April 25, 2012
By Royce Armstrong
Luscious, red, locally-grown strawberries are hitting store shelves and farmers markets now, ripe for pies, shortcakes, topping ice cream, dipped in chocolate and simply to be enjoyed by the handful.
Strawberries are just one of the locally-raised fruits and vegetables now coming available.
"There are some very real advantages to eating local and seasonal," said George County Health Department nutritionist Keith Stutts, Registered Dietician. "First of all, locally grown produce is usually cheaper because you are not paying for transportation costs. But more importantly, it is higher quality and tastier."
Stutts offers tomatoes as an example. "Tomatoes grown in California, for example, and shipped to stores in this area are picked green and ripened in shipment. They have thicker skins to withstand shipping and they always taste a little green. Locally grown tomatoes are picked when they are ripe and at the peak of their flavor. Not only are they more flavorful, they are juicier with thinner skins."
Nutritionists, like Stutts, are encouraging people to eat local and in season.
“One of the biggest advantages of seasonal eating is that these foods taste better,” says dietitian Joan Salge Blake, MS, RD, LDN, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association and a clinical associate professor of nutrition at Boston University. “A fall apple in New England, a tomato from New Jersey in summer, a Florida orange in winter — all are absolutely delicious.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends consuming at least five half-cup servings of fruits and vegetables every day. “Almost everyone needs to eat more fruits and vegetables than they do,” says Blake, who is also the author of the book Nutrition and You. Your diet should be heavy on fruits and vegetables because these foods are rich sources of many vitamins, minerals, and other natural substances that can protect you from diseases, including stroke, heart attack, and some cancers. If you’ve never been a fan of fruits and vegetables, sampling them when they’re in season, when they're at their flavor peak, may change your thinking.
According to Blake, the better taste of seasonal foods should make you want to eat more and should get you excited about incorporating them into your diet. Fresh fruits and vegetables are generally low in calories and fat — not to mention that if you eat more of them, you’re less likely to eat unhealthy foods, like potato chips and other snacks that are high in saturated fat, salt, and calories. Blake also points out that because seasonal foods have more vibrant flavors than prepackaged or out-of-season foods, you won’t need to fry them, add sugar, or use other less-than-healthy methods to enhance their flavor.
Here’s a look at what fruits and vegetables are most likely to be available, by season. Use this list as a guide to healthier seasonal eating:
Spring: Strawberries, green beans, collards, cabbage, kale, honeydew melon, yellow squash, zucchini squash, and onions
Summer: Bell peppers, blackberries, blueberries, cantaloupe, sweet corn, cucumbers, muscadines honeydew melon, peaches, pears, field peas, English peas, strawberries, summer squash, tomatoes, watermelon, and zucchini squash.
Fall: Acorn squash, broccoli, cauliflower, kumquats, Satsuma's, pears, sweet potatoes, persimmons, turnips, and winter squash
Winter: Sweet potatoes, turnips, collards, cabbages, and winter squash
Finding locally grown seasonal foods is easy in George County. Area grocery stores and produce stores offer local and season produce. The Lucedale Farmers Market brings local farmers face-to-face with taste and quality conscious shoppers each Saturday morning.
April 10, 2011
By Royce Armstrong
Eating more of those greens already favored by many in South Mississippi may be just what the doctor ordered to improve survival chances after breast cancer, according to a new study.
Sarah J. Nechuta, Ph.D., M.P.H. presented the results of a study she conducted with Xiao Ou Shu, M.D., Ph. D. and colleagues on nearly 5,000 Chinese breast cancer survivors over a four year period from 2002 to 2004. The women were from 20 to 75 years old and had been diagnosed with stage one to stage four cancer.
Basically, the study found that Chinese women who ate cabbage, broccoli and leafy greens saw improved survival rates after breast cancer than women who did not eat these cruciferous vegetables. After adjusting for demographics, clinical characteristics and lifestyle factors, the researchers found cruciferous vegetable intake during the first 36 months after breast cancer diagnosis was associated with a reduced risk for total mortality, breast cancer-specific mortality and disease recurrence.
