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Questions to Ask Your Farmer – Know What’s in Your Food!

Knowing how your food is raised is extremely important. It can mean the difference between food that is clean and safe and food that is contaminated with toxins and other harmful substances.

Because there are so many toxins in the environment, we can’t possibly know where they all come from. There are toxins in the water we drink, air we breathe, and all environments where we live and exist. We could be getting contaminated with something at school, work, inside the vehicles we drive, our yards, and our own homes. There are toxins in the water we drink, air we breathe, and all environments where we live and exist. Estimates by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report that approximately 500,000 chemicals are currently in use, and with each passing year more than 5,000 new chemicals are added.

One aspect of our lives where we do have control is over the food we eat. When you buy food from the grocery store, you have really no way of knowing where it comes from and what happens to it before it gets to the shelf. With more and more food recalls and health issues cropping up in the news – all originating from our industrial food system – it is becoming more and more clear that something has to change. If you still doubt the seriousness of the food recall situation going on today, please read this post about why food recalls greatly jeopardize our health and food system as a whole.

When we support local farmers who use sustainable practices, and by educating ourselves about safe and humane farming practices, we are supporting a safe system that will continue to provide us with safe, healthy food. Sustainable practices are those that farmers and food producers used for thousands and thousands of years before the Industrial Revolution occurred over 150 years ago.

Health effects on children

These substances are especially harmful for children, who are still developing and growing, and who have metabolisms which are faster than adults. Children are more likely to be affected by the substances in our food supply now due to several factors – 1) many of them are born with digestive issues which they received as a result of inadequate nutritional support from their own parents’ diets 2) there are more toxins in our environment now than ever before – the EPA estimates that 500,000 chemicals are currently in use, and with each passing year more than 5,000 new chemicals are added. 3) children are continually exposed to toxins and nutritionally deficient foods after they are born. Food companies market these products to children and as a result, they are eating more non-food substances now than ever in history.

Meat and meat products from animals and birds:

  • What type of food do your animals or birds eat? This is very important. Cattle, pigs, sheep, goats, chickens, turkeys, ducks, and others should be raised on pasture. If they are not, they are often given feed such as corn, grain, soy which are not in their natural diets. These feeds are also often subjected to pesticides and herbicides, and originate from genetically-modified sources (GMOs).
  • Do you use pesticides on feed or the land where your animals are raised? Pesticides are neurotoxins. Consumption of pesticides has been linked to damage to the skin, nervous system, and can lead to the development of degenerative disease like cancer. Pesticides are also an endocrine disruptor. The endocrine system affects development, growth, reproduction, and behavior.
  • Do you use hormones, steroids, other growth promoters or stimulants? The use of hormones in food has been linked to early onset sexual maturation in children which leads to disruption in the endocrine system (such as the thyroid and thymus, adversely affecting their hormones and causing a variety of problems).
  • Do you use medication or antibiotics? Traces of antibiotics and medications can lead to long-term health effects such as reproductive, immune-system, and developmental issues in children.
  • Where do the animals and birds live/exist? If animals and birds are on pasture, this is a healthy environment. If they are on cement, dirt, or confined a majority of the time in cages or holding areas, these are unhealthy environments.
  • Are cattle 100 percent grass/hay fed, or do you also use grain (this includes steers and dairy cattle)? Cattle are ruminants and should only be fed grass. Grain-fed cattle are more likely to become sick and need antibiotics and other medications. Another way of asking the same question is: how are your cattle finished? Many farmers have their cattle on pasture for most of their lives until the last 90-120 days or so, when they are transported to a feedlot and fed grains to “fatten” them up. This activity causes the digestive tracts of cattle to become acidic and makes the animal more vulnerable to disease.

Nutrient quality in grass-fed and pasture-raised meats, poultry, and dairy products is 3-5 times higher than conventionally-raised meats. You’ll be getting 3-5 times more CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) which is an antioxidant and is critical for heart health, Omega 3 essential fatty acids, and fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K2 – all important for immunity, cardiovascular, bone health, brain and nervous system, digestion, endocrine, and reproductive support.

If animals and birds are eating any types of feed that are not strictly on pasture, find out if the feed is organically-grown and/or organic practices are used. Any feed that animals/birds consume such as pigs, turkeys, or chickens should be pesticide/herbicide/other chemical and GMO-free.

