Category Archives: Food Safety

Scientists Find Virus at Heart of Missing Honey Bees

Remember awakening after Winter to find nearly half of the honey bees in the United States had simply vanished?

Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), limited primarily to commercial genetically-enhanced bees, practically decimated the pollination industry here and in Europe, and left scientists completely baffled…until this week.

For the last six months, a huge team of scientists and researchers have been conducting one of the largest-scale investigations ever seen.  Their result was the identification of a significant connection between an obscure insect virus and the massive CCD experienced across the U.S.

Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus (IAPV) was first identified in Israel in 2004 after massive numbers of their own honey bees began to disappear.  Also in 2004, the United States lifted an 80-year-old ban on importing bees designed to protect US honey makers from pests that plague the insects, and began importing honey bees from Australia.

Every CCD-affected beekeeping operation that was examined [in the US recently] either used Australian bees or had mingled with operations that had them, the researchers said.

Not only did the Australian Honey Bee Industry Council unequivocally deny U.S. bees had been infected by Australian insects, but it is very important to acknowledge Australia has not experienced widespread colony collapses in their homeland.

Therefore, while scientists firmly agree the common denominator and likely trigger in U.S. bee hive decimations is IAPV, they firmly believe other factors are at play, such as predatorial mites, stress from being carted across the country, and pesticides.

Additionally, IAPV was discovered by scientists in royal jelly used to feed infant bees imported from China. 

The advice to U.S. beekeepers is to “maintain healthy colonies.”  Those bees that are well-fed, without mites, and protected from stress have immune systems capable of fighting off this virus.

So now we have a good idea of what happened to the bees and we have further reiterated the perils of trucking colonies from one field to another, states apart.  Moreover, we have underscored at least a dozen times in this matter what happens when you test Mother Nature.

Rebuilding our nation’s honey bee populations will take years.  And, on a pleasant note, those very Moms and Pops who have managed to survive the vast commercialization of the pollination industry are reaping the benefits of so many more enlightened consumers Hell-bent on buying local honey.  Allow me to recommend my FAVORITE in the Dallas area, a frequent vendor at the Dallas Farmers’ Market local produce building:  Roundrock Honey!  I kid you not, this honey has the BEST flavor I have EVER tasted.  And I certainly have tasted much more than my weight from honeys literally from across the U.S. and Europe.

Good news ofttimes comes in small doses.

Science Daily has all the details for those scientifically minded folks.

Is America Prepared for Disaster? Are You?

Boys and girls, I’ll warn you now:  this is a LONG missive and best read with a few drams of some good single malt scotch in hand.  The question that I would ask all of you to ask yourselves is this:  Who is responsible for your family’s safety in a time of crisis?  The government?  Or does your sincere and actual survivability in any given critical situation ultimately rest in your own hands?

For the last couple of months, I’ve been thinking a lot about what would happen, how life as we know it would be compromised when America is faced with another large-scale disaster.  Just what in our national disaster preparedness has improved since September 11th and Katrina?   And, more importantly, just how prepared are we to deal with various crises in the time it would take our government to resolve them and return order amidst the chaos?

Let us presume Rosie O’Donnell is right and those radical Jihadists are actually really wonderful people, family-oriented, and bereft of any hatred toward America.  Let’s presume that terrorism will never against strike this land, despite threats released this week vowing “you and your people will- Allah willing- experience things which will make you forget all about the horrors of September 11th, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Virginia Tech.”

Let us presume that we will never again experience the week-long grounding of air flights in the US, moreover the absolute chaos (however exceptionally well handled by NYC and the Pentagon) in thousands and thousands of people walking out of Manhattan to safety, those stranded for many, many hours waiting to cross into Jersey home turf by ferry, the massive enduring power outages, and the long weeks before “normalcy” was even envisioned on the horizon to everyday life across the Northeast.

Actually, can we ever be “normal” after September 11th?  I don’t think so.  But it sure stuns me to read of and even talk to people who seem to have forgotten its incredible impact upon those who survived.

Let us also presume that the newest form of warfare, called “cyber terrorism,” can’t happen to the US as is happening right now in Estonia.  Right now, their entire Internet system is overwhelmed by an avalanche of spam that has totally disabled their exclusively online government (that means banking, government operations, no emails to Mom, etc.).  Estonia says the attacks began after they moved a Soviet war memorial that the Kremlin condemned them for doing.   Even NATO has sent a cyber terrorism expert to help them end the barrage, but doubts the villains will be uncovered since cyber attacks are virtually untraceable. 

