Home-ground Peanut Butter

Ah, peanut butter. It’s one of my favorite things on the planet. I’ll spread it on toast, apples,bananas, and squares of dark chocolate; I’ll make cookies, brownies, and cakes with it; I’ll eat it by the spoon…it’s wonderful. It (unfortunately) shouldn’t be eaten excessively, but when consumed in moderation it’s a healthy, protein-filled choice. And it’s delightful.

Here’s the Part Where I Tell You A Story. Feel free to scroll to the “recipe.”

But I learned a long time ago that normal, store-bought peanut butter is full of nasty death oil (aka vegetable oil), large quantities of sugar, and some  not-so-fun preservatives. Check out the label of good ol’ Jif peanut butter here. I wouldn’t eat most of that.

[Note: Jif has improved their ingredients in the last five years…but they still use death oil and plenty of sugar. So I’m still a nope.]

As a poor college student, I ate more peanut butter than was probably good for me. Hey, it’s relatively cheap, it has protein, and it doesn’t require cooking. What more could a college student ask for? But as I became more cognizant of nutrition, I became dissatisfied with that nasty ingredient list. I looked into buying natural peanut butters (just containing peanuts and salt), but they were super expensive and had this disgusting layer of oil on top of them. You were supposed to mix the oil into the peanut butter underneath and then refrigerate the jar, but somehow it was always an oily mess. I wasn’t a fan, and neither was my budget.

But then I discovered this amazing grocery store that had in-store peanut grinders. The machine held a bunch of peanuts (dry-roasted, no other ingredients), and by pushing a button, the grinder would start and release peanut butter from a spout at the bottom of the machine. The store provided plastic containers of various sizes, and sold the peanut butter by weight – it was normally $3/lb, but was often on sale for $2/lb.

This peanut butter wasn’t super oily. It was just peanut butter. Normal, creamy peanut butter.

I quickly started buying my peanut butter exclusively from the store with the grind-it-yourself machine (it helped that they also had a giant room of craft beer, free coffee while you shopped, and any fruit or vegetable you can imagine…it was a cool store). The store used dry-roasted peanuts, with no added ingredients. This made me feel good about the nutrition of my peanut butter obsession, and it tasted wonderful. I would usually sprinkle a little sea salt over whatever I was eating, which really brought out the flavor. There was no going back!

But there was still room to go forward.

My mom got the brilliant idea of throwing a jar of peanuts into her high-powered Ninja blender to see what would happen.

What happened, was the the most delicious batch of peanut butter I have ever tasted.

Is This Healthier?

Yup. Unless, of course, you are adding hydrogenated vegetable oils and boat loads of sugar to your homemade peanut butter. And if you are doing that…well, you’re wrong. Stop it.

If you don’t know why vegetable oil is bad, click here. Besides that obvious ingredient, how much healthier homemade peanut butter is than store-bought depends entirely on what you add to it. If you’re like me and you add nothing, it’s about as healthy as peanut butter can possibly be. Because it’s literally just ground up peanuts. But if that doesn’t suit your taste, you can add a little sugar – or better yet, honey – to your peanut butter. The more sugar you add, the less healthy it gets. However, you can customize your peanut butter however you want, which is cool. I do add a little honey to mine when I’m making homemade Reeses peanut butter cups, and one time I added chocolate honey (it’s a thing. Get it here. I don’t get kickbacks from this link, but the honey is great), which was AMAZING for making desserts.

There’s also the salt component. Although salt isn’t inherently bad for you, some people need to limit their salt intake for certain health conditions. And you get to control the amount of salt in the final product when you make it yourself. My mom always adds salt directly to her peanut butter when she is making it (about 1/2 tsp per batch), whereas I prefer to sprinkle salt over my peanut butter toast/apple/whatever.

Does This Save Money?

Why, yes. It does.

I did math!

(I know, math is gross).

A pound of Jif-brand creamy peanut butter is $2.60 at Kroger, which comes out to $0.16/oz.

Store-ground peanut butter, where I live, costs between $2-$3/lb. I averaged it at $2.50/lb, which comes out to $0.16/oz. So it’s healthier than Jif, and it’s the same price

A pound of peanuts is $1.99 if I buy Aldi brand or if I buy Kroger brand when it’s on sale (which happens at least monthly). I’m cheap and stubborn, so I won’t buy them if they’re not $1.99. This comes out to $0.12/oz.

So homemade peanut butter is about $0.04/oz cheaper, or $0.64 less per lb. I go through a pound of peanut very quickly, so this is cool, but it’s not like it’s making a giant dent in my budget or anything. And if you rarely use peanut butter, it’s probably a negligible savings. But hey! It’s still cool!

And with the “healthy” factor if homemade peanut butter, this isn’t really a fair comparison.

Then again, you may end up eating more peanut butter because it’s both delicious and healthy. Consider yourself warned.

So how do you do it?

Well, it’s so simple that I’m hesitant to even call it a recipe, but…

Homemade Peanut Butter

Prep time: 10 minutes

Yield: 2 Pounds (about a quart)

Ingredients

2 lbs peanuts

(opt) 1/2 tsp salt (or more or less to taste)

(opt) honey or sugar to taste

Directions

1) Buy jars of peanuts. Make sure you READ THE INGREDIENT LABEL and only buy dry-roasted peanuts. You don’t want to avoid the hydrogenated death oil in store-bought peanut butter, only to get it in the peanuts! A lot of peanuts (including most Planters brand peanuts) are roasted in death oil and coated with various spices. You want to make sure the ingredient label JUST says peanuts. I usually find these at Kroger or Aldi. Off-brand peanuts are cheaper than Planters anyway. 😛

2) Dump jars into high-powered blender, like the Ninja or Vitamix. This won’t work in a cheap $20 blender. Well, it might, but you also might burn out the motor. If you’re unsure about whether or not your blender will work, read the instructions; lower quality blenders will usually specify that you can’t grind nuts with them.

