Friday, July 29, 2016

Farmer Friday - Lazy River Farm

 Intern Amanda is back with another profile of a local farmer...

There are some people in life that you just immediately connect. This is how I felt when I met Mike Watkins at his farm, Lazy River, in Hermon. His patient demeanor coupled with his knack at reading someone’s personality makes for good company. What is more, I was impressed by his immaculate gardens. They leave a person to believe Mike hires help, but in reality he does the majority of the work himself with a little help from his son, Raymond, and brother, Bill. When I complimented Mike on his success, knowing how much time (at least twelve hours/day) and effort he puts into each plant, he modestly responded, “Oh, I putter around.”

21 years ago, Mike Watkins oversaw the growth of a thousand pheasants on only two acres of land. He moved to the North Country, searching like David Rice for that perfect slice of land to satisfy his desires, a hunting preserve and a quiet place to fish. He quickly discovered lending his land to seasonal hunters was not enough to sustain his family. “When you have five hungry kids and a wife that works part time, you learn to do a lot of things,” he quietly commented. Mike began picking fiddleheads and leaks for the spring sale. He used to ship over 800 lbs./week, but the demand was too much as he juggled other jobs. Now Mike sells 200 lbs./week to a company in Vermont. He also has personally cut, sawed and delivered lumber from his hardwood lot to make ends meet.

For 18 years now, Mike has grown a wide range of vegetables. He had no prior experience in farming; nonetheless, his work ethic gleamed in the sun’s rays reflecting on his 200-acre farm. The growth of his vegetables was through a process of trial and many errors. At one point the grassy spots surrounding the house used to be tilled for vegetable cultivation; however, the lack children’s hands permitted grass to grow. Even so, Mike’s sizable beds and three greenhouses make a person wonder if hides extra hours in his day somewhere.

Mike’s success is an upshot of his keen business oriented mind. He can state how many markets worth of produce are in a given row (generally four), and his math skills are quick as well as calculated.  Any excess produce he donates to community members as well as the local food pantry. Mike’s generosity outshined his prickly beard as he encouraged me to take home sweet onions, yellow beans, and blueberries. “Take what you need…do you want anything else?” he kept asking. His kindness isn’t just an after thought or a neighborly gesture either. For example, Mike harvests his watermelons and cantaloupe at a smaller size because he recognizes often commercial size melons spoil before elderly can consume their juicy summer flesh. He also grows sweet corn at the request of Farmers Market customers, even though doing do costs him money.

Mike is what I call a “thinker.” He “tries to make the most with what [he] has.” For example, he
built his greenhouses out of repurposed materials. On the 16’ x 90’ he only spent $300 to build, using his own lumber and labor. The other greenhouse is two pre-made greenhouses from Tractor Supply Co. put together after they failed to make the growing process worthwhile. He braced the metal poles with three foot stakes, 2’x 6’ cedar boards and recycled last year’s plastic from the 16’ x 90’. “Desperation is a great provider,” he remarked. That is not to say Mike is desperate or in need; he simply lives a life of innovation and logic.

Management wise, Mike uses the least amount of chemicals necessary, but occasionally will treat his plants with Bull’s eye, Miracle Gro, or CaMg+. To prove wife’s tales are sometimes true, he also spreads dog hair around the garden because deer do not like the scent. Forage oats planted between rows during the summer serve as a cover crop, returning needed nutrients into the ground and cutting unwanted weeds. On a side note, I was surprised at how lush Mike’s gardens appeared. Many farmers are struggling with irrigation as a consequence of this summer’s dry season. Yet, Mike’s sandy soil has withheld fairly well. He bent down to show me this, squeezing a handful of dirt to show how the moisture caused the particles to stick together.

The visit to Mike’s farm reminded me of how life is a process. We often forget when eating a meal that someone, somewhere (hopefully nearby) grew that eggplant or tomato. Someone spent countless hours freeing onions from weeds, milking cows, or planting new crops. We take for granted farming is not only a hobby, but also an occupation. Supporting local food systems is critical for people like Mike who rely on our community for his income.  I left Lazy River Farm feeling like I do after a long conversation with my dad: settled, comforted and informed. I also left with a job blueberry picking…and how could a girl turn that down?


SNAP asset limits aim to target government resources and program benefits to people with the greatest need. But they may discourage low­income households from building a savings cushion that would help them weather economic shocks, such as a job loss or an unexpected car repair or medical bill. A new study finds that relaxing SNAP asset limits increases low­-income households’ savings (8% more likely to have at least $500) and participation in mainstream financial markets (5% more likely to have a bank account). It also reduces SNAP churn (households cycling on and off SNAP due to fluctuations in their income) by 26%. Taken together, relaxed asset limits increase households’ financial security and stability by increasing savings and reducing benefit fluctuations, and they can decrease government administrative program costs when fewer people cycle on and off the program.

