Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Where's the Beef? -- The Great Corn vs. Grass Debate

I grew up in the very heart of the Midwest. Back then, all you heard about was corn-fed beef – its marbling, its tenderness, its superior taste...

Now, it’s hard to find a marketing claim about corn-fed beef.

That’s because the preponderance of evidence is telling us that grass-fed (and grass-finished) beef is superior to conventionally raised, corn-fed beef in nearly every way. Let’s take a look at the research.

(Note: In this post, we’re focusing on beef, but the same thing goes for grass-fed poultry, eggs and dairy.)

Grass-fed beef is better for you.
  • Research shows it’s lower in fat and calories. Meat from grass-fed animals can have as much as one-third less fat when compared to a similar cut from a grain-fed animal.[1] According to Jo Robinson -- one of the industry’s strongest advocates -- if you eat a typical amount of beef, switching to grass-fed beef can save you nearly 18,000 calories a year![2]

  • It provides more omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are good for you. They’ve been shown to significantly reduce triglyceride levels in the blood[3] and reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.[4] Research suggest that people who consume a sufficient amount of omega-3s are less likely to have high blood pressure and are 50 percent less likely to have a serious heart attack.[5] They are also less likely to be depressed, or be afflicted with schizophrenia, attention deficit disorder, or Alzheimer’s disease.[6] Meat from grass-fed animals typically contains 50 to 85 percent more omega-3s than meat from grain-fed livestock.[7]

  • It provides more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). CLA is another healthy fat found in the meat and dairy products of ruminants. Studies done in animals and in vitro demonstrate that CLA can inhibit cancers (especially breast cancer), reduce risk factors for cardiovascular disease, improve insulin sensitivity and produce an anti-inflammatory effect.[8] CLA may also protect against cancer. Robinson cites a Finnish study that showed women with the highest levels of CLA in their diet had a 60 percent lower risk of breast cancer than those with the lowest levels.[9] Another study measured CLA levels in the breast tissue of 360 French women and found that the women with the most CLA had a 74 percent lower risk of breast cancer than the women with the least CLA.[10] Research shows that meat from grass-fed ruminants can contain 3 to 5 times more CLA than meat from grain-fed animals.[11]

  • It’s higher in vitamins. Products from grass-fed animals have also been shown to be a superior source of Vitamins A, C, D, E and beta-carotene. According to a study completed at CSU, meat from pastured cattle is four-times higher in vitamin E than the meat from feedlot cattle.[12]
It’s better for the animals.

  • Raising animals on pasture used to be a predominant model of food production in the U.S. However, during the 50s, new techniques were introduced to improve the efficiency of beef production, a trend which continues even as we speak. As a result, most of the meat, eggs and dairy products sold in grocery stores today come from Confined Animal Feeding Operations, (CAFOs). These operations apply the same principles of mass production we see in factories. Thousands of animals are housed together in cramped quarters, with little or no exercise. While CAFOs provide maximum production at minimum cost, they also raise serious questions about ethics, food safety, and environmental impacts. Here’s what a cattle feed-lot looks like:

For an expose of CAFOs, check out The Meatrix. Clearly, animals allowed to forage for grass in pastures have a better life.

  • The diets of factory-raised animals are hard on the animals. Ruminants (i.e., cud-chewing animals such as cattle) are built to eat and digest cellulose-based products such as grasses, plants and shrubs. When you feed them corn, it can cause serious intestinal disorders, such as “feedlot bloat” (a condition that causes trapped gas to accumulate in the rumen, causing the rumen to press against the lungs; if left untreated, the animal can actually suffocate)[13] and “subacute acidosis” (a condition similar to heartburn, which causes animals to pant and salivate, kick at their bellies and eat dirt; if left untreated it can lead to diarrhea, ulcers, liver abscesses and even death.[14]

It’s safer.

  • Do you know what factory-fed animals are eating? As the industry continually seeks less to lower feed costs, truly astonishing materials are finding their way into our food chain. According to Sapkota, et al, (2007) “In 2003, the U.S. rendering industry produced > 8 million metric tons of rendered animal products, including meat and bone meal, poultry by-product meal, blood meal and feather meal. Most of these products were incorporated into animal feed.” [15] Since the advent of "mad cow" disease, the U.S. has banned the feeding of protein sources from ruminants to other ruminants.[16] However, under current law, pigs, chickens, and turkeys that have been fed rendered cattle can be rendered and fed back to cattle—a loophole that may allow mad cow agents to infect healthy cattle. Other legally permitted ingredients include rendered road kill, dead horse, euthanized dogs and cats, [17] animal waste, antibiotics, byproducts of drug manufacture, arsenicals, copper compounds, urea, ammonium chloride and ammonium sulfate, enzymes, preservatives, nutraceuticals, and plastics.[18]

