Sunday, July 31, 2011

Permaculture Principles: Principle Five - Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services

Holmgren's Twelve Principles of Permaculture

Principle Five: Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services
Holmgren's Proverb for this Principle:  Let nature take its course.

This principle makes sense to me on two levels: ethical and financial.  Let's start with the ethical.  As I have said many times before, I am an evidence-based environmentalist.  I need to see proof... hard scientific proof... not flashy, pseudo-science by some talking head with a good powerpoint or with the backing of some college dropout celebrity who thinks he has a platform to talk because he is a good actor.  I want to see that action A results in outcome B.

For far too long, there has been, and still are, a number of non-renewable resources that have been depleted either completely or to the point that it will take hundreds to thousands of years to replenish.  The first two that come to mind are rain forests and freshwater aquifers.  Probably the most disturbing, and really just sad to me, are the hundreds of species that have been wiped out forever.  Unfortunately, things often come to a point of, "Well, I am not going to lose my job or my house or my farm all because of some spotted owl or speckled minnow!"  The crazy liberal eco-fanatics push one way, and the misguided Christian capitalists push the other way.   My point is that it should have never come to that in the first place.  If we truly took care of the earth as God asked man to do in Genesis 2, then the prior discussion would never arise (for more detail see this post on Permaculture Ethics).  How much genetic diversity has been lost already?  Maybe there was a cure to cancer in a plant that was burned or dozed in the quest for a nice veneer on a kitchen cabinet in New York.  Who knows?  However, from my point of view, from an ethical basis, we need to use and value renewable resources as much as possible.

From a financial basis, this also makes good financial sense.  When I am shopping for almost anything, I will usually save up and buy one of the best products available.  Why?  Because I know that it will last a much longer time than the cheaper alternative (usually).  So, for a bit of a larger investment initially, I have saved more money in the long run in buying replacements and in time lost without that broken product.  Now, let's apply this to renewable resources, and let's just use water for irrigation as an example.  It will be cheaper in the short term to just use the hose and city water.  However, if I invested in a good rainwater collection system (as I outlined in this post on Rain Harvesting from your Roof), then the money I save in the long run will likely surpass the smaller daily charges from the water utility company.  On top of that, I am one step closer to independence, especially in times of trouble where city water might be unavailable (a broken water main, a biological terrorist attack, etc.).  Finally, I have also avoided depleting the source from which the city draws its water.  So in the end, for a long-sighted financial reason, I end up on the right side of the ethical line.  If everyone did this, then costs would continue to drop and non-renewable resources would begin to replenish.

This principle also ties in the ideas of conservation and cycling of energy (nutrients and resources).  When we are aware that the decisions we make have lasting ethical and financial impacts, we usually end up taking care of what we have in a more responsible manner.  We also find ways to use less energy, or we develop a way to reuse nutrients and resources more efficiently.  For example, I've seen a person who uses rain water to fill up irrigation cisterns and buckets.  What overflows from that is directed to his hot tub (so water is constantly being changed and no caustic chemicals are being used).  When he is done with the hot tub water, it is used to soak logs for mushroom production.  After that, the water is drained and used for irrigation.  What an amazing way to conserve and cycle a water resource!

Finally, this principle of using and valuing renewable resources also ties into principle six (Produce No Waste).  When our minds are open and our eyes are looking for renewable resources, we will often find a use for what others (and ourselves) previously see as waste.

"Let nature take its course" reminds us that when we design a Permaculture System, we are modeling and using natural processes and natural animal behavior to assist us in our goals.  Capitalize on what nature has already perfected, whether that is in building soil fertility or building self-sustaining forests, and harvest sustainably from plant and animal and wind and sun, to create a continuous bounty for yourself and your family.

Make the best use of nature's abundance to reduce our consumptive behavior and dependence on non-renewable resources.
- David Holmgren

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Book Review: Perennial Vegetables

Perennial Vegetables 
by Eric Toensmeier

First, let me define Perennial Vegetables (based on the definition from the book).  Perennial here means any plant that lives for at least 3 years and is not killed by the harvest.  Plants include herbaceous species as well as trees, shrubs, bulbs, cacti, bamboos, grasses, and vines.  These plants are used in a way the common person would consider as a vegetable.  The author did not include "novelty" plants or herbs for flavoring but only plants that can be considered a real food source.

