How Will We Eat When the Pandemic Is Over?

Your approach to food may have changed in the past few weeks. Mine has. Before the pandemic I could demolish a jar of Planter’s peanuts in a few days. Now I make it last more than a week. I was used to fixing myself a mid-morning snack or a second breakfast, but I haven’t done that in weeks. The biggest meal I’ve had in over a month was Easter dinner, and even then I probably ate only about two-thirds of what I might otherwise have eaten.

One reason for the change, to be frank, is to conserve TP. But I’m not as hungry because I’m not as active and not burning as many calories. I also really want to stretch our food supply so that I don’t have to make as many trips to the supermarket.

The health-related risks that we, especially those of us who have reached senior-citizen status, now incur in the supermarket make us think twice about our food purchases. How can I plan and execute my purchases, with the flexibility needed because some items may not be available when I go, to make my food purchases stretch as far as possible without hoarding? Will I then plan and prepare my meals carefully so as to avoid wasting it once I get it home?

That got me thinking of food waste in broader terms. (That, and Tatiana Schlossberg’s book, Inconspicuous Consumption) For the past several years, and even in the past few months, major news outlets such as the BBC, the New York Times, and the Washington Post have published articles on the connection between food waste and climate change. They all cite an alarming statistic: Globally between thirty and forty percent of food is wasted. “If food loss and waste were its own country, it would be the world’s third-largest [greenhouse gas] emitter—surpassed only by China and the United States.” (Source: World Resources Institute)

Some food waste occurs before the food even leaves the fields where it is grown. Fruits and vegetables that are less than perfect are left in the field to decompose. I’ve picked produce as a volunteer at a local urban farm and I’ve dropped blemished peppers, strawberries, and tomatoes on the ground because they won’t sell at the farm’s markets (although I have taken some home, with the farm’s knowledge and permission). Some food is discarded by the stores or restaurants that purchase it because it has become unfit to sell or serve. I’ve passed over bruised fruit in the supermarket many times. Some food, such as bagged lettuce, packaged meat, or milk is discarded because the sell-by date has passed. Some food goes to waste in our refrigerators either before we get a chance to prepare it or after we prepare it and we forget about the leftovers.

Would you buy this strawberry?

Does the pandemic offer us an opportunity to think more carefully about food and food waste? Eventually the pandemic will end. Retail food supplies will stabilize and we’ll go back to a more casual approach to grocery shopping. But can we hold back from resuming that casual approach? Can we carry forward the more deliberate approach that we’ve developed in this moment of emergency? Can we plan and execute our food shopping trips and our food preparation and consumption to reduce the amount of food we waste?

Asking if we can do things like putting a blemished apple or a misshapen pepper in our carts may be a bridge too far. I understand the hesitation when a single bruised apple or pear might still cost $1.00 or more. But maybe not. There are businesses that offer produce that’s less than perfect but edible and affordable. Imperfect Foods and Missfits Market both deliver in New Jersey. City Saucery makes tomato sauce from imperfect produce. Do you have sources for imperfect produce that you can share? Leave a comment.

On the local retail front, maybe if enough consumers got together, grocery stores and other produce vendors might offer some of their less-than-perfect wares at reduced prices as well.

The real struggle, though, will be over what we do with leftovers and food that we can’t use because it’s gone bad or it’s well past its “sell by” date. We’ll look at some of those concerns in a future post.

For now, though, you’ve probably already rethought your approach to food because of the COVID-19 pandemic. If you have modified that approach in such a way that is better for the environment, for the local community, or for your family or neighbors, please share what you’ve done and how you will carry that practice forward when the pandemic ends. May you and those close to you stay well and may you have peace in these trying circumstances.

Thanks as always for stopping by.


Saturday in the Soil

The soil is finally warm enough to be worked. It’s also not muddy, unlike in past years. So a mild Saturday provided a great opportunity to start preparing the garden, all one hundred square feet of it, for planting.

We sowed winter rye in the fall. Winter rye is one of several plants that local garden experts recommend as cover crops. Cover crops grow quickly, protect the soil from erosion, and pull carbon from the atmosphere. Because they grow later into the fall they provide these benefits when all the other annual plants have died from the cold. In the spring it’s a simple matter of turning the soil, plants and all, to keep the carbon and other organic matter safely in the ground and available for new crops.

Winter rye grass
Winter rye grass in late winter.

