Sunday, April 25, 2010

Hoop Houses = Hope Houses

St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti, MI is where I used to work. And truth be told, although I have loved every place I have ever worked as a dietitian, St. Joe's was my all-time favorite place to work. So I confess that I may be a bit biased in my enthusiasm with this posting.

St. Joe's recently hired a farmer (Dan Bair) to oversee and plan every step of building and planting vegetables in twelve hoop houses (passive solar green houses) on their massive acreage (currently manicured lawns and parking lots but actually former farmland) in order to supply the hospital's food system with organically grown fresh vegetables 12 months of the year plus provide vegetables for a farmers' market in the lobby of the hospital for both staff and visitors. 

Here is a short video and a local article showing some parts of the building of the first hoop house along with comments from some of St. Joe's staff about why this effort is vitally important for a health care institution to both undertake and embrace.

As I said in my blog posting title, having a local prominent health care establishment (which currently has been primarily focused mostly on "disease" care, not true "health" care) erect a hoop house that will be providing organically-raised vegetables for its foods gives me hope in so many ways:

• Economically - If every family in Michigan spends $10 dollars weekly on locally grown foods, it would keep $37 million circulating in Michigan's economy on a weekly basis. That figure will be magnified significantly on a local basis for St. Joe's to be growing its own food!

• Environmentally - reducing every square foot of those 'manicured lawns' on the St. Joe's grounds reduces the load of pesticides entering our local watershed.

• Socially - my husband was present to get the ends up and plastic over the hoops - think of how a hoop house raising effort brings the community together with a common goal, just like a barn-raising!

• Culturally - putting the culture back into agriculture! I have a vision where farmers involved with sustainable agriculture are the 'rock stars' of our society!

(Photo from Ann Arbor Chronicle: The initial phase of the hoop-house at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti, MI)

Our first hoop house will be half this size. We won't start our own "hoop house raising" until late summer-early fall, after our younger son's wedding. Our plate (even a platter) is only so large with things to manage, i.e. "juggle". Don't worry - you'll get lots of pictures of our community hoop house raising.  :-)

Please let me know what your local hospital is doing. Is it starting to provide any of its own organically-raised fruits or vegetables? Is it using any of its large grounds to provide for a commuity garden? What wonderful ways to start to the transition from "disease care" to true "health care" for the community it serves by actually appreciating and cultivating the soil literally right under its feet.

Here's a lovely ending quotation about doing your own gardening and soil cultivation:

When I go into the garden with a spade, and dig a bed,
I feel such an exhilaration and health that I discover that
I have been defrauding myself all this time in letting others
do for me what I should have done with my own hands.

~~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

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

Friday, April 23, 2010

Finding Gardening Space

Too good not to cross-post from my blog!

Want to garden but have no space of your own? Want to move beyond just the pots or hanging plants on your balcony (or "stealth" gardening within the landscaping around your apartment complex - hee, hee - yes I know someone who has done that!)? Here's a new free match-making website to help you find that special space where you can garden on someone-else's land!

SharedEarth connects land owners with gardeners and farmers.

Austin – SharedEarth ( launches as the world celebrates Earth Day. is a free match-making website that connects land owners with gardeners and farmers.   Land owners share their land with someone they trust and get free fruits, vegetables and flowers.  Gardeners and farmers get free access to land and the opportunity to grow what they love.  The produce is shared between the two parties as they see fit.  The result is a more efficient use of land and a greener planet.

“Community gardens exist in every major city in the United States, yet virtually all have waiting lists.  With over 25 million square feet of shared space on the system, has created an alternative with the largest community of private land owners and gardeners on the planet.  We are making more efficient use of land and a greener planet, one garden at a time,” said Chairman and Founder, Adam Dell.

Much like online dating sites, users create their own profile and find matches based on criteria such as location, years of gardening experience and the type of produce to be grown.  Gardeners and farmers find the service useful because they are able to gain free access to land.  Land owners find the service useful because they often lack the time, experience or commitment needed to cultivate a productive garden on their property.

Malcolm Gladwell, the author of the best-selling books The Tipping Point, Blink and Outliers, had this to say about Shared Earth: “Whoa! What a grand idea.”

Shared Earth was born out of Dell’s own experience looking for help growing a garden on his property.  He turned to the Internet to find a qualified match.  And now he reaps the rewards of this partnership through the fruits and vegetables he eats every day. was established as a not for profit sustainable corporation to help facilitate this process for others. 

Please visit for more information and to register for FREE today.

