Category Archives: healthy soil

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Amy’s — a Natural Foods Staple for 30 Years!

Amy’s is a California Original!

When we visited Northern Califoria this year, we were excited to tour Amy’s Kitchen in Petaluma. We were surprised and impressed with their hands-on approach. I expected floor to ceiling stainless steel machinery doing all the work, but what we saw was hundreds of dedicated workers hand making and packaging Amy’s products. 

More than 30 years ago, Rachel and Andy were expecting a baby, and there wasn’t anything in the store to satisfy the need for healthy, convenient, ready-made meals. With Rachel on bed rest, they realized that there were likely many others in the same boat. Once their baby was born, they started making their first recipe, Pot Pie, to sell locally. Their daughter Amy and Amy’s Kitchen were born in the same year!

They launched their company, thinking that they would just make those delicious Pot Pies, but requests for more variety started coming in. They started adding other products, from Pizza to Canned Soups. They heard about people with allergies, food sensitivities, and special diets, so Vegetarian, Vegan, and Gluten-Free offerings were created. Since Organic is also non-GMO, Amy’s is also committed to GMO-free ingredients.

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Amy’s has always been passionate and committed to organically grown produce, even in the beginning when there was no Organic Certification. They work closely with their farmers to make sure they have the best ingredients possible.

And now, thirty years later, Amy’s is a household name. You can read more of Amy’s story by clicking  here.

When I had busy and active kids at home, we almost always had Amy’s Burritos in the refrigerator for a quick snack before gymnastics or soccer. The cheese enchiladas were also a favorite, and it’s fun to see my grandchildren enjoying the same products!

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Amy’s has a desire to change the face of fast food, and in 2015 they opened Amy’s Drive Through in Rohnart Park. It’s a sustainability model, with solar panels and a living roof.

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They have delicious burgers, fries, shakes, pizza, burritos, and much more. I hope they bring their Drive Thru to Southern California!

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yummmmm… Chili Fries!

I love visiting the producers of our amazing products! Thanks, Amy’s for hosting us!

Love,

Lassen’s

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Focus on Local–Ojai Olive Oil

Ojai Olive Oil

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I sure didn’t appreciate the beauty of the olive tree when I had one in the front yard of our first little house.  It was pretty, but I had no idea what was hiding in those little orbs.  The nutritional value of olive oil is vast.  From this website I learned that olive oil can improve the immune system and protect agains viruses.  Heart disease, cancer, strokes, blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and other conditions can be beneficially affected by consuming olive oil.  (Very interesting information!)  Olives are an important part of the Mediterranean Diet — you can learn more at the balance me beautiful website — which is a super healthy way to eat!

 

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I recently spent an afternoon with Alice Asquith, who showed me around the Ojai Olive Oil company’s olive grove and pressing operation, and learned so much more about the amazing olive.  It was a gorgeous summer day in Ojai, and Alice was kind and gracious.  

A Little History…

Did you know that until the 1780s, there were no olive trees in California?  The Padres from Spain introduced the trees so that they could have their olive oil.  It took over 100 years before California farmers were interested in growing olives.  In fact, there are still not enough olive growers in America to supply America’s olive oil needs.  Only 20% of the olive oil Americans consume is produced in America, even though there are many climates that are suited to olive growing.  

 

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In 1982, Alice’s husband, Ronald, bought a ten acre orange grove as a retirement project.  They moved to Ojai from metropolitan Los Angeles, and eventually replanted the grove in olives.  In 1998 he bought 36 more acres, where they now have the center of their operation. This grove had been planted in 1880!  The original farmers made oil until 1910, but after that the trees just sat — for 78 years.  No oil was made from the olives–they just fell to the ground and rotted.  Ron began to give them lot of TLC, and after just three years, the trees began to produce beautifully.  In 2001 they made their first olive oil.    The entire grove is now certified organic. 

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They started selling their oil–in their signature blue bottles–at farmer’s markets.

Ron decided to plant other varieties, and now they have nine different olive varieties in the groves.  At first they blended all of the varieties into their blended oil, but now they make both pure and blended variety oils.  

 

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 Three years ago they started suppling their oil to a cosmetic maker, and they have lovely soaps and creams made from their oil.

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Ronald spent many hours studying and learning about olive growing, and he had some wonderful mentors to help him along his way.  The groves now have over 3000 trees, which are thriving, but Alice said that “the weather is the boss.”  From budding to harvest, the trees must be nurtured.

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Photo from Ojai Olive Oil

The olive trees blossom in late April or so, and it takes six months from blossom to first harvest.  The olives will stay green for as long as possible, and then they start to ripen in early October.  During the harvest time they have to constantly watch the olives to make sure they harvest at the right time.  They wait until most of the olives are ripe–have turned color–then they harvest, all by hand.

