Week 13, Winter CSA

 

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  • Gigante Kohlrabi
  • Bunched Rapini — also known as “raab”, is one of the first signs of spring on the farm. In late winter to early spring, overwintering brassicae plants start to flower and set seed for a new generation of plants to come. Much to our delight these tasty buds and long, tender shoots pop up every year when the weather starts to warm.
  • Red and Yellow Onions
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Garlic
  • Carnival Winter Squash
  • Fingerling Potatoes
  • Parsnips

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Farm Happenings

This is a continuation of The Labeling Fiasco article that I began writing last week….

“Pasture-Raised”

P1070331Not regulated by USDA. There is no legal definition, so this could mean many different things. Often found on organic meat labels, it could mean that the animals are raised on lush beautiful pasture their whole lives, or it could mean they were on a weedy dirt lot for a week before they were moved to the confinement feeding operation. This says nothing about feed explicitly (could be fed GMO corn and soy and kept on “pasture”). You would have to ask the producer directly.

“Grass-Fed”

A common claim made by organic meat producers. Defined by the USDA as animals that receive the majority of their nutrients from grass or other forage throughout their life. It’s important to note that hay and silage qualifies as forage under USDA definitions, so this does not mean the animals were raised outdoors or on pasture, though they must have “access” to pasture during the growing season. The animals could be in a confined lot or barn their whole lives, as long as the majority of their feed was hay and the door to the barn was opened for a few minutes per day. This label says nothing about hormones, antibiotics, pesticides or the like. It doesn’t exclude the feeding of grain or feed supplements either, as long as grass still constitutes a majority of the feed.

“Fresh” or “Not Frozen”

While these labels do not have a direct relevance to the subject of growing practices, I chose to include them because I feel they reveal something about the labeling system here in this country. According to the USDA, for poultry, the term “fresh” means,

Any raw poultry, poultry part, or any edible portion thereof whose internal temperature has ever been below 26 degrees Fahrenheit . (USDA)

The definition of the term “not frozen” is defined as follows,

The phrase “never frozen” or similar verbiage is not permitted on an unprocessed or processed poultry product where the internal temperature of the product has ever been below 0 degrees Fahrenheit or on any red meat product that has ever been frozen. (USDA)

P1070311No, this is not an April-fools joke. These are the legal definitions of these terms. You may have noticed that the definition for non-poultry meat doesn’t have a specified temperature range for frozen or fresh. I called the USDA to try to clarify this point, and after much waiting on hold, transfering, and statements like “hmmm… that’s a good question,” the best definition that they could come up with for not frozen non-poultry was, “not solid.” So, if you hit your frozen meat with a hammer and it leaves a dent, then it still fresh.

Now, I am not advocating against frozen foods. My point in bringing up this topic is not to say that the government is involved in a massive conspiracy to feed us all frozen meats (Freezergate), or even that the USDA is lying to you about your food (I’ll leave that one up to your own judgment). My aim is to show that the legal meaning of the terms that we have seen on our food labels since childhood is very different from the average person’s understanding of those same terms.

If your grandmother were to walk into the freezer section of the grocery store and pull out a chicken that to her looks frozen but has the words “never frozen” printed on the label, she might start to think that her age is catching up with her. However, as long as that chicken has remained above 1°F that statement would be technically true according to the USDA. But it is important to remember that the laws that regulate food labeling in this country were not written by your grandmother. They were written by lawyers. Lawyers that work for the USDA, the major meat processing corporations, and consumer advocacy groups—and they are constantly being rewritten. This is why it is so hard to know what is actually in your food.

The Take Home

There is a simple solution to this issue, and it involves a lot of education. If you are trying to be careful about what you feed your family, the best way to ensure that you’re getting what you asked (and paid) for is to know your producer. Ask them questions, and don’t assume anything.

P1070314If you are forced to buy from an anonymous producer and all you have to go by is the information on the label, well first I’m sorry, and second you ought to do some research on the legal definitions of the terms that are being used. You simply can’t trust what’s being claimed otherwise. Not because they are bad people, but because they are people trying to sell a product. If there is no law that limits the use terms like “fresh,” then sooner or later you’ll be seeing never frozen printed even on your snow cones (technically snow can form above 32°F).

On a similar note, it’s also important to remember that if it’s not on the label, then they likely aren’t doing it. This especially applies to growing practices. The difference in value between a pint of strawberries produced on a local, organic family farm and one produced by a large, conventional, industrial conglomerate across the country is substantial. All producers know this and will market their products in a way that conveys the highest value that the laws allow. Therefore, the most important thing on a label is what isn’t on it. So if that carton of eggs says “cage-free,” what that really means is that they don’t have any access to the outside. Even if the beef says “organic grass-fed,” assume it was raised in a feed-lot unless it says otherwise. Be skeptical, and if you’re not sure, call the USDA and ask (1-888-674-6854).

 Next week we’ll talk about Full-diet CSA’s and label-less meat production. Enjoy this week’s vegetables.

 

 

Week 1 Newsletter - Winter 2014

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