Boyd's Farm

Meet Texas Hill Country Olive Oil Co.

D CComment
Texas Hill Country Olive Oil - Boyd's Farm

We recently drove out to Dripping Springs TX to meet the producers of the award-winning oils from Texas Hill Country Olive Oil Co

And, although it was a scorching hot morning, the constant breeze kept us cooled while we toured the beautiful estate owned and operated by father and daughter John and Cara Gambini. 

 

The Farm to Table Movement 

Before we talk specifically about the informative tour we received from John - or the gorgeous oil they're producing - it's worth spending a few brief moments on the growing farm-to-table consumer demand. 

Undoubtedly, the single largest benefit of farm-to-table has been the demand for high quality ingredients from local growers.

What many experience simply as better tasting, healthier ingredients, highlighted on the menus of cafes and restaurants, is actually an extremely important aspect of the relationship between the producer and the consumer. 

John spent time talking about this, both directly and indirectly. It's easy for us as consumers to complain about the lack of high quality ingredients - to yearn for the "good ol days" - or to cry foul that we're no longer able to trust the large companies we buy from.

Yet, we rarely spend more than a few seconds to recognize that when we choose to support local growers, we have the power to cast a vote for our farmers and our neighbors. 

This is something that is gaining momentum with the farm-to-table movement - and that's absolutely a good thing - but there are many other ways in which we can (and should) be supporting local producers.

For instance, many people who care about the food they consume spend time to educate themselves on ingredients and health benefits. They shop at farmers markets and eat at restaurants that buy from nearby farmers.

But why don't we demand the same care from the products we put on our bodies everyday? Why hasn't there been an equally important movement towards "farm-to-skin"?

 
Olive oil being produced in the Hill Country of Texas - Boyds Farm
 

John told us a story of how, in villages throughout Spain and Italy, the people who lived there always knew when the olive oil producers would be harvesting. They were so passionate about the oils, they knew the best thing to do was to buy the oil as close to harvest time as possible. So most of the village would show up the same day that the oil was harvested and bottled, and they'd buy an entire years supply to hold them over until the next harvest. 

The villagers would use the oil for eating and cooking, but it was also used for skin, and hair, and sometimes as fuel (and likely in countless other ways).

This connection between the local consumers and producers is one I'm sure John Gambini would love to see replicated in our country. 

Farm-to-Table and the demand it's creating is a great thing, but it's simply one small step. The larger goal should be to have a connection with the producers that surround us, and to understand that supporting local growers - knowing the makers - is the only way to guarantee we're consuming and using ingredients that are actually good for us. 

 

Why Not All Olive Oil is the Same

Back to the olive oil - that gorgeous, delicious oil.

As we walked out into the dusty orchard, John spoke about the land, the soil, the wind and the trees they've planted. 

Texas Hill Country Olive Oil grows mostly Arbequina and Mission varieties. (I believe they are also growing Pendolino and possibly one or two others as well.) The trees themselves are beautiful. Row after row, spaced out in a manner that makes it obvious that this orchard is hands-on. 

Simply put - they're doing things the right way here. Sometimes you hear that and wonder what it means; if you can, drive out to the Gambini's property and you'll know.

John speaks in blatant admiration for those who mentored him, and told us about how he is the only farm in Texas that helps other growers press their olives, allowing them time on his machines. He's genuinely interested in seeing the industry and community grow. 

And why wouldn't he be? 

We talked for a few minutes about the quality of oil being produced here, especially in relation to the oil you're likely buying and consuming. 

The point that jumped out - international olive oil producers really have no standards that they hold themselves to. You could very well be buying olive oil that is mostly canola or some other oil.

We even heard about the use of lamp oil as a filler. 

Olive oil is a product many of us consume on a regular basis. It's also commonly found in many skin, hair, and beauty products. 

But, when was the last time you stopped to ask WHERE that oil is coming from? Shouldn't this be far more transparent? 