Source: Urban Institute, 7/26/16, SNAP Asset Limits

Thursday, July 28, 2016


The welfare reform law of 1996 required Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) recipients to meet “stringent work requirements.” TANF is delivered to states through block grants, which require that states place a certain percentage of people into the workforce. However, many of these jobs are low-wage, and states discourage people from acquiring skills for better jobs, pushing them to find a job as soon as possible. Lacking training or education, these low-wage workers find it nearly impossible to advance into higher paying jobs.The number of TANF recipients has decreased from 13 million in 1995 to three million today. And those who could not find even low-skill jobs in the allowed amount of time lost all government help, which thrust them into deep poverty. Today, about 1.5 million households, including about three million children, are living on $2.00 per person or less per day.

Source: The Atlantic, 7/11/16, Failing Welfare Reform

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Summer grower meeting next week

Summer Grower Meeting

Wednesday, August 3, 2016   
6:30-8:00 pm
Cornell Cooperative Extension Learning Farm
2043B Rte 68, Canton, NY

Featured Topics:
Training and Pruning High Tunnel Cherry Tomatoes
Leaf Mold Resistant Cherry Tomato Variety Trial
This Year’s Disease Challenges
Summer Cover Crops

Speakers:           Christine Smart, Cornell University Plant Pathology
                             Judson Reid, Cornell Vegetable Program
                             Amy Ivy, Eastern NY Commercial Horticulture
                             Kitty O’Neil, Northern NY Ag Program

Free and open to the public. For more information contact Amy Ivy at or 518-570-5991.

Sponsored in part by the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program. Funding for the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program is supported by the New York State Senate and administered by the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets.

Learn more at
And by the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program at the U.S. Department of Agriculture through a grant from the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets.


Americans toss billions of dollars worth of food every year. A good portion of that is still safe to eat, but we don't because of confusion over expiration labels. Licensed dieticians say those dates are often mistaken as the deadline to toss. But many of the items are still safe to eat, far past what's labeled. Cheese typically lasts for a couple weeks; condiments can last a couple months; eggs are good three to five weeks after the expiration date. Congress is now considering the Food Date Labeling act of 2016,  which aims to clear up the food date dilemma with by adding a quality date and a safety date to let consumers know when the food is past its peak and when it becomes unsafe to eat. Currently the dates listed are merely guidelines for the manufacturer:

  • "Sell by" dates are meant to let stores know when to pull the product from their shelves. Just make sure you purchase the product before the date passes.
  • "Use by" dates mark when the item is at its peak quality.
  • "Best by" dates are recommended for best flavor.
Source: KPMI, 7/19/16, Expiration Labels

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Veggie Bingo - putting the "fun" in fundraising!

For 12 weeks each summer, the Hideout, a Chicago bar and music venue, transforms into a hub for community gardeners and the produce they grow. The Hideout is home to Veggie Bingo and its cult following of community garden supporters. The fees, $4 a card or three for $10, benefit a different community garden each week and have helped gardens purchase tools and supplies including soil, seeds, sheds, compost, benches, and scholarships for young workers.  NeighborSpace, the nonprofit urban land trust that supports community gardens, sponsors the bingo night, and pools and divides proceeds among the dozen gardens chosen for the season. Robin Cline, assistant director of NeighborSpace estimates one night of bingo can bring in anywhere from $300 to $1,000. Since its founding, Veggie Bingo’s popularity has grown steadily; on some nights, it attracts as many as 125 to 130 players.
Source: Civil Eats, 7/19/16, Veggie Bingo

Monday, July 25, 2016

Cuisine Trail Planned to Highlight Local Food, Agriculture in St. Lawrence County

New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets has designed a Cuisine Trail Designation Program, which St. Lawrence County leaders have identified as a great way to increase local food production and sales, as well as attract outside visitors to the area. An informational meeting will be held on Thursday, July 28th at the Cornell Cooperative Extension Learning Farm at 2043 B State Highway 68 in Canton at 6pm.

The trails have been identified by the NYS Agriculture and Markets Department as "an association of producers, that may include a combination of producers, food or agricultural product processors and retailers including, but not limited to, restaurants, that are in close proximity to each other, sell in a cooperative manner a complementary variety of unusual, unique, or hard to find fresh farm and food products and foods prepared primarily with such products for on or off premises consumption, including but not limited to, herbs, meats, vegetables, salad materials, wines, cut flowers, mushrooms or fruits. Such trails may utilize a map, other directional devices, or highway signs to market their products and direct patrons to their places of business."

