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  • What is it about tomatoes, anyway? What is it about tomatoes, anyway? Craig LeHoullier | 07/12/2016 Summer's here, and so are tomatoes! Get 'em while they're fresh!

    tomato guest blog picOriginally published in The Sweet Potato, the sustainable farm and food blog of the Carolinas. Written bDr. Craig LeHoullier, the “NC Tomatoman” (the fellow who named Cherokee Purple in 1990).

    Summer eating conjures up so many feelings, thoughts, and cravings. Walks through a mid-summer farmers market brings us face to face with piles of peppers, stacks of summer squash, glossy, colorful eggplant, and succulent melons of all sorts. Then there are the peaches, blue- and blackberries, sweet corn, and green and yellow snap beans competing for our attention.

    And yet – as awesome and appetite stimulating and recipe searching as all of the above represents, for many, it is the large, often misshapen, rather humble looking tomato that draws us, sends us hunting stall to stall…then, later on, slicing and serving and making them the centerpiece of our warm weather meals.

    With literally thousands of varieties available to those who start their own seedlings, it is possible to grow completely different menus of tomatoes each summer for one’s entire life and never experience a repetition.

    Why do we love them so?

    I’ve thought a good bit about the attraction of this fleeting, perishable object – one that for many is best enjoyed seasonally, just like asparagus, strawberries and sugar snap peas. Perhaps it is just that – the ethereal nature of a “real” tomato creates deep longing during those months of unavailability. I believe that another important aspect is nostalgia. Along with locally grown sweet corn, tomatoes were often the target for those Sunday drives with parents, or grandparents, aimed at a nearby farm stand, carefully selected, and used as the centerpiece of a backyard picnic.

    Tomatoes have other admirable qualities for those who wish to explore beyond the culinary aspect. They are one of the easier crops for those who enjoy saving and sharing seeds. Many come with wonderful handed down stories, having truly passed the test of time; this is often reflected in their names (Lillian’s Yellow Heirloom, Mortgage Lifter, Aunt Ruby’s German Green – all of which sound a whole lot more enticing than “Big Boy,” at least to me).

    Not really hard to grow….yet they need love to thrive

    Anyone who has a few hours of sun should grow their own tomatoes. Thousands of varieties means not only choice, but flexibility – which allows the gardener to fit the tomato to the space and sun. The larger the tomato, the more sun it needs. The taller growing the variety, the more soil it needs.

    It is easier and easier to find a wide range of seedlings at local garden center for those who wish to start with plants. Those who want to start their own plants from seed should work back two months from the last frost date to determine when to begin.

    The tomato enthusiast has every choice imaginable for a planting location. Along with typical dirt gardens (in which good drainage is the key success factor), raised beds, containers and straw bales are all options that can be equally successful. The quality of the planting medium in the beds or containers is an important consideration. It is also important to water and feed the plants more often.

    I like to say that tomatoes are similar to roses in that every weather irregularity, critter and disease can play havoc with your venture. Cool weather means slower growth, but high heat and humidity can make the blossoms drop off, leading to reduced yields. Tomato diseases come in three flavors – bacterial, viral and fungal, with many examples in each category. Some are in the soil, some on the soil, some spread by insects. Deer, squirrels, birds, and various worms and beetles could be quite enticed by your efforts.

    Yet it is worth it. Good planning, good garden hygiene, and regular trouble shooting and monitoring of the plants help foster success.  Every year is different – and it can be hard to find the rhyme or reason why. I’ve grown tomatoes in Raleigh, NC, for 25 years, and I’ve had spectacular successes followed by grim disappointments. I expect to keep doing this for another 25 years, if I can – because it is indeed worth it.

    Colors, shapes, sizes, flavors, stories – choices!

    We are really lucky that the Seed Savers Exchange (SSE) came into being in 1975. We would not have the staggering number of options available if it were not for the preservation and sharing efforts that the SSE began, and continues to this day.

    When considering tomato diversity, there are simply so many aspects to choose from. Sizes range from pea-sized (Mexico Midget) to 2 plus pound monsters (Mortgage Lifter). The shapes can be flattened (Yellow Brandywine) to round (Eva Purple Ball) to a carbon copy of a big frying pepper (Speckled Roman). Colors range from red and pink of Aker’s West Virginia and German Johnson (one of the few true North Carolina heirlooms), respectively, to hues ranging from nearly white (Dwarf Mr. Snow) to yellow (Hugh’s) to pumpkin orange (Kellogg’s Breakfast). There are the stripes of Pink Berkeley Tie Dye and the swirls of Ruby Gold. Some of the best flavored of all have remarkably dark color (Cherokee Purple and Cherokee Chocolate), or don’t even budge when ripening, staying as green as can be (Green Giant).

    After growing more than 2,000 types, I can honestly say that flavor and color don’t necessarily correlate. There are sweet, tart, intense, bland, mild, complex and simple examples for each color. It’s all in the genes – the size, color, and shape – and my preference is to take each variety of tomato on its own merit – whether I am for it, or choose to avoid it.

    Finally, for those who are space-challenged and hope to grow great tasting, interestingly colored tomatoes on their deck or patio or (like me!) driveway, a selection of dwarf growing tomatoes created by a unique collaborative project co-led by me since 2005 just could be the answer. Fill a 5 gallon pot with good quality planting medium, find yourself a Dwarf Sweet Sue or Dwarf Wild Fred or Rosella Crimson (just 3 of our 60 new varieties), support the plant with a 4 foot stake or cage….and be amazed at what you will achieve.

  • Getting Ready for the Farmers' Market: Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Getting Ready for the Farmers' Market: Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Ciranna Bird | 07/07/2016 It's time to hit the farmers' market- let's come prepared!

    peppers guest postOriginally published in The Sweet Potato, the sustainable farm and food blog of the Carolinas.

    Spring is here and it’s time to get fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, eggs, and dairy products from your local farmers’ market! Some of these products get sold out quickly in the day, so arrive early and bring a cooler to keep your items cold while you do the rest of your shopping. Learn about the types of markets, questions to ask your farmer and practical ways to support your local farmers to ensure they can stay in business for years to come.

