Saturday, February 23, 2013

Get Excited - CT NOFA 2013 Winter Conference Just a Week Away!

In December 2012, I joined CT NOFA as the Outreach Intern. I very quickly learned that a majority of my time would be devoted to helping Kristiane (the Events and Outreach Coordinator) and other CT NOFA staff promote the 2013 Winter Conference on March 2nd.

As I learned more about the event my curiosity peaked and my thoughts started to go from  "This seems really cool!" to "I can learn about dairy goats, maple sugaring, climate change and meet with local vendors all in the same day? This is AWESOME!".  When I realized today that the conference is only a week away, that curiosity turned into excitement and unlike the rest of the CT NOFA staff, I have never attended the Winter Conference (or really any conference similar in magnitude). This experience will be entirely new to me and I am greatly looking forward to it. 

Here are some reason's why you should be excited too (newbie or not):

  • Workshops, workshops, workshops. Did I mention the workshops?
    • There are over 50 workshops (53 to be exact) to choose from and we are providing three sessions throughout the day to attend any of them that you are most interested in. Best part is there is something for everyone - topics like small business lessons, basic vegetable production, sustainable living, food preservation, school gardens, climate change and small scale agriculture, organic land care, and even seaweed aquaculture are all available!
  • Get to know your neighbors 
    • A big part of sustainable eating is supporting local farmers and businesses. Throughout the day you can "meet and greet" with over 40 vendors and exhibitors from all over Connecticut. You might be surprised to find that some of them are located right in your own community and you just never knew it!
  • All this talk about food is making me hungry....
    • In past years lunch has been served Pot Luck style and while that is a fun and creative way to eat, it doesn't really cater (no pun intended) to the capacity the Winter Conference has grown to. So this year some of the very best farm-to-restaurant chefs from Fairfield County will be serving you lunch! I am particularly excited for this since in all honestly, my just-out-of-college-and-broke budget doesn't really allow me to go out to eat very often. This will be a great way to eat locally and organic from many different restaurants all at once! (The cost for lunch is $15)
  • Silent Auction/Raffle
    •  Many of the vendors donate wonderful items and products to the raffle so if you see something you like during the day, maybe you could walk home with it! 
  • Celebrate sustainability with music!
    • The band Gatsby's Green Light will be joining us during registration and the lunch hour to bring us good vibes for the day. The band often plays with organizations, events, and fairs that promote local food and clean energy solutions. They also donate 30% of their profit to organizations like NOFA. 
Check out this video of the 2012 Winter Conference highlights to get even more excited!

I hope to see you next Saturday! Best, 


Thursday, February 21, 2013

Oceana Study Reveals Something Fishy About Seafood Labels Nationwide

As much as I would like to consider myself  a full fledged vegetarian, there are days where my occasional seafood cravings cannot be ignored. I will admit that from time to time, I've enjoyed a good salmon filet...or at least what I thought was a good salmon filet.

From 2010 to 2012 Oceana, an international organization focused on ocean conservation, conducted one of the most comprehensive studies investigating "seafood fraud" or the mislabeling of seafood products in the United States. The organization collected more than 1,200 samples from 674 retail outlets in 21 states. The study included DNA testing of all the samples finding that one third of the samples tested were mislabeled according to FDA guidelines.

Here are some more facts gathered from the study:

  • 59% of fish labeled as "tuna" in restaurants and grocery stores in the U.S. is not actually tuna. 
  • Snapper was mislabeled the most at 87% of the time and was in actuality any of six different fish species 
  • Not surprisingly, sushi restaurants were more likely to mislabel their fish than grocery stores and restaurants 
  • (Brace yourself for this one) 84% of fish labeled white tuna was actually escolar, a type of fish that  has caused those who eat more than six ounces to have "uncontrollable oily anal leakage". (Gross!)

Needless to say, I don't think I'll be giving in to my seafood cravings any longer.


You can download the entire study in PDF form on Ocean's website or watch this video on YouTube.

Want to take action? Tell your representative to Support Safe Seafood.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Come Visit CT NOFA at the CT Flower and Garden Show!

CT NOFA's booth from last year's show
Join CT NOFA at the CT Flower and Garden show Thursday February 21-Sunday February 24! We'll be one of over 300 booths offering education and products for the garden and landscape enthusiast. Come to the show to explore beautiful landscaped gardens and booths overflowing with fresh flowers, plants, herbs, bulbs, seeds, gardening books, garden equipment and much more.