Gosh, what an opportunity! Good luck and have fun finding gardening space for your own special garden. Let me know if do this and how it works out for you - keep us updated! Local foods and new friends for sure. Life doesn't get much better than that. :-)

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

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Worth driving past those highway exit eateries

In all honesty, this trip was a pre-planned "destination", but our visit to Marie Catrib's restaurant in East Grand Rapids, MI a couple of weeks ago reinforced why my husband and I do exactly as this blog title recommends. When hungry while traveling, we regularly drive right past all the chain restaurants that are so handy right off the exit ramps to find downtown (as big or small as it may be) and choose someplace to eat or just grab coffee that first, has a name we don't recognize as a chain, and second, has cute curtains and/or plants in the window, and may even have a line out the door.

Even arriving at Marie Catrib's at 1:30 pm, purposely arriving past the typical lunch rush time, the restaurant was packed and we had to wait for a table. The wait itself was an enjoyable experience because the smells wafting through the air, the friendly chatter at each table and also between tables, the beautiful (I mean exquisitely beautiful!) desserts, mains, sides, and breads available to view in the deli cases, yes the plants in the windows, local artwork displayed, plus reading and chuckling at the quirky menu board gave plenty of the warm and welcoming ambiance to soak in while waiting for a table to open up.

In a nutshell, we were eating at Marie Catrib's because she is going to cater the wedding reception for our younger son's wedding being held this summer over in the west side of Michigan. Also in a nutshell, even though Marie Catrib's restaurant came with rave reviews by several members/friends from our group of Michigan Lady Food Bloggers (see a partial list and links to many of the individual bloggers on the left side of my blog), eating at Marie's plus meeting Marie were experiences that went well beyond hopes for a memorable and enjoyable experience.

To read more, here is her website plus an article that gives Marie's two thumbs up, and if I had 10 thumbs, I would give her a "10-thumbs up"!

I didn't take pix of the deli cases or my own food, but here is a pix of Marie and her delightful menu boards. You can see that Marie is an advocate of "local, local, local" and spreading love of and with food that is delicious, locally grown, and hand-made from scratch.

Marie knew we were coming and that it was first trip for us (the groom's family) and so took time out from prep and cooking to welcome us to her restaurant and guide us through her extensive menu that focuses on food of her Lebanese heritage. Oh yum, yum, yum! I could eat there every day for I don't know how long and never get tired of anything. :-)

The menu board, which changes seasonally. I know this is probably hard to read. So I took some close-ups, too, because the individual items, especially those in the top row, are worth reading and chuckling over.

Ok - in case it still is unreadable, I'll tell you what you're looking at (top left to right):
In Season Now: Snowman Nose Carrot, Dead Roadkill Christmas Tree, Leftover Fruitcake

I just love how clever and creative people are with words, let alone artistic!

Bottom half of the menu board, again left to right:
In Season Soon:
Asparagus (early April)
Cabbage (March)
Broccoli (March)

Please let me know where you love to eat that is trying to serve as much locally-grown food as possible in case I find myself traveling in or near your town. Is there someplace you could eat every day for a long, long time and never get tired of the food? Maybe that is even at home - that's ok. :-)

Please chime in so I can start making a list to keep in my car and my travel folder that I keep in my computer case for those trips where I fly somewhere and someone always asks me where I'd enjoy eating.  My stomach and your local economy thanks you!

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

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Saturday, April 17, 2010

More signs of spring 2010

My husband checking the first of our new bees the day after arrival. We'll get two more shipments. Each home-made hive will have a different color combination to help the bees differentiate which one is theirs (not necessary but helpful)! He has also moved the one hive from last year to a new location on our farm that will be more secluded for them. This hive will also have an earlier start at their own honey making for winter food than our group did last year, which hopefully will allow them to winter over successfully. 

We thought we only had one apricot tree, the smaller one on the left, but blooming together, these two trees now look like they may both be apricots. Last year the raccoons ate all the apricots we saw except for the ones at the tippy top ends of the skinniest branches that would not support their weight. It will be interesting to see what this year brings!

A close-up of a Mourning Cloak butterfly enjoying the nectar on those blooming trees. You can barely see the ragged wing tips, having just likely emerged from hibernation. What is not shown in this picture are the hundreds if not thousands of other insects feeding on the blossoms of this tree! You could hear the constant buzz in the air! They could have cared less about me being right in their midst fumbling with my camera trying to take these close-up picture, as they had business to take care of!!