Nechuta noted that cruciferous vegetable consumption habits differ between China and the United States and suggested this fact be considered when generalizing these results to U.S. breast cancer survivors.
"Commonly consumed cruciferous vegetables in China include turnips, Chinese cabbage/bok choy and greens, while broccoli and Brussels sprouts are the more commonly consumed cruciferous vegetables in the United States and other Western countries," she said. "The amount of intake among Chinese women is also much higher than that of U.S. women."
Cruciferous vegetables contain phytochemicals known as isothiocyanates and indoles which appear to have a protective effect against some types of cancer.
Nechuta said the level of these bioactive compounds, proposed to play a role in the anticancer effects of cruciferous vegetables, depends on both the amount and type of cruciferous vegetables consumed.
The risk of dying of breast cancer decreased by 22 to 62 percent for the cruciferous veggie eaters, and their chance of experiencing a recurrence of breast cancer dropped by 21 to 35 percent.
Nechuta, a postdoctoral research fellow at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, said the findings suggest breast cancer survivors "may consider increasing intake of cruciferous vegetables, such as greens, cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli, as part of a healthy diet."
More research on the effects of cruciferous vegetables (cross shaped flowers) and the effects of these vegetables on preventing cancer are needed, according to Nechuta.
The study, however, seems to further confirm American Cancer Society recommendations for eating more fruits and vegetables.
The American Cancer Society recommends eating at least 2-1/2 cups of fruits and vegetables each day to help lower cancer risk. These foods contain important vitamins, minerals, phytochemcials, and antioxidants and are usually low in calories. In general, those with the most color -- dark green, red, orange, and yellow, have the most nutrients.
The following tips are offered to help you reach that 2-1/2 cups per day level of these foods.
1. At each meal, fill at least half your plate with fruits and vegetables.
2. Have a piece of fruit or crunchy vegetable as a snack.
3. Drink 1/2 cup (four ounces) of fruit or vegetable juice once or twice a day. You can mix the juice with club soda or unsweetened seltzer water for fizz.
4. Layer lettuce, tomatoes, beans, onions, and other vegetables on sandwiches and wraps.
5. Try vegetarian sandwiches when you visit restaurants for lunch.
6. Try new vegetables from the produce aisle, frozen foods section or farmers market..
March 22, 2012
By Royce Armstrong
It is no accident that fruits and vegetables from George County seem to look and taste better.
Produce thrives in this area because of a unique combination of both soil and climate, not unlike the San Joaquin Valley in California. The San Joaquin Valley is also known as the nation's "salad bowl" because of the tremendous quantity and value of vegetables and fruits grown there.
George County is made up of primarily Ruston and McLaurin soils, which are both sandy loams over a clay base, similar to the San Joaquin soils.
"Optimum vegetable production is achieved on well-drained sandy loam soils," according to Heath Steede, George County Extension Service Director. "Although vegetables can be grown on a wide range of soil types, most vegetables are not well adapted to heavy clay soil types. Soils of this type tend to have poor aeration and drainage and can restrict root growth."
Both Ruston and McLaurin soils were formed by marine and stream deposits of the Pleistocene Age. They are very deep, well drained and moderately permeable soils sandy loam soils.
The similarities with the San Joaquin region do not stop with soil, but also include climate.
The San Joaquin valley is hot and dry during the summer with cool and damp winters. Summer daytime temperatures approach 100 °F and common heat waves might bring temperatures exceeding 115 °F. During the late summer, southeasterly winds aloft can bring thunderstorms of tropical origin. Frost occurs at times in the winter months, but snow is extremely rare.
"We have a humid climate with generally mild winters and hot summers," Steede said. " This gives us a long growing season that is suitable for many crops. The average first killing frost is November, 22 and last average killing frost is March 5. Average rainfall for this area is 62.21 in. more than half of this rain occurs in spring and summer."
Water, soil quality, sunlight and heat all play roles in the time it takes to produce a mature crop. The mean temperature in George County is about 65 degrees Fahrenheit with an average annual rainfall of around 60 inches and nearly 14 hours of sunlight during June.