    Market Type: What’s the percentage of growers vs resellers at your farmers’ market?

    The first thing you want to know is your market’s ratio of growers, resellers, artists, and value added product vendors. Growers are the farmers that are selling plants, fruits, vegetables, meat, dairy, and eggs they have grown, raised and harvested.  In contrast, resellers buy unprocessed fruits, vegetables, meat and eggs from growers and resell these unprocessed products. Artists sell items they have created such as pottery, photography, flip flops, jewelry, candles, woodworking and soap.  Value added product vendors use ingredients bought from growers and transform them via processes such as baking, canning, or juicing. Baked goods, juice, jams, pickles, dog bones, and lamb’s wool dryer balls are all value added products.

    Each market has a different policy on the amount of booths occupied by non-growers. To learn about your market’s policy have a conversation with its market manager.  You can do this prior to attending, or in person at the market manager’s booth. For this article, I interviewed Adrienne Hawkins, the market manager of the Travelers Rest Farmers Market. At her market, which is the largest independent non-profit farmers market in South Carolina, 50% of the Travelers Rest Farmers Market vendors are growers, 0% are resellers, 20% are artists, and 30% are vendors that make value added products from scratch and have at least one ingredient sown, grown and harvested within a 100 mile radius of the town.  A market that has no resellers is great if you are looking to do your weekly grocery shopping and buy from local farmers.  In case you are shopping at a market that allows resellers, here are some questions to ask the vendors.

    Questions to ask your growers, more commonly known as your farmers:

    1. Which products at your stand are the ones that you grew/raised/harvested yourself?
    2. Where do you source these other products?
    3. How many of the ingredients for this jam, bread, jar of pickles were sown, grown and harvested within 100 miles of here?

    This past weekend, I field tested some of the following questions at my local farmers’ market. The best questions are open-ended rather than yes or no questions, because they allow the farmers’ expertise and passion to shine. When I mentioned my natural tendency to avoid making eye contact to the farmers I spoke with, I learned I’m not the only shopper who keeps their eyes glued on the fruit and vegetables until they know they are ready to make a purchase. The farmers reassured me that they enjoy the opportunity to share details about their work regardless of the customer’s ability to buy something from them on that particular day. Also, try to choose a time when your farmer isn’t swamped with customers; and remember that in order for them to stay in business, they must be able to attend to all the people at their booth.

    Are these fruits and vegetables organic?

    Organic produce certified by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is the gold standard for shoppers concerned about soil fertility, the use of environmentally safe products, and the biodiversity of crops and animals. These vegetables and fruits are grown on soil that hasn’t been treated with synthetic fertilizers, herbicides or insecticides for at least three years. The USDA certification assures you that your farmer has a written plan to cycle resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.  The farm is annually inspected and maintains the following records: soil and water test results, pest and disease monitoring logs, tillage and cultivation logs, planting and harvest records, post-harvest handling and storage reports, field activity records, and product sales records.

    It is important to note that there are not a lot of farmers at markets in the Carolinas that are organically certified by the USDA. In 2009, the North Carolina State University Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics conducted a Farmers’ Markets in Central North Carolina survey. Of the 75 farmers that responded only a small percentage certified organic produce (1). As of April 2016, the USDA Organic Integrity Database lists 133 farms in North Carolina, and 29 farms in South Carolina that are registered to grow organically certified vegetables and fruits (2). If the vegetables and fruits are not organically certified by the USDA, you can still ask the farmer about the following sustainability practices.

    4. How many of your vegetables and fruits are grown from certified organic seeds and transplants?
    5. How do you handle pests and weeds?
    6. What motivates you to handle the pests and weeds in this manner?

    Tips for buying eggs, dairy products, and meat at the farmer’s market.

    If you have forgotten your cooler, ask your farmer if they would be willing to keep your purchased items in their cooled space while you finish shopping, checking out cooking demonstrations, and soaking in the community atmosphere of the farmers market. To prevent cross-contamination use a separate bag to hold your eggs, from the bag that holds your vegetables and fruits. Insider tips: Eggs sold at market in NC may not be washed (which is a good thing!) and still have a natural protective coating on their shells. Remember to rinse the eggs with warm running drinking water from your sink right before you cook and eat them. USDA certified organic meat, dairy or eggs has come from livestock that have received at least 30% of their nutrition from pasture with a minimum of 120 days of grazing per year; have been fed organic and non-genetically modified food, and have not been treated with antibiotics (3). Even if the meat, dairy, or eggs are not USDA organically certified you can ask you farmer about their practices.

    7. What do you feed your chickens, pigs, lamb, goats, or cows?
    8. What is your policy on the use of antibiotics or hormones?
    9. How much access to the outdoors do your animals have?

    Support the farmers who follow the practices you value.

    Asking the questions above will help you find the farmers who maintain and improve soil fertility, conserve resources, manage pests in way that is safe for the environment, preserve and enhance biodiversity of crops and animals, and/or care for their livestock humanely. Here are follow-up questions to help them stay in business.

    10. What’s the best way to stay in contact with you? (Facebook, e-mail, website, Instagram)
    11. What farming associations or certification programs do you belong to?
    12. Aside from buying your products, are there other ways I can support your farm?    

    You’ll be surprised on what fun activities your farmer may suggest. It may include posting pictures and positive reviews on the social media channels they use. In response to this question, I got a few invitations to become a farm hand for a day from in exchange for a tour. You can also join, volunteer and read newsletters from farming associations they belong to, in order to stay current with the issues they face. Now that you have plenty of questions to ask, get out to your local farmers’ market and connect with your farmers. To find the market closest to you, visit the NC Farm Fresh website or the South Carolina Department of Agriculture website.


