Top Ten Posts of 2010 at Year of Plenty

According to Google Analytics these were the most popular blog posts on Year of Plenty in 2010.

1. Newsflash: Dairy Industry Wants You to Eat More Dairy - What's So Controversial About That?

This post created quite a stir. It got picked up by the president of Dairy Management Corp. and was emailed to all of his contacts. The folks at Domino's Pizza linked it all over the internet. James McWilliams at the Atlantic Monthly credited Bill Bishop at the Daily Yonder with being the first to grasp the way this story was being misreported, but I think I was the first one on the story. My first official big scoop.

2. World Comparison: Fresh vs. Processed Food Consumption

Google placed this high on their search criteria, so it has received a steady flow of clickers all year and also got picked up in some online communities.

3. How My Little Blog Out-Reported the New York Times

This was my follow up to the Newflash post about Dairy Management.

4. Roast House Coffee Newest Roaster on the Spokane Scene

This year I actually started doing some in-the-field reporting, visiting local businesses and writing up short narratives. Roast House was one of the first.

5. What Would You Do If You Had One Year to Live?

This was my first and only blog post to get "Dished," meaning Andrew Sullivan at the Daily Dish linked to it as one of his "Quotes of the Day". 

6. Wendell Berry: Gardening as Health Regimen and Holy Sacrament

This post got picked up a couple different places on the web.

7. American Farm Bureau President Declares War on "self-appointed and self promoting food experts" 

Unlike the post on Dairy Management where large ag interests were eager to see my blog as an asset, this post led to quite a push back from folks at the AFB and the conventional farming community. The AFB PR took issue with my characterization that the AFB president had declared war on consumers concerned with large ag. practices. 

8. Why You Shouldn't Rototill Your Garden

I did a whole series of gardening posts last Spring and this was the most popular of the bunch. Other popular gardening posts include; How to Turn Your Lawn Into a Vegetable Garden, Planning Your Garden Plot (Companion Planning, Rotation, and Location)How to Make Your Own Professional Seed Starting Soil Mix, Tips for Planting the Garden

9. How to Get Started Raising Chickens in Your Backyard: Choosing You Chickens

This was part of a series of posts on raising backyard chickens. The other posts included one on building and designing a chicken coop and another on convincing your spouse it's a good idea.

10. Year of Plenty | The Book

I'm told the book goes to print on January 15 and will be released on March 1, 2011.

Thanks for everyone who has contributed and commented on the blog in the last year. If you want to follow along in 2011 you can sign up for the RSS Feed here, you can follow the blog on Twitter here, or click the Like button below to follow on Facebook.

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Lessons I've Learned as a First-Time Author

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c9fc-crEFDw&w=480&h=385]

For the last ten months I've been on an unexpected journey writing a book based on this blog. I remember being enamored with the idea of being a writer when I was in high school. At one point in graduate school I had what I thought was a good idea for a book, so I proceeded to boldly tell all my friends that I was going to write a book. Looking back, I'm pretty sure I sounded just like the aspiring author in the hilarious video above.

My youthful aspirations toward being an author had mostly been dormant until our family literally stumbled into the trendy world of locavores, going green, simple living, and backyard farming. From there a series of serendipities led to a conversation with a publisher and eventually a book contract. The whole process has been an education. The book is due out in March and the learning curve is still steep, but I thought I would share some of what I've learned to this point.

1. Writing a book is hard work. Any romantic notions I had of being an author have pretty much gone down in flames as I was forced to deal with the harsh reality of a blank page and blinking cursor on my computer screen. When I first signed the book contract I spent about a month living in the glow of the idea of being an author, but as I sat down and actually started writing I was confronted by an abyss of deficiencies in my skill as a writer and my confidence as a human being. I found that the act of writing constantly placed me in an uncomfortable place where I was forced to beat down my insecurities and trust that, eventually, random words on the page would gain some coherence. The process of writing the book was a long season of intentional living in this liminal space.

2. There is no way around sh*%#y first drafts. This wisdom comes from Ann Lamott's book, Bird by Bird. I've heard people try to translate her words into something more palatable like, "There is no way around bad first drafts," but that just doesn't do justice to the depth of disgust that one feels toward first efforts to get something down on the page. Long before I set about the task of writing a book I was an acolyte of Lamott's wisdom on writing, but it wasn't until I entered the authorial labyrinth that I fully appreciated this unavoidable reality. There was part of me that thought maybe I could avoid some of this, but alas my first drafts were prolific factories of you know what.

