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Business

Flash in the Pan

Walmart jumps on the local food bandwagon

—Ari LeVaux

Once reviled as a seven-letter word representing the myriad evils of capitalism, Walmart has, in recent years, gone a bit greenish. Hybrid 18-wheelers haul Walmart goods around the world’s roads. Windmills and other renewable energy sources supply power to many company stores. And now the world’s largest retailer has embraced the virtues of locally and sustainably produced food.

An October 14 company press release reads more like the mission statement of your local nonprofit food co-op than a communication from the world’s largest retailer:

“Walmart today launched its new global commitment to sustainable agriculture that will help small and medium-sized farmers expand their businesses, get more income for their products, and reduce the environmental impact of farming, while strengthening local economies and providing customers around the world with long-term access to affordable, high-quality, fresh food.”

Walmart’s definition of “local” means food that’s produced in the same state in which it is sold, and the company aims to have at least nine percent of the produce sold in its U.S. stores meet this criteria by 2015. In other countries, the target percentage rises—to 30 percent in Canadian stores and 50 percent in Indian and Chinese Walmarts. By 2015, the retail behemoth aims to have sold one billion dollars worth of food from one million small and medium-sized farmers, while boosting those farmers’ incomes by 10 to 15 percent. The company will also make efforts to keep track of its suppliers’ use of pesticides, water, and energy and provide training to farmers to help them reduce their resource use. In addition to encouraging farming practices that produce more food with fewer resources and less waste, Walmart also intends to assist its farmers in crop selection, including plans to work with southern tobacco farmers in hopes of convincing them to switch to growing blueberries.

These initiatives dovetail with Walmart’s new Heritage Agriculture program, which focuses on encouraging the production of regional crops that have declined in recent years. Walmart’s Ron McCormick, senior director for strategic food sourcing, told Food Safety News that the economic decline of many rural farming regions was one reason that prompted Walmart’s interest in establishing a connection with local food producers. He says many areas throughout the U.S. that were once supported by thriving, agricultural economies now have a Walmart store or food distribution center. “It made sense to us, that if we could revitalize those economies, it would let us buy fresher product for our customers and save food miles. At the same time, we would be supporting many rural communities that support our stores.”

It may seem out of character for Walmart to act as an agent for positive change, but remember: The only thing Walmart could do that would truly be out of character would be to knowingly undermine its bottom line. Like everything else it does, the promotion of sustainable, local agriculture is a calculated move to increase profits—if the corporate brainstem were to determine that reconciling quantum mechanics with Newtonian physics would boost sales of cheap bath towels, it would probably do that as well.

Compared to quantum mechanics, the economic advantages of local food are straightforward and easy to calculate. The market for this kind of food is booming, and of course, the company wants to cash in. But Walmart is even more interested in the opportunities embodied in the popular locavore’s mantra that the average particle of food travels 1,500 miles from field to plate. This inefficiency provides a huge opportunity for the company with the world’s largest food supply chain to further streamline its operations. That’s where the Heritage Agriculture program comes in, encouraging the cultivation of crops that history has shown grow well in certain regions—especially areas that surround the company’s 40 food distribution centers. This builds long-term efficiency into Walmart’s supply chain, saving money on transport and packaging, while adding shelf life to its perishable produce. The ensuing cost savings should help Walmart toward the goal of improving the bottom line of its produce suppliers by 10 to15 percent.

Another way the company hopes to increase the income of the farmers it works with is to deal directly with producers and eliminate middlemen. This seems innocuous enough at first glance, but it also sounds like one of the mechanisms behind Walmart’s habit of killing Main Street businesses in countless towns that it has moved into. Cutting out the middleman and dealing directly with suppliers, while using its huge purchasing power as leverage, is how Walmart has been able to infamously starve out its competition. It’s possible your neighborhood food co-op will lose both suppliers and customers to Wally World.

And while nine percent local food certainly adds up to a lot of local food over the years, that leaves 91 percent of Walmart’s food purchased from distant factory farms. Walmart continues to buy tomatoes from farms in Immokalee, Florida, where some of the nation’s worst labor atrocities have been documented, including instances of what qualifies as slavery.

