Tag Archives: Sustainability

Fast Facts: 10 Simple Ways to Enjoy More Taste with Less Waste

Americans throw away 165 billion pounds of food each year. That’s about 20 pounds of food, per person, per month. Food is the number one thing in America’s landfill and has a big impact on sustainability. The good news is we all can do something to address this important issue. Try these 10 simple tips to enjoy more taste with less waste.

  1. Shop Smart. Always shop your refrigerator before grocery shopping, plan menus based on what you already have, make a shopping list of what you need, avoid impulse buys, and don’t buy too much.
  2. Portion Control. The larger the plate, the more likely we are to fill it. Use smaller serving plates and watch portion sizes. We have a tendency to eat with our eyes instead of eating with our stomachs.
  3. Planned Overs. If you know there are going to be extras at one meal, think about what they can be used for at subsequent meals. Friday night’s rice and beans make the perfect base for Saturday morning’s breakfast bowl.
  4. Date & Label. There’s nothing worse than finding a container of old, forgotten leftovers. Date and label everything that goes in the refrigerator & freezer.
  5. Repurpose Past-Prime Foods. Just because a food is past its peak doesn’t mean it can’t still be delicious. Crusty bread makes great French toast or croutons. Vegetables past their prime are good for soup. Wilting spinach is perfect in eggs. And macerated slightly overripe berries (a little balsamic vinegar and sugar) is absolutely delicious on ice cream or yogurt.
  6. Love Your Leftovers. Don’t be a leftover snob – save and actually eat them! Also, get creative with your leftovers. It doesn’t have to be the same meal twice.
  7. Stay Organized. Avoid clutter in your refrigerator, freezer & pantry. Keep things organized, labeled and remember FIFO – First In, First Out.
  8. Understand Food Dates. Treat “Use By” and “Best By” dates as suggestions rather than hard lines. These are voluntary terms used by food manufacturers to indicate quality, not the shelf life of a product. Learn more about food dates with handy phone apps like Food Keeper.
  9. Store Foods Properly. The shelf life of food is significantly increased with proper storage. Check out these guidelines from Save the Food for how to optimally store almost any food.
  10. Freeze It. If you have foods you can’t eat before they go bad, freeze it. Freezing significantly increases the life of food, and almost all foods can be frozen. Check out the National Center for Home Food Preservation for proper food freezing guidelines.

For more information on food waste and additional tips, visit www.savethefood.com

Q & A – How Beans Contribute to Sustainable Nutrition

In this month’s Q & A, we chat with  Amy Myrdal Miller, MS, RD, FAND, the founder & president of Farmer’s Daughter Consulting, Inc.

Bean Bulletin (BB): Hi Amy, thanks for chatting with us. To start, please tell us about yourself. Where did your interest in food and farming come from, and what do you currently do today?  

Amy Myrdal Miller (AMM): I grew up on a farm in northeast North Dakota, in the Northarvest growing region. As the youngest of five kids—including three brothers who are farmers—I spent a lot of time listening to my family talk about the weather and the business of farming. When I was living on the farm, my dad had a big cow-calf operation. He also grew wheat, barley, and corn for silage for the cattle. Today, with my brothers running the farm, wheat is still the largest crop, but they also grow soybeans, canola, dry beans (pintos and black beans), and sunflowers.

My interest in cooking came from my mom who got me working in the kitchen at an early age. By the time I was 10 years old, I was often in charge of making dinner and supper for the family. I love to cook and bake, and I do a lot of recipe development for clients.

I now run a business called Farmer’s Daughter Consulting. I do nutrition marketing and strategic communications work for a variety of food and agriculture clients. I’ve also been a flavor seeker, but after working at The Culinary Institute of America for seven years, I now focus more than ever on ingredients and techniques that make healthy foods delicious and craveable.

BB: The word sustainability is a big buzzword in food today, but there really isn’t a single definition. As a thought leader in food, nutrition and agriculture, what do you consider to be a sustainable diet?

AMM: I think it’s important to first look at sustainable agriculture, for which there is a definition that came from the 1990 “Farm Bill” (Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990).

Sustainable agriculture is an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will, over the long term:

  • Satisfy human food and fiber needs
  • Enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agricultural economy depends
  • Make the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources and on-farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls
  • Sustain the economic viability of farm operations
  • Enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.

There are many significant points in this definition, including the fact that sustainable agriculture is about plant and animal production, that it is site-specific, and that the economic viability of a farm is as important as the use of nonrenewable resources. Farmers today are faced daily with making decisions about the best use of their time, money, and natural resources. Sadly though, people who have never visited a farm or talked to a farmer are often the ones most critical of agriculture practices.

