Arcadia Farms

  (Portage, Michigan)
Eat healthier. Save money. Create local jobs.
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Locavore90

grocery shopping

Guess what? I’ve been keeping a little secret (ok, a big secret) and I’m super excited to finally spill the beans! For the last several months I’ve been hard at work planning a community-wide program that revolves around our core values – saving money, eating healthy and buying local. The program is called Locavore90 and I’m thrilled to finally be able to share it with you!

Locavore90 is a FREE program that challenges and equips families in Southwest Michigan to eat a locavore (local-only) diet for 90 days (or as often as possible). Southwest Michigan already has a fabulous culture of local eating! The goal of this program is to spread that message even farther, as well as to give tips, tricks and support to those who are already eating local but want to do it more or for less money.

So here are some questions you might be asking:

  1. Yikes… won’t that be a lot of work?
  2. What is a locavore?
  3. Why in the world would I want to be a locavore?
  4. How does Locavore90 work?

So glad you asked…

What is a Locavore

A locavore is a person who eats a local-only diet. For purposes of the Locavore90 Challenge, local-only means food raised within 100 miles of your home. (For more details – and exceptions to the 100 mile rule – click here to read our family’s Locavore Commitments.) A locavore also eats food that is in season. That means no watermelon in May. Why would you give up watermelon in May? So glad you asked… read on to find out.

Why Would I Want to be a Locavore?

locavore90

Being a Locavore isn’t for everyone. It’s only for those who are concerned about health, who love great tasting food, who want to save money on groceries, would like to contribute to environmental health and love to see their local communities thriving economically.

Here are six great reasons to eat a local-only diet as much as possible.

  1. Food Tastes Better. There’s no denying that food harvested at the peak of freshness tastes better. Many eaters also believe that naturally grown (organic) food tastes better than the alternative. A naturally grown, in-season tomato will always taste worlds better than a cardboard counterfeit shipped from out of state in April.
  2. Food is More Nutritious. After produce is harvested, something begins to happen: It loses nutritional value – dramatically. The older your produce is, the more nutrients it has lost. Locally grown food was likely harvested within the last 24 hours so it comes to you as a more nutritionally complete food than anything from California ever could.
  3. Food is More Varied. Local farmers are not bound to produce only varieties that will sell well at Wal-Mart or that can travel long distances before spoiling. As such, you’ll discover tasty delights at the farmers market you never even knew existed… and soon won’t be able to live without.
  4. You Save Money. Produce is always less expensive when it is in season. When you add buying in bulk to buying in season, you have potential save good money on good food. Many farmers will give you great discounts when you buy in bulk or buy frequently as a regular customer. We’ll give you tips and tricks to help you stretch your local-only dollar.
  5. The Local Economy is Sustained. According to Eat Local First, on average, produce purchased from chain stores results in 15 cents reinvested into the community for every dollar spent. When you buy directly from local growers or stores which stock from local sources, that amount increases to 45 cents for every dollar. That’s 30% better for the Southwest Michigan economy.
  6. The Southwest Michigan Environment is Helped. Many small farms have sustainable practices that focus on improving soil fertility and habitats, as well as eliminating the use of pesticides. These practices can have a dramatic impact on our water sources. In addition, buying local reduces our collective carbon footprint because food travels shorter distances from farmer to consumer (and skips a lot of transfers in between!).

How Does Locavore90 Work?

Even if you can’t make the entire 90 days, making a commitment to a local diet in smaller ways can still have a positive impact on  your health and your community.

Step 1: Join

To join, simply enter your email address in the Join Locavore90 box on our website (Click here and look in the right-hand column). You’ll get lots of support, including monthly meal plans, recipes, information about local sources for food, info on great deals to save you money and tips for preserving in-season produce so you can include more local foods into your diet after 90 days. We’re starting the challenge on June 2, 2013 but you can absolutely join us even after that date.

Step 2: Create Your L90 Commitments

Locavore90 is meant to be challenging without being burdensome. We realize that the balance between those two points is different for each family so I’ve designed the program to allow you to make your own rules called Commitments. You Locavore90 Commitments are the guidelines your family pledges to follow with the goal of incorporating more local foods into your diet. Click here to get started. (Don’t worry –your Commitments are private!)

Step 3: Do It!