Hmmm…  Heaven knows we’ve seen a LOT of instances where spam and trojans have crashed vital computer networks in this country in the last decade.  Russia was even blamed for a couple and are renown for having a large community of hackers and virus writers, yet they are in very good company with hackers and virus writers worldwide, especially in Asia.  Could it happen again in the US?  Could it happen on an even larger scale than before?  Could this be one of the options Little Johnny Jihad has in mind?

We face more than terrorism attacks as American citizens.

Natural disasters with large human casualties are not a question of “if,” but “when.”  Our country’s history is full of them, as related in this incomplete listing on Wikipedia.  Earthquakes in abundance in California and hurricanes like Camille, Andrew and Katrina are but a few and frequent.

Geologists know it’s just a matter of time before another 9.0 earthquake hits somewhere between California and Canada.  While the shaking would be catastrophic around its epicenter (or hypocenter), it’s biggest threat to human survival would be from the tsunami that would come from the coastal fault line that is seismically identical to the one in Indonesia that killed 200,000 people on December 26, 2004.  Remind yourself about the devastation that impacted more than a million people and that took months and months to return even a shred of normalcy to their region.  Doctors Without Borders mobilized large teams of healthcare workers from across the globe and arrived in Banda Aceh, Indonesia two days after the massive earthquake there and to help tsunami victims in Sri Lanka and the Maldives.  They have maintained an historical account of all of their updates from the time of their arrival to date and I encourage you to read liberally and remind yourself of the devastation and ensuing disease outbreaks when there was no food and no water for weeks amidst decaying bodies both human and animal.

What if a similar tsunami hit Los Angeles or San Francisco?  How long would it take to evacuate a couple of million or more people who speak 100 different languages?  This area, with its extreme seismic volatility, is one of the mostly densely populated regions in our country.  The New York times speculated on this very subject after public chaos during Hurricane Rita and Katrina that made a mockery of evacuation plans in New Orleans and South Texas that had people stuck in unprecedented traffic jams on escape highways and interstates so long their cars ran completely out of gas.

Just how better prepared are our cities in a post-911 and post-Katrina world to handle mass evacuations and tend to their residents in the midst of and after a crisis?  How long does it take to evacuate each of the many vulnerable cities countrywide that have exploded in growth in the last decade?   Do the warning triggers provide enough time to escape?

Remember 1999’s Hurricane Floyd?  It tracked all the way to New York causing flooding of historic proportions all along its track, killing power for days to 400,000 people in North Carolina alone and contaminating every source of drinking water.  The flooding of the EDS Data Center in New Jersey brought ATMs to their nonfunctional knees all the way into South Florida and caused long outages at ATMs across the country. 

In the May 30 Washington Post, columnist Brian Jackson penned a eye-opening read examining if America is prepared for disaster after we taxpayers have remitted billions in funds since September 11th to make America more secure.  Just what improvements have been truly realized?  Mr. Jackson, by the way, is the Associate Director of the Homeland Security Research Program at the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit research organization that has been keeping track of such issues since around World War II.  I find his conclusions as to our state of national preparedness to be exceptionally bleak.

Wake up, folks.  Our own President dramatically revised existing Federal disaster response plans on May 9, 2007 in the National Security and Presidential Directive No. 51 that now gives his office the absolute authority to direct operations in the event of a national emergency.  In short, this directive shows that citizens had better be prepared to take care of themselves until the government brings things back under control…and that just might take a while.

We face more than terrorism attacks and natural disasters.  We face infectious disease outbreaks.

You’ve heard by now of the Atlanta, Georgia personal injury attorney infected with exceptionally drug-resistant Tuberculosis (XDR-TB), who didn’t want to miss his long-planned Greek wedding and honeymoon in Italy over a little ole epidemically potential disease and exposed about 900 people on TWO trans-Atlantic planes and their crews.  You might find that early account, while Andrew Speaker was still anonymous, to be interesting.  A lot of information has surfaced since, not the least of which has been the revelation of just how infectious this disease is, despite the initial downplay by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the gullible media.  Good grief:  we even now know Andrew Speaker’s brand new father-in-law is a microbiologist for the CDC and works prominently in its Tuberculosis Laboratory.

