Giving Back this Holiday Season

With the holiday season upon us, many of us are focused on giving the perfect gifts to our loved ones. Whether it’s the latest gaming system or a fun new kitchen gadget, we spend a lot of time and money shopping for gifts each holiday season.

xmas shopping

This season of giving is also a good time to look at ways we can give back to our community. There are so many opportunities to give back that it’s easy to find a way that fits you and your family’s interests and means.

Adopt a family

Many local family centers, churches, schools, and other organizations offer programs for people to “adopt” families who have needs they can’t meet during the holiday season. This can mean anything from providing gift cards to the family, to supplying the components of a holiday meal or purchasing toy and clothing gifts for them. Some organizations also set up trees in local shopping centers where you can choose an “ornament” from the tree that lists needs for individuals and/or families. After making those purchases the ornament and gifts are dropped off at a listed location and will then be provided to those individuals.

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Four Reasons to Buy Local Turkeys

There are so many reasons to purchase your turkey from a farmer that is local. You can easily find out the conditions the turkey was raised in. You can find out what they feed the turkey. If you’re serious about looking locally for your Thanksgiving feast, Minnesota Grown is a valuable resource that will connect you with local producers throughout the year, not just for Thanksgiving. You can search for the local producer nearest you, or the one that best fits your values.

If you’re still on the fence about whether to go local or not, here are five reasons why searching locally is the best way to go.

  1. No Surprises
    Buying a local free range turkey gives you the opportunity to know what you are eating and where it came from. Buying local gives you the ability to talk to your local farmer about their farming practices, feeding program, and processing program. You should do your research, of course.

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    Your Tom might be as big as this gorgeous fella.

  2. Just Look at Tom Turkey’s Home 
    Not really, but you can learn a lot by seeing how a farm raised turkeys are raised. If they’re brought up in a humane environment with the option to the great outdoors, you can check that off your list. They get their nutrition from pecking all day with additional quality feed from the local feed store (compared to the store bought turkeys that are cooped up and fed low quality medicated feed). To be sure of this, you should do your research, though.
  3. What Would you Pay for a Robust Local Economy?
    Buying meats from your local farmer keeps money in your community. Shopping local keeps four times the money in your community’s economy compared to shopping at chains. The dollars spent locally go towards the regular things your local farmer buys! (How Quaint!) These include dentist bills, holiday presents, and other things that other “normal” people buy around town. So, shop local! Your farmer will thank you!

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  4. Your Taste Buds will Thank You
    Knowing where your meat is coming from, how it is raise, and how it is processed will automatically make you enjoy Thanksgiving dinner that much more. But the truth is, a farm fresh free range turkey tastes better. Usually, they are not pumped full of preservatives, saline, or other added ingredients. When you buy from your local farmer you are getting what you pay for… fresh turkey. But, as always when making a choice of this nature, you should do your research. 

Happy National Blueberry Month

The official Minnesota State Muffin is the blueberry muffin. Almost anyone who lives in the north star state can recite this fact. It’s simply because blueberries are awesome.

It’s true.

In fact, all the way back in 2003 (two years before YouTube, even!) the US Department of Agriculture declared that July would be the month of the blueberry. And, why not! These little guys pack tons of flavor in their tiny bodies. They’re also high in vitamins and nutrients a body needs. So, it’s not even that bad when you help yourself to a couple containers.

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Aren’t they beautiful?!

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Eating Healthy, Shopping Locally

Finding the time and money to eat healthy has been a problem ever since the microwave was invented. So, I’ve put together a short list of ways to make organic eating a habit. Also, there are several links of local resources where you can learn more about eating organically.

1) Buy from your local farmers market.

There are so many great deals at farmers markets. You can find local meats, cheeses, eggs, vegetables, fruits, and many other goodies in one place. The food is fresh and grown locally and you have direct access to the farmers where you can ask questions about how they grow their food. They usually start in may but the best selection becomes available as the growing season gets into full swing. Farmers markets usually last through September in this area. Plus, if you’re on EBT (SNAP/Food Stamps) many markets will accept them. The Lakes Area Growers Market in Brainerd, the Pine River Market Square in Pine River, and the Onamia Area Farmers Market are great places to get started locally.

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Eating healthy is easy when you’ve got delicious food to choose from.

2) Buy into a CSA.

A CSA is a community-supported agriculture program. Every week you will get a new box of fresh produce (often delivered directly to your door!) Variety is good. You’ll get so many different fruits and veggies that you never would normally purchase. I’ve even heard of CSA programs actually providing recipes and cookbooks with their produce in an effort to give the buyer an idea of how to prepare with the different produce. This is a great way to experiment with different varieties and eat produce that you wouldn’t be as used to. There are so many ways to choose which CSA you’d like to invest in, so go to Minnesota Grown to pare down what you want and where to sign up.