Wild flowers anywhere? Yes, it is there, although it is difficult to see in this photo, there is one Spring Beauty with 4 blossoms right in the center of the picture. It was actually between two old old buckets that had been heaved there who knows when by who knows whom. This is way in the SW corner of our property, obviously in an oak stand. We'll get it cleaned up some day (some year?). I later found another small patch of these flowers near-by, but thought the juxtaposition of this one lone flower, so difficult to see but trying to be beautiful next to the garbage, was very symbolic of the help and attention this home and land need to come back to life.

Same location, the leaves of one solitary mayapple flower emerging. I also saw leaves for a few trout lilies but so far no trillium, bloodroot, twin flower, or mushrooms (although I am not an expert 'shroomer - not sure if that is a word or if I just made it up because I liked the sound of it!). I expect to learn a lot as I come to know our land. I find I have little desire to travel to other parts of the country (or even the county) to see things (people yes, things not so much), instead being content to see what's new literally right in my own backyard. And something is new each and every single day, which of course is true no matter how large or small is one's focus when outside. In fact, one of my favorite blogs is by a beautiful friend I have yet to actually meet, where Elaine (of Greens and Berries) lets us see and appreciate her observations from her apartment balcony. One reason I want to get out to Seattle while my younger son and his future wife still live there is to take advantage of the opportunity to drive up to Vancouver, BC to actually meet Elaine in person and enjoy a cup of tea while sitting on her beautiful balcony.

Whew - hang on Kaya!! Time to hunker down. Don't let those strong gusty spring winds blow you away, old girl. All the open ground in the background is where we have had excavating done to try to change the slope of the backyard so the water drains away from the house (d'oh!) instead of toward it. In addition, to add extra action to this land, what you can see is just a little section of the land that was dug up in order to place the tubing for our new geothermal system (providing more glacial boulders to add to our rock pile, which greets you at the beginning of our driveway). This disturbed land is on a south-facing slope, which we plan to terrace and eventually use for various perennial crops such as grapes, asparagus, raspberries, blackberries, etc. First things first though, we needed to get it planted with something to reduce erosion so out comes our trusty Kubota tractor to finish raking it smooth ready to plant white clover to hold the ground plus provide flowering plants for the bees. 

Well, isn't that a bummer?! Yes, there is a learning curve to everything, sometimes straight up! Farming is by no means a romantic venture. Stuck! Stuck! Stuck! Not likely to be the last time this happens, but the first time is a rude surprise. I think I was far enough away not to learn any new words. However, my husband is a scientist as well as a good farmer and always follows what we also tried to teach our boys when growing up - that everything is an opportunity for learning, thus a mistake is only mistake if you don't learn something from it! I think we learned where to dig our future pond. :-) Thank goodness for friends willing to help without laughing too much (maybe mostly with empathy).

Enough for today. I hope you're enjoying spring wherever you are!

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

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Thursday, April 15, 2010

I'll be watching Dirt: The Movie

If you haven't picked up on this yet, my blog has a pretty wide range of topics, all related to my far-reaching range of interests. I am putting the date and time on my calendar for watching the following show: Dirt: The Movie, airing next week on PBS TV channels. I honestly cannot remember the last time I did that for something on TV (oops yes I can - I do love to watch the Wimbledon tennis women's finals so I always make sure I know when that is being broadcast), so I highly recommend that you do the same.

Here is the link to the movie info. You will also see a link on that page to find the day/time of showing according to where you live.

The movie is about how we care for (or don't) our soil, the very foundation of our food production and thus life on this planet. The word 'dirt' is just a catchier word. In fact, I have heard that the author of the book Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations took flak from his professional colleagues (other geologists and soil scientists) for the title of his book, but that is what big publishing houses do to try to catch the public's attention in order to increase sales (most authors lose control over such details as the title and the cover image when their book is published by one of the main book publishing companies, just one reason I have turned down offers from two big publishing companies to take over publishing my book).

Two images I have kept in mind after reading Dirt are the following:

Modern agricultural practices are "soil mining", 
meaning we are rapidly outstripping the Earth's natural rate of restoring topsoil.

The world loses 83 billion tons of soil each year.

I actually feel that reading Dirt a few years ago was nearly as life-changing, i.e., expanding for my view of the world, as when I read Diet for a Small Planet in the early 1970's. Both books permanently shaped my opinions as a nutrition professional by understanding that our choices of food to eat have social consequences to economic consequences. I find it terribly disheartening that I learned none of this during my professional nutrition education. The next book on the top of my "to read pile" (very large) is The Soil and Health: A Study of Organic Agriculture by Sir Albert Howard, originally published in 1947, re-published in 2006 with a new introduction by the farmer-poet-activist Wendell Berry. I am only musing at this point, but when reading it, I will pondering if this book should be the first book read by all nutrition professionals in training.

