Left Bank Butchery in Saxapahaw, NC

Last month I visited a few fantastic local sustainability resources in the Burlington, NC area: Burlington’s food co-op Company Shops Market, Piedmont Feed and Garden Center in Chapel Hill, and Left Bank Butchery in Saxapahaw.

Left Bank Butchery

Have you been to Saxapahaw? It’s a magical oasis of local food, drink, art, music, and nature in the middle of rural Central North Carolina.

Food and drink: Saxapahaw General Store, The Eddy Pub, Haw River Farmhouse Ales, and of course Left Bank Butchery

Art, music, nature: Haw River BallroomPaperhand Puppet InterventionHaw River Canoe & Kayak Co.

Combining all categories: the weekly farmers market and outdoor concert series Saturdays in Saxapahaw, running from May through the end of August; and this coming weekend (May 2) is the annual Haw River Festival!

On the gloomy March day of our visit, we stopped only at the General Store for a delicious lunch (I wrote about our first visit there here), and Left Bank Butchery for some treats for dog (pig ears) and human (grass-fed local steak from Braeburn Farm).

Left Bank Butchery believe in using sustainable farming practices to raise healthy, happy animals. They start with whole carcasses from cows, pigs, and chickens pasture-raised (or, for the pigs, pasture- and forest-raised) on local farms, and butcher them in-house to ensure the highest-quality cuts of meat possible.

Our arrangement with local farms is simple- we buy from farmers that use the highest standards in regards to animal welfare, ecologically sound farming techniques, and quality of meat.

The day we visited our only planned destination in Saxapahaw was the General Store for lunch; we were thrilled to see Left Bank Butchery a few doors down. Next trip to NC we’ll have to go back on a summer Saturday for Saturdays in Saxapahaw… or to see a band at the Haw River Ballroom… or for dinner and beers at The Eddy… or to paddle the river. So many reasons to return to Saxapahaw!

The New York Times and Washington Post love Saxapahaw too. If you go there and don’t want to leave, here’s who you should talk to about real estate.

Have a Saxy day!

Floyd Tiny House Tour

Guest post from the swashbuckling Tiny Twosome. Thanks, Tiny Twosome!

Last month, the Tiny Twosome (formerly known as Butter Boy and Butter Babe) attended the Sustain Floyd Tiny House Tour.  This fun self-guided driving tour of six private tiny homes in and around Floyd, VA, gave us a peek into the homes, and lives, of a few folks who have made the choice to scale back on their material possessions and expand their time and resources for other things.

We left Charlottesville Friday after work and hit the road toward Floyd, stopping in Lexington for a little dinner before finally reaching our destination: the Bent Mountain Lodge Bed and Breakfast.  Even before the Tiny Tour, this place seemed expansive.  We had a good night, though somewhat interrupted by a sound outside that made us think of a barking seal, and after a minimalist breakfast the next morning – slightly supplemented by food from the “family” refrigerator, before Butter Boy noticed the sign on the other fridge that read “Guest Refrigerator,” we headed off bright and early for the first house on our list.

The Twosome’s Favorite Tiny House

316 square ft house

The 316 square foot house, built by Christy and Ricardo, powered by a solar system installed by Ricardo, was our first – and favorite – of the houses.  The couple spent a year building their house – living in a tent for the first six months.  Ricardo said that ten months out of the year they are able to feed power back into the grid and have the electric company send THEM a check. The couple lives mortgage-free, paying for projects and upgrades as they go, without going into debt.  This cute two-story house sits on a on a permanent foundation.  Some of our favorite features were the “big” wrap-around porch, cozy feel, and red metal roof.  Inside, it was small but very livable for two.

The Tiny Farm Cabin

Our next stop was the Riverstone Organic Farm to see the tiny cabin where a farm worker (Kat) lives for the season.  Although it is insulated and has electricity, this cabin has no indoor plumbing and is heated by a small woodstove.  The little cabin has a sitting area, a curtained-off bedroom area, and a loft, and is decorated with Kat’s found treasures from around the farm and beyond.  Kat said she does her cooking and washing-up at the facilities in the nearby barn / farm store.