3. The process of writing requires time. The larger lesson of my first two observations is that there is a long process of writing that requires time, effort, sacrificial offerings of chunks of existential flesh, and more time. At almost every step of writing the manuscript I fooled myself into thinking that I could get one part of the process done in a short time, when a long time was always required. Maybe that was part of my self-care, shielding my psyche from the reality that I was about to spend three hours working on one paragraph of text. There were parts of the writing process that were easier than others, but for the most part, the whole thing required an unreasonable amount of time. I'm not suggesting that it wasn't time well spent, or that it didn't come with its own rewards, but in the ways we normally measure productivity the requirements of time were unreasonable. Most seasoned authors who have learned this lesson recommend writing small chunks of text everyday. Lamott recommends a discipline of taking two hours a day getting text on page.

4. A blog can be a great way to learn the craft of writing. While the process of authoring my book was more occasional spasms of typing marathons than the steady accumulation of daily discipline, this blog has helped me learn the rhythm and skill of writing. Maybe more that that, it has helped me find my voice. One compliment I received from the editor is that she thinks my book has a strong "voice." If what she says is true, the blog has been the 24 Hour Fitness that has helped shape it.

5. A blog can be a great resource in writing a book. When I signed the book contract I initially had a sense of disappointment that I hadn't thought of writing a book at the very beginning of our year-long experiment. I figured I would have kept journals and taken pictures and recorded the journey in detail. But then I realized that I had actually already done that with this blog. Not only did I do that during the year, but I continued to write on those topics and refine my perspectives through the daily discipline of posting. All the while there was interaction with the readers of the blog. There was real-time feedback on the content in the form of pageviews, tweets, and Facebook links. There is something about the immediacy of clicking "Publish" on the blog interface that has sharpened my skills as a writer and prepared me in many ways for the act of clicking "Send" on the emails to the publisher with manuscript attached.

6. The creative process of writing is incredibly rewarding, irrespective of reader response, critical reviews, and book sales. I would be remiss in chronicling the challenges of writings in the above list without also pointing out the grace-filled gifts of the process. My greatest reward has been, at times, reading through a passage or a chapter that had taken so much work and, at the end, feeling like I'd touched upon something beautiful and true. Our lives are so often confused and tangled webs of meaning, so there is something deeply satisfying about telling a story and capturing a moment that clears up the confusion and serves as a hopeful signpost for the journey. I don't claim any grand illusions that my book will do that for others. My point here is that in many ways it did that for me, and that is reward enough to make the whole process worthwhile. (That being said, I won't mind at all if people like the book and buy ten copies to give to their friends. Did I mention yet that you can pre-order Year of Plenty here.)

I'll probably do a follow-up post with more lessons learned as the process moves forward. Right now I'm working with the editor on doing a final edit of the formatted manuscript. There is an artist working on cover design.

When Foodies Go Bad - Backyard Chicken Bloggers Turned Bank Robbers

image from bojack.org image from bojack.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PJC over at the DTE version of this blog brought this story to my attention about two accused bank robbers that also happen to be eco-bloggers who dubbed themselves the "Urban Survivalists". They blogged about green living, backyard chickens, and canning applesauce. They say of themselves;

We have been a couple since 2006! We work together on most things in our life and like it that way. Since moving to Portland, we have had a lot of time to explore our interests and have been having a lot of fun developing a more sustainable home.

They sound like my kind of people, other than that whole bank robber, shooting guns into the ceiling part. The Pastor in me knows that there is some very sad tale of drugs or financial hardship that led them to this point so I'll resist the urge to pile on.

I do want to respond to PJC's concerns and assure him that while my interests on this blog are nearly identical to Portland's Bonnie and Clyde of eco-bloggers, I won't "get any crazy ideas."

Don't forget that there will be a meeting this Wednesday to help change backyard chicken laws in Spokane County. Let's all agree that bank robbing will have no place in the Spokane Chicken Revolution.

How My Little Blog Out-Reported the New York Times

On Monday I wrote up a post on the much heralded New York Times article, While Warning About Fat, U.S. Pushes Cheese Sales. This kind of story is the bread and butter of the fast evolving food blogosphere, of which Year of Plenty is a very small part. A large media outlet like the Times does the original reporting and then it gets echoed throughout the blogosphere, Twitterverse, and Facebook Friend-Feed-Frenzyverse. It received so much attention that I initially wasn't going to bother linking to it, assuming that everyone had already seen it. But when I got around to actually reading the Times article, something didn't seem quite right. The article was factually correct in its reporting but cryptic in the way it described the relationship between the USDA and the Dairy Management Corporation. It hinted that the U.S. taxpayer-funded USDA was pulling the strings on the Domino's marketing campaign.

This subtle hint in the article was turned into the brash assertion all over the internet that U.S. taxpayers were not only paying for the $12 million campaign with Domino's for extra-cheesy pizzas, but that the USDA, and therefore the government, was running the ad campaign. While I highlighted in my post some smaller blogs that reported the story this way, Bill Bishop at the Daily Yonder gives a good summary of how this played out among some of the most influential people and news platforms in America:

Food writer and journalism professor Michael Pollan tweets that “our tax dollars (are) at work promoting Domino’s pizza.”