Alternately, you can grind your peanut butter by hand, using a hand mill!

(No, please don’t do that).

I did this once, when I was unemployed. It took over an hour to get very chunky, sort of sawdusty peanut butter. I don’t recommend it unless you’re really, really, really bored, or unless you’re a weirdo and think you might get some strange sense of satisfaction after hand-grinding peanut butter (Hi. My name is Jess and I’m a weirdo).

If you don’t have a fancy blender, you might be able to talk a friend or family member into letting your use their blender (full disclosure: I use my mom’s every couple of months. I’m told fancy blenders are really nice, but I don’t blend very many things – I hate smoothies – so I don’t see the point of buying one).

3) Turn the blender on. It takes a few minutes, but eventually the nuts magically turn into peanut butter! I shake the blender occasionally to make sure everything grinds nicely.

Go blender, go.
peanut butter being ground
Oooh, pretty.

 

 

 

 

 

 

4) If you’re adding salt or sugar (or both), you can do so now, and use the blender to mix everything together. Or you can do that by hand. Or you can skip this step entirely, like me.

5) Spoon the peanut butter into a storage container – two 16oz jars of peanuts perfectly fill a quart-sized mason jar with peanut butter

fresh ground peanut butter
See? It’s a perfect fit.
Yes, I plan to lick the spatula. Duh.

6) Clean the blender. This is by far the most annoying part.

7) Eat delicious, healthy peanut butter.

Yeenut Yudder is “peanut butter” in my family’s personal language. Yat’s yight. ye’re Yawesome.
Storage

Any container will work – I like mason jars. You can do whatever you want. Keep it in a five gallon Menards bucket if it strikes your fancy; I don’t care.

But there are a few tips that you may need to keep the texture of your peanut butter intact during storage.

Keep It Fresh

Remember how I said that store-bought natural peanut butter are oily and gross? I think the lack of oil may have something to do with freshness; when I bulk-bought 10 lbs of fresh-ground peanut butter, some of the containers started to get a film of oil by the time I used them. Now I only make what I will use in a month or two, and never have an oil problem. I’ve also heard that nut butters can go rancid if stored for long periods of time, so it’s probably better to keep things fresh anyway. The great thing about making peanut butter at home, is that you can make as much or as little as you’d like. I make a quart at a time, but my mom makes a pint, since she uses less peanut butter than I do.

Temperature Control

When you buy Jif peanut butter, it stays in the pantry. When you buy natural peanut butters, they sometimes have a “refrigerate after opening label.” But sometimes they don’t. What should you do?

Well, I keep my peanut butter in the pantry 90% of the time. I prefer warmer, softer peanut butter. I use it quickly, so I’m not concerned with rancidity. You can keep in the fridge, but it will be harder to spread. My mom prefers the texture of refrigerated peanut butter, so try it and see if you like it. But personally, I like soft, spreadable PB.

However, if the peanut butter is stored in very warm conditions, the oil will start to separate. If you keep your house at a “normal” temperature, you will probably never have any issues. If you are like me and you don’t have air conditioning, you might have a problem in the summer.

So I do keep the peanut butter in the fridge for the few weeks of the summer that my area has temperatures in the 90s. If I had a root cellar, I’d keep the peanut butter there in the summer, but I don’t. So I make do with the fridge.

But most of the time, at room temperature, the peanut butter is fine.

Other Nut Butters

I haven’t tried making my own almond or cashew butter, but I see no reason why that wouldn’t work. If you try it, let me know how it goes!

Cast Iron Cookware: Reseasoning & Refurbishing

So maybe you’ve decided to use cast iron, but you’re not sure how to season the pan after buying it from the store. Or maybe you have an old cast iron pan lying around somewhere, and you’re wondering if you can still use it. Maybe your well-meaning cousin’s boyfriend’s grandmother hands you an old pan covered in rust as a gift.

Yes, you can still use it, with a little reseasoning. Read on to find out how!

(Read Part 1: Using Cast Iron and Part 2: Why You Should Use It for the full story)

Once I decided to use exclusively cast iron and stainless steel cookware, I needed to expand my cast iron collection beyond the single 12″ skillet. But even though cast iron isn’t expensive, I don’t like to spend money.

So of course, I waited until I found a good deal on a pan at a garage sale…a 10″ skillet for $3. It had a small rust spot on it, so I scrubbed the rust off, reseasoned it, cooked some bacon, and now it’s perfect. I have since added a dutch oven (free from someone’s basement) and waffle iron (received as a gift) to my collection. Combined with my trusty stainless steel skillet and saucepan that I use for highly acidic things (like tomato sauce), I figured I’d never buy another pan.

Until now.

No, none of my pans broke. They all work great, and I’ll probably have them until I die. But I discovered that you can roast coffee beans in a cast iron pan…but your pan will taste like coffee forever. So I decided that obviously, I needed a pan specifically for coffee beans.

My “New” Coffee Roasting Pan

Ironically, the price I paid for this pan was twice what I paid for all of my cast equipment combined – a whole $6, from a yard sale.

It was also, by far, the dirtiest, most disgusting pan I’ve ever seen. Rust covered most of the bottom of the pan, as well as the handle, and it was filthy with literal dirt. When you touched it, you got what looked like axle grease on your hands. You know, the black, icky stuff from the car or lawn mower. This is what happens when dirt meets grease. To make matters worse, it had cobwebs on it. And in it.

It was gross.