This project is being spearheaded by the St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce, with support from Cornell Cooperative Extension of St. Lawrence County and GardenShare. Brooke Rouse, director of the Chamber noted that "this is an exciting agri-tourism project that will highlight restaurants, shops, farm stands and markets, lodging properties and attractions with a commitment to local food in their production, sales, or experiences. We have a lot to offer!"

Registration for the info session can be found on the calendar for July 28th at or by calling 315-386-4000. For more information or to sign up to have your property on the trail, contact Joe Goliber,

Farmers market assistance for seniors

New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets Commissioner Richard A. Ball announced that $2 million in Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) checks are now available for eligible individuals across the state. The program provides checks to low-income New Yorkers age 60 and older to purchase $20 worth of fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables from participating local farmers’ markets and farm stands. For the first time, program benefits are being provided on an individual basis instead of per household, expanding the reach of the program to more older New Yorkers.
Commissioner Ball said, “Governor Cuomo has made it a priority to ensure thousands of New Yorkers have access to fresh, healthy foods at affordable prices through programs like the Seniors Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program. By implementing this new policy that will provide checks redeemable at a participating farmers’ market to individuals rather than by household, even more seniors will be able to take advantage of the program this year, whilesupporting the hundreds of farmers that take part in the community markets.”
In upstate communities, checks are now available at county area Offices for the Aging. Older adults can also access checks at the following Commodity Supplemental Food 
Approximately 120,000 booklets consisting of five $4.00 checks will be distributed this year, allowing for the purchase of fresh, locally-grown fruits and vegetables from 950 farmers vending at over 600 farmers’ markets and farm stands across the state. A pocket folder with instructions on how and where to use the checks to purchase fresh, local fruits and vegetables from farmers at the market will be included with each booklet. Checks can be used at participating farmers’ markets and farm stands through November 30 of this year.
The Senior FMNP is administered by the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, in cooperation with the New York State Office for the Aging, the New York City Department for the Aging and the New York State Department of Health. For the second consecutive year, additional funding has been provided in the New York State Budget to expand the United States Department of Agriculture’s program.  Nutrition education is provided by Cornell Cooperative Extension.
Eligible recipients must be age 60 or older and meet the income eligibility requirement$1,832 or less per month for a single or $2,470 per month for a couple— or affirm that they are currently receiving or eligible to receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or public assistance or Section 8 housing subsidy. Recipients cannot have received Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program checks from any other location.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Farmer Friday - Lay Z Ducks Farms

GardenShare summer intern, Amanda, reflects on another farm visit this week...

When I went grocery shopping at Price Chopper with my parents this week, I couldn’t help but notice distinct differences in our shopping habits now that I buy food for myself. My mom reached for a head of lettuce, leaving me to sigh loudly as an expression of my disapproval because I knew Dulli from Birdsfoot Farm offers a great salad green mix with signature fresh dill. Watching her pick between the six shelves of jams and jellies, I again shook my head knowing Mary-Ellen from Circle G cans the best strawberry-rhubarb jelly in St. Lawrence County. Then, I stopped myself. Was I becoming a food snob?

“Voting with your forks,” as Michael Pollan says, or changing the consumers' shopping habits seems to be the only way we can alter the American style of eating. After all, large-scale farmers produce what the government subsidizes (corn rather than broccoli, soy rather than kale). When one goes to the supermarket, the consumer is essentially foraging for energy. So naturally when one buys to keep essentially alive, stretching food dollars is top priority. For example, one dollar spent in the processed section of the grocery store can offer 1200 calories. Conversely, spending that same dollar in the produce perimeter will get a shopper 250 calories worth of carrots. As a mother, feeding children snack packs after soccer practice then is much cheaper compared to a bag of carrots with a scoop of (organic) peanut butter. The decision is a no-brainer.

I thought back to my visit to Lay-Z Ducks farms, owned by Wendy and Phil. Tragically, a lot of kids in St. Lawrence County don’t understand what real fruits and vegetables are as an upshot of opportunity expenditures.  Not too long ago, Wendy brought carrots to her grandson’s sporting event. She offered the snack to other children, but they declined, claiming her carrots didn’t taste as good as the orange Cheez-its or fruit snacks they are typically accustomed to for a snack. Wendy and Phil have reared their grandson as a locavore. Every Friday, Wendy takes him to the Canton Farmers market. He always makes a pit stop to see Jean Tupper for her famous homemade doughnuts, and he gets excited to pick their produce for the week. His taste buds salivate for a fresh vegetable. “Unless you have been raised to appreciate fruits and vegetables, you just don’t know,” Wendy commented.

