Have any plans this weekend?

If you're looking for something fun to do on your next day off, look no further, because I have an idea for you that is fun AND helps you get an awesome start on your meal prep! What could it be?

Go visit your local farmers market! To get a list of the ones in your area, click here.

If you're not sure what the big deal is with farmers markets or shopping local, just hear me out:

First, it's the prime spot to buy locally produced food: The food looks and tastes betterbecause it’s grown in the natural season, picked at the perfect peak of freshness, and doesn’t need added preservatives to sustain travel time or to prolong shelf life.

There's an opportunity to discover foods you may not have tried before, and incorporate them into your cooking for new flavors and added variety of nutrients. Large retailers can't sufficiently stock very unique items, but a local shop can and often do bring character, charm and rare finds to places like the farmers market.

It's a great place to meet other community members who care about locally sourced food, as well as grab a bargain because the middleman and transportation costs are eliminated. And, you likely get to talk to the person who actually grew your food — how cool is that?!

When you shop at the farmers market, you're also supporting the environment.When items have to travel long distances it uses an enormous amount of fuel. If only 10% of ingredients were sourced from a state grower instead of corporate farm, it would save 310,000 gallons of fuel annually (source). Additionally, food that takes a while to get from farm to table demands special packing and storing methods that are typically not recycled.

Shopping local helps financially support those living in and caring for your community, and provides you the delightful opportunity to get closer to the root of your food source (no pun intended).

Go check out a farmers market near you this weekend, and reply back and let me know what you find in the comments below! :)

I’d like to introduce you to Roger

Roger Zetah knows a thing or two about investments, to say the least. He spends his weekdays clocking long hours at the office as a 58-year-old CPA (certified public accountant). Though, that’s not the particular facet of his life that fascinated me: it’s his investment in health in and out of the CrossFit gym we attend together.

When he’s not hitting the workout of the day with the class, he’s in the back training to improve his olympic weightlifting mechanics. He’s an accomplished athlete, missing qualifying for Regionals as a Masters competitor by only 35 spots and 5 spots, respectively, the last two years. And for those who know as little about the Masters category as I: it’s a worldwide competition where only 200 of the best move on to Regionals. I got curious about what keeps him going; age aside, at a time when so many people across the board struggle to maintain consistency of gym attendance. So I asked him if we could chat after a workout.

He’s certainly got an admirable level of determination, which became painfully clear when I found out his first CrossFit workout ever, five years ago, involved 100 thrusters.

I loved a particular story he shared: when he was focused on getting his muscle-up, he actually changed his license plate to say “muscle-up” to constantly remind him. Then he got it! Maybe if I borrow his car, my gymnastics will improve too.

With my knowledge on nutrition I was pretty convinced he was killing it the kitchen too, but of course I had to ask.

“It’s huge how much eating impacts performance,” Roger said.

He wasn’t at all shy to admit he absolutely dreads cooking, but suffers through time in the kitchen every Sunday to meal prep and set himself up for success, thus being able to avoid the task for the next six days. Chicken breast (particularly prepared through his newfound love of the crockpot), ground turkey, a variety of vegetables, hard-boiled eggs, sweet potatoes and small amounts of fruit are on the menu for his typical day.

He explained that weighing and measuring his food doesn’t interest him, though he did go strict Paleo for 42 days at an old gym for a group challenge where he dropped to an unsustainable 4% body fat.

“For the first two weeks (on Paleo) I didn’t want to be around sharp instruments,” Roger joked. “And performance wise I didn’t have enough energy.”

After ditching that method, he’s discovered that intuitively eating quality foods keeps him feeling good in the gym and satisfied throughout the day. Well, that and a little bit of dark chocolate.

“I have a small piece of dark chocolate almost every day. I get my fix and I’m done,” he admits. The minor indulgence keeps him on track, as he doesn’t entertain cheat meals or cheat days. He went on to tell me that he doesn’t ever feel deprived by structuring his nutrition this way.

“Once I started eating better, I stopped craving things. I look at bread and ice cream and to me, it’s not food,” he said.

I pressed for what motivates him to keep his health on the forefront of his priorities, especially with his circumstances: his wife is a recent cancer survivor, he works full-time and hates prepping his food. Crushing excuses like thrusters.

“I feel better. I like working out and I can do things people my age can’t do,” he said. “Everyone at Magna that comes to workout that works out hard inspires me, whether they’re a beginner or have been here 5 years.”

He offered me some of his best advice to share: “If you fall off the track, don’t stay off. And be patient, everything will come in time with discipline.”

I really believe that every person you meet has something to offer. And all too often the opportunity is missed. How frequently do you stare at your phone checking out at the grocery store, instead of engaging with the associate helping you? Or come to the gym and make friendly nods, but never actually learn about the people you’re sweating with? These people all have stories, passions, inspirations and knowledge that is just waiting to be shared.

Thank you Roger, for sharing a piece of your story with me.

 PHOTO BY BRETT BARTLETT

PHOTO BY BRETT BARTLETT

You don’t have to be a pro to have fresh eggs

He runs! He jumps! He tackles! He…raises chickens?