But it was a pan. And it was $6. And I was too impatient to wait for a cheaper or a better pan. Besides, now I can write a blog post about refurbishing a cast iron pan.

Part 1: Making It Not Broken

Remove the Ick

For all of my love of not “cleaning” cast iron, you don’t want dirt in your pan. If your pan has been sitting in a garage or a garbage dump for awhile, you need to clean it. And I recommend cleaning it really, really well. In order to do this, I washed it in the sink with a whole lot of dish soap. It turned my sponge black and ran black water into the sink. It was gross. But when I was done, the cobwebs, dirt, and “axle grease” was gone. I washed both the inside and the outside of the pan. Actually, I washed it three separate times because that is what it took to get off all the ‘ick’.

If you have a rusty pan that is otherwise not dirty, you can skip this step.

Remove the Rust

I have read online that you can run your cast-iron pan through the “self-clean” function on your oven to remove rust. In theory, this is easy and great. But it practice, I hate using the “self-clean” feature on my oven. It runs for, like, five hours. It uses a ton of power. And it emits so much heat that I would never think to do it in the summer. I was certainly not going to run this feature on a clean oven just to remove rust from a pan, especially when there is no guarantee that is actually works. But I mention it because you can feel free to try this.

I used good ol’ elbow grease. I turned on the radio, got a piece of steel wool, and scrubbed. And then I scrubbed more. And then my arm got tired, and I kept scrubbing anyway.

Did I mention there was a lot of rust?

Rusty cast iron pan
This photo was taken AFTER I’d washed the pan and scrubbed off some of the rust…..

If you have one little rust spot, it’s pretty easy to scrub it off with steel wool. It probably won’t take more than a couple of minutes. But if you have a lot of rust, it’s harder and it takes longer.

Basically, you want to rub all of the rust off of the pan. You might see shiny black finish underneath. You might see silver steel. Either way is fine. When I was done, this pan mostly had black shiny finish, with a few spots of silver.

Don’t neglect rust spots on the outside of the pan when you do this!

Part 2: Reseasoning The Pan

Once you get all the rust and dirt off of an old cast iron pan, you can go about reseasoning it. You should also do this when you first buy a cast iron pan. Sometimes cast iron cookware comes “pre-seasoned”, but in my experienced that shiny black finish from the store isn’t very good, and you should season it again. Other times, it comes without any finish at all, and looks silver and metallic. If you don’t season the pan to get the nice black finish, everything will stick terribly and be awful.

1) Preheat your oven to 450.

2) Smear liberal amounts of grease or oil on the inside of your pan. You can use paper towel, or an old rag, or your fingers. It doesn’t matter. The raw iron will soak up the grease, so don’t be shy.

3) Smear a SMALL amount of grease or oil on the outside of your pan. You want the outside of your pan to be seasoned as well as the inside, to prevent rust, but you also don’t want the outside to feel greasy. The outside isn’t getting washed or cooked on regularly, so a tiny amount should do you just fine.

4) Line a baking sheet with parchment paper to prevent a pain-in-the-neck cleanup

5) Turn the pan upside down, put it on the baking sheet and bake for 1 hour.

6) Let the pan cool.

7) Repeat a few times. For a brand-new, already store-seasoned pan, one time through this cycle is probably enough. One time is probably also enough if you’re just cleaning up one or two tiny rust spots on a pan. For a completely “raw” iron pan, or a badly damaged pan, 3-4 times may be required. You don’t need to do all this on the same day, although you can if you want. After the initial “seasoning”, your pan will be relatively resilient. I typically will season it 3-4 more times over the next few weeks, waiting until I’m already heating up my oven for some other reason to run the pan through an additional seasoning cycle.

Basically, each time you complete these steps, you get a thicker patina on your pan.

Reseasoned pan
See that shiny black patina in the pan?

If you have a rusty old pan that you scrubbed clean, keep in mind that you may have missed a spot or two. Examine the pan after the reseasoning process, and make sure you don’t see any rust. If you do, get the rust off and run it through the oven again.

I’d also recommend re-oiling your pan (see: cast iron care) the first few times you use a new or refurbished pan. You just want to make sure that the patina is as pretty and non-stick as possible, and cooking grease into the pan is how that happens.

Why Should You Do This?

Uh…because you can?

I’ll admit – this process isn’t quick or fun. It’d be easier to buy a pre-seasoned pan from the store, run it through the oven once, and start cooking. And you can certainly do that.

But personally, I think there is something satisfying about preserving an old pan. This week, I was able to take something that is essentially dirty trash, purchase it for a few dollars, and turn it into something usable that will last me for many years. To me, that’s worth a little elbow grease.

There may also be sentimental reasons to do this. Perhaps your grandmother has an old cast iron pan that has gotten rusty after years of disuse. Perhaps you find a pan with a really cool story behind it that you want to preserve. Whatever the reason, now you know how to do it, and can enjoy your antique iron pans.

Cast Iron Cookware – Why You Should Use It

PS. Throw Out Your Teflon Pans

You read all about how to take care of your cast iron pan (or maybe you didn’t, in which case you can click here), and now you’re wondering why on earth you should bother. You already know how to take care of a Teflon non-stick pan. Why go through the learning curve to use cast iron? Why do all these homesteading websites insist that cast iron is amazing? Are people just crazy? Do homesteaders just like extra work?

No. Most homesteaders do not like extra work. It seems like we do, but we don’t. Really. Also, cast iron pans are not extra work.

Continuing My Cast Iron Tale

Continue reading “Cast Iron Cookware – Why You Should Use It”

Cast Iron Cookware – Care & Use

Cast iron is often lauded as the kingpin of a homestead kitchen – and for good reason. Cast iron is awesome. Welcome to a 3-Part Series on Cast Iron! We are going to start by explaining USING your cast iron, on a daily basis, as well as how to clean you pan (it’s easier than you think!).

