Monday, April 13, 2015

Organic vs. Conventional - Which is better?

I was recently interviewed for an article recently published in Today's Dietitian about organic foods. Each person interviewed was asked the same questions with selected responses included. The full article is viewable here.

All the questions were good ones. Each of my responses was as short as I could make it and keep my thoughts coherent. I knew that most of the content would hit the cutting room floor so that their resulting article was also coherent when combining the responses from each person. So I add my full responses here in case my readers would appreciate reading the wider view of my thoughts about each question. 

Of course each of these questions could merit a full blog post, a full essay, and I could easily have a conversation around each one. However, it will be of interest to see how others also answered the same question. 

I apologize in advance for the formatting and font, which always seems to be odd when I cut and paste into this blog. There seems to be nothing between small and LARGE - arghhh. So I change the font to make it a bit easier on the eyes, but again, I deeply apologize if you need to put on your reading glasses, or worse, actually get out a magnifying glass! 

(1) How would you summarize the nutritional differences between conventionally grown versus organically grown foods, and what complicates this comparison?

Most individual research studies evaluating nutritional differences as a primary outcome when comparing foods grown conventionally (i.e., with synthetic chemical inputs - fertilizer and/or herbicides and pesticides) versus organic farming practices (i.e., biological inputs - agroecological methods) will typically show variation from year to year, crop to crop, field to field and thus are very difficult to interpret. 

The most recent meta-analysis (see reference below) does show significantly increased anti-oxidant content in organically grown produce. What is as important for public health, if not more so, is that this meta-analysis also showed that overall the organically-raised produce had reduced pesticide levels plus reduced levels of the toxic heavy metal cadmium. 

However, by focusing attention only on possible nutrient differences between organically-grown and conventionally-grown foods, Registered Dietitians miss the opportunity to learn about our profession’s much larger and critically important role as advocates for the development of healthy sustainable agriculture and food systems that promote healthy soil, healthy food, healthy people, and healthy communities. Focusing only on nutrient differences is a distraction away from issues of deeper concern that are even more important for the protection of our public and environmental health. 

Higher antioxidant and lower cadmium concentrations and lower incidence of pesticide residues in organically grown crops: a systematic literature review and meta-analyses. Baranski, M., D. Srednicka-Tober, N. Volakakis, C. Seal, R. Sanderson, G. B. Stewart, C. Benbrook, B. Biavati, E. Markellou, C. Giotis, J. Gromadzka-Ostrowska, E. Rembiałkowska, K. Skwarło-Son, R. Tahvonen, D. Janovska, U. Niggli, P. Nicot and C. Leifert.

(2) Are there significant health risks of the pesticides, technologies (such as genetic engineering) and/or additives used in conventional food production?

I focus my attention and advocacy on our farm’s soil health and ecosystem’s vast and interconnected biodiversity and the community that it creates (both above and below ground). Conventional (i.e. industrial agriculture) consists of practices (including the use of GMO seeds) that are intentionally depleting our planet’s vast biodiversity, which includes the incredibly diverse, complex, and extensive microbial life in our soil that is only beginning to be discovered and is only barely understood for its role in overall health (from the soil to the planet, including human health). 

The population of the monarch butterfly has dropped precipitously in recent years, related to the use of pesticides directly and indirectly to the herbicides that are killing its main source of food, the milkweed plant, growing in among the vast acres of mono-crops planted in soy and corn. In fact, the monarch population in North America has decreased to the point of it potentially adding it to the list of endangered species.

What is a significant health risk from the use of these synthetic chemicals, and to whom? We know SO little about this community of life, this diverse ecosystem to which we belong and are connected. Think of the monarch butterfly (along with the recent increase in honey bee colony collapse) as “canaries in the corn field”. 

It’s time that RDNs learn about and incorporate The Precautionary Principle into their thinking and professional food recommendations in order to protect both the public’s health and the environmental health of our communities and planet.

(3) There’s been debate about the healthfulness of organic pesticides. Some people use this as an argument against organics. Are organic pesticides healthier than conventional pesticides? If so, how so? If not, why not?

This “debate” is another distraction for a variety of reasons. 

The organic farming community has been saying for years that it needs (and wants to participate in) more research into best practices so that organic farmers can continue to reduce the need to use any herbicide or pesticide, even if it has been approved for use in USDA certified organic products (OMRI).  Research dollars have consistently been disproportionally awarded to study conventional (industrial, synthetic) agriculture. The 2014 Farm Bill has increased the dollar amount, and fully funded this section, for research dedicated to “specialty crops” (not necessarily organically-grown, but this is a start), the term given to fruits and vegetables.  