This knowledge is something Wendy and Phil practice on their farm. Wendy’s husband, Phil, came home 18 years ago with ducks in an attempt to begin a duck farm. Wendy’s ducks were horrible; they wouldn’t mother their young. “They were just lazy!” exclaimed Wendy, which is how the farm got its name. Fast forward to present day and one can find ducks, heritage breed turkeys, several varieties of chickens, and Overhasli goats. From the goats, Wendy makes three types of cheeses: chevre, mozzarella, and ricotta. The two mothers are milked by hand once a day. In the future Wendy wishes to increase her herd to meet the growing demand for goat cheese. However, Wendy claimed finding fellow goat farmers are difficult; there are only two other locations in St. Lawrence County. Goats aside, Wendy raises approximately fifty Cornish hens for pre-order meat sales each year. Just recently, Phil butchered thirty twelve-week old hens. Wendy is passionate about eating locavore, a term used to express diets largely sourced from local food. All of her animals are fed organic or natural feed. She does not use chemicals on her property.

 For now, Wendy’s profits generate mainly from home base, but she is open to selling at both Canton and Massena Farmers Market. She has found just from her house sales the difference in demographics. Some areas of St. Lawrence County are willing to pay the added value of her labor, even though Wal-Mart or Aldi’s is a cheaper option. Currently, the chickens sell for either $4.50/lb. for pieces or $3/lb. for a whole. Wendy said she tries to present the data on growth hormones, economic development, human treatment, but has found “financial restrictions” prevent many customers from purchasing her products. For Wendy, her bottom line of healthy food outweighs a few extra pennies. “I would rather pay full price and eat half a pound of high quality food (fruits and vegetables), than three pounds of the nutritionally lacking counterpart.” This made me think of “food elitist,” a term used to describe someone who strongly advocates for a return to the healthy basics of buying fresh, local food. The lifestyle can be expensive and largely unrealistic for many, a group that once included myself. So how can we support the local movement without putting up a wall between the public and their choices for healthier living?

This made me wonder the possibility of changing a child’s eating habits if they aren’t the ones footing the bill. Of the families receiving SNAP, approximately 50% are children. If a working mom chooses the less expensive snacks for her children, they will surely learn to prefer that over the healthier alternative. Wendy wishes at school events there was more representation of good quality food. The classic hot dogs, hamburgers, potato chips and Coca-Cola may be tasty, but Wendy desires an apples or orange. “I believe if you are raised out of a box, you stay in a box. I refuse to let our grandson live that way. We actively take him to different markets and the Potsdam Co-Op.” This I recognize is a form of privilege in the form of purchasing capability. However, it is this very privilege GardenShare tries to eliminate through our CSA program and our Double Up program and the Farmers Market. By providing families with an incentive to shop locally, we hope to encourage them to change their eating habits.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016


New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s decision to increase eligibility for SNAP benefits goes into effect this month. The state raised the income limit for working households from 130% of the poverty line to 150%, which will make thousands of New Yorkers eligible for nutrition assistance. For a family of three, that's the difference between $2,177 a month and $2,512 a month. The eligibility change was one of several recommended by an anti-hunger task force convened by Cuomo. The revised limit is expected to yield as much as $688.5 million in additional federally funded SNAP benefits for as many as 750,000 people. The change is not expected to trigger an additional direct cost to state government.

Source: Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, 7/7/16, NY SNAP

Tuesday, July 19, 2016


The same marketing techniques used to convince children to eat junk food are highly effective in promoting fruits and vegetables, a new study has found. Researchers assigned 10 elementary schools to one of four groups. In the first, they posted vinyl banners around the salad bar depicting cartoon vegetable characters with “super powers.” In the second, they showed television cartoons of the characters. The third got both cartoons and banners, and a control group got no intervention. Compared to control schools, TV segments alone produced a statistically insignificant increase in vegetable consumption. But in schools decorated with the banners alone, 90.5% more students took vegetables. And where both the banners and the TV advertisements were used, the number of students taking vegetables increased by 239.2%.
Source: New York Times, 7/5/16, Kids & Vegetables

Monday, July 18, 2016


Financial incentives can help SNAP families eat healthier foods. According to a randomized controlled trial, a 30% rebate on fruits and vegetables increased their daily consumption by 26%. The trial evaluated USDA's Healthy Incentives Pilot program, which offered a 30% rebate for 1 year on certain fruits and vegetables purchased at participating retailers using SNAP benefits. The rebate was offered for fresh, canned, frozen, and dried fruits and vegetables without added sugars, fats, oils, or salt. White potatoes, dried beans and peas, and 100% fruit juice were not eligible for the rebates.