Kerry Trueman (co-founder of EatingLiberally.org) states on the liberal Huffington Post that Domino’s Pizza is selling gobs of cheese with the help of a “government handout.” 

The Atlantic says the “government wants to fatten you up with cheese.” Paul Waldman at The American Prospect writes a government agency uses “taxpayer funds” — “your tax dollars” — to promote double melt cheeseburgers.  Matt Yglesias writes a headline saying "Tax Dollars Going to Subsidize Cheesier Dominoes (sic) Pizzas," adding that this is the kind of “government spending…we could entirely do without.”

Because of previous stories I've done on the agricultural checkoff programs, these assertions didn't sound quite right. So I did something that Michael Moss, "ace New York Times Reporter" didn't do; I made a couple phone calls and actually talked to someone at Dairy Management about the program. As far as I can tell, in all the reporting that's been done on the story, I'm the only "reporter" that talked to Dairy Management to better understand their relationship to the USDA. I also talked to a representative of United Dairymen of Idaho to get a better understanding of how the checkoff system works.

Moss explained in the article why he didn't have those conversations:

The Agriculture Department declined to make top officials available for interviews for this article, and Dairy Management would not comment. In answering written questions, the department said that dairy promotion was intended to bolster farmers and rural economies, and that its oversight left Dairy Management’s board with “significant independence” in deciding how best to support those interests.

The crux of the whole story is the nature of the relationship between the USDA and Dairy Management and Moss didn't speak to anyone at either entity? He apparently got a written response to questions from the USDA. This may be a case of the USDA and Dairy Management not doing their job of accurately explaining the nature of the relationship, but I'm baffled that I could get through to them to ask probing questions and he couldn't.

So is it possible that I did a more thorough job of reporting on the relationship between the USDA, Dairy Management, and taxpayers than the New York Times?

I'm flattered that the "So Good" food blog seemed to think so. In assessing the reporting on the USDA and Dairy Management the blog says;

The most accurate breakdown of this organization’s role in this story can be found in this post on Year of Plenty, Newsflash: Dairy Industry Wants You to Eat More Dairy – What’s So Controversial About That?

I'll let you read my blog post to decide if I did a more thorough job, but I do know that because of those phone calls I didn't take the "tax-payers paying to promote cheesy pizza" bait, like so many others.

There are a couple of lessons for me in this;

1. Don't believe everything you read on the internet.

2. Don't believe everything you read in the New York Times.

3. When it comes to food politics and debates about food systems, the problem is not the demonization of food, as the Daily Yonder proposes. The problem is the demonization of people. In this case the demonization of people at the USDA and Dairy Management as evil cheese-conspirators.

If this is the problem than the solution is to talk to people and give their perspectives a genuine hearing. In other words, to be in relationship with people. In my case, when it comes to writing about food, that means being in relationship with small local farmers and large scale farmers, conventional and organic, following Grist and #agchat on Twitter. It takes all perspectives to get the story straight. Go here for a recent post on why living in an agricultural region like Spokane where I am in ongoing relationships with people involved in all aspects of the food system makes me a better food blogger.

One of the grand lessons from our year-long experiment in eating local is that relationships with people involved in bringing food to market is the key to developing just and sustainable food systems. This includes farmers, but it also includes business people. The core crisis in the food system is a break-down in the relationships between people involved with bringing food to market and those sticking the food in their mouths. Relationships breed accountability, pride, quality, health, and sustainability. A vaccuum of relationships creates paranoia, pollution, corruption, unhealth, shoddy practices, and most of the other ills in the food system. That's why I am committed to eating locally and promoting local food.

My diagnosis of the situation is more than just about good reporting and blogging. (Warning: If you don't follow my blog this is going to sound totally random.) It's actually rooted in my Christian faith and my role as pastor at a Presbyterian church. My focus on relationships arises from my understanding of Jesus' commandment to love your neighbor as yourself. In my judgement, this call to be in relationship with people is the key lens through which to see everything, including food. In my upcoming book I have a chapter dedicated to explaining this perspective. I hope it will be a helpful contribution to food debates that too often get bogged down haggling about food miles, carbon footprints, or cheesy marketing campaigns.

Spokane Has Better Soil for Growing Food Bloggers Than Seattle

Palouse picture: View of the Palouse from Steptoe Butte

I was born in Pullman, WA to WSU Cougar parents and moved away when I was little. I went on to attend the University of Washington and didn't think much of my birthplace until I returned 36 years later to live in Spokane. We actually had a choice between Spokane and Seattle when we were looking to move our family back to the Northwest and we chose Spokane for a variety of reasons. There are times when I miss the urban energy of the Seattle area, but as my interests have turned to food and agriculture, I've come to really appreciate living in the Inland Northwest.