While the county has typically been known for its southern pine and hardwood forests, residents have also recognized the warm and humid climate with long growing season as ideal for other crops, such as cotton, corn, soybeans, peanuts, small grain, truck crops, and pasture.
A third important factor in producing great tasting fresh fruits and vegetables in George County is modern agriculture technology. Drip irrigation systems and plasticulture conserve water, providing only correct amount of water where and when the plants need it. Drip irrigation also gives farmers the ability to provide optimum levels of nutrients to plants with water soluable fertilizers. Plasticulture also aids in weed control, reducing the need for herbicides.
Commercial vegetable production began in George County a century ago when G. M. Luce built his first canning factory to process the vegetables grown on his and neighboring farms.
Market conditions revived the forestry industry in the mid-20th century, but fruit and vegetable production was here to stay. Today George County has an estimated 2,700 acres devoted to specialty crops, including blueberries, watermelons and vegetables, with a yield value of approximately $5,300 per acre, or gross sales of $14,310,000.
The economic impact is even greater. Using a multiplier of $1.61 for every dollar of specialty crop grown, the total economic impact of George County specialty crops may be $23,039,100.
While it is unlikely South Mississippi will ever rival the San Joaquin Valley in fruit and vegetable output, it is almost certain locally grown produce will be more important regionally.
It is hard to argue with flavor and freshness of George County produce.
March 6, 2011
By Royce Armstrong
The peanut butter you spread on your toast this morning may have been made from peanuts grown in George County, but the likelihood is decreasing even as peanut acres are skyrocketing.
For the past several years George County has been Mississippi's leading producer of peanuts, but that is about to change as farmers begin to plant the 2012 crop next month.
"Since 2002, we (Mississippi) have been increasing our peanut acres pretty steadily," said Mike Howell, Mississippi State University Extension Instructor and peanut specialist. "We started with around 2,000 acres in 2002 and worked our way up to around 20,000 acres a couple of years ago."
This year Mississippi farmers have already contracted to raise more than 50,000 acres of peanuts, Howell said.
The reason is a short supply nationwide that has driven up prices of peanut butter, snack peanuts, candy, and peanut oil by as much as 30 - 40 percent in the stores.
"There was a lot of uncertainty in the market last spring," Howells said, and prices were down. Then, as processors were shelling the 2010 crop they discovered the quality of those peanuts was way down. That has driven peanut prices up."
On top of that, the drought conditions across the southern part of the state reduced 2011 yields even further, driving prices up to around $1,000 per ton by the end of the season.
This year farmers are locking in prices of about $750 dollars per ton for the peanuts they raise, with average yields statewide projected to be one-and-a-half to two tons per acre, given a good growing season.
"We don't know what prices will do from here on out," Howell said. "They may go up or may go down, but that is a good price and the farmers are willing to lock in at least part of their acres at that price."
A lot of the acreage increase will be in the northern Delta region of the state, according to Howell, with Coahoma and Panola counties increasing peanut acreage significantly. Coahoma counties farmers are expected to plant 15,000 acres of peanuts this spring, Howell said.
That will knock George County from its perch as the state's leading goober grower. George County farmers will grow between 4,000 and 5,000 acres of the popular ground nuts, which really are not a nut at all, but a legume.
Peanuts compete with corn and cotton for farm acres in Mississippi, and recently the prices for both of those crops have been at or near historic highs. Even so, for more and more farmers, recent yield advances and good prices are allowing peanuts to once again earn a place in farm crop rotations.
Peanuts were an important Mississippi crop in the 19th century, but nearly disappeared from the state when federal government controlled peanut acreage allotments and price supports were implemented in the 1930s as a response to a crash in farm commodity prices.
Congress began dismantling the price support program in the 1980s over the protests of Georgia peanut farmers who were benefiting the most. When that program was finally discontinued, Mississippi farmers were finally able to grow peanuts once again.
The leading peanut producing states are Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Texas, according to Howell. This year peanuts will also be grown in Arkansas and Oklahoma.