This movie is being shown in celebration of next week's 40th anniversary of Earth Day, but make no mistake, if we don't change our agriculture systems to focus on practices that preserve and rebuild the health of our soils around the world, it is not the earth that will be the loser, but humanity itself (i.e., no soil, no food). I would hope that the movie makes this point clearly.

Ending with another of my favorite quotations about the soil, here is one that is especially apropos:

The farther we get away from the land, the greater our insecurity.
  ~~ Henry Ford

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

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Garlic is coming up, reaching for the sky!

I changed the photo on the heading of my blog tonight, showing you how well the garlic is doing. Everything we hand-planted last fall (> 6,000 garlic cloves) is coming up through the straw mulch and reaching for the sky. Only the cloves of elephant garlic are still sleeping, which always come up later.

Later we'll be laying down trickle irrigation hoses, which we are hoping we can do right over the mulch this year. We're trying to keep those weeds (and necessary weeding) down to a minimum!

Moving into the house will be starting soon. We think that today is the very last day that contractors will be at the house, finishing up "little things". With all of their stuff finally gone (spread out from wall to wall), we can finally get started doing our painting.

My goal is for a slow move, a room at a time, really sorting through our stuff in a thoughtful manner, rather than just throwing it all on a truck to move across town, unload, and sit in the garage or basement for a while (?years?) until we either decide we need it (where is xxxxxxx?) or finally pitch it. One can hope!

Fresh paint is great! No more wallpaper for us - ever - we have spent way too much time getting this old stuff off. Then it is on to cleaning up and painting the front door (finally). No more purple. :-)

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

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Monday, April 12, 2010

Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater!

Last week a study was published in the Journal of The National Cancer Institute that was given wide-spread negative press. “Fruit and Vegetable Intake and Overall Cancer Risk in the European Prospective Investigation Into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC)”. Even the opinion piece in the same journal ran the catchy title “Fruits, Vegetables, and Cancer Prevention: Turmoil in the Produce Section”. 

In a nutshell, this very very large observational study (a study that relies on people's recall of their dietary intake, not a controlled dietary intervention study) showed that dietary intake of fruits and vegetables was only "weakly" associated with a reduced incidence of cancer. I think the word "weak" or some variation of it appeared in all of the news headlines I saw.

The results which made the big headlines were that every two portions of fruits or vegetables consumed on a daily basis only showed a reduced association of cancer risk of 2.5%.  

However, I think the American Institute of Cancer Research (AICR) gives a much more balanced view of these results as does Dr. Ralph Moss in his newsletter. This study also showed an 11% reduced incidence of all cancers in those people who ate the most fruits and vegetables (6 or more servings/day) in addition to a 30% decrease in coronary heart disease or stroke. Those results are not trivial, but they did not make the headlines or even the article content of most of the sound bites you saw or heard.

I am putting myself into the largest risk reduction pool possible to optimize my cancer survival,  overall health, and quality of life, with my continuing goal of consuming 6-9 servings of a wide variety of fruits and vegetables per day (each and every day and often as many as 10-12 servings/day). 

However, the important conclusions from this study are the following:

(1) Cancer is a tough task-master.
(2) Not all cancer is preventable with what is understood at this point. Risk reduction is the name of the game.
(3) Do not put all your eggs (or fruits and vegetables) in one basket so to speak.
(4) Don't look for (or wait for) the one 'magic bullet', i.e., any particular food or constituent of a food such as lycopene, selenium, vitamin, whatever - you name it, to be put into a pill.
(5) Don't take this study as the easy road back to thinking that french fries and catsup are vegetables.
(6) Cancer risk reduction needs to be multi-focused by creating a healthy lifestyle that consists of quitting (please don't start!) smoking, working toward achieving or maintaining a healthy weight, daily exercise, finding an enjoyable way to handle the stresses in life (we all have 'em!), and eating a healthy diet filled with healthy foods (recipes abound on my blogs and on my website).

My last point:

Small percentages are real, and I'll take them.  I would rather be nuancing over the choice of variety of apple, how it tastes, whether it is locally grown or shipped in from another state, organically grown or not, etc, etc in contrast to debating the side effects of various chemotherapy regimes that may also offer only a few small % points of potential benefit and/or difference between them (ugh - been there, done that, twice, not fun).

However, I don't live my life based on fear (i.e., apple or chemo). Instead, I live my life based on what I like to call "active hope".  So here is what I recommend: 

Intentionally reach for an apple (hopefully a Michigan apple or one grown near you - that's great, too!) or other fresh fruit or vegetable instead of a candy bar, etc, and instead of thinking that you are depriving yourself, ie. "apple or chemo", replace that thought with the following, "An apple is active hope". :-)

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

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Just a test - really!