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Photo from Ojai Olive Oil

It takes sixty pounds of olives to make one gallon of olive oil!  But if the weather has been very hot, the yield will be a little higher.  The olives are taken directly from the groves to be milled the day they are harvested. 

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First the olives are washed and the leaves blown off, and then the olives are crushed–chopped and pushed through a sieve. 

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You can see how the olives would be crushed as they moved down through this part of the machine and into the next step!  

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Once it moves into the drums, the olives are now the consistency of paste, and looks sort of like oatmeal.

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Photo from Ojai Olive Oil

The paste is stirred up slowly.  No heat or water is added.  It is protected from air to prevent oxidation.   

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The paste begins to separate, and then the centrifuge begins to spin to assist the separation by density and weight.  It takes 90 minutes from start to finish!  They can process up to 800 pounds of olives per hour.  The oil is strained and bottled.

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Photo from Ojai Olive Oil

The International Olive Oil Council (IOOC) has established standards for extra-virgin olive oil.  A sample of every batch of Ojai Olive Oil is sent to a lab for blind testing to make sure it meats the highest standards, and has less than 0.8% acidity.

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This Tuscan is one of the Ojai Olive Oil blends!

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Photo from Ojai Olive Oil

At the end of the process, there is a waste made of pulp, skins, and pits, shown above.  Ojai Olive Oil Company uses this to make compost.  

Some companies will add chemicals and apply heat to the waste so they can extract more of the oil.  However, these oils do not meet the “Extra-virgin” standards, and are often sold under the names, “Pure” or “Extra Light Tasting.”  These oils are about as far away from extra-virgin as can be.  (Do not be fooled by the “pure” label!)  And they do not have the health benefits of extra-virgin olive oil.
 
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Ojai Olive Oil Company also gives free tours and tastings at their grove.  You can see the machines and taste the oils!  For times and more detailed information about their ranch and story, click here.

If you have a morning or afternoon to stroll through an olive grove and learn about olive oil–not to mention taste some delightful deliciousness–I recommend going to Ojai and take a tour.  But if you don’t have the time, remember that you can find this deliciousness at Lassen’s.  
 
Love, 
 
Lassen’s
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Producer Spotlight–Gaia Farm Tour

What a Gorgeous Farm!

 
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Have you ever wondered how those herbs get in the extracts, the tinctures, the capsules, the bulk boxes, and the tea bags?  We had the amazing opportunity to visit the Gaia Farm in North Carolina recently.
 
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With the morning sun gently shining, we looked out over the ginko trees to survey some of the 350 acre farm.  The temperate weather influences and land formations of this area provide a unique habitat–ideal for growing many herbs for their products.  The diverse red clay to black loam soils also provide a fertile landscape.  Gaia Farms grow about 20% of their herbs right here in this beautiful farm.  For the rest of their herbs they scour the world for the best, most ethical, and “clean” producers and gatherers.  

 

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This is Ric Scalzo, the owner, CEO, Herbalist, and Naturopath at Gaia Herbs.  He took us throughout the farms for two days, explaining the herbs that they are growing.  Here he is showing us the Ginko trees.  Ginko is great for mental alertness (in fact, Gaia has a formula called “Mental Alertness” which contains Ginko!) 

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These leaves will be harvested for greatest potency when the edges begin to have a golden edge.

From Seed to Shelf

At Gaia, the herbs are cultivated carefully from seed to harvest.  

 

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Here are thousands of Echinaea seedlings in their greenhouse.  They beging to plant seeds in February. Once they get bigger and stronger, the seedlings are taken outside to the Hoop Frames where the plants get acclimatized to being outside, and are allowed to grow bigger and stronger.
 
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The plants in the foreground are ready to be planted in the fields.  
 
Everything grown at Gaia, as well as all of the herbs they get from sources around the world, is certified organic, according to Oregon Tilth standards, and recertified every year.  Gaia also does yearly soil analysis as well to be sure the soil has all of the nutrients needed for plant strength.  In the winter they grow crops to be tilled back into the soil to increase the nitrogen level in the soil, and it is amended in the spring with fish, kelp, and seaweed amendments, as well as compost, of course.  Pests and fungi are managed organically–no chemicals!  They use wasps to control the Japanese Beetle.

Knowledge

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Here is the group learning about Hawthorn buds and leaves, which were being harvested right behind us.  Hawthorn is a great source of flavanoids, which are extracted right at the Gaia plant.  Hawthorn is a great heart support.
 
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This was the view we had (perfect photo-op area!) as we walked to the fields.
 