I have some real likes and dislikes about this book.

I'll start with what I don't like.  This book outlines 100 perennial vegetables for United States gardeners.  However, unless you live in the far south of the U.S., only about a third of these plants will be truly perennial for you.  All the others will need to be grown as annuals.  So, in a sense, this book doesn't deliver as well as the marketing would have you believe.  However, I do think the main reason for this is that there are just not that many Temperate Climate perennial vegetables.

With that said, over 30 plants (other than asparagus) that can be grown as perennial vegetables is outstanding!  The other two-thirds of the plants that can be grown as annuals are also great. There is good information on the growing of these plants along with how to use them in your kitchen.

In Permaculture, diversity is one of the keys to success.  The addition of many of these plants will provide increased diversity to your garden and your table.  While I was hoping for a bit more, this book is really the first of its kind and a good read at that.

Here are a couple of the plants highlighted that really piqued my interest.  You may have heard of some of them before, but most people do not know you can grow them in your garden or Forest Garden.

Skirret (Sium sisarum)
Root Crop
Similar to a carrot, but you can harvest some of the roots and the plant keeps growing.

Turkish Rocket (Bunias orientalis) - this is not arugula!
Fresh/cooked greens, flowerbuds (like broccoli raab)
I've had this while in Turkey, and it has a strong flavor

Sea Kale (Crambe maritima)
Shoots, leaves, flowerbuds

Ramps (Allium tricoccum)
An Appalachian favorite.

Japanese Yams (Dioscorea japonica)
Tubers, shoots (like asparagus)
This plant has small arial tubers that are edible, too!

Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris)
Shoots (called "fiddleheads)
A New England forager's delicacy.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Running an Engine on Wood - Biomass Gasification


This is an amazing subject that I am finally getting my head wrapped around.  Honestly, the more I read and learn about this, the more I am shocked that this technology is not more widespread.  Let me start with a few definitions first:

Gasification:  This is a process of converting organic materials into carbon monoxide (CO), hydrogen (H), carbon dioxide (CO2), and methane (CH4) through really high temperatures without combustion (burning).  Wikipedia has a pretty good article on gasification here.

Syngas (aka Synthesis Gas or "Producer Gas"): This is the gas that results from Gasification.  It mainly consists of carbon monoxide and hydrogen.

Biomass Gasification: Another way of saying Gasification that is fueled by organic (carbonaceous) materials like wood and other waste products.

Fischer-Tropsch Process:  This is a set of chemical reactions that will convert a gaseous mixture of Syngas into a liquid form of synthetic fuel that can be used as a replacement for petroleum-derived fuel.  While I am mentioning it here just because it is really cool, the video below shows an engine running on only the gaseous form of Syngas.

A Brief History
This technology is over 180 years old!  Many towns were fueled with the gasification method until the advent of widespread electricity.  During the World Wars, it is estimated that close to a million vehicles were run by gasification when petroleum-derived fuels were rationed.  FEMA (yeah, the US Federal Emergency Management Agency) published a book in 1989 that outlines how to build a gasification generator in an emergency if petroleum-based fuels are not available. 

Obviously, there are some downsides to this or else it would be everywhere.  They take a while to warm up.  It is not as cheap for commercial enterprises.  It takes a while to cool down.  Produces wood tar which can dirty an engine.

The advantages, especially for a small-scale home producer, are many.  Gasification can run internal-combustion engines (like a generator to power the house!).  It can be pretty easily made using common materials.  It can run on any organic waste products and wood.  It can be combined with a water heater for dual purpose.

So let me show you a Biomass Gasification Generator in action:

Here is a set of really well done videos that explains a lot about Gasification:

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Permaculture Plants: Gooseberries

Green Gooseberries!

Common Name: Gooseberry
Scientific Name: Ribes uva-crispa
Family: Grossulariaceae

Thorny member of the Ribes genus (includes currants, jostaberries, worchesterberry).
Produces large, sweet, varigated berries (in shades of red and green most common, but white, yellow, purple, and almost black are available), on a single trunk with multiple stems, may form a thicket or clump via runners.

