In a moment of synchronicity, I got Jim Dixon's newsletter from Real Good Food within minutes of coming home from picking a bunch of beans in my neighbor's garden. (And, yes, I did get his permission!) Not only is this salad deeply delicious and satisfying, the story of Michael Twitty and his passion for correcting the myths regarding the origins of our foodways is equally filling. Thanks, Jim, for sharing this.
Michael Twitty’s green beans are loaded. The handful of ingredients add flavor, but these green beans also provide a historical link to Twitty’s enslaved ancestors, who grew vegetables to survive and used whatever they had to coax out flavor. Delicious food brings joy, and Black joy is resistance. There’s a lot to think about when you make this salad.
Twitty is an author, teacher, and culinary historian. He explores culinary injustice at Afroculinaria and, in the Washington Post, described himself as “four-time blessed: large of body, gay, African American and Jewish.”
His 2013 open letter to Paula Deen over her long history of racist practices at her restaurants brought him national attention, but Twitty’s work toward a deeper understanding of Black history and the way we eat makes his voice even more important.
There’s not enough room [here] to cover it all, but this article provides a good starting point.
Michael Twitty's Green Bean Salad
1 1/2 lbs. fresh green beans, trimmed and snapped 1 1/2 tsp. salt 4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil 4 Tbsp. lemon juice* 2 Tbsp. flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped 2 cloves of garlic, sliced into thin slivers 1 Tbsp oregano 1/2 tsp. Okinawan brown sugar [or plain brown sugar] 4 Tbsp. red and orange bell peppers cut into small cubes
Place green beans in a large pot of boiling water seasoned with sea salt. Have at the ready a colander and a large bowl full of ice and water. Cook for 5 minutes then immediately drain and plunge into the ice bath until the beans are barely warm.
Make the vinaigrette while the green beans are in the ice bath. In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, oregano, garlic, herbs, salt and sugar.
Place the green beans in a non-reactive mixing bowl, add the chopped peppers, splash on the vinaigrette, mix well for a minute or two, and then allow the green beans to marinate in the dressing for about an hour or so. Toss well before serving.
We're heading into the height of summer and, along with an avalanche of fruit and vegetables cascading in from local fields, we're also going to be hitting some mighty warm temperatures in the coming weeks. Gorgeous weather? You bet! But 100 degrees is not the time to be pulling out the braising pot or turning on the oven.
And while grilling is a good solution to beating summer's heat when you need to put dinner on the table, it's good to vary the rotation, too. Which is where a back-pocket selection of simple dinner salads can come into play.
You don't have to heat up the house with hours of cooking, since most grains only need a half hour or so to get tooth-tender. Even soaking a pound of beans overnight then simmering them for an hour first thing in the morning can give you enough for a week's worth of meals.
I've put together a list of my favorite summer salads to keep your cool during the upcoming summer weather. Any would make a filling dinner all their own, and a couple could be a terrific complement to whatever you've got grilling.
Leftover Salmon Salad
2-3 c. leftover salmon, flaked 1/2 med. bulb fennel, sliced thinly 1 Tbsp. fennel fronds, chopped 2 med. plums, halved and sliced thinly 1-2 Tbsp. capers 2 green onions, sliced thinly 3 Tbsp. pine nuts, toasted 2 Tbsp. olive oil Juice of 1/2 lemon, added to taste Salt, to taste
Put salmon, fennel, fennel fronds, plums, capers, green onions and pine nuts in large mixing bowl. Drizzle olive oil over the ingredients and add half of lemon juice. Toss gently to combine but don't break up the salmon too much. Adjust lemon juice and add salt to taste.
This would be a great lunch salad or light entrée served on a bed of fresh-from-the-garden (or farmers' market) lettuce. It would also be terrific combined with pasta or a cooked grain like farro, barley or parched green wheat (frikeh).