When I, as a registered dietitian nutritionist, think about sustainable nutrition, I consider the many factors that play into this. Of course, I think about food and beverage choices, but I also think about culture, socioeconomic status, and cooking skills. Someone who has little money or cooking skills simply can’t make the same food decisions as the person who has more money and training. But thankfully there are many ways to create a healthful, sustainable diet.

BB: Beans receive a lot of attention and praise in the sustainable nutrition conversation. Can you share a little perspective on why beans are an important food for those looking to eat more sustainably?

AMM: Beans are a wonderful example of a very healthful food that can provide sustainable nutrition for anyone, no matter a person’s socioeconomic status. Anyone can open a can of beans, heat them, and enjoy a protein, fiber, and potassium rich food.

If you add a little more time and a few more ingredients, you can turn a humble can of beans into an amazing dish or meal! This time of year, I love to combine canned black beans with corn freshly cut off the cob, diced red pepper, minced cilantro, extra virgin olive oil, a little lime juice, ground cumin, salt, and pepper.  This makes a gorgeous, aromatic salad.

BB: In addition to eating sustainably, we know you’re a big believer that foods also need to taste delicious. What are some tips or ideas to make a sustainable diet also taste awesome?

AMM: There are two ways to create flavor, through the ingredients you choose and the cooking techniques you use. Then there’s the concept of flavor balance, using of five senses of taste–sweet, sour, salty, bitter, umami—to create balanced, pleasing flavor. Beans are a food that often becomes more interesting and delicious when a little acid is added. My corn and black bean salad gets its brightness from fresh lime juice. My beef and bean chili gets balanced flavor from the addition of diced tomatoes and red wine vinegar for acid.

When I worked at The Culinary Institute of America the best advice I ever got from a chef was this: If you want your food to taste great, taste your food. As you’re making a dish, taste as you go along to see if it needs a little more salt, a little more acid (from vinegar, tomatoes, citrus juice, etc.). Does it need savory richness? Add some soy sauce? Is it too acidic or too bitter? Add some honey or sugar.

BB: For people looking to eat a more sustainable diet, what are some of the key strategies or daily habits you recommend?

AMM: The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend making half your plate fruits and vegetables. This is the single best piece of advice I can offer. Focus on getting more fruits and vegetables, including beans, into your grocery cart, refrigerator, pantry, and meals.

A sustainable diet is an eating pattern that promotes good health, includes a wide variety of foods from all food groups, fits your lifestyle and budget, and makes you happy.

My sustainable eating pattern changes throughout the year. During the summer, I use much more fresh fruits and vegetables in my cooking. In the winter, I use more canned and frozen fruits and vegetables. While I like cooking with dry beans, I always have canned beans on hand. They are such an awesome convenience food.

I also consider eating at restaurants part of a sustainable diet. I don’t feel like cooking every night. I love going out to eat with my husband to try new foods I may never make at home. I also love the social aspects of eating in restaurants, spending time talking and laughing while enjoying great food and beverages.

BB: Last and most important question, what is your favorite bean dish?

AMM: I love refried pinto beans. I make mine with lots of sautéed onions and garlic, cooked in extra virgin olive oil. I add lime juice and toasted cumin to balance the flavor. I didn’t grow up eating refried beans, but after living in California for most of my adult life, I think they are incredibly appealing and comforting!

Beans & Sustainable Nutrition – 7 Healthy Habits to Build a Balanced Diet

Today’s food conversation goes far beyond nutrition and health issues. More and more people want to know how their food choices affect not only their personal health but also the health of the planet. As the link between healthful eating patterns and environmental sustainability continues to grow, consumers are increasingly hungry for simple strategies to make sustainable, healthy eating part of their routine.

It’s abundantly clear that what we put on our plate has a big impact, so here are 7 simple habits to build a sustainable, balanced diet.

#1: Eat Plant Forward

A plant-forward diet is a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, pulses (beans, peas, chickpeas and lentils), nuts, seeds and healthy oils. Make these foods the foundation of your diet, and enjoy more moderate amounts of meat, seafood, or dairy. It does not mean you have to become a vegetarian or vegan; it simply means making plant foods the star and bulk of your daily meal pattern, and using meat products in smaller quantities.