Personal Note:
I LOVE gooseberries!  Unfortunately, they are not readily available in the U.S.  Fortunately, I've had the chance to travel frequently through Europe in the late spring through summer when gooseberries can be found all over the place.  To me, they have a tropical sweet-tart flavor, somewhat of a cross between a grape and a raspberry... although there are a variety of flavors, and they all really just taste like gooseberries!.  They have a tart, thick skin and a very soft flesh full of edible seeds that range from hardly noticeable to slightly crunchy.  Delicious!  

A yellow variety of Gooseberry.

Developed in Europe, gooseberries are typically considered an English fruit.  They were likely brought to England in the 13th Century (based on a bill of purchase from France).  They were developed extensively over the next few centuries.  Gooseberries were brought to the "colonies" of America with the earliest settlers.  However, in 1920 federal law restricted growing these plants since gooseberries can potentially spread white pine blister rust; this federal ban was lifted in 1966.  Now the restrictions are managed state by state.  Some states allow gooseberry cultivation and others do not.  This federal ban is what is likely to blame for the obscurity of gooseberries in the U.S.

The name "goose" berry may come from a corruption of the German word Krausberre.
It may come from the fact that a savory-sweet sauce was made with these berries and served with goose.

Red Gooseberries

Primary Uses:
  • Fresh eating
  • Baking in desserts (pies, fools, crumbles)
  • Drying
  • Jams and preserves
  • Pickled
  • Added to flavor fresh fruit drinks and sodas
  • Sauces (both sweet and savory)
  • Wines
  • Teas

Secondary Uses:
  • Thorny thicket of stems is a great small bird and insect habitat.
  • Gooseberry flowers are considered a general nectar provider to insects.
  • Hummingbirds can collect nectar from Gooseberry flowers.

Yield: 9 lbs (4 kg) / 4-6 quarts (4-6 liters) annually if in full sun
Harvesting: May-August. Fruits can be pea-sized to almost golf-ball sized depending on the cultivar
Storage: Fresh fruits last 1-2 weeks in a cool place

An almost black cultivar of Gooseberry.

USDA Cold Hardiness Zone: 3-7 (depends on the variety)
AHS Heat Zone: 7-1 (depends on the variety)
Sunset Zone: Extremely variable (depends on the variety)
Chill Requirement: 800-1,500 hours or units (depends on the variety)

Plant Type: Shrub
Leaf Type: Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Shrub Layer

Cultivars/Varieties: Many cultivars available.  Sample them first to make sure you like the flavor.
Pollination: Self-fertile.  Usually by bees.
Flowering: Spring flowering, usually tolerant of frost

Life Span:
  • Years to Begin Bearing: 2-3 years
  • Years to Maximum Bearing: 2-3 years
  • Years of Useful Life: up to 25 years

The tiny Gooseberry flower.

Size: 3-5' (1-1.5 meters) high and wide
Roots: Suckering
Growth Rate: Medium

An orange Gooseberry variety.
Don't worry, the hairs on the fruit are soft.  The thorns are on the stems.

Light: Full Sun (preferable)
Shade: Tolerates moderate shade
Moisture: Medium
pH: 5.1 - 7.0

Special Considerations for Growing:
  • This is a heavy cropping plant and therefore requires higher levels of nutrients to fruit well.
  • Gooseberries can tolerate a wide variety of soil and light conditions.
  • Mildew can be a significant problem.  Try to choose mildew resistant varieties if possible. 
  • Gooseberries tend to grow best in locations with cool and moist summers, but can be grown with success in other areas with the right cultivar.

Propagation: Usually from hardwood cuttings in late autumn.  Needs 13 weeks of stratification.

There are many ways of more intensively managing gooseberry plants.  If you plan on keeping only one or two bushes, then I would recommend looking more into the specifics of more intensive management and pruning.  Since I plan on keeping gooseberries as a part of a Food Forest Garden, where I will allow a more "natural" growth pattern and take less fruit per plant in return for lower maintenance, an occasional pruning may return will likely be all I do to return a non-fruiting plant to a fruiting one.  

The characteristic thorn at the base of each fruit.