Several studies have shown in both adults and children that eating only organic foods for a relatively short period of time significantly reduces the body levels of potentially harmful pesticides:          (a) Cynthia L. Curl, CL , RA Fenske and K Elgethun. 2003. Organophosphorus pesticide exposure of urban and suburban pre-school children with organic and conventional diets. Environmental Health Perspectives doi:10.1289/ehp.5754                                                             (b)  Reduction in urinary organophosphate pesticide metabolites in adults after a week-long organic diet, Liza Oates, et al. 

The President’s 2008-2009 Cancer Panel Report - Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What we can do now (published April 2010) recommends “choosing, to the extent possible, foods grown without pesticides or chemical fertilizers, antibiotics, and growth hormones…….” (page 112) to reduce the effects from environmental exposure on cancer risk.

(4) How might age or genetic differences of people impact the body’s response to pesticide contamination or technologies used in conventionally-grown foods?

Our children are the future of our country and society at large. The American Association of Pediatrics has developed a policy statement calling for reduction of prenatal and early childhood exposure to pesticides, being associated with pediatric cancers, cognitive function, and behavioral problems.'s-Exposure-to-Pesticides.aspx

(5) Many consumers are familiar with the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen” as shopping guides for produce. What is your opinion about the “Dirty Dozen” and how much of an impact has this guide made on consumer shopping decisions?  

I was thrilled when this list first came out in the mid-90’s. I personally used it and have included it as a resource in each edition of my book A Dietitian’s Cancer Story. However, now I personally don’t use it all, and only recommend it as the proverbial great first step. Why not?  It limits one’s thinking to only “me”, i.e., what’s in it for me? 

Buying organically-grown food is about so much more than just nutritional benefits, i.e., just “me”. People are becoming aware and choosing to purchase food grown organically, particularly grown by farmers within their own foodshed (i.e. a regional food system), because doing so promotes: 

- healthy soil, 
- biodiversity, 
- clean water, 
- reduced soil erosion plus regeneration of productive topsoil, 
- clean air, 
- reduced production of atmospheric gases causing global climate change along with being an effective sink for capturing (reducing) atmospheric CO2, 
- increases and stabilizes a local economy, 
- helps to define and maintain a local food culture and community, 
- reducing the personal intake of hormones, antibiotics and other drugs, 
- prevention of the development of antibiotic resistance, 
- choosing animal protein foods from farms focused on animal welfare which includes appropriate food for an animals specific anatomy and physiology, 
- reducing risk of pesticide/herbicide exposure to farm workers, 
- increased nutrients (polyphenols, other antioxidants, healthy fatty acids), 
- increased flavor (and what is food without delicious flavor?), 
- reduced risk of an increasing variety of illnesses (including autism, Parkinson’s, diabetes, cancer, heart disease) and lastly, 
- recognizing and celebrating the culture in agriculture. 

RDNs need more education about their important role in the development of sustainable regional agriculture and food systems that truly can deliver “good food and good health for all” (my email sign-off). 

(6) What about food categories not included in the Dirty Dozen, such as organic animal products and grains—how should consumers approach these?

Buy organically every place possible. However, buying organic animal products is not that easy because some organic animals are still fed organic food (i.e., organic corn in CAFO feedlots) that is not appropriate for their anatomy and physiology or welfare.

(7) Some experts contend that people may skip certain foods altogether (such as fruits and vegetables) if they can’t afford organic, thus lowering nutritional quality of the diet. Is that a real concern?

“Experts” are often journalists or headline writers who love to (and need to) stir up controversy without offering meaningful suggestions for change to their readers. As an RD, I would help a client look at their time and total food dollar spending for a week (including all food eaten away from home, processed convenience foods plus expensive JUNK, which I do not give the dignity of being called “food”) and help them make goals and a plan to negotiate choices in order to have the money for healthy organic foods and time for food prep. And I would add that grabbing organic energy bars, organic cookies, organic JUNK would not make it into my professional recommendations or my own grocery cart. 

(8) What are the pros and cons of organic farming practices versus conventional farming practices on the environment?

See Question 5 above. 
In addition, I subscribe to the tenents and practices of the field of Agro-ecology:

The application of ecology to the design and management of sustainable agroecosystems.
A whole-systems approach to agriculture and food systems development based on traditional knowledge, alternative agriculture, and local food system experiences.
Linking ecology, culture, economics, and society to sustain agricultural production, healthy environments, and viable food and farming communities.

(9) If organic farming were the norm, would organic food cost the consumer less? And, if so, how would we support a move in this direction?

Organic foods from small local farmers will not and should not cost less. The real question is not “Why is organic food so expensive and when is the cost going to come down? Instead, the real question is “Why is cheap food cheap and what are the hidden costs to our communities of the cheap, processed food that is the norm?” It is critical that we as society start to address the multiple costs of cheap food to each of us personally and to society at large. 

I know several small organic farmers who qualify for SNAP (food assistance program). I don’t know any single small organic farmers who are making so much money that they need an off-shore banking account. 