  • Factory-raised animals are given antibiotics and growth hormones. In an effort to manage the effects of grain-based feeds in ruminants and to protect against the potential spread of disease, CAFO operators tend to administer antibiotics – including penicillin, erythromycin, and streptomycin[19] -- routinely. Robinson reports that “an estimated 70 percent of all the antibiotics used in the U.S. are now being given to healthy animals to improve their growth and performance.[20] Moreover, cattle CAFO operators use growth hormones or steroids to help the animals gain the maximum amount of weight on the least amount of time; in fact, nine out of 10 U.S. calves are given growth hormones, including estrogens, progesterone, testosterone and others.[21]

  • Grain-fed animals may be promoting food-borne diseases. Raising animals in such close quarters creates concern about the potential spread of disease (not to mention increased vulnerability to terrorist attack.) A study by Cornell University determined that grain-fed animals have approximately 300 times more E. coli than grass-fed animals.[22] This proliferation may be due to the fact that when cattle are grain fed, their digestive tracts become acidic, which promotes E. coli growth. E. coli 0157:H7, a strain first isolated in the 1980s, is now found in the intestines of most U. S. feedlot cattle. In the U.S., this bacteria is estimated to cause infection in more than 70,000 people a year.[23] Last October, it sparked the second largest food recall in the history of the U.S., when nearly 22 million pounds of frozen beef patties were recalled due to E. coli concerns. Other bacteria are also causing alarm. In a 2003 study of food-borne pathogens, Australian researchers found that campylobacter – a bacteria that can cause nausea, vomiting fever, headache, muscle pain and potenitally serious long-term effects -- is carried by 58 percent of cattle raised in feed lots versus only 2 percent of cattle raised and finished in pastures.[24]

It’s better for the environment.

  • Waste from CAFOs poses a serious threat to the environment. The sheer population density of CAFOs creates a huge issue in terms of animal waste. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that CAFOs account for more than 250 million tons of manure every year.[25] In studies of CAFOs, CDC has shown that chemical and infectious compounds from animal waste are able to migrate into nearby soil and water,[26] and the EPA has acknowledged that hog, chicken and cattle waste has polluted 35,000 miles of rivers in 22 states and contaminated groundwater in 17 states.[27] According to the Center for Disease Control, pollutants possibly associated with manure-related discharges at CAFOs include antibiotics; pathogens; excess nutrients, such as ammonia, nitrogen, and phosphorus; pesticides and hormones; solids, such as feed and feathers; and trace elements, such as arsenic and copper, which can contaminate surface waters and possibly harm human health.

Heard enough? Are you ready to try some good old grass-fed beef? Then stay tuned. In the next post we’ll take a look at where to find it in Colorado….

[1] Health Benefits of Grass-fed Products, as accessed 1/23/08
[2] Robinson, J., Grass-fed Meats Research, of grass-fed-meats.htm
[3] Wikipedia, Omega-3 Fatty Acids,, as accessed 01/28/08
[4] Ibid.
[5] Robinson, J., Grass-fed Meats Research, of grass-fed-meats.htm
[6] Ibid.
[7] Robbins, J., What About Grass-fed Beef?, as accessed 1/25/08.
[8] Conjugated Linoleic Acid and Dietary Beef, Beef Facts, Human Nutrition Research,© Cattlemen’s Beef Board, 06/15/2007
[9] Dhiman, T. A., Anand, G. R., et al (1999) “Conjugated linoleic acid content of milk from cows fed different diets.” Journal of Dairy Science 82 (10): 2146-56
[10] Bougnoux, P., Lavillonniere, F., Riboli, E., “Inverse relation between CLA in adipose breast tissue and risk of breast cancer,” Inform 10;5:S43, 1999
[11] T. R. Dhiman (2001). "Role of diet on conjugated linoleic acid content of milk and meat.". Journal of Animal Science 79., as accessed 01/25/08.
[12] Smith, G.C., Dietary supplementation of vitamin E to cattle improve shelf life and case of beef for domestic & international markets, Colorado State University,
[13] Power Steer, by Michael Pollan, N Y Times Magazine, March 31, 2002,, as accessed 1/25/08
[14] Grass Fed Basic, by Jo Robinson,, as accessed 01/23/08.
[15] Sapkota, A. R., Lefferts, L. Y., McKenzie, S., and Walker, P., What do we feed to food-production animals? A review of animal feed ingredients and their potential impacts on human health. As published in Environmental Health Perspectives, 115:5 663 – 670, May 2007. [16] Cattle Feeding, Wikipedia,, as accessed 01/25/08
[17] The Reality of Feed at Animal Factories, as accessed 1/25/08
[18] Sapkota, A. R., et al, 2007.
[19] Russel, S., Fight to curtail antibiotics in animal feed, as published in SF, January 28, 2008, &type, as accessed 01/28/08.
[20] Robinson, J., What you need to know about the beef you eat, as published in Mother Earth News, February/March 2008, pp 74 -84.
[21] Ibid.
[22] Cattle Feeding from Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.orf/wiki/corn-fed_beef as accessed 1/25/08
[24] Ibid
[25] Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO),, as accessed 01/28/08
[26] Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,, as accessed 01/29/08
[27] Keep Animal Waste Out of Our Waters-- Stop Factory Farm Pollution as accessed 1/28/08

