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It’s Honeybee Swarming Season!

 

 

Honey Bees in my Plum Tree

Honey Bees in my Plum Tree

Why do #honeybees swarm? Because they are honeybees. Honeybees swarm for a number of different reasons, but the overwhelming most reliable reason why honeybees swarm is due to genetics. Genetics make honeybees swarm and it is also one of the primary ways that honeybees expand the population and genetic diversity of colonies in a geographic area. Honeybees can also swarm due to inhospitable living conditions such as, too crowded and not enough space, poor beekeeping skills (i.e. the beekeeper is new or not paying close enough attention), and pest infestation. Even though a swarm of honeybees looks very threatening, it is my experience that while honeybees are swarming, they pose little of no risk to people. Prior to an actual swarm, a pheromone based signal is given off, likely from the Queen, to prepare for swarming which causes many actions to start happening. Some of which are: scout bees go out and find a new suitable home and report back and the nurse bees build a queen-rearing honey-comb cell for a new future queen. Once the queen-rearing honeycomb cell is built, the existing senior queen deposits a fertilized egg inside. About twenty-eight days later a new and future queen bee emerges, soon thereafter, she takes a mating flight and the male bees all chase her, where I have read, a queen bee will mate with as many male bees as she can, sometimes over fifty!

Once the new and future queen returns from her mating flight, the existing senior queen has decided to leave, relinquishing the hive to the new and future queen. The senior queen already has made a crucial decision of where the next home will be and then she takes roughly 50% of the worker honeybees with her and by the tens of thousands, they take flight. Presto! You have a swarm of #honey #bees.

Over the next couple of weeks to two months, I will be out capturing honeybee swarms, where and when possible, I will post pictures of the little darlings wherever they land a give you all an update of honeybee hijinks.

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Yummy Tummy Farms 2013 in Review

Let me the 101st person to wish you, dear reader, a happy new year. I often wonder about why I’m blogging, why people would read my blog, what makes a post interesting? Based on how-to articles and my past experience, I thought I had a clue. Apparently, I have no clue about what readers find interesting except that I’m convinced pictures really help. As you will see below, the most interesting posts, based on reader views, were some of my simplest posts and the formula is more or less this: take a cool picture, write one to two sentences, and maybe conclude with a question. Part of me is thrilled with that simple formula because it means a lot less hours thinking about and working on content, but part of me is a bit disheartened because it means that anything I have written, of what I thought was substance turns out to be forgettable or unremarkable, based on views on this blog. The evidence is below in that my most popular post was a simple picture of an eggplant. What do you think? What would cause you visit this blog more? What types of content causes you to visit other blogs daily or weekly?

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,100 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 3 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Heart Disease is Preventable

Health is Good

Health is Good

As a farmer in his forties, I often wonder what compels me to continue pushing the idea that a farm in the suburbs can be viable. In deep thought, I ask myself why not simply grow a garden, eat well, and live my life quietly? I do not fully understand the totality of why I cannot be content to stay quiet. I know there are topics and subjects that drive me towards a desire to engage my neighbors, my friends, and the larger web-based community. Health is one such subject.

#Health is something that many people take for granted and fail to appreciate until their health is compromised. Once your health is compromised, depending on the severity, you may never get your formerly robust health back again. Most people in the twenties and thirties should feel invincible in terms of health meaning these age ranges should only experience the (bi-) annual cold and some various seasonal allergies; moreover, no chronic health problems. However, you may find yourself in your forties experiencing more challenges to your health and wishing that you had listened to your doctors when you were in your twenties and thirties. Aging into your forties and having to pay the price for the arrogance of youth and wild dietary debauchery can bring your awareness of mortality crashing into your reality. While I understand that some people inherited genetics that makes them prone to developing disease, most middle aged people should not be suffering from heart attacks, stokes, diabetes, and cancer; moreover, 25% of all deaths from heart disease is preventable.