Why Attend?
Gorgeous landscape exhibits constructed by some of the most talented landscape designers in Connecticut. The award winning landscape exhibits occupy over an acre within the Convention Center Exhibit Hall. Landscapes in full bloom with lush green grass and fragrant flowers continue to amaze attendees each year.

  • Over 300 booths filled with plants, flowers, fertilizers, garden tools, tractors & mowers, patio & lawn furniture and more!
  • Floral & garden related artisian section with one of a kind artwork, garden ornaments, jewelry, photography to name a few.
  • Non-profit and educational exhibits (including ours!)
  • Floral Arranging Demonstrations
  • Seed planting for children
  • Hours of educational seminars
And the best part is you can take advantage of all the show has to offer for free by volunteering with us for part of a day!  CT NOFA will be at the show all four days, and we still need help on Thursday and Friday, especially in the evenings.  Volunteers receive free admission to the show as well as reimbursed parking in the Convention Center Garage. If you are interested in coming to volunteer, email me at

Learn more about the show here. View a list of exhibitors (including us!) here.

Can't wait to see you there!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Winter Recipes for Cold Snowy Days

If you're anywhere in the northeast right now, you're probably in the middle of dealing with Winter Storm Nemo, our latest blizzard. You also might be trying to come up with a good weekend pass time that doesn't just involve shoveling the driveway.  Assuming you haven't lost power (and if you're reading this you must be somewhere with electricity) now might be a good time to try out a new recipe or two.  Below are some great cold season recipes courtesy of Kristiane's Organic With the Seasons newsletter.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Ham and Garlic

  • 1 (1 ounce) slice white bread
  • 3 pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped country ham (about 1 ounce) (don't eat meat?  This recipe is just as good without it!)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  1. Preheat oven to 425°.
  2. Place bread in a food processor; pulse 2 times or until crumbly. Sprinkle crumbs on a baking sheet; bake at 425° for 5 minutes or until golden. Reduce oven temperature to 375°. Set aside 3 tablespoons toasted breadcrumbs, reserving remaining breadcrumbs for another use.
  3. Combine sprouts and next 5 ingredients (sprouts through garlic) in a 3-quart baking dish coated with cooking spray, tossing to coat. Bake at 375° for 30 minutes or until sprouts are tender and lightly browned on edges, stirring twice.
  4. Combine 3 tablespoons breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese; sprinkle over sprouts. Serve immediately.

Lentils with Wine-Glazed Vegetables

  • 3 cups water
  • 1 1/2 cups dried lentils
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 2 cups chopped onion
  • 1 1/2 cup chopped pealed celeriac (celery root)
  • 1 cup diced parsnip
  • 1 cup diced parsnip
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh or 1 tablespoon dried tarragon, divided
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2/3 cup dry red wine
  • 2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  1. Combine water, lentils, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and bay leaf in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 25 minutes. Remove lentils from heat, and set aside.
  2. Heat olive oil in a medium cast-iron or nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, celeriac, parsnip, carrot, and 1 1/2 teaspoons tarragon, and sauté 10 minutes or until browned.
  3. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon salt, tomato paste, and garlic; cook mixture 1 minute. Stir in wine, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender. 
  4. Stir in mustard. Add lentil mixture, and cook 2 minutes. Remove from heat; discard bay leaf, and stir in butter, 1 1/2 teaspoons tarragon, and pepper.
Click here to find these recipes and more online!

Below is a recipe that I'm trying out today, using winter root vegetables from my winter CSA share from High Hill Orchard in Meriden.  Maybe I'll bring some leftovers on a snow hike on Sunday, another great winter pass time.

Lamb Shanks With Wheat Berries And Parsnips

Sweet, nutty parsnips and earthy, chewy wheat berries turn this just-beyond-basic version of classic shanks into a one-pot meal. There is some advance preparation. The recipe is adapted from Cooking with Shelburne Farms by Melissa Pasanen and Rick Gencarelli (Viking Studio 2007).