    1. Renkow M, Georgiade, N. Farmer’s Markets in Central North Carolina: Who buys, who sells, and why. Dept. of Agricultural and Resource Economics, North Carolina State University; 2011.
    2. https://apps.ams.usda.gov/integrity/ Organic INTEGRITY Database. Search conducted on April 8, 2016.
    3. US Department of Agriculture. Organic Labeling at Farmers Markets. USDA National Organic Program, Marketing Service; 2015. Pg. 1 https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/Organic%20at%20Farmers%20Markets.pdf
  • The Big A: Antioxidants The Big A: Antioxidants Charlton Goodwin | 07/06/2016 You've probably heard of antioxidants and wondered what they do. Read on! fruits-82524_960_720

    Let’s talk antioxidants, shall we? I, for one, had wondered for years what in the world antioxidants were. They sounded so refreshing when I would hear about them on a commercial advertising something really fresh, like cranberries. And they sounded so healthy because the commercial was about…well…cranberries. But many curious minds may often ponder what antioxidants actually do.

    The cells in our body are made up of millions of molecules, which undergo a lot of stress from our body’s day-to-day survival functions. This natural stress causes our cells’ molecules to become damaged, thereby releasing free radicals. Free radicals are unpaired electrons that get broken off of their original molecule. Once released in the body, free radicals bounce around, damaging other cells and creating a cascade of more and more free radicals. This oxidative damage from free radicals in the body can be the trigger for a lot of abnormalities, such as premature aging, hardened arteries and even an increased risk for cancer.

    So where do antioxidants come into play? Well, antioxidants are molecules that can stop this whole chain reaction by donating one of their own electrons to the free radicals. This tames the free radicals and prevents them from continuing to bounce around the body, causing damage. And NO, the antioxidant does not become a free-radical in this situation. It’s a win-win! How perfect!

    So where can we get these antioxidants? The three major antioxidant vitamins are beta-carotene, vitamin C, and vitamin E. You’ll find them in colorful fruits and vegetables, especially those with purple, blue, red, orange, and yellow hues. The body cannot produce these micronutrients on its own and thus, we must supply ourselves with these antioxidants.

    Here are some good sources of antioxidant vitamins:

    Beta-carotene and other carotenoids: apricots, asparagus, beets, broccoli, cantaloupe, carrots, corn, green peppers, kale, mangoes, turnip and collard greens, nectarines, peaches, pink grapefruit, pumpkin, squash, spinach, sweet potato, tangerines, tomatoes, and watermelon

    Vitamin C: berries, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cantaloupe, cauliflower, grapefruit, honeydew, kale, kiwi, mango, nectarine, orange, papaya, snow peas, sweet potato, strawberries, tomatoes, and red, green, or yellow peppers

    Vitamin E: broccoli (boiled), avocado, chard, mustard and turnip greens, mangoes, nuts, papaya, pumpkin, red peppers, spinach (boiled), and sunflower seeds

    Hopefully this gives a pretty fair overview of what antioxidants are. There is so much that can be touched on regarding this fascinating subject, but I will leave it at this for now. Feed your body with foods rich in antioxidants. Your future self will thank you.

  • 4 Tips to Drink More Water 4 Tips to Drink More Water Lauren Wright | 07/05/2016 Staying hydrated is easy, even in the summer heat! water

    Summer is here, which means the temperature and humidity are on the rise in South Carolina. With such scorching, sticky weather, it’s extra important to pay attention to hydration during summer months. We’ve all heard the adage, “drink 8 glasses of water a day.” But is that really enough?

    According to the National Institutes of Health, the Daily Reference Intake for water for adults is between 2.7 to 3.7 liters per day. That means you should really be drinking 11 to 15 cups every day!

    Here are 4 tips for getting more H2O into your diet.

    • Drink a glass of water first thing in the morning. A good portion of the water you lose each day is insensible water loss, which means it is lost through breathing or evaporation from the skin. Even though you might not realize it, you’re actually losing a lot of water while catching Zs. To get a jump-start on replacing that lost water, drink a glass of water first thing in the morning.
    • Buy a glass water bottle. There’s no need to buy disposable water bottles every time you reach for a drink. The new trend right now is glass water bottles, which are sturdy, reusable, and do not contain any BPA. Keep it on your desk throughout the day to remind you to keep sipping all day long.
    • Eat more fruits and vegetables. You don’t just have to drink your water to keep hydrated. Fruits and vegetables naturally contain high amounts of water that your body can use to hydrate. Some fruits and veggies with notably high water contents are watermelon, strawberries, grapefruit, celery, cucumbers, and tomatoes.
    • Jazz up your water. Tired of drinking plain, old water? Add sliced fruits or herbs to infuse a light, refreshing flavor to your water. Or opt for a sparkling water, like seltzer or club soda, for a bubbly treat that is just as hydrating as regular water. Find more ideas to jazz up your water here.
  • Easy Bean Tostadas Easy Bean Tostadas Lauren Wright | 07/01/2016 Beans are a nutritional powerhouse and taste great as tostadas. beans1

    I recently learned that July 3 is Eat Beans Day, so what better excuse to whip up a tasty, healthy bean-inspired recipe!

    Beans are a nutritional powerhouse. They are naturally fat and cholesterol free and are full of antioxidants, fiber, and protein. Studies suggest that eating beans may reduce your risk of heart disease and some cancers. Beans also have a low glycemic index, which means they take longer to digest and will not spike blood sugar levels. Additionally, beans are a great source of many different nutrients.

    A half-cup serving of beans provides:

    • 23-45% daily value (DV) folate
    • 11% DV iron
    • 24-36% DV fiber
    • 14-16% DV protein
    • 10% DV potassium

    One of my favorite ways to prepare beans is in tostadas. Tostadas are a filling, meatless meal and they come together in a flash. They are perfect for busy nights when there isn’t much time to cook. We eat them a few times a month at my house, and we never get tired of them!

    Traditionally, tostadas consist of a fried tortilla, topped with refried beans, lettuce, tomato, cheese, and pickles. You an also add sliced avocado, sour cream, etc. for extra toppings. With fried tortillas, cheese, and sour cream, tostadas might not sound like the healthiest weeknight dinner. But, with a few simple changes, it’s easy to lighten up this recipe.

    For example, instead of frying tortillas, bake them until crispy in the oven. Sub part-skim or low-fat cheese in place of full-fat cheese. Then, instead of sour cream, try swapping in a low-fat, plain Greek yogurt.