I claim to be a vegan; however, I’m a flawed vegan because when it comes to dessert, I downgrade in culinary discipline to lacto-ova vegetarian. This is my compromise to myself for maintaining a vegan diet in all other aspects of my life. Recently, on September 3, 2013 in the Wall Street Journal I happened upon an article written by Betsy McKay and Ronald Winslow entitled, “Heart-Disease Gains Partly Elude Younger Adults.”  From the referenced article, CDC Director Thomas Frieden said, “As a doctor, I find it really heartbreaking to know that the vast majority of people who are having a heart attack or stroke under the age of 65 in particular and dying from it didn’t have to have that happen.” Further the article stated, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., linked to about 800,000 deaths a year. In 2010, the CDC analysis found, 200,070 of those deaths could have been avoided, including 112,329 deaths among people under 65. The article concludes that many of the heart attacks could be prevented by improved health care and early detection, but this where I wanted more from Dr. Frieden because you could say that about any health related malady. I wanted some practical and applicable steps that I could follow, but I found none in that article; moreover, Dr. Frieden and the authors Mckay and Winslow really missed a golden opportunity. I understand from personal experience that changing one’s diet, especially for adults, is exceedingly difficult; therefore, while I’m a farmer and not a doctor, I’d like to recommend a moderate path.

Increase the odds that you will live a long life full of robust health by following some of the suggestions of my dietary heroes like Dr. Joel Furman, Dr. T. Colin Campbell, Dr. Robert Lustig, and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, such as:

  1. Eat a plant based #vegan diet. Commentary: Start slowly by eschewing red meat then move on to chicken, fish, and dairy.
  2. Emphasize vegetables. Commentary: Buy your produce from a small local #farm
  3. Avoid nutritional ignorance. Commentary: Read labels and ask questions
  4. Avoid genetically modified organisms (GMO) most often found in processed foods containing corn, soy, and canola.
  5. Remember, a calorie is NOT a calorie.

In conclusion, 25% of the deaths from heart disease are preventable. What choices are you going to make to avoid being the in the 75%? Please comment.

Do You Know the Definition for Natural?

Natural Food?

As a result of innate curiosity as a young child of four years old, I can remember watching Julia Child’s The French Chef and being absolutely fascinated. I am unclear why, like my childhood friends, I was not watching Saturday morning cartoons; moreover, there I was watching my family’s little black and white television, fidgeting and exclaiming, “Bon Appétit!” I trace my passion for food, food quality, food safety, culinary cleanliness, and an overall joy around food preparation back to Julia Child. The fact that both my Grandparents’ homes were always full of items cooked from scratch only fueled my innate instinct to gravitate towards the domestic arts. My Grandmother, Dorijean Graham, was a domestic goddess of the highest order and she deserves the majority of the credit for shaping me into the food-passionate adult that I have become today. My uncle exposed me to healthy eating, exercise, and fitness at a very young age which propelled me into eating nutritionally dense foods. From those foundational experiences, growing up, I avidly consumed classes in college focusing on nutritional science and put myself through an undergraduate culinary program. From there, I have been expanding my culinary knowledge that has propelled me to start the San Jose Urban Farming Meetup via meetup.com and become the founder Yummy Tummy Farms. I give you dear reader all of this background because sometimes, even with my education and experience, I feel embattled by words that have no official definition, such as natural. Do you know the definition of natural as it relates to food?

For me, natural is a word used to describe food that is produced without the use of synthetic chemicals, synthetic additives, synthetic hormones, and synthetic preservatives, right? I thought I knew the definition of natural until I went to the USDA website to get confirmation of my definition of natural. I entered, “definition of natural” into their site search tool, a couple of additional clicks, and was directed to a document from 2006. This document was a call for public comment on the definition of the word natural, ironically prompted by a petition the USDA received from Hormel Foods. What could possibly go wrong?

