local food

The Laundry, Where Cleanliness and Miserliness Meet

Per my promise, this week's post takes us into the laundry room, where we look for ways to save not only the planet and the water supply, but also some of that cold, hard cash that inevitably goes through the laundry and comes out shinier (coins) or crisper (dollar bills).

Step #1 was to get rid of chlorine bleach. Toxic stuff. The books I've been reading recommend 1/2-3/4 cup hydrogen peroxide in that load of whites. Is it as effective as chlorine bleach? Probably not. But my goal is to have whites that are clean-looking, not blinding.

Step #2: Do laundry in cold or warm, if possible. Using hot water increases energy needs by 90%, according to Green Cleaning for Dummies.

Step #3: Author Ellen Sandbeck of Organic Housekeeping recommends buying detergents without surfactants like Alkyphenol ethoxylate, an endocrine disrupter that stays in our water system and refuses to break down; phosphates; or Sodium hypochlorite (good old chlorine bleach). But, Ellen, that leaves all those super expensive, Whole-Foods-y type laundry detergents that are outrageously priced!

So, Step #3b: Make your own Whole-Foods-y type laundry detergent for less.

I found two "recipes" for homemade laundry detergent and went for the easiest first:

Powdered Laundry Detergent
2 cups soap flakes

1 cup borax

1 cup washing soda

 This makes a "powdered" laundry detergent that I use just like any other at 1/4 cup per load. So, four cups of the homemade detergent handles about 12 loads, and I estimate the cost at about <$1 load. I could bring this price down further by grating my own Fels-Naptha laundry soap, but that sounded tiresome.

While the Borax was pretty easy to find, the washing soda and soap flakes took more doing. If you do plan to save more money and grate your own soap in the food processor, then Fred Meyer carries all three: Borax, Fels-Naptha, and washing soda. Otherwise, Ace Hardware also carries washing soda, and I ended up ordering a bunch of packages of soap flakes off Amazon.

It took mere seconds to measure the ingredients out and mix them together in an empty laundry detergent box, and the clothes came out clean and fresh-smelling! Very pleased. But the total cost wasn't much less than the Whole-Foods-y type detergent I wanted to replace, especially if one of those was on super-sale. When I've run through my 12 loads, I'll give the recipe for liquid laundry detergent a go and let you know how it works. The liquid detergent is more economical, since it promises 50 loads from a smaller amount of the same ingredients. However it does require two gallon-size plastic containers (I rinsed out milk ones) and more than ten seconds of work. Hence, I didn't want to try it first, being rather lazy.

As I sit and type this, I'm down in the Bay Area visiting my mom, and now I do see why Zero-Waste Lifestyle devoted a separate chapter to vacations. Our family has probably generated as much trash in a few days' travel as we do in a couple weeks at home. Yikes. Take-out food, hotel shampoos and soaps, snacks and treats. At least I get plenty of time to read, and I leave you with this tidbit from Superfreakonomics, a quick library ebook that covered a range of topics from fixes to global warming (!) to the economic whys and wherefores of prostitution:

Levitt and Dubner quote a Carnegie Mellon study that found, "Shifting less than one day per week's worth of calories from red meat and dairy products to chicken, fish, eggs, or a vegetable-based diet achieves more greenhouse-gas reduction that buying all locally sourced food." The researchers were examining locally-sourced food only from the transportation-emissions aspect, without regard for how local food benefits local economies, builds community and food trust, and frequently results in way-better-tasting fresh, ripe food, but I still see their point. How about if I shift one or two meals per week to non-red-meat-non-dairy and I source my food locally in season? Sounds like a win-win.

Have a great week, Marketgoers, and here's wishing you cheap, clean laundry.

"Hoperaking" in Action

Who hasn't wanted to be a member of the Mariners ground crew, at one time or another? You get to be right on the field among the players; you get to drag those big rakes; you even get to do that little dance, whether or not you show any special gift for dancing.

You may wonder what such an opening paragraph has to do with the Bellevue Farmers Market or eating well, but stick with me, faithful reader/eater, because today's UrbanFarmJunkie post is all good news, all the time.

For starters, pitchers and catchers have reported to Mariners Spring Training in Peoria, Arizona, starting the cycle of hope all over again. So what if the Angels signed Albert Pujols? This might be the year! We're already playing .500 ball, since the reset button has been hit and everyone's 0-0. That ground crew isn't just raking Ichiro-trodden dirt, they're raking hope!

