Monday, January 19, 2009

Independence Challenge - Week 36

DH was going to run errands and he asked everyone if they needed
something. The kids needed chapstick. When he came to me, I joked,
"Can I have a pony, Daddy?" And he got me one! Awww!

I went to the PA Farm Show this past Wednesday. Agriculture is the state's biggest business, so it's like the state trade show. I went on a $16 bus trip arranged by the Extension office. It's nice to get dropped off at the entrance instead of parking and driving. I walked around for a solid 6 hours. I checked out the Alternative Energy section, and the various state and federal agencies. People rave about the food, but I was not too impressed. Too bland, too deep-fried, too over-priced. I surveyed all the food purveyors, ate all the free samples, and collected some brochures from associations that might prove useful, like the PA Nut Grower's Association. There was a commercial market, where I kept expecting to see a Sham-WOW guy. Then a horticulture section, and finally the "Family Living" exhibits where the actual canning, sewing, and baking entries were found. I spent some time in there, looking at what gets a blue ribbon. I watched the Sheep-to-Shawl competition for a little while, and saw a really cool $45 knitted alpaca neck warmer I couldn't afford. Oh, and I saw a lot of exceedingly clean animals!

I enjoyed the day away from home with no kids. I could spend as long as I liked looking at things and talking to people. I spent a long time talking to a woman that works at Old Bedford Village near Pittsburgh. She is an educator that can teach 127 old-fashioned skills. She was threading a loom, with her blacksmith daughter, at the Show. I also found some graphics and activities I can use for my youth food workshop.

But overall, this Show was all about Agribusiness. Big machines, big farms, conventional technology. It didn't have much to do with local food or small family farms. I can't wait for my 4-day trip to the PA Sustainable Agriculture convention the first week of February.

Planted: I decided on seed vendors, but didn't place my final orders yet. I will use Baker's Creek, mostlybecause the catalog is so freakin' cool. I will also order from Amishland, a small veggie seed grower in next-door Lancaster County, since her varieties ought to be good for my region. I am up in the air about where to buy potato and onions sets. My favorite local greenhouse orders them from somewhere nonlocal.

Harvested: Nada.

Preserved: DD12 zested lemons, limes, and oranges for me. I dried the zest, and DD15 juiced them all for the freezer.

Cooked: I moved applesauce from the "preserved" to the "cooked" category because I stopped canning it. Why bother? We go through it as fast as I make it. I found a produce stand at the market that keeps a box of apple seconds under the counter. I got a whole lot of bruised apples for $3. DD12 had stopped eating commercial applesauce, but she seems to like the super-smooth kind that I make. I need to buy one of those apple-peeling machines. Next year, I will buy lots more local apples up at the Kutztown auction.

I had another I-feel-like-cooking spell today. I made chicken corn noodle soup, sweet potato biscuits, chocolate chip cookies, hummus, and a pasta bake. All of it came from storage - yay! I also made yogurt that will be ready in the morning. More applesauce will be cooked tomorrow. My Mom is coming over tomorrow to watch the Inaugration with us, so we'll have plenty of food.

Stocked: Curry powder; I bought 3 ounces ($1/oz) at a Farm Show booth, one hot, 2 mild; I mixed them to get moderately-hot. That gave me a half-pint jar for everyday use, and most of a pint in the pantry. I also stocked pickle relish and decaf Earl Grey tea that was on sale.

Prepped: DH got flashlights and a first aid kit. After our recent mini-power outage, we realized we only had 4 small LED flashlights in our purses and backpacks. The solar lantern we bought a few months ago had to be returned when it would not take a charge, and we never replaced it. DH bought a four pack of traditional flashlights with D-cells, which I might ask him to return. I'd rather spend the $20 on LEDs. He did buy one hand-crank LED flashlight that has an alternate charging cord. That will do for short-term emergency lighting and bug-out bags.

We still need to do work on longer-term low-energy lighting, but probably not in this rented house. I do collect free and cheap candles at yard sales in summer, to remelt into votives. We have used votives to cook, wash dishes, and play Scrabble during outages in the past. We also need to get a rechargeable battery station, and replace that solar lantern.

Managed: I got a few more free 4-gal buckets from the Weis bakery. They throw them out on Mondays and Thursdays, so I have to stop on Sundays and Wednesdays. I did better at preventing food waste this week. Did find a tiny shriveled head of cabbage under all the carrots. Worm food, now.

Reduced, Reused, Recycled: I was planning to order more red worms for the compost bin, but when I checked on the little guys this week, they were doing pretty darned good. The level of bedding and food is way down. We added more bedding and a bunch of apple peels. I think maybe they are finding their groove. There were a whole lot of little white egg-like things that don't look like the worm egg case photos on the internet. That bears watching.

