Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Organic versus Natural – understanding meat labels

Food labels can be very confusing and sometimes even misleading. These days many people want to know more about how their food was produced and as a result more food is being labeled with titles of natural and organic. Because these terms can get confusing, I thought it might be helpful to break down the meanings of each in order to help people make the best choice for themselves. This explanation looks specifically at meat products.

Organic – specifically you want to look for the term “certified organic” as opposed to terms used at Farmer’s Markets such as “organically raised”. Certified Organic is a term regulated by the US Department of Agriculture and the certification process to verify that producers are indeed meeting the USDA regulations is completed by a third party verification organization. Here in California, CCOF is one of the most commonly used certifying agencies. One of the many reasons that organic products are more expensive is that the farmers must pay numerous fees for the third party verification. The third party verification is a time consuming process with LOTS of paperwork.
Animals that meet the organic certification are those that were produced on certified organic land. The land must be verified to have been free of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides for at least three years before it can be certified. Once certified, only organic approved products can be used on this land.

Livestock produced organically must never be treated with synthetic antibiotics nor can they be supplemented with synthetic hormones. All treatments and vaccines administered to organic livestock must be approved as organic by the USDA.

Feed is a big issue in the production of organic livestock. All feed that organic animals eat must also be certified organic. Any grains that they consume must be organic and as a result are non-GMO grains.  This also means that the grain crop was never treated with synthetic fertilizers or pesticides and herbicides.

There are many different rules regarding access to pasture and or outdoor space for organic livestock too. Cattle specifically must have access to pasture during the productive season of the pasture. Animals like hogs (which must get a majority of their diet from grains due to their digestive system – they cannot live on grass alone) must have access to yards and outdoor areas. There are also more specific rules about animal treatment and allowed production practices for each species.
Organic meats must even be harvested (butchered) organically. This means the facility that does the harvesting must be organic and meet the same standards and pay for the verification that the farmer does. This is another added cost to the producer and a challenge to find a facility that does butcher organically.

The most important thing to know about organic is that it is a regulated term that requires third party verification.

Natural – this term gets the most confusing and is used in a wide variety of ways. In general, natural just means “minimally processed” but that usually just means that little is added to the meat. Most traditionally produced meat can fall under this definition.  If the package just says “natural” that literally means the meat has been minimally processed, nothing else.

But most products labeled natural on the package will have some additional definition as to what the term means on their particular product. And claims made on a package label must be approved by USDA and have some sort of verification system to document the claims.

Here are a few common claims that you may see on natural labels and what they typically mean:

No Antibiotics – this means that the animal was never treated with antibiotics.

No Hormones – this label is a pet peeve of mine because all animals naturally have hormones, as people do. What these labels should read is No Added Hormones which would indicate that the animal was never treated with supplemental hormones.

Free Range – this is used pretty commonly in pork and poultry and should mean that the animal has access to pasture or a paddock.

But if the label of your meat just says natural, then all that means is that it was minimally processed. If you are looking for a specific issue, you need to be sure your meat is labeled with that claim or perhaps consider an organic product. Natural products will be less expensive than organic because there is not the expense of the third party verification and other production costs are typically lower.

There are several other issues that we have skipped such as what traditional or conventional products are and how they are raised, the challenges of processed (think bacon and sausage) organic products, what is a GMO grain and why do people care, the stringent regulations of antibiotic use to keep animals and the food supply healthy, the animal handling and treatment requirements for organic and an issue that is important to consider – what do the farmers feed their own families?  These issues will be addressed in future posts.   

So what is the right label for you? That just depends on what you are comfortable with, your budget and even where you purchase your food. Purchasing food directly from the farmer is a great option for people who have specific concerns about the production of their food. Sometimes the relationship with the farmer is all you will need to be reassured about the quality and wholesomeness of the food they produce – whether they label it organic, natural, or traditional.

This post was a collaboration between Sarah, an organic pork producer, and Shannon, a natural beef and pork producer - all I did was edit and link up!  Thanks Sarah and Shannon!!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Hunk of Meat Monday: Pork Loin Roast

I am so excited to participate in my first Hunk of Meat Monday over at Beyer Beware!  So, here goes:

I started with a pork loin roast.  I was planning on putting it in the low cooker but my sister (who raised this hunk of meat) said that I needed to cook it in the oven, so that is what I did.  I rinsed it, dried it and cut off the strings. 