T. Susan Chang for NPR
Makes 4 servings
  • 1 1/2 cups hard, red wheat berries, soaked overnight in water*
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 6 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 meaty lamb shanks, about 1 pound each
  • 1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 large carrots (about 1/2 pound), peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 medium parsnips (about 1/2 pound), peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 1 large celery stalk, coarsely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, smashed with the flat side of a knife and peeled
  • 1 1/2 cups dry red wine
  • 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes with their juice
  • 2 cups chicken stock, preferably low sodium
* Wheat berries are available at most natural foods and specialty stores and in the natural foods section of some supermarkets
  1. The night before cooking the lamb, put the wheat berries in a large bowl and cover them with cold water.
  2. Tie the rosemary, thyme and bay leaf up in a cheesecloth bag and set aside. Pat the lamb shanks dry and season them with the salt and pepper to taste.
  3. In a large Dutch oven set over medium-high heat, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. When the oil is hot, brown the shanks, in batches if necessary so as not to crowd the pan. (Or, brown the shanks on a foil-lined baking sheet under the broiler. See "A Note On Browning," above, in story inset). Cook, turning periodically, until a nice crust has formed, 8 to 10 minutes total. Remove the browned shanks to a plate.
  4. Add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil to the pan and add the carrots, parsnips, onion, celery and garlic cloves. Cook, stirring, for 7 to 9 minutes until the vegetables are turning golden. Add the wine and deglaze the pan, stirring to scrape up any brown bits. Simmer 5 minutes and then add the herb bundle, tomatoes with their juice, and chicken stock to the pan, along with the drained wheat berries. Bring the pot to a simmer and cover. Simmer on the stove for 20 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Return lamb shanks and any accumulated juices to the pot. Put the covered pot in the oven and cook for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until the lamb and wheat berries are tender (the wheat berries should still have a little bite to them).
  6. To serve, present the shanks whole, or shred the meat off the bone in the kitchen and serve plates of wheat berries and vegetables topped with the shredded meat and cooking liquid.
View the whole article from NPR with more lamb recipes here.

However you spend your snowy weekend, make sure that it's safe and cozy!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

GMOs, Industry Involvement, and Preemption - A Word of Caution

Photo via:
I read an interesting take on possible federal GMO labeling legislation today that cautioned against a potentially dangerous and irreversible situation known as preemption. This comes after a flurry of other articles like this one came out that discuss the possibility of big food supporting GMO labeling.  It might be hard to believe that conventional food retailers would support a federal labeling initiative, but when you look at it from the perspective of money, ease, and stability, it makes more sense.  After all, it's a lot easier for a multinational corporation like Walmart to have one labeling law to deal with in the United States rather than a host of different state laws, and putting an end to grassroots organizing helps their bottom line, reduces the possibility of PR trouble, and generally creates a more stable situation for their business to operate in.  Big food isn't supporting labeling to protect the consumer, however, and big ag isn't about to let the GMO labeling bill of our dreams get written up. That's where compromise and preemption come into play.  An excerpt from the article I first mentioned reads:
[There is an] ominous potential downside of federal GMO labeling: a sneaky legal concept known as preemption. Most advocates don’t find out about it before it’s too late.

Preemption simply means that a higher law trumps a lower law: so federal trumps state, and state trumps local. But in practice, it’s industry’s way of ensuring uniformity and stopping grassroots efforts. How I do know this? From years of experience of seeing it happen in various public health issues. It’s such a huge problem that the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation funded an entire project called “Preemption and Movement Building in Public Health” to educate advocates about how to handle it.

Here is the pattern: a grassroots effort builds over time to enact local or state laws (such as gun control, indoor-smoking laws, or restricting alcohol sales), and industry fights these efforts for years, until they can no longer win. At that point, industry lobbyists turn around and either get their own weak bill passed, or work with advocates to pass a compromise version. In exchange, this law will preempt or prevent any state or city from passing a different or stronger law. Forever.
So if industry and grassroots efforts come to a compromise sometime in the future and produce a federal GMO labeling bill, preemption could prevent stronger legislation from being passed on the state level.  This effectively transforms the federal initiative from being a foundation for stronger more effective legislation into being a watered down action plan that stifles and oppresses future progressive initiatives.  That's not to say that a federal GMO labeling bill is a bad idea - it's a great idea if accomplished through care and caution.  Let's make sure that when a labeling bill is passed, whether at the state or federal level, it does what we want it to do.

Have a great evening!

Friday, February 1, 2013

A Full House at the Getting Started in Organic Farming Conference

Last Saturday, January 26, 2013, CT NOFA held it's annual Getting Started in Organic Farming Coneference at Goodwin College in East Hartford.  Despite a winter storm that inundated much of the mid-Atlantic states, we had sunny, albeit cold, weather up in Connecticut on the day of the event.  This was the first time the conference has been held at Goodwin, and we couldn't have been happier with how the day turned out.