#2: Eat More Beans

You might already know that beans are a nutrition powerhouse, rich in protein, fiber and high in antioxidants. What you may not know is that they also have a very positive environmental story to tell. Bean plants promote soil health. The roots of bean plants contain rhizomes, or nodules that contain bacteria that convert nitrogen (a greenhouse gas) in the air into a form plants can use. Even after the beans are harvested, some of the nitrogen in the bean’s roots stays in the soil. This means the farmer may be able to use less fertilizer on that field the next year. For your personal health and the health of the planet, we should all eat more beans! For strategies to enjoy more beans and make them delicious check out our interview with Amy Myrdal Miller, a registered dietitian and culinary nutrition expert.

#3: Swap Meat for Plant-Based Proteins

Plant-based proteins are a unique group of foods that contain nutrients similar to vegetables but have enough protein per serving to make them comparable to animal-based foods.  Plant-based proteins include beans, peas, chickpeas, lentils, nuts and seeds. Consuming plant-based proteins is associated with a number of positive health outcomes including a reduced risk of certain chronic diseases. They also have a lower environmental impact than animal-based foods. Eating more plant-based proteins does not mean eliminating meat, but rather looking for opportunities to consume more plant-based proteins and make substitutions when appropriate. If you’re making hamburgers or taco meat, sub half the ground beef with mashed pinto beans. If you’re making chili, reduce the meat and up the beans. Enjoying a sandwich? Try hummus and use half the deli meat. There are countless ways to enjoy more plant-based proteins.

#4: Build Meals with Beans + Grains

Beans and whole grains are both plant-based sources of protein and key components of a healthy diet. Most plant-based proteins are not complete proteins (like animal-based foods) because they lack one or more of the nine essential amino acids the body cannot produce. However, beans and grains are complementary proteins, meaning that one provides the amino acid(s) the other is missing. Therefore, when you eat beans and grains together, it’s a complete protein. There are countless ways to enjoy grains. If you’re looking for a new recipe, try our Brown Rice and Kidney Bean Salad with Roasted Peppers, Apples and Sherry Vinaigrette or a Pinto Bean & Quinoa Burger with Sriracha Mayonnaise.

#5: Practice Meatless Mondays: Meatless Monday is a movement that encourages people to skip meat one day a week. This simple strategy is not only good for you and the world, but it’s also good for your wallet.  A ½ cup serving of pinto beans (cooked from dry form) costs about $0.07 per serving. A 3-ounce serving of ground beef (90% lean) is about $1.14. That means dry beans cost 15 times less! The Bean Institute has over 50 delicious vegetarian recipes – enough to try a unique recipe every Monday this year.

Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash

#6: Look Local and Eat Seasonal: The flavors of seasonal fruits and vegetables are a joy to savor. Eating foods in the season they are harvested not only provides exceptional flavor, but also reduces the number of miles food travels and often makes them more affordable.  What’s great about beans is that they’re always in season. Beans are allowed to dry in their pods before being harvested, so they can safely be stored for years. When you’re shopping at the farmers market or enjoying foods from the garden, think about opportunities to enjoy these fresh, seasonal foods and pair them with always-in-season beans.

#7: Don’t Waste It: Nearly 40% of all food in the U.S. never gets eaten. That’s like buying five bags of groceries and immediately throwing two in the trash. When food ends up in a landfill, it produces methane, a greenhouse gas that is 25 times more potent than carbon monoxide.  Every person has a responsibility to reduce food waste. Before you grocery shop, make sure you have a plan. If you’re eating out and have leftovers, bring them home and actually eat them. We all can do our part to reduce food waste.  Looking for more ideas? Check out our 10 Simple Ways to Enjoy More Taste with Less Waste.

What Creates Healthy, Productive Bean Plants?

Walk into your local supermarket and you’ll discover dozens of different canned and dry beans, as well as hundreds of food products that contain beans. Beans are a healthful, important food. They are economical and packed with filling nutrients, and they are good for the environment. It’s wonderful to have a consistent supply of this simply delicious, naturally nutritious food, and we have farmers to thank for this!

Farmers work diligently and make countless decisions to ensure that healthful, high quality beans end up on our plates. If you know anything about agriculture (or have a garden), you understand that every crop is different and has unique needs. Here are 6 key considerations farmers make to create healthy, productive bean plants.

  1. Class & Variety

There are many bean classes and varieties available, and a farmer decides what to plant depending on their growing region (i.e. soil type and climate), yield (i.e. growth potential) and markets (i.e. places to sell). In the Northarvest growing region of North Dakota and Minnesota, which is North America’s largest supplier of dry beans, farmers raise 10 classes of dry-edible beans including black, cranberry, Great Northern, navy, pink, pinto, light red kidney, dark red kidney, white kidney and small red. Within each class there are many varieties of bean seeds a farmer can choose. The growing season in Northarvest features long, warm summer days and temperate nights, ideal to maximize bean quality and quantity.