I know that Speaker did NOT contract tuberculosis from his father-in-law’s research.  How ridiculous!  Those labs are more secure than the Federal Reserve and lead the technological world in safety measures and precautions.  But I would sure like to know whether Dr. Cooksey knew himself of Speaker’s infection.  Don’t you think a leading microbiologist in the field of Tuberculosis research would place a few precautions in the marriage of his precious daughter to a man infected with XDR-TB?  And, at the very least, don’t you think he would do everything he could to prevent travel, knowing more than anyone else the transmission dangers of same?

Trust me when I say the CDC and the media was initially playing down the danger this fellow placed his fellow travelers in and, in a few days, they will probably do the same to calm a disquieted public.  This man knew he was infectious and deliberately traveled internationally through five nations over a period of about two weeks.   Now you will soon see (or maybe it won’t be that visible) the CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO) going nuts trying to track down every single person on these flights for testing…and then trying to track down the other innocent folks who just happened to come in contact with each of them.  This man has caused huge problems for several nations and the medical undertaking to try and contain these exposures will be equally huge. 

By the way, you and I and those folks from France, Greece, Italy, Czechoslovakia and Canada will be paying the bill for much of this man’s unbelievable arrogance.  Talk about your personal injuries!

TB is very virulent and saying this man “was not highly infectious” is an oxymoron and a talking point diluted to prevent hysteria in the public.  TB is extremely infectious and the number one killer worldwide.  Period.  And it can take up to two months after exposure before a person will test positive on a PPD.  In the interim, prior to onset of symptoms, said positive person can be very infectious.  On one day, their sputum tests will show little, if any bacterium, while the next day the bacterium counts are off the charts. 

So, you can see that this is an exposure of potential epidemic proportions and will increase exponentially because no one is going to quarantine everyone on these two planes for the next couple of months before their resistance to TB is conclusively determined.  Fortunately, only about 10% of people exposed to TB develop the disease.  That’s the general statistic you’ll hear cited often now.  The reality of just how many people on these two flights come down with TB will be determined by their own personal level of health, any immune deficiencies they may have and certainly their age — children under 10 and adults over 60 are especially vulnerable.  So are diabetics.  The most vulnerable of all are AIDS patients.

This story absolutely underscores how vulnerable we humans are from a medical standpoint, and certainly as a world from a security standpoint.  When the CDC and WHO finally caught up with this man ten days after his arrival in Europe and traipsing across several countries to (finally) Italy and he faced mandated quarantine there, he and his bride skipped town as quickly as their feet would carry them, boarded a Czech plane in Prague, flew to Montreal, Canada and re-entered the US by car…to EVADE capture by those who would prevent his infecting others.  Regardless that his passport was flagged as a “No-Fly,” he skated right through every checkpoint along the way unimpeded.  Here’s a little light reading on the matter from the International Society for Infectious Diseases relating a lot of information on this fellow and his XDR-TB.

Here was a fellow clearly identified with an extremely dangerous and infectious disease by the CDC, who alerted Homeland Security, who alerted US Customs and beyond and no one during his entire European Vacation stopped him once.  Not the border crossings, not Customs, not the airlines.  In fact, when Mr. and Mrs. Speaker re-entered the US in Champlain, NY, the scan of his passport triggered an alarm and clearly revealed to the customs agents that he was highly contagious, to approach him with masks and to DETAIN him until the CDC could arrive.  Believe it or not, the customs agent claims he thought this warning was “discretionary” and, since Speaker didn’t look sick, the agent let them go right through into the US.  They were at the checkpoint for two whole minutes. Said customs agent is presently under administrative leave.  Wow.  My fiance’ wonders if Speaker didn’t have a $500 bill inside his passport when he presented it at the border.

Hopefully, this fellow’s story of amazing arrogance, selfishness and abject stupidity will gain enough air time to wake people up.  By the way, may it also awaken people’s naivete’ in presuming that Tuberculosis is under control.  It isn’t.  Not in the United States, and certainly not anywhere else in the world.

The “likelihood”, not “possibility” of a pandemic is hugely underplayed in our world, despite the myriad of diseases with pandemic potential given the amount of traveling we humans do across the globe.  But the greatest threat of all, from a pandemic stance, remains through a future mutation of influenza.  We’ve all heard of Avian Flu and the diligence required in watching this strain and potential mutations cannot be understated.  On May 29, 2007, the AP released a story about four human cases of bird-type flu discovered during the last week in Great Britain that has Pandemic potential, even though the cases are relatively mild.  Way back in 2005, the National Geographic wrote a piece entitled, World Unprepared for “Bird Flu” Pandemic” that is even more apropos today.