Before each month begins, you’ll receive a meal plan for the entire month via email. The meal plan takes the guess work out of what’s in season and how to prepare it. Meals are family-friendly. (If I can find the time, I’m also hoping to create a foodie-friendly meal plan for those of you who are a bit more adventurous about what you eat!) If you don’t like what we’ve picked, you can select a substitute recipe from the online library. I’ll also share tips on local sources and ways to save money.

Step 4: Relax

You’ll receive tons of support to help you keep your Locavore90 commitments (including the opportunity to join a Locavore90 Facebook group if you want). But at the end of the day, the only person keeping track of your progress is you (and probably your family). No pressure.

After 30, 60 and 90 days, be sure to reward yourself! You’re doing something great for your health and your community. I’m not promising that you won’t miss watermelon in June, but you will be reaping all the benefits of eating in-season and your tastebuds will thank you for it!

Won’t That Be a Lot of Work?

I’ve invested a lot of time into developing a program that takes the guesswork out of local eating and that does a good chunk of the planning up front for you. But even with that being the case, eating local is likely to mean a change to your routine. You might have to drive somewhere to pick your milk up for the week… you might build weekly trips to the farmers market into your weekend… you might start using a meal plan where before you’ve always just decided on your drive home what you’ll make for dinner. The thought of making these changes might make you groan at first thought, but I think the health, taste and community benefits will make you feel good about it before long. And remember, YOU set the pace. YOU track yourself. No pressure.

And heck, you might even grow to like weekly farmers market visits… I know I do!

Are You In?

Locavore90 officially kicks off on June 2, 2013. (If you sign up now you’ll get the meal plan before June begins. The Recipe Library will debut around the same time.) Before then, I’m hoping to spread the word about this program and get as many people on board as possible. I’ll also be doing some prep work through this blog talking about local sources not only for fruits and veggies, but also sustainably raised meat, eggs, milk, cheese and any other food stuff I can track down! We’ll be talking about what’s in season, where to buy, how to preserve it and so much more. And as you might expect, I’ll be sharing our family’s personal Locavore90 journey with you per my usual transparent fashion. It’s going to be a great summer and I hope you’ll help me by sharing about Locavore90 on Facebook, Twitter and over coffee with your friends. Are you in?

Did you enjoy this article? Visit www.arcadia-farms.net for more info on eating healthy, saving money and buying locally.

 
 

Calling All Weed Experts!

Last year I had it in my heart to clear the “Woods” (lightly wooded portion of our 1 acre property) of the abundant weeds growing amidst the trees. Unfortunately I didn’t have it in my schedule nearly as well as I had it in my heart. This year will be different! My goal is to work on pulling weeds during this and next week. I know that nature abhors a vacuum so I’m convinced that if I pull all (realistically, most) of the weeds some other weed will just take up residence. With that in mind, I’d like to sow some kind of beneficial ground cover shortly after the weed-deed is done. (In time I’d like to develop this area into a food forest.)

In the best-case scenario this ground cover would provide food – either for us or our animals. I’d also settle for a ground cover that adds nutrients (like nitrogen) to the soil or attracts beneficial critters (like bees). Any suggestions?

Alas, before the new ground cover goes in, the established weeds must go. Because I’m curious about which native plants are growing here, and because I’d hate to get rid of a beneficial ‘weed’ unwittingly, I was hoping someone out there could help me to identify the weeds growing in my yard.

Mystery Weed #1

Mystery Weed #1

Mystery Weed #1

Mystery Weed #1 Closeup

Mystery Weed #1 Closeup

90% of the green you see in this picture is Mystery Weed #1. It's currently occupying an area near the garden that I would like to replace with new ground cover.

90% of the green you see in this picture (foreground) is Mystery Weed #1. It’s currently occupying an area near the garden that I would like to replace with new ground cover.

Mystery Weed #2

Mystery Weed #2

Mystery Weed #2

Mystery Weed #2 Closeup. This weed is not nearly as prevalent in the yard as Mystery Weed #1.

Mystery Weed #2 Closeup. This weed is not nearly as prevalent in the yard as Mystery Weed #1.

Mystery Weed #3

Either this stuff is new this year or I've just never been observant enough to see it. It's all over the place, including encroaching on the northern edge of the Main Garden.

Either this stuff is new this year or I’ve just never been observant enough to see it. It’s all over the place, including encroaching on the northern edge of the Main Garden.

 

90% of the patch of green in this picture is Mystery Weed #3. These tiny guys almost look like lettuce seedlings to me.

