Sunday, November 14, 2010

Flourish & Play: Cultivate Health, Wealth, and Happiness With Sustainable Micro-Gardens

As food and fuel costs continue to rise while concerns about conventionally grown produce increase, micro-gardening has become a hot trend among urbanites. Using an array of creative measures, these organic miniature gardens not only provide nutrient dense, locally grown food, but also create a feeling of connectedness and well-being.

Levels of trace minerals in conventional fruits and vegetables have been in steady decline since 1940. As most produce travels an average of 1,500 miles from farm to plate, these fragile nutrients are depleted even further. Fresh, local, organic produce is a welcome alternative, demonstrating a higher quantity of 21 key-nutrients including vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, iron, phosphorous, and chromium. 

In PBS "Food Miles" episode 3, writer Michael Shuman states, "investing in local food systems lessens the distance between who we are and what we eat, and creates wealth in the community." 

Shuman continues in an article for the Huffington Post:

"A study done two years ago found that a 20% shift of retail food spending in Detroit redirected to locally grown foods would create 5,000 jobs and increase local output by half a billion dollars."

A shining example of a thinking out-of-the box solution to our world food problems is the Truck Farm in Brooklyn, NY. As necessity is the mother of invention, Ian Cheney, along with Curt Ellis, created a vegetable garden in the 5' x 8' bed of his grandfathers pickup truck after moving to New York and realizing there wasn't a space to grow food. Utilizing green roof technology to allow for proper drainage and to hold the soil in place, Truck Farm was born. As the harvest and neighborhood popularity of the Truck Farm grew, Ian and Curtis started a CSA program. 

Ian explains during an interview with

"In principle, the CSA works like this: members give twenty bucks at the beginning of the spring, and then every month they get a little bag of greens, herbs, and vegetables delivered to their doorstep. In reality, most of the subscribers live in my neighborhood so I encourage them to just clip a few greens or pluck a few tomatoes on their way home from work. Saves gas!" 

One of the main challenges for the Truck Farm is getting enough water for the plants because the lightweight soil drains easily. The solution created another link of community. "We drive up to an Italian restaurant in my neighborhood, hook up a hose to their spigot, hand over a little basil, and water away. Sometimes Fulvio, the owner, gives me a glass of wine with a flourish: 'Water for the farm, wine for the farmer!'"

Gardening can create happiness too. In a study at the University of Texas, 400 participants responded to a survey concerning their life satisfaction. Respondents who were gardeners answered positively 20% more of the time to statements about energy level, optimism, zest for life, and physical self-concept than non-gardeners.

So dig in. A creative micro-garden can help prune food costs, nurture health, foster joy and prosperity, while sowing the seeds of connection. 

Sources for this article:

Virginia Sole-Smith, "It's a Truck! It's a Farm! (And Now, It's Going To Be a Movie.)" PlanetGreen.Com, June 11, 2010.

Michael H. Shuman, "Community Food Enterprise: Local Success in a Global Marketplace." Huffington Post, January 25, 2010.

Eric Franks and Jasmine Richardson, Microgreens: A Guide to Growing Nutrient-Packed Greens. Gibbs Smith, 2009.

Creasy, Rosalind with Cathy Barash, “Grow $700 of Food in 100 Square Feet.” Mother Earth News Magazine: December 2009/January 2010. 

Soil Association (2001), "Organic farming, food quality and human health: a review of the evidence."

Worthington V (2001), "Nutritional quality of organic versus conventional fruits, vegetables, and grains." The Journal of Complimentary Medicine, vol. 7, No. 2, p. 161 - 173. 

Brandt K and Molgaard JP (2001), "Organic agriculture: Does it enhance or reduce the nutritional value of food plants?" Journal of Science in Food and Agriculture, 81, p. 924 - 931.

TM Waliczek, JM Zajicek, RD Lineberger, "The Influence of Gardening Activities on Consumer Perceptions of Life Satisfaction." HortScience, 2005 (

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Pumpkin Seed and Almond Flecked Teff Griddle Cakes with Goji Berries

I am a huge fan of teff. This petite grain is a nutritional powerhouse that has a wonderful nutty flavor. Combine this with goji berries, pumpkin seeds and almonds, you may well have a delightful, healthy breakfast fit for a king. Try to cook the griddle cake almost completely on the first side leaving only a minute or two for the second. This way, the pumpkin seeds and almonds retain a nice color without being overdone. Children may eye these darker-than-usual griddle cakes with suspicion, but one mildly sweet taste will win them over.