15-Minute Ramen Noodle Salad with Kimchi
For the dressing: 1/3 c. canola or peanut oil 2 Tbsp. rice vinegar 1 Tbsp. garlic 2 tsp. tamari 2 Tbsp. white miso 1 tsp. gochugaru (optional) 1 tsp. roasted sesame oil
For the salad: 12 oz. fresh ramen noodles (not dried) 1/2 c. kimchi, chopped 1 Persian cucumber (can substitute 1/2 c. chopped English cucumber) 1 Tbsp. chopped chives for garnish
Bring a pot of water to rolling boil.
While the water is heating, make the dressing by placing all ingredients in a blender and blend at high speed until well puréed.
When the water comes to a boil, gently pull apart ramen noodles while adding them to the water. Tease the strands apart with chopsticks while the water returns to a boil and reduce heat to simmer. Cook for two minutes, stirring occasionally to keep noodles from clumping. When they're done, drain them in a colander and rinse in cold water to stop them from cooking further.
Chop kimchi into bite-sized pieces. Quarter the cucumber and slice crosswise into 1/8” slices. Place noodles, kimchi, cucumber and dressing in serving bowl and combine. Garnish with chives.
Corn Salad with Avocado Crema
For the corn salad: 1 15-1/2 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed 4 ears corn, kernels sliced fresh off the cob 1/2 red onion, halved lengthwise and slivered crosswise 1/2 large cucumber, seeded and diced, or two small Persian cucumbers, chopped 1 large ripe tomato, chopped (about 2 c.) 1 Tbsp. fresh-squeezed lime juice 1 Tbsp. olive oil Salt to taste
For the avocado crema: 1 c. milk 1 clove garlic 2 avocados 2 Tbsp. lime juice 1 c. sour cream Salt to taste
In a large mixing bowl combine the black beans, corn kernels, onion, cucumber and tomato. Pour in the lime juice and olive oil and stir gently to mix.
In the bowl of a food processor pour in the milk and add the garlic, avocados and lime juice. Process until completely smooth, scraping down the sides as necessary to incorporate all the ingredients. Add sour cream and pulse until just mixed, then add salt to taste.
The crema makes nearly four cups, which is more than enough to serve a small amount alongside the salad, but it is also spectacular as a dip for chips or in tacos or burritos. It'll keep for at least a week stored in the fridge, so don't be afraid to make the whole batch. (It can also be halved if you don't want to make the whole amount.)
Nectarine and Cherry Salad with Roasted Hazelnuts
1 1/2 lbs. nectarines (yellow or white) sliced 1 1/2 c. Bing cherries, pitted and halved 1/2 c. roasted hazelnuts, roughly chopped
Combine all ingredients (reserving some chopped nuts) in a bowl and toss. Garnish with remaining hazelnuts.
For the salad: 2 c. stale bread, cut in 1" cubes 4 oz. sliced bacon, cut crosswise in 1/4" pieces 3 medium-sized tomatoes, chopped in 1" cubes 1 small head iceberg lettuce or 1 medium head romaine, chopped
For the dressing: 1/4 c. mayonnaise 2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar 2 Tbsp. olive oil 3 Tbsp. buttermilk or whole milk 1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard Salt and pepper to taste
To make this more-than-just-a-tomato salad-with-bacon, start by cooking about a quarter pound of good bacon until it's crispy. Set the bacon aside and add a couple of handfuls of cubed bread to the bacon fat. If there's not enough to really coat the bread, add some extra virgin olive oil. Toast the bread until it's lightly browned.
Add dressing ingredients to a large salad bowl and whisk to combine. Add salad ingredients and toss well to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Kale, Lentil and Nectarine Salad
3 c. lacinato kale, sliced into chiffonade 2 c. cooked lentils 1/4 red onion, chopped fine 1/2 cucumber, seeded, quartered lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise 1 red bell pepper, roasted and thinly sliced into 1" long pieces 2 nectarines, chopped into 1/2” pieces Juice of 1 lemon 1/4 c. olive oil Salt to taste
Combine ingredients in large salad bowl. Toss. Adjust seasonings.
Contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm was raised in the wilds of Western Massachusetts; his father, Cecil Boutard, was the Horticultural Director of the Berkshire Botanical Garden. So it's not a huge surprise to learn that Anthony decided to study forestry at university, then was lured out west to work for 1000 Friends of Oregon, a conservation organization. Here he recalls a trip to Bavaria as a graduate student.
Here are a few photos of the Iphofen community forest that I took as a forestry student in June of 1989. The Bavarian Forest Service led us on the ten-day tour. There was a foundation in New York that funded exchanges between Germany and the US for forestry and music graduate students, so all expenses for the field trip were covered except beer and meals. That said, on many of the stops, our hosts were eager to provide a fine board of victuals defining their region.
The walled Bavarian town of Iphofen maintains a community forest. It is managed in the manner described as "coppice with standards." The coppice provides firewood that is apportioned to each chimney within the walled city, as well as small wood used for firing bread ovens. The standards are large trees harvested for lumber, the sale of which provides funds for the town. The detailed forest records go back to the 14th century. The oaks grown in the region are on a 350 year rotation and are highly valued for making veneer. Traveling the area, you will see oaks at various points in their 350-year life.
The European practice of pollarding urban trees, a form of branch coppicing, or what some wags call “amputrees," arose from the insatiable need for small wood to fire bread ovens. People sometimes regard pollarded trees with their massive knobs as some misguided ornamental effort, but it originated as urban forestry. Sycamores are particularly well-suited to this treatment. The Romans likely introduced the practice.
The Bavarian tradition of parching green small grains gave us the inspiration to try our hand at the craft 18 years ago. Grünkern is produced in Bavaria and parts of Austria from green spelt. It is sold at Edelweiss, the German grocery on Powell. Seeing it, we thought to ourselves, maybe that’s something we could do.
The Bavarians parch the spelt ears on a large iron pan in a structure called a darre. During the first few years, we produced both parched wheat and spelt. The spelt had a caramel-like flavor and Greg Higgins [of Higgins restaurant] made a beautiful fruit compote with it. The spelt was very difficult to thresh and clean without special equipment, so we had to drop it. We continued with the wheat. Though memories of the grünkern years linger, building a darre is not in our future. In his book De Agri Cultura (160 BCE), Cato the Elder describes parching of grains.
The breads of Bavaria have a robust flavor and dense texture without feeling heavy. Carol makes a lovely sourdough bread from our soft red wheat and durum which reminds me of my travels in Bavaria and Switzerland. It is a lunch or evening loaf, sliced on the thin side and toasted with some sardines, herring, cream cheese or cured meat. Carol uses between 10 and 15 percent durum in all her loaves. The addition of durum improves the crumb of the bread.
"We are lucky to live in a state with relatively low numbers of COVID-19 cases, however, the recent increase in cases has shown us how easily that could change if we do not remain vigilant." Ginger Rapport
Oregon's farmers' markets are open and, as always at this time of year, over-flowing with strawberries, blueberries, cherries, summer squash, beans and all the incredible produce typical of early summer in the Pacific Northwest. What's not typical are the behind-the-scenes gymnastics that have been required to keep the markets open as Oregon officials and farmers' market representatives wrestled with establishing guidelines to keep both vendors and shoppers safe.
Local farms and ranches were hit hard by the closure of restaurants that bought in large volume and prominently featured locally produced meats, seasonal produce and grains on their menus. Many quickly pivoted to offering CSA subscriptions, online sales and home delivery to make up for some of the lost revenue. But the closure of the state's more than 120 farmers' markets would have been the death knell for many farms and ranches, not to mention a potentially crippling loss of revenue for communities, since farmers' markets return more than three times as much of their revenue to the local economy than do chain (grocery) competitors.
State guidelines for farmers' markets require vendors and staff to wear masks and practice safe distancing, as well as limiting the number of customers onsite and designating "social distancing officers" to enforce social distancing policies. The guidelines also require making aisles wider and spacing market booths six to 10 feet apart.
"I need to place vendors, particularly large farms, in a spot where I can give them enough space for a line that is safely spaced for customers," Molloy said, adding that, for the most part, vendors have been helpful and cooperative.