90% of the patch of green in this picture is Mystery Weed #3. These tiny guys almost look like lettuce seedlings to me.

Well there you have it. Who has thoughts or guesses as to what these puppies are? Anyone know of a good resource for identifying native plants/weeds? And don’t forget, if you have ideas on ground cover for this shaded area, I’d love to hear those thoughts as well!

Did you enjoy this article? Visit www.arcadia-farms.net for more info on eating healthy, saving money and buying locally.    

 
 

10 Ways to Save Money on Food

pie chart

If your household is similar to ours, the grocery slice of the budget pie is sizable enough to get your attention. Most “experts” recommend budgeting 14-20% of your take home pay for food (groceries, lattes, eating at restaurants, etc.). A recent study shows however that Americans are spending less on average than ever before on groceries – 11% of income. That might sound like good news, but consider the story behind the numbers.

A separate study from 2012 shows that while prices – for meat in particular – have gone down, American consumption has in fact gone up or remained the same. What happened? The advent of the factory-farm has succeeded in pushing the price of meat way down. A 2012 article by Tom Philpott (The American Diet in 1 Chart) explains the phenomenon well:

“American eaters have gotten a windfall from the the era of cheap meat that dawned in the early ’80s. Meat prices tumbled as small farms shuttered, to be replaced by massive factory-scale farms that stuffed animals with cheap, subsidized corn and soy and kept them alive and growing to slaughter weight with daily doses of antibiotics. Regulators looked the other way as these gigantic facilities created messes they didn’t have to pay to clean up. Meanwhile, as Mother Jones’ Ted Genoways showed in his blockbuster piece last year on Hormel, corporate meatpackers managed to bust unions, speed up kill lines, and drive down employee wages. It all added up to bargain-priced meat.”

What America Spends On Groceries

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Credit: Lam Thuy Vo / NPR

Consequently, our consumption of processed (read: cheap) food has skyrocketed. In 1982, 11.6% of a family’s budget was spent on processed food and sweets. Today processed food tops the budget break down at 22.9% of the budget, followed by meat (21.5%), fruits and veggies (14.6%), Grains and Baked goods (14.4%), beverages (11.1%) and dairy products (10.6%). So in layman’s terms, we spend less money on food now because the bulk of our diet is ‘food’ processed and engineered with more regard to its cost than its quality.

Save Money, Eat Healthy

So what do you do if you’re interested in saving money AND eating healthy? Don’t despair  – here are some tips.

Cook at Home

When you buy pre-packaged food or eat at a restaurant, you’re paying for more than just the ingredients you consume. (Someone has to pay to keep the lights on, right?) With practice, cooking at home can be just as delicious (sometimes more delicious!) than eating out. Eating at home can save you up to $2,600 a year! And with some savvy, budget-friendly tips (like the tips you’re about to read) you can save even more money! If you’ve never been much of a cook, don’t let that stop you. (Everyone has to start somewhere, right?) I recommend beginning your journey into homemade meals by using a crock pot. It’s so easy – I promise – and the great-tasting meals you produce will give you a boost of confidence to try something new!

Make a Plan

Like a lot of things in life, it’s hard to win without a plan. Your grocery plan starts long before you jump in the car to head to Meijer. Here are some tips. First, keep a pad of paper in an accessible area (on the side of the fridge?) so that you can keep track of grocery needs on an ongoing basis. Did you use the last of the olive oil? Write it down now so you don’t forget it later. The next two tips go hand-in-hand – make a menu and check for sales. Making a menu (meal planning) helps you make purchases that will form complete meals rather than buying a bunch of things that sound good but don’t add up to a complete meal. Having a pre-made meal plan saves time as well because you don’t have to figure out what to make each night. Planning a menu around what’s on sale will naturally save you money. The next tip is to take stock of what you already have so you don’t buy unnecessary duplicates. All of this should be complete by the night before you’re going shopping: Menu created (check!); Inventory taken (check!); List created (check!). Now when you get to the store, you’ll be able to stick to your list without worrying that you’ve forgotten something, and perhaps with a little more resolve to skip over impulse buys! (You can also decrease impulse purchases – like a candy bar at the checkout aisle – by having a small snack before you go shopping).