Source: MedPage Today, 6/28/16, SNAP Incentives Work

Friday, July 15, 2016

Farmer Friday: J & W Orchards

The beauty of fruit trees in pristinely mowed rows struck me as I pulled into the driveway of J & W Orchards in Norfolk. Escorting me to the front door was a stone path lined with immaculate perennial gardens, completely weed free and in full blossom. Angie Conger opened the door to freshly mopped floors, but she immediately discredited her hard-work as she encouraged me to enter her home with shoes still tied to my feet. Here I met Fred, her husband, who also works as a full-time mechanic.

Up until last August, this dream plot of eight acres belonged to the late Walter Shine. The 800 fruit trees behind the house were the result of his life-long dream to cultivate 1000 trees- a feat Walt achieved over the course of forty years. When he passed away, the land was turned over to his daughter, Angie, who has helped on the orchard for many years now. “Helping compared to fully operating are two extremely different things…my father could name an apple tree by sight, but I’m just beginning to learn,” Angie said, expressing how difficult the turnover has been in the past year.

This is now Angie and Fred’s second year tending the plums, apples, pears, grapes, and raspberries. Last year, a hard late frost damaged a large portion of the crops. This year they are seeing the remaining repercussions of the late freeze coupled with this summer’s drought; the foliage on the trees thirsts for water, evident by yellowing edges, and the fruits themselves are below average size for this time of year.

While orchards are a great way to conserve farmland for future generations, a fact mentioned in David Rice’s profile, they certainly require constant attention, effort and a backup savings account. How much work is poured into each tree is a point Fred stressed. If a tree isn’t bearing fruit, then it also isn’t yielding profit. As we walked through the orchard, Fred pointed out which trees he planned to pull this season and replace this season. Each tree roughly cost $25, depending on the variety. Typically, an apple tree produces 3-4 bushels per season. At $20 a bushel for a “fresh” apple, which roughly figures into $60-80 a tree, the net revenue is approximately $35-55, not allowing for other costs.

To keep the tress producing, Fred sprays either Captain 15 or Boron every 10-14 days with a 100-gallon sprayer that attaches to his tractor. The two pesticides combat insects and other pests in ways that Fred simply does not have the manpower to do himself. Already he paints the base of his trees with white latex paint, which deters deer and vermin from girding the tree trunks. Fred would use more effective methods of pest control that would permit him to reduce the application frequency, but to do so requires a license. He hopes in the future to secure one. Future plans for the orchard also includes installing an irrigation system, which will help Fred and Angie meet their goal of 1,000 fruit trees.

Walking with the couple, I could see how much devotion both invest into the land. They share a mutual love for Walt’s dream, which they have amassed into their own, and are determined to make the orchard a success. This season, they are opening the orchard for a U-Pick, an option many farmers resort to because it cuts down on the labor cost. “Our orchard is a year-round job,” Angie said. “Farmers, whether fruit or vegetable, don’t really get a vacation.”

Angie’s point raised another in my mind: how hunger occurs daily for many in St. Lawrence County. The issue extends beyond the rumble in stomachs if one examines having access to processed v. fresh food. The latter is considered a luxury. When I asked Fred for his thoughts on the matter, he replied, “Hunger means you’re hungry.” His simplistic response reminded me having access to fresh, healthy and local food is not a matter that can afford a vacation. Like a farming, hunger is a year-round manifestation. Our bodies need nutritious meals to fuel our body. In order to ensure this access, we must support our local farmers in their vision and mission to feed our communities. This is a feat Angie and Fred are accomplishing as they continue Angie’s father’s vision of an orchard.


Rep. Todd Rokita’s (R-IN) proposal in the House child nutrition bill to conduct a block grant pilot program for school meals in three states “demonstrates a broader effort to block grant the school meal program nationwide,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT). If the pilot program were approved, states that were chosen would be given a capped amount of money for child nutrition programs to use as they see fit. The one requirement is that they provide at least one affordable meal a day. According to the School Nutrition Association, block granting a program makes it easier to eliminate. The House bill also would raise the threshold for schools to participate in the community eligibility program to 60% of students in poverty, thus eliminating the ability of 7,000 schools to offer free lunch to all students, and would eliminate that option for 11,000 schools currently eligible but not participating.

Source: The Hill, 7/5/16, School Food Fight; Center for Budget & Policy Priorities, 7/8/16, Child Nutrition Bill

Thursday, July 14, 2016


Americans think granola bars, frozen yogurt, and SlimFast shakes are healthy; nutritionists disagree and counter with quinoa, tofu, hummus, and wine.  Why the difference?  One possibility is that everyday Americans don’t notice all the added sugar in the foods they, but not nutritionists deem healthy.  And, many average consumers may not be familiar with newer foods, like quinoa (which many nutritionists praise as a “supergrain), or ethnic imports, like tofu and hummus. There are some areas of nutritional consensus. Nearly all nutritionists and consumers surveyed agreed that oranges, apples, oatmeal, and chicken could be described as healthy and that chocolate chip cookies, bacon, white bread and soda could not.