"Social distancing remains our biggest challenge," said Ginger Rapport, market master of the Beaverton Farmers Market. "Managing the lines that form with customers standing six feet apart, and managing the flow of traffic is something that requires our constant attention."
The need to maintain distance between booths and allow customers room to social distance while shopping has decreased the number of spaces available at markets, most of which operate within a limited footprint. This means that many markets have seen a decrease in stall fees—being forced to pare down to "essential" vendors, or having some at-risk vendors choosing to skip this season—which has created challenges for markets in terms of generating income for paying staff and overhead, according to the Oregon Farmers Market Association's Melissa Matthewson.
As one of the largest markets in the metro area, Rapport said that her market has had to reduce the number of usable spaces for vendors by about a third, a significant number in a market of that size.
"This means a loss in income to the market which, as a 501(c)(4) [nonprofit that promotes social welfare], doesn't operate on large margins," Rappot explained. "It's a balancing act to reduce expenses while trying to be understanding of vendors needs at such a difficult time."
"The market is one of the few outlets for income for many of our small businesses and farms whose wholesale outlets (i.e. restaurants) have dried up, or whose fairs and festivals have been cancelled," she said. "For many we are the only game in town. There's a lot of pressure to keep the market functioning while trying not to completely drain our reserves."
In the pandemic's early days back in March, it wasn't at all certain that markets would be allowed to stay open at all. Strong advocacy on the part of the OFMA and the state's farmers, along with a willingness to collaborate with state regulators and remain flexible as policies shifted, turned the tide in favor of keeping markets open.
As for the rest of this season, Hillsdale's Molloy is cautiously optimistic.
"We are playing it week to week. We know how to run a pre-order market and are ready to turn it on if we have to do that," he said. "As long as customers comply with our mask rule and we work at keeping safe physical distancing, we will be running the way we are now."
The OFMA's Matthewson said the public will play a big part in helping markets survive. "The best way that customers can support these markets is to continue to shop there if they are able, and also to consider donating to the market as an investment in their long term viability," she said.
Outbreaks of COVID-19 have been common at food processing and meatpacking plants across the country, sickening and killing emplyees working shoulder-to-shoulder in enclosed buildings, often without the personal protective equipment (PPE) or proper air circulation needed to keep them safe and prevent the spread of the disease.
In the latest outbreak here in Oregon, the Oregon Health Authority reported on Tuesday (7/7) that 22 people were sickened at the Columbia River Processing plant that produces cheese and dairy products for the Tillamook County Creamery Association (TCCA). The report said that number may include household members and other close contacts to employees. An outbreak is defined by two or more cases linked to a common place.
The OHA's Joell Archibald said the agency was notified of the first positive test from an employee at the Tillamook plant on June 16th, almost three weeks ago, and began working with county and municipal public health staff in the area. She said that prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the names of employers would not normally have been released, but that under pressure from media and the public, state leaders decided on publicly releasing the names of companies where 5 or more cases were linked to a single employer; when the case count (including contacts) reaches 20, the company's name goes on a list in the OHA daily report.
OHA public information officer Timothy Heider said that an employer is notified by the employee when the employee receives a positive test result for the virus. Heider said that when the Oregon Department of Agriculture visited the plant on June 17, it was determined that there was adequate PPE and at that point "the company implemented containment control measures such as physical distancing and face coverings for employees." He also said that no deaths from the outbreak at the plant have been reported as of July 9th.
According to the procedures agreed on by state leaders, though, neither the employee's co-workers nor the community at large were informed until the 5-case threshold was met and the employer's name was released publicly. In short, this means that those workers and their contacts could be circulating in the community—shopping at the same stores and touching the same door handles, for instance—for days until the threshold is met.
Stand Up to Factory Farms, a coalition of local, state and national organizations concerned about the harmful impacts of mega-dairies—Tillamook is dependent on giant factory farm dairies for its milk supply—issued a statement today that said this outbreak “underscores the vulnerability of the factory farm system and the workers in it. As cases continue to increase, it's unconscionable that Oregon is moving forward with permitting a new mega-dairy, Easterday Farms, that will exacerbate the extreme consolidation putting workers at risk. Oregon needs a mega-dairy moratorium and meaningful protections for food and farm workers now.”
