A Raw Deal

Photo from Aajonus Vonderplanitz’s website http://unhealthyfamilyfarm.com/ of eggs at Healthy Family Farms in Hohberg Poultry Ranch boxes.

Many of you by now may have heard about a raid conducted by federal, state and local law enforcement on a raw milk buying club called Rawsome, and a simultaneous raid on Healthy Family Farms, which was one of Rawsome’s suppliers. The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office has filed a 13 count complaint against Rawsome with nine of those counts against Healthy Family Farms. The D.A.’s office alleges that Healthy Family Farms has operated “without any type of license or permit for milk production since 2007″ and that Rawsome “has never had any type of business permit or license.”

While I support the right of everyone to be able to buy raw milk and dairy products, the people behind Rawsome and Healthy Valley Farms may not be the folks to rally around. I’ve heard now from two sources about some serious allegations involving both Rawsome and Healthy Family Farms. Paleo diet activist Aajonus Vonderplanitz paid a private investigator to look into Healthy Family Farms proprietor Sharon Palmer. You can read that report here. The report alleges that Palmer has a long rap sheet, including a felony conviction for elder fraud, grand theft and loan fraud. The website maintained by Vonderplanitz also includes photographs taken at Palmer’s farm showing what seems to be meat and eggs purchased from non-organic wholesale sources in the process of being repackaged as Healthy Valley Farms products. There are also photos of non-organic poultry feed and antibiotics.

This type of fraud, repackaging cheap wholesale food products and passing them off as organic/raw etc. is, I believe, widespread.

That list of reasons to grow your own food, if you can, keeps getting longer . . .

Legalize Baking!

Did you know that in California and many other states it’s illegal to hold a bake sale? That a synagogue in Los Angeles got busted by the Health Department for hosting a bake sale? That you can’t bake bread in a home kitchen and resell it?

Obviously, we need to change this. In what looks like an economic climate that won’t change for the better anytime soon, we need to encourage micro-business enterprises, foster a entrepreneurial spirit and make it easy for non-profits to raise money. We may not be able to fix the federal deficit but we can certainly take on this this easy to mend legislative issue. To that end, I encourage all of you to take a moment to sign a petition in support of a California cottage good law put together by the Sustainable Economies Law Center. Please spread the word about this petition!

From the text of the petition:

As part of a growing movement to localize food systems and stimulate small-scale food production, we are proposing that the California State Legislature allow for the sale of certain home-made food products, namely: baked goods (but with no cream or meat fillings), jams and jellies, candy, granola and other dry cereal, popcorn, waffle cones and pizzelles, nut mixes, chocolate covered non-perishables (such as nuts and dried fruit), roasted coffee, dry baking mixes, herb blends, and dried tea.

Many states already have cottage food laws making it possible for folks to start small businesses out of their homes and to allow religions organizations, charities and schools to put on bake sales. You can see what states have cottage food laws here.

My interest in politics extends only to issues that can be influenced at the grass roots level. This is a great example of a problem that we all be a part of fixing.

The Construction of Secret Hiding Places

I love alternate views of our normal notions of domesticity and home economics. On a recent trip to the book section of a large surplus store I noticed our first book The Urban Homestead right alongside books on burying weapons caches, wiring solar panels, acting as your own dentist and assembling SKS rifles. We certainly have exciting company on this journey.

One book in particular caught my eye, The Construction of Secret Hiding Places by Charles Robinson. You can download a pdf of this book for free here. Of course the fact that this info exists in book and interweb form means that the secrets aren’t, well, secrets anymore. Nevertheless, I’ll never view a stairwell, baseboard or that useless space under the dishwasher in quite the same way again.

Do you have a favorite secret hiding place? Anonymous comments are welcome . . .

Eat Your Pests

Grubs anyone?

Responding to our anti-squirrel post a few days ago Root Simple reader Chile pointed to a post on the her blog “Pests . . . and how to eat them“. She makes the excellent point that most of our dreaded garden pests, including insects are edible.

Now if I could only overcome my squeamishness about eating insects. I had to deal with lots of wax moth larvae this week and remembered that in parts of Asia they are stir fried. Here in L.A., you can get deep fried grasshoppers at a few Mexican restaurants (San Francisco’s Health Department just banned this practice, for some reason). Perhaps you have to grow up eating insects to be fully comfortable with the bug eatin’.

