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Fact or Fiction: Halloween Edition

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Halloween is here! With it comes a “fangtastic” day of treats and shrieks sure to bring laughs and sweets to the community and most families everywhere. But, Halloween can also be a dangerous time for little ones so be sure to trick-or-treat in daylight or use flashlights and protective lighting at night to ensure the safety of yourselves and your little ones. Here’s a few Halloween themed facts and blobs of fiction to secure a safe and fun Halloween. We’ll start with an easy one:

  1. SoulShine is one of the few preschools in Georgia to offer farm to table meals.

Fact: It’s frightening how few of schools offer farm-to-table meals, but SoulShine boasts an array of fresh, locally-grown fruits and vegetables featured in every meal every day. Our meals consist of produce that is grown and harvested in our own front yard garden!

  1. Fruits and vegetables don’t need to be washed before eating.

Fiction: Before enjoying a game of bobbing for apples or giving out fruit as treats, the FDA recommends washing fruits under cool running water to get rid of bacteria that has accumulated between its picking and transportation.

  1. Party favors and finger foods such as sandwiches, cheese, seafood, and other dairy products are fine to sit at room temperature throughout the night.

Fiction: Bacteria spookily multiplies on food items at alarming rates if kept at room temperature.  Keep all food items chilled until ready to serve and be mindful that they are not set out for more than two hours to prevent foodborne illnesses.

  1. When preparing ghoulish Halloween themed dishes such as “Devil’s eggs,” cage free labeled products are better than industrially grown ones.

Fiction: This is not always the case. In fact, most labels boasting “cage free” or “free range” are often subject to equally inhumane treatment used in industrial farming. It is important to be aware of a company’s practices and history before purchasing their products.

  1. It is best to “treat” your child to light meal or snack before trick-or-treating.

Fact: A child who has eaten before leaving the house is less likely to nibble on uninspected treats while trick-or-treating.

  1. A 3-year-old can comprehend more than 1,000 words and will learn anywhere from 1,500-2,000 in the year.

Fact: So, be sure to fill your kids with descriptive words about Halloween and its practices today! Teach your child words like tradition, festive, and celebration.

  1. Commercially ground beef and fast-food hamburgers contain ammonia from being washed.

Fact: It’s a haunting realization that only in 2012 fast-food giants McDonald’s, Taco Bell, and Burger King announced they would discontinue the method of using a ammonia and water mix to wash their meats in. Unfortunately, this haunting practice is still being used as preparation in beef factories.

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  1. That adorable, over-sized Halloween costume will be perfect for your child.

Fiction: The CDC advises that all outfits worn are well-fitted and flexible to prevent falls, injuries and other accidents that may occur on the streets with your child while trick-or-treating.

  1. Always test face paint and make-ups before trying them on to ensure a fun night void of allergic reactions.

Fact: Test face paint on a small portion of the skin hours before a full application. Many paints that are made are not FDA-approved according to consumer reports.

10. Keep your Jack-o’-lantern fresh with a solution of bleach water.

Fact: When attempting to preserve your Halloween jack-o’-lantern it is important to completely clean out your pumpkin and keep it free from dirt and debris. Spray your pumpkin with a solution that is 1 tablespoon of bleach to a quart of water and let sit for 20 minutes to kill off the bacteria that cause molds for up to 10 days.

Now, go out and have one spooktacular Halloween!

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A Spotlight on Local Farms

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Food: It’s a recurring hot topic in the media and on the lips of citizens all over the world. When we’re not discussing which foods are best to put into our bodies, we divvy out tips on how to prepare certain foods, or we rally for the whopping 852 million struggling with hunger everyday, even more so the 1.2 billion that live on less than $1.25 a day. A constant murmur on the lips of millions today is how the food we eat should be grown. And why shouldn’t it be? Food is not only a basic necessity for humanity, but it’s probably one of our most pleasurable pastimes. There are television channels, shows, books, magazines, blogs– you name it, all devoted to food. This isn’t a new phenomena. During the medieval era upper-class citizens regularly indulged in multi-course meals of exotic meats and tasty sweets. Even the elite in ancient Rome were known for their decadent feasting that warranted designated areas to vomit in-between meals.