  • Thorns... ouch!  Care needs to be taken when harvesting the fruit.  It is well worth it!
  • Due to the fact that gooseberries (and currants) are potential hosts for white pine blister rust (which damages white pines), some areas in the U.S. do not allow gooseberries.  Check your local regulations.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Wine Cellars

Here is a quick post that give some examples of wine cellars.  I hope to have one some day.  Since I plan on making my own wine, I'll need a place to store it while it matures.  A cool dark place will be great for lagering beer as well.  In reality, I'll probably just wall up a small corner of a basement, but these photos are great inspiration:

A couple of photos of a really cool Trapdoor Wine Cellar

A more practical/less ornate storage for maturing wines.

A very simple storage area.

A classy, but fairly simple wine cellar.  
Could be a converted bathroom or the corner of a basement.

A pretty elaborate wine cellar.



Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Medical Topic: How to Survive a Vehicle Submersion

While this is primarily a Permaculture blog, I am still a physician.  I will from time to time have a Medical Topic covering an issue that I feel is important. 

Car that slid off the road into a semi-frozen lake.

Last year I attended a conference in Utah put on by the Wilderness Medicine Society.  One lecture topic that was eye-opening was on Vehicle Submersions.
Gordon Giesbrecht conducting research.

Dr. Gordon Giesbrecht from the University of Manitoba gave a great presentation on his research of dumping over 50 cars and trucks (with people inside) into lakes.  His research has shown, and debunked common myths, best way to survive if you find yourself in this situation.
I'll summarize here:
  • 350-400 people die each year in the U.S. and Canada when they accidentally drive into a lake or river.
  • Of all types of vehicle accidents, vehicle submersion has the highest rate of death.
  • Based on polling data, the average person does not know the way to survive a vehicle submersion.
  • Most people will grab their cell phone and call 911 or a friend.  This wastes the 50 seconds (average) that a person can get out of a car and survive.  If you stay in the car longer than 50 seconds, your chance if living almost drops to zero.  We listened to 911 recordings of people who spent over a minute talking to the operator trying to describe where they were and find out what to do… all of them died a few minutes later.
  • The average car will sink in 60-90 seconds.
  • The average multi-ton truck used for snow-plowing will sink in less than 10 seconds.
  • The car will fill-up COMPLETELY with water shortly after it sinks.
  • THERE IS NO AIR POCKET!!! (okay, RARELY will an air pocket form, but only if the car stays horizontal (very rare) and settles gently on the bottom (also very rare)).
  • Most vehicles will flip right side up in a few seconds regardless of how they entered the water (sideways, upside down, etc.) before they start to sink.
  • Most vehicles will tip forward (due to the weight of the engine) and will sink to the bottom headlights first - all the air escapes through the back seat and out the back of the car so no air pocket forms.
  • Most people CANNOT kick in a window to break it (unless you practice!):  This was tested multiple times on dry land by many different sized and strength individuals.  For those that did break the window, it took more time than they would have before the car filled with water.  You can’t hold your breath and exert yourself hard at the same time!  They did develop a “trick” though.  If you kick at the bottom angle of the window closest to the hinge, then you have a greater chance of breaking the glass.  I will now be carrying a glass breaking tool in my car – IN AN EASILY ACCESSIBLE PLACE (like hanging from my rear view mirror or on my kechain).  Here is a great one that I make no money on: Res-Q-Me
  • Crank windows are best in cars!
  • Electric windows will not work once the computer that runs the motor gets wet.
  • NEVER try to open the door!  The pressure of the water against the sinking vehicle will slam it shut hard (maybe trapping an arm or hand – or chopping off a finger!).
  • A back hatch like in SUV’s and Minivans are a good means of escape if you have an inside latch – practice this!
  • YOU CAN CLIMB OUT A WINDOW WITH WATER RUSHING IN.  I watched multiple videos of people climbing out while water was rushing in. You do not need to wait for the car to fill up first.  
1. Don’t touch your cell phone
2. Remove your seatbelt.
3. Get your child unbuckled (if a child or children are in the car).
4. Roll down your window or break it if you cannot roll it down.
5. Climb out of the car and swim to shore.
If you can do these steps (it takes less than 30 seconds if you know what to do first), your chance of surviving will be dramatically improved.