For Tillamook's part, CEO Patrick Criteser issued a statement on the company's website assuring investors and the public that the pandemic has not disrupted their manufacturing operations or supply chain. In a statement the company said that three of the employees have already recovered and been cleared to return to work, while the rest are recovering at home, according to an article in the East Oregonian. "Those who are recovering at home or are quarantining after being identified as a close contact are receiving full pay and benefits," the company said.
The health authority's latest statewide weekly reportshowed that from June 29 to July 5, COVID 19 continued to surge with 1,910 new cases, an increase of 51 percent over the previous week.
The Morrow County Health District, Pioneer Memorial Hospital, the Morrow County Health Department, Morrow County Emergency Management and the Morrow County Sheriff's office—all public entities involved in responding to the outbreak—were contacted with questions about what procedures were followed at the Columbia River Processing plant when the county learned about the outbreak. They referred all questions to the Oregon Health Authority, which is quoted above.
I'm gonna lay it all out on the line here. I am not a happy camper when I cannot see my friends, as the kids say, "IRL"—in real life; to hear their stories, watch their faces erupt into guffaws, or catch the tiny nuances at the corners of their mouths or the glint in their eyes (talking to you, Anthony Boutard).
Facetime or Zoom meet-ups are not the same as those face-to-face, real-time moments. I get that it's necessary if your family or friends live across the country and electronic connections are better than once-a-year, holiday trips. But a pandemic's a pandemic, especially when cases are spiking, and no one wants to get sick or make their loved ones or communities sick, much less kill them.
So how do you socialize in person and still keep yourself and others safe?
Some recommendations are obvious: Stay outside.Wear masks. Keep at least six feet between each other. Or, as Melissa Clark said in a recent New York Times article on entertaining in a pandemic, "the only way to bring people together is to figure out how to keep them apart."
While admitting that there's no way to host a gathering that is 100 percent safe, Clark said it is possible to reduce risks. I agree with her advice to use the comfort threshold of the most anxious person in the group as your guide, since the point is to spend quality time together, not give someone PTSD.
This takes communication with your guests, both in the planning and setting of expectations for the gathering.Clark goes so far as to discuss appropriate bathroom protocols with her guests, but we've chosen to solve that problem by limiting the length of time spent at the handful of happy hours we've had with good friends and family. We have yet to break the dinner barrier, but will be doing that this weekend, again with lots of planning and discussion of comfort levels.
My best advice is to keep it simple. Dave has mastered the art of making cocktails while wearing a mask and gloves, and I've managed to cobble together our meager collection of trays so each party has their own individual appetizer serving. Dips and salsas are easy to spoon into cups or bowls, cheeses can be divided into individual wedges and crackers or chips can be parceled to avoid the problem of reaching into a common serving bowl.
Wine is easy, since one person can be the designated "pourer" so multiple people aren't handling bottles. Paper napkins and sanitzer have become a part of the tablescape, with bleach wipes available as well.
Below is an easy white bean spread that makes enough to be divided, and has been a hit at a couple of our cocktail hours. I'm just happy to be seeing friends again!
And if you've got some bang-up suggestions for entertaining in a pandemic, e-mail me your ideas and what you've learned. I'd love to do a follow-up post!
Tuscan-style White Bean Spread with Capers
1 15-oz. can cannelini beans, drained (or use 2 c. cooked white beans) 1 medium clove garlic 1/2 tsp. salt, plus more to taste 1 tsp. dried thyme 1 1/2 Tbsp. lemon juice 3 Tbsp. olive oil 1 Tbsp. capers (or more if you adore them like I do) 1-2 Tbsp. parsley, minced (optional)
Put beans, garlic, salt, thyme, lemon juice and olive oil in food processor and process until smooth. Using a spatula, scoop bean purée into medium-sized bowl and add capers and parsley. Stir to combine and adjust salt. Serve with bread, pita or crackers.