Yet, as time has passed, our population has risen and over the years our quality of food has become muddled, or improved depending on your interpretation. At the moment, the farming practices in place that are approved by the government leaves many fruits and vegetables covered in waxy, pesticide residue. Our meats are the product of poorly fed animals pumped with steroids, and our grains are riddled with ingredients that cause violent allergic reactions. With this current fight for healthy foods it’s no wonder why local communities are taking up farming to provide residents with alternatives to mainstream practices.

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There are at least a dozen local farms located in and around the city of Atlanta. In extending counties, the numbers continue to grow upwards. Most of these farms started as backyard projects or family owned operations until its toilers felt they had a much higher calling to provide for their communities and not just themselves. At SoulShine we proudly support and encourage the local farming businesses in our area. Our own farmer Bremen James had his roots in the rising local farm scene and currently uses his talents to cultivate our front yard garden complete with vegetables and plants used in our lunches, snacks, and projects. Our food is also obtained through Your DeKalb Farmer’s Market which hosts dozens of local farm’s tasty fresh produce. Here’s a list of local farms in the immediate area that we support, promote, and suggest for you to hop over and start picking:

Brown’s Muscadine Farm- For patrons living closer to the south side of Fulton county and enjoy the comfort of picking pesticide free muscadines, then Brown’s Muscadine Farm may be the place for you! Muscadines can be used to make juice, jam, and wine as well as eaten whole. Complete with picnic tables and flush toilets in the field, Brown’s Muscadine Farm is the place for muscadine enthusiasts.

4853 Evans Dr, Union City, GA 30219. Phone: 770-964-5304. Open: Monday – Saturday from 10 am to 6 pm, Sunday 1 pm to 6. Directions: Payment: Cash, Check. Prices: $1.50/lb.

Crack in the Sidewalk Farmlet- Boasting peppers, okra, tomatoes, lettuce, broccoli, potatoes and so much more, Crack in the Sidewalk Farmlet started as a home garden that expanded into the community during 2008. You can purchase their goods every week at the Grant Park Farmers Market on Sundays from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and at the East Atlanta Village Farmers Market on Thursdays from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m

Ernest N. Harris- For jelly makers and canning enthusiasts, the best place to pick for ripe, plump concord grapes is Ernest N. Harris farms. You could make a batch of jelly so sweet and delicious that Welch’s would be ashamed.

8985 Clark Road, Fairburn, GA. Phone: 770-964-9405.

Foxbrier Farm- Time is running out for blueberry season and most blueberries are done. However, call ahead to Foxbrier Farms if blueberry picking is what your heart desires. Utilizing natural practices in their cultivation, Fox Brier Farm’s berries have been sold and used in restaurants all over Atlanta including Bristrok Niko, The Hill at Serenbe, The Farmhouse at Serenbe, Sweetwater Brewing Company, and Rathbuns.

12000 Hutcheson Ferry Road, Palmetto, GA 30268. Phone: 404 234 7023. Email: foxbrierblueberries@gmail.com. Open: June through August, open availability for picking, call ahead if you want to pick up already picked berries; Best times to pick are 9 am to 11; or 5 pm to 8, to avoid heat!

Love is Love Farm- With a desire to spread awareness that young, landless farmers can build and maintain a successful farming organization, Love is Love Farms is certified organic and promotes community assistance and education. Located at Gaia Gardens near Decatur, Love is Love Farm is a great supporter of the community.

Oakleaf Mennonite Farm- Firm believers in giving back what is taken from our natural resources, Oakleaf Mennonite Farm grows fresh produce with the intention of feeding the body and soul. Located in East Atlanta Village about a mile south of Midway Pub.

Patchwork City Farms- As natural lovers of nature, Patchwork City Farms hosts plots that are certified naturally grown and they are committed to growing safe crops free of pesticides and herbicides. Patchwork City Farm looks to give back to the community by introducing farming to urban areas. They grow herbs, flowers, and seasonal vegetables that are sold through local farmers markets.

And these are just a handful of the many farms scattered across surrounding counties in Georgia. Be sure to visit http://www.pickyourown.org/GA.htm for a wider variety of farms to choose from! What are some of your favorite local farms?

