Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter Sunday Photos

The rain and gray clouds from this morning are almost gone, the snow piles are almost gone, the ice on the pond is almost gone, there is not too much mud :), we have no flowers blooming yet, but it's warm enough to walk around the farm without a winter coat.

No matter the weather tomorrow, no matter what jokes may be in store for April Fool's Day (actually for an early joke my fingers automatically typed April Food's Day!), no matter if we still get a late snow, we will really appreciate April's spring and renewal this year!

Here are a few photos, just a few from this afternoon.

Photo: The 2013 garlic field at The Dyer Family Organic Farm, where yesterday I walked through the field to straighten (or find and replace) the stakes marking the end of each section for our 40+ varieties. Deer walk through the fields all winter at night without out any regard for carefully walking on the paths between our raised beds (Walking 101), or an even more advanced concept, walking in the designated sections between the varieties (Walking 201). Not too many deer signed up for either class! As a matter of candor here, neither did Phoebe. :)

Photo: Two years ago, our 2013 garlic field was covered with scrub/overgrowth, all of it 10-30 feet high, most of it invasive species. We saved as many good trees as we could. Here is one being tapped for our maple syrup in a sumac copse that had significant ice damage this winter (like a good deal of our farm) and still needs clean up. 

Photo: We have debated and debated about cutting down this box elder tree, which is on the east side of our 2012 garlic field and on the west side of our 2011 garlic field . It is considered a 'junk tree', but this single tree (a member of the maple family) is our largest sap producer. We actually have two taps on this tree and fill that 5 gallon bucket almost daily. The sap is not as concentrated as that produced by a sugar maple tree, but it is still delicious! Besides, for two years we positioned our wooden swing to be in the shade during the heat of the day so we could sit down once in a while for a short rest when harvesting our garlic in July. I think the debate is over and this tree will stay!

Photo: Our pond, the ice almost gone, looking to the west with our grape arbor in the foreground. It has taken us (mostly my husband) three years of careful pruning to: 
#1) find the number of vines that had been planted, 
#2) find the base of each individual live vine, 
#3) cut out the dead and excessive vineage, 
#4) remove all the other vegetation that was in there - awful rose bushes, buckthorn, honeysuckle, autumn olive, and red-twig dogwood, but we saw no poison ivy!, 
#5) untangle the vines from and take out the old welded wire fence, 
#6) put in the correct support, which is two 8-foot cedar posts supporting a two-wire arbor and one 6-foot t-post at each plant, 
#7 tie up and prune the remaining vines, and 
#8 now we are waiting for blossoms (there are buds) and grapes!! 
A one-line item on the the 'to-do' white board in the kitchen has been a 100-step process and taken three years, but we are very near the finish line - whoo-hoo!!

Photo: Our pond with the ice almost gone, photo taken from the back of the garage. The 'bare area' in the center of the photo actually does have lawn grass and clover planted and growing. This is the area that was wet with water flowing back into the house due to poor grading, poor drainage, poor planning, etc etc. There are still sections where cattails growing although they are not clearly visible in this photo. Someday (maybe this summer) we'll start developing this low area behind our house (and where our walk-out basement is) into useable outdoor living space. We have such grand visions and in fact we bought this whole mess because we had those grand visions of what care and love could bring to the sadness that overcame this land and house. :)

Happy spring everyone! It won't be long now before I'll have to put blogging on the back burner as we move into our outside focus. Phoebe can't wait!! She has already had to have one emergency bath at the pet store as she found something to roll-in that was just glorious in her view of the world and just downright awful in ours!

Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row, or trim out vine by vine!

Diana Dyer, MS, RD 

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Follow-up – Happiness :)

How often do I post up something from Youtube? Let alone tell my readers "GO WATCH THIS!" 

At the very least this video will surely bring a smile to your face. :)

I'll give you a few hints - it is about food, it is about good food, it is about sharing good food, it is about growing and selling good food, it is about friends (ours - you don't need to know them!), it is about one of our farmers' markets, it's about creativity, it's about community, and

it is about happiness! 

