Soil Testing – How clean is the dirt?

By Susan Carpenter, LATimes.com

All dirts are not created equal. Urban dirt in particular has suffered the fallout from human activity, often with higher-than-healthy concentrations of lead, arsenic and other toxic metals that accumulate in the soil and are sucked up by plants. It’s an issue of grave importance for the millions of Americans who are food gardening. Soil testing, whether for pH, salinity, texture or heavy metals — all of which affect how well, or if, a plant will grow — is a good idea for anyone who intends to eat the bounty of their gardens. Several laboratories offer soil testing for home gardeners, including:

Wallace Laboratories, El Segundo. (310) 615-0116 or www.bettersoils.com. $65 per test.

EarthCo, St. Louis. (314) 994-2167 or www.drgoodearth.com. $20 to $100 per test.

Smart By Nature: Schooling for Sustainability

Smart By Nature: Schooling for Sustainability
By Michael K. Stone/Center for Ecoliteracy
Foreword by Daniel Goleman, author of Ecological Intelligence

sbn-coverSmart by Nature: Schooling for Sustainability portrays the growing sustainability movement in K-12 education, showcasing inspiring stories of public, independent, and charter schools across the country.

This 216-page book describes strategies for greening the campus and the curriculum, conducting environmental audits, rethinking school food, and transforming schools into models of sustainable community.

Smart by Nature is available from Watershed Media/University of California Press in September 2009.

Reserve your copy of Smart by Nature: Schooling for Sustainability from University of California Press.

White House Releases Video About the Kitchen Garden

By Garance Franke-Ruta, voices.washingtonpost.com

As the first day of school for many students in the Washington area wound down, the White House released a more than seven minute-long Web video about the development of the White House kitchen garden and the role of students from Bancroft Elementary School in farming it.

“Part of the message is that if the president of the United States can sit down with his family and have dinner, hopefully more families will find time to do the same thing,” said first lady Michelle Obama in the video, which she narrated with White House chef Sam Kass.

“The garden is really an important introduction to what I hope will be a new way that our country thinks about food,” said Obama, who called the garden “quite an amazing success, if I do say so myself.”

School Starts Next Week, Be Prepared

WeHo Winter Garden

School starts next week. For those with school gardens already in place now is the time to be ordering your seeds. For those who are starting from scratch see, How to Start and Maintain a School Garden.

If you’re not sure what is seasonal for your area check out your local cooperative extension. In mild winter areas like Southern California one can use the vegetable planting schedule from DigitalSeed.com

We already have seeds of cilantro, lettuce, arugula, and marigolds that we saved from last year. Be sure to set aside one or two of your plants this year to use for seeds. Not only does it show students the full life cycle of an annual plant it also saves your garden program some much needed funds.

For those who are buying, the following seed companies are worth looking into:

1) Botanical Interests – Based in Colorado, BI is a family owned business know for their large selection of certified organic varieties.

2) Baker Creek – Based in Missouri, with a new outpost in Northern California, BC is known for its large selection of heirloom varieties.

3) Gourmet Seed – If your fava beans must be Moroccan, and nothing else will suffice, GS is your place.

A list of what we’ll be growing this year includes the following: arugula, beets, bok choy, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, chives, cilantro, fava beans, fennel, garlic, kale, lettuce, mint, onions, oregano, parsley, peas, potatoes, radishes, rosemary, sorrel, spinach, swiss chard, tat soi, thyme, and turnips.

Stocks

Lastly, perhaps you just want to throw some seeds into a container outside the classroom. If so, consider cool weather flowers such as stocks or snapdragons, a winter hardy herb garden or such easily grown veggies as lettuce, spinach and radishes.

Snapdragons

Local kids learning to garden in school

Students at different LAUSD campuses are having fun learning how to garden.

Click link above for video.

Get The Most Nutrition From Your Veggies

From NPR.org

Tomatoes are certainly nutritious — a good source of the antioxidants lycopene and beta-carotene. But consider this: if you eat a tomato without adding a little fat — say a drizzle of olive oil — your body is unlikely to absorb all these nutrients.

Scientists at Iowa State University figured this out a while ago. They recruited graduate students to eat bowls of salad greens with tomatoes and various types of salad dressings — from fat-free to regular Italian. “Basically once a month for several months we’d show up first thing in the morning,” recalls participant Gregory Brown, now a professor of exercise science at the University of Nebraska. Researchers put IV lines into the participants’ veins and drew blood samples before and after they’d eaten the salads in order to get precise measurements of the absorption of nutrients.

“The salads all tasted the same to me,” says Brown. But when researchers went back and analyzed the blood samples they realized that people who had eaten fat-free or low-fat dressings didn’t absorb the beneficial carotenoids from the salad. Only when they had eaten the oil-based dressing did they get the nutrients.

Carotenoids are the pigments responsible for red-, yellow- and orange-colored fruits and vegetables. And carotenoids are also found in dark green vegetables such as spinach. The compounds convert to Vitamin A in the body, and studies have found that carotenoids have anti-oxidant activity which may help protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. Human studies have linked high consumption of fruits and vegetables to reduced risk of cancer.