I mixed up a bunch of spices.  The mixture has garlic powder, garlic salt, dried garlic, pepper, nature's seasoning, dried onion, and dried oregano. 

I put the spice mixture on the pork.

Then I rubbed it.  I did this on both sides and on the ends.

I don't have a roasting pan, so I used this pan - I have no idea what kind of pan it is, but I am pretty sure it it not supposed to be used for this - oh, well!

I heated the oven to 450 and cooked the roast for 15 minutes.  Than I lowered the heat to 250 and cooked it for another 90 minutes. 

I took it out and made sure the middle was cooked.  My thermometer says it should be 150 - I cut it open to be sure.

Finally I had the boyfriend cut it up. 

I would show you how beautiful it looked plated but I am really weird and I don't like when my dinner is the same color, so I didn't want to show the world that it was the same color - but, I am telling you all that, so I guess it doesn't really matter.  We had mashed red potatoes and garlic bread with the pork loin roast and it was really good!

What do you think? 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

California Agriculture

When one thinks about California they think of beaches, surfing, and Hollywood (that is, if you don’t live here).  My senior year of high school on the plane on the way to Louisville, KY for the National FFA Convention we were warned that the rest of the country believes that we all live on the beach and we all surf to school.  It was true!  People from all over the country read the back of our jackets and made a comment about us living on the beach or how often we surf or asked us why were we even in FFA since there are no farms in California.  I didn’t (and still don’t) know how to surf, don’t live on the beach, and am surrounded by farms.  So, let’s set the record straight . . .

California is the national’s largest producer and exporter of agriculture products.  California is No. 1 in agricultural cash receipts and has been for more than 60 years. 

California’s agriculture is diverse.  There are over 400 commodities produced in California.  There are many commodities that are solely produced in California (solely means 99% or more) including raisins, almonds, artichokes, walnuts, pistachios, and many more. 

California farmers are effective.  We are the largest producer of agriculture products yet we use only 4 percent of the nation’s farmland. How is that even possible?  With the best soil and mostly (I say this because this year’s weather has been weird) ideal weather, farmers are able to produce more using less.  Since most of California does not have a harsh winter the growing season is longer than parts of the country that do endure a harsh winter.  While California farmers are planting and tending their crops many parts of the country are still waiting for the snow to melt. 

I am proud to be a Californian and I am proud to be an agriculturalist. 

To read more on this topic go to the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s website.  To read the Agriculture Statistical Review go here (it has some great tables and lots more information).  I like visuals, so also go here.  And if you want a quick read take a look at the Ag Highlights Brochure!

If you have anything to add, please leave it in a comment below!

AND, if you are not Californian please tell me about your state's agriculture in the comments! 

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day to all of the mothers!!  I am not a mom (unless you count the fur babies), but I do have the best mom ever!

Every Mother's Day from when I was little to when I was in high school was spend taking us home from county fair.  Mom always had to help us pack all our stuff and our animals up and drive us home - this usually took a few trips and all day.  To top it all off she always got something from the fair for Mother's Day from us.  A key chain, some lotion, or some other cheesy thing.  So, for this Mother's Day - I dug up some picture of her:
Only my mom can make this ugly dress look good!

The family - when I was a baby - the little brother was not born yet.

My mom crawling from under the house.  This was normal at our house.

I know you can't really see us, but this was our biking trip in San Fransisco last summer.

My mom has never been a girly-girl.  She was never one to put on make-up or wear heels.  The only dress she owned when I was a kid was her wedding dress.  But, I learned far more valuable lessons than how to put on lipstick or how to paint my nails. 

My mom taught me to be polite.  She taught me to say please and thank you and how to address a friend's parents (Mr. ___ and Mrs. ___).  She taught me to ask how people are and care what they said.  She taught me to sit up straight and chew with my mouth closed.  She taught me to 'kill them with kindness.'

My mom taught me how to work hard.  She made us help out around the house and clean up the dishes when we were invited to someone's house for dinner.  We had to take care of the animals before and after school.  We had to clean our own rooms and do our own laundry.  

My mom taught me how to be strong (I am still learning this one).  She taught me how to stand up for myself and defended me when needed.

My mom taught me how to hang with the guys.  She taught me that I don't need a man to do things for me (but to never turn them down if they offer let them do it once in a while).  She taught me to use power tools.  She taught me how to change water lines - even if they break at the worst possible time.  She taught me how to drive a stick and forced me to get a stick as my first car so I would never forget. She taught me how to change wiring and how to read a multi meter.   