This video brought the house down at our 2013 Local Food Summit. The producer is our friend Lucas DiGia. He also can 'bring the house down' with his own creativity Rap for Food, which he introduced at the 2012 Local Food Summit. We're told that a 'garlic rap' is in the works, and we can't wait!

Now go watch! I don't think I have ever said that on my blog, so indulge me. I will have a smile envisioning your beautiful smiles while watching this. :)

Cultivate your life - you are what you grow (and eat - i.e., good food!) - inch by inch, row by row,

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Monday, March 25, 2013

At last, catching up a bit

Yesterday our farm participated in a community event that was in essence 'speed dating' between the public and the local farms that offer a CSA (community supported agriculture), which is a partnership between a family/individual and the farm where the farmer is paid up front at the beginning of the growing season for a share of the harvest from that farm.

The membership cost paid by a family at this time of year before the growing season really gets into full swing is used by the farmers as 'seed money' in the true sense of the word plus to give some overall stability and financial planning to the growing season for the purposes of buying seeds, equipment, supplies, maintenance, labor costs, etc. This cost offers a guaranteed portion of the harvest to the member, but it also represents a mutual sharing of the risks associated with all farming that are beyond a farmer's control.

This first-time event sponsored by Slow Food Huron Valley and the brand new Great Lakes CSA Coalition was successful beyond anyone's expectations. More people came than expected thus parking was difficult (it did not help that it 'mudded' that afternoon), plus more farmers signed up than anticipated, including several brand new small farms. All signs of success!

Having never done a 'display' for our farm, we were beautiful but decidedly low-key.  However I have ideas for next time to spruce us up a bit, even turning this into a fun project for a dietetic student (with an art background) who is coming to live with us for several weeks this summer.

Nevertheless, people came specifically to sign-up for our Garlic CSA (we had promoted this opportunity in our farm newsletters and our farm's Facebook page), other people who were brand new to us that day also signed up, and we ran out of brochures during the first hour, grossly under-estimating our needs. Again, all signs of success!

Both my husband and I had such a good time during this event meeting loyal customers (now friends), new customers (new friends), and our farmer friends, that we both left the event feeling like we were on a 'high', which I suppose could also be called a sign of success. :)

Which brings me to the catching up bit. I am really trying to clean off my desk of ideas and things that must be done before there is no time to do inside 'paperwork' for at least six months.

As I am sorting through things I have saved 'to do' I am finally coming to a slide show that my good friend Melinda Hemmelgarn, MS, RD (aka Food Sleuth radio interviewer) put together about our farm. Melinda and her husband Dan visited our farm in 2011 to interview us and take these photos (so they are now 2 years old), with the purpose and mission of changing our food system to one that truly provides 'good food and good health for all' (a phrase I use for my email sign-off). Together they hope that the emotionally compelling images (taken by her husband Dan) and the stories of small farmers across the country will help Americans become better citizens (versus consumers), think critically, and take action advocating for food and health policies that truly provide accessible and affordable foods for all that promote health, not disease.

Here is the link to the slide show with Melinda's words on the website for the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), an organization whose work and 'action alerts' I follow regularly.

At last, at last. All the comments in Melinda's slide show are accurately stated. Whenever I see my friend Cathy (like I did yesterday) of Frog Holler Organic Farm, I always feel this deep rush of admiration knowing she and her husband started Frog Holler here in Michigan at about the same time we wanted to drop out of our graduate school programs to start a farm in Wisconsin during the 70's. It took us several decades to finally be 'old-new farmers', which I had the pleasure of explaining briefly to a student yesterday doing interviews for one of his university classes about organic farming.

