Supporting Sustainable Food in the VeloKitchen

February 18, 2012

Cycling Chef picking up our CSA share

After watching Chipotle’s television ad, “Back to the Start” played during last week’s Grammy Awards, I reflected how our family’s eating habits have improved over the past few years to support sustainable food. A few years ago, the film “Food, Inc. made a huge impact on how we began to think about the food we consume. After seeing that movie, it occurred to us that although we often cycle on low-traffic, rural roads, we rarely see cows grazing in pastures, a familiar site from our childhoods. I came to the conclusion that, even though I had thought I was doing a satisfactory job of supporting local farming by shopping at farmers’ markets, I could do more to ensure our family eats foods free of antibiotics, hormones, pesticides and genetically modified ingredients. So I started on a self-education journey beginning with the fascinating book by Michael Pollan THE OMNIVORE’S DILEMMA, A NATURAL HISTORY OF FOUR MEALS which he wrote to answer the question my husband asked me every single day when we were getting to know each other via e-mail, “What are you having for dinner?” (For more on that story see my post “A Curry Love Affair in the VeloKitchen.”)

We had been consuming organic fruits and vegetables, organic dairy products, grass-fed meats and wild caught fish, but after reading publications by Jeffrey M. Smith, a leading consumer advocate on non-GMO foods who publishes the practical non-GMO shopping guide, I banned non-organic corn, soy and canola oil from our kitchen and educated my husband and son on suspect GMO foods. At home we cook our meals from scratch, but the awareness of GMO ingredients in our country’s food supply makes us think twice when we make decisions about the food we are consuming.

Two years ago, we joined a CSA, Community Supported Agriculture, which is, essentially, a co-op where we and other families buy a season of crops grown on a local farm and pick up our share of each week’s harvest. Our CSA Zestful Gardens is run by Holly and Valerie, dedicated organic farmers whose farm is about nine miles from our home.  Our first year’s experience opened my eyes to the difference in flavors of locally grown vs. store bought produce. Not only were the vegetables more intense and vibrant in flavor, I was surprised by how long just-picked produce lasts in the refrigerator. After I picked up our first CSA share my biggest shock was finding a giant, slimy brown slug in a head of lettuce! I screamed and my husband and son came running, laughed at me and then reminded me that finding critters in the produce means that no nasty pesticides were used to grow it.  Last year, I added another level of eco-consciousness to my CSA share pick-up routine. In the spirit of The Slow Bicycle Movement I rode my Townie bike eighteen miles round trip to pick up many of our weekly shares. I love the feeling of pedaling through my town with my bike basket and panniers filled with produce that had been harvested earlier that day.

My newest resolution is focusing on eating in-season foods during our non-CSA months. Living in the Pacific Northwest means fresh and colorful fruit from Chile in February is tempting, but we are finding that in-season fruits grown closer to home are equally satisfying. For Mother’s Day last year, my son gave me the cookbook CLEAN FOOD, an “encouraging, easy-to-understand guide to eating closer to the source and benefiting from the rich nutritional profile of the freshest, in-season, locally grown ingredients.” This cookbook’s recipes are organized by season and are easy to prepare.

Our family feels healthy and satisfied that we are doing our bit to help support sustainable farmers and the environment. My eight year-old son has watched the Chipotle video many times. I hope our experience shows that going “Back to the Start” is an attainable goal, family by family and farm by farm. And, for me, this lifestyle change began with wanting to meet the chickens who lay the eggs we eat.

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Cyclecation in Idaho

September 23, 2010

In August we spent two glorious weeks bike riding in Idaho’s panhandle. We stationed ourselves in Wallace, a small historic mining town whose claim to fame until the 1980’s was the host, (or should we say, “hostess?”), to more than a dozen brothels. Now the most notable red light in town is the Red Light Garage where huckleberry milkshakes are the claim to fame and locals play live music on the weekends. Aside from 300 miles of bike riding in two weeks we enjoyed swimming, tubing, fishing, hiking and eating huckleberries.

The Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes is a 71 mile paved bike trail following the Union Pacific Railroad right-of-way. The trails are smooth and wind through small towns, forests, rivers and around Lake Couer d’ Alene. The scenery is spectacular and the trails are easy to ride since the steepest grades are ones that trains used to summit. The trails are very safe for our seven year old to ride on his own bike and restroom access is readily available. We began our 20-40 mile rides at a different point on the trail each day ensuring an ice cream stop on just about every ride. The weather in August is ideal for bike riding: sunny, with temperatures in the low 80’s. Squirty’s longest ride was 40 miles! Once he tasted speed on his new Felt road bike, we couldn’t stop him. This is family bike riding at its best.

Cycling Chef Cycling

Cycling by the river

Harrison Trail

Bull Run Trail

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The other bike riding highlight was mountain biking on breathtaking scenic stretches of railroad trails on the Route of the Hiawatha which winds through 10 train tunnels and 7 train trestles. The route is 15 miles downhill beginning at over 4,000 feet elevation. Aside from riding through pitch black, cold, drippy tunnels (the longest is 1.6 miles) the descent is fairly easy. The ascent on bikes was a sweaty, challenging 1,000 feet!

Trees! and more trees!

Hiawatha train trestle

A short train tunnel

Domestique in training