Riverstone Organic Farm cabin

Also on the property was this yurt they purchased for use as a guesthouse and special events.  We liked the stump steps up to the platform.

Stump stairs

The Tiny Family Home

Amazingly, Hari and Karl’s family of four has lived in this tiny house for the past four years.  They constructed the 168 square foot house themselves on a mobile home frame, and have been living there mortgage-free while constructing a larger home on the adjoining lot.  This tiny home has a sleeping loft at either end, and the downstairs contains a living area, kitchen, and bathroom.

168 square ft house

Their chickens enjoy a well-crafted home of their own.  The extensive chicken compound looked like just the place to raise happy, well-adjusted chickens.  I’m sure “factory farm” isn’t even in their vocabulary.

chicken compound

We drove into town and had a nice lunch break at the Floyd Country Store, where Butter Boy enjoyed chicken pot pie and tomato soup and Butter Babe had a tasty quiche and white bean and kale soup.  We spotted a few of the other Tiny Tourists who apparently had the same idea.

The Tiniest Tiny House

Next stop was Jim’s 120 square foot self-built home – which was also constructed on a mobile home trailer.  Jim, however, used only a small portion of the frame’s length (about 8 feet) for his home and dedicated the rest to an extensive deck and attached shed.  It was by far the Tiniest of the Tiny homes we saw.  With five of us standing inside, there wasn’t room for much more.

tiniest tiny house

The Roomy-ish Tiny House

The small home of Morgan and Amado has a bedroom area to the right of the front door, a sitting area straight ahead, and bathroom and kitchen off to the left. There is a storage loft over the kitchen and bathroom. The very open floor plan felt roomy for such a modest-sized home.

roomy tiny house

After the tour we had to stop by the nearby Chateau Morrisette to taste some wine before dinner.  Butter Boy abstained from the wine tasting – as he was driving.  Butter Babe, however, was not planning to do any driving that day.

Chateau Morrisette

Dinner was at a local Italian restaurant, Mickey G’s Bistro and Pizzeria, where we enjoyed seafood and pasta.  Butter Boy had a giant half-lobster but was given only a tiny nutcracker to get into the slippery, buttery crustacean.  (Sadly, given that we were in the landlocked little town of Floyd, we’re pretty sure that the lobster was not locally sourced…)

The final activity of the Tiny Tour was the showing of the movie “Tiny: A Story About Living Small” at the Floyd Country Store.  The film followed a young man as he took longer than he anticipated to build his own tiny house – with help from his very patient girlfriend.   A question and answer session followed with a panel of tiny homeowners (the homes, not the owners).

More than a tiny bit tired, we returned to the Bent Mountain Lodge – which felt larger than the night before – for one more night before heading home with lots of ideas and things to think about.

A Tiny Haiku:

Simple tiny house

Smaller footprint larger life

Gentler on the Earth

An Introduction to the US Food System, Week 6: Diet, Food Environments, and Food Access

Here are my notes from Week 6, the final week of the free, online course I’m taking on US Food Systems from Johns Hopkins. This week wrapped things up by discussing the final stop on the food production highway: who is eating the food, and what food they are eating. How can we get good food to more people, and use food to improve people’s lives in ways other than nutritionally? Read previous weeks’ notes here: Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4, Week 5. This course was an excellent introduction to food systems and policy, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about those topics.

‘Continue to ask yourself, “where did this food come from?”‘

Lecture: Advocacy for Better Health and a Smaller Footprint: The Meatless Monday Campaign

The Science

  • Heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes–most US deaths caused by those, by far. Sat fat and cholesterol are factors in all 4 of those
  • Meatless Monday: We eat 15% more fat and cholesterol that we should = 1 day a week. Hoover had a Meatless Monday originally, because of insufficient product.
  • Many different reasons to eat less meat:
    • Health, health care crises
      • Studies show shifting protein sources away from red meat reduces risk of cardiovascular disease
    • Environment concerns, climate change
      • Livestock production contributes 18% of all greenhouse gases globally
    • Health and ethical concerns around industrial animal production