A lovely 10″ skillet, moments after frying my morning eggs

My Introduction to Cast Iron

I received my first cast iron pan – a 12″ Lodge – as a Christmas gift when I was a senior in college, and honestly…I had no idea how to take care of it. The person who gave it to me claimed that you just washed and dried the pan like normal; no special care required because it came pre-seasoned from the store. You just couldn’t put it in the dishwasher. So I washed the pan with soap and water, and left it to dry in the drying rack with my other pans.

Ha. Ha.

Yeah, it rusted terribly, overnight. Horrified, I googled cast iron pans and found that you never, ever should leave them to air dry. I also found conflicting advice on what oil to use to re-season it, how to clean it, what to cook in it, and just about everything else. I scrubbed of the rust (since it had only been 1 day, it wasn’t hard to get it off), oiled it, and baked it in the oven, per the Internet’s instructions. Then I put the pan away and didn’t use it because all the conflicting advice was overwhelming and I didn’t want it to get rusty again. Continue reading “Cast Iron Cookware – Care & Use”

Glyphosate Part 3 – Agricultural Concerns

[EDITORS NOTE: This post did not publish when it was supposed to due to user error – by which I mean I accidentally told it to publish in August of 2020 instead of August of 2019. So Part 4 (click here) came out first. I apologize for any confusion; the mistake has now been rectified!}

This is Part 3 of a four-part series on glyphosate. Read Part 1 here, for the history of herbicide, and Part 2 here, for the reasons why glyphosate is bad for health and for the environment.

Boy, you think, after reading my assessment of why glyphosate sucks. We should ban that! France did it! We should do that! Why aren’t we doing that?! 

The simple answer is that our modern system of agriculture is heavily reliant on glyphosate. Without it, bad things happen…unless, of course, we change how we do agriculture in this country. Let’s take a look at what would happen if we banned glyphosate, without making any other changes:

Agriculture Without Glyphosate – Problems

Lower Yields

Factually, GMO crops result in higher yields than non-GMO crops under certain conditions. Being able to spray – and kill – all the weeds, maximizes the nutrients in the soil for the crops, and results in more food being produced. In theory. Now let’s be honest: there are a lot of factors at play, and in the right environment, farmers can produce as much or more food without glyphosate. But in most modern farms, GMO crops have higher yields.

An Increase in More Toxic Herbicides

When the “Genetic Literacy Project,” a group that supports GMO crops, asked conventional farmers what they would do without glyphosate, they began listing other herbicides, all of which are significantly more toxic. Paraquat, atrazine, and 2,4D are only the tip of the iceberg of herbicides that farmers may turn to to replace glyphosate if we ban it. As you may remember from my post about herbicide history, this would be very, very bad. Glyphosate – although bad – is far better than may of the herbicides that came before it, and the last thing we need is to go backwards.

Transition Away From no-Till Agriculture

In recent years, no-till agriculture has become increasingly popular among conventional farmers – and for good reason. With this method, farmers don’t actually plow their fields the way that you might imagine. Instead, there is an emphasis on NOT disturbing the soil. This has several benefits. First, it prevents erosion. Second, it increases water retention, which can be helpful in areas prone to droughts (such as California). The higher water retention also minimizes runoff, which prevents ag fields from polluting lakes and streams with fertilizers and pesticides (for science comparing no-till and till values, click here). Third, because the soil structure is being retained, more microorganisms can flourish, increasing biodiversity and general soil health. And then, of course, there’s also the simple benefit of not having to plow. In theory, this saves the farmer in time and fuel costs, decreases the greenhouse gases produced by running farm equipment, etc. I say in theory, because the farmer will probably be using time and equipment to spray herbicides because…

(Conventional) no-till relies on herbicides. And remember, herbicides (like glyphosate) damage soil health. Think about it: if you don’t plow a field, how do you clear the land so you can plant seeds? You have to kill all the weeds somehow, and if you don’t mechanically remove them, then you have to make them die. Enter glyphosate, our friendly non-selective herbicide that kills pretty much everything. Proponents of GMOs (and subsequently, herbicides) say that no-till farming isn’t possible without glyphosate and to be fair – many no-till farmers would probably stop being no-till farmers if the government suddenly banned Round-Up from the shelves.

Higher Costs (potentially)

Glyphosate is relatively inexpensive, so there is concern that banning it would result in higher costs for farmers, as they turned to other, more expensive methods of weed control…and therefore, higher prices for consumers.

You guys have noticed that organic food is more expensive than regular food, right? Part of that is because of the crazy high administrative costs associated with organic certification…but only part of it.

There is also some concern that these higher costs would put American farmers at a disadvantage compared to farmers in other countries. South America and Africa are using crazy-high amounts of herbicides – far over the limits regulated in the USA and Europe – which often results in cheaper products (and health problems, but y’know. Details). Banning glyphosate would further widen that competitive gap.

Future of Agriculture: Problems with Keeping Glyphosate

have already addressed the environmental and public health impacts of glyphosate. I would consider these impacts to be the primary issue with long-term future glyphosate use.

However, I would be remiss if I didn’t include something, somewhere, about glyphosate resistance…which I consider another significant factor in why we need to phase out glyphosate use in agriculture.