Source: New York Times, 7/5/16, Healthy Foods

Wednesday, July 13, 2016


Overall, Americans are eating better. Between 2002 and 2012, the percent of people eating a poor diet fell from around 56% to under 46%. But it's a different story if you separate people out by income. High-income Americans are eating better than ever — swapping fruit juice for whole fruits, replacing refined grains with whole grains, and eating tons of nuts — while the low-income group has improved much more modestly. Here's how some of the trends break down:

  • High-income people are eating a lot more fruit, while those in the low-income group didn't see a significant change. By 2012, high-income people were eating almost two more servings of fruit per week, replacing fruit juice (a less healthy option) with whole fruit.
  • Everyone is eating more whole grains, but only high-income people are dropping their consumption of refined grains like white bread and corn flakes.
  • Everyone is drinking fewer sugar-sweetened beverages like soda and sports drinks, but high-income people are drinking a lot less than low-income people. The two are basically falling in lockstep.

Food cost is undoubtedly part of the reason for this gap, but it doesn't fully explain it. Other, less tangible factors also play a role: the time cost to buying foods and preparing them yourself; a nutrition knowledge barrier, and heavy marketing of junk food and fast food to low-income people.  

Source: The Week, 7/4/16, Food Gap

Tuesday, July 12, 2016


Angered by the federal government’s denial of his request to bar residents from buying candy or sugar-sweetened beverages with SNAP benefits, Maine Governor Paul LePage has threatened to end the state’s administration of the program. Is there any truth to his claim that SNAP recipients spend most of their benefits on junk food?  

  • Poor diet quality is a systemic issue and is not specific to SNAP recipients. Research shows that the diets the diets of SNAP participants are only slightly less healthy than other Americans. According to one study, SNAP participants consume more sugary drinks than higher-income people but the same amount as other low-income people who do not receive SNAP. And compared with higher-income people, SNAP recipients are less likely to consume sweets and desserts, salty snacks, and added fats and oils.
  • Comprehensive information about how SNAP participants spend their benefits is lacking, but information from Walmart, which redeems a significant portion of SNAP dollars, gives us an important clue. The top items SNAP households buy in Walmart stores are not soda and candy, but basic inexpensive foods, such as bananas, whole milk, Ramen noodles, and hot dogs. These are perhaps not the most nutritious options, but they indicate that families are frequently searching for inexpensive meals, not desserts and drinks.

Source: Urban Institute, 6/27/16, SNAP Realities

Monday, July 11, 2016

"Volun-tourism" - is it a good thing?

Over the weekend, the Today Show has a segment on "volun-tourism," people using their vacations to do volunteer work.

It sounds great, doesn't it?  Visit some new and interesting place and do some good while you're there.  And I've done it myself, if you count church mission trips to Appalachia and Maine.

But seeing it brought me back to Robert Ludlum's book, Toxic Charity, which I reviewed last month.

Rev. Ludlum spends a lot of time in his book on church mission trips and why they often serve the needs of the people on the mission trip more than the needs of the people at the trip's location.  Too often these kinds of activities have middle class Americans swooping in and trying to fix a problem for people they have defined as poor or in need.  In doing so, they can sometimes infantilize the people the people they are serving and take away their right to self-determination.  One example he gave was of a mission group that built a well for a village in  another country, so they would not have to walk miles carrying their water.  Fast forward a year and the villagers were again carrying water for miles.  Why?  The outsiders built a well, but they did not engage the local people in the project, teach them how it works, or what might go wrong and how to repair it if it broke.

The mission trips I went on were powerful experiences for me.  But when I reflect on it, I'm not 100% sure that they were as important or powerful for the people we were seeking to help.  And it should be about the people in need and the local community, not about those of us from the outside, shouldn't it?


Can emergency food programs end hunger?

Although it was written in 1998, Janet Poppendieck's book, "Sweet Charity?  Emergency Food and the End of Entitlement," has much to say to us today.

The book describes food charities (food banks, food pantries, community kitchens) functioning as a moral safety valve which have allowed us as a society to accept the erosion of government's role in fighting poverty and hunger.