    Here’s my lightened-up tostada recipe:

    Healthy Tostadas
    serves 4-6

    6 small tortillas (corn or flour)

    1tbsp oil

    1 can low-fat refried beans

    1 to 1½ cups low-fat cheddar cheese, shredded

    2 cups lettuce, shredded

    1 cup tomato, chopped

    ¼ cup dill pickle relish

    1 avocado, peeled, seeded and chopped

    ½ cup low-fat, plain Greek yogurt

    hot sauce

    1. Preheat oven to 350F. Place tortillas on cookie sheet and brush lightly with oil. Bake tortillas for 4 minutes on each side or until crispy and lightly browned.
    2. Heat refried beans on stove top.
    3. When all the toppings are prepared and tortillas and beans are cooked, assemble tostadas. Spread refried beans on tortillas. Then sprinkle with cheese, lettuce, tomato, relish, avocado, yogurt, and hot sauce.
    4. Serve immediately.
  • Tips for Eating Organic Affordably Tips for Eating Organic Affordably Laura Pyatt | 06/30/2016 Eating organic doesn't have to break the bank with these easy tips!

    Originally published in the May issue of The Stew, a newsletter from the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association.


    One of my favorite activities is having friends or family over for a night of cooking, drinking, and eating together. Making and sharing food together creates a community that brings people closer, plus it’s just so darn fun.

    However, cooking for a large group of people can be expensive, especially if you want to buy organic. I believe eating good food and sharing good company over food should not be cost-prohibitive. From my time working at the Durham Co-op Market and shopping on a shoe string budget when I was younger, I have figured out some more affordable ways to purchase nutrient-dense, organic food without breaking the bank.

    I refuse to sacrifice quality (or a night of fun) because I don’t have enough money. When purchasing quality food on a budget, make sure to go for the products with less packing. That means they are less processed and usually less expensive. If your local co-op or grocery store has a bulk section, you are in luck! The bulk section is AMAZING; since you can buy just what you need, you’ll save lots of money. Usually a spice jar of cumin costs around $5, but if you purchase a few tablespoons in our bulk section, it runs less than a dollar.

    Plus, purchasing in bulk aligns with our Co-op Basics Program. It is a line of everyday low price items that include many staple products you may normally stock in your pantry. The Basics include dried beans, grains, pasta, peanut butter, toilet paper, and more. Check your local co-op’s brand or their savings circular for similar deals. Buying these staple items at the Co-op will keep your costs low, since we do our best to keep the prices low!

    Finally, eating seasonally is a great way to get high quality ingredients that don’t cost too much. If I buy strawberries now (since it’s strawberry season), they are way cheaper than if I bought them in November.  In November, I should buy Clementines, since that’s their season! Currently, local NC strawberries are on sale at the Co-op, two 1-pound containers for $5. In November, they’d cost double that! We can keep the price that low since they are abundant this time of year, and the distributor saves on shipping costs, since they come from right down the road!

    My favorite seasonal, organic, and budget-friendly dish to serve to people WHILE they are cooking is salsa. We all need a little something as we are preparing a big meal together, and salsa is a great crowd-pleaser to snack on. Plus, it’s full of fresh vegetables, so it won’t fill you up too much before dinner. I chop up all the vegetables before my dinner guests arrive. The salsa tastes best if you leave it sitting on the counter for an hour to let the flavors marry before you start snacking.  Also, if you purchase a jar of salsa at the store, it usually run about $5 and only serves around 4 people. My salsa costs $6.60 TOTAL and serves at least 10. You may even have left-overs.


    4 ripe tomatoes (~1 lb)
    2  limes
    ½  bunch of cilantro
    ½ onion diced finely (~1/2 lb)
    1 jalapeño diced finely
    2 cloves of garlic diced finely
    Spices: salt, cumin, and chili powder

    Total Price (these are based on the Durham Co-op Market’s current prices, subject to change with sales):  $6.60 for a GIANT bowl of salsa.

    Organic tomatoes are $2.99/lb= $2.99
    Organic Limes are $0.79 each= $1.58
    Organic Cilantro bunches are $1.39= $0.69
    Organic Onions are $1.39/lb= $0.69
    Jalapenos are $3.99/lb= $0.20
    Garlic and spices= $0.45

    The fun thing about this recipe is that you can add whatever seasonal fruit and/or vegetable to the salsa that you wish! I suggest mango for some sweetness, or cut kernels straight off an ear of corn for some crunchy texture! Serve with Late July Tortilla Chips.

  • Choosing the Best Organic Produce Choosing the Best Organic Produce Lauren Wright | 06/28/2016 We’ve all heard about organic foods and have seen them boldly advertised in grocery stores. But what’s the deal wi... organic produce

    We’ve all heard about organic foods and have seen them boldly advertised in grocery stores. But what’s the deal with organic fruits and vegetables?

    Organic foods are raised without the use of many synthetic products, like pesticides and hormones, and the government has strict guidelines farms must meet in order to be labeled USDA Certified Organic. The movement has become so popular in recent years, organic farming has grown to a $43 billion dollar industry, according to the USDA.

    Organic foods are useful for several reasons. For consumers wary of ingesting chemicals from the foods they eat, organics are a good chemical-free alternative. Next, organics cannot by law contain any genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, which some consumers prefer to avoid. Lastly, organic farming practices can be better for the environment.

    On the downside, growing organic foods requires more labor and more pricey government certifications, which means organics usually cost more at the grocery store. In addition, organic produce may not be available in all stores.

    So what do you do if you want to eat organic but can’t switch your entire diet over to organics?

    Every year, Environmental Working Group (EWG) analyzes data from pesticide residue testing done by the USDA. Based on the results, the EWG makes a list of the produce with the most pesticide residue and the produce with the least residue.