Cooking is saving my sanity these days. Yes, making three meals a day for a family can also be drudgery, but I can't help getting excited when I scan what's on offer at our farmers' markets or my local greengrocer. In this transition between spring and summer, we've still got spring delights like local asparagus, spring onions, fennel and favas until summer squashes, luscious berries, tomatoes, peaches and the rest of summer's bounty step on stage.
I've been loving our mild spring weather that has allowed for roasting chicken in the oven and making soups on the stovetop, but hasn't precluded grilling outside or (distanced) happy hours in the back yard with friends. (Expect a separate post on outdoor happy hours in a pandemic, including appetizers and drinks!)
In this crossover season between spring and summer I find that I'm still craving comfort foods, so I started casting about in my mental recipe box while rummaging through the refrigerator. With asparagus and fennel in the veg bin, a creamy spring pasta seemed like it might hit the "warm and cozy" button but still promise some springy pizazz in every bite.
Quick to make and startlingly delicious, with a minimum of fuss (or chopping), it was super satisfying and gave me options for making it again with seasonal vegetables to come. A glass of crisp rosé alongside, and my sanity was intact, at least for one more day.
Creamy Spring Asparagus and Fennel Pasta
For the sauce: 1 Tbsp. olive oil 1 Tbsp. flour 1 c. milk 1/4 c. stock (chicken or vegetable) 2 oz. cream cheese 1/2 c. parmesan, grated, plus more for serving Zest of one lemon
For the pasta: 1 lb. dried pasta 2 Tbsp. olive oil 1/2 yellow onion, chopped fine 1 lb. asparagus, sliced in 1-inch pieces 1 c. slivered fennel 4 cloves garlic, minced 2 green onions, sliced crosswise into 1/8" slices 1/2 c. parsley
Bring a large pot of well-salted water to boil.
For the sauce, heat the olive oil in a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat. Remove from heat, whisk in flour until smooth, return to heat and cook for one minute. Whisk in milk and stock until slightly thickened. Add cream cheese and parmesan and stir until smooth. Stir in lemon zest and reduce heat to warm.
Add the pasta to the boiling water and boil until al dente.
In a large skillet heat the oil for the pasta until it shimmers, then add onion and sauté until translucent. Add asparagus pieces, fennel and garlic and sauté until tender. Stir in green onions. Reduce heat to warm until pasta is done.
When pasta is done, drain and put back in its pot. Add vegetables, cream sauce and parsley and stir to combine. Empty pasta into serving dish and sprinkle with some of the extra grated parmesan. Serve.
This would also be terrific with fava beans and peas, or in a month or so you could make it with zucchini or yellow squash and peas. The possibilities seem endless!
We've all read about the outbreaks of coronavirus in meatpacking plants across the country, but other workers in our food system have also been impacted by the spread of the virus due to lack of protective equipment,crowded working conditions and exposure to toxic chemicals that make them more susceptible to the virus. The Hillsdale Farmers' Market's assistant manager Azul Tellez Wright wrote about these issues in its newsletter.
The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated many of the inequalities that people of color face in the U.S.
Nationwide, people of color (POC) are more likely to fall ill with COVID-19, an upsetting truth that is reflected here in Multnomah County. A study conducted by the Multnomah County Health Department in April showed that 40 percent of coronavirus cases in Multnomah County were POC even though they only comprise a third of the population. POC are more likely to hold essential worker positions, such as the thousands of agricultural workers whose jobs have not stopped as the pandemic has descended.
On top of that, many employers aren’t putting sanitation and distance requirements in place and aren’t providing their employees with personal protective equipment. Many migrant workers live in close quarters, making quarantining impossible. Federal guidelines for farmworker labor camps allow four people in a 10 feet-by-20 feet space, which is roughly the size of a garden shed. [A petition from the nonprofit Oregon Law Center is proposing stricter regulations to protect farmworkers, including changes to transportation, work and living areas to allow workers more space and ensure proper hygiene, according to the Oregonian.]