I am testing the new linkage system to from my blog in preparation for the publication of the 12th printing of my book A Dietitian's Cancer Story (at the printer as I type!). Currently Amazon is sold out of the 11th printing, however, copies are still available at:

(1) The American Institute for Cancer Research where I donate proceeds from the sale of my books (call 1-800-843-8114 for single copies or pretty good discounts on orders of 10 or more books) or

(2) My local independent book store Nicola's Books in Ann Arbor, MI (personalized autographed books can be ordered through their website at or by calling 1-734-662-0600 and speaking to Nicola directly or any of her helpful staff).

Both Amazon and AICR do have copies of the Spanish edition of my book  Historia De Cancer De Una Dietista ready to ship.

Just to explain a bit, if you purchase anything from after arriving there via the links on my blog, I do received a small percentage of your total purchase amount (no matter if you buy my book, any book, or any thing that Amazon sells). I use this amount of income to off-set the monthly fee for my website and small annual fees for my three blogs in order to keep them completely free of advertising.

Just to give my blog readers a heads-up, I do re-read my book every time I reprint it, looking for information to correct (rare - I have a great editor), keep but update (yes, science keeps moving along), omit (yes, some things just go out of date or out of print), or even add (yes! this printing has some new material, which was great fun to think about and include).

I'll let you know when delivery is scheduled. :-)

So, I hope I can figure out how to correctly navigate the next step in all this new technology.  For me, this is a step, step, step process, not the natural leap that those who grew up with computers (like my children) take in stride.  :-)

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

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Monday, April 5, 2010

"Green Dietitians" Share Grocery Shopping Tips

The 40th anniversary of Earth Day is coming up fast! I was 20 when the first one was held, which was such an impressionable age. :-) Fast forward (ha ha!) 40 years and here is a short but great article exploring the link between taking care of our soil, our environment, and our food, by sharing grocery shopping tips from many "green dietitians" who are members of the Hunger and Environmental Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group of the American Dietetic Association.

I've had a 40-year journey since starting as a science 'nerd' chemistry major (3 years) who switched to biology the end of junior year wanting to be an environmental biologist due to the influence of that first Earth Day, who took one nutrition course last semester senior year, then went off to grad school to get a PhD in nutritional sciences, stumbled onto a life-changing book Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappé shortly after it was first published while taking a study break in the Ag library, lost complete track of time and read the entire book in one sitting (in those pre-cell phone days, my husband was frantically wondering where I was and why I did not meet him to ride our bikes back to our married student housing apartment together like we did every night), quickly changing from a PhD program to become an RD (no short or easy task), oh I could go on and on and on. :-)

In any case, during this journey I have now come full circle back to becoming an environmental biologist as a dietitian-farmer with an application and focus on sustainable agriculture and food systems. It is really so simple - no soil, no food. As a nation (and indeed the world) we urgently must do everything possible to save and organically rebuild the fertility of our soils (i.e., agro-ecology or applied biology) versus using synthetic chemicals (i.e., applied chemistry) to get our food production (from policies to farm to fork) to become optimal and sustainable for the long-term health of our environment, our economy, and our communities (addressing concerns from social justice to our personal health and much in between).

I am right where I should be, even though in many ways I feel like I am 40 years late. :-)

Dreams? Advice? I hope the 40th anniversary of Earth Day is inspirational to many of you, young, old, and in-between, and leads to your own dreams. In addition, I hope many of you find and act on your dream, whatever it might be, much earlier than my husband and I have. (Thank you to my friends who have assured me that 60 is the new 40!). However, I think the best words of wisdom I can share linking those two words is that it is never too late to find, to follow, or even go back to your dream. I think my next career as an environmental biologist, one who is also a dietitian-farmer, will be different from what I envisioned at age 20 but will also be better by using the lessons I have learned during all of my past 40 years.

So I am right where I should be, without the previous caveat. :-)

Another highly influential book I have read is Dirt: The Erosion of Civilization by David Montgomery. However, I'll end with one of my all time favorite quotations about the importance of healthy soil from another book because of the beautiful visual images these words create in my mind while reading and thinking about them:

Soil is the tablecloth under the banquet of civilization.
~ Steven Stoll, Larding the Lean Earth (2002)

I hope you will remember this evocative quotation plus the simple but profound image of "no soil, no food". The above linked article is filled with recommendations for choosing foods that come from agricultural systems that are re-building our soil's ecological health.

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

Diana Dyer, MS, RD