Backyard Gardening: Organic Life in the City

Written by: Joshua MacAran

A pile of vibrant tomatoes, lettuce, asparagus, zucchini, broccoli, and radishes

A pile of fresh, healthy, vibrant organic vegetables!

Organic produce is often expensive and not always delicious – unless you grow it yourself! Setting up a backyard or window will garden is easy, fun, and economical.

The benefits of organic gardening are enormous and have a much greater scope than the benefits of organic eating. You get delicious, pesticide free vegetables at a low cost. You spend time working with plants and nature, which according to Floriculture Chair Dr. Charlie Hall of Texas A&M “helps people concentrate better in the home and workplace. Studies show that tasks performed while under the calming influence of nature are performed better and with greater accuracy, yielding a higher quality result. Moreover, being outside in a natural environment can improve memory performance and attention span by twenty percent.” You get gentle exercise in the comfort of your own home. Best of all, you’ll often harvest more than you can eat. The extra can be preserved for the winter or shared with family and friends. You will probably find that your children, friends, and family are curious about your gardening adventures. They’ll definitely appreciate the fruits of your labors! Remember that you can start with just a few plants, so don’t be intimidated.

The first step is to make a place to plant something. If you have a back yard, then you already have a great place to start. A front yard is just as good! If you don’t have any soil at all in your home, then you can buy or make window boxes, or use large pots. Don’t let lack of funds discourage you. All kinds of recycled materials can be nailed together or modified to serve as plant pots. Many sizes will work but for a producing vegetable, the container should be two to three feet deep, a foot and a half across or wider, and needs to have holes for drainage. Most vegetables benefit from afternoon sunlight, so put them in a west facing window or a location that isn’t too heavily shaded by trees or other buildings. Another great option if you want to do some larger plants but don’t have a good yard for it is to find a community garden in your area.

Soil is the next consideration. To keep it simple, most soil is fine for growing food. If there is an entrenched colony of grass you’ll want to take a shovel and dig up the first six inches, or until you have more dirt than root. If there are farms in your area you can often get free manure, which is a great way to add some nutrients to your soil, but it isn’t a necessity. Make sure to take some time to break up your soil so that it has good drainage. Most city soil is quite compacted. Use your shovel to break up another six inches of soil below your seeds so that your plants have room to spread their roots.

The third step is to decide what to grow and when to grow it. Each climate zone has different growing times, but the rule of thumb is most vegetables are planted in spring after the last frost and harvested in summer. There are many winter crops, especially if you’re in warm climate, including kale, salad greens, beets, peas, and winter squashes. Check to find your planting zone and a schedule for planting specific crops in your area. They also have some great information about how many plants of each type you would need to feed your family. If you’re just starting out, tomatoes and zucchini are easy and produce a lot. Just be careful with the zucchini – they’ll take over as much as space as you give them! Swiss chard is another easy produce for beginners.

Buy some seeds at your local garden store, or better yet save and dry seeds from the vegetables you eat at home. Plant them one half inch below the surface of the soil (in rows if you don’t want a mess!) and don’t pack the soil too tightly on top. Water them every day in the beginning. If seeds are too much hassle and you have a little extra money, you can also buy seedlings from a nursery or farmer’s market.

As they grow larger, you can spread your waterings out. All soil falls somewhere between sand and clay. If your soil is heavy clay (when it dries, it’s in a hard clump like dry clay), then you can give it a large amount of water once or twice a week, and the soil will retain the moisture. If you have a lot of sand in your soil you will need to water more two or three times a week because sandy soil has much faster drainage. Neither type is better – they’re just different.

How much should you water your plants? Leave them in a small puddle, let it drain, and then water them enough to leave another small puddle. If you’ve been watering the same area for 10 mintues, then you’ve watered enough and you probably have very sandy soil.