Glyphosate Resistance

Just like bacteria can get resistant to antibiotics, mosquitoes can become resistant to DEET, and people can become resistant to eating overly spicy food…so too, can weeds become resistant to glyphosate. In fact, glyphosate resistance is considered a major problem in the agricultural world. As of 2015, 14 weed species in the United States, and 32 species worldwide are resistant to glyphosate. Glyphosate-resistant weeds are very costly for farmers, since the problem often isn’t caught until after the crops are planted and it is too late to spray alternative herbicides. It’s widely acknowledged among scientists in conventional agriculture that the costs of this problems are likely to increase over time. This tells me that the cost advantage of conventional agriculture over “organic” agriculture will decrease over time, without a new herbicide being developed. In fact, researchers are pushing conventional farmers to use more non-herbicide weed-prevention techniques, specifically to decrease the issue of glyphosate-resistant weeds!

The threat of these weeds also encourages many farmers to spray their fields with combinations of herbicides. Instead of simply using the less-toxic glyphosate, they may use a mixture of glyphosate and the more-toxic 2,4-D, for example. This minimizes the advantage that glyphosate has over other herbicides, and increases the problems of relying on herbicides in general.

Supply & Demand – People Want Organic

I use the term “organic” loosely. I don’t mean “certified organic”. That is a complex labeling process that I’m not even going to begin to address in this post. I just mean pesticide-free.

Like it or not, there is an increasing demand for organic food, and more consumers are questioning where their food comes from. This is a good/bad thing. On one hand, it’s good that people are demanding healthy choices. On the other hand, a lot of people don’t do adequate research and spread misinformation on the Internet. However, good or bad, it’s happening, so it may be worthwhile for farmers to move away from herbicides anyway, simply as a response to customer demand.

My point overall? Although glyphosate is better than other herbicides on the market, that doesn’t make it good. And more importantly, whether you like it or not…it’s long term use is probably limited.

Let’s move on to what we can do about it.

Agriculture Without Glyphosate: Possible Solutions

Weed Prevention.

There are a number of ways that weeds can be minimized before they even sprout. Mulch – whether it’s woodchips, straw, hay, or something else – goes a long way toward preventing weeds. Farmers can also treat the soil thermally, either with fire (Yes. Fire.) or steam. Some farmers also have gone back to diversified plots, where they plant multiple crops at the same time. One of the crops is their “cash crop” (like corn), while the other growns up and covers the soil around the corn, preventing weeds from sprouting. The Native American “Three Sisters” method is a great example of this: The corn gets planted first, and after it sprouts, beans get planted. The bean vines climb the corn stalks, needing no other trellising. Then squash is planted, with the large leaves covering the soil around the corn, preventing weeds and deterring rodents, who generally don’t like stepping on the spiky squash leaves. Some permacultures farmers have also turned to animals to help with weed control, allowing certain animals – such as sheep or pigs – to graze and forage on empty fields. Depending on the animals in question and the type of weeds, this can potentially prevent weeds from going to seed or kill weeds all together. A famous example of this is the rice farmers in Asia who utilize ducks to prevent weeds on their rice paddies.

Tilling.

Although there is no question that no-till is better than till agriculture, there are quite a few ways to till a field and minimize weeds. This is generally what farmers did before the invention of herbicides, and although the yield isn’t quite as high (in the absence of other changes), it is reasonably effective. For more information about types of organic weed prevention, click here.

No-till organic farming

Remember how no-till farming is great for the environment, but impossible without herbicides….which are bad for the environment? Well, some lovely and innovative farmers came up with no-till organic farming, which is a nice meeting of two worlds.

Seeing that no-till agriculture is awesome, some scientists at the Rodale Institute developed the roller-crimper, a machine that allows organic farmers to practice no-till without herbicides. It works like this: the farmer plants an annual cover crop. Just before the cover crop goes to seed, the farmer uses the machine to cut down the vegetation, leaving a thick mat of cut plants. Then, an apparatus on the back of the roller-crimper parts the mat and drops seeds into the ground at regular intervals. The dead mat of cover crops acts a thick mulch, preventing weeds, as well as nourishing the soil. Viola. Watch a cool video of this process here.

No till + no chemical = good.

Note: moving away from chemical agriculture shouldn’t be seen as moving backwards to plowing fields with horses and hand-rakes. Instead, it should be seen as moving forwards to new innovation that is better for health and the environment.

Agriculture Without Glyphosate: The Real Problem

The REAL problem with banning glyphosate is that most farmers do not know how to farm (effectively) without it, and do not currently have the necessary infrastructure to do so. We’ve been using herbicides for almost 100 years. All those guys who used to farm effectively without them? Yeah, those guys are dead now.

Not only that, but farming is a very different enterprise today than it was in the 1800s. Most folks are growing vast fields of corn and soybeans, because people are demanding lots, and lots, and lots of corn and soy products (read: processed foods) and corn/soy fed animals (read: almost all the meat you buy in the grocery store). Growing vast fields of corn and soy is different from growing a diversified plot of corn, soy, squash, pumpkins, wheat, cows, chickens, and whatever else one farmer might grow in the 1800s.

We can’t just ban glyphosate and expect farmers to cheerfully go back to the methods of the 1800s, while also expecting them to produce the same types of crops in the same quantities that they are produced WITH glyphosate. That’s not realistic. Nor can we expect them to magically have the cash to buy fancy new equipment, like the roller-crimper, without economic impacts.

Thankfully, glyphosate isn’t going to insta-kill anybody, so we don’t need to ban it.

Dont get me wrong. I’m not a glyphosate supporter. But I’m also not a supporter of banning it and pushing farmers into using worse chemicals or going bankrupt, and/or leaving people starving because they don’t know what to eat without their high-fructose corn syrup and corn-fed hamburgers and we simply can’t grow that much corn without herbicides.

So what can we do? What should we do? Well, stay tuned, because I’ll be tackling THAT concept tomorrow.