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

More on Processed Foods: Just Say No

O.K., I'm a little late.
By now most people have abandoned their New Year's Resolutions. I'm just getting ready to make one.

After I researched the last article, I took an inventory to see how much high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) we were harboring in our own kitchen. And I found a lot!

Some surprises? Breakfast cereals, even some of the "healthy" ones. Fruit juice. Low-fat yogurt. Spaghetti sauce. Bread. Soups.

I am fairly representative of the average American. We eat more processed foods and fast foods than the rest of the world's population.

For a very graphic representation of this fact, take a look at these pictures from Hungry Planet, What the World Eats, by Peter Menzel and Faith D'Aluisio. These two went around the world, photographing families posed in front of a week's worth of food. Their photos demonstrate in a very powerful way that as countries become more and more industrialized, the populations of those countries eat more and more junk. And that contributes to rising rates of obesity and related diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes and other chronic ailments.

Take a look: here's a typical American family, the Revis family of North Carolina. They spend about $342 a week on food.

Now take a look at the The Namgay family of Shingkhey Village in Bhutan. They spend about $5 a week on food:

So, who's getting the better deal?

You've got to wonder.

So here's my resolution -- no processed foods for at least a month. I'm going to focus on fresh foods: fresh fruits and vegetables and fresh meats -- grass-fed whenever possible.

We'll see how hard it is to cook and eat real food in Colorado.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Issue Spotlight: Is Too Much Corn Making Us Fat?

Everything I’ve been reading lately points to corn and corn-related products as a major culprit in the growing obesity epidemic.


We love corn! Picked fresh, peeled, boiled, flavored with butter and sprinkled with salt? Is there anything better? It’s a peak experience! Anyone who has shared this experience – or purchased fresh Olathe sweet corn from a Local Farmers’ Market -- must share my dismay. And popcorn! Who can get through a DVD rental without it?

Corn now takes up an inordinate amount of space in our food chain. Not the sweet, fresh-picked corn-on-the-cob variety, but the commoditized, mass-produced variety. According to the USDA, in 2007 more than 90 million acres of land in the U.S. were planted to corn, delivering more than 13 billion bushels. Most of the crop is used in livestock feed; in fact, corn accounts for more than 90 percent of the total value and production of feed grains. It is also processed into a multitude of food products, in the form of high fructose corn syrup, glucose and dextrose, starch, beverage alcohol and cereals and other products. About 3.2 million bushels are earmarked for the production of ethanol. Whatever is left (about 20% of the total) is exported to other countries.[1]

The pervasive use of corn is causing alarm in two key areas. First, researchers tell us that livestock and poultry raised on corn produce meat that is higher in saturated fats and lower in essential nutrients than meat from animals fed with grass. (Look for more on this in future postings.) Second, the increased use of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) – a widely used corn derivative -- is being blamed for everything from obesity, to diabetes, to pancreatic cancer and more.

In 2004, Dr. George Bray and others analyzed food consumption patterns in the U.S. and noted that the dramatic increase in the consumption of HFCS mirrored a rapid increase in obesity. According to Bray, the consumption of HFCS increased more than 1000 percent between 1970 and 1990, far exceeding the changes of any other food or food group.[2] According to the National Center for Health Statistics, over the same period of time, the prevalence of obesity in the U.S. more than doubled, after remaining relatively stable for prior decades.[3] Bray also reported that the digestion, absorption and metabolism of fructose differ from those of glucose, which may contribute to overconsumption and weight gain. While Bray conceded that his hypothesis would require further testing, he concluded that “an argument can now be made that the use of HFCS in beverages should be reduced.”[4]

Since then, a significant number of studies have implicated fructose in increased levels of triglycerides,[5] negative impacts on appetite regulating hormones,[6] insulin resistance,[7] obesity, Type 2 Diabetes,[8] liver damage[9]and even pancreatic cancer.[10] Here’s a sampling:

  • According to University of Minnesota professor John Bantle, people who use HFCS as a sweetener increase their triglycerides 32 percent relative to people who use mostly sugar.[11]
  • Earl Mindell and Virginia Hopkins, authors of Prescription Alternatives, report that studies done at the US Department of Agriculture's Human Nutrition Resource Center reveal that consuming fructose in this form causes chromium levels to drop, in turn raising LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, and impairing immune system function. Mindell states, "As our consumption of high fructose corn syrup has risen 250 percent in the past 15 years, our rate of diabetes has increased approximately 45 percent in about the same time period.” [12]
  • Research by the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reveals that high fructose diets shorten the life span of laboratory mice from the normal two years to a mere five weeks![13]

Other studies suggest it’s not fructose -- in and of itself -- that creates the problem, but the delivery medium (as in soft drinks and other fructose-sweetened beverages) that is making us fat.[14] This has prompted an aggressive response from members of the food and beverage industries, who are promoting their own studies that show that frequent consumption of soft drinks does not lead to higher obesity rates,[15] that beverages sweetened with HFCS and sucrose affect satiety[16] and blood levels of glucose, insulin, leptin and ghrelin[17] similarly.

On the website of the Corn Refiners Association they present their side of the story:

  • on obesity: “there is currently no convincing evidence to support a link between HFCS consumption and overweight/obesity.”
  • on sugar consumption: “Bottom line: high fructose corn syrup has not changed the sweetener mix in the country's diet.”
  • on insulin production/resistance: “Both [sucrose and fructose] have essentially the same effect on insulin production.”
  • on differences in metabolism: “Some studies claim that the body processes high fructose corn syrup differently than other sugars due to the fructose content. Conclusions from these studies cannot be extrapolated to high fructose corn syrup. That is because the studies looked at the effects of fructose independently.”
I have two things to say here. First, anyone who lived through the “does tobacco cause lung cancer?’ debate will remember similar pronouncements from the Tobacco Industry back in the 70s. Second, they are side-stepping the key issue – that because HFCS is so plentiful and cheap, it is now in nearly every processed food we eat, and the resulting sugar load is killing us!

Let’s look at some facts:

Fructose exists naturally in small amounts in honey, root plants and various fruits. When eaten in small amounts in a regular diet, fructose can be beneficial to your health. A process for producing HFCS was developed in the late 1950s and refined by Japanese researchers in the 1970s. Basically, you mill corn to produce corn starch and process the corn starch to produce corn syrup. (Corn syrup is almost entirely glucose, the human body’s primary source of energy.) Then you subject that glucose to a three part enzymatic process which turns the glucose into fructose. The fructose is then back-blended with glucose (and other sugars) to create high-fructose corn syrups.

HFCS was found to have a number of desirable qualities. It is about 75 percent sweeter than regular table sugar [18]-- and cheaper to produce.[19] It transports well, mixes easily, extends shelf life, retains moisture in foods, enhances flavors, helps breads brown and helps to prevent freezer burn.[20] The food industry has found ways to put it in practically everything, including breakfast cereals, beverages, sauces and marinades, snack foods, fast foods, syrups and sweeteners, meat products, dairy products, canned soups, condiments, and miscellaneous foods. They’re even putting it into cough syrups and antibiotics!

As a result, the use of HFCS has grown rapidly, from 56,000 short tons in 1970 to nearly 8.8 million short tons in 2006[21] -- and per capita consumption in the U.S. has increased from half a pound a year in 1970 to nearly sixty pounds a year in 2006. In 1970, HFCS supplied less than 1 percent of our total sugar intake; now it provides nearly 42 percent.[22] When you add up all sugar consumption (refined sugar, corn sweeteners, honey, etc.), on a per capita basis we’re consuming nearly 140 pounds of sugar every year! [23]

As Jessica Fraser reports, “many people unknowingly consume food and drinks containing ridiculous amounts of sugar. But don't expect labels to help you determine how much sugar is added. Sugar has all sorts of names: dextrose, glucose, fructose, lactose, corn syrup, maple sugar, honey, invert sugar or malt.” [24] In fact, many people get 30 percent or more of their calories from these hidden sugars.[25]

The USDA recommends that people limit themselves to 10 to 12 teaspoons of added sugars a day. With the pervasive use of HSCS, the average American now eats nearly three times that.[26] Drink one 12 oz. Pepsi and you’ve met the daily objective. Eat one Berkeley Farms low-fat yogurt with fruit -- or drink one Hansen’s Super Vita orange-carrot Smoothie -- and you’re done for the day.[27]

If you’re eating a lot of processed and/or fast foods, it adds up quickly. Take a look at the following hypothetical menu and its sugar load.