But despite the red flags about the company, it’s hard to argue that Walmart’s buying into local produce is a bad thing. Especially since in recent years, many agriculture advocates have become frustrated with the lack of interest corporate grocers have shown towards locally grown food. Now that big bad Walmart has jumped on board the local food bandwagon, hopefully other corporations will follow suit. We live in a capitalist society, for better or for worse, and capitalism can be very effective at getting things done. Walmart’s new local food initiatives may be driven purely by the realization that saving the world is a good thing because it will help guarantee the survival of the global economy it wishes to dominate. But if so, well, maybe we should be hoping for Walmart to decide that solving global warming is good for business as well.


Tomatoes

Q: I’ve got tons of ripe tomatoes on the vine, but I’m worried the plants aren’t long for the world because the frost is coming. Any ideas for an easy way to put away lots of tomatoes? —Tomatoes, I Say

A: Faced with a similar circumstance, I recently made a batch of catsup.

For five quarts of sliced tomatoes—about 30 medium-sized fruits—slice two large onions and liquefy the tomatoes and onions together in a food processor. I also added a few pickled peppers and carrots that had good flavor but had gone soggy. That gave some spice and complexity to the final product.

Simmer the mixture for about half an hour, then push it through a food sieve or food mill. Return to the pot—ideally a thick-bottomed pot to avoid hot spots and scalding—and simmer slowly, stirring often. In a different pot, simmer three cups of vinegar—I used vinegar from that jar of pickled peppers and carrots—with a six-inch stick of cinnamon, two teaspoons of cloves, and a head of minced garlic.

After 30 minutes, kill the heat under the vinegar. 

When the tomato and onion mixture has almost reached the consistency of catsup, pour the vinegar mixture through a strainer to filter out the spices and into the pot. The vinegar will dilute the catsup slightly, so continue to simmer a little longer until it’s thick, but remember that the catsup will thicken when it cools, so you don’t have to reduce it all the way to catsup consistency. While the catsup is still hot, ladle it into clean, sterile, pint-sized canning jars. Screw on clean, sterile lids, and process for 10 minutes in a water bath.

Creative ideas for your homegrown tomatoes

—Family Features

Edible gardening is becoming a popular way for Americans to unwind while saving money on their grocery bills. Both novices and expert gardeners can run out of ideas for their luscious homegrown tomatoes and thinking of new recipes can become overwhelming.

Here are some creative ways to make tomatoes exciting again:

  • Salsa. For a simple salsa, start with the basics, and chop up some of your fresh tomatoes; add onion, garlic, cilantro, and jalapeños. Now, try adding new ingredients like corn, black beans, or even raspberries. For a different treat, add mashed avocado to your basic salsa for a chunky, California-style guacamole. 
  • Soup. For delicious tomato-basil bisque, cut up your freshly grown tomatoes, and remove the seeds. Add them to a pot with diced onion, carrots, garlic, a little vegetable broth, and lots of fresh basil. Allow the mixture to simmer for about 20 minutes, and then use a hand blender to puree. 

    Add a little milk to the pot for a creamier soup. Prefer chile? Add some chile powder and bell peppers instead of the basil, then after blending, toss in a can or two of beans. Use two types, like cannellini and kidney, for added color and texture.
  • Pizza. Homemade pizza can be easy and is always a delicious treat for everyone in the family. You can use nearly anything for a crust. Kids may enjoy making individual pizzas using bagels, English muffins, or slices of bread. Flat breads and wraps work, too. Once you have selected your crust, brush with a little olive oil, and toast in a 400°F oven for a few minutes. Remove the crust from the oven, and start creating. 
  • For sauce, try pizza sauce, salsa, pesto, BBQ sauce, or just some chopped fresh tomatoes. Add whatever you desire—pepperoni, grilled chicken, onions, basil, peppers, mushrooms, olives, pineapple, roasted vegetables, spinach… you get the idea. 

Now, top with cheese like grated parmesan, crumbled feta or blue cheese, fresh mozzarella, provolone… don’t be afraid to experiment.

Pop your creation into a hot oven, and bake for about 8-10 minutes or until the cheese melts and bubbles.

Beyond the BLT:

Sandwiches don’t have to be boring. Use a panini press, or grill to liven things up. 

  • Bread. A thickly sliced multigrain, a loaf of freshly baked Italian bread, an “everything” bagel, or even pita bread can make your sandwich more appealing.
  • Bacon. Try thickly sliced peppercorn bacon, ham, salami, roast beef, or turkey. For even more variety, substitute fresh mushrooms or a slice of fresh mozzarella cheese.
  • Lettuce. Maybe. Or maybe you would prefer spinach, basil, grilled vegetables, hot peppers, or sprouts.