Take a little time each week to remove unwanted grass and plants that don’t look like the rest of them. This should take you less than 20 minutes. Don’t worry too much about the little clumps – go for the more mature weeds! Try to pull them out at the base and get as much of the root as you can. Grab some gardening gloves so you don’t mess up your hands too badly. In a few months you’ll have the proud experience of eating your very own organic produce!

There is a lot to know about growing plants, but at its heart organic gardening is very simple. It’s fun to get out and get a little muddy, and having a backyard garden is a great way get a little more green in your life. Plant, water, and nurture your vegetables, and they will grow for you.

Eating Organic

Written by: Aleksandra Lyanskaya

Many people come to ponder the question of whether or not eating organic will benefit their health in the long run. There are so many things we do not know about within the making of our food we buy at local grocery stores every day. Knowing that we should eat more fruits and vegetables is great knowledge to be had, but these fresh foods we are buying could also be toxic to our health.

In the Annals of Internal Medicine Review, it was stated that “Between 1997 and 2010, sales of organic foods increased from $3.6 to $26.7 billion” (348). While they prices may have varied on these fresh products, consumers and buyers are becoming more apt to buying something that costs more but that which will also benefit their health as well. The nutrients in these pesticide-free grown products are seen as being much healthier for us than eating those products grown on farms where everything is about quantity rather than quality.

To be even safer and more conscious of what we are allowing to enter our system, some individuals have chosen the route of growing their own home grown gardens and only eating the food they have seen grow in their own gardens under their own soil, untouched by any other. However, we’re never completely blocked off from pesticides. With all that is carried throughout our air and transmitted from bugs of all types coming from many different places and coming in contact with other things, even the soil we buy at a local store can turn out to not be the most clean thing either. It’s important to keep trying to bring ourselves back to how the times used to be. Home-grown food and health-conscious lifestyles would be health enhancing and life preserving.

So next time you head out to the grocery store, maybe stop by the farmers market first and see what they have to offer. Buy a few seeds and start your own garden. Even seeing and knowing that what you’re eating is all your own effort and love will make the taste and satisfaction greater in the end.

Smith-Spangler, C., Brandeau, M. L., Hunter, G. E., Bavinger, J., Pearson, M., Eschbach, P. J., & … Bravata, D. M. (2012). Are Organic Foods Safer or Healthier Than Conventional Alternatives?. Annals Of Internal Medicine, 157(5), 348-366.

English-born Company Giving the World a (Delicious Smelling!) Hand.

Written by: Kaitlyn Burkhart

Since 1995 LUSH Hand-made Cosmetics has been delivering the world’s best in organic, trade-friendly, vegan, and simply delectable skin goodies. From freshly pressed bath bombs and soaps both stuffed with essential oils and simply beautiful hand-tempered perfumes, even nuts, oats, sand and sea salt, to shower jellies, solid shampoos and bubble bars, LUSH has been innovating and generating top-quality products alongside top-notch ethics. They strike once again with their best-selling body cream, Charity Pot, reaching monumental sales for the greater good around the world.

Simon Constantine, LUSH product inventor, stirring shea butter in Ghana.

The brain-child that would become LUSH Cosmetics was founded by Liz Weir and Mark Constantine in the late 80s, though it would be almost ten years until a customer coined the company name in a contest. When LUSH began, the founders were making soaps with ingredients brought from the store, and moulding them in unused kitty litter pans, drain pipes, and window planters.

With the rapid expansion of business, they became dedicated to making products with only the finest ingredients from around the world, and not the ones that cost a lot of money because they were developed in a lab. We’re talking organic vanilla beans from co-op mountain plantation in Papua, New Guinea, seaweed from family-owned business in British Columbia, Canada, and fair-trade, organic Shea butter from towns and villages around Tamale, in northern Ghana, just to name a few.


It’s easy to see why LUSH has been trailblazing the health and beauty industry with their code of ethics.