· 8 oz. Ocean Spray grape juice – 10 teaspoons[28]
· 1 cup Post/Kellogg’s Raisin Bran cereal – 4+ teaspoons
· 1 grande Starbucks nonfat or soy chai latte – 11+ teaspoons[29]

· MacDonald’s Double Cheeseburger
· Large French Fries
· 2 T Ketchup
· Large Coke
Total – 24 teaspoons[30]

· 4 oz. sweet and sour shrimp – 6 teaspoons
· ½ c. rice – 0
· Mixed green salad with tomatoes – 1 teaspoon
· 1 T red wine vinaigrette – 3 teaspoons
· 2 Fig Newtons – 6 teaspoons

Grand Total: 65 teaspoons of sugar, or 6.5 times the recommended amount!

So, all you corn lovers, you'll be happy to hear that corn -- per se -- is not the culprit. My ear of corn – arguably one of the sweetest vegetables -- has less than one teaspoon of sugar. The real culprit is fast foods and processed foods, which, with all of their affordability, availability and convenience, are tipping the proverbial scales toward disaster.

[2] Bray, G., Nielsen, S.J., and Popkin, B. M., Consumption of high-fructose corn syrup in beverages may play a role in the epidemic of obesity, in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2004; 79:537-43.
[4] Bray, et al, 2004.
[5] Elliot, S.S., Keim, N.L., Stern, J.S., Teff, K., and Havel, P. Fructose, weight gain, and the insulin resistance syndrome. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 76, No. 5, 911-922, November 2002
[6] Teff, K.T., Elliott, S.S., Tschoep, M., Rader, D., Heiman, M, Townsend, R.R., Keim, N.L., D’Alession, D., Havel, P.J., 2004. Dietary fructose reduces circulating insulin and leptin, attenuates postprandial suppression of ghrelin and increases triglycerides in women. Clinical Endocrine Metabolism. 89:2963-2972.
[7] Elliott, et al, 2002.
[8] as accessed Jan 19, 2008
[9] Wikipedia, High Fructose Corn Syrup, as accessed 1/11/2008.
[10] Soda warning: High sugar intake linked to pancreatic cancer, Thursday, November 09, 2006 by: Ben Kage,
[11] Dangers of High Fructose Corn Syrup - HFCS,
[12] Ibid
[14] Mattes, R.D., Beverages and positive energy balance: the menace is the medium, International Journal of Obesity, 2006, S60-S65.
[15] Sun, S.Z., Empie, M.W., Lack of findings for the association between obesity risk and usual sugar-sweetened beverage consumption in adults – A primary analysis of databases of CSFII-1989–1991, CSFII-1994–1998, NHANES III, and combined NHANES 1999–2002. Regulatory, Nutritional and Scientific Affairs Group, James R. Randall Research Center, Archer Daniels Midland Company. 12 February 2007
[16] Monsivais, P., Perrique, M.M., and Drenowski, A., Sugars and satiety: does the type of sweetener make a difference? American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 86, No. 1, 116-123, July 2007 (Supported by a grant from the American Beverage Association, by the Corn Refiners Association, and by fellowship T32 DE07132 from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research)
[17] Melanson, K.J., Zukley, L., Lowndes, J., Nguyen, V., Angelopoulos, T.J., and Rippe, J.M., Effects of high-fructose corn syrup and sucrose consumption on circulating glucose, insulin, leptin and hrelin and on appetitie in normal-weight women. Nutrition 23( 2007) 102-112.
[18] High-fructose corn syrup: sugar on crack? By Phil Lempert, Today Food Editor, March 2006,, as accessed 1/21/08
[19] Sugar Coated, by Kim Severson, San Francisco Chronicle, February 18, 2004
[20] Ibid.
[21] Sugar and Sweeteners Team, Market and Trade Economics Division, Economic Research Service, USDA. Last updated: 3/15/2007
[22] Sugar and Sweeteners Team, Market and Trade Economics Division, Economic Research Service, USDA. Last updated: 4/11/2007
[23] Ibid
[24] Dangers of High Fructose Corn Syrup - HFCS
[25] How Much Sugar Is Too Much, by Chris Woolston, CONSUMER HEALTH INTERACTIVE,
[26] Sugar and Your Health, the University of Georgia Extension Service,, as accessed 1/20/08
[27], as accessed 1/20/08
[28], as accessed 1/20/08
[29] Ibid
[30] McDonald’s Web Site, Food and Nutrition,, as accessed 1-20-08

Friday, January 18, 2008

Abbondanza Announces CSA "Dream Share" to Help Finance New Farmstead

Boulderites, take note!

Shanan Olson and Rich Pecoraro of Abbondanza Organic Seeds & Produce have just announced a special three-year, year-round CSA share that will help them finance ownership of their own farmland (already under contract!).

They write, "In order to realize the Abbondanza dream of establishing a farmstead within Boulder County, at which we may genuinely share the unique aspects of farm life, local food systems and seed saving, we have determined, after five years of renting, that we need a permanent home. Any other way is contrary to our vision and ultimately detrimental to our long-term sustainability. Dream Share will empower Abbondanza as a community farm to reach into the locale more deeply and establish programs of teaching and sharing for young and old."