Thus, while I do really like my new idea of having our upcoming student helping us develop a display for future events, we are actually content to be rather 'low-tech' without fancy displays, knowing our success is really represented by our happiness, which we hope showed through to all yesterday, all of our old friends and all of our new friends who are all part of the 'family' in our Dyer Family Organic Farm, at last. :)

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

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Nutrition Basics – FOOD

Several years ago I read a definition of CR*P (as it related to food), liked it a lot, and then could never find it again. The definition above seems to fit rather well with my various posts about junk (as it relates to food). I don't know if this definition is identical to the the one I first found, but it is pretty close and good enough. 

Regarding this definition of FOOD, it's pretty close and good enough to what I eat. Perhaps for the second O, I would have said 'Only healthy fats', which does include omega-3 fatty acids. 

A recently published mouse study has shown that a life-time intake of omega-3 fatty acids reduced both incidence of breast cancer tumors and also tumor size. Now a mouse study is not a human study, but this study was designed to define a clear role for omega-3 fatty acids in the reduced risk of breast cancer development and tumor size in this cancer model. 

I am currently reviewing research projects already funded in 2013 by the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) to consider which of those I wish to contribute supplemental funding from my endowment at AICR (funded by proceeds from my book A Dietitian's Cancer Story). 

They are all worthy projects, but the one that has caught my attention (and I am gathering additional information before I make my final decision) is a small randomized-controlled pilot study to determine if and how omega-3 fatty acid supplementation may impact indicators of both breast cancer cell growth and cell death in women with newly diagnosed breast cancer (stages I-IIIA). Many factors will be evaluated, including dietary intake of multiple types of fatty acids, in order to determine if dietary intakes of a single nutrient can potentially improve prognosis. 

A professional colleague recently asked me how closely I still follow the dietary changes I made in my own diet after my second breast cancer diagnosis in 1995, which I discuss in my book A Dietitian's Cancer Story. I did honestly tell her that I am still very close to those guidelines. The only thing I have now changed since I first wrote the book is to add back some/a little/not much animal protein sources where I know these animals have been raised on organic foods with healthy healthy fats. I still eat a 'plant-based diet' but I am now a 'careful omnivore' who enjoys foods with healthy fats instead of a 'near-vegan' and/or someone avoiding nearly all fats. 

As I write this post, I realize it was 18 years ago sometime last month I had my 10-year anniversary mammogram after my first breast cancer in 1984, in which the results showed something that the radiologist was clearly very worried about. It was 18 years ago this month that I had the biopsy that showed she was correct to be very worried, and it will be 18 years ago next month that I had my second mastectomy with the additional testing that showed the extensive lymph node involvement (even though the tumor was considerably smaller than my first breast cancer) putting me at very high risk for rapid recurrence. 

After finishing the chemotherapy for my second breast cancer, I took it upon myself to see if I could tip the scale a bit to improve my odds for long-term recovery, as there was no "Survivorship Clinic" to help me thrive after cancer as some cancer centers have today. I changed many things in my diet and my life with the twin goals of living longer and living better. I have not had 18 trouble-free years, but I am still here, and I do believe I have achieved those twin goals. :)

I keep my book in print because it is still relevant. In fact, I still get letters and telephone calls from people telling me that my book has been their 'life-line' as they became active patients, participating in their own personal version of 'active hope', giving this cancer journey their all to both live longer and live better after hearing those truly mind- and soul-numbing words 'you have cancer'. I also still get comments from professional colleagues telling me that they have found no other book to fill its shoes, so for now anyway, I will keep it in print. 

As mentioned above, proceeds are still donated to an endowment I established at AICR in 1999 to help fund research focused on nutritional strategies after a cancer diagnosis in order to optimize the odds for longer survival but also increased quality of life for cancer survivors. In fact, I look forward to reviewing and choosing a project to fund every year. It's really a hopeful way to start the year! 

Translating research results into recommendations for real people is painfully slow, but step, step, step, progress is being made. In the meantime, the many recommendations in my book are a good start as is choosing FOOD, not CR*P. :)

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

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

National Dietitian Day 2013

Last year I was so busy at this time that I had to be reminded it was National Registered Dietitian (RD) Day by one of my young friends who is an "RD 2B". Thanks Dayna! :)

This year I've been thinking about it a bit ahead of time, instead of after the fact like last year.

Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while know that I consider myself fortunate beyond words to still be alive, and also alive and thriving, after my multiple cancer diagnoses and medical problems that have all been related to late effects of my various cancer therapies. Sometimes I do feel as though I might be duct-taped together, but be that as it may, I can also say that my husband and I started a farm at age 59 and we are still here after four years of long hours and daily hard work, appreciating and relishing the opportunity to sink roots into and nourish our community by growing and selling healthy food locally at four farmers markets within 12 miles of our farm.

Our greatest joy is having our family, i.e. our two sons and our daughters in law, come home to the farm. In addition, having friends (from both near and far) come visit the farm also gives us great pleasure. We may or may not be 'cleaned up', and we may hand you gardening gloves or some type of tool to help us, but you can be sure that we'll always end the day with something delicious to eat and some of my husband's home-brewed (and award-winning) beer.

Next up is the pleasure of having dietetic students and dietetic interns come work with us. Some come for an hour or two, some come for a day, some come regularly, and some also come to live with us for several weeks participating in a program called The School to Farm Program developed by The Hunger & Environmental Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group, a sub-group of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association). I confess that I enjoy feeling like the student when we work together, as I learn so much from them, from their questions but also their answers to my questions.

Although we could easily recruit young people from a wide variety of backgrounds and a wide variety of future careers who would like to work on an organic farm, I have felt a special dedication to 'recruiting' the students in my profession, to give them an opportunity to move backward a few steps from a traditional starting point of our profession which has always been 'we are what we eat' to instead develop an understanding and appreciation for a starting point of a food system to be 'we are what we grow'.

I hope that through the wide variety of experiences I try to provide for them within the community (they never weed with me for two straight weeks, even though that is a very very important job on our farm) that they also develop a profound and urgent awareness that the dietetics profession along with society as a whole must switch its current focus on paying (or not) for treatment of disease (Hello! That expensive horse is now out of the barn) to investing in strategies the lead to prevention of disease (especially chronic diseases), even better yet, using food and nutrition to create health and wellness as the primary and life-long achievement.

I certainly don't have all the answers for how to do this, but the main point I want these dietetic students to understand by working with me on the farm (and in my community) is the profound influence their future professional recommendations as RDs will have on individuals, on families, on communities, on organizations and institutions, AND on our agricultural systems and natural resources, which are the foundation of our food systems and the health of our communities. 

My long-time readers know that I enjoy ending my blog posts with quotations that I find meaningful. Today I will finish with a favorite quote but first I would like to share a new word I recently learned that I feel encapsulates an image I have for the future, with both purpose and feeling. I cannot describe it any better than that, except to say that when I recently heard this word with its meaning, I said to myself 'That's it! That is what I see for our future, and that is what I am trying to convey, instill, and nourish within my profession and particularly these students who are our future.'

The word is Ujima, a Swahili word that means 'collective work and responsibility'

Adding to that short definition, one can say Ujima means "to build and maintain our community together and make our brothers' and sisters' problems our own and to solve them together." Bingo! Thank you, Malik Yakini, Founder and Director of the Detroit Black Food Security Network for giving me language to convey my values and what I hope to share with my current work as one small part of the needed change on the path of developing food systems that will provide 'good food and good health for all'.

I think every Registered Dietitian I know became an RD in order to work as a health care professional with the fundamental desire to create and nourish healthy communities, which must start with protecting, creating, and nourishing healthy soil in order to produce healthy food. Thus my final words are directed to all RDs and RDs 2B:

"Soil is the tablecloth under the banquet of civilization."