We compost all year long. Several times a week we take a repurposed cookie jar filled with egg shells; vegetable and fruit cores, stems, peels, and rinds; coffee grounds; and tea bags out to a large beehive-shaped composting bin. Once or twice a month, maybe more frequently in some months, this hash of rotting vegetable matter gets mixed up to help even out and accelerate the process. Several buckets of compost came out of the bottom of the bin this year. After sifting, the yield was about a cubic foot of humus, which was supplemented with some commercially produced compost and manure and dug into the garden.

Composting has the added benefit of reducing the municipal waste stream. A conservative estimate puts the amount of vegetable matter that goes into our compost bin at over two hundred pounds per year. It includes approximately 300 egg shells, 200 banana peels, 500 tea bags, and enough grounds for 300 cups of coffee. If ten percent of the households in our city kept 200 pounds of vegetable matter out of the garbage every year, that would reduce the amount hauled to landfills by several truckloads every year. My approach to food and food waste is not entirely consistent with sustainable consumption practice, however. Bananas, for example, are never in season in New Jersey. Neither are oranges, coffee, or tea, but that doesn‘t stop me from consuming them. I have some work to do.

There’s a lot of good, interesting (yes, really!) reading available about soil health and its relationship to food security and the environment. Below are some suggestions for your reading pleasure. If you have read something else and would like to recommend it, please leave a comment.

Meanwhile the garden, with its seedlings and seeds, compost and mulch, is an exercise in hope. In a few weeks, God willing, we will have salad greens and more. In a few years, God willing, a larger “we” will see the results of our efforts to keep additional carbon out of the atmosphere. The effort we put into our hundred-square-foot garden will bear infinitesimal results toward that end, but we hope that others will make a similar effort toward sustainable food production and consumption and add their infinitesimal results to a larger total.

Meanwhile, I wish you God’s blessing, abundance, and peace this spring and for the balance of the Lenten and Easter seasons.

Thanks for stopping by.


Frustration, Patience, Hope, Success

Thank you for putting up with so many book reviews in this blog. Now it’s time to return to the backyard and rejoice in a good year of yard work and gardening.


In 2017 we had a bad infestation of grubs. The first creature to discover the infestation was the resident skunk. He excavated large sections of the front and back lawns over the course of several nights in his quest for his next meal. When the leaves began to fall on the lawns and raking was required, the rake easily disturbed chunks of the remaining lawn as if they were fragments of a shag carpet.

The previous owner of our house probably had the lawn sprayed for grubs and other insect pests. We were contacted in the spring of our first year in the house by the company that had the contract for the spraying. Petrochemical pesticides have a tendency to kill beneficial insects as well as pests, so our weapon of choice for treating grubs is milky spore. I had begun application of the milky spore last autumn, so it is frustrating to see that the grubs had returned this year. It is also frustrating to see the repeat of a serious weed infestation this year.

One of the many red bell peppers that will be ready to pick soon.


Restoring health to any ecosystem takes time. According to recent article about the New Jersey Meadowlands, cleanup efforts began in the early 1970s. They continue to this day and must continue for many more years, but they have yielded remarkable results. A suburban yard is not an ecosystem, certainly not on the scale of the Meadowlands, but it can include enough biodiversity to yield observable results for a cleanup effort.

Weeds present a different challenge. The weapons of choice are my hands, used to pull the weeds, and corn gluten, which retards seed germination. Two applications of corn gluten did little to stop the appearance of crabgrass this year, but maybe I need to do a better job of timing the applications so that I will catch the peak weed germination times. It’s also clear that some sections of lawn might need to be dug up and reseeded, but timing is important there because this year’s weeds have already seeded the ground for next year’s crop.


Milky spore requires multiple applications over a period of two to three years to be effective. So even though it’s disappointing, it isn’t surprising that there are still grubs attacking our lawn this year. I am encouraged that some of the grubs I am finding this year are showing signs of milky spore disease, which means that there won’t mature into adult beetles next summer and lay new eggs for a new infestation.

The best hope for reducing weed infestations might lie in replacing more of the lawn with garden. Since moving into this home we’ve replaced about one hundred square feet of lawn with a vegetable garden. On the other side of the backyard about twenty square feet is occupied by pollinator-friendly perennials: raspberries, purple coneflowers, milkweed, and black-eyed Susans.

The raspberries in particular are popular with bumblebees, honeybees, and even wasps, and we’ve seen skipper butterflies, black and tiger swallowtail butterflies, and a monarch or two on the raspberries and other perennials. This year we also observed a clouded sulphur butterfly for the first time, and a goldfinch checked out the coneflowers one evening while we were enjoying dinner on the deck. Just below the deck a short stone wall encloses a new patch of blueberries and strawberries.