Last, but not least, our own food supply is constantly threatened and which I have written about here and here and even here.  But yesterday’s (May 30th) Wall Street Journal had a wee post on page A7 that had me spitting my coffee across the floor.  The headline reads, “Agriculture Department to Fight Ruling on Mad-Cow Testing.” 

WHAT??

To offer the Cliff Notes to this article not available beyond subscribers, a Kansas-based company called Creekstone Farms Premium Beef wants to test all of its cows for mad-cow disease so they can truly and safely (from litigation) advertise their beef as “safe.”  Well, the USDA filed suit on the basis that Creekstone could begin a movement toward wide-spread testing that could “lead to a false positive” in the results of said testing.  A federal judge ruled in March of this year that Creekstone could go ahead with their testing of every cow they slaughter for sale to US markets and commended them for their initiative.

But the Bush administration has now vowed to fight this ruling allowing meatpackers to test their cows.  Right now, the USDA tests fewer than 1% of slaughtered animals for mad-cow disease.  Larger meatpacking companies have been complaining and say if Creekstone tests its meat and advertises it as safe, they might be expected to perform the same wide-spread and expensive test, too. 

SHOOT ME NOW!  We have a US meat producer wanting to voluntarily test all of their meat for safety (sharp marketing idea that!), and has fought vigilantly and at great cost in our courts to be able to do so, but our own President is vowing to fight so they can’t??   Just so the other meat producers don’t have to follow suit to remain competitive??? 

What in the blithering Hades is going on?

Okay.  I think I’ve offered enough citations by now to show you some of what deeply concerns me.  Unfortunately (for me especially, pardon the selfishness), I don’t have any solutions to offer that would prevent any of these scenarios from occurring, but I do have a few plans to try and minimize the vulnerability of my own family.  (I’ll get to that in another hour or two…)

Unfortunately, my neighbors haven’t awakened to their own vulnerabilities yet…

We live in a very narcissistic and laissez-faire world.  Most Americans in my neck of the woods live hand-to-mouth, mortgaged up to their receding hairlines, but possessing the latest and greatest of cell phones, wireless home networks, Le Cuisine cookware, Lexicon receivers and Monster Power Conditioners driving their large-screen LCD TVs and home theater systems, and the wives all carry Gucci and Dooney-Bourke purses.  Their daughters wear Prada.  They grow their credit card debts while racking up miles on American Airlines with every purchase, regularly have their dentists bleach their teeth and wouldn’t dream of missing a Botox party.  They’re driving our economy and I say more power to them.

But when the next “not if, but when” strikes, they’re screwed.

These folks don’t even know what Civil Defense Sirens Testing is all about.  Last month, when 80+mph winds and storms hit the Dallas metroplex one evening, the sirens went off and people were “confused” by what the sirens mean. I presume they, like me, hear these sirens being tested at Noon on the first Wednesday of each and every month, but they don’t pay attention.  So, when the sirens wail to alert folks to impending tornadoes and the like, people are “confused.”   I kid you not.   What idiots.

So I have reasonable doubts they they will have cash, flashlights or even food to last them a few days when the lights go out the next time and the ATMs close for business.

If there is any resounding lesson for individuals to learn from Hurricane Katrina — irrespective of the ad nauseam politics — is that people should not, cannot depend upon the government to immediately bail them out and make everything better.  Heck, New Orleans became a model for looting and thuggery for weeks after the city flooded and what few police remained were powerless to defend the residents, moreover the businesses that suffered huge theft losses.  The logistics are simply too great to prevent suffering.  There are some things you just have to take care of yourself.

We can’t escape the world we live in or the Earth we live upon.  Most people in America have been very fortunate in not having to live through earthquakes, tornadoes, terrorist attacks or disease outbreaks, instead being able to watch vicariously through media coverage of same.  That doesn’t mean, however, that disasters — both large and small — couldn’t happen to any one of us at any given time. 

There are so many things over which we have no control.  On those, I leave in the hands of God.  But there are many quite simple actions we can take now to help ourselves later and ease, as much as possible, a burden to come.  Doing so doesn’t require breaking the bank either.

From a Murphy’s Law standpoint alone, the best insurance of all against being impacted by a disaster is simply to be as prepared as possible.

1.  Gather the family and designate a place to meet, should disaster strike while everyone is scattered to the four winds.    Every week, repeat the location and plan to each other, over and over, week after week, until it is completely ingrained.  Chances are, your cell phones won’t work if there are large electrical outages or floods.  (Remember Katrina?)