~~ Steven Stoll, The Larding of the Lean Earth, 2002

I have used this beautiful quotation in previous blog posts. I consider these words, and the image they convey, to be a touchstone for me.  I never tire of reading and imaging with these words. I still love the image of our precious fertile, healthy, life-supporting topsoil being the tablecloth under the banquet of civilization (read the book Dirt: The Erosions of Civilizations by David Montgomery for an in-depth view of the importance of soil to the rise and fall of entire civilizations throughout history). That image gives me both joy and purpose while working every single day as an RD - Organic Farmer - Community Member.

More information about the Hunger & Environmental Nutrition (HEN) Dietetic Practice Group's School to Farm Program is on HEN's website. Come work with us while we are contributing to the health of our local community. We welcome you! Please note - you will work. Just ask the students who have already been to our farm. :)

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

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Recipe: Spicy Kidney Beans on Rice

This recipe was born because I had lots of cooked kidney beans still waiting to be used after my husband made chili on Super Bowl Sunday. I also have been looking at a can of coconut milk on my pantry shelf, knowing it would taste great in any dish with delicious SE Asian flavors. Then serendipitously I saw an old recipe from a Southern Living Magazine (2003), which helped me to tie these ingredients together.

Spicy Kidney Beans on Rice


small onion, chopped

2-4 garlic cloves, minced (I used the larger amount)

1 small jalapeno pepper, seeded, minced fine

tablespoon red curry paste (taste at the end to decide if you want to add a bit more)

(15-ounce) cans kidney beans, rinsed and drained (about 4 cups cooked beans if starting with dry beans)

(14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained 

(13.5-ounce) can lite coconut milk

1 teaspoon grated lime rind (I did not have a fresh lime to grate the rind so I used the full 3 Tbsp. of lime juice)

to 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 tablespoon honey 

Salt to taste

4 cups hot cooked basmati or long-grain rice

2 green onions or 2-4 heads of green garlic, chopped (white and green parts - even green garlic roots can be thoroughly washed and chopped); 

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro (optional - some people love cilantro, others just despise it - like my husband!, so I always try to include cilantro as a topping instead of an ingredient)

Note: Red curry paste may be found in the Asian section of large supermarkets or in Asian markets

Note: Chunks of extra-firm tofu could also be added, but I try to make a few dishes without any corn, wheat, soy, or dairy to freeze ahead for my daughter-in-law with food allergies. Now I know to label containers in the freezer with the code 'A+' which fit that bill, because I have learned (sad to say) that I cannot count on my memory!


Add all ingredients to a slow cooker (except coconut milk and rice and toppings). Cook until fully heated on high or low, depending on how much time there is before you want to eat. 

Add the coconut milk to the crockpot 30-40 minutes before eating, just enough to heat everything thoroughly. 

Start rice cooking on the stovetop or in a rice cooker about an hour before you would like to eat. Of course instant rice could be used or rice made ahead of time reheated on those days when you are really pressed for time (or just plain tired and want to eat now!). 

Serve over rice, with a salad and another vegetable, and you have a complete meal made with only a minimum of 'fuss'. This recipe easily makes enough for 5-6 servings of the kidney beans, so for us, there is enough to freeze or have for a couple of lunches throughout the week. 

Photo: Spicy Kidney Beans, to be served over rice

This recipe was beautiful, easy, and delicious! And I just love the "game" of being able to create supper on the spot without needing to go to the grocery store. 

Yum, yum! Enjoy. :)

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

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Saturday, March 9, 2013

A new favorite dog photo!

I am finally taking a morning to download, view, sort, and label photos that have been in my camera for weeks and weeks. I won't get them all done this morning, but I found this one of Phoebe taken the morning of February 27 as we waded out into our last 'big snow'. We had 'only' 6 inches but it was on top of 2 inches of slush that came down first, so it was very challenging walking, and when I used the word 'wading', that is rather what it felt like.

We did lose power, but fortunately not for days and days. We can heat part of our house well enough with wood heat, so we were fine, and it was a great morning to be out looking at what the storm did to the trees on our property. Needless to say, we have lots of clean up to do, but thankfully, not too much major damage to living trees. Everything that came down will become fuel for the next time we need wood heat.