About half of the peanuts grown wind up in peanut butter, Howell said. Another 25 percent will become packaged nuts and go into candy bars. The balance becomes peanut oil and other products.
So, when you unwrap that next Snickers bar or open a jar of Skippy, it is certainly possible the peanuts will have come from George County. Or Coahoma County or Panola County.
# # #
March 1, 2012
By Royce Armstrong
It is perhaps most surprising that Lucedale and George County have not established a farmers market before now.
The Lucedale Farmers Market is scheduled to open in front of the George County Courthouse on April 21. It will be the market's second year, and excitement for it is already building, according to Lucedale Mayor Doug Lee.
The Market opened for the first time last year with a handful of vendors setting up street booths in front of the George County Courthouse on Saturday mornings. In spite of its small beginnings, the market was considered a success, Lee said. More local growers are already planting crops to supply the market.
The Farmers Market is another way to showcase the excellent fruits and vegetables that are part of George County's heritage.
It began with sweet potatoes.
Gregory M. Luce came from Grand Rapids, Michigan, to this area in 1890. He was attracted by the hundreds of thousands of acres of virgin long leaf pine forest.
By 1910, Luce bought a sawmill and branched out from logging to producing sawn lumber. Time, however, was running out on the old time logging industry where virgin timber was clear cut. At the time sustainable forestry was not understood. When the trees were gone, they were gone. With the diminishing forests, Luce knew his K.C. Lumber Company could not last.
The soil was rich and the question was what to do with all of the land that once grew trees. Luce decided to farm it, growing vegetable crops. He also decided to build a processing plant to process and can those vegetables. He built his first canning factory next to the K.C. Lumber Company in 1914.
That first year, the farm grew and the company canned sweet potatoes. The next year the farm and canning plant added green beans to the product line.
A decade later K.C. Lumber was long gone. Luce farms now devoted 1,200 acres to growing vegetables. Not only was Luce Farms growing vegetables, a truck farming industry was growing up around the canning factory with dozens of other farmers also growing vegetables.
By 1925, the canning factory was processing and canning Irish potatoes, cabbage, pineapple pears, sweet potatoes, green beans, okra, tomatoes, okra and tomatoes, turnip greens, pimientos, English peas, crowder peas, black-eyed peas, collard greens, beets and spinach.
Cans left the factory with brightly colored labels bearing the slogan "Where Quality Counts" were shipped by rail and distributed all over the nation.
Luce built a new building and equipped it with the most modern canning equipment available at the time. He renamed his company the Luce Packing Company. The company was the major non-farm employer for the county, and many of the county's farmers supplied produce to the cannery.
The economic impact was huge.
Tragedy struck on November 10, 1934. The canning company caught fire and burned to the ground. Luce, who was nearing 70, was faced with the problem of whether or not to rebuild. He began conducting a series of public meetings in George and Greene counties to determine if there was sufficient interest.
Public support was overwhelming and the new canning factory was built a short distance from where the other had stood. Luce, though, did not live to see it. He died in the spring of 1935.
The company was reorganized under the guidance of G.M. Luce's son, Jex H. Luce and renamed Luce Products Company. At the time it employed about 40 full-time workers and had a seasonal payroll of up to 200. The company paid roughly $20,000 a year in wages and salaries and had an estimated $300,000 annual economic impact on the community during the Great Depression.
By 1938 the county had established a truck growers association and had approximately 2,500 acres devoted to growing vegetables. Records at the time show the county produced 7,300 bushels of Irish potatoes on 99 acres and 74,736 bushels of sweet potatoes on 958 acres. Another 288 acres were devoted to snap beans. There were 97 acres of melons, 723 acres of sugar cane, and 245 acres of cabbage. Another 852 acres were used to grow other vegetables.
The loss of G. M. Luce, and the country enteringWWII changed George County in dramatic ways. The packing plant eventually closed and new technologies allowed forests to become renewable crop resources, much like other crops. Much of the farmland that had been used to grow vegetables was returned to forest sending fruit and vegetable production into a short hiatus.