Yes, tomorrow. Because this will be a much more fun, much more opinionated, much less science-y post.

I like action, y’all. Tomorrow, I’m gonna get you some actions you can take to solve this glyphosate problem.

Glyphosate Part 4: Moving Forward

This is the FINAL post on glyphosate (Psst: read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 first). Whew! Making this series was definitely a challenge – there was a lot of scientific research to pour through, and a lot of really good arguments on both sides to consider.

My opinion – as you have probably gathered by now – is that glyphosate is bad, and we, as a society, should definitely phase it out. But we shouldn’t just ban it and pat ourselves on the backs, because there are chemicals in use in agriculture that are far more harmful, both to the environment and public health. Instead, we need a new way of doing things. We need to maintain crop yields – there are a lot of people to feed. We need to practice environmental stewardship – wrecking our ecosystems is terrible for about a million reasons. And of course, we need to protect peoples’ health – live expectancy is currently decreasing in America, and given our medical technology…well, that’s ridiculous.

So what do we do?

More specifically, what can you do, besides hope the government magically comes up with a solution? (I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you…)?

What Can You Do, As a Consumer?

Don’t buy glyphosate, 2,4-D, or other weed suppressors for your lawN, driveway, Or backyard garden.

These chemicals need to be RESTRICTED (not banned…) for our health and the health of the planet. Don’t contribute to this pollution – and to the profits of the chemical companies – just for your lawn. Leave that to the folks who really NEED to use these chemicals. Worried about weeds? Here are few options:

  1. Salt your driveway cracks: Remember how in old books they describe enemies “salting” the earth during raids and pillages? This is because excess salt prevents growth. Hot (read: boiling) vinegar, borax, and other (harmless) household items can also destroy vegetation in a driveway or sidewalk. [Fun Fact: Borax also deters ants from building ant hills in your driveway]. Just be aware that these things will also destroy your grass if you put them in your lawn (just like Round-Up!). Also, I’m pretty sure salt is cheaper than Round-Up. Double win.
  2. Hand-Pull. If you have a LOT of weeds in your yard, this may be a challenge, but if you only have a a few, this could make a lot of sense. Many weeds are also edible, so go ahead and eat them while you’re at it (if you know what they are and can verify that they’re not toxic).
  3. Lay Down Weed Barriers. You can put cardboard or plastic weed barriers in your garden to prevent weeds. Personally, I prefer to use cardboard. It will eventually degrade and need to be replaced, but the degradation is very slow. Additionally, when it breaks down, it provides needed nutrients to the soil. Double win.
  4. Cover Bare Dirt. Mother Nature does not like to see bare dirt, and if she does…she’ll fill it with weeds. Simply PLANTING on bare dirt can really help cut down on weeds. Not into wild looking forest-gardens? Try mulching or putting in rocks.
  5. Foster Lawn Health. The MOST IMPORTANT thing you can do to prevent weeds in your lawn is to make your lawn healthy. Grass is great at choking out other plants, even weeds…but it has to be healthy. Many common lawn weeds, like dandelions and plantain, actually don’t thrive when the soil is rich. You can create good lawn health by getting your lawn aerated regularly, and fertilizing. I DO NOT recommend all chemical fertilizers, but amending with some good compost should be all you need to do to bring your lawn up to snuff. If your soil is poor, this could take some time, but it’s absolutely worth it.
  6. Get Rid of Your Lawn. There are some climates where a green lawn just doesn’t make sense. Many people in the American Southwest are embracing rock gardens with little or no actual lawn. If you hate mowing the grass and don’t have a climate that is conducive to a green lawn, this may be a good option for you.
  7. Embrace the Weeds. Personally, I don’t care if my lawn has weeds in it. I love clover and violets, and I think that ivy is much softer and nicer on my bare feet than grass. I selectively pull weeds that I think are ugly or unpleasant – thistle for example, is a no-no in my yard. But letting some of them stay can actually make your lawn prettier, and healthier. Clover, for example, is a nitrogen fixer. This means that it actually adds nitrogen to the soil, and is EXTREMELY beneficial to lawn health (your grass needs nitrogen to flourish), if you’re willing to leave it alone.
Petition your city to stop using chemicals in public areas

If you and other well-meaning citizens can convince your city council to ban spraying of pesticides (even just certain, more harmful pesticides) in public areas, it’ll be a big help. Many cities currently spray schoolyards, boulevards, city lawns, churches, sidewalks, and more. The city I work in actually sprayed the areas around the trees and fire hydrants with Round-Up because they thought it’d be easier than trimming around those objects! If this ends, it can create a greener, safer cities.

In fact, I would argue that limiting – or eliminating – pesticides in your area is MORE IMPORTANT than eliminating them in agriculture. Your exposure from residues in food is much lower than your exposure from city spray programs. Ending chemical use here wouldn’t impact the livelihood of farmers, but it would lower the public health and environmental health risks of pesticides.

Don’t Buy processed food with monocrop fillers

The BIGGEST barrier to moving away from herbicides in agriculture, is the demand for the biggest monocrops – corn, soybeans, and canola. It is very, very difficult to grow these crops in large quantities without chemicals – which is partially why organic processed food is so much more expensive than conventional processed food.

If consumers demanded a wider variety of fruits,  vegetables, beans, nuts, dairy, and meats instead of processed mixtures of sugar, wheat, vegetable oil (which I call “death oil” for these reasons), corn, and soy…well, then there will be more demand for diversified farm plots. This would not only decrease the need for herbicides, but it will would also allow farmers to diversify, minimizing impacts if a particular crop has a bad year.

