Archive for June, 2011

Summer Solstice

What better way to celebrate the summer solstice (June 21st) than by baking a loaf of bread in a solar oven?

A sun oven is actually quite simple – a box surrounded by mirrors to reflect the sun’s rays.  You can easily make your own one too.  The sun oven we have at the Green Ninja lab is quite nice – insulated with nice mirrors to reflect the sunlight into a black box.  Amazingly the temperature easily gets over 300F on a sunny day – no fossil fuels required!

I decided to bake a simple organic whole-wheat loaf with sunflower and pumpkin seeds. After the mixing and kneading stages, I let the bread rise in a warm spot outside. Around 11:30 am, the sun was getting high, and so the solar oven was moved toward the sun to begin preheating. Within 20 minutes, the temperature was around 320 degrees F. By this time too, the bread had doubled in size and was ready to be placed into the oven.

One hour later the bread had turned golden, and it was cooked.

And now for the fun part…the taste test. The bread had quite a soft crust, with a stretchy texture and a beautiful yeast aroma.

This bread was truly delicious! Perhaps I could taste the sun’s rays since this bread was baked without any external energy.  The next part was putting my favorite condiment  – peanut butter & jelly – on top!  Do you feel hungry?

So, how did you celebrate the summer solstice?

Farmers Market or Grocery Store?

Although the lure of shopping at a farmers market includes fresh and tasty produce, a happy open-air market vibe and the plentiful free samples, isn’t it too expensive to shop at farmers markets regularly?

I tried to answer this by looking at some formal studies. The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture conducted consumer market research in June, July, and August 2009 at farmers markets in Iowa. The researchers found no significant price difference between farmers markets and the supermarkets.  In addition, they noted that price advantages at the farmers markets often occurred when there was a seasonal abundance of a particular fruit or vegetable.  A more recent study was conducted at Vermont farmers markets and grocery stores. This study evaluated conventional and organic produce and reached conclusions for each type. For conventional foods, the farmers market prices were competitive with grocery stores in many cases, while for organic foods, the farmers market prices were typically less than at the grocery store.   While small local farms don’t have the advantage or large-scale agricultural practices, buying directly from a farmer doesn’t include any profits to a middleman, so the similarity in prices tends to make sense.

So what criteria do you use when you shop for food? Is price the only factor you consider, or do you think about value and quality? So let’s check out our local farmers market and make our own comparisons?


Buying Coffee

Recently we discussed Californian Senate Bill 568 that will ban the use of Styrofoam cups as well as other foam containers. This got me thinking about coffee.

At a trip to a local coffee shop I asked “Is all your coffee Fair Trade?” The friendly barista said that “All our coffee is Direct Trade.” So what’s the difference between Fair Trade and Direct Trade coffee?

Direct Trade focuses on the premium coffee market and can sometimes pay farmers 25% or more above the Fair Trade minimum for high-quality specialty coffee. It is a pledge by individual roasters, whereas Fair Trade offers the consumer an easy-to-see certification label that indicates the product has met third-party evaluation criteria.

Here are some reasons why we might consider purchasing Fair Trade or Direct Trade coffee:

  • Both aim to provide a fair price for coffee growers by eliminating the middlemen of the traditional coffee market, who in some cases take advantage of a farmer’s lack of market knowledge or lack of financial resources.
  • Not only is a fair price negotiated with the farmers, but also a contract is negotiated that stipulates what will be paid at each stage of the process: farmer, collector, miller, exporter, and importer.
  • Both suggest that a consumer preference that goes beyond just the taste.

Both Fair Trade and Direct Trade have similar goals and both are aimed at improving the conditions for coffee growers. Typically, when one thinks about the treatment of workers, the treatment of the environment also improves.  So, next time you are buying coffee, let’s think about the workers, the environment and start asking a few questions!


New Animation in Progress…

Get ready for Green Ninja’s first full animation!!

San José State University Animation and Illustration students have been busy over the 2011 spring semester. They’ve been planning, drawing, discussing, sketching, refining, and drawing lots more to bring you another animation in the series of Green Ninja adventures. Working from the animatic, Marty Cooper, the writer/director, led a group of over 30 students to develop a full animation of this Green Ninja story.   Here are some photos of our students in action.

Student enthusiasm, energy, creativity, and dedication will shine in the full animation.

We hope you’ll enjoy the full animation of Footprint Renovation, which will be coming your way in the next couple of weeks!  In a fun and entertaining way, the animation will give some great ideas for reducing our carbon footprint.

-GN Team

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