 8-10 times, you typically have enough to have leftovers a few nights and also we do occasionally treat ourselves to take out, dinner with friends/family, or go out for a meal.  If this is too ambitious for you, make it one week, say have 5-6 meals planned out instead, whatever works for you.

My handy dandy checklist

My handy dandy checklist

I also try and base my recipes around things I know are in season right now that I might be able to get at a local discount produce supplier, farmers market, from my own garden, etc.  Sometimes I don’t need an entire butternut squash for one recipe, but if I’m cutting it up already, might as well do the whole thing and not waste what’s left.  So one night I might make butternut squash risotto and the next, butternut squash soup and so on.  I am big on making large meals for dinner and having them as leftovers for lunch the next day or dinner another night.  I love roasting a whole chicken and then having extra chicken left to repurpose for another meal and/or make broth out of the remnants for delicious soup or future uses. If you are going to spend the time, why not go the extra mile and conquer two meals at one time.  I will say, although I do shop for 2 weeks at a time, sometimes produce can’t make it that long, so I may have to pick up a few things the next week to make sure items don’t spoil in the meantime. I also look at the grocery store flyer, are there items on sale right now I need and can use for multiple meals?  Unfortunately the type of items I shop for usually aren’t the ones that are the cheapest, but you’d be surprised.  Our local Giant has items on sale in the crunchy section often and produce as well, if I can’t get it locally at the time.  Whatever I can’t get there of course I find through other resources, and like to hit them all in one day when possible.  I check everything I need for my 8-10 recipes off on my list.  I hate to admit it, but I sort of LOVE the day I go food shopping.  I wish people would pay me to do theirs!

My deep freezer is also my best friend.  If you’re buying say, half a cow from a local farmer, or your husband brings home a whole deer (welcome to my life), having a deep freezer is great to package the meat into smaller portions (I also have a FoodSaver Machine, works great), and unfreezing later as needed.  This is a huge cost saver, buying in bulk and freezing.  Also if I find I have a surplus of leftovers, I individually package into smaller meals and freeze as well.  It’s nice when you’re busy to just be able to pull something out and put it in the oven, or your lunchbox for the next day at work.  Last summer we had a huge surplus from our garden, and being that we were expecting our first child, I took the opportunity to make some homemade baby food (more to come on this in future blogs) and froze in individual portions for use later.  I’m sure I’ll be thankful in a few months when I just have to go to my freezer and grab something to thaw for Sophia to eat!  Before I make my 2 week list, sometimes I survey what we already have available in the cabinets and my freezer to make sure I’m using what we have and I’m not buying something already at my disposal.  I tend to buy multiple of non-perishable goods at a time when they’re cheaper..ie: coconut milk or beans are on sale, I’ll buy a bunch, and then have a stock in my pantry to use later.

A great resource for making large, freezable meals, even in one day if you choose, is a website I found called Once a Month Mom.  Although they have traditional menus and recipes, they also feature a Whole Foods, Gluten & Dairy Free, and even a Paleo Menu.  I frequent all of these, as new items are posted every month, usually seasonal as well which I love.  All their recipes and link to recipes are free of charge.  However if you are feeling ambitious and have a little extra money, you can pay to have access to meal plans for a month, including grocery lists and spreadsheets in order to help determine what you need to feed any x number of people and how to cook all of it in just one day, freezing for use throughout the month.  I use their resources myself for the recipes and meal ideas alone, as obviously I have my own shopping and cooking strategies.

So with checklist in hand, re-useable grocery bags, and my meals planned, I head to the grocery store, my local produce source, and sometimes farmers markets (along with baby wearing husband in tow)!  Again a little OCD, when we return from the store, I organize everything in a way that the oldest is up front to be used, and items are viewable so I know what I have.  Our list of meals is posted on the fridge, and we’re ready for 2 weeks of deliciousness!  Yes this takes a little bit of thought and time, but it’s well worth it on those busy weekdays.

What strategies do you use for meal planning and grocery shopping?  Do you have any crunchy, whole foods, or specialty recipe resources you utilize?  Check out our local resources page for ideas on where to buy your food!

This Crunchy Pooch

My husband and I are admittedly those people who treat their dog as one of their children.  But why shouldn’t we?  She has rewarded us in so many ways, by being the most amazing companion to our family and believe it or not, helping us live a more crunchy lifestyle.  As we are on a mission to live more naturally, is it possible to have a pet help you do the same?  I believe so.

Sadie is a vibrant 6 year old English Springer Spaniel, who my husband and I picked out from a litter of puppies a family member had.  (Think no dogs from a puppy mill, and if you can adopt, to obtain your pet in an even more crunchy way)  She admittedly was a little bit of a wild puppy, living with Aaron and I in a small townhouse, she chewed everything in sight.  But we were strict with training her and she turned out to be an amazing animal.  I’m convinced she’s the perfect family dog, she’s very mellow and quiet in the house, but when you get her outside, she lets loose!  Most people refer to her as a human rather than a dog, as she’d rather sit next to you, then play with other fellow members of her species.  Since the birth of our daughter she has become very protective of myself and the baby, another added bonus of free security.  So how is she helping us be crunchy?

