organic

‘Organic Island’ redux: Bhutan takes steps toward becoming the world’s first ‘organic country’; ten year timeline proposed

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So the notion of taking a whole nation organic isn’t so loopy (or original) after all. In Bhutan, political and social leaders are coalescing around a plan to ban a whole slew of agricultural and industrial chemical poisons and promote sustainable, organic methods in their agricultural sector. It runs counter to the ‘what’s good for business is good for [insert nation here]’ thinking that so frequently prevails but this decision represents not some atavistic neo-Luddite groundswell that’s predestined to fail but a fantastic opportunity for innovation and development that employs and educates vast populations in its achievement and maintenance.

Bhutan, by flickr user Christopher Michel. Used by cc: license. All rights revert to originator.
Bhutan, by flickr user Christopher Michel. Used by cc: license. All rights revert to originator.

Organic agriculture relies on the maxim “the best fertilizer is the gardener’s shadow.” The organic farmer learns more, thinks more, and works harder to produce the same pound of cocoa or tomatoes or sugar cane as his/her conventional compatriots. Organic farmers accept a self-imposed standard of excellence that functionally eliminates 80% of the problem-solving shortcuts available to conventional farmers: the ‘spray-and-forget’ solutions that never ask how the shortcut was manufactured or where it goes after it kills whatever needed killing. National acceptance of the organic farmer’s mindful ways is the opposite of atavistic. It is an evolution: a step forward that equally and unreservedly reveres their shared past, present, and future.

In a nation with so ancient a Buddhist & Hindu tradition maybe the idea of everyone working together to improve everyone’s situation isn’t so alien or unlikely-seeming. I think perhaps that’s why I could see Grenada going the same way. I saw so much real agape on the island I can’t help but believe the political will exists to undertake the same level of national self-improvement & -empowerment. Every human rationale and potential benefit that accrues around this call to action applies to Grenada as well. Someone has to show the world what ‘possible’ means.

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Organic Island

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When we moved to Grenada in 2008 it didn’t take long to discern that the best produce was sold by roadside vendors. Our first week in our house we met Miss Annette at her stand on the Mont Toute Road. Gardeners ourselves, we found lots of common ground. She was never a voluble conversationalist, but engage her about her farming business and she would tell you everything there was to know. It was this way we came to understand how certain Grenadians make a living, but also to realize that for the most part the produce sold in roadside stands was grown organically.

The most evident reason for this is economic: pesticides/fungicides and chemical fertilizers are expensive. In the absence of modern industrial solutions to ancient agricultural problems however, Grenadian gardeners and truck farmers relied on tried-and-true pre-industrial methods to keep pests at bay or maintain the health and productivity of their soil.

Agriculture is everywhere on a small island, even at the bus stop by Grand Anse.

Yard fowl proliferate throughout the island, making a useful living for themselves on the fat bugs attracted by a yard full of delicious food while fertilizing & aerating soil as they go. Early-morning drivers often pass the gardener in his/her plot, taking advantage of the coolest hours to lend credence to the old saying “the best fertilizer is the gardener’s shadow.” Manic pot-hounds or cunning scarecrows deter opportunistic avian thieves. The farmer could simply spray chemicals all over his/her garden and go inside to watch TV for the rest of the day, but to the Grenadian farmer such ideas are as alien and inconceivable as the endless flat fields of the American prairie.

As accidental as organic Grenadian produce may now seem, certain Grenadian agriculturalists pursue these methods the same way avowed organic farmers do: as a living homage to an ideal. Among the lane’s-end backwoods camps of Grenadian Rastas organic agriculture is practiced in accordance with and observance of a universal ideal.

In Rastafari : from Outcasts to Culture Bearers, Ennis Edmonds observed that according to Rastas “the entire universe is organically related and that the key to health, both physical and social, is to live in accordance with organic principles” (60). One need not rely on academic sources however to realize that Rasta culture urgently identifies and stresses the unity of mankind and the Earth. Popular attention is focused on Rasta rejection of material ways and cannabis consumption, but viewed as an ethic instead of a cultural oddity Rasta reveals itself to be as powerful a motivator for organic methods as the mission statements of any number of international organic colloquia.