 

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Free Range vs. Factory Poultry/Eggs

Health conscious shoppers have much to debate when strolling down grocery store aisles. Mulling over which vegetables to buy is only the beginning of a shopping trip. When it comes to eggs and meat, the question of whether to buy store brand over “cage-free” or “free range” products is often answered by consumer’s ethical choices. It’s no secret that most industrial meat raising practices are quite barbaric in nature. Meat producing farms, such as Tyson and its suppliers, have been known to brutally handle their livestock by shoving chickens into cages half their sizes, throwing them into trucks, pumping them with antibiotics which results in broken legs from massive weight gain, and debeaking chicks rendering natural habits like preening and eating into near impossible tasks.

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For the socially and morally conscious, this type of living for any being is deplorable. Most of us would think we’re making the right choice by paying a little more for the title of free range and organic if that means that the product has been raised and slaughtered humanely. Unfortunately, the USDA has extremely low standards and guidelines for what is considered free range. By government standards, free range animals must have access to outdoors. United Poultry Concerns notes that the door can simply be opened for five minutes and it would still be qualified as free range. These types of loop-holes the size of basketballs allow farms such as Springfield and Polyface Farms to raise their chickens cage free, but within dark, damp houses with reportedly so many chickens that “the floor [is] invisible.”

Whether one should buy cage free eggs over supermarket brands is another conflict shoppers endure. Consumers are willing to pay a few cents or even dollars more for labels that advertise ethical treatment. Time reported a survey conducted in Athens, GA which found that factory eggs sell for $1.69 a dozen, while cage free eggs go for $2.99. More so, organic brands sold for $3.59 upwards to $5.38! There’s no doubt the desire to eat animals that have been treated ethically is the focus of many consumers. But, studies reveal that not only are cage free organic eggs no different from industrial ones, some are even considered less safe due to free range hens laying eggs without antibiotics.

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It’s a sad realization that most foods are no longer safe in a conventional sense. While factories are doing their parts to ensure that consumers aren’t poisoned by disease ridden animals, the need for profit trumps any desire to humanely treat and prepare meats for sell. American hens lay a whopping 79 billion eggs a year resulting in a $7 billion industry. It’s no wonder why witnesses have reported that some chickens raised in free range environments have only gravel yards to roam with no vegetation. Still, others are forced to eat larvae from manure droppings around them and male chicks are killed in infancy since they can not lay eggs.

Billions of animals suffer tragic lives with brutal deaths for the sake of convenience and taste to the average American.  However, there is light at the end of the tunnel. For those searching for ethical, humane ways to eat meat the answers are simple: limit the amount of meat in your diet. When meat or eggs are bought they should come from local pasteurized farms like Berry Good Farms or The Georgia Mad Hatter. A simpler solution is to eliminate meat entirely. Depending on your ethics, there may be nothing wrong with the idea of eating meat, but regardless of who you are we have to admit that there is something very wrong with how the American meat industry operates. We must demand more from our foods to prolong the health of ourselves and loved ones.

Read here for more details on poultry and egg labeling.

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The Possible Extinction of Bees

I’m bringing home my baby bumblebee

won’t my mommy be so proud of me?

I’m bringing home my baby bumblebee

Ouch! He stung me…

The opening lyrics of this beloved children’s song is one often sung to and by our sprouts at SoulShine, as well as through preschools around the nation. This adorably silly song details a child bringing home a bumblebee to show their parent. The child is unexpectedly stung, then begins to squish up the baby bumblebee in hopes that the parent is proud. Realizing what a mess they’ve made the child then wipes off, (or licks, depending on your version) the mess in their hands proud to be “all clean.” Bees are a familiar presence in our lives, so much so that it seems strange to contemplate a reality in which children in the near future will sing this song and think of bumblebees as an archaic, ancient species the way we currently think of dinosaurs. Such stark pessimism is warranted considering the fact that honey bees, bumblebees, and other bee species dying off at alarming rates that shock scientists, farmers and citizens alike.