The conference began just after 8am, and every seat in the room was filled.  Our Executive Director, Bill Duesing, kicked off the day with a compelling 30 minute overview of our current agricultural situation and how that ties into important global issues like climate change, biodiversity loss, and nutrient loading in fresh and salt water.  Bill gave an inspiring call to action for new farmers, explaining that organic farming directly addresses our planet's (and humanity's) most pressing ecological concerns.

After Bill's excellent introduction, Joe Bonelli from the UConn Cooperative Extension Service spoke briefly about Connecticut Farm Risk Management and crop insurance, explaining the tools that UConn and RMA have to offer new farmers to help them get started.

Our first full-length speaker of the day was Kip Kolesinskas, a conservation scientist with 35 years of experience. Kip has been a major contributor in efforts to increase farmer access to land, develop farm friendly municipalities, and promote locally grown food.  Kip's 45 minute presentation, Gaining Access to Quality Farmland, gave an overview of the common methods and sources for gaining access to affordable farmland, such as matching services, opportunities on Municipal and Land Trust properties, and the basic elements of a good lease, technical resources, and its role in risk management.

Next Erin Pirro, a Farm Business Consultant for Farm Credit East with a background in agricultural economics, spoke for an hour about Budgeting from the Bottom Up.  Erin has been helping farmers large and small make their businesses run better since 2001, and showed her knowledge and expertise by describing how to build a plan in numbers, designed to show you if you can take your business where you need it to go. Erin delved into the many aspects of building a strong and comprehensive budget, and showed how doing do will save you a lot of time and effort in the long run.

Kerry and Max Taylor, owners and operators of Provider Farm in Salem, CT, followed Erin with  a half hour presentation about Starting a CSA for Long Term Success. Provider Farm is a 200 share CSA, wholesale, and market biodynamic farm.  Kerry and Max described what it takes to start a CSA and why it can be a really valuable tool for new farmers. They addressed the benefits and draw backs of starting a CSA in the first year as well as lessons learned, tools for success and how a CSA fits into a whole farm plan.

Kerry and Max's presentation served as a great opening to the 45 minute CSA Panel where five Connecticut farmers, including Kerry and Max, addressed CSA-related questions from the audience ranging from the more general to the technical and specific. Other than Kerry and Max, the panel was also represented by three other farmers: Karen Pettinelli from Holcomb Farm, Mark Gauger from Maple View Farm, and Rodger Phillips from Grow Hartford.  Together, the panelists operate CSA programs in a wide range of sizes and specialties, and cater to different clientele.  The panel was a great way for attendees to learn a great deal about the different approaches to running a successful CSA program.

After the panel, the conference broke for lunch, some of which was generously donated by Whole Foods West Hartford and Chabaso Bakery. Thanks to CT NOFA staff and board members for providing some of the lunch as a supplement to the donations! There was plenty of food to go around, and the  break afforded attendees a great chance to network and get to know one another.  It also gave the staff and presenters time to get ready behind the scenes for a packed afternoon program!

The afternoon program started off with NRCS Opportunities for the Organic Producer, a 45 minute presentation from Adam Maikshilo, a Soil Conservationist for CT NRCS. Adam talked about technical and financial assistance that's available through the NRCS to organic producers, how to apply for those services, and common conservation practices that organic producers follow.
After Adam's presentation, Kim Stoner, the vegetable entomologist at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven, presented about Pest Management for Organic Farms.  Kim explained which pests can be tolerated, which can be managed at low levels, and which can appear suddenly and devastate a crop.  She also described ways to reduce pest damage, like diversifying, using resistant varieties, and using other non-chemical strategies for control.

Our last presenter of the day was Duncan Cox, a  Certification Administrator at Baystate Organic Certifiers.  Baystate is the only organization that certifies organic farms in Connecticut, and it was important to end the day describing the step by step process of becoming certified.  Duncan explained not only the certification process, but also addressed common concerns among farmers about becoming certified and maintaining certification.

This year's event was a blast!  Many thanks again to Whole Foods and Chabaso, as well as to the USDA RMA and the Specialty Crop Block Grant for providing some of the funding for this event, and to Goodwin College for the venue.  Also, a very special thank you to all the presenters for making the event informative and engaging.  Lastly, thanks to all the attendees for coming and learning about how to get started in organic farming!  We really appreciate the evaluations you filled out, and will use them to make even better programming for you in the future.  Thanks for your support!

Couldn't make it to this year's event?  No worries - we will be offering 8 beginning farmer workshops this year focusing on a variety of technical topics, and three CSA fairs.  Check our website often for the most up to date information.

Have a great weekend!