Monday, July 25, 2011

A (very) Basic Overview of Solar Power

Basic Solar Power System

I have been fascinated by Solar Energy ever since I was a kid.  There was something very "space age" about it, and in fact it really was the space industry that pushed the technology to the extent that made it available to the public.  While I don't buy into much of the pseudo-scientific, "eco-friendly", modern environmentalism (I am more of an evidence-based environmentalist), it is pretty obvious that modern coal-based electricity, while more efficient, produces a lot of pollution.  Solar is much more clean since its production produces minimal waste, and a good solar panel will last and function well for 25-30 years!  It also provides another layer of self-sufficiency.

Today, I just want to give a very basic overview of a solar power set-up.  I am not going to get into the science/physics of solar power.  I will probably get more into the details in later posts, but today I'll stick to the simple basics.

There are four main components of a solar power system:
  1. Solar Panels
  2. Charge Controller
  3. Batteries
  4. Power Inverter

The basics of a photovoltaic cell.

An individual solar cell.

Solar Panels
Solar panels are composed of individual solar cells.  A solar cell (aka photovoltaic or photoelectric cells) has the ability to convert light energy into electrical energy.  Certain materials are better at converting light to electricty than other materials.  Traditionally, and currently, silicon crystals are by far the most common.  This is considered a "bulk" material since the set-up is fairly thick (think of the traditional solar panels you've seen on a roof or road sign).  Scientists are continuing to develop Thin Film technologies that use much less material to still produce a current.  There are plans of "painting" buildings with solar organic dyes or coating windows with a solar polymer (that also acts like a tinting), but so far, Thin Film has not been as successful yet.  Most solar cells are about 10-25% efficient at producing electricity from sunlight.

A number of individual solar cells are connected to form a solar module (commonly called a "solar panel"), and multiple solar modules are wired together to create a solar array.

Charge Controllers
Charge Controllers are used to properly manage the voltage flowing to the batteries.  Voltage too high can damage the batteries.  The minimum charge controller for a home uses a technology called Pulse Width Modulation (PWM), but the best charge controllers use Maximum Power Point Tracking (MPPT) technology.  This technology is rapidly changing.

Deep Cycle Batteries are needed to store energy that will be used frequently.  These batteries can be drained and recharged many times without damage.  Marine Batteries, Golf Cart Batteries, and RV batteries can be used for smaller applications, but more specialized batteries will be needed for larger applications like powering your home. 

Power Inverters
Solar power is Direct Current (aka DC).  DC is battery power.  If you are using only battery powered devices, such as a simple solar powered battery charger for things like flashlights or cell phones, then a power inverter is not required.  However, if you want to power anything that "plugs in" to the wall, then you will need to convert that DC to Alternating Current (AC).  Almost all power inverters will convert to 120 volts AC.  Again there is a variety of technologies available.  Square Wave inverters should be avoided as they are very hard on the devices they power.  Modified Sine Wave Inverters are far better, and they are really the least expensive and usable power inverters.  The best power inverters are the True Sine Wave Inverters, but they come with a higher price tag.  Finally, if you plan on using solar power for your needs, but would also like to sell back power to the electric company, then you will need a Grid Tie Power Inverter.  I'll get into how this works in future posts.

Another diagram of a basic solar power system.

So that is it.  The four basic components of a Solar Power System.  Solar Power is a great addition to your Permaculture System, and it is getting more economical every year.  I plan on writing some more posts on various aspects of solar power in the next few weeks. 

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Trees of Antiquity

Did you know that Thomas Jefferson's favorite apple was the Esopus Spitzenburg?  Did you know you can plant an Esopus Spitzenburg tree today? 

Interested in growing an Apricot developed in in England in 1760?  How about a plum developed in New York in 1825 or a cherry developed in France in the 1600's?  A German pear from the 1800's or a historic Japanese persimmon?

This is what you will find at Trees of Antiquity.  It is a fantastic source for Heirloom Fruit Trees.  (For more information about Heirloom Food, please check out my previous post on this topic). 

This is a great resource for purchasing trees that are a real link to the past... and most of these fruits taste better than anything you could ever get at Walmart!