The Marketing

  • Monday is natural because it’s the start of a new week, and people tend to live it up over the weekend, so Monday is a day of resolution. Fresh start, reset cycle. Most people in study said a healthy change on Monday would help them sustain healthy habits for the rest of the week
  • Keep it simple, doable, memorable (alliteration), grassroots (not a brand, anyone can use it as they wish)
  • Provide consumers recipes for meatless meals on the website. Make it easy for people to follow, understand
  • Some pushback from consumers, since it’s a campaign to deprive people of something
  • Working to expand reach and visibility, send positive message
  • Allies: veggie burger companies, low-fat companies. Media, promotional dollars create interest
  • Meat industry reaction: not happy! Putting pressure on institutions (school systems) to NOT do Meatless Monday, but their argument is not compelling, but the controversy generates awareness for the MM campaign
  • Celebrities talking about it, chefs including it in weekly menus=huge outreach
  • Next for Meatless Monday: shift focus from individuals to institutions. Provide tools to organizations, get more media coverage. School districts and colleges are important targets, to teach kids and fight childhood obesity. Corporate cafeterias. Sodexo, biggest institutional meal-provider, developing menus and promotional/educational materials. Stores, restaurants too.

Expanding to Healthy Monday

  • Healthy Monday–more than just meatless–fitness, healthy lifestyle program, quit smoking, etc. Get other medical center communities in on it
  • “The day all health breaks loose” slogan
  • Kids Cook Monday: get families to cook and eat together
  • Worksite Wellness pilot programs underway: eating, health screenings, activity. Promote health and wellness, help organizations design programs
  • Campus Wellness programs: at over 20 college campuses
  • Implement Community Wellness programs
  • National Cancer Institute: Smokefree Monday
  • Monday 2000: calorie consumption awareness

Lecture: Moving Toward a Better Food System

A Canadian perspective

Community food systems, business, and the green economy: The role of food policy councils and nonprofits

  • The food movement’s themes are bigger: policy, social enterprise, non-profit sector, public notions of good health
  • Toronto Food Policy: We live in a world of plenty, and our problems stem from not being able to manage abundance.
    • Food charter: based on “backcasting”: Where do we want to be in 5, 10, 20 years? Where do we start today to get there?
    • The city is in the food business, and citizens have the right to food
  • Food is the largest:
    • Source of pollution
    • Land user
    • Occupational group
    • Employer of child labor
    • Source of poverty
    • etc in the WORLD
  • Food impacts health, economics, environment–everything. It is a public policy issue, not just a consumer issue.
  • Paid staff is necessary, can’t just be volunteers. Keep staff small, encourage civic activism, work with universities, create work-study options.

Functions of a food policy council

  • Issue management for policy innovation. Take a raw concept and test it out, create a pilot program, see if it’s practical, make a policy change.
  • Find common ground.
    • Food is not a zero-tolerance issue (like drinking and driving, sexual harassment, etc). Can change it a little at a time.
    • Many styles. Don’t force a style suitable to another movement to this one.
  • Serve as a catalyst. Help other groups learn to create their own policies, bringing people together to solve their problems.
  • Advocacy. Get out and promote new ideas.
  • Coordinate. Education, getting groups together
  • Support things. Provide support to make things happen.
  • Innovate. Do something with unused capacity.
  • Take a multicultural approach.
  • Don’t take on implementation–create the policy and pass off the implementation part.