All this reiterates the need to know your producers. 

And we're very happy to now know Texas Hill Country Olive Oil Co. and the Gambinis. 

 
 

Texas Hill County Olive Oil Co. is producing award winning oils. If you're in the Dripping Springs, TX area, please stop in. You can also purchase their olive oil online

Personal Care Products: Our Chemical Romance

Katherine CouronComment
Photo by Manu Camargo

Photo by Manu Camargo

Why We’re Talking About Toxins

We mentioned before that ‘ignorance is not bliss’ when it comes to personal care products. Today I want to show you exactly what that means.

This year Johnson & Johnson was sued and will pay $72 million. Why? Because a court deemed they knew the dangers of one of their ingredients, talc, used in baby powder and did nothing to warn consumers.

One juror even noted evidence presented during the case that showed the company’s attempt to influence how products are regulated rather than addressing the problem of harmful ingredients.

After years of using the baby powder for personal hygiene, a woman died of ovarian cancer before she could see the result of her lawsuit against the company. Her son took over the case following her passing.

It should also be noted that products sold in Europe and other countries do NOT include the same ingredients as those used in the United States. For example, did you know that formaldehyde has been used in baby products in the U.S.? Did you know that formaldehyde is NOT included in the same products in Europe? 

Are you upset yet? I am.

The family we’ve been talking about is not the only one affected by negative consequences of ingredients in personal care products. Thousands of people have brought complaints forward. Johnson & Johnson is also not the only company knowingly including harmful ingredients in their products. 

The Facts About Toxins in Products

Berkley recently conducted a study with teenage girls to demonstrate the effects of personal care products on the body. Participants’ levels of certain chemicals and hormones were taken before the study. They were then asked to use products that were free of well-know toxic chemicals found in personal care products (e.g. parabens, phthalates, triclosan, and oxybenzone***).

After only 3 days, the levels of these chemicals were greatly reduced in the participants’ bodies. One researcher noted, 

Seeing the drop in chemical levels after just three days shows that simple actions can be taken, such as choosing products with fewer chemicals, can make a difference.

The study was conducted because scientists see “growing evidence linking endocrine-disrupting chemicals to neurobehavioral problems, obesity and cancer cell growth.” Researchers acknowledge that current U.S. regulation of these products is not strong enough.

A Call to Action

So what can we do about this? Stop using these products.

You may have been using that same moisturizer or powder, that lipstick or night cream for decades seemingly without issue. I use the word ‘seemingly’ very intentionally here.

Hormone-disrupting chemicals, like those studied by the Berkley researchers, can have harmful affects on your body and you might not stop to think that your beauty products could be the cause. 

It is important to note that studies of various chemicals are limited to the effects on their subjects as of that day. Chemicals are stored in our bodies (especially in women) and have compounding effects over time. This means that scientists can test for tumors or other symptoms which may not have presented themselves yet ,but might do so in the future. We believe it is best to stay away from such chemicals because studies are limited in their knowledge of the long-term effects on the body.

We put these toxin-laden products on our skin every day. We purchase them every few weeks. We put them on our kids! We allow companies to continue operating this way because we’re paying them to do it.

Thankfully, organizations exist to fight legislation and increase regulations in the U.S. And you don’t have to be a part of such an organization to make a difference. 

Show your demand with your dollar. Use products that are non-toxic. Scientists, like those mentions earlier, have shown that they are better for your body. This action also sends a message to large corporations that toxic products will no longer be tolerated.

Once you know what is actually in the products you put on your skin, it’s hard to imagine why anyone would continue using them. Thanks to the internet it is easier than ever to find affordable options in non-toxic personal products.

To help, here are a few of my favorite resources:

The Organic Bunny 

The Green Product Junkie

Think Dirty (an app that let's you know what's in your specific product)

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) (they have many helpful consumer guides)

At Boyd’s Farm we list every ingredient in our products. We believe that when it comes to our health less is more. For this reason, we keep our products simple, subtle, and natural.