    This means, if you want to start making the switch to organic, consider using this guide to decide when to select organic and when to stick with conventional:

    Choose organic when possible:

    1. Strawberries
    2. Apples
    3. Nectarines
    4. Peaches
    5. Celery
    6. Grapes
    7. Cherries
    8. Spinach
    9. Tomatoes
    10. Sweet bell peppers
    11. Cherry tomatoes
    12. Cucumbers

    Stick with conventional:

    1. Avocado
    2. Sweet corn
    3. Pineapples
    4. Cabbage
    5. Sweet peas, frozen
    6. Onions
    7. Asparagus
    8. Mangoes
    9. Papayas
    10. Kiwi
    11. Eggplant
    12. Honeydew
    13. Grapefruit
    14. Cantaloupe
    15. Cauliflower

    The EWG has a pocket guide to these lists available for you to print and keep in your wallet here.

    And remember, if the organic options are not available or are a bit too pricey, it’s always better to go with conventional produce than no produce at all! Either way, be sure to rinse all produce well before consuming.

  • It Pays to Meet Healthy at Work! It Pays to Meet Healthy at Work! Hannah Walters | 06/23/2016 Adopting a healthy meeting and events policy supports good employee health! meeting 2

    Picture this:  You arrive at work on Monday morning and your boss has surprised the staff with donuts and coffee for the weekly staff meeting. Later that day, you attend a lunch meeting at a partner organization. On the menu: pizza, cookies, and soda.

    Sound familiar? This type of scenario is not uncommon in many workplaces. Meetings and events often involve food, and unfortunately the foods and beverages served are typically high in calories and sugar, and low in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

    Now, don’t get me wrong. I like pizza and donuts as much as anyone. But, while once considered an occasional treat, these types of food have become far too routine in many of our diets. With two-thirds of South Carolina adults overweight or obese, and nearly half of our waking hours spent at work, South Carolina businesses have an important opportunity to create healthier work environments for employees.

    Adopting a healthy meeting and events policy not only supports the health of employees; it sends the message that health is important to your organization, and sets a positive example in the community and state. Also, of note, studies show a strong relationship between the physical and social environments of the workplace and the health behaviors of employees. I know I feel a sense of relief knowing that any meetings or events that I attend at Eat Smart Move More SC will support my efforts to eat healthily–rather than derailing my diet!

    What does a healthy meeting policy look like? Best practices typically include offering water and other no-calorie beverages, serving fruits and/ or veggies with every meal, providing physical activity breaks for meetings lasting longer than one hour, and hosting meetings in smoke-free facilities. The National Alliance for Nutrition and Activity has a great toolkit with other ideas to get you started.

    Importantly, having healthy meetings doesn’t have to mean spending more money. While some healthy foods may be more expensive, many caterers and restaurants can make small adjustments (like grilling or baking rather than frying, substituting mayo- or cream-based sauces for a healthier alternative, etc.) that don’t cost more money and still taste great. Also, reducing portion sizes, ordering less food, and reducing waste, may end up saving money by reducing overall food purchases.

    I encourage you to invite your CEO or HR director to join other South Carolina businesses by adopting a healthy meeting and event policy. Email me at Hannah@eatsmartmovemoresc.org if you’d like more information. Already have a healthy meeting policy? I’d love to hear from you, too!

  • What's in Season in SC This Summer What's in Season in SC This Summer Lauren Wright | 06/20/2016 Summer officially arrives on June 20, and with it comes bountiful summer produce! What's in seaon square

    This week marks the first day of summer. Summer officially arrives on June 20, and with it comes bountiful summer produce!

    Juicy peaches and perfectly ripe tomatoes are a great reason shop at your local farmers’ market or produce stand this summer. (You can find your nearest farm stand or market here!) Seasonal, local produce is picked at peak ripeness and has the best flavor and highest nutritional quality. Not only that, fresh produce bought locally can also cost less than conventional produce in the store, and you’re supporting a local farmer! With so many fruits and veggies in season during summer months, it’s easy to meet the recommended 5 servings a day.

    According to the South Carolina Department of Agriculture, here’s what’s in season this summer:

    • Asparagus
    • Beans- snap, pole, butter bean
    • Blackberries
    • Cantaloupes
    • Corn
    • Cucumbers
    • Eggplant
    • Okra
    • Peaches
    • Peppers
    • Radishes
    • Strawberries
    • Tomatoes
    • Watermelon
    • Yellow Squash
    • Zucchini

    My personal summer favorites are watermelon and squash. I like to add chopped watermelon on top of salads with feta cheese and vinaigrette dressing. It’s an unlikely combo, but sweet watermelon with tangy feta is a summertime winner! For squash, I like to slice zucchini and yellow squash into medallions and sauté them in olive oil with red onion, garlic, and fresh dill. It’s a simple but tasty dish that I cook regularly throughout the summer.

    The South Carolina Department of Agriculture has a great app to help you keep track of what’s in season.  First, select the season to view what produce is available that time of year. Then, click on an item to view all of the local farms and markets selling that produce. Certified SC Grown also has a Pinterest page full of recipe ideas for all the different types of produce.

    Use #LetsGoSC to share your own recipes and healthy living ideas on Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook.

  • 7 Healthy Picnic Ideas 7 Healthy Picnic Ideas Lauren Wright | 06/16/2016 Nothing says summer like a picnic! Untitled design

    Nothing says summer like a picnic! In honor of National Picnic Day on June 18, it’s time to pack a cooler and a blanket and head outside. Here are some light, healthy ideas for you to serve at your next picnic.

    For a quick and easy picnic, some fresh finger-foods are the perfect snack. They’re easy to prep ahead of time so you can simply pack them in a cooler.

    • Fruity guacamole and chips: Avocados offer heart-healthy fats in addition to great taste! Stir in chopped pineapple or mango into guacamole for a sweet twist using the recipe below.
    • Fresh veggies and hummus: Baby carrots, celery sticks, and cucumber rounds pair great with hummus. This combo is packed with protein and takes care of one serving of vegetables for the day.

    If you’re looking to fire up the grill, there are many healthier alternatives to the traditional hotdogs and hamburgers for your main course.