The three-year Dream Share will include Abbondanza's very best in Veggie Share and Keeper Share, plus a Fruit Share from Ela Family Farms in Hotchkiss (western slope).

There are only 50 Dream Shares available, providing subscribers year-round local food for three full years, and all are expected to sell out by the end of the month--so hurry if you want to support this important effort. Participation will empower Abbondanza "to become landowners, thus establishing a community stead for teaching and sharing the crafts of seed and food." This will be a tremendous breakthrough for local agriculture in Boulder County!

Click here for more details and a sign-up sheet.

Reprinted with permission from Boulder Valley Relocalization.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Breaking News for Small Farmers...

Looking for an inexpensive way to launch a Website? Check out the following press release from SPIN Farming and Small Farm Central:

SPIN-Farming™ Teams Up with Small Farm Central

PHILADELPHIA--(BUSINESS WIRE)--SPIN-Farming, ( has teamed up with Small Farm Central ( to provide ready-to-go websites that connect farmers with customers quickly, easily and inexpensively.

"SPIN-Farming calls for cultivating customers as well as crops, and that calls for a professional-looking web site," says Wally Satzewich, the developer of the SPIN-Farming system. "But most farmers would rather deal with buggy potato plants than buggy software. Small Farm Central frees farmers to be out working their plots instead of sitting behind a computer trying to program their web sites."

The SPIN-branded web sites can include everything "soup to nuts", from photo galleries to blogs to recipes to mailing lists, but farmers can start out simply and add features as they see the need. No technical experience is necessary to run their sites on Small Farm Central.
"SPIN-Farming is helping to eliminate the traditional hardships of farming and is redefining it as an entrepreneurially-driven profession," says Roxanne Christensen, Co-author of the SPIN-Farming online learning series. "It is only natural to be working with Small Farm Central to eliminate the complexities of web site development and help farmers harness the power of technology for direct marketing. Plus, Small Farm Central is in a great position to know what is working for farmers online, and they generously offer free tips and advice at their site."
"Whether they farm in the middle of an urban jungle, on the suburban fringe, or as part of a large acreage in the country, each SPIN farmer's story is a powerful online marketing tool. We at Small Farm Central understand their stories, and help them tell it, engage with their customers, and sell more through professional, active websites that promote the farmer-eater connection," says Simon Huntley, Lead Developer of Small Farm Central.

S-mall P-lot IN-tensive (SPIN) Farming is a non-technical, easy-to-understand-and inexpensive-to-implement farming system that makes it possible to generate $50,000+ in gross sales from a half-acre by growing common vegetables. It is organic-based and can be practiced on a single plot or multi-sited on several residential backyards or front lawns in urban or peri-urban areas. It is available via an online learning series at

Small Farm Central provides inexpensive, professional web services to farmers across the country. An online control panel that farmers can access at any time takes the mystery out of farm websites and makes it a breeze to sell products, publish a blog, post photos, and more. Information about the Small Farm Central SPIN web service can be found at: Contact Roxanne Christensene-mail: phone: 610-505-9189

Please note: I am passing this along as an FYI. This should not be seen as an endorsement or recommendation of the product.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Mark Your Calendars for the January 24th Denver Screening of King Corn

Almost everything Americans eat contains corn: high fructose corn syrup, corn-fed meat, and corn-based processed foods are the staples of the modern diet. King Corn is a feature documentary about two friends, one acre of corn, and the subsidized crop that drives our fast-food nation.

In King Corn, Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis, best friends from college on the east coast, move to the heartland to learn where their food comes from. With the help of friendly neighbors, genetically modified seeds, and powerful herbicides, they plant and grow a bumper crop of America’s most-productive, most-subsidized grain on one acre of Iowa soil. But when they try to follow their pile of corn into the food system, what they find raises troubling questions about how we eat—and how we farm.

Screening: January 24th
The Starz Film Center
9th Street and Auraria Parkway
Times and Details: 303-893-3456

Director Aaron Woolf will be present at the screening. See the King Corn website for trailers, reviews, dates and how to take action.

Corn Kernels:
Reprinted from the King Corn Press Kit

Corn is the nation’s most-planted, most-processed, most-subsidized crop. More than 80 million acres of the heartland are planted in corn each year, and delivered to our tables:

“If you take a McDonald’s meal, you don’t realize it when you eat it, but you’re eating corn. Beef has been corn-fed. Soda is corn. Even the French fries. Half the calories in the French fries come from the fat they’re fried in, which is liable to be either corn oil or soy oil. So when you’re at McDonald’s, you’re eating Iowa food. Everything on your plate is corn.” -- Michael Pollan, UC Berkeley, in King Corn

There is legislative logic to the flood of cheap corn-based foods. In 2005, federal subsidies spent $9.4 billion in taxpayer money to promote corn production. For Iowa farmers, these payments often mean the difference between profit and loss on a given acre. With subsidies promoting production beyond market demand, the raw materials for an obesity epidemic are readily at hand.