 

***Additional Notes:

Parabens are used in cosmetics as a preservative. They are estrogen mimics, endocrine disruptors, and have been linked to breast cancer.

Phthalates are used in plastics as well as cosmetics. They have been linked to “birth defects, asthma, neurodevelopmental problems in newborns, fertility issues and obesity”. 

Triclosan is often used as an antibacterial agent and included in cosmetics. Due to the toxicity of this chemical, many companies are now removing this ingredient from their products. It has been banned in many U.S. states and other countries. 

Oxybenzone is most often used in sunscreens. It has been linked to “hormone disruption and potentially to cell damage that may lead to skin cancer”. That’s right. The product we use to prevent skin cancer may actually lead to skin cancer. 

Why a Veteran Becomes a Farmer

LifestyleKatherine CouronComment
Photo by Frances Gunn

Photo by Frances Gunn

This month I attended a Empowering Women Veterans farming conference at the beautiful Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture. Hosted by the Farmer Veteran Coalition, this conference was open only to female military veterans who either are or intend to be farmers. Most of the women I met there already had farming operations of which they were the principal farmer. 

I was one of the few women who did not have an established farming operation. Of course I was thrilled to meet women who have walked this path and to learn from them and the Stone Barns team. Having recently watched the Chef’s Table episode on Chef Dan Barber of Blue Hill at Stone Barns (and read his book), I was ecstatic to meet some of the people growing the amazing ingredients he showcases in his dishes.

While I was there, I couldn’t help but wonder what drives veterans to become farmers. Here are a few of my thoughts.

Service & Leadership. 

One of the speakers, Alexis Taylor (Deputy Under Secretary, U.S. Department of Agriculture) brought up a point I hadn’t considered. Roughly 1.4% of American women ever serve in the military. Only 2 percent of Americans and their families are farmers. The cross-section of those communities is an incredibly small number of people. These people have chosen to serve their country in one industry and then do it again in another.

These women are both servants and leaders. The vast majority of women I met have a community component to their farming operations. For example, Kelly Carlisle started Acta Non Verba to support children in a community with a high dropout rate and low employment. Kelly was even recognized by President Obama for her work helping children eat better, teaching them new skills, and providing them funding for future education.

Cheryl Besenjak, of Grow Well Farms, came to this conference for many reasons but one in particular stuck with me. She asked the various organizations how she could work with others to provide education, training, and resources to other veterans who wanted to become farmers. She had set up a successful farming operation and now wanted to reach out and help others…again.

These women see something that should be done and they do it. They stand against adversity and are making things happen.

Boyd's Farm visiting Blue Hill Farms in NY. Amazing farmcrafted products and ingredients on display.  Photos by Katherine Couron

Care; a Larger Purpose. 

To us, food is about more than culinary techniques. It’s about feeding people. The ingredients available to our communities should be flavorful and nutritious. This is the focus of the crop production at Stone Barns. We had the opportunity to meet with Farm Director Jack Algiere, he was a wealth of knowledge and experience. What I took away from our discussions was more than just my notes on crop rotation, though. Jack’s relationship with nature was practically tangible. His appreciation for the soil and what it produced was something that can only be truly understood by seeing the pure joy flood across his face as he explained how a traditionally autumn-loving plant had survived a New York winter. 

That sort of transcendental relationship is something I think almost all veteran farmers experience in one way or another. It is no wonder so many programs have been created to use farming as a way to help those who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Photo by Jake Ingle

Photo by Jake Ingle

Military members understand working for more than themselves. And farming is no different. The ecological system has to be treated holistically, with respect, in order for it to thrive - in order for the U.S. to thrive. Raising and growing delicious food takes time, attention to detail, and above all, the determination to work for something larger than yourself. 