grocery bag

Buy (and Preserve) Produce In-Season

There are lots of great reasons to buy produce when it is in-season. First of all, the taste is so much better than out-of-season veggies that you may never want to go back! Second, buying in-season, local produce (check out your local farmers market) is great for your community and area farmers. And third of all, it costs less to buy food in-season than it does to buy it when it has to be grown hundreds of miles away and shipped to you through the snow. And if you team up with tip #9 below, you could save even more money at the farmer’s market; Many sellers are willing to give you a discount for buying large amounts of produce if you ask politely. Worried about what you’ll do with all those [fill in the blank here]? If you can’t eat it all now, preserve some of it! Can it, freeze it, dry it. Don’t be intimidated – you can find tons of how-to help on the web (or by asking your Grandma). Then in January when you want wholesome [fill in the blank here] you can skip the trucked-in-from-California produce section of your grocery store and turn to your pantry instead.

Use Sales and Coupons

I confess – I missed the Extreme Couponing movement. I’m not coupon-wielding expert, but I do know that the Sunday paper is full of coupons. As long as those coupons are for things you will actually use, you can save money by using them. Consider taking advantage of frequency type clubs for items you usually buy or places you usually shop (i.e. “buy 10 get the 11th free”). Meijer has a great website (and a great app for your mobile device) for looking up sales. Planning meals around what’s on sale can save you big bucks. If you can swing it, try keeping a “Sale Fund” set aside (perhaps $50 or $100) so that when a great sale comes up, you can stock up and fill your freezer. (Earlier this year we scored some unbelievable Buy One, Get Two type deals at Harding’s… our freezer has never been so full of meat!) Just remember – using a coupon to buy something you otherwise wouldn’t buy doesn’t save you money, even if you get 10% off.

Buy in Bulk

Our favorite place to buy in bulk is from Country Life Natural Foods in Pullman, MI. It’s quite a drive (about an hour) from our home in South Portage, but if you buy several things at once, the trip is worthwhile. We’ve saved money on organic Quinoa (a year’s supply for $30), a year’s worth of honey (1 gallon for $38.50) and 7 pounds of coconut oil ($12.90). They have practically everything you can think of and some of it is Michigan-made. Check out their catalog here. To save even more money, carpool with a friend (thanks Darci!) or take orders from each other and take turns doing the pick up. I’ve never tried it but apparently they also deliver for certain order sizes. We also now save money by buying our herbs and spices in bulk at Sawall Health Foods in Kalamazoo.

Leftovers? What Leftovers?

A great way to save on food is to avoid wasting it. Plan your meals to make the most of leftovers. Here’s an example from our life: Every other Sunday we have a roasted chicken for dinner with carrots, potatoes, peas, beans, onions or other in-season veggies. Monday I use the leftover chicken and veggies in a meal like chicken salad over spinach or a chicken pot pie. After that, I turn the chicken carcass into stock and make soup with it (sometimes using remaining veggies from Sunday’s roast). Even sour milk can be saved from going to waste! You can’t stretch everything that far, but there are lots of leftovers that would go great in an omelet, a salad or soup. If all else fails, send unwanted leftovers to the compost bin rather than the garbage can.

Brown Bag Lunch

lunch bag

A great way to bloat your food budget is to eat out for lunch every day. When my day job involved working from an office instead of working from my living room I discovered some tips to making the brown bag lunch work. I don’t know about you, but there were typically three reasons why I ate lunch at a restaurant instead of from a lunch bag. The biggest hurdle to jump is just remembering to bring a lunch. If you’re serious about saving money, taking a few minutes the night before to pack tomorrow’s lunch is key. Another issue: What’s in the bag just doesn’t sound appetizing. The simplest way to avoid that conundrum is to bring food you’ll look forward to eating! My main way of addressing this was to make fabulous dinners and make sure there were always leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch.  The other reason I skipped a bagged lunch was because I just needed to get out of the office! In warm weather, you can accomplish the same thing by taking your lunch to a nearby park. In yucky weather, sometimes just sitting in your car provides enough peace and quiet to count as “getting away.” I also made sure to bring or keep healthy snacks at work to curb my desire to buy a little something in the afternoon. I always had something sweet (yogurt, a cucumber, dried fruit, etc.) and something salty (crackers, mixed nuts, etc.) on hand to keep my snacking healthy and cheap.You could save more money by stashing homemade snacks like granola.

Frozen and Dried

Frozen and dried fruits and vegetables are less expensive than fresh and in some cases contain the same amount of nutrients. Resealable packaging helps you avoid waste. For tips on how to store frozen vegetables so they keep as long as possible, click here.