Buy Local, from farmers with good practices

Most farmers care about their crops, animals, and the people who buy them, whether they use conventional methods or not. Many small farmers are starting to try no-spray or permaculture methods, but can’t afford an organic certification – that piece of paper is super expensive and eats tons of man-hours in paperwork time. Talk to your farmer, and buy from farmers who have good growing practices. Buy from farmers who don’t use pesticides. Buy from farmers who do use pesticides, but are willing to explain why and how often…and maybe even listen to your concerns about them.

What Can Farmers Do?

Small-scale crop Farmers – Explore your options

Moving away from herbicides doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to give up your livelihood or obtain an (expensive) organic certification. It also doesn’t have to mean that you suddenly stop using glyphosate and flounder for a new method that will provide you with high enough crop yields to survive. Here are a few ideas:

  1. Permaculture. Permaculture is a technique that minimizes pests, diseases, and weeds by fostering biodiversity. By planting a variety of things together and practicing companion planting, you can save yourself a lot of work and minimize the need for chemicals. With this technique, yields of any specific type of crop are definitely more limited, but it may be a good option for small-scale farmers who aren’t growing large monocrops of corn/soybeans.
  2. Use Animal Labor. There are other ways to minimize weeds besides herbicides. Justin Rhodes, who blogs here, has developed a method where he runs chickens through his garden plot to till his soil and eliminate all weeds before planting. Other farmers use pigs to similar effect.
  3. Cover Crops. The Penn State Extension office recommends cover crops for weed control – and bonus, growing useful cover crops may provide additional income. I know a farmer, who I buy beef from, who plants cover crops that he can use as feed for his cattle. On off-years, he plants his family garden which provides produce for him and his family. His farm focuses on raising beef, so he does not try to sell produce, but the principal is the same.

Basically, if you designate a small portion of your plot to experimenting with other options, you may find things that work very well for you.

Some organic farmers claim that they actually have less problems with weeds and pests than they did when they used conventional methods. If you can get some of these practices to work for you on a small scale, then you can start implementing them across a larger operation.

Small scale crop farmers – Use sprays as a last resort.

One of the farmers I buy from at my local farmer’s market advertises most of his crops as “no-spray” at his farm stand. However, in the event of an unforeseen problem (such as a disease or bug infestation), he will use sprays as a last resort. Then, he advertises these crops as “conventionally grown,” and is happy to let you know what sprays he used and why. I’ve bought both types of produce from him, and I really respect the moderation of this method. He tries to avoid using chemicals, but acknowledges that sometimes there is no other way to save a crop.

Can we get a big round of applause for moderation?

Large scale farmers – consider Organic

Unfortunately, in order to make a transition away from pesticides on a large scale, most farmers need the organic certification. This is because organic products sell for a higher price, which is necessary to make up for the lower yields. The good news is that in the Midwest, studies do show that organic farming can be just as profitable as conventional, and possibly more so. The bad news, is the startup costs are difficult to swallow. I’m not a big fan of the organic certification, but I do think it is worth considering.

Farmers could also consider making part of their fields organic, to try it out, without losing too much profit in the meantime.

All Farmers – consider diversification

Obviously, as long as the demand for processed food remains high, we will “need” tons of corn, soy, and canola. But this agricultural trend has a lot of problems associated with it. From a health standpoint, it necessitates lots of chemicals that can be hazardous. From an environmental standpoint, a lack of biodiversity is generally bad.

But from an economic standpoint, monocrops are also an issue for the farmers. If you only grow corn, what happens if the corn crop gets destroyed for some reason?

Answer: Bad things. Government subsidies. Debt.

Unfortunately, there are a LOT of barriers to diversification, from start-up costs to infrastructure problems to government interference. Ultimately, consumers need to demand a wider variety of produce and animal products in order for this to be viable on a large scale.

Summary

Glyphosate is not good for public health or for the environment, but minimizing it’s use goes far beyond banning it. Round-Up is BETTER for health and the environment than many other pesticides; vilifying it beyond other chemicals is just an invitation to greater impacts on health and the environment from it’s outdated replacements!

Glyphosate is also far more dangerous to the people applying it than to the people eating food contaminated with it.  What good is buying organic apples if you spray your own lawn?

My advice is to focus on minimizing/eliminating glyphosate (AND OTHER PESTICIDES) in areas outside of agriculture first. This is the logical place to start, because it is easy to do, and it doesn’t impact the livelihoods of farmers or the food supply of the nation.

Next, is to investigate alternative methods in agriculture. Buying local is a key way to support these practices as a consumer, as is learning to avoid processed foods that raise the demand for corn/soy/canola.

For farmers, being open-minded and willing to experiment with new methods is critical. Just because we have been doing something a certain way for 50 years does not mean that is necessarily the best way to do it. We, as humans, can innovate and improve. In fact, it’s something we have historically been rather good at.

Thoughts on glyphosate? Are you for or against it? Do you agree with my moderate take on the issue? Let me know if an email, or in the comments!

Strawberry Picking & Preserves!

There are few things I enjoy more on a Saturday morning than visiting a U-Pick farm.

Seriously. I’m not kidding.

I love to pick stuff. Berries, leaves, mushrooms – whatever. Harvesting food is awesome.

It probably comes from when I was a little kid, and would go hiking all over southeast Michigan with my mom. My parents owned property near an area filled with wild raspberries and blackberries, and every time my mom saw any, she would get excited, and we would have to stop and pick them. Even if we were in a hurry. Or if it was raining. Or if the berries were down in a ravine filled with poison ivy.

Well, it rubbed off on me, because I’ve learned to forage for all kinds of things when I’m in the woods. But when I’m not in the woods…I visit U-Pick farms. Continue reading “Strawberry Picking & Preserves!”