Just the science of understanding the soil and the millions of microorganisms living there is enough to make a novice’s head spin. But the work of studying the interconnectivity of an ecosystem - to include humans - is tremendous and rewarding. Boyd’s Farm doesn’t have a single acre of farm land yet, but our family has already learned so much about our connection to the natural environment.

We have a dream of farming because we want to take care of ourselves and our community through a conscious understanding of what we consume and what we put on our bodies. Our desire to farm is inseparable from our desire to create non-toxic products. Our bodies are all we have; literally. In the interest of self-preservation we must care for them. 

Social Responsibility.

Ms. Taylor (USDA) made another point that stayed with me. Not too long ago, families had small farms they maintained and harvested in order to eat. Now, however, people trust someone they’ve never met to grow what will be consumed by the people they love. We outsourced a primary requirement for our survival.

Farmers today, especially small farmers, take up this responsibility. The duty to feed our country and other parts of the world is a burden that has been picked up by fewer than 2% of our population.

As veterans, the women of this conference have already taken on a responsibility for our society; to protect and defend our Constitution. Now they have taken up their shovels and fulfilled another need; providing sustenance for other people. 

This task is not one to be taken lightly. Pause for a moment the next time you go to take a bite of your meal. Where did it come from? Whose hands harvested it? What would you do if they didn’t grow or raise it for you?

Photo by Marian Chinciusan

Photo by Marian Chinciusan

At Boyd’s we’re taking up this task because we are passionate about food, flavor, nutrition, and whole body wellbeing. We are eager to get started and grateful for the opportunity to learn from members of the Veteran Farmer’s Coalition as well as farmers and members of the agricultural community across the U.S. The percentage of people in this community is small but they are already proving to be some of the best people we’ve ever met. 

I would like to send a special thanks to the following people that made this conference a success for this new veteran farmer:

Michael O’Gorman (Executive Director, VFC)

Julie Neithercutt (for gracefully putting together the entire conference)

Jack Algiere, Craig Haney, and the Stone Barns staff

Blue Hill at Stone Barns (for the incredible food)

Dr. Anu Rangarajan (Cornell Small Farm Program)

Doris Mold (President, American Agri-Women)

Dr. Tasha Hargrove (Asst. to the Dean, Tuskegee University; VFC Board Member)

Presenters from the many programs of the USDA

All of the women who attended this conference; thank you for your knowledge and your friendship.

Why We Make Natural Bath & Beauty Products

LifestyleKatherine CouronComment
Why We Make Natural Bath Beauty Products - Boyds Farm

We believe that what you put on your body is as important as what you put in your body.

Did you ever stop and think about the fact that your skin is your largest organ? We spend time strengthening our muscles, keeping our heart healthy, and training our brain, yet we don’t always pay attention to our skin. 

After the shock of learning about the toxins in the products we used, (read more about us transitioning to an organic lifestyle). I threw them out and learned to make many of them myself.

Thankfully, I don’t need to make all of them because there are a lot of great makers out there producing organic cosmetics and home goods.

In starting a company, my main priorities were to create a lifestyle we dreamed of for our family and to provide products that are good for people. Whatever I did or made had to align with my personal values of integrity, service, and social/environmental responsibility. 

Creating soaps and beauty products from organic materials and essential oils just made sense. I absolutely love making them! From sourcing the best materials, to continual testing and development, to ensuring our packaging is recyclable, I love it. I feel great knowing that what I’m creating is good for people. I simply wouldn’t do it otherwise. 

We are also experiencing the benefits of Boyd’s Farm products. Our skin looks great, our mood is lifted, our house smells fantastic, and we haven’t seen a doctor in months. 

Thankfully, this forum also gives me the opportunity to communicate with you guys about the differences in conventional versus natural products and foods. It is so important to know what you put on your skin and hair. Combine this with an understanding of the food you put in your system and you can feel confident about your wellbeing. Most importantly, you can actually feel good!