Why the food movement is spreading

  • People want to make a difference. “Yes, we can!”
  • We need a way to make sure important issues don’t fall between the cracks
    • Ex: food and water departments aren’t together in City Hall
  • Connections to everything
    • Public health has many side effects. Need to think bigger than the problem and look at the whole system
    • Food links everything together.
  • Food has multiple entry points
    • Form a community around food
    • Everyone eats, at every age and every income level
  • Solving food problems solves other urban problems
    • Ex: reducing miles driven by people getting to grocery store. Widen, repair roads vs using money to make those trips unnecessary by supporting corner stores, farmers markets.
    • Food is the anchor of main streets. Use food to build streetscapes, required for public transit–to engage people. Create living streets with shops and coffeeshops and street vendors and streetcars. Get people to walk and linger. So food is part of preparing a town for public transit
  • Food helps convert unused space to green space
    • Beautify city with edible landscaping. Plant in vacant space, make urban garden, teach young people, inspire community.
    • Unused urban space used for food: green roofs, urban gardens, goat grazing. Bring nature into city–good for people.
  • Help cities build resilience. Resources are becoming scarce–oil, water. Food issues will be a training ground to help build resilience.
  • Food waste as a tool
    • Food waste makes up much of overall waste. About 50% of food is wasted globally.
    • Food packages can be recycled/reused, food can be composted
    • Plastic bags: charge a little for a bag at a store to motivate people to bring reusable bag from home
    • Coffee cups: charge a little less if you bring your own cup
    • Need to look at waste as resource opportunity, not garbage problem. Get producers, ex soda companies, to figure out what to do with bottles, not cities.
    • Give food scraps to farm animals, or compost, don’t throw it away
  • Promote local and sustainable food
    • Local artisans on main streets; money goes to local economy
    • Local businesses create local jobs
      • Celebrity chefs are role models for jobs in new food economy
      • Job skills for youth
      • Jobs in food production
        • Grow rare, high-quality food
        • Get paid for taking waste food
    • Intercultural food
      • Communities have their own food markets
      • Cook globally, eat locally

Food as part of a new, broader concept of health

  • Ottawa Charter of Health Promotion, 1986
  • New ideas about good health
    • Pool fishing event, to intro people to fishing skills who can’t get out into nature
    • Community ovens, to intro people to real food, cooking skills
    • Taking people out of isolation, giving them a skill, making them feel good about selves and have some fun
  • Producers of health, not consumers of healthcare
  • Food connects us to each other, to nature
    • People need to feel connected to where they belong in the world. Community gardens help with connecting to place
    • Farmers markets help people connect to each other
    • Food is associated with most important life events
    • Food creates simple pleasures: you can be poor, but still have fun, eat well
    • Often involves spirituality: grace, mother nature

Reading: The Pleasures of Eating, by Wendell Berry


“The industrial eater is, in fact, one who does not know that eating is an agricultural act, who no longer knows or imagines the connections between eating and the land, and who therefore is necessarily passive and uncritical–in short, a victim.”

“The consumer… must be kept from discovering that, in the food industry–as in any other industry–the overriding concerns are not quality and health, but volume and price.”

Eat responsibly.

How can we eat responsibly?

  1. Grow your own food, as much as you can
  2. Prepare your own food
  3. Learn the origins of your food, and buy locally as much as you can
  4. Deal directly with the farmer/grower as much as possible
  5. Learn as much as you can about industrial food production
  6. Learn what is involved in the best farming and gardening
  7. Learn as much as you can about the life history of the food you’re eating

Working Girls: Thoughts on Elephant Tourism

The highlight of my recent trip to Cambodia and Laos was playing with elephants at Elephant Village, near Luang Prabang, Laos. The camp is a sanctuary for elephants rescued from the logging industry, funded by tourists’ dollars. The girls seemed well fed– while we were there they all had a constant supply of food–clean, and relaxed, and the camp has a live-in vet and onsite hospital. Taking tourists for rides in exchange for food, care, protection is a much better situation for the elephants than backbreaking labor in the logging industry. I chose Elephant Village specifically because it is a sanctuary for “retired” logging elephants and felt good about spending my money there.

Elephant Village

But there is a dark side to elephant tourism in Asia. Not all elephant camps are peaceful havens for rescued log haulers, and not all elephant shows employ willing elephant performers: many buy young elephants that were captured in the wild and beaten to break their spirit in order to become tourist attractions. Read this article about the elephant tourism industry in Thailand if you want more horrifying details about the “breaking in” process. Some elephants are forced to do tricks such as ride tricycles and throw footballs, which may seem innocuous, until you consider how they are trained to do these things, and the conditions they live in as street performers. This article examines the different types of elephant tourism (trekking, begging, painting/shows, temple elephants, and safaris) and details the abuses often involved in each.

Elephant Village

Back to Laos. Elephant use in the logging industry in Laos is on the decline, leaving more and more elephants jobless and available to the highest bidder, or simply abandoned to starve in the wild. Sanctuary organizations such as Elephant Village give the discarded animals medical care, food, and protection, and allow them to form herds and families.