Communites and individual organic farmers together need to continue to increase awareness and appreciation (value) of the three pillars of sustainable regional food systems, which are economic, environmental, and social benefits, all of which together create vital, thriving, and desirable places to live.  (these pillars are also often described as the 3-P's = Profit, Place, and People) 

(10) For a consumer who wants to eat more organic foods, what are strategies dietitians should recommend to make them more affordable? 

See my response above (#7) about working with the client for planning the total time/food bought. In addition, it is important to help the client (an individual or institution) make change in small steps with achievable and measurable goals - I use “A Good Food Checklist for Eaters”, developed by Angie Tagtow, MS, RD at

I also suggest that RDNs use Angie Tagtow’s Good Food Checklist for Dietitians first in order to see what they need to learn and put into practice themselves (i.e., walk the talk) before they can be effective community leaders and teachers for their clients.

(11) What trends do you foresee in production and consumer interest in organically-grown foods over the next 15 years, and how would you recommend supporting or reversing these trends?

The consistent recent and projected growth of the organic food production and purchases compared to the rest of the food industry is important.  As a relatively new farmer who has chosen to pursue both organic production and marketing via the USDA Organic certification program, I obviously support this growth.  The most important point for RDNs to understand is that this growth is resulting from many larger societal concerns than just individual nutrient differences, as important as that is. 

I suggest that all RDNs (in addition to the dietetic students and interns who come to my farm or Mary Jo Forbord’s farm when participating in the Hunger & Environmental Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group’s School to Farm Program) read the following resources provided by the HEN DPG and AND:

Healthy Land, Healthy Food, Healthy Eaters, Sustainable Food Systems: Opportunities for Dietitians, A. Tagtow and A. Harmon,                                                                                         
ADA Position Statement: Food and Nutrition Professionals Can Implement Practices to Conserve Natural Resources and Support Ecological Sustainability (June 2007). (compare and contrast to 2013 practice paper)
AND Practice Paper: Promoting Ecological Sustainability within the Food System  (March 2013).
Standards of Professional Performance for Sustainable, Resilient, and Healthy Food and Water Systems – JAND 2014;114:475-488

Some additional resources:

Beyond Eating Right: The Emergence of Civic Dietetics to Foster Health and Sustainability Through Food System Change, J Wilkins et al, JHEN 5(1) 2010 -                                     
The Food-Climate Relationship: The Registered Dietitians’ Balanced Approach to Positive Change -

2010 State of the Evidence: The Connection Between Breast Cancer and the Environment -

The President’s Cancer Panel Report 2010 Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now – has a section on agriculture, food, and water - 

A Generation in Jeopardy: How pesticides are undermining our children’s health and intelligence – Pesticide Action Network of North America, October 2012  

Fair Food: Growing a Healthy, Sustainable Food System for All, Oran B. Hesterman, PhD, Public Affairs, 2011.

Eat Local: Simple Steps to Enjoy Real, Healthy, and Affordable Food, Jasia Steinmetz, PhD, RD, New World Publishing, 2011. 

I know this post is another long one, so I will not continue except to say that as an RD, I have clearly attached our collective future to developing healthy, sustainable regional food systems (with the occasional luxury of buying food not grown in the Upper Midwest like orange juice, avocados, olive oil, salt, black pepper, turmeric, etc etc etc - you get the idea). In fact, the visions statement for our farm is "Shaping our future from the ground up" where the word "our" is intentionally very wide and inclusive starting with building a healthy soil-food web for optimal nutrient content of the food we grow all the way to a healthy planet, and everyone and everything in-between.

Lastly, I will also just add that our organic certification is our public promise and gift to our local community demonstrating our farm's commitment to both nourishing and nurturing our community's health. As I mentioned above, "Good food and good health for all" is my email sign-off.  Working for and advocating for anything less is a compromise I am not willing to make as a true front-line health care provider proudly practicing both as a Registered Dietitian and an organic farmer feeding my own community. :)

Please feel free to read the full article, then decide for yourself "Which is better?". There are many valuable responses. Hopefully you will find one bit of information that helps you see and commit to a better, healthier, organic, sustainable future for all of us, our common good. 

Cultivate your life, you are what you grow – inch by inch, row by row,

Diana Dyer, MS, RD – your Radical Dietitian blogger :)  

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

2015 National Dietitian Day - Should "Radical" be the New Normal?

Blogging "rules" tell you to limit blog postings to 300 words or your readers won't get the message. Sorry. I don't subscribe to the "fast food", "grab-n-go" mentality of our society that is constantly pushed on us. So,  I am just giving my readers a heads-up. This blog posting will be much longer than 300 words, so if you are still interested in reading what I have to say, I suggest you wait until you have time to read my full posting, that you have the time and mental space to think, and perhaps even savor what I have written. I would like to envision you having made a pot of organic, fair trade tea before reading this. :)

Ok - enough lead in. Good news! Another year has gone by, and I'm still "healthy enough"! So here we go for National Dietitian Day 2015. :)

Forty years ago at this time in 1975, I was finally applying for a coveted spot (even then) in a dietetic internship. Once I had finally made the decision to become a registered dietitian (RD), I then worked so hard to fulfill the prerequisites and had been so focused on this path during the previous two years that I honestly never thought about what I would do if not accepted. So surprise! shock! when I learned I had been rejected. I was able to learn that I was rejected not because I didn't meet the rigorous academic requirements, but because I was a childhood cancer survivor. Pause ……. Yes, you read that right.