Glyphosate Part 2: Why It Sucks

This is Part 2 of a four-part series on glyphosate. Read Part 1 here, and learn about the history of herbicides and why glyphosate was an improvement over what farmers were using in the past (and in many cases, are still using).

In The News

You may have heard about glyphosate in the news lately, or heard the class-action lawsuit ads on television. “Have you been exposed to glyphosate?” the ads ask. “Do you have cancer? You could be eligible to sue Monsanto!”

You also know, from my GMO post and some of the comments I alluded to in Part 1 of this series, that I am not a big fan of glyphosate. I acknowledge that it’s better than lots of other chemicals, but that doesn’t make it a good thing. Here’s some of the issues with it: Continue reading “Glyphosate Part 2: Why It Sucks”

Glyphosate: Part 1 – History of Herbicides

Awhile ago, I shared my opinion on GMOs and you saw that while I think the idea of genetically modifying something is fine, engineering something to be resistant to loads of glyphosate is NOT fine. I also promised that I would write a post that explains why.

It’s been a little while because guys, writing super well-researched articles is time consuming. And I want whatever science-y stuff I put on this site to be super well-researched.

The Short Version

I am not a fan of glyphosate. I try to avoid glyphosate. In fact, I won’t use glyphosate in my yard/garden, except for VERY special reasons (poison ivy being that ‘special reason’).

However, farmers are NOT running around drowning plants in glyphosate in an attempt to poison the world and destroy the environment. In fact, many farmers who use glyphosate are trying to help the environment and public health…and that’s NOT because they’ve been duped by Monsanto. (Although Monsanto is a pretty evil company. But they’re evil for different reasons). The farmers actually ARE helping the environment and public health in comparison to the agricultural techniques that were used prior to glyphosate.

It’s time for America to start using innovative agricultural techniques that move us away from herbicide use in general, which includes moving away from glyphosate. Glyphosate – and other chemicals – aren’t good. I avoid them! But we can’t just ban glyphosate all of a sudden or accuse conventional farmers of being evil. They’re not.

Read on for the details. Continue reading “Glyphosate: Part 1 – History of Herbicides”

Peanut Butter Cookies (Gluten & Dairy Free)

Welp, I intended to write a blog post with photos of all the beautiful plants that are sprouting in my yard. After all, the schools in my area on are “spring break” this week, so it seemed perfect!

But…now it’s snowing. Some spring break.

So instead, I decided to make cookies!

COOKIES

Background

I made two different kinds of cookies – peanut butter and double chocolate. The PB recipe comes from my mom, though I experimented by using sucanat/rapadura instead of normal brown sugar (it worked great, by the way). The double chocolate recipe was COMPLETELY made up, and it turned out really well! I want to make it one more time to tweak a couple of details before sharing (okay, I want to make it one more time because I didn’t actually measure things and want to make sure the amounts I wrote down are accurate before publishing the recipe. I’m not good at measuring things. I’m much better at throwing stuff haphazardly in a bowl with a spoon or possibly my fingers).

These are my FAVORITE peanut butter cookies. They are not soft and chewy like most peanut butter cookies; they are more crispy and crumbly and wonderful. They taste like peanuts and sweetness and it is amazing.

As a fun bonus, these cookies also happen to be gluten and dairy free, making them a favorite when I am bringing dessert to a function where somebody has food allergies (excluding peanut allergies, obviously…).

The Recipe: Peanut Butter Cookies. Gluten & Dairy Free

Prep time: 10 minutes
Bake time:
15 minutes
Total time:
25 minutes
Yield:
1 dozen. Double or triple or quadruple the recipe as needed.

Ingredients

1 c. peanut butter
1 c. Sucanat/rapadura (or brown sugar)
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt (omit if you are using store-bought or salted peanut butter. I use peanut butter that is literally just ground up peanuts, so I need to add salt)
1/4 c. peanuts, chopped fine.

Directions

  1. Mix the stuff together. I like to use my hands and then lick my fingers. You can be more civilized if you want to, although I don’t recommend it.
  2. Roll into 1″ balls and place on a greased cookie sheet. I recommend butter, but if you want to keep it dairy free, you can use coconut oil instead.
  3. Bake at 350 degrees F for 15 minutes or until just starting to brown on top.
  4. Let cool on cookie sheet before removing. NO REALLY. LET THESE COOL. They will finish baking on the sheet. If you try to eat them right when they come out of the oven, they WILL fall apart. Of course, this may not be a bad thing – you can pretend it was an accident and have an excuse to the eat the whole cookie before taking the batch to your party or family dinner or wherever!

Recipe Notes

  1. Sweetener: I used whole/un-ground Sucanat in this batch, and it turned out REALLY well. I did notice that the cookies appear less brown than they do with regular brown sugar, but I did not notice a taste difference. You can use brown sugar if you don’t have Sucanat. I wouldn’t use white sugar though, because you’ll be missing those molasses-y notes that give it so much delicious flavor. You may want to reduce the sweetener slightly if you are using Jiff or Smuckers or another peanut butter that already has sugar in it. Or you should question why your peanut butter has sugar in it, and go buy better peanut butter.
  2. Size: The cookies do NOT spread out when baking, probably because they don’t have butter in them. They do flatten out, but basically the size and shape you make the dough ball is the size and shape you are going to get.
  3. Substitutions: I don’t see any reason why you couldn’t make these with almond butter/almonds or cashew butter/cashews, although I haven’t done either. I ADORE peanut butter, so I doubt that I ever will. Just know that the flavor of the nut really shines through, so only make it with almond butter if you really like almonds.
COOKIESCOOKIESCOOKIESCOOKIESCOOKIESCOOKIESCOOKIESCOOKIESCOOKIESCOOKIES. PRAISE BINDERS