Despite paying taxes and being considered essential workers, immigrants cannot access the public benefits that many Americans have come to rely on the past few months. Immigrant and undocumented workers were also excluded from the stimulus checks that came as a reprieve for most Americans in March. In the event that they do get sick, many farmworkers are also not eligible for state or employer healthcare.
Clearly, the inequities that farmworkers face are made far worse by COVID-19. There are a number of local organizations that are listening to Oregon’s farmworkers and working with local and state agencies to provide protections against the COVID-19 outbreak. Causa is an immigrant rights organization that works to improve the lives of Latino immigrants and their families through advocacy, coalition building, leadership development, and civic engagement. Consider donating to Causa’s Worker Relief Fund which collects money to go directly to farmworkers families who were excluded from the federal stimulus package.
Woodburn-based PCUN (Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste, or Northwest Farmworkers and Treeplanters United) is the largest Latino union in Oregon. They are raising money for their farmworkers emergency fund to support former and current undocumented workers affected by COVID, which includes farmworkers. The Oregon Latino Health Coalition is another organization that has been working with local and state public health agencies to increase protections for farmworkers. [Another organization working to improve conditions for farmworkers is Familias Unidas por la Justicia, a farmworker justice organization currently striking against dangerous working conditions and lack of protective equipment at fruit companies in Washington State.]
The website for Dean's (formerly Dean Innovations) describes its White Lightning compost as "ideal for organic gardening," stating it contains "worm castings, mycorrhizal fungi, mineral dust, topsoil, fruit and veggie compost, dairy manure compost, mushroom compost, river sand and horticultural pumice."
Residential customers who bought the popular compost for their gardens this year were shocked to learn it also contains pesticides.
In a press release this past week, the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) said it had received several complaints reporting growth deformities in plants that came into contact with the product. After collecting samples from home gardeners, Dean's and another company, McFarlane's Bark, samples were sent to a lab for analysis. Results were returned showing the compost was contaminated with clopyralid, an herbicide used to control broadleaf weeds like thistles and clover.
The ODA report says that clopyralid can cause symptoms in plants at very low levels and only affects certain groups of plants, including legumes (peas, beans, lupine), composites (sunflowers, marigolds, lettuce), nightshades (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers), and buckwheat. It is considered very low toxicity if ingested and very low toxicity via skin exposure.
Suki Olson of Northeast Portland, who used the compost in her raised beds, noticed slower-than-usual germination from her seeds. Then, when the plants finally emerged, she noticed many of the leaves didn't have their usual shape or texture.
"The fifth and sixth leaves of my beets look bumpy and leathery, which I thought was strange," she said. "I didn’t think much of it, chalking it up to a weird spring of rain and cold and then hot." But then the heirloom peas she planted had leaves that were misshapen and badly cupped.
"I checked with my neighbors, since we'd shared the delivery of [compost]," she said. "One’s hydrangea leaves were buckled and asymmetrical. The other’s decade-old grapevine had terribly dramatic cupping of its new leaves, and one of her tomatoes showed the same cupping."
The president of Dean's released a statement saying the two products that clopyralid was found in were a batch of steer manure and a batch of mushroom compost, according to an article from KOIN news. The article said that both products have been pulled from the shelves and the company was in the process of seeking out "new organic supplier relationships" as well as "alternative nutrient supplements for our White Lightning product should we continue to find disparities between an organically certified product and test results that are contrary to this certification."
Dean's has offered to refund the cost of the compost itself, but has not discussed remediation of contaminated soil. A private Facebook group has formed for customers who have experienced damage from the contaminated compost. Group moderator Lindsay Freedman said that the group is exploring legal options for customers who experienced damage, since soil testing can cost upwards of $250 and digging out contaminated soil can run into the thousands of dollars.
An additional complication is that many labs can't test levels below 10 parts per million, and clopyralid can damage plants at just one or two parts per billion. One way to test the soil for contaminants is to do a bioassay by planting fast-emerging seeds that are sensitive to the contaminant in the soil. (Here's a how-to video.)
In the meantime, customers affected by the contamination are wondering what to do about the vegetables and fruit they've planted in their gardens.