One of their most outstanding products, Charity Pot, is entirely dedicated to helping small, grassroots organizations around the world who work on the behalf of the environment and conservation, animal protection, and human rights, and could use a helping hand to continue the incredible work they are doing. In each pot is a gorgeous hand and body lotion, scented with ylang ylang and geranium, and made with fair-trade, organic cocoa butter and almond oil.And with every purchase of a Charity Pot, LUSH donates 100% of the price to one of their 89 partnered organizations, or has funded upwards of 97 projects with the proceeds.

Since its’ introduction in October 2007, LUSH has sold 64,000 Charity Pots, a whopping $1.4 million for charities in every place imaginable. And not only do they donate much-needed funds, the charity that your Charity Pots’ proceeds go to has their logo atop it, so you know who you’re helping with your purchase.  So on top of having a spankingly good product, Charity Pot can make you feel good about what you’re doing to help others, and what you’re putting into your skin.

Organic Gardener’s Squash Soup a Prizewinner in Butter Recipe Contest

Written by: Josephine Bridges

Among the winners of the Dairy Farmers of Oregon Butter Up the Holidays

Butternut squash on porch bench

Organic gardener Richard Ellmyer makes prizewinning soup from butternut squash like these.

Contest is Richard Ellmyer, a Portland organic gardener, with Buttery Buttered Nut Squash Soup.

Entering the contest was, “a complete whim,” said Ellmyer,” I’ve never done anything like this before.” An organic gardener for decades, Ellmyer has a wealth of experience growing butternut squash, though, and making soup from the abundance on hand. “Butternut squash is my favorite vegetable. “Hardy, prolific, beautiful in form and color, it’ll last for a year and you can’t taste the difference. There’s nothing I don’t like about a butternut squash.”

“The only challenge was to incorporate butter,” said Ellmyer, who prior to entering the contest had made butternut squash soup using stock, peanut butter, and various flavorings. “I decided to use a stick of butter. That would get everybody’s attention. Now, how much squash?” A five-pounder the gardener happened to have “looked just right.” What else could he do to impress the Dairy Farmers of Oregon and still make a good-tasting soup? “Two cups of milk, then more butter, sauteed with walnuts and spices and mixed into the soup at the end.” The judges were clearly impressed.

Ellmyer makes a connection between growing organic food, eating well, and “developing interesting recipes based on the stuff you can grow.” Organic gardening is something Ellmyer and his wife “love to do, believe in, and have been successful at. It’s an essential part of what we do and who we are. The recipe was just fun. I’m very excited to win.”

If you would like to try the prizewinning recipe yourself, Ellmyer is happy to share.

Buttery Buttered Nut Squash Soup

Soup Ingredients

1 large butternut squash (about 5 lbs.), makes 5 cups

2 cups milk

1 stick butter (1/4 lb.)

Salt and pepper to taste

Topping Ingredients

1/2 stick butter

2 tbsp curry

1 1/2 cup walnuts

2 apples, diced

1 1/2 tsp brown sugar

1/2 tsp cinnamon

6 to 10 Servings


Cut squash in half lengthwise.

Put on baking sheet, cut side up.

Cook at 400 for about 1 hour or until very tender.

Peel and take out seeds when cooled.

Process squash in food processor in 2 batches, adding half the milk and 1/2 stick of butter in each batch. Process until very smooth (about 2 minutes).

Combine both batches.

Salt and pepper to taste.


Melt 1/2 stick of butter in a frying pan.

When melted add the walnuts and curry. Stir and cook for 2 minutes.

Add apples, stir and cook for 1 more minute.

Stir in brown sugar and cinnamon, cook for 1 more minute.

Be careful that butter does not burn. It will be browned a sticky, adhering to the crevices of the walnuts.

Reheat squash.

Scoop squash into small bowls.

Put a few spoonfuls of topping in each bowl.