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Experience

Ric actually had us taste some of the herbs as he explained their use.
 
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Some of us even planted some Gotu Kola plants from the trays and into the ground.  Here are a couple of rows that had just been planted.  Ric said that Gotu Kola can “calm an overanxious mind.”  Some of us who have a hard time turning off our brains at night could use some of that calming!
 
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We tasted some lemon balm herb, one of the ingredients in formulas for gas and bloating. 
 
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The fields were so well maintained are beautiful.
 
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I couldn’t stop taking pictures of the beautiful herbs!
 
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This is Stinging Nettle.  Gaia farm is allowing it to go to seed this year so that they can harvest 500 lbs of seeds.  Stinging Nettle is an Anti-inflammatory, among other uses.  The seeds, the leaves, and the roots are all used in herbal medicine.  

Purity.  Integrity.  Potency.

Gaia Farms has partnered with several universities, as well as international groups to conduct research on herbs.  They recently did some research on Tumeric with Auburn University.  One thing that I was very impressed with was Gaia’s committment to quality.  They test their own products, as well as the herbs they recieve from other sources, to make sure that they have the purest and most potent products possible.  On their own herbs, they will take a sample to the lab to make sure the plant has the best potency before they harvest.  If it doesn’t, they will wait a few days or longer while the plant continues to grow.  They test again, and will not harvest until the plant has reached the target potency.  
 
Gaia does the processing of the herbs–they generally receive the herbs as raw material.  They test it to make sure that it is not only what the supplier says it is, but that it is the target potency.  They make sure there is no pesticide or herbicide residue.  Gaia has a beautiful lab and plant where quality is job #1.  
 
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Valerian Flowers–the root of the beautiful and sweetly-fragrant plant is a sedative for insomnia, as well as muscle pains and spasms.  It is found in the Gaia Sleep formulas.
 
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Gaia has an amazing website, where you can literally “Meet Your Herbs.”  You can enter the ID number on the box or bottle of product, and the website will give you the history of the herbs in your product.  You can also learn about herbs what they are good for, and how your health can be enhanced by using herbal products.  There you can see how Gaia supports local and global concerns as well.  You can find their website here.
 
Thank you Gaia, for a great tour!
 
love,
 
Lassen’s
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What’s the Big Deal About Organic?

I May Be Preaching to the Choir, Here

You may already be convinced that eating organic foods is the best thing for you, your family, and the planet.  But just in case you aren’t, here’s some information and some reasons why choosing organic makes a lot of sense.

 

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First, a Definition of Terms

“Organic” refers to the way in which food is grown.  This includes produce, dairy products, grains, and meats.  Farmers who grow organically do not use chemical pesticides or herbicides or drugs to control bugs, weeds, or diseases.  They are committed to using methods and practices that encourage healthy soil and water, as well as that reduce pollution.  Food that is not produced organically is termed “Conventional.”
 
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As you can imagine, an organic farmer has chosen to use methods requiring more labor and time.  For example, a conventional farmer will just preemptively spray crops for bugs and weeds.  But an organic farmer will examine the crops regularly for weed or insect infestation, and then pull weeds, use traps, hand-remove pests, or use friendly insects and birds to take care of the pests.  They may also use sophisticated crop rotation and organic fertilizers to encourage healthy growth and healthy soil, rather than chemical fertilizers.  They will spread mulch or manure to discourage weed growth.  Organic farmers also use targeted watering systems (such as drip or water tape) to make sure the water goes directly to the plants, rather than to weeds.  This also conserves water resources.   

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This is Burroughs Family Farms–Happy cows and happy chickens, and healthy soil and pasture grasses!

Organically producing foods generally takes more space, too.  Animals are allowed to have a large range to wander, rather than being grown in small-space cages.  Crops often have smaller yields, since the farmer is not using chemical fertilizers to spur growth.   

The United States Department of Agriculture has established strict guidelines for a food to carry the USDA Organic label.  Any product that carries this label must adhere to those guidelines, and be certified by the USDA.  There is an exception for those who produce less than $5,000 worth of produce per year, but if it is labeled “Organic” (even without the certification) it has to be grown according to the certification standards.  Lassen’s works only with reputable producers to make sure that what we carry in our stores really is the best quality organic food available.

What Does the Organic Seal Mean?

 

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“100% Organic” means that everything in the product is wholly organic.  “Organic” means that at least 95% of the ingredients meet the organic standard.  Products labeled with “Made with Organic Ingredients” have to have at least 70% of the ingredients organic.  If a product has less that 70% organically grown ingredients, it cannot use the word “Organic” on the label or include the USDA seal, but it can list the organic ingredients in the ingredient list.  
 