Elephant Village

Please do your research before patronizing an elephant tourism outfit to be sure the elephants are well cared for, and find out where they came from. My experience with the Elephant Village elephants was amazing, and I encourage you to meet and spend time with an elephant, but do it responsibly.

Foundations protecting Asian elephants:

Eating animal products responsibly

Eating meat and dairy responsibly can be challenging: always reading labels, asking questions of waitstaff and proprietors, researching stores and brands. I rely on a collection of web sites to help me find my way, and a notable one is The Whole9, a health and wellness site that preaches a very paleo way of eating.

Yes, paleo followers eat a lot of meat, but they pay close attention to the composition of the meat, as any added hormones or chemicals are transferred from the meat to the eater, and the healthier the animal and more natural and higher quality the animal’s diet, the more nutritious the meat or dairy product. The treatment of the animal is important too, since stress dumps bad hormones and chemicals into the bloodstream, and from there into the meat.

The Whole9 has a ton of really good information about eating healthy meat and eggs. They believe dairy products are irritants and cause health problems, so they don’t address milk, cheese, etc in their articles, but the same rules apply: get your dairy from happy, healthy, naturally raised animals.

Without further ado, here are some useful references to help you along your merry responsible consumer way!

  • The Conscientious Omnivore from The Whole9: A great overview of the importance of eating healthy, happy, well cared for and humanely slaughtered animals.
    • The Conscientious Omnivore: Eggs  Covers the hidden cost of cheap eggs, and instructs how to read egg carton labels–or even better: find egg that are so fresh and local, their cartons don’t even have labels!
    • The Conscientious Omnivore: From the Sea  Discusses the pros and cons of wild-caught and farmed seafood. Consumers need to use caution when choosing wild fish as many populations are over-fished. Farmed fish presents similar problems as factory farmed livestock: pollution, chemicals, and animals fed unnatural diets. The Whole9 gives seafood recommendations, including “consider farmed salmon your worst choice in any setting.”
  • The Whole9 crew then did all sorts of cross-referencing about mercury content, sustainability, and Omega-3 content to come up with this list of fish recommendations.

Following links from The Whole9 articles led me to these resources:

  • Eat Wild is a directory of local farms selling grass-fed products, and a resource for both farmers and consumers on the how-tos and benefits of pasture-raising livestock. To sum up, they help you to “find out how choosing grassfed products is good for: Animal Welfare, Farmer Benefits, the Environment, and Human Health.” I can locate local grass-fed farms in the Virginia farm directory, or on the Virginia map, and there’s list of Virginia stores, restaurant, farmers markets, and buying clubs with grass-fed products. Look up your state!
  • US Wellness Meats is a consortium of family farms in the central US, raising livestock that’s free to forage on grass at will, and practicing sustainable pasture management. They ship meat, cheese, and butter around the country, and the farmers’ beliefs about how livestock and land should be treated is worth reading.
  • Heritage Food USA, a site selling grass-fed, antibiotic-free regional or heritage meat, is affiliated with Slow Food USA. They have a manifesto worth reading, the gist of which is “We are proud combatants in the fight to promote difference and diversity in a marketplace dominated by monocultures. In this kind of marketplace, animals raised on pasture without antibiotics are hard to come by, as are rare and heritage genetics that evolved naturally rather than from laboratories designed for meat production and fast growth.

There are many, many good resources out there instructing consumers on the importance and benefits of eating responsibly raised and produced animal products. These are just a few; please share your favorites in the comments!

Book Review: “Depletion and Abundance” by Sharon Astyk

Guest post from Buzzy! Thanks, Buzzy!

For HP readers who loved Omnivore’s Dilemma, get ready to take your enlightenment to the next level!  I just finished reading “Depletion and Abundance” by Sharon Astyk, and not since Omnivore’s has my worldview shifted so dramatically.

Astyk starts with the forces of Peak Oil and Climate Change, and clearly explains why we are heading for a drastically different low-energy lifestyle.  She delves into many associated topics, like over-population, water shortages, food insecurity, unemployment, etc.  But, this is NOT a Doom And Gloom book, far from it.

post apocalypse

She asks three fundamental questions:

  • What is your fair share of the world’s resources?
  • What can you do now to help postpone the “long emergency”?
  • What can you do now to plan for your family’s success during the “long emergency”?