    • Shrimp: Shrimp are naturally low in calories and are great summer fare. It’s easy to make peeled shrimp into kebabs with veggies and pineapple, or you can wrap unpeeled shrimp in an aluminum foil packet to throw on the grill.
    • Grilled chicken: Grilled chicken breasts are much lower in saturated fat than hamburgers. Marinate the chicken in a sealable, plastic bag with your favorite vinaigrette dressing. Once cooked, serve the meat as a sandwich on a whole wheat bun with all the traditional toppings.
    • Quinoa salad: Quinoa is an ancient grain that cooks in a flash and is full of protein, vitamins, and minerals. Toss cooked quinoa with feta cheese, chopped cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, and vinaigrette dressing. Serve this cool, healthy salad as side with your grilled picnic meal. (Unfamiliar with quinoa? Read more about it here.)

    Every picnic deserves something sweet! Instead of cupcakes or cookies, try these dessert ideas instead.

    • Fruit kebabs: Skewer your favorite summer fruits for a healthy, sweet treat. Watermelon, grapes, pineapple, and strawberries all make great kebab options. Serve with yogurt as a dip.
    • Refreshing fruit popsicles: Blend fresh (or frozen) fruits with a splash of juice, yogurt, or milk. Pour into popsicle molds or small cups and freeze. Berries are always a great choice for popsicles, but get adventurous with your flavor combos, like strawberries and mint or mangos and coconut water.

    With your menu planned, you’re ready to pack up some lawn games and bug spray and head outdoors. Enjoy your healthy picnic with family and friends!

    Fruity Guacamole Recipe
    yield: 1 batch

    3 avocados
    Juice of one lime
    ¼ tsp salt, or to taste
    dash of pepper, or to taste
    2 tbsp cilantro, chopped
    ¼ cup red onion, chopped
    ½ cup mango or pineapple, chopped

    1. Remove skin and pit from avocados. Place avocado in bowl.
    2. Mash avocado together with lime juice, salt, and pepper until smooth, using a fork.
    3. Mix in cilantro, red onion, and fruit. Serve with tortilla chips or chopped veggies.

  • Container Gardening in 4 Easy Steps Container Gardening in 4 Easy Steps Lauren Wright | 06/13/2016 Maximize small, outdoor spaces with a container garden. container garden square

    I love the idea of having a vegetable garden. I like to imagine picking fresh tomatoes for my salads, getting exercise from working in the yard, and then sitting back to enjoy the greenery. Unfortunately, my small apartment doesn’t allow me to have the garden of my dreams. Luckily I do have a patio, and that’s all the space I need to start my own container vegetable garden.

    A container garden can be a great alternative to its large, traditional cousin because it takes up little space and can be grown on a windowsill, doorstep, or patio. It can add a pop of color to outdoor spaces while being less time consuming to maintain. Not to mention a container garden can produce fruits and veggies for you all season long. Even if it’s only composed of a few pots, a container garden can still produce a lot of food for cheap; for every $1 invested starting a garden, you can get back around $25 in produce.

    If you’re like me and don’t have the space or materials for a large garden, here are a few simple steps to follow when creating your container garden.

    1. Pick your planters. Garden stores have many options for planters- from pots, to window boxes, to rail planters. Think about where you want to locate your container garden, and choose which planter will work best. It is important to select containers that drain well in order to let extra water out and keep from overwatering your plants. Always check the underside of your pots to make sure there are drainage holes. If you don’t want to buy new planters, you can recycle old buckets after punching some drainage holes in the bottom. Once you’ve gathered your planters, fill them up with moist potting soil.
    2. Select your plants. Plants that don’t sprawl and produce continuous fruit are best for container gardens, but all plants require differing amounts of light for optimal growth. Some container plants, like tomatoes, peppers, and squash, grow best in full sun. Others, like lettuce, cabbage, greens, and herbs, will grow in partial sun. Consider where you want to place your container garden, and then choose plants that are suited to that environment. You can start your garden from seed, or you can use starter plants from the store. SNAP benefits are even eligible for purchasing seeds and edible plants to help get a garden started.
    3. Start planting. Follow the directions on the seed or starter package to determine the depth and spacing of your plants. Fill up your containers, and then give them a gentle watering. Check back regularly on your garden to water and weed as needed. Gardening is a great way to get children excited about the foods they eat, so let your kids get their hands a little dirty in the planting and maintenance of your garden.
    4. Get cooking. Allow your fruits and veggies to grow and ripen before harvesting them. Then research recipe ideas and experiment with new ways to eat your favorite veggies. Consider hosting a sampling party with your family or friends to share your garden’s bounty.
  • 3 Great Ways to Use Herbs and Spices 3 Great Ways to Use Herbs and Spices Lauren Wright | 06/10/2016 Fragrant, fresh, and tasty, herbs and spices are also great for health! herbs-923496_960_720

    It’s hard to beat fresh basil on top of pizza and cinnamon in oatmeal. But did you know that, besides adding wonderful flavor to foods, herbs and spices are great for your health, too? That’s right, herbs and spices are excellent sources of powerful antioxidants.

    Antioxidants are essential tools in fighting cell damage in our bodies and are believed to be useful in fighting memory loss, aging, and some chronic diseases. Oregano, turmeric, cinnamon, and peppermint are just some of the many herbs and spices packed with antioxidants.

    Herbs and spices are a great way to ramp up the color, aroma, and flavor of the foods you cook. So where can you find them? Fresh herbs are the most fragrant, and it’s easy to find pre-cut fresh herbs in your local grocery store’s produce section. Small herb plants are also sometimes available in grocery stores. These plants are perfect for growing in window planters or hanging baskets for easy, herbal goodness all year round.