Our new strawberry and blueberry patch. Yes, the lawn needs help; we’re working on that.

In terms of overall biodiversity there are encouraging signs. The first year we planted a vegetable garden we saw few earthworms. Now they appear regularly whenever we disturb the soil. We see lots of fireflies throughout the summer; fireflies are often victims of the sprays used to eliminate insect pests. As I said earlier, a single suburban yard is not an ecosystem, but these signs and sightings give us some hope that our efforts are paying off on a small scale.


For the fourth summer now we have enjoyed a fine harvest from our small vegetable garden. In May and June we had fresh salad greens almost whenever we wanted. The brandywine, Juliette, and grape tomato vines have provided ingredients for sauce, Greek salads, tossed salads, and caprese since early August. We’ve enjoyed some green beans, lots of basil, some beautiful red bell peppers, and even a few yellow onions and green onions. The freezer is full of garden produce that we will be enjoying well into winter. We might even have some late-season broccoli in a few weeks.

This is an overly long post. Thank you for your patience if you’ve read this far. We are very grateful for the opportunity to exercise stewardship over a small corner of the natural world. We are very grateful for the visual pleasure and small amount of food it provides us. We are very grateful that we’ve been able to learn and put into practice a few steps for restoring the health of the soil and the environment in general. God is very good to us.

Thanks for stopping by!


Richfield Farms

Richfield Farms is nursery and garden center in Clifton, New Jersey. They raise  vegetables on approximately two acres and sell them on site. Their total property comprises just under five acres. They are faced with a large property tax bill, which they struggle to pay, because their property is not large enough to qualify as a farm and therefore a reduced tax rate. This week an article appeared in the Herald News and the Clifton Journal describing an effort that the City of Clifton is making to resolve the dilemma.

The rest of this post is the the text of a letter to the editor that I had drafted in response to the article. The Herald News asks that letters to the editor be kept to 250 words or fewer, and this draft is much longer, but it includes observations that I still wish to make.

Late season lettuce.

It is heartening to see that the City of Clifton is willing to help Richfield Farms stay solvent without having to sell property to a developer. Matt Fagan’s fine piece from Thursday, June 21, mentions several options under consideration. Might a land conservancy or other nonprofit also be interested in purchasing part of the property and leasing it back for a nominal fee so that it could continue as farmland? If the city or another nongovernmental organization takes ownership, the property is removed from tax rolls and taxes may increase for other Clifton property owners. For this Clifton property owner, it’s worth the investment.

Deborah Morton and her family might be inclined to scale back or eliminate the farming operations at Richfield Farms. It should be their prerogative to do so. Farming, even on a small scale, is hard work. Farming and running a retail nursery and garden center has to be an exhausting way to earn a living, but if the descendants of Leenhardt Van Breeman wish to continue raising vegetables on some of their acreage, that would be a very good thing.

First, although nostalgia and romance are important, there is more at stake than the nostalgia and romance associated with a century-old business such as Richfield Farms. When family-owned and operated businesses thrive, the community around them thrives. Big-box retailers that provide the same goods and services provide jobs and tax revenue, but the profits don’t stay in the community. If a big-box store thrives, the local community doesn’t necessarily thrive with it.

Second, small local farms can be part of a food supply that is more resilient in the face of climate change. Third, and related to the second, Richfield Farms, along with other local farms, is in a position to model sustainable and even regenerative growing techniques for local gardeners. By such practices as composting on site and planting cover crops in the fall they are helping to nourish the soil. Through social media and other advertising they are encouraging local gardeners to do likewise. Recent coverage of soil science in the The New York Times, in The Atlantic, and on NPR point out that such practices can remove carbon from the atmosphere and sequester it in the soil. Such practices also foster biodiversity, which is important for a healthy planet.

Best wishes to Clifton’s city officials and to the Morton family for success in this enterprise. Clifton will be a better community if Richfield Farms can begin its second century with solid support from city officials and the community at large.

As always, thanks for stopping by!


Book Review: The Art of the Commonplace

The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian EssaysThe Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays by Wendell Berry

Norman Wirzba edited this collection of essays and wrote the introduction. Mr. Wirzba himself has written and edited books, essays, and articles on caring for creation, living in harmony with creation, food and faith, and related subjects.