Organic regulations also prohibit or severely restrict the use of food additives, processing agents, and fortifying agents.  This means that organic processed foods (such as cereals and canned goods) will not have the preservatives, colorings, artificial sweeteners and flavorings, as well as chemicals such as MSG that conventionally produced foods may have.  Produce will not have waxes and dyes sprayed onto the foods to make them look better and may give them a longer shelf life.

So What’s the Benefit of Buying and Eating Organic Foods?

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No Pesticides.  I know that conventionally grown foods do not exceed the Government Standard for an acceptable level of pesticides in my body.  But I don’t really want to be voluntarily eating any poisons.  This link will take you to an article about the produce items that have the most pesticides in them.  Their premise is to cut back on pesticide ingestion by changing to organic on these dozen items, but although those are the worst, all conventional produce has pesticides and insecticides.  My goal is to eat as little as possible.
 
No Chemical Weeds Killers.  Ditto the above.  No matter how much I wash my produce, those chemicals are designed to be absorbed into the plants.  And they are still there when I or my family eats them.

 

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Taste.  I think organic just tastes better.  It is subjective, but a fun family activity might be to do a taste test.  Buy both conventional and organic foods and compare the taste.   We have found that apples are a good test subject.  And meats!

Nutrition.  The jury is still out on the question of if organically produced food is more nutritious than conventionally produced food.  There are some studies that suggest it is.   There is clear evidence of more phytonutrients in organically produced foods.  Click here for more information about some of the studies being done.

 

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Better for the Environment.  If more of our food was produced organically, we would not have the threats to our water and soils that we do now.  The residue of all of those chemicals is washed through the fields, absorbed into the soil, and spilled into our waterways.  Then the fish and other sea life are impacted by those chemicals. 

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You can tell this Burroughs Family Farm almond grove is Organic because there are grasses under the trees.  A commercial grove would be bare–the grasses killed by herbicides

Sustainable.  Many fertilizers are made from fossil fuels, on which I think we’d all like to reduce our dependence!  Soils are healthier when organic farming is practiced.   

No GMOs.  This is a big topic that will have to wait for another day.  There is some great information in this article (17 Essential Reasons to Eat Organic Food) on GMOs, as well as other great ideas.  
 
Better for Farm Laborers.  One day several years ago after riding my bike past some fields on the Oxnard plain, I developed a rash all over my skin that had been exposed to the air.  Legs, arms and face.  It was itchy and blotchy and took several weeks to go away.  I have no idea what had been sprayed on those fields as I was riding by, but can you imagine the exposure to dangerous chemicals that the farms workers and the neighbors are suffering?  

What About the Cost?

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Lassen’s always has several delicious–and always organic– produce items on sale!
There can be a concern about the cost of organic produce and other food.  As you can see, producing organic food takes more space, time, and labor, thus higher costs.  But we at Lassen’s are committed to bringing you the very best value in organic produce and other organic foods.  We also bring you local produce whenever possible, thus cutting down on shipping expenses (and, as a bonus, helping to reduce the carbon footprint.)  Click here for our website, and you will find a link there for our monthly sales newsletter, which always has great produce specials.  You can also find a link to the newsletter on the right-hand side of the blog.
 

This is a helpful article on organic eating.  And even TLC (the channel that brings us all kinds of shows about sugar–Cake Boss and DC Cupcakes!) has an article on why we should eat organic!  Click here to see their 15 reasons to eat organic food.

Come to Lassen’s and enjoy our beautiful, organically produced food and supplements!

love,

Lassen’s

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Now, This is a Family Enterprise!

Burroughs Family Farm

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It All Started in 1971

Although the family had been farming for at least 70 years, the Burroughs Family Farming formally began in 1971 with Ward and Rosie Burroughs, and Ward’s brother.  They farmed, and raised their children, and in 2004 Ward and Rosie dissolved the partnership with Ward’s brother.  They then formed partnerships with their children in various farming enterprises.  They like to say that they produce an ABC of products:  Almonds, Beef, Cheese, Dairy, and Eggs.

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A few weeks ago we visited the Burroughs Family Farm in Denair, California, just north of Fresno.  We were able to see the dairy operation (they partner with Organic Valley), the free-range egg production, and the almond and olive groves.  We carry their eggs, and have just brought in their Benina Crema Gouda cheese.  

 

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Rosie

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 Rosie Burroughs in the matriarch of a family committed to organic, sustainable farming.  We were very impressed with their farming philosophy.  We learned about how seriously they take the health of the soil, the pasture grasses, the trees, and the animals. 

