First Ramps of the Season

Look what I got today from Harmony Valley, WI, via

First Ramps of the season
Shot with my Hipstamatic for iPhone1

Allium tricoccum — also known as the ramp, spring onion, ramson, wild leek, wild garlic, and, in French, ail sauvage and ail des bois — is an early spring vegetable with a strong garlicky odor and a pronounced onion flavor. A perennial member of the onion family (Alliaceae), the plant has broad, smooth, light green leaves, often with deep purple or burgundy tints on the lower stems, and a scallion-like stalk and bulb. Both the white lower leaf stalks and the broad green leaves are edible. The flower stalk appears after the leaves have died back, unlike the similar Allium ursinum, in which leaves and flowers can be seen at the same time. Ramps grow in groups strongly rooted just beneath the surface of the soil. They are found from the U.S. state of South Carolina to Canada. They are popular in the cuisines of the rural upland South and in the Canadian province of Quebec when they emerge in the springtime. They have a growing popularity in upscale restaurants throughout North America.

A thick growth of ramps near Lake Michigan in Illinois in the 17th century gave the city of Chicago its name, after the area was described by 17th-century explorer Robert Cavelier, sieur de La Salle, and explained by his comrade, naturalist-diarist Henri Joutel.

The plant called Chicagou in the language of native tribes was once thought to be Allium cernuum, the nodding wild onion, but research in the early 1990s showed the correct plant was the ramp. The ramp has strong associations with the folklore of the central Appalachian Mountains. Fascination and humor have fixated on the plant’s extreme pungency. Jim and Bronson Comstock founded The West Virginia Hillbilly, a weekly humor and heritage newspaper, in 1957, and ramps were a frequent topic. For one legendary issue, Jim Comstock introduced ramp juice into the printer’s ink, invoking the ire of the U.S. Postmaster General. The mountain folk of Appalachia have long celebrated spring with the arrival of the ramp, believing it to have great power as a tonic to ward off many ailments of winter. A ramp bath was featured in the film Where the Lilies Bloom (1974) about life in North Carolina.

(click here to continue reading Allium tricoccum – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.)


  1. Lens: John S, Film: Kodot XGrizzled []

USDA Organic inspectors lame excuses

Elections do matter, part the 8497th. Under the Bush administration, topics like food safety and compliance with organic regulations were deemed not important, and thus not enforced. Listen to some of these excuses the USDA made for why they couldn’t bother to do their jobs:

Peppers and Hues

Under normal circumstances, the program gives preliminary accreditation to certifying agents based on a review of paperwork they submit. That allows them to begin certifying and inspecting organic producers and processors. But the program is supposed to follow up with a site visit to inspect a certifier’s operations before making accreditation permanent.

In five cases, the inspector general found, officials failed to make the follow-up visits, allowing the certifiers to operate for as long as seven years with only preliminary accreditation.

Officials at the program said that in three cases, involving certifiers operating in Bolivia, Israel and Turkey, they did not send staff members to make the inspections because the State Department had issued travel warnings about potentially dangerous conditions in those countries.

In two other cases, involving certifying agents in Australia and Canada, officials said that scheduling problems blocked them from arranging visits — in one instance for as long as five years.

[Click to continue reading U.S. to Ensure Spot Tests of Organic Foods –]

A joke, in other words.

Theoretically, the USDA is going to change its mission, and actually figure out how to make sure organic items in the grocery store are what they say they are, but since the USDA’s mission has been to support agribusinesses for most of its tenure, I’m skeptical until I see some actual results.

The Department of Agriculture said on Friday that it would begin enforcing rules requiring the spot testing of organically grown foods for traces of pesticides, after an auditor exposed major gaps in federal oversight of the organic food industry.

Spot testing is required by a 1990 law that established the basis for national organic standards, but in a report released on Thursday by the office of Phyllis K. Fong, the inspector general of agriculture, investigators wrote that regulators never made sure the testing was being carried out.

The report pointed to numerous shortcomings at the agriculture department’s National Organic Program, which regulates the industry, including poor oversight of some organic operations overseas and a lack of urgency in cracking down on marketers of bogus organic products.

Lemon Cucumbers

At least they are increasing the budget, a bit. In the federal budget, these still are afterthought numbers, less than the cost of one day in Iraq, but it is a step in the right direction at least. Perhaps the producers of organic products could contribute a fraction of their sales?

The organic program’s budget increased to $6.9 million for the current fiscal year, from $3.9 million the previous year, Mr. McEvoy said, while its staff is slated to nearly double, to 31 from 16. The Obama administration is seeking to increase the budget to $10 million in the next fiscal year and allow the program to expand to about 40 employees.

Sales of organic products reached $26 billion last year and, until the recession hit, had been growing by double-digit percentages each year.

$6,900,000 ÷ $26,000,000,000 = 0.02653846153846155%, give or take, and still seems like a pittance to me.