This morning I had a meeting with people at the church and along with sorting out a plan to hire a volunteer coordinator we talked about the state of wheat farming, the yields of this year's peas and lentils, and the consolidation of farms by large corporations. Conversations are never too far from issues of land and environment. I find this invaluable as I enter the conversation on this blog. I'd like to think I have too many conventional farmer friends to go off the deep end of foodie elitism and too many  cutting-edge sustainable farmer friends to trust people when they say we can't feed the world with organic or local.

The ratio of Spokane food bloggers to Seattle food bloggers may be 1 to 1,000 (For example, if blogs.com were to write something about the Spokane blog scene like it did recently for Seattle, it would be titled Spokane's ten blogs, not Spokane's top-ten blogs), and Seattle may be host to the annual International Food Bloggers' Conference, but I have to brag that Spokane kicks Seattle's urban undies when it comes to real-life experiences and perspectives on food, land and ag. issues.

For example, when NPR did a story this week on the world-class task of developing drought-resistant varieties of wheat, they turned to Washington State University professor Kulvinder Gill. Even this Husky can take a little pride in that.

Before I get carried away, I might as well mention that I'm getting tired of hearing WSU football fans talking every week about how much better they looked in this week's loss than last week's loss. I heard some fans bragging this morning about how they just know that the team is going to "upset" someone this year, which in Cougar football speak means that they will win a conference game.

Christian Conference to Explore Intersections of Local Church, Land and Agriculture

image from flourishonline.org
Today is the last day of the outdoor Millwood Farmers' Market. This will be the conclusion of four years of hosting and running the market at Millwood Presbyterian Church. Being a Farmers' Market manager and a pastor has stretched the normal bounds of pastoral and church work, and has led many I'm sure to wonder what we're up to. In my upcoming book I have a whole chapter titled The Kingdom of God is Like a Farmers' Market, where I lay out the theological and cultural premise for the farmers' market as a ministry.

Far from being an isolated experiment, our church farmers' market is part of a larger exploration going on in North American churches, making connections between food, land and faith. One of the pioneering ministries, plowing new ground, (or if you prefer a more sustainable metaphor, direct-seeding new crops) is the Englewood Christian Church in urban Indianapolis, and more specifically their online ministry called, The Englewood Review of Books (ERB) by Chris Smith, which is part of their community development work. You can follow ERB on Twitter and Facebook. They offer some of the best comprehensive review of books and leaders making vital connections between faith and the environment, especially agriculture.

They will be hosting an upcoming conference titled A Rooted People: Church, Place and Agriculture in an Urban World. Claudio Oliver, one of their speakers, is a regular commenter on this blog from Brasil. I wish I could be there.

Food Fight: Washington Post Foodie Ezra Klein Defends Industrial Agriculture

Fields
Earlier in the week influential blogger Ezra Klein of the Washington Post wrote a short post dismissing the influence of the local food movement and heralding that "Industrial farms are the future." He wrote;

Despite the dreams of many foodies, I can't think of a major industry that went from small, decentralized production methods to large, scaled industrial production -- and then back again. Are there any examples I'm missing? Maybe so. But for now, I think of the preference for farmers markets and small producers as being mainly important in sending certain signals about production methods and branding preferences to Big Ag than in actually creating some sort of viable alternative.

In the article he references an article from the Guardian in the UK where Jay Rayner argues;

Words such as local, seasonal and organic have become a holy trinity. But these are merely lifestyle choices for the affluent middle-classes, a matter of aesthetics, and nothing to do with the real issues.

If we are to survive the coming food security storm, we will have to embrace unashamedly industrial methods of farming. We need to abandon the mythologies around agriculture...and recognise that farming really is an industry, much like car manufacturing or steel forging, one which always works better on a mass scale, but which can still be managed sustainably.

Ezra Klein is a farmers'-market-shopping, meatless-monday-eating, full-on-foodie so his little post created quite a stir. Tom Philpot at Grist offered up the highest profile retort. He mainly takes down Rayner's editorial and tisk-tisks Klein for passing it off as meaningful commentary. He writes;

Rayner's argument goes like this: a) because the U.K. relies increasingly on food imports, and b) U.K. supermarkets demand flawless, uniform fruits and vegetables, forcing farmers to "grade out" much high-quality produce, and c) U.K. consumers have come to expect dirt-cheap food, then the nation "will have to embrace unashamedly industrial methods of farming" to avoid looming famine.

Really? The same line of reasoning could more logically have led Rayner in the opposite direction: that Britain's food problems stem from a globalized industrial food system consolidated into the hands of a few powerful companies.

Yesterday, Klein offered a little bit of an apology for citing the Guardian editorial, which he admits is weak, but he sticks to his guns when it comes to the future of food being industrial;

...I'm increasingly less convinced that small and big are, in the overall scheme of things, terribly useful dividing lines for the future of agriculture. Whether one could hypothetically imagine feeding the world using decentralized production methods, I don't see much reason to believe it will happen. At the same time, small farms can be run wastefully and large farms can be run sustainably.