  1. Soil

Dry beans grow best on well-drained soil because they are susceptible to moisture issues, including fungal diseases. Farmers plant dry beans on soils that have good drainage, as well as the right nutrients and hydrogen level (pH). Farmers test their soil for nutrients and pH levels to make sure it is optimal for the type of dry bean they wish to grow, and they will make adjustments if necessary.

  1. Rotation

Crop rotation is essential to producing healthy plants and reducing disease. Different crops take out and put back different nutrients in soil, so it is important to not grow the same crop on the same soil year after year. Dry-edible beans are nitrogen-fixating crops, meaning they put nitrogen back into the soil. Many farmers use beans as an important part of their crop rotation because nitrogen is an essential nutrient for growing healthy, productive plants. Nitrogen fixation is unique attribute of beans and other legumes.

  1. Planting

When beans are planted depends on what region of the country they are growing. Beans don’t tolerate cold weather and they a take about 100 days to mature, so a farmer’s goal is to plant beans when the fear of frost has passed and to harvest before the fall frost. In Northarvest country, this means planting in mid to late May and harvesting in early September.

  1. Pest Management

Farmers work diligently to manage anything that will reduce the healthfulness of their bean plants. A bean plant’s potential enemies include weeds, insects and diseases. Farmers utilize a number of techniques to manage these pests, including crop rotation (as previously mentioned), tillage, row spacing, and certain pesticides and herbicides (if necessary). There are also certain varieties that have been developed to resist pests. These varieties are very helpful to grow healthy, high-quality beans with less input.

  1. Harvest

Unlike green beans that are harvested immatureone-girl-in-bean-field-portrait, dry-edible beans are left to dry in their pod. They are harvested when they have lost a significant amount of their moisture but not too much because they don’t want the shells to shatter. Farmers will test their beans for moisture levels (goal is about 18% moisture) and also look for pods that are yellow and brown. Farmers will either swath (cut the plant) or directly harvest the bean with a combine. Allowing beans to dry before harvest allows beans to be minimally processed, require no refrigeration or freezing, and to be shipped all over the world.

Want to learn more about bean production in Northarvest country? Check out our October Bean Bulletin interviews with Mark and Leann, two dry-edible bean farmers in Northarvest country.

Meet Our Growers – Q & A with Two Northarvest Bean Growers

In this month’s Q &A we chatted with two bean growers in Northarvest country to learn about their farms, why they love BEAN a farmer, and how they grow the simply delicious, naturally nutritious beans we all love.

Mark Dombeck is a farmer/rancher in west central Minnesota, where the majority of kidney beans are grown in the United States. He raises kidney beans, corn, alfalfa and dairy cows along with his two sons and son-in-law. Mark has been farming for 40 years.

Leann Shafer is a farmer/rancher in central North Dakota. She grew up on a farm/ranch in western North Dakota, and is currently farming alongside her husband, sons and father-in-law. They are a fifth-generation farm/ranch and raise pinto beans, corn, soybeans, and oats. They also have a commercial Angus cow-calf operation and feedlot.

 BB: Why did you become a farmer?

MARK: Like many people who farm, I was raised on a farm and it is what I’ve been doing my whole life. But I decided to become a farmer because I like caring for crops and watching things grow. I also really enjoy caring for animals. Some people have gardens and pets; I just have a really big garden and lots of pets!  Also, we know the world’s population is growing and we are going to need more food to feed the world. I like to know I’m doing my part.

LEANN: I became a farmer because it is what I grew up doing. I was raised on a fourth generation family farm/ranch in western North Dakota. After I married my husband we moved back to his family farm in central North Dakota and have been farming and ranching there ever since. We have three children, two of which are currently farming with us [see photo], along with my father-in-law.

BB: What’s the day-to-day life of being a farmer?

MARK: The day-to-day life of farming is pretty much sun up to sun down.  The clock doesn’t mean much and the day of the week doesn’t mean anything. The biggest indicator of what you’re going to do is weather related. You have to be willing to change your plans at the last minute. And even though we’re not “actively farming” in the winter, we’re still busy planning, budgeting and getting ready for next season.