Organic agriculture wholeheartedly accepts the notion that obsessive fixation on maximizing productivity and profit shortsightedly –perhaps even lazily– engages the job of farming. Like Rastas, organic farmers hold ever in mind The Bigger Picture: that everything we do happens within a closed system of responsibility. The science-driven organic farmer acknowledges the interrelatedness of environmental and biological systems and seeks to preserve them in their original balance by either by mindful, principled action or judicious non-intervention. The Rasta farmer seeks to align his every action with the principles of his religion, and so is prevented from using what he rightly perceives as poisons on an Earth he sees as the very tableau through which he lives an observant life of spiritual communion.

To my knowledge there is no formal alliance between Rasta agriculturalists and the organic farming movement, but there should be. To show the Rastas that they are already part of and welcome in a well-known and internationally respected community of agriculturalists, to bring new ideas about organic methods to their farms, to witness and document the methods they have developed to deal with the unique problems inherent in tropical agriculture…it is to facilitate the one-ness of man & Earth.

Cocoa pods merrily growing. Photo by flickr user Karunakar Rayker, appearing here under Creative Commons license

For that matter, there is no reason this message couldn’t resound among all Grenadian farmers & gardeners, close as their methods often already place them to even the strictest international organic principles. For most, it might require a few simple adjustments (e.g., removal of pressure treated lumber in/around the garden, filtration of greywater used for agricultural purposes) and then they get a bright ‘ORGANIC FARMER’ certificate to hang on their roadside stand or market stall.

The benefits of a certificate program are obvious. First, Grenadian and international customers alike can buy with confidence from a vendor displaying internationally-recognized symbols of quality. Second, it creates a gossamer layer of useful bureaucracy to gather and administer information about Grenadian agriculture. Third and finally, this information could lead to the creation of the world’s first ‘organic island’, taking cues from the ‘greening’ efforts of other nations in the developing world like the ‘Green Gabon‘ program or the now-legendary economic success of Costa Rica in ecotourism.

The ‘organic island’ –announced proudly to the world– is one of the few positive statements a country can make that can instantly attract the attention of the world’s press and the solidarity of every progressive individual who receives the message. No-one is offended. No vital agricultural sector is regulated out of existence. All you are really saying is that, as a nation, you are committed to the nourishment of all mankind. The goodwill and attention generated by such a move can only positively redound in the tourism industry: the cash engine of the Grenadian economy.

On this point everyone can agree. The truck farmer is given means to burnish his/her professional reputation and gain access to tried-and-true organic methods from gardeners the world over. The Rasta farmer finds the same opportunities, but more importantly the reassurance of witnessing the propagation of an ethic of supreme importance to him. Even the larger-scale sugar cane operations –most likely to have the capital to use non-organic methods– benefit from their transformation into a premium product: one that continues to satisfy local demand but sells at higher prices in the world market. It bears mentioning that other products made with organic cane (e.g., rum) can also transform into and market themselves as premium organic vendors. Given how few changes most Grenadian farms would require to fully adopt organic standards, there is no reason the average consumer would see prices at the markets increase. Ultimately, 90% of the plan is informational: talking to local producers, lining up their support, then shouting the news to the world.

“Ever conscious of God we aspire, build and advance as one people.” To me, no readily-accessible goal lives up to this motto like the ‘organic island.’

“But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.” Job 12:7-10

Ever conscious of God, we honor him by preserving and supporting His creation. My question –my proposal– is this: can Grenada aspire to and build a national treasury of public health and international goodwill? Does Grenada believe –as the Rastas and organic farmers do– that to mindfully adhere to a principle that benefits all mankind is to advance…to proclaim that Grenadians are one with all the peoples of the Earth?

The Grenada Chocolate Co. LTD – Solar-powered, owner-operated, organic chocolate: from cocoa pod to bar. Inside this building one man’s ‘crazy dream’ became the island’s premier gourmet export. It can be done! Note the solar oven and prodigious photovoltaic capacity in the front yard. Photo: 2008.

Vegetarian Chard Soup

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Vegetarian Chard Soup, recipe courtesy Shockinglydelicious.com

Just made a pot of this to stave off the chill of a rapidly-advancing Northwest fall. Utilizing a convenient mix of prepared and fresh foods, this soup (found at Shockinglydelicious.com) was quick, easy, and delicious.