When I say that the food movement is sending important signals to America's agribusiness giants, I mean it -- forcing them to innovate in organics and compete with Stonyfield and think about the success of farmers markets are types of pressure that could lead to really important transformations in how they do their business. And those are transformations that might then be copied by large producers in other countries. That's why I think the most important role of the food movement is potentially changing the behavior of players like Nestle and ConAgra, and creating some large companies that demonstrate how a different ethos of food production can be brought to industrial scale.

Andrew Sullivan just pinged this dialogue so I suspect it will get a lot of play on blogs and editorial pages in the coming weeks.

This little food fight touches on so many different aspects of what I blog about here that it's a little hard for me to decide where to enter in, but let me pick one aspect of the debate and see where it leads.

Klein mentions the hypothetical question as to whether it's possible to feed the world through decentralized production methods. It's typical in these debates for defenders of industrial ag to assert that it's not possible to feed the world using organic or local methods and others reply that, actually, you can. Klein dismisses this line of argument as irrelevant. He says it's not going to happen. He asserts that we have never seen "a major industry that went from small, decentralized production methods to large, scaled industrial production -- and then back again," which is what would need to happen in the case of food. The industrial cat is out of the bag and there is no turning back. All we can hope for is mega-corporations that are responsible and responsive to consumer demands for more sustainable and local food.

He takes the the pose of the realist and on one hand I agree with him. I often say (I just said it yesterday in fact), that real substantial change in food distribution will have to come through changes to big retailers like Walmart. For an example of how this is happening with potatoes go here.

But I disagree with Klein's and Rayner's foundational assumption - that the production of food is best viewed as an "industry, much like car manufacturing or steel forging, one which always works better on a mass scale..." For one, there is mounting evidence that food production does not work better on a mass scale. It's only over the last 75 years that food has been imagined as an industry and practiced as such. We fed the world for millennia with small, local and organic agriculture. Modern industrial food practices are a very recent innovation and the long term consequences are still unknown.

There is no doubt that modern technologies have been a boon to the task of feeding people around the world, but there is something different about food than making cars or forging steel. Manufacturing cars is a product of the industrial revolution. Eating food arises out of the very nature of the created order. For all of history food amounted to more than the shallow categories of industry. Food was culture, family, provision, and for the three major religions of the world, a sign of God's grace.

In the Genesis account of creation the first words out of God’s mouth to Adam and Eve are, “You are free to eat….” Not far behind is the warning, “You must not eat…” After their disobedience, God proclaims judgment, “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:17-19). Even in judgment there is a grace of provision.

It's funny to me how casually we throw around the phrase "saving the world" in debates about sustainability. Isn't it so obvious that "going green" is a veiled, modern-secular way of entering into the territory of apocalypse and salvation, the ancient categories of the human quest for life and meaning and God. Food goes deep into mysterious and hallowed places of human existence. Food cannot be reduced to the limited categories of industry and it does great damage to imagine it exclusively as such.

There is one thing I agree with in the Guardian column. Rayner says that the local, seasonal and organic food movements are a matter of aesthetics, and have nothing to do with the real issues of industrial practices and pragmatics of feeding the world. He's right in pointing out that what drives the local food/sustainable food movement is, something beyond the pragmatism of calories and food miles, something more intangible. Aesthetics is a rather dismissive way of putting it. I would say that it arises out the human search for meaning and hope.

One last comment. Rayner claims that it's only the well-off middle-class who have the luxury to dismiss the reality of food as industry. In my experience it's actually the impoverished 2/3 world that understand the reality that food is more than industry. To the majority world food is culture, family and life. Most of the world gets that those are "real issues" that are relevant to conversations about food. Wealthy westerners are actually the innovators of the exclusive view of food as industry and profit margin. It is our particular single-minded lens that is foreign in the world. 

The insurgent foodies in the western world are attempting to lift up other issues that are very real, issues that touch on aspects of human life that industry can never reduce and control, and issues that impact and change industrial practices.

As I see it, the task is not to de-industrialize food, the task is to re-enchant, re-annimate, and re-new our imaginations around food, which by necessity means to re-connect with the land that supplies us with food (and perhaps the Creator of the land), and along with that to re-connect with the farmers who farm the land.

Bloggers Told to Pay Up and Get a Business License, Or Else

The Philadelphia City Paper is reporting that Philly is requiring bloggers to get a $300 business license in order to operate their blogs.

For the past three years, Marilyn Bess has operated MS Philly Organic,  a small, low-traffic blog that features occasional posts about green living, out of her Manayunk home. Between her blog and infrequent contributions to ehow.com, over the last few years she says she's made about $50. To Bess, her website is a hobby. To the city of Philadelphia, it's a potential moneymaker, and the city wants its cut.

In May, the city sent Bess a letter demanding that she pay $300, the price of a business privilege license...