My favorite part of the book continues to be the chapter on "The Seven Deadly In's of Emergency Food."  The following are among the reasons that private, charitable, emergency food programs like food banks cannot solve the hunger problem:  

  • Insufficiency (there's not enough food), 
  • Inappropriateness (it's not the right food); 
  • nutritional Inadequacy (it's not healthy food), 
  • Instability (programs are hand-to-mouth relying on volunteers and uncertain funding streams),
  • Inaccessability (people in need can't get to the charities), 
  • Inefficiency (the can of food ends up costing several times its real cost from the time someone purchases it and donates it to a food drive until it gets to the person in need), and 
  • Indignity (bread lines in America today!).

Almost twenty years later and all of these things are still true.  And yet, we still have politicians calling for massive cuts in federal food programs "because the private charities can take care of it."  The private charities weren't meeting the need in 1998 when Ms. Poppendieck wrote her book and we have fallen further behind every year since.  

We can only solve the problem of hunger with bigger picture, systems change thinking.  That's what we are trying to do at GardenShare and what our slogan, "Healthy Food.  Healthy Farms.  Everybody Eats." speaks to.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Farmer Friday - Sawyer Creek Farm

When people give directions in a small town, the instructions usually go like this:

“Okay, so you’re going to go straight through town past the old Agway. Keep headed down that way until you hit the four-corners with the old dairy farm on the left. When you’ve pass a fallen silo, you’ve reached our place.”

…or something like that.

My visit to Sawyer Creek Farm was a similar experience. Owner Sheila Warden told me to look for her blue house with a red barn, the first one after a right turn. She knew my GPS would certainly fail me once I hit back roads. I pulled into her driveway, disbelieving later that her home was once unlivable in the fall of 1997 when she first moved to the area with her family.

I followed Sheila to the greenhouse she rebuilt last spring after a snowstorm ruined their previous one. Like most farm visits, Sheila doesn’t stop her work just because I am there. This is an act I have come to appreciate because I find the farmers are more in their element. Sheila expressed her hopes to add heat to the greenhouse in the winter as she watered her vegetables because the farm is a zone 3 growing region, unlike the rest of the zone 4 Gouverneur area.

In 2006 after putting their home through a HGTV worthy makeover (I didn’t believe her until she showed me pictures of the transformation), Sheila’s husband brought home a few ewes that needed a rescue home. This was the second time he did this; the first time was over 35 years ago when he got her a ewe for mother’s day in NJ. That ewe was on the plump side, but Sheila assumed the mass of wool covering the presumably nimble frame was the reason. A few days later, the ewe dropped a lamb. Some might say Sheila had the wool pulled over her eyes! Fast forward, to Sawyer Creek Farm in NY and Sheila has been raising sheep ever since. She got back into raising sheep. Starting with the Hampshire rescued ewes, then Dorset’s, then Katahadin hair sheep and finally her favorite, Finnsheep! She has had Finnsheep for 4 years and loves them!!

Sheep jokes aside, Sheila also raises meat/egg chickens, turkeys and pigs. Like many of the farms I’ve visited (Fuller and Smith), the chickens began as a way to save money. Soon friends and family via word of mouth began contacting Sheila for a few chickens and eggs. As she puts it, “As people want[ed] more, I expanded.”

When Sheila first began her meat operation, she knew she didn’t want to have a middleman. Sheila genuinely cares about the product she delivers- ensuring customers get what they pay for without the added markup price stores typically add. As a solution, Sheila does most of the gopher work. In the spring, she calls her regular customers to pre-order an exact amount of chickens/turkeys/pigs/lamb needed (about 150 chickens/season to give an idea). Then, she picks up the animals, raises them to maturation, and personally brings them to a Mennonite butcher who does the processing. From there, she delivers meat directly to customers. The pork and lamb are butchered by USDA certified Red Barn Meats in Croghan. This is repeated three times before October; Sheila understands the want for both fresh meat and freezer space—doing so also divides the labor for her. Sheila charges $3.50/lb. for whole and $4.00/lb. for cut chickens, with the weight ranging from 4 to 9 lbs., although customers can request sizes. Unlike many butchers, Sheila charges by the pound instead of the hanging weight. Again, this practice is for the customers’ benefit.

One point Sheila stressed is how Sawyer Creek Farm came to its 95-acre glory. She is proud of what her family has accomplished in such a short amount of time—a feat she attributes to the amount of sweat equity poured into each crevice of the land. Farming aside, Sheila also works as a full-time bus driver during the school year. After working a full workweek, remembering to weed the summer squash or move the portable fence for rotational grazing can be a nuisance. Sheila does it all, but looks forward to the summer when she can focus solely on her animals and plants.