Phoebe just had a wonderful time, what else can I say? She was really disappointed when I finally needed to go in to warm up my feet (even without power or heat in the house). I'm so glad I snapped this one pix when her head was not down in the snow, so I could remember how she looked in motion. I'm both surprised and happy that it came out fairly in focus! I put this photo on the top of my blog this morning but within my post today so it stays in the archives, too. Yes, this post gets tagged under 'Dogs'. :)

Phoebe, Snow Dog!

I started this session of photo sorting this morning with the goal of getting the photos organized that I took yesterday when we tapped our maple trees for the first time! We don't have any sugar maples but we do have several good size healthy red maples. Their sap is more dilute than that from sugar maples, so it will take longer to concentrate into maple syrup, but first up is using the sap to make some beer. I have already tasted it. It is very clear, it looks just like water, and is just sweet enough for me with a vegetable smell to it! It was very refreshing, and just to experiment, I actually used some to make coffee this morning. I never sweeten my tea or coffee, so this was an experiment. By using only ~1 cup of of the sap with about 3 cups of water, my coffee was "just right", different, but not too sweet. 

So look for more photos to come. I'll post a few here and when I really do get organized, I'll post more of them on our farm's Facebook page

Here is a quote from the top of our farm's website that seems pertinent today:

There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace.
Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac, 1949

Cultivate your life - you are what you grow (like maple sap in your coffee!) - inch by inch, row by row,

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Monday, March 4, 2013

A new favorite poem

What a perfect poem and the perfect time of the year to find it!

I was reading Wendell Berry's poems in his book A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979 - 1997, wondering if I should keep it to read all the way to the end or take the book back to the library today when I knew I would be driving that way. Fortunately, I kept reading this morning just a little bit more and found this poem. It is poem I from year 1997, the poem I was meant to read from this book.

Best of any song
is bird song
in the quiet, but first
you must have the quiet. 

~ Wendell Berry

Besides having quiet surrounding you, you must also have quiet in your mind and heart. Having experienced this song along with the quiet that allowed it to enter my mind and my heart, I am aware that I am always ready to hear it and always eager to hear it. In fact, I know that I hear the songs in my memory, perhaps in every cell of my body, which sustains me through the winter days. 

Ah, that word 'sustain'. Here are a few ways of defining the word 'sustain', which so many people (and corporations) are trying to understand and use these days:

A verb meaning:
1. To strengthen or support physically or mentally.
2. To keep in existence; to maintain.
3. To supply with necessities or nourishment.
4. To support from below, to keep from falling.
5. To support the spirits, vitality. 

From Latin sustinere: sub–from below + tenere–to hold

I like that image, holding from below, which reminds me of the vital importance of our precious soil, needed for our food production of course, to supply us with necessities or nourishment, but properly cared for soil provides more than just the nutrients that are needed for life. Well cared for soil provides for our sense of place, bird song for the soul, and nurtures a sense of belonging to our larger community, including all the life we cannot see in the soil, all of which are needed to keep us (civilization) from falling. 

Our farm's soil is still covered, both with cover crops and snow, but the birds that stayed through the winter are already sharing their bird song (their songs of hope) with those who listen, telling us that spring is on the way. More birds and their songs, more signs of hope, will be coming, as our soil has rested and been refreshed, indeed sustained, by our care and also by the care of the larger forces, to nourish us and our community. 

What birds are you hearing? What hopes do you have?

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

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

PS - While sorting through my slides this afternoon for an upcoming talk, I found this beautiful and poignant quotation about our soil, also by Wendell Berry, this time from his book The Unsettling of America, 1977. 

"The soil is the great connector of lives, 
the source and destination of all.
It is the healer and the restorer and resurrector, by which
disease passes into health, age into youth,
death into life.
Without proper care for it, we can have no community, 
because without proper care for the soil,
we can have no life."