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It is estimated that a whopping three-quarters of the world’s food supply is reliant on the pollination from these magnificent creatures. Bees are one of the few organisms whose very nature directly benefits the human race as a whole due to their involvement in pollinating plants. Although flies, butterflies, and beetles boast pollinating abilities, a bee’s everyday duties and existence exclusively revolves around pollination. By simply eating their daily meals of nectar and pollen, bees possess the ability to help plants fertilize and multiply. Along with pollinating, honey bees, one of 20,000 different species of bees, creates one of the earth’s most nutritious natural sweeteners in the world: honey. Bees have a fascinating existence considering their very nature of living benefits the greater good of the humans.

However, in recent years human interference has become a burden to the livelihood of bees. Beginning in 1976, a trend has been documented throughout the years that have shown the devastating decline of feral honey bees and other bee species. In the past 75 years, the UK has noticed that bumblebees are dying at alarmingly rapid rates; two other bee species of the group have already been already declared extinct. On the other hand, the decline of honey bees is happening at such a distressing rate that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that bees and other pollinators face increased risk of extinction in part to global warming. Nevertheless, the issue of deterioration within the honey bee population extends far beyond the effects of global warming.

Damian blog about bees and insecticide  : Spring lures out the bees

The main factors include human interference and our creation of a flowerless landscape along with farming practices that involves the insistent use of pesticides on crops. As relayed through a discussion with Ted Talk, bee enthusiast and entomologist, Marla Spivak details these transgressions by explaining its origins in post-World War II when farming practices underwent a dramatic shift.  Many farmers stopped planting clover and alfalfa after the War; these cover crops are highly nutritious for bees and also a natural fertilizer that fixes nitrogen in the soil. In recent years the introduction of synthetic fertilizers and herbicides used to kill weeds have proven detrimental to the food supply for bees.

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Pesticides have become a major contributing factor in the disappearance of bees. Penn State University recently did a study that looked at the pollen collection of bees. Their research showed that in every batch of pollen that bees take home as food, at least six detectable pesticides are found within the pollen. Bees are virtually becoming poisoned by toxic chemicals each time they eat. Bees have become so affected in countries around the world that within the past few years farmers in China have had to hand pollinate their trees and plants by hand. Equipped with buckets of pollen, paintbrushes, and at times assistance from their children, these farmers spend their days in orchards individually pollinating each flower. Such a task is effortless to bees but an unnecessary stress for humans.

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Yet, all is not lost in the bee population. Although corporations like Monsanto have put profit above the well-being of living beings, we as citizens can do our parts to help fortify a future for bees and, furthermore, ourselves. First and foremost we must let go of our fears of bees and stop seeing them as pests. Instead, we need to see them for what they are; precious evolutionary organisms that aid and advances human health, subsistence, and our appreciation of physical beauty in the world. Next, it would behoove us all to plant flowers and plants in mass to promote healthy and natural ingredients for a bee’s diet, an organic option if you will. Clover, alfalfa, chives, onions, sage, and thyme are just a few plants that are highly beneficial to the protein intake of bees and can treat us to some great spices and additions in our meals.

Last year the European Union banned the use of three neonicotinoids in an attempt to aid the bee population, which gives us the hope that with enough pressure the US government will do the same. Signing petitions, getting the voice of our state representative, and being cautious of our food buying and intake can also help raise awareness and protection for bees. If we lose these extraordinary helpers, we lose a phenomenal convenience and a delicious comfort for our way of life. We can fix the error in our ways, which can also lead us to fix the errors we’ve created in nature.

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Marla Spivak on Why Bees Are Disappearing

 

 

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Vegan Cookies

Ms. Keisha made a few batches of deliciously moist cookies for our P.M. snack today. Combining equal parts sprouted quinoa, steel cut oats, and wheat flower with ground flax seed, our cookies boast a substantial amount of protein, fiber, iron, and calcium, as well as essential amino acids that keeps our Sprouts healthy, active, and filled with energy. Fruits, vegetables, and grains lose a significant amount of their nutritional value when cooked. To prevent this, Ms. Keisha prepared the quinoa using a method known as “sprouting” in which the quinoa is soaked in water overnight enabling it to “sprout” into an edible consistency that retains all of its nutritional value. The steel cut oats, which are less processed than rolled oats, also received the same treatment. Quinoa and flax seed are both high in protein and void of gluten. SoulShine proudly uses these “superfoods” prominently in our dishes!