My mom taught me how to be a lady.  She taught me how to make the best apple pie.  She taught me how to sew.  She showed me that I don't need make-up or fancy clothes to be beautiful. 

My mom taught me how to manage money.  She raised three kids (and a husband) and made what little we had seem like more than enough.  She taught me that saving money "just in case" is important.  She taught me to leave extra for "mad money."  She taught me that there is only one reason to get a loan- and that is for a house.  She taught me that used is just as good as new in most cases. 

My mom is always there for me.  She was there to take us home from the fair every year (and still supported us in 4-H even though she missed out on Mother's Day every year).  She helped fix the wiring problem in our house - the doorbell didn't work and we figured out why and fixed it (when I say helped I mean she did it and I watched).  She helps me in the classroom when I need it.  She supports me no matter what I choose to do. 
These are just a few of the many lesson my mom taught me in the last 25 year . . . she made me a very well rounded woman.  Thank you ma and HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Beef and Breast Cancer

Today we walked in the Race for the Cure - a run/walk benefiting breast cancer.  I thought that this had nothing to do with beef, but I was wrong . . . Agriculture is EVERYWHERE!
How amazing it is cow from the Race for the Cure today? I've got a beef with cancer!

Our team - not a amazing as "I've got a beef with cancer" but still pretty creative.  We were Tutus for Tatas! 

Hope you all have a great weekend! Happy Mother's Day to all of the mothers out there!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Feed Bag to Grocery Bag

Hello all!  I have a real treat for you!  I am SO excited to show you how I took a feed bag from my mom and turned it into a grocery bag (or gym bag or any bag you need).  In fact, I have other blog posts I have been wanting to post but I am so excited that I had to post this first.  So, enough babbling, let's get to it!

Start with a feed bag (in my case it is layer pellets from my mom's chickens).  I am not sure what this material is called but it is NOT the paper feed bags.  My mom was just going to throw them away (or fill them with "compost" for the garden), so this is a green project too!

Take the string and paper off from the bottom.

Get a measuring tape and something long and straight (a yard stick if you are fancy and have one)

Measure your bag and mark the middle.  Do this on the top and bottom (so you have 2 marks).

Make a line (connecting the 2 marks) with your straight thing.
Cut along the line.  Set one half out of the way.

To create the hem for what will be the top just folded the bag in where there is already a crease. 

Then fold it over again and pin it.

Use clear thread (or any color you want) and sew.
Wash it with water and let it dry (this could have been done earlier also).

This is that part that I wasn't so sure about but I love the way it turned out and it was so easy!  Turn the bag inside out and fold up on the side (there is already a crease where the bag folds).  It will look like the above picture. 

Do the same thing on the other side then pin the bottom together.

Sew with clear thread.  Sew again with clear thread.  I think next time I will use fishing line because it would probably be a much stronger seam. 

Cut the extra off on the inside corners.

To add handles I used some material I had laying around (that I was planning to make bags with but never got around to it).  I put about where I wanted the handles and measured to make sure they were even on both sides. 

Put the marks on both sides then pin on the handles - you only need one pin (no pictures of these next steps, sorry - I was too excited it was turning out so well to take pictures).

I used a sewing machine but reinforced one by hand with fishing line.  It was easier by hand, so next bag I will be sewing on the handles by hand.  Sew them again.  Sew them one more time just to be safe.  (If doing in with fishing line you only need to do it once.)

Here is is all done!!  How amazing is it?  Repeat with the half you set aside earlier and you will have two bags.  The bottom will not turn out as pretty but it will still be really neat! 

The cost is the best part!  The bag was from my mom and was FREE, the thread I already had (and was only $2 when I bought it), and the handles I already had (the material was only $2 for at least 6 handles).  So, the cost for me was FREE!!  But, the cost if you had to buy the thread and the handles would be less than $5!  Sure, you could buy a reusable bag for $5 but could you buy a reusable bag this awesome? I think not!

Let's take a look again:
BEFORE - feed bag
AFTER - amazing reusable bag

This is my first link party and I am hitting two chickens birds with one stone! The Before and After Party from Thrifty Decor Chick AND the Twice Owned Tuesday Party from House of Grace. 

Hope you enjoyed!  Please let me know what you think!