LEANN: Since our operation has both crops and cattle, we find something to do all seasons of the year. Spring is the hopeful season. We look forward to putting seed in the ground and calving. Summer is the tending season. We’re busy spraying for weeds, making hay, checking pastures, and watching the crops grow. Fall is harvest season. Depending on the spring, harvest can start in July with oats, August for pinto beans, September for soybeans and October for corn. We wean calves in August/September and put them in the feedlot and put the cows back out on pasture until corn harvest is complete, then bring them home to graze the corn fields before winter sets in. During the winter we feed cows, work in the shop, plan for spring and get ready to do it again next year.

BB: For people who know nothing about growing beans, can you tell me a little about growing and harvesting? How do you know when beans are ready to harvest?

MARK: Growing kidney beans is a lot like growing any other garden vegetable. They don’t tolerate much cold weather so we usually plant around Memorial Day and harvest around Labor Day. We harvest in the dry form so that they can be processed and shipped all over the world. Because they are harvested like this, they don’t need any further refrigeration or processing.

LEANN: We grow pinto beans, which are a legume crop. They are sensitive to frost, so they can’t be planted too early. They don’t like “wet feet” so we put them on fields with good drainage or lighter soil type. We know the beans are ready for harvest when the pods get dry and brittle and the beans harden. You can shell out the beans and take a moisture test. Less than 16% moisture is considered dry and ready for the processing plant.

BB: Many consumers are interested in growing healthy food for a healthy planet. What practices do you use on your farm to grow food in a sustainable way that protects the environment and promotes soil health?

MARK: Like many other industries, the digital world is definitely shaping our business. We use a technique called grid soil sampling where we take a soil sample from small sections of our land. Based on the lab analysis of this sample, we know exactly what the soil needs. That way, when we plant seeds and apply fertilizer, we apply the proper amount and not extra. After the plants are growing we do a leaf tissue analysis. This allows us to see if the plant has the right amount of nutrients or if it needs anything. That way if we need to add or change something, we can. Our animals’ diets are also lab-test and science based. Everything we do is science based, whether it’s food for our plants or food for our animals.

LEANN: Farmers are constantly looking to become more efficient and productive, which in turn means healthier soils. Edible beans are legumes, which fix nitrogen into the soil. By planting edible beans in our crop rotation, we are able to reduce the amount of fertilizer needed for next year’s crop. We also use minimal till farming which reduces wind and water erosion and promotes a healthy soil biomass.

BB: As a farmer, what do you wish people knew more about what you do?

mark-dombeckMARK: I wish more people understood what a family farm is, and that we are a family farm. We really understand and care about every single thing that happens on our farm. Everything we do we do in a sustainable manner because we want to make sure it will be here for future generations. I am leaving the soil and animals in better condition for the next generation because if you don’t do it that way, it just won’t work.

LEANN: I think farming is one of the most important jobs a person can do. We are very fortunate to have such a safe, abundant, affordable food supply in this country. Our philosophy is that if you take care of the land, the land will take care of you. We work hard to do a good job and be productive, and we’re also looking to the future when the land will be passed on to the next generation of farmers. The food we raise is the food we feed our own families, so it is safe. We are faced with many challenges throughout the year and each day is different. Mother Nature plays a huge role in our success each year, as well as the markets.  You have no control over either one. Sometimes you work all year long and don’t get a paycheck. But we love the land and the lifestyle so we always try again next year.

BB: Finally, the most important question, what’s your favorite bean? And what’s your favorite bean dish?

MARK: I’m a little prejudice because I grow kidney beans, so I have to say kidney beans are my favorite. And my favorite dish would be chili, with an extra amount of kidney beans in it. I also like my kidney beans in soups and salads.

LEANN: I like all types of beans, but black beans have become my favorite. They’re so versatile – you can add them to salads, entrees and soups. My favorite bean dish is Calico Beans. It’s a baked bean dish with navy, pinto, kidney, and lima beans, ground beef and bacon.


Fast Bean Farming Facts

Want to impress your friends with your bean farming knowledge? Here are 5 key farming facts to share with friends and family:

1. Beans are members of the legume family, which includes beans, lentils, peas, peanuts and soybeans. These plants contribute to soil health through nitrogen fixation, a process where atmospheric nitrogen is converted into a form of nitrogen plants can use.
2. Each acre of land in the U.S. planted to beans will produce 1,500 to 2,800 pounds of beans, depending on location, weather and soil conditions.
3. In 2015, U.S. farmers in 19 states produced more than 2.97 billion pounds of dry beans. The top five beans producing states were North Dakota, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska and Idaho.
4. In 2015, the top five types of beans produced in the U.S. were pinto beans (32%), black beans (19%), navy beans (15%), kidney beans (7%) and small red beans (4%).
5. American farmers grow approximately twice as many pinto beans as any other beans.