Saturday, July 23, 2011

Book Review: The Permaculture Way

Quick post:  Overall, I just can't recommend this book.  There are just too many other really good Permaculture books already written.  If there were no other books on Permaculture, or if this was the only book a person could read on the subject, then I would say it is okay.  But it is not the only book out there.  This book gets a bit too socialist and/or hippy commune-ish for me.  It has good general information, but not much detail.  It spends a whole lot of time on theory and principles and a lot less on "how to".  If you have the chance to pick this book up cheap or borrow it from the library for free, it is not bad for a quick skim, but I wouldn't spend much of your money on it.  I do feel bad saying that because I think the author has a heart for Permaculture and truly believes in everything he writes.  But I have to call it and I see it.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Permaculture Principles: Principle Four - Apply Self Regulation and Accept Feedback

Holmgren's Twelve Principles of Permaculture

Principle Four: Apply Self Regulation and Accept Feedback
Holmgren's Proverb for this Principle: The sins of the father are visited on the children to the seventh generation.

There are many biological systems that exhibit self regulation (similar concepts are autoregulation and homeostasis).  In the human body, the brain and heart are great examples of autoregulation.  Depending on what their needs are, these organs can alter the rest of the system to influence blood flow to themselves.  For instance, if the body starts to exercise, the heart will pump harder and faster to increase blood flow through the body and back to itself.  The brain is very sensitive to blood pressures, and it will influence the whole body to alter blood pressures to itself. 

Homeostasis is another term frequently used in Systems Theory.  It is the idea that a system will regulate itself to minimize change.  In general, living systems do not like change, and they will do what they can to prevent it.  Anybody who has tried to lose weight will know that it seems as if their own body is trying to sabatoge itself when attempting to drop some pounds.  This is the human body fighting change.

Remember that Permaculture Systems are models of biological systems.  We as the designers need to understand that if designed well our system will have many seen and unseen, planned and unplanned methods of self regulation all trying to minimize change. This is fantastic when the system is working well and some environmental influence tries to alter our system (e.g. drought, flooding, late frosts, etc.).  It is also important to keep this in mind when we are trying to establish a Permaculture System.  It can be hard work to get the new system put in place and working before a new homeostasis is achieved.  On a side note, this is really true of any system whether it is in buisiness or government or agriculture.

When designing a new Permaculture System, when we are thinking about Auto-Regulation, there are two related concepts we need to implement:
1) Each element must perform many functions.  This allows us to have multiple yields and support from one element.  If we can maintain three elements to perform three functions or maintain one element that performs those same three functions, then our work is minimized by chosing to maintain the element that performs many functions.
2) Each important function is supported by many elements.  This allows each function to have many elements that support it and sustain it if one element fails.  A net is much more efficient at catching fish than a single fishing line.  A net still maintains most of its efficiency when many of its individual lines are cut.  This is due to the network of support, and this should be the model of any system we design.

The second part of this priciple is to Accept Feedback.  This seems pretty straightforward, but it is so easy to let our pride get in the way of accepting feedback.  For instance, we really want to raise peaches, but the trees keep dying or we have another season with no fruit.  Maybe we need to accept feedback from our lack of results and do something different... or maybe not raise peaches at all.  But often we will just keep doing the same thing or wasting a lot of energy (too much?) to accomplish something, because we think we are smart enough to figure it out.  We may eventually figure it out, but at what cost?  Keep in mind what Albert Einstein said:  Insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

Holmgren's proverb for this principle, "The sins of the father are visited on the children to the seventh generation" (a Biblical reference) reminds us that it is easy to waste energy overcoming natural self regulation and ignore feedback until some very negative consequenses of our actions are made evident.  A generation is considered to be between 30 and 40 years, so seven generations is 210-280 years.  How many things are we "paying" for now that were started, and mismanaged, over 200 years ago?  Deforestation.  Acid Rain.  Countless Extinction of Species.  Pollution of our Seas.  Depletion of our Fresh Water Aquifers.  All of these issues are a direct result of not accepting feedback (mostly not even looking for feedback).  All are, or were, preventable.

When designing Permaculture Systems, if we keep in mind Principle 9 (Use Small and Slow Solutions), we will be better able to Apply Self Regulation and Accept Feedback.

The only ethical decision is to take responsibility for our own existence and that of our children.
- Bill Mollison

 We need to discourage inappropriate activity to ensure that systems can continue to function well.
- David Holmgren

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Rising Cost of Food

Food Costs: January 2010 vs January 2011

I want to share yet another reason why I am an advocate of Permaculture and of raising your own food in general. 