I'm into "hoperaking" lately, having greatly enjoyed Katherine Gustafson's Change Comes to Dinner: How Vertical Farmers, Urban Growers, and Other Innovators are Revolutionizing How America Eats. Gustafson coins the word to describe her mission of traveling around the country finding hopeful stories of where food is going right. She ranges far and wide, exploring small-farmer co-ops in Montana, inner-city rooftop greenhouses, sunless hydroponic gardens in shipping containers, farming programs in prisons that reduce recidivism and feed into a catering business and school lunches! Gustafson covers some familiar food-writing ground, of course, in her journeys--a review of our dependence on a few species, our over-use of pesticides, soil erosion, etc., but she has much to say that was new to me. For one, she questions the foodie law of "local is automatically better." As Gustafson points out, "An apple in a load of millions shipped cross-country in an efficient eighteen-wheeler might well account for fewer carbon emissions than an apple in a single bushel driven thirty miles to a farmers' market in an old diesel farm truck." It just depends. However, what local food does provide in spades, she discovers, is a host of intangibles: community building; "bolstering local food economies"; job creation; greater responsiveness between market and consumer; increased food security through preservation of species variety.

The stories in Change Comes to Dinner are small, small Davids, in the face of Goliath agro-industry, but the sheer number of Davids Gustafson uncovers demonstrates how widespread is American interest in restoring connections to food, community and quality of life. Especially heartening were the stories of gardening programs for prisoners and inner-city youth, two populations historically without access to the earth or farms. Learning farming skills not only provided nutritious food, but also opened up professional opportunities and built confidence. Great stuff.

While each little David may not make Goliath blink, much less bring him down, the sheer number of Davids might, when it becomes a larger cultural shift.

Consider this last tidbit from the Wall Street Journal. Under pressure from McDonalds (which is itself under pressure), pig farmers are being encouraged to eliminate confining gestation stalls. As the article points out, McDonalds purchases 1% of the pork in America (!), so when they talk, producers listen. Well, Americans eat 100% of those McRib sandwiches, and when we talk, McDonalds listens. And so it begins.

Happy Valentine's Day! Treat the honeys in your life to great community food and go rake some hope!

Eating Local, Island Style

Hula Grill courtesy Mike George

I just had the best brussels sprouts. On Maui, of all places. And they were local, too. You would think, with its sunshine and year-round growing season, local food would be more of a thing in Hawaii, but, as every tourist knows, who has been and gone bug-eyed over the prices in grocery stores and restaurants, Hawaii imports most of its food. Up to 85%, to be specific. And, with gas at $4.46/gallon in Kahului, well--you do the math.

Even on vacation, the thought of eating local lures this Urban Farm Junkie, so as I lolled on the beach and worked my way through no less than five books, I did some research on local-food possibilities in the Lahaina-Ka'anapali area and am passing my hard-won knowledge to you, all in the Spirit of Aloha and the hopes that you will find yourself on the beach in Maui this winter.

First off, those brussels sprouts. If you can tear yourself away from Front Street in Lahaina, drive your dorky rental car up the hill to Starnoodle, where they do Hawaiian (and the pan-Asian influences that go into Hawaiian) creative, fresh, and local. So instead of the kalua pork and cabbage found at the luau, there were brussels sprouts with bacon bits, served with a puree of kim chee and a swath of spices. Had I stomach enough and time, I would have loved to sample every "sharing plate," but I had to make room for the house-made noodles, in my case the Singapore Noodles with chicken, shrimp, vegetables, and a tasty yellow curry sauce. The kids snacked on the steamed pork buns, and we washed it all down with green tea spiked with orange and pummelo.

More on the beaten (tourist) track, we ate at the Hula Grill (lunch) and Cane and Taro (dinner) in Ka'anapali's Whalers Village. Both featured local beef, fresh-caught fish and island-grown produce. May I just say that I'm a sucker for Maui onions? Every bit as good as our own Walla Walla Sweets. The Molokai-grown sweet potatoes and Maui Gold pineapples float my boat as well. As for fresh coconut...well, I've been longing for years to taste again that Lappert's Haupia Custard Ice Cream I had on Oahu along about 1999--never seen it since, though I always, always look.

We did discover, finally, Ono Gelato in Lahaina, where the luscious flavors are made onsite with local ingredients where possible. I had Coconut, which, while it was no Lappert's Haupia Custard, was quite tasty and chewy, served alongside always-satisfying Dulce de Leche.

I was hoping to visit an actual farmers market on Maui, of which I saw several advertised, but alas--they were nowhere nearby. Or not near enough for me to overcome my lolling-on-the-beach inertia or our reluctance to drive the awful full-size Mercury cruiser we rented, which became the source of many of a ship-themed joke when we had to park it somewhere and still have room enough to get in or out or turn it around. That and the aforementioned $4.46/gallon, baby. The island of Maui, as you may know, is shaped like the head and torso of a well-endowed woman. Our hotel was on her forehead, but the nearest farmers markets were on her neck, clavicle and earlobe. Therefore, I leave that research to you, my intrepid readers!

Speaking of intrepid, our Bellevue Farmers Market continues through the Saturday before Thanksgiving (two more weeks!), and in November, when not in Maui, the Urban Farm Junkie's thoughts turn to her favorite feast. See you at the Market this Saturday from 10-3! Remember that many sides like rolls, green bean casseroles, cranberry sauce, and pies can be made ahead and frozen. I may just have to pick up some brussels sprouts early, though, to see if I can still capture that Maui experience. Clearly we need a kim chee vendor!