A fantastic meal can be whipped up when fresh produce and meats donated by local farmers get in the hands of a creative chef, as the Sept. 19 annual Food and Growers Association of Laughery Valley & Environs meeting proved.
What a variety of foods chef Adam Israel experimented with: chicken from Joshua Mincher, Friendship; beef from Patty Reding, Decatur County; duck eggs from Mark Deardon, Dillsboro; goat meat and feta goat cheese from Bonnie Robbins, New Point; sweet potatoes, turnips, heirloom tomatoes, arugula and cilantro from Ande and Lauren Schewe, Delaware; butternut and spaghetti squashes, corn and watermelon from Matt Meyer, Sunman; beets, spinach and onions from Becky Miller of Michaela Farm, Oldenburg; pears, hops and herbs from Kathy Cooley, Batesville; and Swiss chard and kale from Molly Freeland, Batesville.
Those ingredients were turned into chicken cacciatore; a beef dish with braised greens; goat meatballs spiked with sweet corn, cilantro and horseradish; a hash made of sweet potatoes, squashes, onions and fresh sage; frisee and spinach salads accented with watermelon, duck eggs, pickled beets and other surprises; for dessert, a butternut squash soufflé topped with a pear glaze; and a light tea that blended hops, lemon honey and watermelon juice.
According to outgoing President Kathy Cooley, “FGA was formed to respond to the needs of farmers, parents and health professionals who wanted to strengthen the connection between community health improvement, sustainable agriculture and a viable local economy.”
Cooley, a registered dietitian at Margaret Mary Health, observed, “I’ve been pushing fruits and vegetables for a really long time. I’ve grown them, eaten them, cooked them, canned them, thrown a few out … I love them all and encourage folks of all ages to eat them.” Remarkably, when she asked attendees to introduce themselves and name a unique produce they ate within the last week, more than 20 answers included Asian pear, okra, mangosteen, ground cherries, Brussels sprouts and paw paw.
The FGA leader started garden programs at nine Ripley County schools. “It’s very exciting. That’s where I get the most joy.” She emphasized, “We have no choice but to stay on this path” of urging Hoosiers to eat a variety of locally-grown foods.
She presented sobering statistics. Medical costs of treating strokes and heart disease were estimated at $94 billion in 2010 “and this figure is projected to nearly triple by 2030.” Cooley maintained, “We can’t afford this any longer. If Americans each ate just one more serving of fruits and vegetables per day, this would save more than 30,000 lives and $5 billion in medical costs each year.” If Americans were to follow current USDA recommendations of five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, those numbers would go up to more than 127,000 lives and $17 billion saved” due to persons not taking time off from work due to illnesses or utilizing the health care system.
A Food as Medicine conference Cooley attended last summer made her realize, “We’ve eaten our way into this crisis and the only way out is to eat our way out” with more nutritious foods. She explained, “We have good genes and bad genes. Chronic disease comes from these genes expressing themselves in our bodies. This conference made it very clear the food we eat can tame down the bad genes and encourage the good genes.”
The dietitian presented recommendations to improve health:
• Eat with intention. “We mindlessly eat all the time.”
• Eat less. “You should eat until you’re 80 percent full.”
• When thirsty, drink water. Eliminate pop and diet pop.
• Tame your sweet tooth. Seek out more bitter, sour and spicy tastes instead, she recommended.
• Eat at least two different herbs and spices daily. “We need to look at our wisdom of what’s bright? What’s alive? Get it into your bodies.”
• Help to be part of the solution by getting involved in agricultural policies and supporting local farmers.
Cooley announced, “I have a real live example of using food as medicine. By changing their diets, Debbie and Randy Mullins reduced and got off many of their medicines.”
The Batesville woman said over the last 12 months, the pair dropped 100 pounds, she 47 and he 55. “We’re healthier now than in the last 10 years.”
Randy Mullins, 59, has been a type 1 diabetic since 10. According to her, “Being overweight is a bad, bad thing when you’re diabetic,” so they both signed up for MMH’s Slim Down Now program. “This turned out to be one of the best decisions of both of our lives. We embraced changing” how they ate.
“No more white bread,” the couple vowed. Now they eat foods containing whole grains, including quinoa (keen-wa), which offers a diverse array of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds. “We can’t say it, but we eat it.”
Debbie Mullins has become “the queen of reading labels,” first looking at sugar content for her husband’s diabetes, then at calories for the hospital program. When he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure midway through Slim Down Now, the cardiologist advised that his salt intake should be lessened as well.
She dispelled three common myths about healthy cooking. “Everybody thinks it costs more.” She contrasted a former fat-laden meal of frozen lasagna, garlic bread and a bag of salad with a recent one: “I grilled four boneless pork chops, baked two sweet potatoes and had a veggie” for a total of $6, “and we ate two of the pork chops the next night.”
A nutritious meal doesn’t have to take an immense amount of time to prepare either. Mullins noted a frozen meal can take an hour to bake in the oven or 15 minutes in a skillet. The pork chop meal clocked in at around 12 minutes. While the pork chops cooked in a George Foreman grill for 3 minutes, the microwave was used to prepare sweet potatoes (8 minutes), then broccoli (4 minutes).
The different tastes of natural foods “take a little to get used to,” she admitted. Instead of salt, “we have now learned to add herbs and spices. Garlic, onion, Mrs. Dash and spiced red pepper are my friends.” When something tastes good, Randy asks Debbie, “‘Did you sneak some salt in here?’ He can’t tell the difference” because of the additions of flavorings.
The speaker detailed how the diet lessened their medications. Her husband now requires 18 units of insulin daily instead of 54 – one-third – she noted as the room erupted in applause. His blood pressure dose has been cut in half. She added, “I was taking two blood pressure medications. In April I went off one, a month ago I went off the other. The money we’re saving in this reduction in medication costs is a minimum of $600 just for this calendar year” and she figured that estimate is low. Debbie Mullins smiled when she added, “I’m looking to get off some more stuff, too.”
She urged, “Think about simple changes you can make” to make healthier meals. “Those changes just might add years to your life.”
Cooley pointed to the big red letters P and W at the podium, which stand for processed and whole foods. “Think about what you’ve eaten in the last 24 hours ... If your score is 80 percent P and 20 percent W, can you shift it?” She concluded, “If we start serving children 80 percent whole foods and 20 percent processed foods, we’re going to have a healthier society.”
Debbie Blank can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 812-934-4343, Ext. 113.
To learn more • In 2014, FGA will be led by President Bonnie Robbins, Vice President of Market and Promotions Patty Reding, Secretary Deanna Hookway, Treasurer Shelia Merkel; steering team members Kathy Cooley, Mark Deardon, Molly Freeland, Bev Giesting, Michael Hood, Sister Claire Whalen (elected at the meeting); and at large members Adam Israel and Mary Meyer. • Monthly potlucks for FGA members and interested citizens are slated for the second Tuesday at various locations. Persons attending the 6:30 p.m. supper Oct. 8 at Alpine Berry Farm should bring dishes containing as much local food as possible. To RSVP: 934-6677. • Growers have three opportunities to learn more at upcoming conferences, according to attendees: Acres USA, "Ecological Farming for the Real World," Dec. 12-14, Springfield, Ill., www.acresusa.com; FGA Producers Seminar with a focus on animal care (beekeeping, poultry and goats), Feb. 8, 2014, Batesville Intermediate School, www.foodandgrowers.org; and Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, "Affirming our Roots, Breaking new Ground," Feb. 15-16, 2014, Granville, Ohio, oeffa.org.