Like Smith Chicken Farm, Sheila strengthens the local food system. The cost to buy, mature, and deliver the small-scale meat does make her prices higher than WalMart or Aldi’s. However, this calls into question of how a local farmer can make a livelihood when they are constantly outcompeted by larger markets. At GardenShare, we stress the importance of buying locally by promoting farmers markets and CSA programs. For every $10 spent at the farmers market, ~$6.20 goes back into the local economy and ~$9.90 out of $10 stays in the state. Contrasting, ~$2.50 remains regional when that same $10 is spent at the aforementioned grocery stores. The need for healthy, accessible food applies to farmers too as they try to create a standard of living while supporting the local community. This is one statement GardenShare seeks to underscore.

Come visit Sheila at the Canton Farmer’s market most Tuesdays and Fridays. There you can buy everything wool in many forms from a raw fleece, yarn, knit items and processed lamb pelts. Also, homemade soap from pork lard and seasonal vegetables. Meat orders taken, but due to food safety the meat will be set up for a scheduled pickup so it will remain cold as long as possible.


Nationally, one in six households reported they struggled to afford to buy food in the past 12 months, according to a new report. That’s down significantly from 2013 when nearly 1 in five households (18.9%) reported struggling to find food. In 31 states at least one in seven households (14.3%) said that they did not have enough money to buy food at some point in the past year.  

Source: Food Research & Action Center, 6/30/16, Food Hardship

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Alaska's food system - is it like the North Country?

Mark Winne, a leading voice on food system issues has a new blog entry about food issues in Alaska.  I was struck by the similarities to the North Country.  For example, try substituting "North Country" for "Alaska" in his closing paragraph (and ignoring the oil comment):

"How Alaska copes with its multiple food system vulnerabilities bears watching. Resiliency in the face of climate change will take on new and challenging dimensions in this highly exposed northern reach, not the least of which may be the hot, sweaty hordes escaping from the Lower 48. The lessons of oil, the lessons of subsistence, the lessons of the limits of human endurance, and the lessons of public policy that can be farsighted or shortsighted should not be ignored because they come from a place as remote as Alaska."

Read Mark's blog entry in its entirety here:  Roadkill Stew, Bad-ass Cabbage, and the Midnight Sun – Lessons from Alaska


Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Veggie of the Month on 95.3 The Wolf

Starting with this morning, GardenShare will be featuring a "Veggie of the Month" on the first Wednesday of the month between 8:00 and 9:00 AM with morning show host Tony Lynn on 95.3 The Wolf FM.

Intern Hogan has been prepping the material for these interviews and so he and Amanda joined me in the studio this morning.  After highlighting this month's veggie, we gave away $10 in tokens that can be used at any farmers market in St. Lawrence County.

Listen in each month on the first Wednesday to learn more about GardenShare, farmers markets, and a new veggie each month!


July Veggie of the Month is Radishes
  • Grown in North America since the early 1600s
  • Grown in most states, but California and Florida have the most
  • Ideal for children’s gardens because they grow so fast  -  From seed to eating plant in ~25 days
  • Nutrition - Radishes are rich in vitamin C and B vitamins. It also contains dietary fibers and minerals such as potassium, calcium, magnesium, copper and manganese and Super low in calories!

Recipe option #1: Roasted radishes

        2-1/4 pounds radishes, trimmed and quartered
        3 tablespoons olive oil
        1 tablespoon minced fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried oregano
        1/4 teaspoon salt
        1/8 teaspoon pepper

Directions - super simple

1.     In a large bowl, combine all ingredients. Transfer to a greased 15-in. x 10-in. x 1-in. baking pan. Bake, uncovered, at 425° for 30 minutes or until crisp-tender, stirring once. Yield: 5 servings.

Recipe option #2: Grilled Radishes, Fennel and Asparagus Salad with a Caper Dressing

     Radishes are popular in salads, but are generally raw. These are grilled.
     Good as a side salad or starter

Prep time - 10 minutes; cook time - 5-10 minutes

     2 tbsp olive oil
     2/3 cups (150g) radishes cut in half
     1 large bulb fennel, sliced
     3/4 cups (200g) asparagus, trimmed
     4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

     1 tbsp sherry vinegar
     ½ red onion, finely chopped
     2 tbsp baby capers
     Salt and pepper
     Small bunch of dill chopped

1.     Preheat a large griddle pan and lightly dress all the vegetables in olive oil.
2.     While you are waiting for the griddle to warm up: mix together in a small bowl the olive oil and sherry vinegar, then add the onion and capers, season with salt and pepper and set aside.
3.     Grill the vegetables on both sides in a single layer in the griddle pan, until the bar marks start to appear. This usually takes a couple of minutes.
4.     Once cooked, arrange on a serving dish, season with salt and pepper, drizzle over the dressing and scatter with the chopped dill. Serve at once.