That’s right. NFL Pro football player Jamell Fleming, #30 cornerback for the Kansas City Chiefs, resides in Phoenix with his wife and young son, where they are responsible for 24 chickens roaming freely in their backyard.

Fleming was originally drafted to the NFL by the Arizona Cardinals from the University of Oklahoma in 2012. His wife Ashriel Osgood is a Bikini Pro and personal trainer, so it goes without saying that good, wholesome food is a priority in their household.

While he’s probably typically interviewed about his field performance, I asked him if we could chat about his experience being a dad to a handful of chickens and he was thrilled to share.

About a year ago his family went down to the local feed store, worked with a knowledgeable store-clerk, and came home with chickens and everything they needed to take care of them.

“There’s a big difference having fresh eggs: the color of the egg, the color of the yolk, they even smell different when you boil them,” Fleming said.

He described the varieties of egg colors his mix of chicken breeds produce, everything from light shades of copper to dark brown. He explained that the only difficult part of this job is learning the chickens’ unique personalities and getting them to all get along when new ones are introduced, but even this becomes easier with time.

Fleming uses all Organic-feed, and claims they’re still cheaper to feed than a typical family dog. Fleming stated proudly “my chickens are happier”, and their treatment and quality feed is to thank for that.

Many consumers don’t understand the differences between different types of eggs, though take note of the dramatic price difference between these cartons at the store.

First, all eggs have identical nutritional-value. The only difference between white and brown eggs is their color, as the type of chicken (specifically their breed, earlobe and feather color) is what determines the pigment of the egg shell. Similarly, grades AA, A and B are given based on the presence of exterior spots, amount of air between the yolk and the shell, and thickness of the yolk, all of which are hardly indicative of the egg quality and not at all of chicken treatment.

Some egg cartons will market themselves “hormone-free”, however this is true for all eggs because the FDA prohibits administering hormones to egg laying hens.

Free-range simply means the chickens aren’t kept in traditional battery-cages and must be given some kind of access to the outdoors, but there is no regulation on how often they get to soak up the sun or how humanely they’re treated. It’s entirely possible they are kept primarily indoors in such cramped quarters that they are still unable to engage in natural behaviors.

Battery-caged chickens are on average given 67 square inches of space, less than the size of a piece of letter paper and thus unable to spread their wings most of their life. The Humane Society reports that in many cases the chickens’ beaks are partially burned off, they’re deprived of food and water, and killed before they reach two-years old and/or shortly after laying a sufficient quantity of eggs, which is far shorter than their natural 5-11 year lifespan. When a group of chickens become sick, a farmer may choose to slaughter them as a cost-effective practice.

Organic eggs means they came from chickens who were not given antibiotics. However, these farmers are required to treat the animal if it becomes ill and in this case, the chicken is vaccinated and those eggs are no longer sold with that seal. Although, the FDA only allows three different kinds of antibiotics to be given to any chicken, and the U.S. Egg and Poultry Association claims there is no residue of antibiotics left in the egg to reach the consumer even when they are used. While most Organic eggs are cage-free, there is no caging regulation in place for Organic eggs.

If you’re interested in getting fresh eggs from your own backyard, I encourage you to do so! Friendly reminder: you may want to consult your homeowners association, lease or similar for any rules on owning chickens. If you’re not sure where you local feed store is located, I found a couple links where you can learn a little more about raising your own chickens that may be helpful for you: here or here.

Sources:

http://www.thekitchn.com/whats-the-difference-between-white-and-brown-eggs-word-of-mouth-113678

https://www.uspoultry.org/faq/faq.cfm

https://www.southernstates.com/articles/size-grade-eggs.aspx

http://homeguides.sfgate.com/constitutes-organic-chicken-egg-79176.html

http://www.humanesociety.org/issues/confinement_farm/facts/cage-free_vs_battery-cage.html

http://www.nfl.com/player/jamellfleming/2532839/profile

 

  An egg from one of Jamell’s chickens, provided by him for this post

An egg from one of Jamell’s chickens, provided by him for this post

Chasing greatness

I have firm beliefs in many things, but for the purposes of this post I want to focus on a few specific ones: always strive to be better, surround yourself with good people, and be a part of something bigger than yourself.

That’s some heavy stuff, right? Those are some overarching life goals that you probably don’t stop and consider every day. I can tell you one thing…I know I’m living those beliefs every day in at least one small way, and I’ll tell you how.

It wouldn’t be right to start this story without thanking my great friend Joe – he introduced me to the world of CrossFit and Weightlifting (and by introduced, I mean patiently taught, coached, and helped me through the transition from bodybuilding to functional fitness). Joe’s also easily the most mentally tough, authentic person I know, and a great judge of character, so I tend to trust his judgement. After training together at the ASU fitness center for a while, he moved up north by a box called CrossFit Magna and fell in love with it. I made the average 30 min drive once to train with him, not thinking much of it, until I got there. Then a few more times. Until August of 2015 when I joined, and have made it virtually everyday since.