Lucedale, Miss., March 24, -- Twenty-two million cabbage plants have been shipped from here by the Luce Packing Company in the past few weeks to truck growers in Copiah County, Mississippi, and Tennessee cabbage growers, whose plants were nipped by January and February frosts.
The Luce Packing Company, started by G.M. Luce of Mobile and Lucedale 20 years ago when the sawmill of Luce had cut out all of the long-leaf yellow pine in George County and adjacent to this community, is a thriving industry that annually pours about $300,000 into this community, urban and rural.
"They named Lucedale for me, and I wanted to do something to keep this pretty little city from dying," explained the former lumberman. "So we started canning sweet potatoes in 1914, and have kept on expanding."
The Luce Packing Company itself cultivates 1,200 acres in English peas, pineapple pears, stringless beans, okra, and black-eyed and crowder peas, spinach and turnip greens, also pimiento peppers for canning, also large quantities of these products are purchased annually from about 200 farmers.
In normal years the Luce Packing Company cans 100,000 cases of vegetables, or about 3,000,000 individual cans -- employing from 50 to 200 persons as the season expands and retracts -- and President Luce exclaims patriotically that it is all done now under the Blue Eagle.
Annually this canning plant, in normal years, ships 15,000 cases of okra, 15,000 cases of turnip greens, 5,000 cases of pimiento peppers, 15,000 cases of crowder peas, and 30,000 cases of stringless beans. Four thousand bushels of pineapple pears are canned annually and the product of 200 acres of English peas. -- George County Times, March 30, 1934.
February 16, 2012
By Royce Armstrong
What is that you are eating?
Is that just a fast food hamburger, chili, or chicken patty? Think again.
If you're in the beef business, what do you do with all the extra cow parts and trimmings that have traditionally been sold off for use in pet food? You scrape them together into a pink mass, inject them with a chemical to kill the e.coli, and sell them to fast food restaurants to make into hamburgers.
That's what's been happening all across the USA with beef sold to McDonald's, Burger King, school lunches and other fast food restaurants, according to a New York Times article. The beef is injected with ammonia hydroxide, a chemical commonly used in window cleaning products and fertilizers. In the form used in hamburger meat, the chemical appears as a thick, pink slimy substance.
McDonald's announced last fall that it has quite hamburger meat containing the pink slime.
The USDA listed the preservative chemical as a "processing agent" and regarded it as generally safe.
So what else are you eating in the highly processed foods that make up much of our diet?
Here are a few more chemicals commonly used in processed foods that you may not want to think about the next time you pick up a sandwich, a spoonful of ice cream, or unwrap a candy bar.
Propylene glycol: This chemical is very similar to ethylene glycol, a dangerous anti-freeze. This less-toxic cousin prevents products from becoming too solid. Some ice creams have this ingredient; otherwise you'd be eating ice.
Carmine: Commonly found in red food coloring, this chemical comes from crushed cochineal, small red beetles that burrow into cacti. Husks of the beetle are ground up and forms the basis for red coloring found in foods ranging from cranberry juice to M&Ms.
Shellac: Yes, this chemical used to finish wood products also gives some candies their sheen. It comes from the female Lac beetle.
L-ycsteine: This common dough enhancer comes from hair, feathers, hooves and bristles.
Lanolin (gum base): Next time you chew on gum, remember this. The goopiness of gum comes from lanolin, oils from sheep's wool that is also used for vitamin D3 supplements.
Silicon dioxide: Nothing weird about eating sand, right? This anti-caking agent is found in many foods including shredded cheese and fast food chili.
Concern over the foods we are eating are driving people to look for healthier, more natural alternatives. This concern is driving the locavor movement, which began in California and is quickly moving across the U.S.
Locavor is the name given to people who seek food products grown and produced within a short distance, perhaps 50 miles, of their homes. Locavors want to meet and talk with the people growing the fruits, vegetables and meats they eat. They want to know those plants and animals are not being fed, sprayed, or injected with toxins and carcinogens.
This concern has given birth to farmers markets and community supported agriculture farms across the country.
Buying fresh, locally grown foods have another bonus as well -- taste.