She's not alone. After dutifully reporting even the smallest profits on their tax filings this year, a number — though no one knows exactly what that number is — of Philadelphia bloggers were dispatched letters informing them that they owe $300 for a privilege license, plus taxes on any profits they made.

Even if, as with Sean Barry, that profit is $11 over two years.

This seems kind of outrageous to me but may be a sign of things to come for blogdom. I'm actually surprised at how many small readership blogs have advertising. I can't imagine most of them are making more than a couple bucks a year. In my opinion, blogging makes a terrible business but it makes a great avenue for community involvement, personal discipline and just all around fun.

New Spokane Food Blogs - Spokarnivore and Ethical Eating

I came across two newish Spokane food blogs this week. I'm always eager to see new blogs popping up in the Spokane area, especially food related blogs. Make sure to stop by Spokarnivore and Ethical Eating and say hi. I'm especially intrigued by the Ethical Eating info blurb: "I am a single urbanite philosophy professor living in the Inland Northwest who has a passion for good food--food that tastes good and is ethically good." Philosophy and food; that's my kind of blog.

"Food In Jars" Blog a Helpful Online Companion for Canning Summer's Bounty

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Foodista,the aspiring wikipedia of cooking, is featuring Food In Jars as their food blog of the moment. I recommend it as a good one to go to and learn about the experience of home canning, with one caveat - don't use the site's recipes unless they are cross referenced as scientifically tested recipes from Ball or So Easy to Preserve.

The blog seems to be well informed and the author even teaches canning classes, but I get a little nervous when I hear things on the blog like, "Sometimes, making pickles is so easy that it doesn’t even require a recipe." The author is speaking from the understanding that the general rule of thumb for pickling is to use half vinegar and half water for the brine. This is true, but what I fear is that someone who is less informed about home canning might just leap to the assumption that recipes aren't important, and that home canning is a great opportunity to improvise with a culinary flourish. The most important lesson from my Master Food Preserver course is to strictly follow the recipes from sources using scientifically tested recipes. Any time low acid vegetables are involved, don't mess around.

With that being said, the site looks engaging and motivational. Go check it out.

Go here for my series of posts from the Master Food Preserver Course.

Rise of the Lowly Food Bloggers

Since I've officially taken on the mantle of "Food Blogger," Spokane Books Blog thought I should take a look at a recent artice, "Why Food Bloggers Are Here to Stay." Jenny An reports;

Food blogs and bloggers have become a new staple of online foodwriting. They are everywhere, but bloggers themselves are still struggling to gain legitimacy...

A few high profile bloggers have parlayed their visibility into book deals, such as Former Chez Panisse Pastry Chef David Lebovitz, Pim’s Pim Techamuanvivit and recently, Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen. A few more have been able to go into blogging full-time such as Gim. Still others have turned food blogging into a full-time writing career , such as Carly Fisher of Chicago Brunch Blog who now blogs for NBC Chicago.

However, these bloggers are the exception. Phil Lees, of The Last Appetite and a Wall Street Journal contributor, wrote on his site: “I briefly made a living from my blogs alone but this was because I was living in one of the world’s poorest nations…”

Questions continue to pop up about how “professional” a food blogger really can be. After all, some say, they don’t have the ethical auspice of an established brand to hold them to standards. The truth is, established sites like Yelp, Chow and Eater are taking big steps to establish the “lowly” food blogger as an invaluable part of the food industry hierarchy. Even independent bloggers are becoming more and more important as a resource for the food hungry and curious. Bloggers might be vying for respect with established media outlets, but they are certainly here to stay.

I guess I'm one of those independent "lowly" food bloggers. I blog as a personal discipline that connects me in generative ways to the community and the world. It's been a place where I've learned to be a better writer. I'm still not a good editor but at least now I'm horrified by typos and misplaced apostrophe's whereas before I didn't really care. It's been an integrative space for me to use my photography. It has been a living business card that has opened up opportunities to share a message that I think is important. Most of the high profile platforms I have been given, from the New York Times to PBS to NPR, have opened up because of the blog.

Someone asked me recently for advice on how to increase readership for their blog. I don't think that's the best question to start with in blogging but if you're interested, my advice is as follows;

- Post something almost every day. If you go through a dry spell without posting don't get all apologetic about not having posted in awhile. Just get to posting again.

- Take note of what people respond to the most on the blog – what do people comment on, what posts get the most views (you’ll want to use Google Analytics to help understand what people are reading most). Having said that, I post stuff that may not be as popular simply because it’s important to me. Don't just be a page view counter. Write about things that are important to you and a community will emerge as you connect with others.

- Try to craft catchy headlines. I’ve found that I can write a great post but if the headline isn’t provocative it doesn’t get nearly the readership. But make sure the headline is accurate and true.

- Pictures always add to the pleasure of reading a blog, and better yet pictures you’ve taken. I am in the habit of taking my camera with me and I have sort of created my own stock photo library to draw on. Stock Exchange is a good source of free stock photos – make sure they aren’t so big a file size they slow down the site.