2.  Get a large gym bag and fill it with a good first aid kit, extra ACE bandages, rolls of gauze and Telfa pads, Neosporin, DEET, Advil, Rolaids, a weather/am/fm radio, a couple of flashlights, a battery cellphone charger, an ample supply of various batteries your devices require, a couple of blankets, a couple of rolls of toilet paper, a box of emergency candles, a box of kitchen matches, a bar of soap, toothpaste and toothbrushes, a couple of bottles of isopropyl alcohol, a small bottle of bleach, a can opener, a medium-sized plastic bowl, a Leatherman multi-tool, a camping shovel, a container of anti-bacterial wipes, some washcloths and/or hand towels, and a change of jeans, a shirt, socks and underwear.  Have this bag (including anything else your family must have) ready and maintained to use at any given moment.

3. Keep a good first aid kit, a blanket, a flashlight, a can of Fix-A-Flat, jumper cables, and some water in the trunk of your car at all times.

4.  Always keep a couple of cases of bottled water or several gallons of same on hand.  This is ALWAYS the first thing to sell out of and run out of when calamities occur.  Read more from the National Safety Federation on creating, keeping and storing safe drinking water during an emergency.

5.  Get yourself a basic camping propane stove with a few extra cans of propane.  Then you can cook to your heart’s content when the power is out.

6.  Keep extra canned foods on hand.  Buy just one extra can of chili, tuna, soups, vegetables, fruit, etc. each time you go to the grocery store and it won’t be long until you have a nice backup selection.  Also stock up on rice, dried beans, powdered milk and a container of Gatorade/Tang powder.  Keep the rice and beans in Tupperware.  All of these contained foods store long and can save your hide in extended power outages.  Read the USDA’s Food Safety Organization’s Fact Sheet on ensuring and keeping safe foods during an emergency.

7.  Keep some cash on hand.  Store the cash in a home safe, suture it up in a mattress, bury it in a tin beneath the dog bowl, whatever.  But have a couple of hundred or so readily available.  You’ll be glad you did.

8.  Go buy yourself a couple of 5-gallon gas cans right now when the prices are low and availability high.  Then, when you need to, you can fill them up when you fill up your car the next time something happens.

There are a lot of folks out there with additional ideas and a ton of knowledge they could share on the subject of preparedness, and I dearly hope they will here.

I have no qualms admitting that I have always taken anal retentiveness to an unusual level.  As I’ve written before, I have no confidence in the safety of our global food supply found commonly in our neighborhood groceries.  I’m not about to boycott or even do without, but I am trying to be as smart as possible over the foods we eat.  And when I find a means of controlling the quality and purity of my foods…well, I tend to go overboard.

So, right now I am canning my little heart out, as I love to do each Spring through Fall.  Jams and jellies are set aside.  Even homemade peach hooch is under brew.  I will continue to search out truly local sources of vegetables and fruits that will be canned or frozen for use in the winter.  I’ll be using my own canned whole tomatoes and tomato sauces during the cold days ahead and enjoying my own canned or frozen peas, beans, brussels sprouts, corn and a wealth of homemade pickles and relishes.  I will also share a few of them this Christmas in gift baskets.

If that isn’t anal enough, I’ve now set my sites on a nearby grass-only-fed dairy farm that is a certified provider of raw milk.  From that I will make my own butter (which freezes very well) and my own cheeses, that I hope will be tasty.  I’ll let you know how the cheese thing works out…very iffie thing that.

If only I had my own farm…  Of course, then I would learn the hard way just how hard maintaining one really is.  Something tells me milking a goat is about as difficult and dangerous as kayaking in Class III water.

Get prepared, folks, while doing so is cheap and easy.  May you not find out personally that most people won’t.

Roadside Vegetable Stands: Homegrown Scams?

 

Human ignorance – as well as greed – knows no bounds.”  How painfully true.  The ignorance has been mine, by the way…

 

If you’ve read any of my recent diatribes on the safety of our food supply in the United States, you may have formed the opinion that I am something of a highly alarmed purist.  I am.  I firmly believe in the adage that you are what you eat and I further strongly hold the belief that we are suffering a slow death by food poisoning at the hands of a most beleaguered and complacent government, as well as a nefarious underbelly of criminal activity coming from home and certainly abroad.