According to the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) summary, the Hormel Foods’ petition (the petition) goes on to question how many of the commonplace food processing techniques routinely used in 2006, as opposed to 1982 when the policy on labeling foods as natural was originally established, would be allowed on a food product and still be eligible to be labeled natural in 2006? This seems like a reasonable inquiry to me, but hang on, it’s about to get strange. The petition goes on to question if chlorine use in poultry chillers, high pressure meat processing, and modified atmosphere packaging could qualify as natural meat products? Hormel goes on to claim that other large food processors may be gaming the system to take undue advantage through labeling food as natural when in fact they fail the previously existing definition of natural. Hormel Foods goes on to question what is consumers understanding of words like, “minimally processed” and “artificial and synthetic” and “preservatives” especially with respect to meat production? I continued searching and found a USDA Material Working Group paper from 2009 that had a purpose of defining what a “synthetic substance” was and as part of that work had to define nonsynthetic wherein this USDA Material Working Group used natural as a synonym for nonsynthetic. After an hour of searching, I found no official definition for natural on the USDA website.

I ended my search at the FDA website where I found this, “From a food science perspective, it is difficult to define a food product that is ‘natural’ because the food has probably been processed and is no longer the product of the earth. That said, FDA has not developed a definition for use of the term natural or its derivatives. However, the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.”

I gave you my definition of what natural is, what is your definition of natural? Knowing that there is no official definition for natural, how is this new information going to affect how you shop and what you eat?

The USDA and Processed Chicken

Chicken Nuggets

Chicken Nuggets

I recently read the salt blog and discovered an article dated September 5, 2013 by Maria Godoy entitled, Was Your Chicken Nugget Made In China? It’ll Soon Be Hard To Know. I was amazed at what I was reading. Our very own USDA just lifted the prohibition on processed chicken made in China; furthermore, the USDA will permit processed meat products to be imported to the U.S. without the country of origin. Paraphrasing, the article goes on to say that chickens raised in the U.S. and Canada will be shipped to China, processed into pieces parts, probably battered and fried, and shipped back to the U.S. Does that chicken get frequent flier miles?

I’m sure China has promised the best food processing facilities it can provide; moreover, I’m also sure the presentation that the Chinese factory owners provided to the USDA was impressive.  China’s track record on food safety is, diplomatically speaking; challenged. Does anybody remember these scandals? Eleanor West of the Food Republic blog in an article entitled, 5 Food Safety Problems in China elucidates many of my concerns in a very articulate manner. In reviewing the Centers for Disease Control website, the United States track record on food safety is nothing to be proud of; moreover, like China, it is pretty shameful too. The objective of this particular post is not to spread fear and worry without a solution, but instead to increase awareness and to provide strategies for keeping you and your family as close to optimal health as possible.

Here are my observations, experiences, and suggestions:

  1. Most of the foodborne illnesses reported on the CDC website are from salmonella, which can be managed with fastidious attention to detail around hand washing, temperature control, and facility cleanliness. If you insist on eating chicken, you had better be a food warrior meaning, going on the offense when sourcing your chicken and on the defense when cleanliness, temperature, and food preparation are concerned. Eating in restaurants and/or eating factory farmed poultry are risky propositions at best.
  2. I have suffered through salmonella poisoning twice in my lifetime and I would not wish it upon anybody, it is absolutely awful. The diarrhea, headache, uncontrollable teeth chattering are some of the most hellish combination of symptoms that I have endured; moreover, suffering through salmonella is enough to compel anybody to make life changes.
  3. My suggestions are listed in order from least effective to most effective:
    1. Source your poultry from higher end grocery stores because they are less likely to buy from large factory farms.
    2. Buy your produce and as much of your weekly food at your local Farmers Market
    3. Buy heritage breed poultry from small family farms wherein you develop a relationship with that family farm and your knowledge and comfort level of how the birds are raised and cared for makes the prospect of eating them less risky.
    4. Adopt fastidious cleanliness and rigorous temperature standards for meat storage and preparation.
    5. Stop eating meat at home and when in restaurants.
    6. Stop eating meat and dairy at home and when in restaurants. A plant based vegan diet is easier to do than you think, healthier for you and your family, and quite delicious.
    7. Buy your produce from a local urban farm that grows fruits and vegetables in your neighborhood; for example, Yummy Tummy Farms.