For further reading on corn, consult Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma (see Home Grown Colorado review, December 20, 2007), the Farm Subsidies Database at, or

On the farm:

Number of acres planted in corn in the U.S. in 1970[i]: 66.9 million
Number of acres planted in 2004
[ii]: 80.9 million
Number in 2007
[iii]: 92.9 million
Percent change since 1970: +39

Number of acres planted in corn in Iowa in 1970
[iv]: 10.8 million
Number of acres planted in 2007
[v]: 14.3 million

Iowa’s average yield, in bushels per acre, of corn in 1970: 86
Iowa’s average yield, in bushels per acre, in 2007: 180
Percent change since 1970: +109

Number of acres planted in vegetables in the U.S. last year
[vi]: 2 million
Number of acres planted in vegetables in Iowa last year
[vii]: 2,800

Number if acres planted in sweet corn—for corn in the cob—in the U.S. last year
[viii]: 253,500
Percentage of those acres that are in Florida, the number-one sweet-corn-growing state
[ix]: 13
Rank of New York among top sweet-corn-growing states
[x]: 3

Last year in which a record was set in the U.S. for corn production, in bushels
[xi]: 2004
Percentage points by which 2007 corn production is projected to exceed that record
[xii]: +10.6
Number of bushels to be harvested in 2007
[xiii]: 13.1 billion

In your body:

Rank of refined sugar, or sucrose, among most-used sweeteners in the U.S. in 1966
[xiv]: 1
Rank in 2007: 2
Rank of high-fructose corn syrup in 2007: 1

Estimated percentage of high-fructose corn syrup consumed from beverages
[xv]: 66
Rank of soft drinks among top beverages consumed by Americans
[xvi]: 1

Minimum percentage of a soda that is made up of high-fructose corn syrup
[xvii]: 7
Maximum percentage: 14
Percentage by which high-fructose corn syrup is cheaper than sugar
[xviii]: 60

Average, in pounds, of high-fructose corn syrup consumed by an American in 1970
[xix]: 0.6
Average, in pounds, consumed in 2000
[xx]: 73.5

Size, in ounces, of McDonald’s Supersize soda, discontinued in 2004: 42
Size, in ouces, of McDonald’s new extra-large soda, Hugo, introduced in 2007
[xxi]: 42

Percentage of Americans categorized as overweight or obese in 1971
[xxii]: 47.7
Percentage in 2004
[xxiii]: 66
Percentage of American children categorized as overweight or obese in 1971
[xxiv]: 4
Percentage in 2004
[xxv]: 17.5

In our wallets:

Rank of Iowa among states receiving the most money in corn subsidies: 1
Rank of New York: 16

Rank of corn growers among farmers receiving the most farm subsidies in Iowa: 1
Rank of corn growers among farmers receiving the most farm subsidies in New York: 1

Amount, in dollars, that Iowa corn farmers received in subsidies, 2003-2005: 3.4 billion
Amount that New York corn farmers received: 173 million
Amount, in dollars, received by Floyd County, IA corn farmers, 2003-2005: 37.5 million
Amount, in dollars, received by Greene, IA’s top recipient of subsidies: 364,693

Number of farm subsidy recipients in Greene, Iowa: 317
Population of Greene, Iowa: 1,015

Amount, in dollars, that the top 20% of subsidy recipients received, 2003-2005: 29.1 billion
Amount, in dollars, that the remaining 80% of recipients received: 5.6 billion
Amount, in dollars, received by the subsidy program’s single top recipient: 7.9 million