I'm going to make a long story short here. I got in, that year, to the same internship that had first rejected me, in fact discriminated against me based solely on my medical history. This was not the first time I had found myself going against the grain, needing to advocate for myself, doing something differently than the usual path, speaking up, speaking out to solve a problem. Nor would it be the last.

The simplest way to explain my thinking and subsequent actions is to say that having survived an illness in which doctors involved did not even offer my parents any treatment ("just take her home and make her comfortable"), let alone offer hope, I was not going to let anyone easily tell me "no" for anything. Having survived what was considered hopeless, my modus operandi very simply had become "finding a way to yes". And finding a way to yes to find a solution for a problem I decided to tackle has often involved seeing things differently, asking different questions, being persistent, and simply not giving up! 

So, again to make a long story short, I finished that lengthy and rigorous internship combined with a Masters degree, which included a complicated research project and thesis, presented my research (which actually changed best practice for children born with the inborn error of metabolism called PKU) at an international conference, had my first child (with a complicated pregnancy, delivery, birth, and my baby's stay in a neonatal intensive care unit), and then passed the national registration exam (to permit me to use RD after my name) on the first opportunity after my graduation with a MS in Nutritional Sciences. The only thing I didn't get done during this 5-year period - which I still regret - was to actually walk to get my MS diploma, which I had worked so hard and long to achieve.


But I was just getting started. :) I have written about all the meaningful work I have done as a Registered Dietitian (RD) in my previous National RD Day posts starting in 2008. (here is the link to last year's post, which also includes the links to all previous posts I have written for National RD Day).

In a nutshell, I am SO glad I spoke up and didn't just walk away, accepting that initial rejection. 

However, here is the most important lesson that I learned with that initial rejection. In order to solve a problem, rather than just patch it up, or hope it would somehow solve itself, you must first identify and understand the cause or the root of the problem. 

Which leads me to the title of this post. "Should 'Radical' be the New Normal"? 

Huh? Here is the connection. 

Was what I did, challenging the initial rejection into my dietetic internship based on a decision that was clearly discrimination, considered radical? Maybe yes, maybe no, but in either case I don't know that I would have worn that word comfortably back in the 70's as my husband and I had arrived at the University of Wisconsin campus shortly after an anti-war bombing of one of the campus buildings, an action that was clearly radical to the extreme in my mind. 

Indeed, looking up the word radical, the first definition typically includes the emphasis on "extreme":

– Advocating or based on thorough or complete political or social reform: 
representing or supporting an extreme section of a political party.

However, as I have been thinking about what I am doing now as a Registered Dietitian who is also a certified organic farmer, in addition to many things I have done over the past decades that I have been an RD, I have been thinking about this word "radical" more and more. 

Synonyms for the word radical include revolutionary, reformer, revisionist, progressive (among other less appealing words like die-hard, bigot, militant, etc). 

Digging further (oh, I like that pun!), two additional definitions I found for the word radical that ring true and deep with me are the following:

– Adjective: Coming from the Latin radix, of or going to the root or origin; fundamental

– Adjective: Forming a basis or foundation 

Thus, I have come to use the word radical in a meaningful, positive, and powerful way, taking the word radical back to its roots, literally and figuratively, i.e., radical meaning "going to the root" of a problem to find solutions, back to the fundamentals in order to actually understand the cause of problems and then work toward solutions or reform in a thorough and complete manner, rather than a quick, easy, short-term fix, just putting on band-aids, or kicking the can down the road, over and over and over again.

And thinking of the word radical in terms of the word root leads me as an organic farmer to first think about healthy, organic soil as the "root" requirement (i.e., the absolute basis and foundation) for growing healthy, nutrient-dense food as the starting point that leads to solutions for nourishing personal, public, and planetary health.  With that awareness, I realize that I am a "radical dietitian" because I am committed to this "radical vision" of a food system that starts with healthy, organic soil as my touchstone, my roots, the basis for defining my professional responsibilities, which then guide my professional influence and actions.

Should "radical" in that sense be the new normal? Should all RDs be "radical" dietitians, no matter what area of practice they choose? In my opinion, yes, if "radical" means that everywhere possible RDs are making food and nutrition recommendations and/or even direct purchases that lead forward to the development of healthy communities and a healthy planet and also go backward to start a healthy food system with healthy soil.