Wendell Berry’s writing is a joy to read. In it we find such sentiments as these: “It is not from ourselves that we will learn to be better than we are.” (from the essay “A Native Hill”) and “Respect, I think, always implies an imagination—the ability to see one another across our inevitable differences as living souls.” (from the essay “Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community.”)

Wendell Berry’s writing is difficult to read. His writing is prophetic; he does not write to make his readers comfortable or to make his readers feel good about themselves. He hands down indictments of many institutions that are embedded in Western culture: consumerism, corporate greed, and the leisure and entertainment cultures.

Not everyone who reads Wendell Berry holds him in high regard. Allen T. Stanton, a Methodist pastor, wrote Why I Hate Wendell Berry for Duke University’s online publication Faith & Leadership. The argument is easy to understand. Wendell Berry’s writings, especially his essays, are seen as idealizing, or romanticizing small-town and rural life. Those of us who’ve never lived in a small town or spent time on a farm often buy into the idealized vision. If we’ve read enough of Berry, Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals), or even Ragan Sutterfield (Cultivating Reality), we assume that we know how to fix America’s agricultural and food systems.

It brings to mind this quote from Meaghan Hammond in This Blessed Earth: A Year in the Life of an American Family Farm: “This second-guessing of basic animal husbandry, often to satisfy a grocery shopper who has never been on on a farm, is a sore point for almost anyone engaged in raising livestock these days.”

What, then, is the point of reading agrarian writers or those who write on related subjects? It is to try to understand what has been lost in our relationships with the food that we eat and to try to find ways of restoring a proper relationship with food and with those who produce it from wherever we are in the food supply chain.

If Wendell Berry’s writing is nothing else, it is  call to action for thoughtful readers. In that spirit, please consider these action items from the final essay in this collection, “The Pleasures of Eating,” which also appears in his collection What Are People For?

  1. Participate in food production to the extent that you can. If you have a yard or even just a porch box or a pot in a sunny window, grow something to eat in it. Make a little compost of your kitchen scraps and use it for fertilizer. Only by growing some food for yourself can you become acquainted with the beautiful energy cycle that revolves from soil to seed to flower to fruit to food to offal to decay, and around again. You will be fully responsible for any food that you grow for yourself, and you will know all about it. You will appreciate it fully, having known it all its life.
  2. Prepare your own food. This means reviving in your own mind and life the arts of kitchen and household. This should enable you to eat more cheaply, and it will give you a measure of “quality control”: you will have some reliable knowledge of what has been added to the food you eat.
  3. Learn the origins of the food you buy, and buy the food that is produced closest to your home. The idea that every locality should be, as much as possible, the source of its own food makes several kinds of sense. The locally produced food supply is the most secure, the freshest, and the easiest for local consumers to know about and to influence.
  4. Whenever possible, deal directly with a local farmer, gardener, or orchardist. All the reasons listed for the previous suggestion apply here. In addition, by such dealing you eliminate a whole pack of merchants, transporters, processors, packagers, and advertisers who thrive at the expense of both producers and consumers.
  5. Learn, in self-defense, as much as you can of the economy and technology of industrial food production. What is added to food that is not food, and what do you pay for these additions?
  6. Learn what is involved in the best farming and gardening.
  7. Learn as much as you can, by direct observation and experience if possible, of the life histories of the food species.

I have not read many collections of essays, and I would imagine this is true of other essayists: All of the essays in this book have also been published in other collections. Each of the following collections of Berry’s essays includes at least two of the essays in The Art of the Commonplace:

  • What are People For?
  • Sex, Economy, Freedom, & Community
  • The Gift of Good Land
  • The Unsettling of America
  • Home Economics

Wendell Berry might have mixed thoughts about this observation. On the one hand, if your public library consortium has a fair collection of Wendell Berry’s works, you can probably read all of essays without buying any of his books of essays. Patronizing a community resource such as the library is certainly in the spirit of the lifestyle that Berry advocates. On the other hand, he earns an income from the sale of these collections and other works. My first choice is always to borrow books from the library if I can.

Thanks as always for stopping by!


Buy Local, Give Local

Thanksgiving is followed quickly by two important days: Small Business Saturday (Saturday 25 November 2017) and Giving Tuesday (Tuesday 28 November 2017). Intelligent readers will have no trouble deciding what to do on either day. For Giving Tuesday in particular I thought it might be good to highlight some of the small nonprofit organizations that I’ve had contact with this year.