 

If you’ve read any of my recent diatribes, you know I strongly support local farmers and seek them out at every opportunity to provide me with fresh fruits and vegetables, so that I can spend untold hours canning them for future consumption.  I am, indeed, a “control freak” and derive a huge amount of pleasure in hand-selecting and hand-preserving the foods I want to provide for my family.  I love to eat and I love to cook.  So perhaps it’s easy to understand why canning and food preservation has long been a hobby of mine and one I enjoy immensely.  But with today’s reality of unsafe commercially available fruits and vegetables, my hobby has become a necessity in my world.

 

I have declared the harvest season of 2007 to be my own Year of the Canner and I have great plans for the months ahead.  With the first Brandywine tomato fruit appearing on my single patio plant, I find the call of Spring to be yelling for me to get started!  Shine up the water bath, Sheila – the Maters have arrived!

 

As my fiancé and I set out upon a journey toward Tulsa last Wednesday, excitement was in the air!  I had a copy of the WSJ to read aloud along the way (which to limited extent prevents me from being as bad of a back seat driver as my mother), and my handy-dandy notebook was nearby to record my findings during the drive.  Tops on my radar were farmer’s markets and roadside stands I just knew would be found around a myriad of corners, bursting forth with delicious homegrown finds.

 

I made judicious notes as to their precise locations for the return drive home.  All along the drive and during our stay in Tulsa, I reiterated my need and intent to Tom to purchase a truckload full of juicy homegrown tomatoes to can into sauces and salsas and jars upon jars of beautiful whole tomatoes for the Winter ahead.

 

God bless this man for his limitless patience.  😉

 

There are seven roadside vegetable stands between Tulsa, Oklahoma and Plano, Texas along US Highways 75 and 69, and Tom and I stopped at all but one on our way home on Friday.  Our resounding common opinion of same in the aftermath?  Scams abound.

 

Instead of finding basket after basket of juicy, flavorful, homegrown tomatoes, we reaped bushels in tremendous disappointment in the quality of the tomatoes available and discovered what we believe is a scam, this time preying upon idiots like me determined to pay any price for homegrown food.

 

Being an opportunist is not a crime in the US, yet I believe the hoax found at each stop along the way to be very much a crime.  These stands have lost any business from me forever and I encourage you to be very careful where you spend your food funds, too.  If you don’t know for a certainty where and how vegetables and fruits are grown, don’t buy them.

 

These seven stands hold a lot in common.  They are identical in looks and ambiance, possessing that wholesome decrepit white-washed charm that draws me in like a fly to…well…a freshly sliced tomato.  Secondly, they were each manned by people who not only had no information about what they were selling, but really couldn’t care less about selling their stuff to us anyway.  Not one of them offered us a purchase-ensuring taste of our tomato heaven ahead.

 

Thirdly, ALL of their tomatoes and peaches were identical, were commercially-grown, were tasteless, smell-less, mealy and hard as rocks.  Next was the fact that each of the seven stands sold completely identical foods and honeys, without variation.  And the final Coup de Gras is that some of the folks at these stands downright lied to us and represented their overtly commercial tomatoes as “homegrown.”

 

With complete sincerity and authority, I tell you that there is NO local produce to be found in the following vegetable stands.  They import their stuff at the lowest possible price, tell you it’s “homegrown” and sell it for egregiously expensive amounts.

 

I hereby present the EHeavenlyGads List of the Seven Vegetable Stands NOT to Stop At Between Tulsa and Dallas:

 

Southbound Stop No. 1:  a roadside stand called “Preston Produce” in Preston, OK.  The first stop just “looked right” to me.  The place even had a sagging roof and a highly tattooed young woman standing guard over their wares.  The place had tomatoes and peaches and a short ton of jars of “Pure Red River Honey” produced by J&S Produce of Calera, OK.

 

This gal, we would soon discover, was the only honest roadside food vendor along the drive.  The tomatoes, she said, had just arrived by truck from Florida from some commercial grower down there.  She didn’t know who, but they had a lot.  The peaches were from Texas somewhere.  Upon inspection (and after finally convincing her to give us a bite), the tomatoes were mealy and utterly flavorless.  The tomatoes from Albertson’s tasted better than these! They were obviously picked green, as is the commercial requirement for long transports, and were as hard as baseballs.  Five bucks for five tomatoes was the going rate.  Egads!  A buck a piece for a tomato that tastes a lot worse than the $.79 per pound maters I can find in my local supermarket?  Hell, no!

 

To prevent complete dismay, we purchased a jar of the honey with its gold label stuck askew.  Five bucks for a 16-ounce jar covered in dust. While I haven’t tasted the honey yet, I’ve bought it before.  It’s nothing terribly special and much better stuff is around, but with the honey bee crisis, I though it advantageous to grab a jar while I could.