I often tell my dietetic students that the basis, the starting point, for health is not "we are what we eat" but is instead "we are what we grow", because striving toward health should be larger than just personal health. No matter what narrow focus each of us may choose within the many opportunities our profession offers to apply the appropriate medical nutrition therapy (MNT) learned to become an RD (i.e., diabetes, cancer, sports, eating disorders, GI, intensive care, long-term care, wound care, food services, managing, consulting, research, policy, business ownership, education, and on and on and on and on!!), also using our expertise to work toward the larger picture of healthy environments and healthy communities should be the fundamental, underlying, root reason for choosing to become an RD.

In my view of our professional expertise and responsibility (and yes, it took me a while to see and appreciate this wider and deeper view), this larger picture of healthy environments and healthy communities is a goal that all RDs should support and pursue (where possible) by advocating for healthy food, healthy soils, water, and air as the starting point for health, i.e., back to the starting point "we are what we grow".  

Is my thinking "radical"? Is it "too radical"? What could possibly be "too radical" (in the negative sense that the word is often used) about envisioning and working for solutions that lead to healthy soil, healthy food, healthy people, healthy communities, and a healthy planet, i.e., true sustainability for all?

 What could possibly be "too radical" about directing our professional influence and recommendations to the promotion and support of systems, policies, and practices that preserve, protect, and regenerate healthy soils in addition to clean water, genetic biodiversity (both above and below ground), pollinators, intact diverse ecosystems, and promote carbon sequestration in our soils that can mitigate (even reverse) climate change

Maybe I'll trade in my "Eat More Kale" bumper sticker for one that says "I LOVE Soil" :) 

Before I end this blog post, I will just pause to mention that I am grateful beyond words that my parents challenged the first medical opinion (and even a second) and that they shared my earliest story with me (which I was too young to actually remember). As I grew into young adulthood, trying to piece the world together, I slowly appreciated the significance of their actions, which showed me the importance of thinking clearly when faced with a problem, looking for solutions outside the norm, finding courage, speaking up, creating a way to yes, going against the grain when necessary, being atypical, even being radical (at the extreme) when that was the only possible solution, as my parents were by challenging the authority of a medical system that first said "no", at a time when questioning a doctor's recommendation was never done. 

I am also grateful beyond measure for the one person on that internship selection committee who saw things differently and helped to move the Universe in ways that ultimately got me back on to the acceptance list. 

Just a few more thoughts before I sign off this year's blog post for the 2015 National RD Day. Maybe RD can also be a professional abbreviation for "Radical Dietitian". :) Probably not, but I am quite comfortable wearing that word now. In fact, I like to envision all future registered dietitians (RD) also thinking of themselves as being "Radical Dietitians", making "radical" professional food and nutrition recommendations that seek to address root causes of problems wherever they can in order to promote effective solutions within every component of the health care spectrum, solutions that support healthy, microbe and humus-rich organic soil as the non-negotiable beginning, the foundation, the root of healthy food systems, healthy communities, and a healthy planet.

I like thinking of that training and commitment being the "new normal" for my profession, and I am happy thinking about and working toward that along with other RDs who share the same vision and values.

If you're already an RD or an RD2B (still doing an undergrad program, already in a dietetic internship, or just starting to think about becoming a registered dietitian) and you'd like to jump on board to help shape the future in this "radical" direction, my best and most enthusiastic advice is to join the Hunger & Environmental Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group (under the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics - AND). You'll be in good company with the values held by other HEN members along with HEN's mission to empower its members to be leaders in sustainable and accessible food and water systems, which is the foundation of our professional responsibility no matter where you apply your expertise and passions about food and nutrition. (Note: student members of AND can join HEN DPG for a reduced fee!) 

One last thought - I have just turned age 65. With that milestone, I also just received my Welcome to Medicare card, which is no small feat for a childhood cancer survivor who was first given zero chance of survival at age 6 months in 1950 and has had multiple additional cancer diagnoses and significant medical problems secondary to cancer therapies since then. Although age 65 and Medicare are often still synonymous with "retirement" in this country, I have not even looked at the criteria for continuing membership in my professional organization in a retired capacity.

I am still "healthy enough", and I think I still have some work to do for my profession as long as I am able, perhaps mostly planting seeds and nurturing others' careers through my opportunity to touch the future via the dietetic students and interns who participate in HEN's School to Farm Program.

I am both happy and grateful thinking about that, too, as that work means that I am also still able to carry the torch forward representing and advocating for both cancer prevention and a healthy life for all cancer survivors.

Paraphrasing the title of an inspirational book I just read, Good Morning, Beautiful Business by Judy Wicks, every morning I say:

 "Good Morning, Beautiful Life!"