Beta-carotene researchers were not particularly surprised by the findings of the fat-free vs. regular Italian salad dressing study. “We already knew that carotenoids were fat soluble,” explains Wendy White, a professor of Human Nutrition at Iowa State University. The results helped reinforce the idea that a little fat is healthy.

Chop And Chew

There are other ways to help maximize the absorption of carotenoid nutrients. Chopping or grating breaks down the plant material. “The finer the particle size … the better the absorption of beta-carotene,” explains White.

The findings of nutrition research often go against the grain of trendy food ideas. For instance, many people have heard that raw vegetables are best. But if you’re eating carrots, it may be helpful to cook them gently. The heat can soften the food allowing more nutrients to be released.

A recent study in the Journal of Food Science suggests that some cooking methods may be better than others. Researchers at the University of Murcia in Spain cooked 20 different kinds of vegetables six different ways. Then they analyzed how well the foods retained antioxidants. They found that microwaving helped maintain the antioxidants, whereas boiling and pressure cooking led to the greatest losses.

Green beans, beets and garlic all did well with heat — maintaining beneficial phytonutrients after most kinds of cooking. The antioxidant value in carrots actually increased after cooking.

Experts explain that boiling may allow nutrients to leach into the pan water that people end up tossing out, especially with water-soluble nutrients such as Vitamin C and the B Vitamins.

Eat Plenty Of Colors

As testing methods have become more sensitive, scientists have the ability to peer into our foods and tally up all the phytonutrients that may be beneficial. But experts say the ways in which our bodies may use and absorb these compounds are complicated. Therefore, many experts say it’s best not to fixate too much on how food is prepared. Instead, focus on eating more plant foods — of all colors.

Jeffrey Blumberg, an antioxidant expert at Tufts University, says “What’s important is that you find a way to cook that’s palatable to you so you’re getting lots of plant foods.”

American Heart Associations recommends reduced intake of added sugars

A new American Heart Association scientific statement provides specific guidance on limiting the consumption of added sugars and provides information about the relationship between excess sugar intake and metabolic abnormalities, adverse health conditions and shortfalls in essential nutrients. The statement, published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association, for the first time, provides the association’s recommendations on specific levels and limits on the consumption of added sugars.

Added sugars are sugars and syrups added to foods during processing or preparation and sugars and syrups added at the table. High intake of added sugars, as opposed to naturally occurring sugars, is implicated in the rise in obesity. It’s also associated with increased risks for high blood pressure, high triglyceride levels, other risk factors for heart disease and stroke, and inflammation (a marker for heart disease), according to the statement’s lead author Rachel K. Johnson, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D., associate provost and professor of nutrition at the University of Vermont in Burlington.

“Sugar has no nutritional value other than to provide calories,” Johnson said. “Consuming foods and beverages with excessive amounts of added sugars displaces more nutritious foods and beverages for many people.”

The statement says that most women should consume no more than 100 calories (about 25 grams) of added sugars per day. Most men should consume no more than 150 calories (about 37.5 grams) each day. That’s about six teaspoons of added sugar a day for women and nine for men.

In contrast, the statement cites a report from the 2001–04 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) that showed the average intake of added sugars for all Americans was 22.2 teaspoons per day (355 calories).

Soft drinks and other sugar-sweetened beverages are the number one source of added sugars in Americans’ diet, according to the statement. “One 12-ounce can of regular soda contains about 130 calories and eight teaspoons of sugar,” Johnson said.

The American Heart Association recommends a dietary pattern that is rich in fruit, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, high-fiber whole grains, lean meat, poultry and fish.

“This new statement expands on earlier recommendations and gives consumers more detailed guidance by recommending a specific upper limit on added-sugars intake,” Johnson said.

In addition, the statement recommends that no more than half of a person’s daily discretionary calorie allowance should come from added sugars.

Discretionary calories refer to the number of calories “left over” after a person eats the recommended types and amounts of foods to meet nutrient requirements, such as fruit, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, high-fiber whole grains, lean meat, poultry and fish. Added sugars, alcoholic beverages and solid fats — including saturated fat and trans fat — are typically considered discretionary calories that are to be included after individual daily nutrient requirements are met.

“It is important to remember that people’s discretionary calorie ‘budgets’ can vary, depending on their activity level and energy needs,” Johnson said. “So, if you can’t live with the recommended limits on your added sugars, you’ll have to move more.”

For example, a moderately active 51–55 year-old woman who eats 1,800 calories per day and maintains her weight would have about 195 discretionary calories per day and only about 100 calories, or half that amount, should come from added sugars. In comparison, if that same woman, still maintaining her weight, was more physically active and burned 2,200 calories a day, she could consume 2,200 calories a day, and would have a larger discretionary ‘budget’ of about 290 calories. About half of that amount, or 145 calories, could come from added sugars.

To ensure proper nutrient intake in the diet and to limit excess calories, Johnson said people should be sure foods high in added sugars are not taking the place of foods with essential nutrients or increasing their total calorie intake.

She recommended that people use their added sugars “allotment” as a vehicle to enhance the flavor of otherwise nutrient-rich foods. For example, choosing a nutrient-rich dairy product, such as a flavored yogurt or a sugar-sweetened whole-grain breakfast cereal, would be a better choice than a nutrient-void candy.