Pesticides in your peaches

Monica Eng of the Chicago Tribune writes about peaches, pesticides, and best practices:

Preliminary 2008 U.S. Department of Agriculture tests obtained by the Chicago Tribune show that more than 50 pesticide compounds showed up on domestic and imported peaches headed for U.S. stores. Five of the compounds exceeded the limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency, and six of the pesticide compounds present are not approved for use on peaches in the United States.

These are the types of findings that have landed peaches on one environmental group’s “Dirty Dozen” list — 12 fruits and vegetables that retain the highest levels of pesticide residues — and give many consumers pause as they shop grocery aisles. It seems that peaches’ delicate constitutions, fuzzy skins and susceptibility to mold and pests cause them to both need and retain pesticides at impressive rates.

To get some hard facts and new insights, the Tribune paid for lab tests on California organic peaches bought here and local farmers market peaches from Illinois and Michigan.

The newspaper sent these samples to the same federal lab where the USDA does its pesticide testing and found promising results. Of the 50 compounds the Tribune had tested for, one showed up on the organic peaches and three or fewer pesticides were detected on the Michigan and Illinois peaches.

[Click to continue reading Pesticides in your peaches: Tribune and USDA studies find pesticides, some in excess of EPA rules, in the fragrant fruit —]

Blueberries, Peaches, Strawberries, Plums et al
[fruit at the Green City Market]

This factoid disturbed me:

More surprising, however, was the presence of the unapproved pesticide fludioxonil on the organic peaches from California. According to Shane, the pesticide is often used on conventional peaches postharvest to slow rot and extend shelf life.

University of Illinois entomologist and extension specialist Rick Weinzierl suggested that the unapproved pesticide could have come from drift or cross-contamination at processing facilities. “But there is always the chance that a farmer is not doing what he is saying,” he added.

Rayne Pegg of the USDA’s agriculture marketing service confirmed that fludioxonil is not an approved compound for organic farming but added, “as long as the concentrations don’t exceed 5 percent of EPA tolerances, it can be sold as organic.” In fact, the USDA allows such levels of any legal pesticide to be present on organic produce. In the wake of recent allegations about slipping standards in the USDA’s National Organic Program, Congress has widened a probe into the NOP and recently USDA announced an independent audit of the program. The organic world was further rocked last month by a controversial British review of nutrient studies that challenged the nutritional benefits of organic produce.

Exactly why we should be paying attention to the Food Safety Enhancement legislation – organic produce shouldn’t have pesticide on it, that defeats the whole purpose of being organic. The testing should be rigorous as well, most of the items labeled organic in the supermarket have never been tested by a federal scientist.

As to Ms. Eng’s last point, not many people who choose to purchase organic produce do so believing they are buying extra nutrients, we buy organic foods so as to avoid ingesting toxic chemicals1

According to the Environmental Working Group, there are twelve kinds of produce (PDF) that contain the most pesticides. They call them The Dirty Dozen, and suggest avoiding non-organic versions of these as much as possible. There’s even an iPhone app that lists the Dirty Dozen, and the Clean Fifteen.

What are the Dirty Dozen? In reverse order (the items with the most pesticide residue first):

peaches, apples, bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, kale, lettuce, grapes (imported)2, carrots, pears. The list of 47 fruit and veggies is here check it out. Avocado, for instance, has one of the lowest pesticide loads – so there’s no need to purchase organic avocados.

  1. well, as much as possible – there is too much toxicity to avoid it completely. But if you can, by choice, remove some known carcinogens from your diet, why wouldn’t you? []
  2. domestic grapes 21 of 47 []

Sidewalk Salads

I think this would be a fun field trip, traipsing around the West Loop with Nancy Klehm ( I’d want to wash the dog piss off of anything I foraged though, perhaps in a bath of lye and bleach1.

urban survival 2005

Armed with pruning shears and a paper bag, Nance Klehm walks along a Chicago sidewalk, pointing out plants and weeds that can make a tasty salad or stir-fry.
She snips stalks from a weed with downy leaves and white powder commonly called goosefoot or lamb’s quarters.

“I collect a lot of this,” said Klehm, 43. “It’s indistinguishable from spinach when you cook it. I never, never grow spinach or other greens except kale. Everything else I forage.”

Klehm is among a small group of urban foragers across the United States who collect weeds and plants from city streets and gardens to use in meals and medicines. Some are survivalists while others are environmentalists or even gourmands seeking new flavours for cooking.

Klehm leads small groups of about 20 people a few times a year on urban forages in Chicago.

[Click to continue reading Urban foragers feast on sidewalk salads – Yahoo! News]

Also – seems like there is a lot of industrial pollution in the soil in the city, especially the older parts of the city like the West Loop area. Used to be a lot of factories around here in the days before the EPA was even a glimmer of an idea. Not to mention the Fisk coal plant nearby, spewing heavy metals.

Still, an interesting topic.

  1. kidding, almost []