Worst Company EVER: Biotech Giant Monsanto is Under Attack, Obama and the FDA are Under the Gun


CREDO Action - Dump Michael Taylor

Via CREDO Action website

By Allison Hibbs

Monsanto, the multinational agricultural biotechnology corporation long reviled by organic farmers, environmentalists and conscientious foodies worldwide, has drawn more than the usual amount of rancor in recent months. While assailants are hoping the media blitzkrieg will prove as damaging to the company as they claim that its bioengineering and genetic modification practices are to the planet, that hope may prove optimistic in light of its cozy relationship with the United States federal government. Efforts to diminish that relationship have led to the recent circulation of more than one petition calling for the dismissal of FDA Food Safety Czar, Michael Taylor, a former top Monsanto executive.

One reason for the recent outrage is a perceived “crusade” by the FDA against small raw milk dairy farmers, many of whom are Amish, even as they overlook repeated violations by larger, industrial producers. CREDO, a publication of Working Assets, began a campaign in late January to educate and motivate consumers to sign a pledge beseeching President Obama to expel Taylor from the administration.

"While factory farm operators are getting away with serious food safety violations, raw milk dairy farmers and distributors across the country have been subjected to armed raids and hauled away in handcuffs."

CREDO Action

CREDO believes that the FDA’s efforts would be better spent enforcing food safety regulations at the largest industrial producers, where it claims that “antibiotic resistance has run amuck,” rather than focusing so much of the administration’s efforts on sting operations to arrest small dairy farmers.

"Incredibly, Michael Taylor and FDA inspectors have not arrested or fined the Iowa agribusinessman -- Jack DeCoster -- who was wholly responsible for the more than 500 million eggs that were recalled in 2010 salmonella-tainted egg recall. 3Though this industrial agribusinessman endangered the health of millions, Michael Taylor thinks Amish farmers producing fresh milk are more deserving targets of his FDA enforcement raids with guns drawn."

CREDO Action


The petition had garnered 151,160 signatures as of SuperBowl Sunday, 75 percent of its 200,000 goal. Petition: Tell Obama to Cease FDA Ties to Monsanto

Another petition circulating on Twitter and Facebook had reached a total of 220,000 signatures by game time, far surpassing its original goal of 75,000. Written and circulated by Frederick Ravid, this petition includes a longer letter to the president, expressing opposition to the his administration’s appointment of Taylor three years ago.

“Taylor is the same person who as a high-ranking official at the FDA in the 1990s promoted allowing genetically modified organisms into the U.S. food supply without undergoing a single test to determine their safety or risks,” reads the letter. “This is a travesty.” Pointing out that Taylor was in charge of policy regarding the widely-opposed bovine growth hormone and that he fought against the requirement for disclosures on milk from cows that had been treated with the hormone, Ravid goes on to decry Monsanto as a company directly threatening the health and well-being of US citizens.

Reinforcing these concerns are WikiLeaks documents that surfaced last year implicating the Bush administration in questionable tactics used against countries in Europe to impel them to purchase Monsanto GMO products that they were resisting. Other documents imply that the US government considered putting pressure on the Pope to come out in favor of GMO foods. If any such actions were taken, they have proven largely unsuccessful and Monsanto has been repeatedly thwarted in France, Germany and the UK.


Additionally, lawsuits have been brought against the biotech giant by India and Canada for biopiracy and biocontamination, respectively; and a group of 270,000 American organic farmers are also suing the company for biocontamination. Ironically, the move is intended to protect these farmers against possible patent-infringement lawsuits brought by Monsanto over GMO seeds that have migrated to – and compromised – their lands.

For all of these reasons (and more), Monsanto has been voted Worst Company of 2011 by Natural Society, and the public seems increasingly to agree. As the acrimony grows, it is beginning to look like the corporation’s PR department has some serious damage control to do if it hopes to retain any influence over government activity.  It is, after all, an election year and Obama may not have the luxury of ignoring so many voters crying “Why, O, why?”

Chia Seeds: Organic Food’s New “It” Ingredient for Weight Loss

By Abagail Taranow

Remember those popular commercials dating back to the 1980s featuring a catchy jingle and an adorable terracotta figurine that grew sprouts known as a chia pet? Today, those same edible seeds that gained infamy in 80s pop culture are popping up on organic food blogs and healthy menus across the country.  Packed with fiber, protein, phosphorus, manganese, calcium, and potassium- chia seeds are the new trending superfood claiming to boost your health.