Yes, adding an exclamation mark. :) I hope all of my readers (whether you are an RD or an aspiring RD, cancer survivor, or one of my many general readers) also have a way to greet your new day, every morning, thinking about or creating some part of your day, some part of your life, where perhaps wearing the word "radical" is comfortable and also a beautiful part of your own new normal. :)

Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row,

Diana Dyer, MS, RD (radical dietitian) :)

PS - This blog post (the last time I checked) is 2,202 words.  Might be more by now. Thanks for reading this far. :)

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

A+ – Lentil Patties that do not fall apart!

Maybe I just got lucky this time but yes, the post title says it all. The important feature about these lentil patties that I made for my daughter-in-law is that they formed beautiful patties and did not fall apart during assembly or cooking! Oh yes, they tasted great, too, and didn't have any ingredients to which she has allergies. Bingo!  I needed to write this down so I can find it easily for the next time I want to make them.

I wanted to use ingredients I had on hand (no surprise there), and ultimately developed (fused together) a recipe that is modified from several bean patties that I reviewed on the internet. Here we go:

• 1 cup black lentils + brown lentils (I had about 3/4 cup of the black lentils and topped off the cup with the typical brown lentils)
• 2 cups water for cooking the lentils
• 1-2 Tbsp. olive oil
• 1/2 cup red onion, finely chopped
• 3-5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
• 1/2 small jalapeño pepper, finely chopped
• 1 cup pumpkin (about 1/2 of a 15-ounce can of pumpkin without spices, ie., not pumpkin pie filling)
• 1/2 Tbsp. soy sauce
• 1/2 Tbsp. mustard (I used Dijon mustard)
• 1 cup oat bran
• 1/2 cup rolled oats
• 1 teaspoon dried oregano
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1/2 teaspoon pepper, freshly ground
• Water as needed

1) Cook lentils in the 2 cups of water until soft but not mushy (about 20-25 minutes) - drain any extra water and allow lentils to cool to room temperature
2) Peel and chop onions and garlic, heat olive oil in small skillet and sauté onions first then add garlic for about 5 minutes total over medium heat. Take off heat and allow to cool.
3) In a large food processor, combine the drained lentils, onion and garlic, pumpkin, oat bran and oatmeal, jalapeño pepper, soy sauce, mustard, oregano, salt and pepper.
4) Mixture should be mostly smooth but not completely blended. Add water by the tablespoon if needed (I added 2 Tbsp. water).
5) Form patties (I made 6 that were quite large and about 1 inch thick). I used a 3/4 cup measuring cup to scoop up the mixture and drop onto a piece of waxed paper, then used my hands to form a patty from the mixture.
6) I baked the patties on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper for 35 minutes at 350ºF.
7) Allow to cool then freeze if not eating right away.

These make beautiful patties ("burgers") that will hold up well inside a bun. Top with all your favorite toppings and condiments. Yum, yum!!

A+ – Lentil Patties that do not fall apart not baked yet
So what does the A+ mean? Are they that good? Yes, they are, but that is not what A+ means on labels in our freezer. Here is our code. Our daughter in law's name begins with the letter A, so anything labeled with A+ in our freezer is food that she can eat. It is doubtful she would ever just drop in because she and our son live so far away, but when I know they are coming, I can quickly take stock by looking for anything labeled with A+ to see what I have for quick eats when I am starting to plan food for their visit. 

Go ahead and make these for yourself, even if you don't have to work around some food allergies, because they are that good. In fact, I have to resist pulling them out of the freezer for just us! I think it will be a good idea for me to actually go through all of the recipes on this blog to label which ones can be called A+, for my own quick reference! :)

Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row,

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Sweet Potato Enchilada Casserole

Oh Yummy! Here is an easy recipe to feed a crowd, like when our sons and their wives are home for the holidays. One of our daughters-in-law has food allergies so making delicious food for the group with her needs in mind keeps my mind active. When I make food ahead and put it in the freezer, some are tagged as "A+", which translates to "Anna-Friendly". :) Here is a winner!

Bonus with this recipe, which I modified from several I found on the web. I learned about the Ro*Tel brand of foods, a long-time family-owned company in Texas, of course now owned by a series of "big food" acquisitions, but there it was, right in my regular locally-owned grocery store (albeit on the tippy top shelf). With our summer abundance of tomatoes and hot peppers, I will likely play with this combination to freeze my own "Ro*Tel" items in the future, but that is for another day!

Here is what is now made and ready for the arrival of the "fam", (no photo yet), complete with my notes for making it next time.

