How can we ensure our food is safe?

During my family’s Passover seder last night, we spent a lot of time discussing the injustices of the current economic climate, health care, war — you name it. Of course, we also touched on some issues related to food safety and agricultural policy. I am currently working on a project for Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS) at the USDA. Upon hearing this, my grandmother asked, “How can we make our food safe then, Allie? Why are we all getting salmonella these days?”

Of course, issues regarding food and health are tremendously complicated. And we are not all getting salmonella. But, I am sure of this: One of the most important ways to make sure the food we eat is safe is to be informed about what we eat and feed our families/friends. Equipped with information regarding their food, consumers can decide for themselves about what to eat. Transparency is essential to a safer and more trustworthy food system.

One of the battles being fought on transparency has to do with food labeling and genetically engineered bovine growth hormone (rbGH or rbST). rbGH/rbST are administered to cows by injection in order to increase milk production. There is ongoing debate regarding the safety of this hormone — for cows but also for us, the consumers of their milk. There are many resources to read more about the controversy, and I encourage you to learn more.

Take a look at this short movie for some more information about the issue: http://www.yourmilkondrugs.com/

I believe that since the jury is still out on its safety, consumers have a right to know whether or not the hormone is injected in the cows that produce the milk they drink.

This brings us to Kansas: Unless Governor Kathleen Sebelius vetoes it before April 16th, a Kansas bill would restrict any national US dairy from properly labeling their milk products as free from genetically engineered bovine growth hormone (rbGH or rbST).

Please take action on this issue by clicking the link below to send an email to Governor Sebelius:
Protect our Choice for Drug-Free Milk—Without Bovine Growth Hormone (rbGH/rbST) – Email Governor Sebelius

Spring Cleaning

Unfortunately, we were not able to plant our lettuce outside this past weekend. Also, I will be out of town for the remainder of the week and will be unable to provide the daily love and attention our seedlings are used to. In preparation to my few days out of town, I removed many of the “extra” seedlings from the containers. I want to make sure that they do not overcrowd each other while I am away. Here are the plants that did not make it.

I am looking forward to getting the lettuce in the ground this coming weekend and celebrating the spring holidays!

Ahead of the Curve

The New York Times stole our idea and published yesterday what will the first in a series of articles about a novice creating a vegetable garden.

Our nascent green shoots are part of what the National Garden Association estimates will be a 20% increase this year in first-time household food gardens, thanks to the economy, the Michael Pollan-ation of our bookshelves, and what have you…

“My garden, as it lives in my mind, is perfect: undulating and bountiful and soft underfoot. Sometime in the next week, though, the first dumb green shoot of that artichoke will grope its way out of the dirt and start screwing everything up.”

The author also blogged on his experience purchasing seeds. I can’t fathom why the Times didn’t ask US to do this blog first!

“Natural” Selection

Katherine came over last night to observe the massive growth we have seen in the seedlings since they were planted about ten days ago. Equipped with dirt, more small containers, and advice from her mother (the master gardener), she also arrived to perform another important function: help select the seedlings strong enough to survive. Since we planted multiple seeds together (because who would have thought that ALL of them would grow), we now are inundated with small seedlings crowding each other. Of particular concern were the cucumbers, which are growing inches above the rest of the plants.

Together, we began pulling out some of the smaller seedlings. As Katherine put it, “First time gardeners often have a hard time understanding why they would kill the little plants they worked so hard to grow.” I agree. It was a challenge, but we saved some of the cukes and cleaned up all the containers. We made another important decision: it is time to move the lettuce outside. This weekend, we hope to migrate the lettuce outside to the yard as well as the rosemary I have been keeping for about a year in my house.

Take a look at the cukes, now spaced out to one (or two) per container:

When we move the seedlings, there may be room for some additional seeds to start. So, I found a list from a Container Gardening Tips website (http://www.containergardeningtips.com/) of plants well suited for containers. I took some highlights from the list and will consider them carefully. My options are:

Sage, Dill, Thyme, Garlic, Mint, Oregano, Fennel (Sweet Florence), Sweet Marjoram, Ginger, Eggplant, Squash, Spinach, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Bean, Radish, Blueberry, Potato, and Corn

Some of the plants on the list surprised me. Apples were even on the list as suited for container gardening. While I think we are a ways from starting an apple tree, there are quite a few issues to ponder regarding the garden and our seedlings. After the lettuce, we have to determine who will be ready to go into the great outdoors.

One last note, we also noticed the chives becoming a bit more “chive-like”:

Our seeds…

On our way back from a visit to Richmond, we stopped to get some seeds from Home Depot. There were so many yummy veggies to choose from. Here is what we picked up to start with:

  • Chives
  • Basil
  • Cilantro
  • Brandywine Tomatoes
  • Cherry Tomatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Butterhead Lettuce
  • Mesclun Mix

With the help of a few friends and my dog, Logan, we got all the seeds planted and back to my apartment to wait out the rest of the cold weather. Since we planted, all but the cilantro have popped out.


It is thrilling to work next to the plants and watch each day as they grow more and more. Who would have thought that you could put these little specks (seeds) into the dirt and they come out as food?! This evening, we are going to be selecting the most fit of our seedlings and planning their journey to the containers outside.

Here is Logan:

Beginnings…

When I read Michael Pollan’s “Omnivore’s Dilemma” (http://www.michaelpollan.com/omnivore.php), I was still unable to keep a single plant alive in my apartment and had just recently stopped eating each of my meals at my nearby Subway (I alternated between turkey and grilled chicken foot-longs). After I finished Pollan, I picked up Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” (http://www.animalvegetablemiracle.com/) based on a recommendation from a Good Samaritan who saw me reading Pollan. As I read more, I started to feel intrigued by the prospect of growing my own food, or at least knowing where my food came from. Michael and Barbara inspired me and I grew increasingly fond of the Dupont Circle Farmers’ Market (http://www.freshfarmmarket.org/) and even started cooking.

Two years have gone by since I moved to DC, and I have read countless “foodie” books and blogs discussing the issues of our current agricultural/food system and the hopes for local and “sustainable” agriculture. I even visited Polyface Farm (http://www.polyfacefarms.com/) for a guided tour with Daniel Salatin. Now, I am ready to prove to myself that I can grow something that my friends and I can eat!

And so, my friend and I are beginning our adventure with container gardening in her yard. I decided that this would be a great opportunity to start a blog to discuss what happens next. The Adventures of Container Gardening (and Local Eating) will document the successes and failures of our urban container garden this spring and include some recipes and favorites from the farmers’ market. I can’t resist sharing recipes when I describe this adventure because our food, gardens, and farms are intrinsically linked together with our environment and health.