 

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 The cows and chickens are moved to new pasture regularly (the chickens are moved every day, and the cows after each milking, twice per day.) Their pasture grasses have species diversity to naturally balance the nutrients for the animals, as well as to assure the health of the soil and pasture.  This makes their eggs and dairy products have a natural blance of Omega-3s and Omega-6s.

 

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Mobile Chicken Coop

These coops are on wheels, and are moved to a new pasture daily.  The chickens can come into and out  of the coop as they please.  Burroughs has about 2000 laying chickens, and 1500 chicks.  The chickens lay for about 18 months.

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The chicken get about 30% of their nutrients from the pasture, and about 70% from organic feed, which is available in the white troughs shown above and below.  I didn’t see any chickens going to the feed, so they clearly like to peck at the ground!

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The chickens come into the coop to lay their eggs. 

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There are laying boxes on both sides of the large coop.

 

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A chicken just laid this egg, which gently rolled down into the trough. 

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Several eggs were laid while we were there.

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Peter shows off a newly laid egg! 

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Every day the eggs are collected and then refrigerated.

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These are definitely free-range chickens, not just cage-free!  They are pasture fed as much as they want, and then supplemented with what they can’t get from the pasture.

 
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Sometimes they just want to take a little nap on the roosts.   

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This little hen was clearly not sure about getting her photograph taken!

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Other Enterprises

The Burroughs family also has 865 acres of organic or transitional almond groves.  (Transitional means that they are treated as organic trees, but will not get the organic certification for three years.)  

 

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You’ll notice that there is grass between the trees.  That is because the Burroughs family does not kill the grasses with herbicides.  They use a drip irrigation system to keep the grasses down as much as possible.

 

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The young almonds look like young peaches here!

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The young almonds can be cut open like a cucumber.  Here you can see the edible part has been taken out of the half on the left.  

 The Burroughs Family has been growing olives as well, and last year pressed their first bottles of oil.  

 

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I couldn’t resist adding the photo of their Dairy Milking facility. It is open air and very clean.  The Burroughs Family takes such good care of their cows that they will produce milk for 10+ years.  The industry average in only 2.6 years!  I’d say that Burroughs Family has happy cows!

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The Burroughs Family even gave us a delicious lunch after our farm tour.  We had a wonderful day, and hope that you try their delicious eggs.  You can really taste the difference! 

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Love,

Lassen’s
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Reduce Your Waste for Earth Day!

It’s a Beautiful Thing

When I was a teenager I went to visit my sister who was living is Seattle in a darling, tiny house.  She had strings of sweet peas lining the whole side of her garage, and I thought she had created paradise within sight of Lake Washington. 

And to go in her house and have the scent of those amazing little flowers, placed all around in jars and vases, permeating the air–it was heaven!

But she had done something else that didn’t strike me as quite so beautiful (at least until I was older!)  She had a compost pile.

Now, isn’t that a beautiful sight?

Composting…  Made Easy!

My recollection is that my sister had dug down a foot or so deep, and then added organic materials such as kitchen scraps (including fruit and vegetable peelings and egg shells, but no meats or dairy), yard clippings, even coffee grounds and shredded paper!

According to this article, there are 5 easy steps to composting.

1.  Shred and Chop.  The smaller your ingredients, the faster you’ll have usable compost.
2.  Mix dry browns and wet greens.  This means to mix yard waste (grass, dry leaves, etc) and kitchen waste (vegetable and fruit peelings, cores, etc).  Make sure not to make the mix too wet and bogged down.
3.  Strive for Size.  Your compost pile should be about 3x3x3 so that there is enough material to heat up and compost more quickly.
4.  Add water as needed.  The compost should not be soggy, just damp.
5.  Keep things moving.  The compost needs air to be mixed in.  The article has a couple of methods to do that–the easiest it to just pitchfork it around, regularly mixing the stuff on the edges into the middle.

Here’s an easy, inexpensive way to Compost

 

 

 

Or If You Want to Go All Out…

 
Or…
 
 

Or…

 

Looks so tidy!

 

So to sum up…

 

  

This article from Purdue University was really helpful.

Here is another article on composting that you might like.

I liked this website that had six great ways to make compost.

I’m going to celebrate Earth Day by getting my hands in the earth!  

I’ve had a compost pile in the past, but gotten away from it lately.  But I’m inspired now!  Look out, I’m composting again!

And then I’m going to plant hundreds of sweet peas!

 

Don’t forget to stop by Lassen’s this Saturday, April 20, for our Earth Day Celebrations!

Click  here  to see our Earth Day flier for more information on all of the fun activities and celebrations going on at Lassen’s this Saturday!
 
Love,
 
Lassen’s