Sweet Potato Enchilada Casserole

Ingredients (I buy seasonal, organically and locally grown foods where available):
• 2# sweet potatoes (makes 2 cups of sweet mashed sweet potatoes)
• 2 cups cooked black beans
• 10 ounce can Ro*Tel diced tomatoes w/green chilis, drained (save the liquid for soup stock later)
• 2 cups frozen corn, drain if needed (again, save any liquid for using in soup stock later) - my frozen corn comes from a local company called Locavorius that purchases locally-grown produce in the summer, does all the prep work, freezes it to sell during the winter months
• 1 bunch scallions, slice the whites and also slice the green tops to use in different parts of the recipe
• 1 chipotle pepper, chopped from a jar of them in adobo sauce (left over from one of our summer interns - adding 1 pepper to most dishes is "just right")
• 4-5 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
• 1/2 cup salsa
• 6 Tbsp lime juice - or juice 2 limes and zest if they are organic limes
• 1 teaspoon chili powder - or to taste depending on how hot your chili powder is and of course how spicy your family likes its food!
• 18 corn tortillas - whole - I use an organic brand I find a Whole Foods Market
• 1 1/2 cup salsa
• 1 cup sliced pitted black olives (I buy pitted black Kalamata olives at a deli and then slice them - I stopped buying canned black olives years and years ago, which have no flavor, except salt!)

1) Preheat oven to 350ºF.  (or make this dish ahead, cover with foil, and heat later)
2) Cook sweet potatoes (I washed them and then just put them in my slow cooker overnight on low - they were perfectly done the next morning)
3) Peel sweet potatoes (cut in half, scoop out the potato, giving the peels to your dog or chickens - both are ecstatic recipients in our family)
4) Mash sweet potatoes, mix with lime juice, salt, pepper, and chili powder
5) In another bowl, mix together the drained beans, tomatoes/chili peppers, corn, chopped garlic, white section of the scallions, and 1/2 cup of the salsa
6) Spread a few tablespoons of salsa or other taco sauce on the bottom of a 9x13 baking dish.
7) Layer 6 overlapping corn tortillas over the bottom of the baking dish.
8) Layer 1/2 of the sweet potato mixture, then layer 1/2 of the bean mixture, in each case spreading to cover the tortillas.
9) Cover with another layer of 6 corn tortillas then repeat #8.
10) Top with 6 more corn tortillas.
11) Now spread the final 1-1/2 cup of salsa over the top layer of tortillas, sprinkle the sliced green onions and olives over the salsa (of course you may add some shredded cheese here if you wish - we do not so my daughter in law can eat it)
12) Cover with foil, heat 20 minutes at 350ºF. or so (longer if this has been held in the refrigerator until needed) until fully heated through and bubbling on the edges.

Note: I bought one of those deep 9x13 aluminum baking dishes at the grocery store so I could make this ahead and still have our baking dishes to use for food tomorrow. The pan I bought was deep enough that I could easily have had a 4th layer, which I will do next time, increasing the filling ingredients by 50%.

Serve with a green vegetable, salad, and home-made guacamole (yes plan ahead to have avocados on hand and ready to make your own, which is easy, delicious, and so much cheaper than buying it ready made.

Note: No photo yet. I'll try to take one and post it up later this week (don't hold your breath). You can all imagine how beautiful this dish is, so colorful with several yellow, green, red, white, and black foods combined, and with so many textures, too. Delicious! The word "healthy" does not even need to be mentioned, but yes yes yes, it is. :)

PS - I suppose I should change the photo at the top of my blog, too, but on a cold, rainy Christmas Eve, it is actually nice to look at those gorgeous sunflowers!

Happy Holidays, Everyone! 

Diana Dyer, MS, RD
"Cultivate your life: You are what you grow, inch by inch, and row by row"

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Catching up!

As tomorrow is September 8th and I have not posted anything since late April, I want you to know I am still here, still standing, still doing well, still overcommitted (again, LOL, what else is new?), and thus going to share just a very brief update.

Highlights since my last posting?

(1) Actually going through the organic certification process and coming out the other side with that USDA Organic Certification!! Finally!! It is not an exaggeration to say that we are still very excited about finally having our farm officially certified. We chose our farm name (Dyer Family Organic Farm) very intentionally back in 2009. We never dreamed that our process would take so much time (for so many reasons), but here we are, five years later. We proudly hang the USDA Organic symbol from our market tent. At some point over the winter months, we'll do a better job of having it inserted into our farm website, market banner, business cards, and other materials.

(2) Having the pleasure and privilege of both sons and their wives live with us for many weeks during this past summer, as they were between chapters in their life, between leases, and we welcomed them with both open arms and an open heart. We put them to work on our farm, of course, and we were busy beyond busy, but having them here was enormously helpful and enjoyable for us (and I believe for them, too). Again, I repeat, having our grown sons and their wives live with us was both a pleasure and privilege that I could not have seen in my future as I struggled through the various times I was undergoing chemotherapy and/or recovering to rebuild my life after all cancer therapy was completed.

Gratitude. Pure. And. Simple. 