If you look at the entry on rabbits in the original edition of Rodale’s Organic Gardening Encyclopedia, J.I. Rodale suggests eating them. This advice has been, unfortunately, edited out of the revised version. The way the economy is going this summer we may have to revise that encyclopedia again . . .

99¢ Store Proofing Basket

For years I’ve used a special wooden basket called a banneton to proof my round loaves of bread in. I’m teaching a bread baking class this weekend and needed a bunch of proofing baskets for the class. Bannetons are nice but expensive so I decided to try using a canvas lined proofing basket as a more economical alternative.

I got some metal bowls from my local 99¢ store. Wicker baskets or a plastic colander would also have worked, but the 8 inch metal bowls were the perfect size for the kind of bread I make. The canvas came from an art supply store, but a fabric store might also work. I’ve tried to use dish towels in the past, but I’ve found that canvas works better. Just make sure to flour the CRAP out of the canvas and never wash it, or your loaf will stick.

I sized the canvas so that I can fold it over the whole bowl to keep the dough from getting oxidized. New kitten “helped” with the fabric cutting.

When you’re ready to bake you just invert the bowl and dump the loaf out of the basket. I like the look of bread proofed in a canvas lined basket.

Stay tuned for my levain-based bread recipe in an upcoming issue of Urban Farm Magazine.

Making It e-Book Corrected

To those of you who purchased an e-version of our book Making It and had trouble reading it, I just received a note from our publisher Rodale:

The “disappearing words” are actually words that appear in a faint gray color that was hard or impossible to see over light background color settings on some devices, especially the Kindle from Amazon.

We have corrected the e-book files and re-released them to all retailers. The corrected versions should be live and for sale within the next two weeks.

In most cases customers will receive automatic notification that a (free) update is available. That notification should come by way of an email from the retailer where the book was purchased. If notification is not received by the end of August, we suggest they contact the retailer directly to request the update.

Sorry about this!

Michael Tortorello on Urban Homesteading

Michael Tortorello, who wrote that nice piece about us a few months ago, “Living Large, Off the Land,” is one of my favorite writers on gardening and “urban homesteady” topics. He’s critical without being curmudgeonly and manages to separate the truth from the hype (and there’s an awful lot of hype in this movement!). Plus he managed to get an entire paragraph about my thyrsus into the New York Times. Thyrsus hype?

Since he’s far too busy writing kick ass columns to have a website, I’ve collected a few of his articles here in one place for your reading pleasure:

Heirloom Seeds or Flinty Hybrids?
Yes, hybrid seeds are o.k. and I agree.

The Permaculture Movement Grows From Underground
The wonders of permaculture plus a jab at aerated compost tea.

Finding the Potential in Vacant Lots
Recent boom and bust cycles have left us with a lot of room to grow stuff.

Food Storage as Grandma Knew It
Tortorello actually tracked down some folks who have functioning root cellars.

The Spotless Garden
On aquaponics. Don’t name those fish!

Making Flowers Into Perfume
 Build that still!

Seeds Straight From Your Fridge
On planting seeds from the pantry.

CooKit Solar Cooker Made Out of Wood

The nice folks at Solar Cookers International gave us permission to reprint plans for their CooKit solar cooker in our book Making It. You can access those plans, as well as many other solar cooker projects, for free, on their website here.

I’ve made CooKits out of cardboard and aluminum foil a couple of times. One problem is that I eventually bang up the cardboard and I’ve got to make a new one. This summer I had a lot of  1/4 inch plywood leftover from fixing up Mrs. Homegrown’s writin’ shed. Rather than send that plywood to the dump I decided to make a more permanent CooKit.

I blew up the CooKit pdf from the SCI website using Adobe Illustrator.  I did a tiled printout and taped the pieces together to create a life sized pattern. I used this pattern to cut out the plywood pieces.

I spray glued the aluminum foil to the plywood. Next, I drilled holes in all the pieces and inserted twist ties to, essentially, create little hinges so that I could fold up the CooKit when not in use.

The plywood CooKit folds much better than my cardboard versions did.

This type of “panel” solar cooker works best for things like polenta and rice. Now I’ve got a convenient folding panel cooker for backyard use and camping trips.