by Modern Farmer

Blog | June 26, 2015

Asparagus celebrations, Beneficial bugs & Other news

Clif Bar & Co. and Organic Valley has selected The University of Wisconsin-Madison as the recipient of an endowment for research on plant breeding for organic crops. The endowment, to be funded in perpetuity with a $1 million gift from the companies and matched by a $1 million gift from U.W. graduates John and Tashia Morgridge, will fund research to develop crop varieties adapted to organic systems. George Siemon, CEO of Organic Valley, said the grant will provide students an opportunity to learn about the organic model of agriculture. “We deeply believe that healthy seeds and healthy soils are key to healthy plants and animals,” says Siemon. “This is an exciting start right here in our home state of Wisconsin, with the promise of national impact.” The two companies selected U.W.-Madison due to its history as a land-grant public university, and its College of Agricultural and Life Sciences – a leader in organic agricultural innovation and research that has long been supportive of Wisconsin’s organic farms.

For many Germans, seasonal shopping is a fact of life: The supermarkets simply don’t stock produce all year round, making Spargelzeit, or asparagus season, a reason to celebrate. “German shoppers don’t understand the concept of the very huge hypermarket offering everything at the same time,” says Frankfurt-based retail analyst Denise Klug. There’s nothing “trendy” about the idea of buying local, seasonal produce – it’s an act that’s been embraced by just about every shopper, “It’s not natural to expect strawberries in December,” says shopper Dorothea Berint, 62, “and if you can get them at all, they’re grown in hothouses or they’ve come from halfway across the globe.” When Spargelzeit comes around, it brings much more than local asparagus and other produce: the markets boom with customers, the Asparagus Association and farmers crown their Asparagus Queen, and the beer starts flowing. Coming from a recent visitor to Germany’s neighbor Austria during Spargelzeit, I can say with certainty that the white variety is simply wunderbar.

A new service called the Michigan Good Food Fund is offering a loan service to businesses to boost low-income communities’ access to fresh, healthy food. The organization will make $250,000-plus loans to businesses from farmers and food processors to distributors and grocery stores. This year, the Healthy Food Access Campaign report, commissioned by the Philadelphia-based Food Trust, found that more than 1.8 million people from Michigan live in lower-income communities with limited supermarket access, both in rural and urban areas. According to Oran Hesterman, president and CEO of the Fair Food Network, a Michigan Good Food Fund partner, “Supporting this sort of enterprise really has the opportunity to transform communities across the state in many ways, providing greater access to nutritious food, which will improve the health of Michigan residents and drive economic development and job creation… One of our core goals in the Michigan Good Food Fund is paying attention to racial and social equity in the food system. As we put these funds to work, we’re putting them to work in a way that helps create greater diversity.”

A small study published in the May edition of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concludes that adding eggs to vegetables makes for a heck of a lot more nutrient absorption for you! Researchers gave 16 study participants raw mixed-vegetable salad with no eggs, a salad with one and a half eggs and a salad with three eggs. They found that the nutrient absorption was 3.8-fold higher when the salad included three eggs compared to no eggs. The nutritious and beneficial relationship between eggs and vegetables is similar to such pairings as whole wheat bread and hummus, which when eaten together form a complete protein, and black beans and red peppers, which helps convert the nonheme iron in plant foods and iron-fortified foods into a chemical form that promotes absorption. Not all pairings are dynamic duos, though – acids found in things like coffee and tea may decrease your absorption of iron and zinc, so you’re not going to pick quite as many nutrients out of what you pair with them.

And speaking of dynamic duos, this piece from Modern Farmer is a fantastic resource of attracting beneficial bugs to your garden. The goal, according to writer Brian Barth, is to attract the predatory bugs (the bugs that will eat other bugs, that is), but most of these bugs also need nectar and pollen as a source of food. The solution? Plant flowers. Most insects go through four stages of life: egg, larvae, pupae, and adult, and are only predatory during one stage, so they need the plant-based foods during the other three (and bonus, they’ll act as pollinators during these three.) As for what flowers to plant, select ones that are nectar-rich and bloom throughout the whole season, and avoid ones with large petals that make it difficult for bugs to access nectar (native wildflowers and aromatic herbs are best.) Plant your beneficial insect habitat as close as possible to the crops that need protection. Remember, the best insectary plants are tough and require minimal care, so you can let them do their job and attract the beneficial insects. There’s no need for chemical insecticides—they will kill the good bugs along with the pests.

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