    1. Preserve herbs in the freezer.
      Fresh herbs can be a bit pricey, so don’t let any go to waste. One handy way to preserve extra fresh herbs is to chop them up, distribute the herbs in an ice cube tray, and then fill the remaining space with water. Pop the tray in the freezer, and you have single portions of herbs ready to be mixed into whatever you’re cooking.
    2. Dried herbs & spices pack a punch.
      Dried herbs and spices are convenient options when fresh products are not available. When substituting dried herbs for fresh herbs in a recipe, use only a third of the listed fresh amount because dried herbs are more concentrated in flavor. Dried herbs do last much longer than fresh, but even they should only be stored for a few years to ensure the best flavor.
    3. Add them to your drinks.
      Herbs aren’t just limited to cooking- you can also add them to your drinks. Consider drinking an herbal tea or try adding peppermint or basil to your ice water for a refreshing, nutritious beverage. Get more ideas on how to create flavored waters here.
  • Watermelon 101 Watermelon 101 06/08/2016 Nothing says summer like vibrant, refreshing watermelon. AdobeStock_83124054-400

    Nothing says summer like vibrant, refreshing watermelon: Outrageously colorful, yielding and sweet at the center and crisper and mild towards the rind, and packed with cooling, hydrating juice.

    It’s hard to beat wedges of chilled melon fresh from the fridge, but watermelon’s generous size and seasonal abundance are compelling reasons to get creative with it. Experimenting with bold flavor combinations and an expanded roster of techniques and recipes can transform your summer eating.

    Here are the basics on choosing and using watermelon, followed by a selection of creative recipes to expand your summer repertoire.

    • Choose melons with deeply colored, unblemished skin. It’s fine if one side is paler than the rest; this indicates the part of the melon that rested on the ground while it was ripening on the vine.
    • A fresh, lightly sweet aroma is a sign of ripe watermelon. When tapped, it should sound taut and hollow if ripe.
    • Seedless varieties are popular in today’s market, but seeds are so easy to remove that you should let ripeness be your guide when selecting a melon.
    • If you purchase a piece of a cut watermelon, look for firm, solid flesh with deep color and no cracks.
    • Before storing or cutting whole watermelon, rinse the exterior well under cold running water.
    • Whole watermelon will keep at room temperature 7 to 10 days. Once cut, watermelon is best eaten as soon as possible but can be refrigerated for 2 to 3 days.
    • Watermelons flavor goes particularly well with lime, mint, basil, red onion, fresh cheeses, chiles, strawberries and neutral spirits such as vodka and light rum.
    • Use watermelon in just about any recipe you would cantaloupe or honeydew, or try substituting it for other recipe with high-water vegetables like cucumber or tomatoes.

    Watermelon consists of an awesome 90 percent water, so it’s no surprise that it makes an ideal base for drinks. Refreshing Watermelon Agua Fresca is light and delicious and packs pure summer flavor. Incredibly popular, gorgeously hued Watermelon Lemonade is terrific for a crowd; you can even make it do service through cocktail hour by adding a shot of vodka to each glass. And you can enjoy two of summer’s favorite fruits in these Strawberry Watermelon Coolers, packed with flavor and lightened by lots of ice and sparkling water.

    Sides and Salads
    Mix up your grilling routine with Grilled Watermelon with Olive Oil and Sea Salt; heat caramelizes the outside of the melon, resulting in a particularly complex flavor heightened by a hit of coarse salt. It makes a surprising side dish for spicy meats, as do Watermelon and Strawberry Salad with Chile Vinaigrette and Watermelon and Arugula Salad, both which are filled with fabulous seasonal flavors. Either salad makes an ideal dish for picnics or potlucks.

    Main Courses
    Watermelon shares the stage with a favorite summer catch, halibut, in Halibut with Watermelon Salsa, a brilliant recipe that uses watermelon both as a marinade and as a topping. Seafood is also the star in Shrimp, Watermelon and Goat Cheese Salad, an easy choice for cookouts. (This recipe also works wonderfully with boneless skinless chicken breast.) And healthful, awesomely colorful Black Bean, Corn and Watermelon Salsa  will turn any simple grilled item from tofu to burgers to steaks into a celebration of watermelon.

    Snacks and Desserts
    Watermelon is the key to a bevy of satisfying, almost effortless summer treats. Watermelon Granita is one of the easiest, iciest refreshers around, perfect for an intermezzo between courses or as a light dessert. Grape and Watermelon Freezer Pops are a fabulous alternative to commercial popsicles and low in added sweetener.

    …Don’t Forget the Rind!
    Want the satisfaction of using all your melon? Try watermelon rind in this mildly flavored Strawberry-Watermelon Water with Basil, a terrific way to boost your water intake, or make a version of a southern favorite with the recipe for Pickled Watermelon Rind with Radishes.

  • Keen-what? Keen-what? 05/09/2016 Quinoa is a popular new grain, and it's healthy! We put quinoa to the taste test! AdobeStock_82504648-400

    I’m not one to branch out and try new things. I like to stay in my comfort zone and not waste money on new things that I may not like. But, I haven’t been able to ignore this thing called Quinoa. It’s plastered all over Pinterest and Facebook, and the pictures look scrumptious! I thought, “hmm…I may as well give it a shot.”

    First, I did my research, because I knew absolutely nothing about it. Here’s what I found out:

    1. It’s pronounced keen-wha.
    2. All of the experts say quinoa is packed with protein and full of nutrients like amino acids, iron, magnesium, vitamin E, potassium, and fiber.
    3. Quinoa comes in different colors. The most common is white, but there‘s also red and black.
    4. Tired of rice? Substitute rice for quinoa.
    5. Quinoa must be soaked before cooking because of a natural coating that tastes bitter. Packaged quinoa from the grocery store probably doesn’t need to be soaked, but check the packaging first.

    How to Cook and Serve Quinoa
    Cooking quinoa is quick, easy, and similar to cooking rice. If your quinoa has not been pre-soaked, then soak 1 cup quinoa in 2 cups water for 5-10 minutes. Drain, rinse and pour the quinoa into a pot. Add 1 1/2 cups of water and a half teaspoon of salt. Bring it to a boil, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes.  Remove from heat and let sit for 5 minutes, covered. Fluff with a fork and serve.

    Quinoa can be eaten on its own as a side dish, with a bit of butter or oil, salt, and pepper, or other seasonings. You can also make a breakfast dish by mixing your cooked quinoa with dried fruit, cinnamon, milk, and maple syrup or honey. I’ve read that you can serve quinoa with chili, stir-fries, beans, or curries. Quinoa is a good source of protein for vegetarians, and can be used as a main course in meat-free burgers, stews, or salads.  Some people even bake with it! You can easily find a quinoa recipe on Pinterest or by doing a search on the Internet.