[i] USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service, Quick Stats, “U.S. & All States Data—Crops: Corn for Grain, 1970”.
[ii] USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service, Quick Stats, “U.S. & All States Data—Crops: Corn for Grain, 2004”.
[iii] USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service, Quick Stats, “U.S. & All States Data—Crops: Corn for Grain, 2007”.
[iv] USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service, Quick Stats, “U.S. & All States Data—Crops: Corn for Grain, 1970”.
[v] USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service, Quick Stats, “U.S. & All States Data—Crops: Corn for Grain, 2007”.
[vi] USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service, Quick Stats, “U.S. & All States Data—Vegetables, 2006”.
[vii] USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service, Quick Stats, “U.S. & All States Data—Vegetables, 2006”.
[viii] USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service, Quick Stats, “U.S. & All States Data—Vegetables: Sweet Corn-Fresh, 2006”.
[ix] USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service, Quick Stats, “U.S. & All States Data—Vegetables: Sweet Corn-Fresh, 2006”.
[x] USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service, Quick Stats, “U.S. & All States Data—Vegetables: Sweet Corn-Fresh, 2006”.
[xi] USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service, “USDA Forecasts Record-Setting Corn Crop for 2007,” August 10, 2007.
[xii] USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service, “USDA Forecasts Record-Setting Corn Crop for 2007,” August 10, 2007.
[xiii] USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service, “USDA Forecasts Record-Setting Corn Crop for 2007,” August 10, 2007.
[xiv] Sally Squires, Washington Post, March 11, 2003, “Sweet but Not So Innocent?
[xv] George A Bray, Samara Joy Nielsen and Barry M Popkin, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 79, No. 4, 537-543, April 2004
[xvi] American Beverage Association, “ What America Drinks: Our Favorite Beverages—Total U.S. Beverage Consumption 2005”.
[xvii] American Beverage Association, “What's Inside Carbonated Soft Drinks,” 2007.
[xviii] Business Week, April 2, 2007, “Will Soda Makers Shuck Corn for Sugar?”
[xix] George A Bray, Samara Joy Nielsen and Barry M Popkin, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 79, No. 4, 537-543, April 2004
[xx] George A Bray, et al, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 79, No. 4, 537-543, April 2004
[xxi] Martin, Andrew, The New York Times, July 22, 2007, “ Did McDonald’s Give In to Temptation?”
[xxii] United States Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, “Health, United States, 2006, With Chartbook on Trends in the Health of Americans—Table 73: Overweight, obesity, and healthy weight among persons 20 years of age and over by sex, age, race, and Hispanic origin, and poverty level: United States, 1960-1962 through 2001-2004”, p. 287.
[xxiii] United States Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, “Health, United States, 2006, With Chartbook on Trends in the Health of Americans—Table 73: Overweight, obesity, and healthy weight among persons 20 years of age and over by sex, age, race, and Hispanic origin, and poverty level: United States, 1960-1962 through 2001-2004”, p. 287.
[xxiv] United States Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, “Health, United States, 2006, With Chartbook on Trends in the Health of Americans—Table 73: Overweight among children and adolescents 6-19 years of age by sex, age, race, and Hispanic origin, and poverty level: United States, 1963-1965 through 2001-2004”, p. 291.
[xxv] United States Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, “Health, United States, 2006, With Chartbook on Trends in the Health of Americans—Table 73: Overweight among children and adolescents 6-19 years of age by sex, age, race, and Hispanic origin, and poverty level: United States, 1963-1965 through 2001-2004”, p. 291.
[xxvi] Farm Subsidy Database, Environmental Working Group, 2007.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

NPR Interview with Michael Pollan on his New Book: In Defense of Food

Technorati Profile

"Don't eat anything that your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food...."

Check out this NPR interview with Michael Pollan on his new book, In Defense of Food. In six minutes, he covers a number of the scariest things about our current food system -- and gives us all plenty to chew on.

Here's a link to the interview:

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Top 10 Ways to Help Support Local Foods in Denver

It's always good to use the New Year as a catalyst for examining your life. If you're looking for some "resolution-fodder," here are ten ways that you can help develop a local food system in Denver. (This can be adapted to other communities as well.)

10. Patronize restaurants and grocers that feature locally grown food.

9. Go to one of Denver's many farmers markets to buy local food and connect with local farmers.

8. Grow food organically in your backyard or even in a container. Invite a child to handpick and eat your vine-ripened fruit or vegetables.

7. Get involved in the public review process for proposed development and advocate for community gardens, community-supported agriculture projects (CSAs) and farmers markets. Be sure to support the Rocky Mountain Land Use Institute's efforts to develop a Sustainable Community Development Code.

6. Join Denver's Food and Agricultural Policy Council, and help address local food issues at a policy level, such as farm to cafeteria programs in local schools.

5. Join Denver's Healthy Neighborhood Network (HNN) and share ideas with other gardeners, help to further secure the long-term sustainability of community gardens in our city and volunteer/or volunteer to mentor youth in a school garden.

4. Support Denver's new Youth Markets Coalition next season by attending their market days from July through September.

3. Join DeLaney Community Farm, or another local CSA, as a shareholder or volunteer. You can even purchase a "winter share" at some local CSAs.

2. Volunteer with Denver Urban Gardens and assist us in our work to improve access to local, healthy and affordable food for inner-city residents.

1. Promote, join or start a community garden in your neighborhood, and reach out to your neighbors, build community and share the joys and benefits of a bountiful harvest.

Note: This list was originally published in The Underground News, Fall 2007
Reprinted with permission from Denver Urban Gardens