Use Cheaper Protein

Meat is expensive. If beef and chicken are choking your budget, try getting your protein in other ways such as beans, eggs, quinoa or legumes. If you grow your own (including raising backyard chickens for eggs) think of all the money you could save by opting for non-meat alternatives. For fabulous egg recipes, click here.

Shop at Home

Overhead of Gardening Woman

Starting this spring, we hope to transition to a family that produces more of our food rather than buying it elsewhere. What if you could remove vegetables, fruit and herbs from your grocery list because you’re shopping in the backyard? Now think about what a difference it would make to take eggs, milk, cheese, butter, yogurt, bread and maybe even meat off the list? We may not all be able to raise our own meat birds or raise goats for milk, but almost everyone (even apartment dwellers) can grow fresh herbs and vegetables. By using an intensive planting method (like Square Foot Gardening) you can grow a surprising amount of food in a small space. Start small with a garden size you’ll be able to easily manage. I think you’ll be amazed at how much you get – and how much you’ll save!

Did you enjoy this article? Visit www.arcadia-farms.net for more info on eating healthy, saving money and buying locally.  

 
 

Homemade Vanilla Extract

homemade vanilla extract in jar

We do a lot of baking at our house. Because we don’t eat artificial food dye and are trying to avoid artificial everything-else, I recently purged all of the unnatural additives from my baking cupboard. I pitched things like neon food dye, regular food dye, artificial vanilla and a slew of other flavorings like “butter” and “root beer.” All that remained was some pure almond and pure peppermint extract.

If you like to bake as much as I do, you know that a touch of vanilla is an important ingredient in many different recipes. In some cases I was able to substitute the almond flavoring, but you know that’s just not the same. Lucky for me I made a neat little discovery about homemade vanilla extract around Christmas time. (I wanted to share this with you earlier but since I was giving homemade vanilla extract as a gift, I decided to wait.)

The recipe for homemade vanilla extract is below. I’ve baked now with the recommended recipe (2 beans) and my own “recipe”, which really is just double the vanilla beans. Last week I used my double-vanilla extract for the first time. I could not believe what a huge difference it made! These were seriously the best cookies I’ve ever made. Ever.

view of homemade vanilla extract in jar from top

When you look straight down into the jar, you can see all of the vanilla beans laying on the bottom. It looks like there are more than four, but that’s just because I cut them in half so that they would lay beneath the vodka in the jar.

closeup of homemade vanilla extract in glass jar

Looking from the side, the homemade vanilla extract is much darker than artificial vanilla flavoring I’ve used.

 

Vanilla beans can be expensive. For those of you who are in the Kalamazoo area, we purchased our vanilla beans from Sawall Health Food Store. Don’t let the price per pound scare you! I don’t know exactly what it is, but the price is somewhere around $150/pound! I bought four tiny, practically weightless little beans for somewhere between $1 and $2. Vodka can range in price from $10/bottle to $60/bottle. In theory, the higher the quality of your vodka is, the higher your vanilla extract quality will be. We used a $20 bottle and I’m very pleased with the result.

Making your own vanilla extract is super easy!

Click here for the recipe!

 
 

Wish List Wednesday: Magazines

Wish List Wednesday | Magazines

Welcome to another Wish List Wednesday! When I first started sharing these posts I intended to do them every Wednesday. Then I realized it was a little obnoxious. So now I’m working on making this happen the third Wednesday of every month. While some of the items I share about may be true recommendations – products/services I’ve used and think you’d benefit from – most of these things are truly just wishes – things I’d love to have or experience or learn more about as I move deeper into living a sustainable farm life.

This Wednesday (which just happens to be my birthday) I’d like to share a list of magazines I’d love to receive in the mail. These magazines are related to food, permaculture, homesteading, small/urban farms and/or sustainable living in general. Do you receive any of these publications? If so, please leave a comment to let me know what you think of them!

Urban Farm

Sustainable city living has a magazine and it’s called Urban Farm. This magazine has great tips for those of us who live in suburbia or the city who want to experience the benefits of farming right where we are. Farming/self-sufficient living in the city requires a level of creativity and this magazine shares tips and tales from others who understand the unique challenges of a city farmer.

 

Mother Earth News

Mother Earth News is, well, the mother of all permaculture/homesteading magazines. It is packed with SO much great information, including info on organic gardening, modern homesteading, renewable energy and green homes. It’s been around for a long time and has lots of DIY project plans available.