"Our main concern now is, is our food edible?" homeowner Olson said. "Brassicas don’t seem to be affected, but are they safe to eat? And what is the best way to remediate? Because if there is herbicide in all the yards of compost that Dean’s and other companies delivered in the last few months, it’s not environmentally sound to dump all of this in the landfill and wash our hands of the matter. My goal is to work with nature to heal the soil, and get back to what I love, growing food for my family."
The US Composting Council is working to stop the use of persistent herbicides in ways that impact compost and needs to understand how widespread the occurrences are. If you suspect the presence of persistent herbicides in compost or damage from persistent herbicides in compost please complete this form.
The ODA has these suggestions for homeowners who believe they may have experienced contamination:
Community members can contact the business where the soil was purchased to find out what options may be available.
Those affected may submit a Report of Loss (ROL) form to ODA. The submission of the ROL reserves the citizen’s right to pursue civil action if they wish to do so. Filing the ROL report does not mean that one has filed a claim, as that would need to be done in a civil suit, but it is a step that must be done if a party chooses to pursue civil action.
One option for gardeners is to avoid using the soil for several months to allow the clopyralid to break down. Then, before using the soil, gardeners can test it by planting susceptible plants and watch for effects.
If the soil is removed and in order to avoid further contamination, soils that are believed to be contaminated should NOT be taken to your local compost or yard debris facility. These soils can be disposed of at the locations below. Please inform the facility that this soil is thought to be contaminated: Metro South in Oregon City, 503-234-3000 for hours, pricing, and additional information; Hillsboro Landfill, 503-640-9427 extension 0, for hours, pricing, and additional information.
Unfortunately, there is not any financial assistance available from ODA to help pay for the removal of the contaminated soil. However, ongoing discussions with partner agencies on financial assistance options are currently being discussed and will be shared if they become available.
I once introduced an essay by contributor Anthony Boutard as a "bulletin from the real world," a ground-level—and occasionally whimsical—perspective on the life he and Carol have nurtured at their organic farm in the Wapato Valley west of the city. His writing describes the polar opposite of the sometimes frantic, crowded and, especially now, anxious lives of city-dwellers. While the investigative report below could have recorded a grisly crime, it is offered here as balm:
We have a pair of bluebirds that have settled in one our new boxes. Everyday, the tree swallows haze them, hoping to take over the box. They succeeded last year, building a nest on top of the dead bluebird chicks. The grim side of nature. I decided I would rethink my approach to building and siting boxes in the hopes of providing the bluebirds a better home.
Bluebirds generally nest in the hills, where the population of swallows is lower. Not so many mosquitos and other small flying insects. The bluebirds feed on larvae and sedentary insects for the most part. At our elevation, the mosquito-eating swallows thrive presenting stiff competition for nest sites. A string of wetlands also favor the swallows in terms of dietary needs.
This year, I placed some boxes where they can be defended, tucked into trees which break the swallows’ dives. On some, I added a perch board and provided a longer lip on the lids. Bluebird experts caution against such perches, arguing that predators can use them. From my observation, nest predation by tree swallows is more of a problem than any other threat, so I threw caution away and added perch boards.
At 3:20 today, I went to observe the box from a discrete distance. The female left the box around 3:29. They spent a moment on the power line and then dropped down to forage in the grass. At 3:36 a swallow flew over the box. The bluebirds returned to the box in a wink of an eye, I didn’t even see them return, and the male placed his body across the entry to protect their nest.
The swallow made a few passes and flew away, and the male moved away from the entry, but remained on the perch.
A few days ago, the strafing by four swallows lasted nearly 15 minutes, with the male tucked up tight against the entry the whole time. It was amazing to observe. The bluebirds have their routine down.
This time I had my camera and captured the bluebirds’ reaction. Per Detective Joe Friday, just the facts:
1. At 3:29, female emerges to join her mate for a quick meal.
2. At 3:30, they meet up at the cable before dropping into the grass to feed.
3. At 3:36, a threat is seen and they return to the box with the male defending its entry.
4. Threat abated, at 3:40 the male shifts away from the entry, but remains vigilant.