- Twitter has helped a lot and I recommend it as a way to raise visibility of posts and even more than that, a way to find interesting blog post material. Open a twitter acct and “follow” people who share similar interests in your region and the issues you write about on the blog. They’ll likely follow you back and help spread the word about the blog. Have a link on the blog for people to follow to Twitter. You can link Typepad to Twitter so that it automatically posts your blog posts to the Twitter feed. 

- Ditto the above for Facebook. Make sure people have the ability to "Like" individual posts and the whole blog on Facebook.

- Always respond to comments people make, even if just to say thanks.

- While surfing the web bookmark web sites and web articles you find interesting so you can come back and post about them.

- Make sure you’re accurate and that you don’t mind whatever you write being attached to you for the long haul. The web lasts forever.

Facebook "Like" Button Now Available on Year of Plenty

I'm no social media expert, but I did figure out how to add the Facebook "Like" button to the blog. The standard format is for a wide side bar so I had to simplify it to make it fit my format. It is in the sidebar immediately to the right below the Twitter follow button. If you click "Like" it will add Year of Plenty to your Facebook feed. The links in your feed will redirect you directly to the blog. I have enough trouble managing my online content so I'm glad not to have to create a Facebook page to do this.

While I'm on the subject of social media I also recently created a Twitter feed for the Millwood Farmers' Market which you can follow here. I help manage the market. Opening day is May 19, 3-7pm.

Year of Plenty Passes 100,000 Page Views

I realized today that our little blog just passed the 100,000 lifetime page views milestone. That's pretty small potatoes as the internet goes but it does remind me of the joy of our family's journey over the last 2+ years and makes me grateful for those who have shared the journey in a whole variety of ways, including on this blog. Thanks for all the encouragement and insight.

Just as our story has evolved, the blog has evolved as well. There was a time where 10 posts in a month was a lot, but now I try to get something up daily. About a year ago the blog was picked up by the Down to Earth NW web site, a project of the Spokesman Review newspaper. There are some other exciting things in the works that I'll share more about in June.

Go here for the story of how the blog got started.
Go here for my explanation of what this blog is all about.

You can follow the blog on Twitter or subscribe to the Feed.

Below the fold is the first post ever made on the blog - the legendary (at least in our family) flamingo pinata/effigy beheading.

Making a Pinata - January 27, 2008

Pinata_1Birthday Parties have been one of the real challenges with our new rules. There aren't many kids toys produced in the Inland Northwest and there certainly aren't any pinatas. The benefit is that we are having to learn as a family how to make things we normally would buy. These pictures tell the story of learning to make a flamingo pinata. We got the idea here.

Pinata_2_4

We didn't give it enough time to dry so when we popped the body balloon it deflated. I stuffed it with newspapers and we put the candy in the head, which was drier than the body. We didn't have time to decorate it so we slung it up by the neck and gave the kids a whack at it. Noel said it was the best part of the party.

Pinata_4

Welcome "Spokane Books Blog" to the Spokane Scene

I was pleased to see a new Inland Northwest Blog titled Spokane Books Blog. I think the about page info is worth quoting in full for the way it reflects back perceptions about Spokane from someone new in town, and also offers up a vision for nurturing a local literary scene.

The Spokane Books Blog is my attempt to fill a niche that exists amongthe blogging community that is based in and focused on this underrated city in the Inland Northwest, a community that appears to be quite active but also appears to be predominantly obsessed with food. Not that I have anything against food. It's undoubtedly a priority of mine (in fact, one of the reasons our family decided to move to Spokane in early 2010 was its apparent commitment to the slow- and local-food movement), but in terms of personal importance it's also on a par with a couple of other things, summarized, incidentally, by a poster that was once spotted hanging in the window of Auntie's Bookstore:

aunties_eatsleep.jpg

Over time I hope to develop the Spokane Books Blog into the kind of resource that I could never quite locate when researching the city, namely, a place for news, opinion, tips, and guides on all (and only) things literary in the Spokane area. Who's writing. What's being read. When the literary-themed events are taking place. Where the best bookstores and reading cafés are to be found. And why it's all important.

And if there's presently not much of a buzzing literary scene to speak of, then maybe this blog will offer some tiny amount of help in ushering it into being — and will likewise document it along the way.

Comments, criticism, advice, hints, notices, and participation are all and always welcome. Encouraged, even.

Welcome to Spokane and thanks for jumping in and making a contribution to our emerging city and region.

I'm trying to think of Spokane authors and Jess Walter is the most prominent one that comes to mind. They may have to start a sister blog titled, Spokane Authors Who Moved to Seattle Blog. Sherman Alexie and Timothy Egan, formerly with the Spokesman Review, come to mind as authors in that category. Who are some other Spokane authors?