Ingredients

  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4-6 large chard leaves, stalks separated (leaves should be in 1- to 3-inch pieces, stalks sliced to ¼-½ inch pieces)
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, minced
  • 32 ounces vegetable broth/stock
  • 1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes
  • 1 (15-ounce) can cannellini (or any white) beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 large potato, diced
  • 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Garnish: Parmesan cheese, grated

Instructions

  • Sauté onion in olive oil on medium heat.
  • Add chard stalks, stir and sauté until they are starting to get soft. Add garlic and chard leaves. {See my note below. I would add the stalks here, but save the leaves for later.} Cover and stir occasionally, cook on medium heat for 10-15 min. (until the leaves begin to shrink).
  • Add stock/broth, tomatoes, beans and potato, plus 1 cup water. Bring to a simmer, and cook 10 minutes, uncovered.
  • Add 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste.
  • Portion into bowls, and once served, top with grated Parmesan cheese.

Notes

  • I ran my immersion blender through the soup for :15-:30s or so to produce a richer broth; was quite pleased with the result.

Hijiki Tofu Burgers with brown rice & carrot ginger dressing (ala Dojo Restaurant; NYC)

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Tofu Hijiki Burger with Brown Rice, Salad, and Carrot Ginger Dressing from the world-famous Dojo Restaurant in New York City, NY, USA.

Adapted from Moosewood’s adaptation of the Hijiki Tofu Burger at the world-famous Dojo Restaurant in New York City. This is one of the best vegetarian meals I’ve ever had, and has always been. During my short stay in NYC I divided my scant food budget between Dojo and Sonar Gaow, an inexpensive Indian place on 6th Street in the East Village.

Tofu Hijiki Burger
INGREDIENTS
  • 1/4 c dried hijiki
  • 1 c carrot, grated
  • 2 tbsp garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp ginger, minced
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 24 oz firm tofu, pressed
  • 1/2 c scallions, minced
  • 1/4 c sesame seeds, toasted
  • 1/4 c light miso (or more, to taste)
  • 1 tsp dark sesame oil
DIRECTIONS
  1. Set the hijiki to soak in a bowl of lukewarm water
  2. Preheat oven to 350 F.  Generously oil a baking sheet.
  3. Sauté carrots, garlic and ginger in the oil for 5 min, until carrots are limp.
  4. Mash or crumble tofu into fine but not insubstantial pieces (equivalent to a .25″ dice).
  5. Add cooked carrots, scallions, sesame seeds, miso and sesame oil to the tofu; stir well.
  6. Drain the hijiki well and stir into mixture.
  7. Using about 1/2 c per burger, form the mixture into flat, disc-shaped patties. (You may take this opportunity to lightly oil the patties, as with a spray of olive oil, to help them brown in the oven).
  8. Bake until firm and golden, about 30 to 40 minutes.

Carrot Ginger Dressing

INGREDIENTS
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1/4 c vegetable oil
  • 2 tbsp diced onion
  • 2 tbsp fresh ginger
  • 2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp tamari (or soy sauce) – use gluten-free if that’s a concern for you
  • 1 tbsp mirin
  • 1 tbsp white miso paste
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 tsp salt
DIRECTIONS
  1. Blend everything in a food processor until smooth. Keeps in the fridge a few days but you may have to remix it as the oil may separate.

Strawberry Muffins

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Here’s a recipe Addie & I are trying tonight from Patricia Stevenson & Michael Cook’s ‘The Whole Foods Diabetic Cookbook.’ We’re also making the blueberry muffins on p. 82, but here’s the recipe for the Strawberry Muffins from p. 81.

Our Strawberry Muffins
Our Strawberry Muffins

Strawberry Muffins

Yield: 12 muffins

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Mix together in a medium bowl:

  • 1 c. whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 c. oats, coarsely ground in a blender [or food processor, or even chopped by hand if need be]
  • .5 tsp. cinnamon
  • 2 tsp. baking powder

Blend together:

  • 1 tbsp. liquid sweetener
  • .25 c. lowfat soy milk or rice milk
  • .75 lb. tofu, crumbled
  • 3 tbsp. unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Add carefully to the dry ingredients, and avoid over-mixing.

Fold in:

  • .5 c. sliced strawberries

Bake in lightly oiled or nonstick muffin cups for 20 to 25 minutes.