    My Quinoa Experiment
    Before I tried quinoa, I asked my health-nut friends about it. I wanted to know about the taste and texture. They told me it tastes nutty and reminds them of grits. They said the magic word – grits!

    Rather than searching Pinterest for an elaborate recipe, I decided to take the simple route and purchase a box of quinoa and use the recipe on the box. You usually can’t go wrong with box recipes, right?

    It didn’t take long to cook, and it smelled quite tasty. I couldn’t believe I was looking forward to trying it! This Southern girl likes her rice, but lima beans over quinoa wasn’t bad at all. My friends were right about the texture – it’s very close to grits. I’ll definitely cook quinoa again, and I encourage you to give it a shot, too.

  • Wildly Good CSAs Linda Watson | 05/06/2016 Community Supported Agriculture is a great way to support local farmers.

    I’ve long supported local farmers by shopping at farmers’ markets and choosing local at the grocery store, but joining a CSA took my support to a whole new level. CSA means food subscription group, even if it officially stands for Community Supported Agriculture. When you join a CSA program, you support a farm with a micro-loan, which helps pay for seeds, feeds, salaries, and more. In return, you get utterly fresh food direct from the farmer. You may share the risk and reward of farming, too, getting a smaller bunch of collards after a cold snap or bonus tomatoes during a peak harvest. Usually you pick up the week’s bounty at a certain time and place, but some CSAs deliver.

    We’re lucky in the Carolinas to have a wide variety of CSAs. I joined Edible Earthscape’s CSA to research my book Fifty Weeks of Green.  Jason and Haruka Oastis were running about the only winter CSA that was still taking members. I enjoyed it so much I joined again the next year with a friend.

    Why I love belonging to a CSA:

    • Plentiful, top-quality produce. Every week feels like Christmas as Jason opens the week’s box and describes each bundle before handing it to me to put in a cloth bag. Farmers tend to fill their CSA boxes first and then offer the rest for sale at the market. No worries about getting to the market too late for carrots or sugar snaps.
    • Unusual and beautiful vegetables. Jason and Haruka started farming in Japan, so they grow taro roots, burdock, and a host of Asian greens. Sometimes their salad mix includes flowers.
    • The weekly email. Learn what’s in each week’s share and mull over any choices. (Which salad green:  arugula, mizuna, or wasabina?). Get recipes and farm news.
    • Fewer decisions. My grocery list shrunk and menu planning was easier because I just cooked what I received. It nearly eliminated the label reading that can go with eating 10%-plus local diet.
    • The parties! I love going to potlucks at the Edible Earthscapes and coming early to help plant. Some members host other potlucks. Most dishes include food from that week’s share. We go from being supporters to being friends.

    Questions to ask before joining:

    • Does this CSA offer food I will eat? Find out what will be in a typical box and, if possible, what variety is ahead for the season. Look for a selection that looks tasty and that you will actually cook. You can find CSAs for vegetables, fruit, flour, eggs, dairy, meat, fish, or a mix. Local should be a given, but look for other key words such as organic, pesticide-free, non-GMO, or pastured.
    • When will it run? Most CSA sessions range from 8 to 30 weeks. Some farms run multiple sessions, so you could sign up for the spring, spend summer at the beach, and sign up again in the fall if you enjoyed being a member.
    • How much food will you get? Some CSAs offer full shares or half shares. Wild Onion Farms offers a free-choice or market-style CSA, where you prepay an amount and use your credit within a year.
    • What does it cost? Home cooking with local ingredients is wildly affordable compared to eating out, but the upfront cost of a CSA can take a bite out of your budget. You might pay $200, $500, or even $1000 depending on the type of food and length of the session.
    • Where will you pick it up? Common choices include at farmers’ markets, restaurants that the farms supply, and even grocery stores or co-ops with a local focus. For busy people, paying a little extra for home delivery may be a good investment.
    • How is the delivery handled? With some CSAs, you swap an empty box for a full one every week. With others, you bring your own box or bags. CSAs that offer highly perishable food may provide coolers and chill packs.
    • Are any bonuses included? Will there be community events such as potlucks, farm tours, or farm work days? Harland’s Creek Farm offers a CSA cookbook and menu plans. Some CSAs offer cooking classes.
    • What happens if you go on vacation or move? Some CSAs build in a few skipped weeks. In general, expect to have someone else pick up your box or to have it donated to a food bank. One year, I split a share a friend, which gave us flexibility.

    When you join a CSA, you get fresh, local food while creating a stronger community and more resilient foodshed. I hope you will try supporting agriculture in your community in this direct and convenient way.

    Get more great tips from Linda to help you eat well and wildly affordably at cookforgood.com. Her monthly newsletters are awesome or buy her fabulous book, Wildly Affordable Organic!

    Find a CSA in your area by searching the Let’s Go! SC map!

  • The Picky Eater's Healthy Grocery List The Picky Eater's Healthy Grocery List Anjali Shah | 05/05/2016 One of the most common questions I get asked is what to buy at the grocery store. I’ve found that having a list is SUPER... AdobeStock_47464646-400

    One of the most common questions I get asked is what to buy at the grocery store. I’ve found that having a list is SUPER important when grocery shopping, because it helps me to stay focused and not be tempted by all of the unhealthy treats in the store!

    I’ve also found that one of the biggest challenges to healthy cooking is not having the right ingredients on hand. Because by the time you’re ready to cook, you’re already hungry,  you realize that your fridge is empty, and the last thing you want to do at that time is grocery shop.

    But with a little bit of planning, and my handy, healthy grocery store list – you can just get what’s on the list and that’s it! Then you’ll have all of the ingredients you need to make any of my tasty, good-for-you recipes, and you won’t waste time wandering the grocery store aisles either. Stocking up on balanced, healthy foods is key to not being tempted to get takeout when those dinner-time-hunger-pangs come calling. And, since I use a lot of the same ingredients for most of my recipes, these items won’t ever go to waste.

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