The latest superfood trend

The seeds gained more popularity after being featured on “The Dr. Oz Show” as a major source of energy because they are high in fiber omega-3 fatty acids. Dr. Mehmet Oz endorses the food as a natural weight loss supplement for people over the age 50. He recommends a daily intake of 15 grams of these small, crunchy seeds to boost fiber levels in the body.

After the age of 50, one’s metabolism starts to slow and excess pounds become more difficult to shed. One ounce of chia seeds account for 42 percent of one’s daily fiber intake based on a 2000 calorie diet. A high fiber diet allows one to feel more satiated and less likely to overeat, allowing easier weight loss.

Some research indicates these seeds improve heart health, balance blood sugar levels, prevent diverticulitis, and the high amounts of antioxidants may delay skin aging. Yet these claims are not well supported scientifically, these studies often manifest inconclusive results and scientists remain in heavy debate about the actual health benefits of this food trend.

In raw form, chia seeds are round, dark, and have a very neutral taste. There are many ways to incorporate them into meals such as adding them to salad, stir fry, soup, baked goods, or just eating them raw. When soaked in liquid, they develop a gelatinous quality that can thicken up a stew or porridge. Vegan and vegetarian dieters are very keen on the seeds due to their nutritional value.

Cooks have created a variety of interesting ways to utilize the seed unique liquid absorbing abilities. Those less adventurous eaters might opt for something basic like the easy overnight chia oatmeal, while those a little bit more daring may attempt a pumpkin pie chia pudding parfait.

So whether the health hype about this food craze is true or not, it seems these seed do contain a high nutritional value that would be beneficial to anyone’s diet. So next time you’re cruising the aisles at your local health food store, maybe consider picking up some chia seed and judge the latest superfood yourself





Green Cleaning Services

by Emayeneme Gbemiye-Etta

Green cleaning by definition is using nontoxic and/or organic products to clean in a home, school, office or any other public or private facility. In its simplest form green cleaning is using such products as baking soda, lemon juice and vinegar to do the majority of the cleaning at home.

In an office, public or private facility it is using certified green or organic products to clean the facility.

Green cleaning services are by definition cleaning services which use products that are environmentally friendly and non-toxic and will not cause respiratory and dermatological problems. There are a growing number of organizations which provide green cleaning services to their customers. Customers should be aware that the organic cleaning products and natural cleaning product industry are not related like the organic product industry.

What is involved in Green Cleaning?

Green cleaning involves using products that are environmentally safe and/or natural products.

What are the advantages of Green Cleaning?

Green cleaning is an advantage to both the cleaners and their customers. In using the green products, cleaners will not be affected by the:

1. Fumes from the toxic products.

2. The affects the products had on their skin and their overall health.

What should potential customers make sure of?

In picking a cleaning company, customers need to make sure of a number of things:

1. That the products being used by the cleaning company are actually organic or natural.

Overall What are the cost benefits of Green Cleaning?

The benefits at first may seem expensive but the overall costs are outweighed by the overall benefits of green cleaning:

  • As mentioned earlier people are not affected by toxic cleaning products when green cleaning products are used.
  • In an office environment, nontoxic cleaning means less people get sick from toxic products and therefore are less likely to take time off due to sickness from breathing in the toxic products and therefore less money is spent on illnesses and time off.
  • Green cleaning is creating a growing industry of products that do the cleaning the old products d id in the past but do not have the same negative effect on the users of the product.

Some of the argument that people give for not considering green cleaning is that the products are too expensive and the increased cost is not worth the benefits of using green products. Green cleaning services are now reporting that green products are becoming more cost effective and the difference in costs between green and regular cleaning products is getting less and less.


1. Americans Embracing ‘Green’ Cleaning – ABC News

2. Responsible Purchasing Network


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