Sadie

Sadie at Home

-Gets Us Outside

Sadie is a hunting/working breed, so it’s important for her to run and be outside when we can.  This being said, she drives us to get outside at all times of the year.  Whether it’s walking around the block, going for a hike in the woods, attending outdoor events, going swimming (she loves any body of water), and even kayaking (yes Sadie will swim along the side of our kayaks!), she keeps us active and enjoying the outdoors.  After the recent birth of our daughter, in the dead of winter, Sadie was our excuse to get out for a walk, even when it was cold, we bundled up Sophia at 2 or 3 months, put her on our chests in her Ergobaby or in her stroller, and took the dog for a walk.  Sadie makes outdoor activities all that more enjoyable.  I am so excited to see how she plays outside with our daughter Sophia when she gets older.  All these activities are obviously at little to no added cost for our family.

Sadie hiking with us at Rickett's Glenn State Park this past summer

Sadie hiking with us at Rickett’s Glenn State Park this past summer

-She “Works”

As I stated above, our pooch is that of the hunting breed.  Her original purpose was to “flush”, or push birds and other small game, out of bushes and brush while hunting, so their owners could then shoot the game freely.  Sadie, although very domesticated and very much a house dog, enjoys hunting with my husband like you wouldn’t believe.  She literally knows what  camouflage clothing means and what a gun/bow represents.  She acts like a kid at Christmas when these items appear.  That being said, she accompanies my husband hunting and instinctively assists him.  She does what she’s meant to do, my husband thoroughly enjoys her company, and sometimes they even come home with some local game.

Sadie has also gone through training to be a therapy dog.  Her breed is known for this, being able to volunteer to visit sick children, elderly, or handicapped.  Although I have yet to bring her to do so, I hope to in the future once my newborn has grown a bit.  I think it will be an important way to give back, and to teach my daughter the importance of acts of kindness and volunteering your time.

-Stress Relief

Our dog has become very intuitive over the time we’ve had her, I’m convinced she can read emotions before I can.  She always wants to be near you or touching one of us when we’re at home.  After a hard day of work, or an emotional time, Sadie is always there, quietly sitting next to you, placing her head on your lap.  Stroking her soft fur, I swear lowers my blood pressure.  When I’m upset, she literally tries to sit on top of me, give me a kiss, or nuzzle my hand.  When I was laboring at home before the birth of my daughter 3 months ago, Sadie became so upset every time I had a contraction, she was literally sitting on top of me and wouldn’t leave my side.  When I was in pain, she would whine uncontrollably.  My husband had to have his parents come pick her up when things got tougher, since she was so upset and a distraction.  The dog senses things, and tries to be there for you.  There have been numerous studies that show the health benefits of having a pet in this way.

-Free Heat Source

This sounds silly, yes, but just last night my husband commented that we didn’t need heat in our bedroom at night because we have extra blankets and…the dog.  We allow her to sleep on a blanket at the foot of our bed in the winter, and let me tell you, she keeps my feet extra toasty.  As Jennifer has posted about, we also try our best to keep our heat lower in the winter, especially at night, and the dog helps us achieve that by keeping us toasty warm.  She also is always up for a cuddle under a blanket on the couch.

Is our dog herself living a crunchy lifestyle?  Well we strive for that, but easier said then done.  Although I do purchase commercial dog food, I do so from a locally run store, rather then a big box chain, and her food is made from whole ingredients.  Everything on the label of her food are things I can pronounce and know of, in fact most are things I eat….lamb, carrots, spinach, etc.   Yes this food comes at a little bit of an extra cost, but aside from making my own dog food (something maybe I’d try in the future!), it’s the best thing available for her.  I’m willing to spend a little extra knowing my dog isn’t eating chicken beaks and sawdust (yep that’s in a lot of dog food), just as I’m willing to spend a little more on buying fresh veggies and fruit for myself.  She often eats veggies and fruit, just as we do as well.  She loves broccoli and carrots!  When Sadie has a issue, we try to cure it the same way we would for ourselves, with home remedie or naturally.  Sadie struggled with issues of what we like to call stinky butt, and rather then running to the vet every month to have it taken care of and wasting money, we experimented with her diet.  Turned out all she needed was a little extra fiber and nutrition, so every day we sprinkle a dry flaky supplement on her food, mostly comprised of seaweed and other whole ingredients and surprise, problem solved.  We also do our best to not run to the vet with her, and stretch out her grooming in order to save money, or do it ourselves. She is a small added expense, but in my mind, a well worth one.  She gives back to us much more then I could ever give to her.

Sadie & our daughter Sophia

Sadie & our daughter Sophia

Next time you are considering a pet, or a friend for your children, remember they can be a great enhancement to your natural life.  Do your research and find one that works for you.

Do you have a pet that helps you live a crunchy lifestyle, or is the pet itself crunchy?