I haven’t donated cash to or volunteered with all of these organizations. In fact I’ve volunteered with only two; three if you count playing in the Bloomfield Civic Band as volunteering. The point of this list is to encourage you to think about the charitable organizations in your own local area and think about ways that you can support them on Giving Tuesday and throughout the year.

What I would also like most of all is for you to comment with suggestions for local charities in your area that deserve support. Updates will be posted to my FB page and Twitter feed as they come in. If you and I are friends on FB or Twitter your friends will see the posts and may also be prompted to take action. I do not plan to filter any suggestions out unless they happen to be for some organization that most readers would find abhorrent. Please supply a URL along with the name of the organization.

I look forward to hearing from. Now, here’s my starter list:

Urban Farming, Sustainable Agriculture


Autism Awareness and Advocacy

Services for the Homeless and Other Neighbors in Need

Welfare of At-Risk Moms and Children

Music Education and Performing Arts


  • Friends of the (your town name here) Public Library

From Andy Walsh  (Mostly Pittsburgh Area)

  • Light of Life Rescue Mission serves the needs of the homeless and others in the Pittsburgh North Side community where I work; in fact, their newest facility will be going up where I used to park.
  • The Watson Institute provides services for many individuals and families with special needs, including those with autism spectrum diagnoses. The organization has a rich history, having previously served polio patients and working with Jonas Salk in developing the vaccine.

Final Thoughts

It should be clear to any observer, regardless of their political leanings or affiliations, that the current philosophy and actions of the U.S. federal government will make the need for private charitable enterprise much greater for the foreseeable future. Whether the enterprise is care for the environment, care for people who have fallen on hard times, or any of the dozens of other social concerns we could name, private individuals and small organizations will have a greater role to fill to meet the challenges of the coming years. Some may think that is as it should be. No matter; the needs will be there and they will be substantial. This Giving Tuesday I hope we can all stretch our imaginations and our budgets a little to stand in the gap.

Thanks as always for stopping by!


The Dirt on Soil

Grass, Soil, Hope: A Journey Through Carbon CountryGrass, Soil, Hope: A Journey Through Carbon Country by Courtney White
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is a pleasure to read. The title suggests that the material might be dry, but Courtney White’s writing keeps the reader engaged. The journey metaphor, though hard to follow at some points, manages to create a usable framework for the several stories.

The central conceit, and not to be overlooked as the reader takes the journey, is that building, restoring, and maintaining healthy soil is an essential component of global ecology. A two percent increase in soil carbon could offset “a large percentage of greenhouse-gas emissions going into the atmosphere.”

The journey itself takes the reader through Marin County and The San Joaquin river delta in California. The reader visits an organic farm in New Hampshire and an urban backyard in Holyoke, Massachusetts. On to Logan, Utah, Emporia, Kansas, New Orleans, and a rooftop farm in Brooklyn, New York. The author also spends time close to home in New Mexico, while planning a visit to a sheep farm in Australia.

Grass is the title floral character. Fauna include beavers, sheep, spiders, cattle, bees, chickens, and of course soil microorganisms. All of them are partners in the work of soil building.

Michael Pollan wrote the foreword. Courtney White’s other inspirations are Aldo Leopold, Wallace Stegner, and Wendell Berry. Like them, she approaches her topic with a mixture of scientific and philosophical analyses.

Two other titles on the subject are waiting on my to-read list: The Soil Will Save Us: How Scientists, Farmers, and Foodies Are Healing the Soil to Save the Planet and Cultivating Reality: How the Soil Might Save Us. The author of the former, Kristin Ohlson, also has also had an article published in the April/May 2017 issue of National Wildlife magazine:….

Keep the conversation going.

View all my reviews

Caterpillars, Compost, and Natural Cycles

Recently our parsley patch hosted some black swallowtail caterpillars. At least two were observed over several days. A family member suggested that we remove them and display them in Jody’s first grade classroom. The expectation was that they would soon enter the chrysalis stage, and would subsequently emerge as adult butterflies.

Continue reading

Wildlife in the Local (North Jersey) News

The Herald News for Sunday, 10th January, offered two pieces about local wildlife:

The Bergen County Audubon Society advocates for smarter gardens.

A pair of bald eagles, residents of Ridgefield Park, are given some space by a local developer.

A third article about Ivan Kossak of Lincoln Park, a birder and an environmental activist, appeared in the print edition but is not available on line.

It’s great to see the local news media giving such extensive coverage to local wildlife. Enjoy! And thanks as always for stopping by.