Produce, legumes, rice, grains:

  • Are you certified organic or do you use sustainable/organic practices? Farms that use organic and sustainable practices do not use any commercial or conventional practices in their farming methods (see next questions for more detail). Many farms which are not certified organic still adhere to organic principles in farming, so inquiring about their status can also lead to a conversation about which category the farm you are buying food from falls.
  • Do you use genetically-modified organisms? GMOs have been shown in research to cause liver damage, food allergies and sensitivities to many different foods, infertility, and cancer, among other health issues.
  • How do you manage disease, pests, and other problems? Do you use chemical fertilizers or herbicides/pesticides on crops? Farms that use organic and sustainable methods to control weeds and pests are healthier and create far less damage to the environment and their crops such as integrated pest management, crop rotation, chemical-free, organic pest control.
  • Who is in charge of growing fruit/vegetables and where is the farm located? Very important because even sustainable and organic farms can become contaminated if they are too near  factories/companies emitting toxic chemicals and pollutants, or other farms which use conventional methods, and especially farms which are GMO (genetically-modified), or if any known spraying occurs from airplanes that might fly over the farm.  Many organic farms are in “no spray” zones and similar areas which ban the use of chemicals, so finding a farm which is mindful of these practices is important.
  • How large is the farm? This can also be important due to the location of the farm (see previous question) and its exposure to other operations/farms/businesses.
  • Is the farm a diversified operation (using poly cropping techniques, as opposed to the mono cropping used by conventional farming practices) with many varieties of vegetables and fruits? Farms using poly cropping farming methods are more likely to have better success with keeping pests, weeds, and other issues away.
  • Does the farm grow any heirloom varieties of fruits or vegetables? These plants and crops are of particular importance to the success of poly cropping and diversity of soil cultivation to help sustainable farming efforts become more pervasive. It’s always a good idea to support farms who grow these varieties as they are not only more sustainable, hearty, and resistant to disease/pests, and also more nutritious as they are from seeds that have been around a long time, and from plants that contained more nutrients.
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Green Living Healthy Living Kids & Family Real Food

12 Smart Ways to Go Sustainable In the New Year


Have you been thinking about going sustainable and reducing waste? Well, what are you waiting for?

There are many ways to do it. From changing foods in your diet to exchanging items you commonly use every day in your home or place of business, there are endless ways to make your living environments less toxic and healthier for your whole family.

Here are 12 simple ideas to make significant changes in your life from toxic to sustainable:

1. Trade in:

conventionally-grown produce that is sprayed with pesticides and other harmful chemicals, and possibly originating from genetically-modified seeds and organisms

Remember, spray-free doesn’t mean no pesticides, it’s really just a marketing term like many others. If you have children, read Produce and Pesticides: The Dirty Dozen and Protecting Your Children’s Health. Pesticides are linked to ADD, Autism, hyperactivity, and other health disorders in children as reported from studies conducted by researchers at The University of Montreal in Quebec in 2010.


organic or sustainable versions of these same foods

Buy locally if you can, and have a conversation with the farmer at the market or in your local area about his or her practices.

2. Trade in:

commercial meats, poultry, eggs, and dairy which come from animals on feedlots

Meat and meat products from animals in feedlots are fed the wrong kinds of feed, contain hormones, antibiotics, pesticides and other harmful chemicals. Also, their nutritional content is compromised from being raised in non-sustainable environments where the soil, water, and other areas are not cared for in an ecological manner, and soils are not cultivated nor enriched with organic matter or fertilizer to make the meat healthier.


grass-fed and pasture-raised versions of those meats and poultry

Check with your farmer’s market or local farmer. Although many grass-fed and pasture-based farmers use sustainable and/or organic practices, it’s always a good idea to interview your farmer and find out whether their animals are normally on pasture (and if they are fed any grain, soy, or corn). Concerned about the cost of switching to naturally-grown meats? Consider the long-term cost of health problems as a result of consuming toxic meat such as sick days from work or school, doctor and hospital fees, and medications.

Take the Grassfed Meat Challenge

and read The Truth About Raw Milk, Part I and Part II

3. Trade in:

plastic cutting boards in your kitchen

Plastic degrades over time and can start to come off after many years of being cut on into your food. Plastic cutting boards are also petroleum based and bad for the environment since they don’t biodegrade in landfills for thousands of years.


bamboo, wood, or glass cutting boards.  These materials are safe and environmentally-safe and do not harbor bacteria on their surfaces, and are easy to clean with soap and water (glass is inert).

4. Trade in:

teflon, non-stick, and aluminum pans


cast iron, stainless steel, or enamel, granite, or stoneware

Non-stick and teflon are dangerous to health. Teflon contains a carcinogenic substance known as perfluoroalkyl acids which have been found in blood samples of people and animals, and are responsible for impairing liver function and increases the bad LDL levels of cholesterol in the body.

Studies released by the EPA in Du Pont and 3M labs concluded that rats who were fed PFOAs (perfluorooctanoic acid, one of the main offending chemicals found in Teflon and other non-stick cookware) had a higher incidence of developing tumors in the liver, testicles, mammary glands, and pancreas.

PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonate, another offending chemical found in non-stick cookware) has been connected to thyroid and liver cancer in rats. Other problems include increased rates of weight loss, miscarriage, and thyroid issues. The offspring of female rats showed stunted growth and accelerated rates of sexual maturation.

5. Trade in:

canola or vegetable oil

If you are cooking with vegetable oils or using them for salads, now’s the time to pitch them out. These rancid, genetically-modified vegetable oils become trans-fats during processing, and cause heart disease and cancer because they are not real food, but are a chemically-altered fat which the body doesn’t recognize and cannot absorb. These substances are cheap to produce (think industrial waste by-products) and make huge profits for companies selling them.


olive oil, coconut oil, butter, or tallow or lard from animals on pasture

Healthy, traditional oils are loaded with nutrients and essential fatty acids, and support digestive, brain, endocrine, thyroid, and cardiovascular health. Foods with healthy fats are the most nutrient-dense foods on the earth. Some of the most important, fat-soluble vitamins found in fats are Vitamins A, D, E, and K – and those are essential to helping us absorb the nutrients found in many other foods, including vegetables, fruits, grains, and legumes.

Read Do You Eat Butter or Margarine for Health?

6. Trade in:

toxic, commercial cleaners from the grocery store

Many disinfectants used in commercial cleaning products are considered pesticides by the EPA.  Products containing bleach (“ultra” concentrated) or quaternary ammonium chlorides (“quats”) are corrosive, that is they can cause permanent eye damage if spilled or splashed. Chlorine bleach is a powerful lung irritant and can form toxic compounds in fumes if combined with other cleaners such as ammonia or strong acids like toilet bowl cleaners. Many of these products have been tested and declared endocrine disruptors and are linked to reproductive damage and alterations in specific genders, and cancer.


safe, non-toxic, natural cleaners like Dr. Bronner’s Castille Soap, vinegar & baking soda, lemon, olive oil, and grapefruit seed oil extract. Dilute your mixtures in a spray bottle with filtered water and experiment with how much you need to do your cleaning.

7. Trade in:

plastic containers used for food storage or water bottles

Many plastic containers contain BPA and other harmful petro-chemicals that can cause interference in the endocrine system, hormone function, and can lead to the development of cancer.


stainless steel, glass, and ceramic (lead-free) containers

Try stainless steel for water and stainless steel, glass, or ceramic for cooking and storage. Most ceramic cookware and containers produced in the U.S. are lead-free, check to make sure the manufacturer doesn’t use this chemical in their products.

8. Trade in:

canned products like beans and tomatoes

BPA, found in cans, interferes with hormonal activity in the body and gets stored in your cells. Also, aluminum cans can leech aluminum into your food, which has been liked to Alzheimer’s and other degenerative mental disorders.


dried bean and fresh tomatoes (or freeze them for when they are out-of-season).  Or, consider not eating tomatoes until they are in season since even jarring your own at home exposes you to BPA in the lining of the jar lid.

9. Trade in:

refined table salt

Refined table salt is primarily composed of sodium chloride and causes the body to retain water in its effort to isolate the toxin being stored in the body – hence the “puffiness” or swelling associated with salt consumption. Refined salts are processed and subjected to high heat, virtually eliminating all healthy trace minerals and nutrients, and leaving behind toxic chemicals which make our bodies sick.


real sea salt

Real salt that hasn’t been refined is essential to health and contains important trace and other major minerals that are largely missing from our diets like potassium, magnesium, calcium, zinc, iodine, manganese, and phosphorus. Good brands include Himalayan Pink Salt, Celtic Sea Salt, and Brittany Salt.

10. Instead of buying new:

buy something used at a thrift store, garage sale, or on Craigslist, or borrow or trade from a friend or relative

11. Instead of washing your clothes on warm:

use cold water

I’ve been washing all my family’s clothes in cold water for over a decade, and our clothes still come clean. Use a clothes line instead of your dryer. If you still use a dryer, ditch toxic dryer sheets. To avoid your clothes being full of static, make sure you don’t over-dry them in the dryer (which will also save on electricity).

12. Trade in:

tap water

Tap water is notoriously full of many chemicals and heavy metals.  It is nearly impossible for city reclamation filtration to remove substances from water like caffeine, medications, and many other chemicals and toxins. See how the tap water in your city ranks in a list of the best tap water from all over the U.S. from the Environmental Working Group. Recently, a startling report came out about Hexavalent Chromium, a carcinogenic substance being found in tap water of 31 U.S. cities.


filtered water

Invest in a good water filtration system for your sink or house. For some good recommendations and some useful information about water filtration, visit The Urban Homemaker.

Other water filtration systems: Berkey Water System

LifeSource whole-house water filtration

Here’s a list of water filtration companies (and other eco-products), state-by-state on the Organic Consumers’ Association site.