Permaculture

What is permaculture, anyway? Well, according to the magazine by the same name, permaculture is”an innovative framework for creating sustainable ways of living” as well as “a practical method of developing ecologically harmonious, efficient and productive systems that can be used by anyone, anywhere.” This magazine provides information and inspiration for living a permaculture kind of life.

 

Organic Gardening

It’s all in the name. Organic Gardening magazine provides expert garden advice, helpful tips for beginners, useful information about beneficial insects, how to make compost and other things critical to organic growing.

Source: amazon.com via Arcadia on Pinterest

Backwoods Home

Backwoods Home offers useful information on self-reliance, homesteading, canning and other related topics.

 

Back Home

This magazine is a hands-on guide to sustainable living with many agriculture and homesteading topics.

Hobby Farms

Hobby Farms is a magazine for hobby farmers, small production farmers and those passionate about the country.  Hobby Farms caters to all aspects of rural life—from small farm equipment, to livestock, to crops.  Hobby Farms highlights “rural living for pleasure and profit.”

 

Grit

GRIT is a bi-monthly magazine distributed throughout the United States and Canada that celebrates country lifestyles of all kinds, while emphasizing the importance of community and stewardship.

Source: grit.com via Arcadia on Pinterest

Countryside

Countryside & Small Stock Journal (better known as just “Countryside”) is more than a magazine: it’s a network where homesteaders share a wide variety of experiences and ideas about simple, sustainable, country living. There are no guidelines and no paid writers. Instead, there is an open atmosphere of neighborly sharing.

 

Small Farm Today
Small Farm Today® was founded by a small farmer in central Missouri in 1984, and is dedicated to the preservation and promotion of small farming, rural living, sustainability, community, and agripreneurship. It is published on a farm, by a farmer, for farmers.

Growing for Market

Growing for Market is for local food producers. GFM keeps you informed about the business of growing and selling vegetables, fruits, cut flowers, plants, herbs, and other food products. They have information for those who are market gardening or farming, whatever your scale, that will help make your business more profitable and enjoyable.

Everyday Food

This magazine has great recipes (many of them very simple) and is family-friendly. They also offer great tips on selecting produce and buying in-season. I love it and recommend it!

 

 

Whole Living

I enjoy the articles in this magazine. Unfortunately the magazine is being discontinued sometime in 2013 due to a lack of subscriptions.

 

Did you enjoy this article? Visit www.arcadia-farms.net for more info on eating healthy, saving money and buying locally.   

 
 

Dye from Natural Causes

Straining natural blue dye through coffee filter

I heart food (and my belly shows it!). I hate food dye (and my baking shows it!).

Well, I don’t hate food dye – I hate artificial food dye. My distaste for Red 40 and other unnatural food colorings began when our son started having major issues with hyperactivity, attention deficit and unexplainable mood swings. His school was convinced he had A.D.D., needed to see a doctor and should be on medication. We were convinced that he was an energetic BOY with a very creative imagination… but agreed that he did have trouble following directions, often for no explainable reason because he knew what he should be doing and all signs pointed to the fact that he wanted to obey. While I concede that medication is a good choice in some situations, we much prefer to look for natural answers to issues before jumping for pills.

So we started doing some research… it didn’t take long before we discovered the link between artificial food dye/coloring and health problems in children, especially hyperactivity. Attention deficit and extreme mood swings were also in the list of symptoms.

According to www.cspinet.org “the three most widely used dyes, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6, are contaminated with known carcinogens [cancer causing substances], says CSPI. Another dye, Red 3, has been acknowledged for years by the Food and Drug Administration to be a carcinogen, yet is still in the food supply.”

We did an experiment – no artificial dye for the little guy for as long as possible and then we’d see what happened. What did we see? Several things! First, his ability to follow directions, pay attention and control himself was markedly improved after we cut artificial dye in his diet. Second, when he did eat artificial dye – even a relatively small amount – we could see a spike in problem behaviors. And lastly, we saw that artificial dyes are (expressly and sometimes covertly) in a significant number of things that simply don’t need coloring! (Marshmallows have blue dye, some ‘fresh’ tomatoes have red dye on them, meat sometimes has red dye to make it look fresh, etc.)