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The Big Deal About GMO’s

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A core value at SoulShine is ensuring that its Sprouts prosper in a happy and healthy environment. We don’t encourage our little ones to put dangerous objects in their mouths, just as we don’t encourage them to intake junk products. At SoulShine, we take pride in doing our best to provide our sprouts with a diet of all-natural fruits and vegetables free of GMO’s and chemical treatment. 90% of all of our featured produce is organic and locally grown. Each one of our Sprouts receives the proper serving size recommended by the USDA, and each meal consists of a grain, dairy, and a fruit and/or vegetable.

Shannon Smith, owner of SoulShine, along with husband and farmer, Bremen James, are hard at work with the upkeep and expansion of SoulShine’s front yard garden. Complete with rows of Swiss chard, onions, tomatoes, and a plethora of other savory fruits and vegetables, SoulShine’s garden will grow until each plant has matured. Afterwards, they will then be picked, washed, diced, and cooked up into a tasty meal by SoulShine’s resident cook Keisha Murray. Until harvesting time, SoulShine supports local businesses by frequenting the Dekalb Famer’s Market. We also receive products from local food distributors The Turnip Truck and Nature’s Garden.

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Do you know what Hawaiian papayas, corn, potatoes, tomatoes, and soy have in common, besides ending up in delicious meals? All are the most common genetically modified organisms in America. If you’ve eaten any of these foods from your average grocery store, then you’ve likely ingested a genetically modified organism without even knowing. GMO’s can be a difficult modification to escape as an estimated 70% of conventional foods found on the shelves of supermarkets are unlabeled GMO products.

Unsure if that’s a good or bad thing? Even more confused about what a GMO is, or why it’s such a big deal? Don’t worry the confusion is warranted. Currently there is a vast amount of information and studies debating the risks and benefits of GMO’s, but finding the cold, hard facts are still muddy at best.

First thing’s first: what we do know is that according to the USDA a GMO is a living organism that ha(s) been genetically modified by inserting a gene from an unrelated species. In layman’s terms it’s any organism that’s DNA is altered by science. GMO’s have been a major topic on the lips of politicians, biochemists, farmers, activists, and concerned citizens over the past thirty years when the first genetically modified tomato was approved for human consumption in 1994. In 2008, Food Inc., a powerful, exposé documentary, introduced viewers to the controversial acronym as well as setting our sights on the company that leads much of the cultivation of GMO’s, Monsanto.

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The debate over GMO’s is wide and varied. Supporters argue that its benefits range in diversity and that GMO’s help feed the masses by ensuring that plants sustain life and growth in an otherwise unpredictable environment as the effects of global warming loom. Fruits and vegetables have been altered for generations through selective breeding, but through genetic altering scientists now can ensure that the best tasting, plumpest produce continues to grow in mass in spite of unpredictable weather, pests, and damaging molds and virus. On the other hand, opponents argue that not only is the process unnatural, but they point to correlations in a higher risk of cancer, a rise in childhood allergies, the growth of superweeds, genetic contamination, and the disappearance of butterflies and bees. The six biggest producers of GE seeds– Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow Agrosciences, BASF, Bayer, and Pioneer (DuPont)—are also the biggest producers of chemical herbicides and insecticides.

Now that the basics of GMO’s have been laid out, the more important issue to consider isn’t simply whether GMO’s in our food is “good” or “bad,” but instead why our choice as consumers to be informed of what’s in our foods has been ignored. We have a right to know the long term effects a product will have on our loved ones and ourselves especially when more stable, safer options are available. While GMO related products are banned from other nations like The U.K., France, and Germany, currently no labels, warnings, or long term studies of GMO’s benefits on our bodies, minds, and our planet have been provided to Americans, an unfortunate denial of information for consumers and our little ones everywhere.

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Sweet Children

Today some of the kids and I were discussing the fact that the oldest living human is now 116 years old.  Someone asked me how she was able to live for so long.  I had no answer, then a child chimed on.  She said that the woman was able to live so long, because she smiles and laughs a lot.  What a perfect response, I had to share it with everyone.

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