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  • October 24, 2011

    Woman Inspired to Build a Hoop House to Grow More Food

    One of the ways we can eat healthier food that doesn't harm the environment is by growing our own fruits and vegetables. My dear friend Carol is a real inspiration in that department.

    Sitting with hoop houseCarol, who lives in Arlington, VA, has transformed her backyard into a beautiful oasis brimming with gorgeous flowers and a wonderful variety of edible plants, all of which she grows using no toxic chemicals.

    Normally, in our part of the world (mid-Atlantic), the growing season ends right about now - late October/early November. Carol decided to build a  "hoop house" to protect some vegetables from frost and extend her growing season by a couple of months. (She finished it just in time for Food Day!)

    When I asked her about it, here's what she said:

    (Diane) You're an avid gardener! Your flower beds are gorgeous, and you already grow an abundance of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and other vegetables. Given how much time you put in during spring and summer, I'd think you'd want a rest come fall! (Carol) I LOVE to garden.  It was Becky's idea (Carol's daughter) to keep me happy in the late fall and early spring - plus the heat, mosquitoes, and gnats are   better when it's cooler outside! 

    So why did you decide to build a hoop house, which some people also call a cold frame?  It's supposed to extend the growing season by about two months - one at each end. 

    How did you figure out what materials you would need and how big to make it?  I searched hoop houses on the Internet, watched several videos, and decided to start with a small hoop.  This was my favorite on how to build a hoop house and raised bed. 

    Nuts and bolts Did you actually construct it all yourself?  Yes, it was a challenge - having grown up at a time when girls took home ec and boys took shop.  But I did OK.  Home Depot cut one of the three pieces of 8 foot lumber in half at no charge, so I could have two  pieces 8 feet long and two 4 feet long for the raised bed.  Home Depot also sold 10 foot pvc pipes, which they cut into 8 foot sections for free.  I bought the plastic in a roll there, too, as well as the screws.  I bought the screws (wood screws and screws with wing nuts) too short, but I was able  to walk to the hardware store and get what I needed - including a special drill bit so I didn't have to screw them in by hand.  

    Cold frame 1Building the raised bed was by far the hardest part of the job.  I had to drill 28 holes, then  re-drill them because the holes were too small.  Then I had to go to the hardware store twice for the right screws.

     Wow! That's so impressive! What will you be planting in it? I am hoping to have a month or two more of cold weather crops:  lettuce, arugula, kale, Swiss chard.   I want to pick up some spinach seedlings at the farmers market this weekend to put in there, too. 

    Finished housePlus, I moved some warm weather plants - basil, dill, cilantro - to protect them. Otherwise, they'll die in a week or so from the cold weather.

     


      

    Carol kneelingGreat! I can't wait for my next dinner invitation!

     

     

     


      

    In honor of Food Day, 10 Radical Ways to Make Food Better

    Food should be the healthiest, safest thing our society produces and we consume. But it's not.

    FoodDay_logoStackedIn honor of national Food Day, I'd like to suggest 10 ways we can revamp our food system to make it healthier for people and the planet, and more delicious, too! What do YOU think we should do?

    1) Help more farmers grow organic food. Right now, U.S. agriculture policy provides price supports and subsidies to farmers who use pesticides and insecticides - and penalizes those who don't.  Shouldn't it be the other way around?

    2) Charge more for food that's grown using pesticides and herbicides. Organic food can cost as much as 30% more than food that's been raised using all kinds of chemicals that pollute our air and water and make us sick. Organic food is more expensive because there's less of it, and it's more labor intensive to grow because (see 1 above) organic farmers don't get paid not to use pesticides and herbicides. Given the cost to society of cleaning up the environmental and human health problems created by pesticide use, shouldn't there be a "HEP" (health/environment penalty) imposed on conventional food that would help bring its price more inline with the price of organics? 

    3) Require all restaurants to compost food. In fact, not just restaurants, but hospitals, government buildings, school cafeterias - any institutions that throw away massive amounts of food -- should be required to compost food waste rather than throw it away, turning it into organic fertilizer for use locally. FYI, you could be composting your own kitchen waste, too!

    China 0214) Define "natural." A lot of food is marketed as natural, even though it's been highly processed, is overpackaged, and doesn't bear one iota of resemblance to the food it originally came from. Working with biologists and botanists, let's define what "natural" really means - and prohibit flagrant misuse of the word by marketers who know we want to eat natural food, even if that's not what they're selling.

    5) Stop wrapping food in plastic. Plastic wrap, plastic boxes, plastic clam shells, plastic bags, plastic bottles: these days, it's hard to find food that's NOT wrapped in plastic. What's the big deal? Plastic doesn't biodegrade, and there's some research indicating that chemicals in the plastic can leach into the food itself. How can you avoid the plastic? Buy fresh food, fill your own safe containers from bulk food bins, and choose food packaged in glass jars or wrapped in paper.

    6) Get rid of BPA in the lining of canned foods. Bisphenyl-A has been linked to a variety of health disorders. This new study suggests that pregnant women exposed to BPA could give birth to girls with behavior disorders. It's time to ban the use of BPA in any food container, including soda cans, baby bottles, and plastic food containers.

    7) Make cooking a required class for all high school students. When I was growing up, girls in middle school were required to take "home economics" (the boys got away with "shop"). These days, both of those classes are optional - which means many kids opt out. Yet I'd argue that one of the reasons why fast food is so popular is because so many people don't actually know how to cook. Why not make cooking class a requirement in senior year of high school, regardless of whether kids are heading off to college or to live on their own? The semester-long curriculum would focus on nutrition, locally grown food, organic agriculture, and composting, along with how to make a decent omelette or a delicious salad. 

    8) Prepare more of your own food. If you don't know how, here are a few good cookbooks to get you started.

     9) Grow your own. If you have a pot, a patch of sun, and a patio, you can grow cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, and herbs. With a 10x10 plot of land and some good compost, you can grow plenty more. These 10 tips will get you going.

    10) Sit down at the table when you eat. Preferably, with friends or family. One of the reasons we may not mind eating junky food so much is that we don't give ourselves enough time to enjoy our meals. If you get up a few minutes earlier, can you actually eat a nice breakfast instead of snarfing down some kind of McMuffin on the run? If you get your kids and spouse or partner involved in the cooking, can you all pull together a meal of what Food Day sponsor the Center for Science in the Public Interest calls "real" food? Yes, time is of the essence. But delicious food is the very essence of life! 

    Surely you must have other ideas for ways we can make our food system better for us and healthier for the planet. Please share, and Happy Food Day!

     

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