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Top 5 Ways to be Sustainable This Holiday Season

The holiday season is a time of joy, family, friends, warm drinks, lights, and laughter. However it is also a time where there is an increase in waste. Here are five things you can do to diminish your holiday waste:

Use Sustainable Dishware

Instead of using disposable dishes and utensils for your holiday parties and dinners, choose to use reusable dishware. If you don’t have enough you can always borrow from a friend or ask guests to bring some. If you end up having to use disposable dishware, buy some that come from recycled or compostable material. If you plan on using straws, check out reusable straws, you can even consider giving them as stocking stuffers. In addition, make sure your guests know where your recycling bin is so they don’t place their empty bottles and cans in the trash.

Decrease Food Waste

cookies

One way to decrease food waste is to eat as many cookies as possible! 

One way to decrease food waste is to avoid overbuying food. Plan ahead and figure outexactly how much food. This will help decrease the amount of food waste you might end up throwing away. Also consider buying your food in bulk to decrease packaging, and don’t forget your reusable grocery bag. If you find yourself with a lot of leftover food, invite some friends ever to help you finish your leftovers.

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Homemade Coupon Book – The True “Shop Local” Gift Idea

Yes, I’m sure you’ve heard of homemade coupon books before or you have been given one of these things before. BUT, they are the quintessential holiday gift. Plus, I find that it means more to receive these. What was the the old adage?

“It’s the thought that counts!” *cue eyeroll*
Homemade coupons ooze thought, though. Also, it gives you a great reason to stay local when shopping.

 

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Homemade Coupons can be for almost ANYTHING!

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Sustainably Back to School – College Edition

While the heat of summer wanes, for many, the thought of school just around the corner hammers our nerves and sense of freedom even more. So, why not make the most of it? Look forward to that new year of classes. Now add to that a hint of green thinking, and it might just be the best school year ever!

Let’s focus our sustainable minds on the products college students need. To make sure life in the dorms is as comfortable and efficient as possible, there are a few key areas to address: technology, clothing and school supplies.

Technology

Unlike the school days on campus that your parents reminiscent over (perhaps way too frequently for your taste), today’s supplies include some high-tech gear. While laptop computers, cell phones and tablets are energy sinks, they do offer some sustainable benefits. Most notably, these products are eco-friendly in that their existence makes other products unnecessary.

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Working at a desktop can be less expensive. You definitely lose the mobility, though.

One can take an endless amount of notes in class, thus limiting the necessity for notebooks. The fewer notebooks used, the fewer trees cut down. And, if you want to take it one step further, read how to find the most energy-efficient laptops.

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Sustainable School Lunches

With six kids, I understand that it is infinitely easier to let your child eat a hot lunch prepared by the hard-working cafeteria folk. For the most part, the lunch that your school district offers is tasty, well-balanced, and cost-effective. However, if you want to and have the time to make your child their very own lunch, why not make it the sustainable way?

We’ve put together a quick list of how you can make your child’s lunch both delicious AND better for the environment.

Reach for reusable sandwich bags and containers

snacktime

On a related note, there’s no need for single-use plastic sandwich bags. Instead, consider a waxed fabric sandwich bag, or one of the many reusable lunch containers on the market. From bento boxes to tiffins, there are loads of choices, although glass jars may be a bit too breakable for some kids. Here’s a collection of some plastic-free lunch containers (from Treehugger).

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Odd Stuff, Straight From the Farmers Booth

One of the most fun thing to do at a farmer’s market for me is to talk up the vendors. They talk about the flavors of one veggie compared to another on their table. They joke and they have stories. They’ll let you know when the lettuce in front of you was picked. They’ll make sure you know that if they don’t have it, they can get it for you.

But, what I really like about chatting up stall vendors is that they know they best ways to eat what they’re selling. They’ve put the time into testing and retesting then tasting and re-tasting their produce to be able to tell you what way it should be prepared. And, let’s be honest. Who better would know how a veggie should be prepared than the people whose livelihood depends on its delicious conclusion? No one, that’s who.

For the most part, these veggies, fruits, and plants are commonly known. But, once in awhile, there are things sold at markets that just do not fit into what you’d normally find.

I took the time to ask some of my co-workers what they’ve found at their local markets and I was surprised at what they said.

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Unique Farmer’s Market Finds

Farmers markets are becoming more popular than ever. It’s a combination of knowing where your food is coming from, shopping local, and eating healthier that seems to be the reason. However, there’s a large variety of produce being introduced that the majority of shoppers are not really interested in trying.

We know that August is the best time to harvest all types of tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, tomatillos, and other familiar produce. These are the staples of our summer. But, it’s time to try new things, to venture out of the familiar and into the unknown. Here’s a variety of veggies that are unheralded, but full of options. They only need a chance!

daikonradish

Daikon is a milder form of radish

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