Angry Grocery Shopping

We quickly discovered how difficult it is to feed kids without giving them artificial color. I had recently become a label reader because of my concern and curiosity about what’s in the ‘food’ we eat. Now I do it religiously. Grocery shopping takes longer. It drives home the point for me of how important it is to produce the food my family eats. And to be honest, grocery shopping has evolved into a task that makes me angry. I love capitalism like most people love the Beatles (seriously) but I just can’t fathom how people working for corporations who put these chemical-ridden, processed health hazards with pictures of dinosaurs and princesses onto grocery shelves can sleep at night! It makes me mad that I have to scour the label to make sure I’m not poisoning my family – and that even after reading I can’t be 100% sure I know what’s in there. (Have you ever read the ingredients list for lunch meat? Yeah, I said ‘list’, as in five or six things other than just ‘turkey’.) Grrr…

Happy Frosting

Cupcake with red raspberry dyed frosting

This pink frosting is made using dye from red raspberries.

So there. Every two weeks when I go to the grocery store I get a little hot under the collar. But let’s move on to something a little more sunshiney-puppies-kittens-balloons-and-smiles-ish, shall we? I like to cook and bake so I haven’t minded that whenever Owen is invited to a birthday party, I have to bake some dye-free cupcakes for him to take along. (He doesn’t mind either – he’d rather eat a separate cake than deal with the affects of artificial dye on his behavior!) So far I’ve had a chance to experiment with different homemade cake mixes and frostings. (We especially like this frosting recipe – I substituted almond extract for the vanilla and it was delicious! We’ve had it with and without cocoa.) Once we used the chocolate frosting, otherwise it has been plain old white. Owen doesn’t seem to mind, but I think we would both enjoy a little color.

Owen was invited to a birthday party today, so today I whipped up some butter cream frosting along with natural food dye – red, purple, blue, and orange! Hooray!

Wouldn’t you like to try baking with natural food dyes? Not only are you avoiding chemical health risks, you’re also adding a teeny bit of nutritional value to what would otherwise be a delicious lump of creamy sugar! Scroll down for recipes and my thoughts on how they taste.

How to Store Natural Food Dye

But one quick note before we get to the recipes: Those tiny squeeze bottles of artificial dye sitting among your baking supplies don’t spoil or go bad. {Selah} Natural food dye won’t last a decade like the fake stuff. You’ll need to store it in the fridge in a sealed container (mason jar with a tightly closed lid?). I can’t say for sure how long it will last, but one article I read said it will go bad after two weeks. Signs that the coloring has gone bad are an odd odor or mold spores. If you want to refresh the coloring after one week has gone by, try bringing it to a boil for 30 seconds which would kill any mold spores but will likely deteriorate the color. Consider this your excuse to bake more sweets so you can use it all up in the two week window!

Another idea: Freeze the coloring in ice cube trays for on-demand, small quantities of color at a later time!

Pale purple forsting on cupcake

This pale purple frosting is made using dye from a red cabbage.

Natural Food Dye Recipes and Reviews

When using natural food dyes, substitute the dye for liquids used in your recipe. I’m currently working on developing some concentrated dye that can be used more like conventional dye and that is preserved with ascorbic acid or vodka for long-keeping. I’ll update you when I have those experiments figured out!

Natural Dye Recipe

2 cups chopped fruit or vegetables

1 cup of water (approximate)

* Add chopped fruit/vegetables to small saucepan

* Simmer on medium heat until desired color and consistency is reached

* Once fruit/vegetable is soft, mash with fork or potato masher to expel more color

* Strain mixture through coffee filter or cheesecloth into a glass container

* Clean saucepan; return strained juice to saucepan and boil down to further concentrate color

* Allow dye to cool before using

RED – RASPBERRIES

Taste: There’s definitely a raspberry taste to the frosting when using this dye. I’ve read that beets are the way to go when you want red dye with very minimal taste. However at the time of writing this post I decided to use only things I had on hand, including frozen raspberries. Perhaps I’ll go dig up some beets for a follow-up post.

PURPLE  – RED CABBAGE

Taste: No cabbage taste but there is a cabbage smell to the dye all by itself

BLUE – RED CABBAGE

* Follow same instructions but add small amounts of baking soda to the dye as it cools to obtain the desired color.

Taste: No cabbage taste but there is a cabbage smell to the dye all by itself

ORANGE – CARROTS

Taste: No carrot taste

GREEN – SPINACH

Haven’t had a chance to try this yet!

 
 
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