According to the World Bank, food prices have risen by 83% in the last three years.  83%!!!!

Bottom line: our food is getting more and more expensive.  This is due to weather issues, crop failures, politics, and climbing fuel prices.  The more food you raise, the more money you save... it also tastes better and is healthier!

Here are a few links to articles reporting on the rising cost of food:
Soaring Food Prices Send Millions into Poverty, Hunger - (March 2011)
Behind the Rising Cost of Food - New York Times (April 2011)
Cost of Food and Gas Slowing U.S. Economic Growth - CBS News (May 2011)
Inflation Hits Families Where it Hurts - New Zealand Herald (July 2011)
Rising Prices Means Families are 470 Pounds (about $760 U.S.) a Year Poorer - The Telegraph (July 2011)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Health Benefits of Grass Fed Meat

Grassfed is Best!

You can eat meat and be healthy!  In fact, you can eat meat and get more healthy than you are now.  I rarely say this seriously, but I will now... Trust me, I'm a doctor.  If the answer is not obvious from the title of this post, then let me be more specific.  The key to this "miracle" is in the pasture.  The key is eating grassfed meat.

Free-range or Pastured Chickens

"Grassfed" is a word used to convey the idea that an animal is fed primarily or solely from pasture (typically a mix of species, primarily grass-type plants).  Pretty simple in concept; however that is not what most of modern agriculture does.  "Grassfed Animal Products" refer mainly to meat, milk, cheese, and eggs.  Obviously, a lot of other animal products can be produced from animals on a grassfed diet, but these are the ones that are most researched.

Grass is best for most of our domesticated animals.  Think about it.  What do wild bison eat?  Grass!  Do wild sheep raise corn, wheat, and soybeans and then dine only on this?  No!  Then why do we feed our domestic animals these things?  Effecient production.  That is it.  Modern agriculture has deemed it appropriate to break with thousands of years of natural animal-food cycles and force animals to eat what they are not designed to eat in order to maximize growth and production.

 Besides the negative effects that modern feedlots have on animals' health (which is outlined extremely well in the book, An Omnivore's Dilema, which I wrote about in this post), there are real health consequences in humans that eat animals that were raised this way. 

Let me boldly say that I am against vegetarianism.  There are a number of reasons for this that I hope to outline in a future post, but suffice it to say that humans eat meat.  "Westernized" humans eat a lot of meat.  While there is a whole bunch of medical information out there to say we should cut back on our meat consumption for health reasons, almost all of that information considers only meat produced using the modern agricultural method.

I will provide some basic facts about grassfed meat.  I will provide some additional sources for more information at the end of this post.  But the information I am about to provide is very legitimate.  I tell my patients this, because I feel that the research done on this is solid.
  • Grassfed meat is significantly lower in fat than grain-fed meat.
  • Grassfed meat can lower LDL (low density lipoprotein... bad cholesterol).
  • Grassfed meat has significantly less calories than grain-fed meat - about 15 calories per ounce (that is about 100 less calories for a 6 oz portion of steak).
  • Grassfed meat has 2-6 times the Omega-3 fatty acids than grain-fed meat (which is good for your heart and brain as well as improving your odds against cancer).
  • Pastured chickens can produce eggs that have up to 20 times the Omega-3 fatty acid as commercial eggs.
  • Grassfed meat and milk can contain up to 5 times the amount of Conjegated Linoleic Acid (CLA) as grain-fed meat and milk (the preliminary research on CLA looks very promising on cancer prevention).
  • Grassfed meat has up to 4 times the vitamin E than grain-fed meat (vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant... which is good for heart, brain, and cancer).
  • Finally, Grassfed meat tastes really good!  Because it has less fat, you need to cook it a bit different.  I hope to give some more tips on cooking grassfed meat in the future.
 For those that are more visually minded, here are a few charts that compare grassfed to grain-fed meat:

Comparisons of Fat Content in commercial meats.

The same information from the previous chart in a different format.

Comparing Fat Content of commercial to wild meats

Look how fast the healthy Omega-3's disappear after coming off a grass diet!

Vitamin E content in commercial meats.

 Here are some links to a couple of articles on Grassfed meat:
Women's Health article on Grassfed Meat
Take a look at for locating sources of Grassfed meat - this is a fantastic resource!