The second core value of Yummy Tummy Farms is self sustainability and eating closer to where you live can address many food safety related concerns, not to mention environmental concerns. Foodborne illness and processed foods are linked in many ways; moreover, just by understanding that the more times food is handled the greater the risk for foodborne contamination means you understand more than the average consumer. I hope that I have achieved my goals of increasing your awareness and providing useful applicable tips to achieving optimal health. I will conclude with a question in an attempt to encourage some dialogue.

As you have become more aware of food, have you made any changes to your diet or the way you acquire your food? Please comment.

Food Warrior

Sun Lu-t'ang

Sun Lu-t’ang

I, Farmer Donald, am blessed to have the experiences associated with farming the land around my suburban home. I had motivation from many sources, but key sources of inspirations were family lineage, supporting the honey bees, feeding myself and my family healthy food right from the garden. In my personal quest to understand more about where my food comes from, how it was raised, how it interacts with my body, both in the short term and the long term, I have found maintaining clarity is very difficult. Food is personal.

My health is all that I have for without health; everything else in life becomes more and more challenging. I feel that it is imperative to arm myself with the latest information, protect myself and my family from industrial food companies, and defend my community from lies and deceit. It is difficult not to feel embattled from the many foodborne illness headlines, GMO produce, GMO meat, packaging contamination such as BPA in plastics, vitamins and supplements that work one day and the next week they are linked to a malady, and on and on it goes. Speaking as a farmer, I feel a certain energy and zeal when speaking about food, nutrition, and health; therefore, I am going to evolve this blog into discussions around health, diet, food, nutrition, recipes, and how-to guidelines. There are a lot of people doing similar things; however, I hope that I will inspire you, dear readers, to follow this blog, recommend this blog, like my posts, leave a supportive comment, and even visit the farm some day. In becoming a Food Warrior, I hope to enlighten and bring a bit perspective to the wide and diverse subjects around food; moreover, I hope to interact and learn from other bloggers and learn from the fine community of readers too. Lastly, while being a Food Warrior will be an evolving term, it is my goal to fight for enlightenment, peace, and a long healthful life for me, my family, and my community.

2013 Silicon Valley Tour de Coop

Come and get it at Yummy Tummy Farms!

Come and get it at Yummy Tummy Farms!

The Silicon Valley Tour de Coop 2013— a self-guided bicycle tour of chicken coops and urban farms between Menlo Park and San Jose.

The second annual Silicon Valley Tour de Coop, bike ride and coop tour is taking place 9am – 4pm Saturday, September 14, 2031. This free, self-guided bicycle tour of chicken coops and backyard urban homesteads, including honey bees, worm composting, and organic gardening, and, of course, chickens. Experienced urban farmers will show off their coop handiwork while sharing their joy of raising chickens and the benefits of creating backyard ecosystems that support the residents and neighborhoods, as well as the planet.

Your very own local suburban farm, Yummy Tummy Farms will be a featured urban farm stop where Farmer Donald, friends, and neighbors will be greeting cyclists, offering delicious farm samples, and leading regular farm tours. Full details are available at: http://tourdecoop.org/yummy-tummy-farms/

In addition to providing a fun, family friendly, community building event, the organizers also hope to energize those “on the fence” to jump into the urban homesteading movement. As Michael Pollan says in his book Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual, “What we eat determines to a great extent the use we make of the world– and what is to become of it.” In a time when lists of ingredients are virtually unintelligible, raising chickens or honeybees, and gardening organically provides wholesome, fresh, nourishing food, as well as being a balm for the earth.

This year’s tour features a variety of coop tour routes, with individual city loops (5-10 miles) and a larger 50 to 100 mile loop including stops from San Jose to Menlo Park and every city in between. Participants, or “tourists” register for a limited number of reservations on Eventbrite and a few days prior to the tour receive a printable map showing the tour route. Full details are available at the Coop Tour website, http://tourdecoop.org.

So grab your bike, your friends, and family and join us on the Silicon Valley Tour de Coop! Find out for yourself how to reconnect to the great outdoors of your own backyard. Enjoy meeting your neighbors and making new friends while cruising between urban farms on bikes!

Yummy Tummy Farms: "Harvesting Healthy Happiness"

Yummy Tummy Farms: “Harvesting Healthy Happiness”

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