(3) Although I don't have time to post on any of my blogs at the present time, I am still writing our farm's newsletter, which is weekly when we are in the marketing season. If you wish to subscribe, that is easy to do on our farm's website, and if you only wish to browse previous archived newsletters (there are lots of photos), you may do so at this link. In addition, if you want to follow daily updates for our farm, you may do so two ways via Facebook: a) Facebook feeds are visible at the bottom of our farm website's homepage without joining Facebook, and b) on Facebook itself (find and Like The Dyer Family Organic Farm/Dick's Pretty Good Garlic). Many customers stop by our table at the markets to say how much they enjoy reading the newsletter, even if they do not need garlic or honey that day! Awww…….I confess that I enjoy hearing how much they enjoy the newsletter. I look forward to writing it, just as I always have looked forward to writing on my blogs! :)

I don't know that there is any one photo that captures the summer perfectly. So I will include one of the first sunflowers we have had on the farm (planted by one of our summer interns). I have enjoyed looking forward to seeing them finally bloom, which only happened this week. And only this week did I first read a quote by Helen Keller that fits with my happy sunflowers:

"Keep your face to the sunshine, and you cannot see the shadows. 
It's what the sunflowers do."

I know that each of us has challenges, and shadows, but I hope your summer has had some healing R&R, some happiness, and some sunflowers. I hope you are looking forward to fall. And I also hope that you can keep life's shadows behind you. Addendum: The wind during a recent ferocious storm flattened these sunflowers after I took this photo but before I got it posted. A few days later, they are now doing their best to stand back up, with their faces still facing the sun. I'll just bet that the vast majority of my blog readers can relate. :)

Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row,

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Morning Memories

It's almost time for me to give up reading what I follow on Facebook (I'll still be posting up on the farm's Facebook page) with even less frequent blogging, too, until we are done planting garlic in November. My long-time readers know to expect this by now! However, I don't know if I can give up my morning visit to The Writer's Almanac. I would miss hearing Garrison Keillor read Mary Oliver, and other poets, and really miss learning that today is the anniversary of the the publication of Roger Tory Peterson's Field Guide to Birds. 

Hearing Roger Tory Peterson speak at the University of Wisconsin during the mid-70's has been one of the highlights of my life. I was too naive at the time to know I should have brought my first copy of his book Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America (bought in the early 60's) to have him autograph it. In any case, I can still recall much from that evening, just as he remembers his experience of having a flicker explode into life with his touch. 

One of my friends and I were recently talking about how much we love our professional work (she's a physician, close to my age, with no plans for retiring), and wondering if either of the two of us had 'hobbies'. I'm not sure if my love for birds is a hobby, as I cannot really 'set it down', versus a foundation that drives my passion and advocacy for healthy food systems because healthy food systems and healthy ecosystems that support diverse and thriving bird populations are mutually dependent. 

Lovely morning memories of my past that have shaped who I am today - plus a bonus gift, a male wood duck on our pond this morning (photo and comment on our farm's FB page). 

The blessings in my life as a multiple-time cancer survivor are simply uncountable, but I give thanks every morning for what I have and what I can share. As Mary Oliver finishes her poem The Place I Want To Get Back To, "I live in the house near the corner, which I have named Gratitude." :)

Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row,

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Friday, April 25, 2014

Winter is over, really!

Because my last post about headlines has gone a little 'viral', I thought I should finally change the upper photo on my blog which showed Phoebe walking the paths in our snowy garlic fields last December, with her ears blowing up and back from the strong wind. Yes, it nearly the end of April and our snow is finally gone, frogs are singing, and the garlic is coming up through the mulch in all the fields. So spring is clearly here, even if we may still get one more quick snow storm before spring fully settles in.

However, sorting through photos, I saw one I could not resist sharing. Instead of a spring fling, it is like Phoebe's final winter fling as she is throwing herself into the air to chase something, which surely seems like a better way to chase a critter than plowing or trudging through the snow (we all got tired of doing that this winter!). 

This photo won't stay up there long. I'll get some spring photos taken and share one at the top of the blog soon. But in the meantime, here is one photo that shows it's hard to keep a good dog down (I got lucky with this shot)! 

One of those exceptional, gorgeous mornings when the hoarfrost covers everything. 

Ok, now it's time to download the camera of recent photos and take some more new ones, showing spring. That would include showing our chicks now full-grown, our rooster also being full-grown but with a modified comb due to frostbite (still quite handsome, just different), our garlic on its way up through the mulch, asparagus peeking up, spring beauties and other wild flowers, our thriving bee hives that (shock of shock) made it through this past winter (with uncountable polar vortexes and a record amount of snow), geese and ducks on the pond, bluebirds flitting through the farm, and on and on. 

I hope you all have an enjoyable weekend, with your hands in the soil, helping spring along as you get something cleaned up or planted. 

Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row,

Diana Dyer, MS, RD