The State of the Inland Northwest and Spokane Blogosphere

I was chagrined to find out yesterday that David Blaine is closing his blog, "From the Back Kitchen" where he has kept us all abreast of local restaurant news, especially the running tab of restaurant closures. I would put David among the deans the Spokane blog scene so I think it's noteworthy. We probably need someone to start a blog to keep tabs on all the cool Spokane area blogs that close down.

You type in Spokane Blogs to Google and at the top of the heap is Spokane Food Blog, a worthy position for an important Spokane blog. Then the Spokesman blog page get's a mention. But after that there is an abyss of rotting blog flesh. You've got a link to a Spokane Blogging RSS feed that has been defunct since 2008. Then Spokane Food Blogs old and now defunct blog, iluvspokane, is listed. Then you've got Spokurban, vintage 2006, and some other random stuff. Either Spokane bloggers aren't very good at optimizing their blogs for Google searches or our blogoverse needs a little boost.

Toward that end, I want to put a shout out for your list of the best Spokane/Inland Northwest blogs. I'll follow it up with a post and optimize it so that hopefully when people search for Spokane blogs they'll get a current list.

Here's my list in no particular order:

Spokane Food Blog
Spovangelist
Downtoearthnw.com
Cycling Spokane
From the Back Kitchen (maybe if enough people rally we can get David to keep going)

Best Advice About Blogging and Life

When I updated the banner on the blog I put together a new page explaining all the pictures and the meaning behind them. In the process I wrote up a little paragraph about my approach to blogging that touches on some great advice about writing and life. Thought I would post it here as well.

Anne Lamott in her book "Bird by Bird"tells writers that one of the keys to writing is short assignments and small picture frames. Instead of setting out on some grand scheme to write the next Brothers Karamazov, the thing to do is just pick one short assignment, one picture that fits into a small one inch frame, and go to work writing about it, describing it, fleshing it out. She quotes E.L. Doctorow who said, "writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights but you can make the whole trip that way." I agree with her that "this is right up there with the best advice about writing, or life." This blog is what I'm seeing one small picture frame at a time. I'm not altogether sure where it's going but I know as I'm faithful with the short assignments, something meaningful and worthwhile might just emerge.

Between this site and the site over at Downtoearthnw.com that shares much of the same content we're running close to 7,000 page views a month. I know there are 12 year olds with Facebook pages that get twice that much web traffic, but hey, I'm not going to let that get in the way of me cobbling together some small sense of self worth. Thanks to everyone who has me on your RSS feed or Google Reader or whatever you use to track stuff. Go here if you'd like to subscribe to the blogs feed using the tool of your choice. I've started using Twitter as well if you want to follow the blog that way. Thanks to the folks who direct regular traffic to this blog, especially Spokane Food Blog and the Spokesman Review.

Here's to small picture frames and short assignments.

A Web Site Worth Checking Out: www.good.is

I stumbled across www.good.istoday, full of interesting perspectives and provocative ideas about the environment, food, etc. Check out the magazine version too, Good 100. Of the Good 100 here are a few that jumped out to me.

The Crap Caper in Chicago where a someone is surreptitiously hoarding human waste to compost and turn into garden soil. It will be interesting to see how all the trace amounts of Prozac and Viagra in the waste effect the plants. I'm sure all those crazy giant pumpkin growers have already tried various medications on their pumpkins so maybe they'll have some insights.

There's an article on reducting cow emissions titled Moothane Reduction - "What no one thought to ask until now is, why are the cows burping so much? The answer, unsurprisingly, turns out to be their diets. When cows are fed plants like alfalfa—plants more closely related to the grass they would naturally eat—their emissions are reduced by as much as 30 percent."

And an inspiring story about Will Allen and an organization called Growing Power that farms 2 acres of downtown Milwaukee, producing $200,000 worth of food each year that helps feed the city.

Here's the list of Spokane folks who were way ahead of me in discovering this cool web community.

Year of Plenty Photo Featured in "View From Your Window" Coffee Table Photo Book

Palaung

I snapped this picture when we were visiting a Palaung Village near Chiang Dao, Thailand. I submitted it to Andrew Sullivan's blog and it was posted in January as part of their "View From Your Window" series. They've taken the series and turned it into photo book and it looks like the above photo made the cut and will be featured in the print version. I haven't received confirmation from them but a photo from a Palaung Village in Thailand is listed in the book's contents. I'm assuming I was the only one to submit a picture from that location.

It was almost exactly a year ago that I purchased my first SLR type camera and since then I have been self-teaching myself the art of photography and photo editing. I do love it and it is kind of exciting to have one of my pics published. As much as I love the web, there is something about having it in print that is very satisfying. I ordered my copy today. Please bear with me if I make you look at it when you visit the house. And just to warn you, I may carry the book around for awhile and just show it to complete strangers saying, "Hey did you know I'm a published photographer?" You've been warned.