From there she paints a colorful picture of what low-energy lives can look like.  Why we need to go back to the concept of Victory Gardens, and why we need to go forward towards a more considered and fair use of resources.

victory gardeners

It’s hard to do justice to all the eye-opening ideas she introduces over a huge range of topics, so I will just close and urge you to go read it.  Now.  Seriously, nothing you have planned for today is as important as getting a copy of this book.  My plan for today? Starting seeds.

Special thanks to my cousin T (who championed local food at least 15 years before the rest of us caught on!) for the book recommendation!


How do you say “happy chickens” in Chinese?

These people know!

Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden

Everybody can help to make a difference, every day, through small choices and lifestyle changes that can have big impacts to the general health and well-being of the planet.

While wandering around Hong Kong, looking for a Pret in Central, Mr. HP and I came upon a woman selling eggs and displaying this:

She didn’t understand my questions, but gave me a flyer for Kadoorie Farm. It’s too far from downtown to visit on this trip, like the Singapore goat farm, but it’s a great educational resource for the city-folk, and I hope it gets many visitors.

From the poultry section of their site:

Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden (KFBG) raises chickens in a healthy living environment. In 2004, we adopted “natural” poultry farming practices. We care about animal welfare and treat our chickens with dignity. They are free to roam, enjoy fresh air in their living area and can stay outdoors. We do not use antibiotics or growth hormones. This is different from ‘factory-farms’ where large numbers of animals are tightly packed, crowded together. We believe a healthy environment is critical for bringing up strong and healthy animals. We have also set up a waste management system to recycle organic resources generated from our poultry into compost for use in organic farming of vegetables and fruits.

For the past 50 years, KFBG has worked to improve livestock farming. In the early history of the Farm, one of our main goals was to help local farmers by raising and supplying quality livestock, namely, chickens and pigs. Today, we still keep a family of 11 pigs as a heritage display and maintain a natural poultry farming system with about 2,000 chickens.

The farm has walking trails, educational displays, a cafe, flower and vegetable gardens, an aviary, and a pig sty, in addition to the chicken farm. Sounds like a lovely place for locals to spend a few hours enjoying the environment and learning about responsible consumerism.

(Bonus: while researching this post, I learned there’s a Pret only 2 blocks from my hotel!)


HP in HK

Greetings from smoggy Hong Kong!

In my wanderings, I stumbled upon ThreeSixty, Hong Kong’s largest organic/natural foods store. I headed straight for the egg section to see the egg choices available to responsible Chinese consumers (and zillions of ex-pats, and many tourists, from the looks of the clientele). The eggs were all free-range, pastured, happy eggs, from Washington State and New Zealand. (Too bad they have to be shipped in from so far away.)

Interesting that the New Zealand eggs are sold in 10-packs!

From ThreeSixty’s site:

We are committed to sustainable consumption. We believe in relationships based on trust, honesty and integrity. We will partner with organisations that share our vision and demonstrate a similar commitment to our planet and its inhabitants.

Prices weren’t bad, and there was a food court upstairs with many different types of cuisines on offer. Cheers to ThreeSixty!

Avoiding beef vs. enjoying leather

Leather is a by-product of the beef industry, right? It comes from cows that have already been slaughtered for meat, doesn’t it?

Or maybe not. Action For Our Planet says the big cattle factory farms and slaughterhouses make up to half their profits from leather, so when you buy leather goods, you are supporting companies that practice inhumane treatment. Care2 Causes tells that more and more leather goods sold in the US are made from leather produced in China and India, where animal welfare laws are non-existent or unenforced. In Defense of Animals has a similar argument.

What’s a responsible consumer to do? Fortunately there are many synthetic leather-like materials on the market today, which are generally easier to care for than leather.

Here are a few good sites for vegan shoe, bag, and accessory shopping:

Alternative Outfitters: mens’ and womens’ shoes; bags; accessories

Moo Shoes: mens’ and womens’ shoes; bags; belts; wallets

Zappos Vegan: vegan shoes for the family, and other eco-friendly products (some of which contain leather, so be careful if you’re trying to avoid it completely)

Happy humane shopping!