Harvest those tomatoes, and enjoy! For these recipes and more, visit www.groyourown.miraclegro.com.


Poinsettias

Gardening with Charlie

—Kathy Bond-Borie, Guest Columnist

Caring for Blooming Gifts

Poinsettias, African violets, cyclamen, azaleas, holiday cacti, and kalanchoe—all are popular holiday gifts to give and receive. But once they are settled in their new homes, how do we keep them healthy and thriving? Here are some tips to keep in mind. Include the key points on a care tag with the plants you give as gifts:

  • Keep soil moist, not wet.  Saturate the soil with room temperature water in the morning so foliage can dry before nighttime. If water drains out immediately, the plant is root-bound and needs to be repotted with fast-draining soilless potting mix. Water cyclamen and African violets from the bottom by setting them in a tray of water for a few minutes and letting the soil soak up water.
  • Turn on the lights. Flowering houseplants often don’t rebloom because of insufficient light. Place plants in a south-facing window, or set them under full-spectrum grow lights.
  • Provide optimum temperatures. Indoor temperatures of 55 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit are usually adequate for most flowering houseplants, although tropicals such as holiday cacti and gardenias need cooler temperatures of 60 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit to set buds.
  • Fertilize. Use a dilute soluble fertilizer according to label directions when plants are in active growth and flowering. When plants take a rest, stop fertilizing.

Once a month, flush the pots for a few minutes until water drains from the holes to remove any built-up fertilizer salts.

  • Raise the humidity. Many flowering houseplant species are accustomed to high, year-round humidity. Run a humidifier near the plants, or group the plants together on a two-inch layer of pebbles in a tray of water. The water should not touch the pots.
  • Control pests. Oftentimes, you can control spider mites by dunking plants upside down in a sink full of soapy water. Sprays of insecticidal soap or horticultural oil will control many pests.

For more tips and garden information, visit www.garden.org.

A former floral designer and interior plantscaper, Kathy Bond-Borie has spent 20 years as a garden writer/editor, including her current role as horticultural editor for the National Gardening Association. She loves designing with plants and spends more time playing in the garden—planting and trying new combinations—than sitting and appreciating it.


Pumpkin Rolls

Giving thanks for family traditions

Mix it up with Jenny

—Jenny Harper

It’s true—the kitchen is the heart of the home. Ever notice how people always gather there? Whether baking treats, making dinner, or spending time with family and friends, the kitchen is my favorite place to be. Since my day job is consumer test kitchen project manager for Nestlé Test Kitchens, you can bet I love to stir things up. This column lets me pass along to you some of my best recipes, tips, and baking secrets.

When I was growing up, we had certain Thanksgiving traditions. Most memorable for me was that our extended family would often gather at one of my aunts’ houses. The adults would squeeze together around the dining room table, and the kids would sit together at a smaller table on folding chairs. To this day, I wonder just how everyone fit into their houses! We always ate on the good dishes, one of my uncles would always carve the turkey, and we kids always tried to hide our green vegetables under the mashed potatoes. Sound familiar?

I’m thankful for these memories and the comfort of family traditions. And I’m grateful that as our families grow, we can share these memories and make new ones together.

Thanksgiving dinner wouldn’t be the same without the familiar dishes that everyone loves. One recipe that is a tradition with us is this classic pumpkin roll. It’s got that terrific spiced pumpkin flavor, a sweet, creamy filling, and it looks fantastic when you serve it. It’s fun to make, too. If you want some helpful tips, watch the how-to video online at www.verybestbaking.com/video.

What are some of your favorite Thanksgiving traditions? You can share some of them, along with favorite recipes, at www.verybestbaking.com/Community.

Libby’s Pumpkin Roll

Makes 10 servings

Cake

  • ¼ cup powdered sugar (to sprinkle on towel)
  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2/3 cup Libby’s 100% Pure Pumpkin
  • 1 cup walnuts, chopped (optional)

Filling

  • 1 package (eight ounces) cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
  • 6 tablespoons butter or margarine, softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Powdered sugar (optional for decoration)

For Cake:

Preheat oven to 375° F. Grease 15 x 10-inch jelly roll pan; line with wax paper. Grease and flour paper. Sprinkle a thin, cotton kitchen towel with powdered sugar.

Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, and salt in small bowl. Beat eggs and granulated sugar in large mixer bowl until thick. Beat in pumpkin. Stir in flour mixture. Spread evenly into prepared pan. Sprinkle with nuts.

Bake for 13 to 15 minutes or until top of cake springs back when touched. (If using a dark-colored pan, begin checking for doneness at 11 minutes.) Immediately loosen and turn cake onto prepared towel. Carefully peel off paper. Roll up cake and towel together, starting with narrow end. Cool on wire rack.

For Filling:

Beat cream cheese, one cup powdered sugar, butter, and vanilla extract in small mixer bowl until smooth. Carefully unroll cake. Spread cream cheese mixture over cake. Re-roll cake. Wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least one hour. Sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving, if desired.

Tip:

Be sure to put enough powdered sugar on the towel when rolling up the cake so it will not stick.

Nutrition information per serving: 370 calories; 150 calories from fat; 16g total fat; 10g saturated fat; 105mg cholesterol; 280mg sodium; 52g carbohydrate; 1g fiber; 43g sugars; 5g protein; 50 percent Vitamin A.

Jenny Harper is consumer test kitchen project manager for Nestlé Test Kitchens and VeryBestBaking.com.


Sensible snacking

—Family Features

Fifty-six percent of Americans eat three or more snacks per day, according to the United States Department of Agriculture’s What We Eat in America 2007-2008 study. Snacking sensibly while trying to balance work, the kids’ after-school activities, and the season’s get-togethers, however, is not easy.

One way to help control appetites and feel energized is to enjoy nutritious snacks. This is especially important when eating on the go or gearing up for holiday parties. So the next time that afternoon hunger pang rolls around, munch on these simple tips and delicious recipes.

Combine Food Groups

Turkey Club Crackers

For a quick pick-me-up between meals, try this smaller version of a sandwich. To prepare twelve servings, simply combine:

  • ¾ cup chopped lettuce
  • 1 cup chopped, cooked turkey breast
  • ¾ cup shredded Swiss cheese
  • 2 tablespoons Grey Poupon Country Dijon Mustard  (made with coarse ground mustard)
  • 1 tablespoon reduced fat mayo
  • 1/3 cup chopped tomatoes
  • 24 Triscuit crackers

Spread mixture on top of crackers.

Chicken Divan Toppers

This is a warm, savory treat that’s great for entertaining. For eight servings, (two topped crackers each):

  • 1 sliced, cooked, boneless, and skinless chicken breast (1/4 pound)
  • 2 tablespoons reduced fat  sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon Coarse Ground Mustard
  • 16 small cheddar cheese slices
  • 16 broccoli florets
  • 16 Triscuit Rosemary and Olive Oil crackers

Combine mixture ingredients in a bowl. Place crackers on a baking sheet, and top with the chicken mixture, adding one cheddar cheese slice and one broccoli floret to each cracker. Bake at 350°F until the cheese melts.

Visit the Produce Aisle

Tomato Bruschetta Dijon

Be sure to stock up on fresh produce, such as nutritious vine-ripened tomatoes, to make this tasty twist on serving vegetables for the holidays. For 16 servings, (two topped bread slices each):

  • 2 tablespoons Grey Poupon Dijon Mustard
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 2 cups chopped tomatoes
  • ½ cup sliced green onions
  • ½ cup black olives
  • 32 thin, toasted baguette-style French bread slices

Mix first six ingredients together in a bowl. Spoon one tablespoon mixture onto each slice of bread.

Go for Grain

Sweet Dijon Cheddar and Pear Crackers

Experts recommend eating more whole grains, so consider this flavorful snack.

To prepare four servings:

  • 8 whole grain crackers
  • 8 thin slices cheddar cheese
  • 8 thin slices pear
  • 2 teaspoons Grey Poupon Savory Honey Mustard

Layer one thin slice of cheddar cheese and pear per cracker. Top each cracker with a touch of mustard, using two teaspoons total.

On the Go?

When packing a lunch, consider bringing along whole-grain pretzels to dip in mustard for a low-fat snack. Vegetables and honey mustard are low calorie and keep hunger at bay in between meals.

For more recipe ideas and tips for healthy lifestyles, visit www.kraftfoods.com, and click the “Healthy Living” tab.

     

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