Yield: 8-10 large griddle cakes

1 cup teff flour
1 cup whole-grain or white spelt flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup coconut sugar or evaporated cane juice granules 
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1 egg or egg substitute
1 cup almond milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup coconut oil
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup coconut nectar or pure maple syrup + extra for serving
3/4 cup goji berries
grated zest of one orange
1 cup mixed raw pumpkin seeds and sliced almonds

In a medium mixing bowl, combine teff and spelt flours with salt, baking powder, coconut sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, and cardamom. Set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together egg, almond milk, vanilla, water, and coconut nectar or maple syrup. Add to flour and spice mixture, stirring well. Fold in goji berries and orange zest.

Melt 1/2 tablespoon coconut oil on griddle or large skillet over medium heat. Drop batter by 1/2 cupfuls onto griddle or skillet and sprinkle 1 tablespoon of pumpkin seed and sliced almond mixture over the top. Cook griddle cakes until golden and cooked through, about 2-3 minutes on first side, about 1-2 minutes on the second. Repeat with remaining oil and batter. Serve with coconut nectar or maple syrup.

Photo Credit: Petr Kratochvil 

The Mighty Miniature Teff Grain

Teff is an ancient grain, believed to have originated in Ethiopia between 4000 BC and 1000BC. The classic use of teff flour by Ethiopians is injera, a fermented flat bread. Today, teff is widely cultivated and used in South Africa, Ethiopia, India, and Australia. Teff is high in calcium, iron, and protein and has a good mineral profile of phosphorus, magnesium, copper, zinc, boron, and thiamin. The amino acid composition is excellent, including all 8 essential amino acids along with a high lysine level. Due to its small size, teff boasts the highest fiber content of any other grain. 

Sources for this article:

"Chemical composition of teff (Eragrostis tef) compared with that of wheat, barley and grain sorghum", Melak H. Mengesha, Economic Botany, Volume 20, Number 3, 1966, 268-273

"Tef. Lost Crops of Africa", National Academies Press, 2008, 222.

"The orgin and evolution of Eragrostis tef (Poaceae) and related polyploids", American Journal of Botany, 2003, 116-122

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Nutrition Notes: Incredible Goji Berries

Goji berries, sometimes referred to as wolf berries, are small reddish fruit grown in the Himalayan foothills. They are high in calcium, potassium, and iron. Goji berries are also an excellent source of vitamin C, beta-carotene, and zeaxanthin, making them one of the richest plant based sources for these nutrients. These powerful berries have been shown to support eye health while reducing cardiovascular disease, inflammation, and cancer. Goji berries have been celebrated for centuries in Asia as a promotor of  anti-aging and longevity due to their high antioxidant content.

Sources for this article:

Gan L, Hua Zhang S, Liang Yang X, Bi Xu H (April 2004). "Immunomodulation and antitumor activity by a polysaccharide-protein complex from Lycium barbarum". Int. Immunopharmacol. 4 (4): 563–9.

Weller P, Breithaupt DE (November 2003). "Identification and quantification of zeaxanthin esters in plants using liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry". J. Agric. Food Chem. 51 (24): 7044–9.

Gan L, Hua Zhang S, Liang Yang X, Bi Xu H (April 2004). "Immunomodulation and antitumor activity by a polysaccharide-protein complex from Lycium barbarum". Int. Immunopharmacol. 4 (4): 563–9.

SCW Sze, J. Song, RCC Chang, KY Zhang, RNS Wong, Y Tong (2008). "Research advances on the anti-aging profile of Fructus lycii: an ancient Chinese herbal medicine", Journal of Complementary & Intergrative Medicine, v 5 n. 1

Monday, November 8, 2010

Cooking School: Flaxseed Egg Substitute

A large, metal, egg-shaped tea ball works wonderfully here. Simply place whole flaxseed in the ball, close, and simmer with water. This helps to ease the straining process at the end. Or, for added fiber and texture, no need to strain the flax seeds at all.

Yield: 1 cup


2 tablespoons whole flaxseed
1 1/2 cup water

In a small saucepan, combine flaxseed and water. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook mixture uncovered until water is reduced by one-half cup, approximately 20 minutes. Remove from heat and strain seeds from mixture, saving the thick, clear gel. Refrigerate unused portion in a tightly sealed container for up to a week.