 

I was unable to properly communicate my disgust with the tomatoes to Tom, who ended up buying five of the egregiously overpriced baseballs, too.  This wonderful man was still caught up in my hype to buy a truckload of tomatoes and I know he just thought we’d better get started fast!  Nevertheless, a short communication back in the truck illuminated my desire to buy quality over quantity.  I wanted homegrown, or nothing at all.

 

Again, God bless this man for his limitless patience…

 

Southbound Stop No. 2:  a roadside stand in Okmulge, immediately south of 6th Street on the southbound side.  This decrepit building had the added charm of squeeking floors.  They had the same going rate of $5 for 5 tomatoes that were also identical to the first ones we saw:  pink, mealy and hard as baseballs, with no tomato scent whatsoever.  Tom took the lead and asked the middle-aged gal behind the counter where their tomatoes came from.  She immediately said “Florida” with a smile, but was quickly “corrected” by a fellow off to the side, who claimed to have just brought the crop back from East Texas.  All homegrown, he said.  (Beware of Stand Scam Boy!)   They did have some lovely looking Celebrity and Big Boy plants for sale at in half quart pots for $5 a piece, and the same exact jars of honey.  But as admirers of heirloom tomatoes, we weren’t in the market for plants or more of the same honey, so off we went.

 

This fellow became the object of lengthy discussions back in the truck.  He said all the things we wanted to hear.  “Yep, they’re homegrown.  Yep, they’re good.  Yep, they’re fresh.”  And thus began an inkling of suspicion that we were smelling a scam going on…people claiming to offer “homegrown” vegetables, who in reality, were trying to make a buck off of unsuspecting folks.    After all, I and we DO know the difference between commercial tomatoes and the REAL ones lovingly grown and nurtured.

 

One point Tom made at this point was profound.  People who grow their own tomatoes, especially, are inherently proud of their crops, because they are not the easiest of vegetables to grow.  These folks can answer ever conceivable question you may have on their variety, any problems they had with insects and the like, what they used to fix various challenges during growth, how long ago they were picked, etc., etc.  And they can’t WAIT to slice off a bite so you can taste just how wonderful their tomatoes are!

 

The same thing rings true among quilters and cattle growers and soap makers and hooch brewers.  They are always proud to show the fruits of their hard labors and more than happy to talk your ears off about every step of the process.  Get me started on my candymaking and you’ll understand what I mean.

 

Not here, though.  Not from Stand Scam Boy, who probably made sure Middle-Aged Gal NEVER told potential customers who followed us that the tomatoes came from Florida again….

 

Southbound Stop No. 3:  a roadside vegetable stand in Savanna, Oklahoma, immediately south of McAlester and right across the street from the Finish Line gasoline and convenience store stop.  Same decrepit white-washed house.  Same pink, mealy, hard-as-baseballs tomatoes selling for $5 for a basket of five.  Same exact lack of information, other than the tomatoes just came by truck from Florida (or
East Texas or somewhere).  They had the same exact jars of “Pure Red River Honey” selling for $5 a piece, too, as well as hard-as-rocks and scentless peaches they claimed were from Mexia.  Pretty impatients, though…

 

Southbound Stop No. 4:  a roadside stand in Stringtown, called the Stringtown Fruit Stand.  Yep, the same falling-down, white-washed ambiance with Florida commercial-grown tomatoes selling at $5 for a basket of five, although these folks blatantly claimed these were all homegrown.  They also claimed to have brought their peaches from Mexia, but they were also hard and totally scentless.  Lots and lots of jars of “Pure Red River Honey” from Calera, though.

 

By the way and for the record, growing delicious, juicy peaches is just as much a religion in Texas as it is in Georgia.  And if you ever have the opportunity to taste one freshly plucked from a tree in Mexia, or from Wise County, you will immediately understand how I know these peaches along the road did NOT come from Mexia.

 

At this point, Tom and I were becoming a bit suspicious that there is one semi making rounds of all of these roadside stands selling them their allotment of commercial tomatoes and likely commercial peaches.  Heck, could all of these stands be owned by the same folks…maybe from the same commercial grower supplying them??  What are the odds that we would run into Stand Scam Boy’s mother in an identical stand down the road?