What are you doing for yourself that makes you feel good?

 

Transitioning to an Organic & Local Lifestyle

LifestyleKatherine CouronComment
Transitioning to an Organic Local Lifestyle - Boyds Farm

Ignorance is not bliss. For years I teetered on the edge of an organic lifestyle but never made the leap. As a sometimes vegetarian (and sometimes not), I knew the importance of social and environmental responsibility, but couldn’t seem to get serious enough to buy organic local goods consistently. 

My husband and I had always said we would take care of ourselves now to ensure that as we aged we wouldn’t face the medical maladies we see others dealing with regularly. Work seemed to inundate our lives and when we weren’t working we just wanted to relax with friends. This generally meant eating and drinking. Suddenly we were both out of shape and much softer than we wanted to be. We noticed stomach issues, frequent illness, and bloating that kept us both feeling like we were carrying a sack of potatoes in our gut. Weren’t we saying that we wanted to be fit and healthy throughout our lives? What happened to having a ‘clean’ lifestyle?

As I started to sketch out the plan for Boyd’s Farm I began by researching the cosmetic industry. When I learned that cosmetics and bath products were not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the way I thought they were, I was shocked to say the least. I always just assumed someone a few steps above my pay grade was acting as a watchdog. Wrong. 

While there are some standards for cosmetics across the international community, in my opinion they are insufficient to protect our health and wellbeing. Toxic chemicals continue to be added to bath and beauty products. The ingredients listed on the labels might as well be another language for those of us who are not biochemists.

For soap specifically, the FDA website states, “It is your responsibility to make sure your product is safe for consumers when it is used as intended, and to make sure it is properly labeled.” I, myself, am unaware of the last great story of the self-regulating mega-corporation so I don't trust that this is happening.

The burden of self-regulation is a slippery slope for large companies using new chemicals to make that lipstick stay on all day. So they’ve tested the chemical and deemed it to be safe for consumers. We all know that science is continually evolving and new breakthroughs are happening daily. A company may claim that a chemical is safe now, only to find out a decade later that it is, in fact, a carcinogen. They move on, while citizens are stuck dealing with medical bills and class-action lawsuits.

As I researched the effects of bath and beauty products on overall health, I also studied what effects foods have on skin and wellbeing.

While studying ways to take better care of our skin through diet, it became clear that our food was not exactly what we thought it was. Conventional farming uses methods and chemicals that are not good for human systems; we know this. What we did not realize, though, is that through the selection of certain varietals of plants, combined with harvesting at the earliest opportunity, agribusiness has altered even our fruits and vegetables to be less nutritious. What?! I thought they couldn’t touch my fruits and veggies, those are sacrosanct! Apparently, they aren’t.

As I said earlier, ignorance is not bliss. All that time we spent not knowing about the harmful chemicals in our products or the lack of nutrients in our foods has taken a toll on our bodies. Thankfully there is a solution; all hope is not lost.

It has taken decades but the movement for local, organic farming has taken up root and blossomed throughout the United States and many other nations. New techniques for growing nutritious produce and raising healthy livestock are being discovered all the time. In many places, and increasingly even in large cities, you can actually know your farmer again. Farm to table restaurants are becoming wildly popular, promoting a new way to think about your food. Hallelujah! 

Based upon everything we’ve learned and our fantastic accessibility to local and organic foods, as well as the organic materials to make bath and beauty products, it is officially time to make the transition to a clean lifestyle. I’ll be detailing how we are doing it in other posts but so far we are loving it. We feel better just within a short period of time and I can’t stop talking about it. Once you know what harm can come to your friends and family, how could you not warn them? There is plenty of research on this so anyone who thinks this is exaggeration can look for themselves, the evidence is available. 

Let’s keep each other and our community encouraged to take on challenges that are good for us! Have you made a leap like this before? If so, how did it go?

Source of quotation: http://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/productsingredients/products/ucm115449.htm