Per Serving:

  • Exchanges: 1 starch
  • Calories: 99
  • Total Fat: 2g
  • % of calories from fat: 18%
  • Saturated Fat: 0g
  • Protein: 5g
  • Carbohydrate: 15g
  • Fiber: 3g
  • Sodium: 4mg
  • Calcium: 35mh

peanut butter fingers (vegetable croquettes)

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peanut butter fingers (vegetable croquettes)

  • 2.25 pounds potatoes (I used Yukon Gold potatoes)
  • 3 tablespoons sunflower oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 large red or green bell peppers, seeded and chopped (I used one red and one yellow)
  • 3 carrots, coarsely grated
  • 2 zucchini, coarsely grated
  • 1 cup mushrooms, chopped (I omitted this ingredient)
  • 1 tablespoon dried mixed herbs
  • 1 cup mature cheddar cheese, grated
  • .5 cup crunchy peanut butter
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • .5 cup dried breadcrumbs (I used panko with good results)
  • 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • oil, for deep frying
  1. Halve the potatoes, if large. Bring to a boil in a pan of water, then simmer for 20 minutes, or until very tender. Mash thoroughly. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and fry the onion, peppers, and carrots over low heat for 5 minutes. Add the zucchini and mushrooms and cook 5 more minutes.
  2. Tip the mashed potato into a bowl and stir in the vegetable mixture, dried herbs, grated cheddar cheese, and peanut butter. Allow to cool for 30 minutes, then stir in half the beaten egg. Divide the mixture into 12 and shape into croquettes. Chill until firm.
  3. Put the remaining beaten egg in a shallow bowl. Mix the bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese in another shallow bowl. Dip each croquette in egg, then in the cheese/breadcrumb mixture until evenly coated. Return to the fridge to set.
  4. Heat oil in a deep fryer to 375°F, then fry their croquettes in batches for about three minutes until golden. Serve hot with a green salad.

NOTES: I omitted the mushrooms from this recipe because no one in my house likes mushrooms. My sense of this recipe is that you could substitute just about any vegetable you or your kids do like for the zucchini, carrots etc. I can’t help but believe you could also make this substituting parsnips or sweet potatoes or other similar root vegetable for the potato as well. I use thyme as my primary herb, but you could dramatically change the flavor and character of this food by changing the herb. Also note, the proportions of this recipe seem somehow out of whack, so follow instructions carefully and be prepared to act intuitively if you feel like one ingredient is likely to overpower the others.

Caribbean Sweet Potato Bisque (Vegan)

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Caribbean Sweet Potato Bisque

This recipe can be found on page 71 of  Angela Shelf Medearis’ excellent cookbook The Ethnic Vegetarian, a book which in this author’s opinion serves as an ideal ‘thickening agent’ for any collection of vegetarian cookbooks by virtue of its broad cultural scope, ease of use, and reliably excellent results.

  • 1.5 lbs. sweet potatoes, peeled & cubed
  • 4.5 cups vegetable broth
  • .5 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • .75 cup unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • .5 teaspoon sugar
  • .25 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • .25 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1.5 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, peeled and sliced thinly
  • 1 tablespoon freshly-squeezed lime juice

Bring the sweet potatoes and vegetable broth to a boil in a large pot over high heat. Add the turmeric. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 15 to 18 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork. Strain the potatoes into a food processor, reserving the broth from the pot. Process the potatoes, adding 1 tablespoon of the reserved broth at a time, until the mixture is smooth. Pour the potatoes back into the pot. Stir in the coconut milk, salt, sugar, cayenne pepper, and white pepper. Simmer for 5 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Heat the oil in a small skillet over medium–high heat. Add the onion and sauté for 10 minutes, or until golden brown. Add the onion and the lime juice to the soup. If the soup is too thick, stir in a few more tablespoons of the vegetable broth until the soup is the desired consistency. Serve warm. Makes 6 servings.

NOTES: I prepared this soup without cayenne pepper for the benefit of my kids sensitive palates. I also used more of the reserved broth than indicated and about half of the onion indicated, this last primarily because my kids are committed to avoiding onions. The flavor of the onions is very important to the final flavor of the soup however, so omitting them entirely would be an error (IMO). In the end I told my son the onions he did find in his bowl were worms, which caused him to complain that he didn’t have as many worms in his bowl as me or his sister.