Local Food: We shop weekly at our local farmer's market, which is not all local food, but is all local small businesses. We visit a locally-owned grocery liquidator about once a month. We sometimes visit Aldi, which has good prices on case goods, but is owned by a European corporation. We sometimes buy things at BJ's Wholesale Club (Masschusetts company). But I still need a regular grocery store for some items, and I have been trying to decide where to spend those dollars. When I am doing a big stock-up, it is worth shopping the loss leaders of all three local chains. But not worth driving around just to pick up a few things. All of them have similar loss-leader prices. I decided to research and compare the three:
Giant: 148 stores in the Mid-Atlantic. Founded in Central Pennsylvania, they are now owned by a supermarket group HQ'd in the Netherlands. They've opened new suburban upscale stores, recently. They are one of two chains with locations in the City of Reading, on Rockland Street. DH likes their layout, selection, and upscale feel. They have a growing organic section.

Weis: 155 stores in a market area similar to Giant. Founded and still owned by a Pennsylvania corporation, with food processing plants in central PA. Bill themselves as one of the largest buyers of PA produce and dairy. They also have a store in the City, on Rockland Street, but it has not been updated in a long time. They used to have half-off day-old bread that I liked for bread pudding, but they stopped doing that, which annoys me. They have also reportedly stopped donating to food banks, which really annoys me.

Redner's: 39 stores in the Mid-Atlantic. They have a "warehouse" theme, are employee-owned, and are HQ'd here in Berks County. They would seem like the localest, even though they do not have a city location. But, my mother slipped in a puddle of Coke in front of a broken soda machine; her back still hurts. After dragging their feet for 2 years, Redner's finally sent an insuffcient check for her medical expenses, leading us to an attorney and a lawsuit. After another 2 years of foot-dragging, she still got an insufficient settlement. She'd been a customer for 40+ years. So, on one hand, they are the most local use of my food dollar. On the other, there's Mom, and they have no city location.

My Pick: Weis. They employ the most people, buy a lot of PA produce, the money stays in the state, and they have kept their city store. DH notes that I will never find a store that doesn't do something that ticks me off.
I also found a local spring water company, Great Oak, that has fill-your-own kiosks for .25/gallon. The fluoride level is .5mg/L, half the level in the city tap water. I am trying to avoid fluoride for my thryroid.

Learned: We had our first few Tai Chi classes. Turns out, I am also taking Kung Fu. The folks at the studio were glad to see us back, and since I have to wait for DH ad DD15 during Kung Fu, I thought I might give it a try. I suspect they will not let me stop trying. I feel too "breakable" for this, but they are very supportive. Even though I was mostly sparring with teenaged boys, they took my efforts seriously, which was kind of them. If fat middle-aged women ever attack them on the street, they will be well-prepared. The return to Tai Chi feels good - it is coming back to me quickly.

Library: I found a bit of fiction on the church book sale shelf, and a big photography book about the 20th Century. DD12 likes those, and I like them when they are a dollar. But mostly I am reading research materials about Ethical Eating issues and food coop management right now.

Behavior: I found a replacement for that Burger King fish sandwich I liked so much. There is a fish stand at the market that breads their own haddock filet. No seafood is local to me, and I don't know if this is Atlantic hook-and-line caught. It's still deep-fried fish, but it didn't come from a fast food chain. I think it's a good occassional indulgence.

We did well with our fast food challenge this week - I don't think any of us had any at all. DH took leftover lasagna to his class, and DD12 packed lunch nicely. Not as good on the 5x oatmeal challenge. I need to take my thyorid pill before 9 AM (you have to wait an hour before eating), or I get busy and don't remember to eat until lunch.


Anonymous said...

Very interesting, comparing the grocery chains. How did you find the info about their buying/employment practices? I was thinking about this yesterday when I realized I needed to stock up on some spices, paper goods, etc....

Your DDs with the limes and lemons zesting, I am impressed - I don't have the patience for that! Question for you on the applesauce: do you normally peel the skin? I've always left it on for the texture, color, and I guess the nutrition too now that I think of it. (But taste first!). Although I like it chunky, I've also made it smooth this way when family with the smooth-preference visits.... pureeing it in the blender seems to work....

Matriarchy said...

I used the grocery store websites. It's the stuff they want you to read, not the "inside" story, but it provides basic info to compare.

As for the kids, I know them well-enough to know that DD12 likes to play with tools like a lemon zester and a microplane, and that DD15 is a very get-it-done girl that will crank out the juice. I have arthritis in my hands, so they know there are certain tasks that require their help.

I do peel the apples, and I make it smooth with an immersion blender in the pan. I love my Braun immersion blender - I think it may be 25 years old now. It saves me washing a blender or food processor when I make soups and sauces.

I know the peels would be healthier, but part of my battle is just getting more healthy food into DD12, even if I make some compromises.

fullfreezer said...

Isn't your DH so sweet, buying you a pony! We used to shop at Weis when we lived in the Reading area. Since we also lived in Bethlehem for a while we used to stop in Kutztown at the market there on our way through.
Sorry the PA farm show wasn't what you would have hoped. The food at those things is always overpriced and awful.
For applesauce- I invested in a food mill- you know one of those wonderful old fashioned crank things- I cook the sauce with the peels but the mill does a great job of not only making the sauce smooth but removing the peels as well if I so choose. I get the nutrition cooked in but can remove them for picky children.

Anonymous said...

Makes total sense to do whatever your family will eat and be happy with. I know I'm a total oddball with many of my food preferences. I left something for you at my blog - head on over to pick it up :-)