 

Southbound Non-Stop No. 5:  a roadside stand between Stringtown and Atoka on the northbound side.  This identical decrepit white-washed stand brought a raised-eyebrow exchange of glances between Tom and I, because it had a lady in her 70s who came to watch over us (not greet us).  Surely someone reminiscent of my mother would be selling homegrown tomatoes!  Well, Hell no.  She had the same $5 for five tomato baskets as everyone else so far, and they were pink, mealy and hard.  She didn’t know where “they” got the tomatoes and peaches, but they arrived on a big truck just the day or so before.  And she also sported the very same jars of honey as everyone else, also selling for $5 a piece.

 

She even resembled Stand Scam Boy a little.  You could see the resemblance in their eyes…

 

Southbound Stop No. 6 was supposed to be a roadside stand in Atoka about a mile south of 13th Street on the Northbound side.  I don’t know where I saw this one on the drive up, because it was no where to be found on the drive home.  Must have been a mirage.

 

Southbound Stop No. 7:  a roadside stand just south of Calera on the northbound side of US 75.  In this decrepit, white-washed falling-down stand, we were greeted (sort of) by a woman in her 60s.  Her tomatoes, she claimed, were homegrown beauties from East Texas and the peaches just plucked from trees in Mexia.  Hmm…  $5 for a basket of five that were pink, mealy, but not quite as “pretty” as the others (their only redeeming feature, in my book).

 

Tom noticed large boxes beneath the shelf of basketed tomatoes hailing from Florida and each full to the top with even less ripe tomatoes than those in baskets.  This lady, a quicker wit, declared that the boxes are all reused.  (Really?  These we saw were all brand spanking new.  Not a smudge, dent or damp spot in sight.)  And while the boxes say the tomatoes are a product of a Florida commercial grower, she said that’s not true.  (Yeah, right.)  The tomatoes were definitely from East Texas, she declared.

 

I don’t think so, Scooter!  But we bought a basket anyway, since these had at least an ever-so-slight scent of tomatoes.  We passed on her “Mexia peaches” and the ever-ready supply of jars of “Pure Red River Honey” found in every place we had stopped.

 

Mind you now, that I have nothing whatsoever against tomatoes grown in Florida, or peaches either.  However, it totally ticks me off to find stand after stand hawking commercially-grown vegetables and fruits as “homegrown.”  To me, that is nothing less than fraud.  It’s lying and the intent is definitely to deceive the buyer.  After all, if you knew these tomatoes were commercially-grown at all, moreover imported across several states at the beginning of our own tomato harvest season, would you buy them?

 

It now would not surprise either Tom or I to uncover a single truck making its rounds up US 75 from stand to stand delivering the commercial fruits and vegetables that the stands turn around and fraudulently represent as “homegrown.”  That’s despicable, but certainly a likely reality in this world.  It’s merely a way for folks to make a buck, and they don’t care how.

 

Caveat emptor, boys and girls…!  Think those roadside stands are as wholesome as they appear?  Think again.  And that’s a real shame for those honorable folks who do sell their vegetables in that manner.   I know the good guys are out there somewhere, but I can authoritatively decree that they are NOT along the roadways between Plano and Tulsa that I have identified above.

 

So, where does one find REAL homegrown fruits and vegetables around cities these days?  Short of growing your own, it takes a little digging to find them, pardon the pun.

 

In the Dallas area, the only really reliable organic grocer is Whole Foods.  At least they demand exacting standards from their providers, who are as local as possible, and enforce bans upon a whole long nasty list of chemicals and pesticides found commonly in our commercial vegetable and fruit supplies in the other grocers.  But you will pay a premium, let me assure you.

 

Another recommended option for everyone is to find a “Certified” Farmer’s Market.  Every state and the USDA itself provide a list of those available in your area.

 

A fantastic site that lists markets and farms nationally is at http://www.localharvest.org

 

The USDA has a national database of certified markets and organic growers at http://www.ams.usda.gov and you can click on your state to find those nearby.

 

If you are so blessed as to live in the Great Nation of Texas, see http://www.picktexas.com and click on the links at the top of the page to find local farmers selling at a market near you, or who invite you to pick your own at their farms.

 

With luck, diligence and a lot of prayers, perhaps 2007 will be my Year of the Canner after all.

 

And you can be absolutely assured that I will be stopping at Conrad Farms in Bixby the next time we head for Tulsa.  They grow every vegetable they sell on their farm and they have been doing so for a long, long time.  Read about the Conrad family here:  http://www.conradfarmsmarket.com/History.html and then poke around their site.  I can’t wait to get there in person!