Brian Kunitzer (BK for short) founded Magna on one basic value: “I wanted a competitive, family-friendly environment” he said.

Brian and his wife Katie own the gym, but also do all the admin work, clean, organize, coach and program for the members as well (amongst all the other behind the scenes stuff involved in running a gym/business). You can’t forget Ainsley, their 3-year-old daughter who is the most loving, intelligent, excited girl I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. She knew my name before I even joined, shouting “Miss Preslie!” every day I walked in, and still does.

It’s hard to describe Magna, it feels like trying to explain Disneyland to someone who’s never seen pictures. It’s absolutely ginormous, with lots of natural light coming in through the garage doors that frame the wall with the whiteboard. There’s a huge American flag next to another large wall that says “Forging Elite Fitness” in purple. There’s a spacious play area for kids and a chalk board that includes a countdown for when the fourth member of the Kunitzer clan, baby Calvin, will be born. But those are all cosmetic things. The coaches treat each person as if they care about their personal success, because they do. There are no stupid questions, only an unspoken requirement that you show up with some effort and are nice to the people around you. And that you don’t get chalk all over the floor either, BK hates that.

I asked Brian what his favorite part about being a gym owner/head coach is.

“Helping people gain confidence, there’s a lot of different ways to say that but that’s what it comes down to,” he said. “Being able to do something they never thought they would be able to do, like a muscle up, or the additional confidence that comes from being in shape that translates to other areas of their life.”

Confidence…here we go. Part of the reason I initially had interest in Magna is because it’s one of only a few competitive gyms in Arizona that have proven themselves enough to make it to Regionals. I am a very competitive (arguably to a fault), goal-oriented, driven person. I really want to become a high-caliber athlete someday and I knew in order to reach that level, I’d have to train with people significantly better than myself. I chuckled just writing that…I KNEW that and somehow forgot it rather quickly after starting at Magna. I’d been CrossFitting about 6 months when I joined.

There’s some really talented athletes there. And the thing that still astounds me about high level athletes is they make tough things look easy, it’s like watching those gymnasts perform at the Olympics. Shortly after joining, I lost my eagerness to improve and got immersed in self-doubt and insecurities when I started following the competitor program, thinking I was in way over my head.

But this rut didn’t last long, thankfully. Imagine a scale: where on one end you have the most coddling “rah rah you can do it, great job, you’re going to the Games someday!” coach, and the other end is the one that makes you feel like you’re never good enough, yells absurdly and is ultimately de-motivating. BK, Katie, Coach Marcus, Joe, and some of the members are really that perfect sweet spot in the middle. Couple that with seeing actual improvements in my fitness by following the program to a tee (crazy what happens when you follow a well-written program, eh?), and I was back on track from feeling uneasy, to excited for improvement. I have a feeling, in atmospheres that aren’t as positive or supportive, people quit when they start feeling how I did in the beginning, and that’s heartbreaking.

Meanwhile when I was throwing internal fits that I wasn’t half as good as the people I was training with or comparing myself to, there were full-time doctors, dad’s, high school kids and grandparent-age members busting their ass in class everyday, leaving with the satisfaction that they did their best. They hung out with their friends, made their health a priority and got fitter that day. Man, that’s the way to look at it. People new to CrossFit inspire me as much as BK, who’s 6 years in the game.

Brian likes to hashtag “chasing greatness” and call me cliche, but I just love that saying. You’re never there – if you think you’ve “reached” greatness well then you’re wrong, because life is a constant effort to improve as an athlete, friend, daughter, sister, spouse, you name it. By chasing it, it’s on the horizon, you know where you’re headed and regardless of actually getting there, the idea is to be living intentionally.  

If by this point you’re thinking that I’m just sippin’ the Magna kool-aid, let me stop you right there. I am a former competitive volleyball player, bodybuilder, health club manager, CrossFit coach, freelance writer, ASU athletic department intern, Arizona native, and current college student who’s traveled and dropped into a lot of gyms. If that doesn’t prove I’ve met a TON of athletes and coaches, well then I don’t know what does. I feel perfectly confident saying there is in fact something unique, and awesome, going on at Magna.

This weekend I got to judge several athletes competing in the CrossFit Open. (You can read more about what the Open is in my last post, here.) My point in bringing this up is to express that helping members who had to scale the workout, absolutely crushed it, or fell somewhere in the middle find their mental and physical limits was absolutely exhilarating. Rep counts don’t matter as much as effort, RX scores aren’t as important as healthy, safe movement, and winning a workout doesn’t mean anything if you don’t know the name of the guy sharing a bar with you. Those are a few more unwritten rules at Magna.

Referencing what I mentioned in the beginning, being a member of Magna fills up my cup. Always strive to be better: check. Surround yourself with good people: check. Be apart of something bigger than yourself: check.

In one building I have found an improvement in my overall fitness and confidence, a place for laughter and good times, and a family.

 Pictured left to right: Joe, Brian, myself at CrossFit Magn

Pictured left to right: Joe, Brian, myself at CrossFit Magn

Benefits of shopping local

After reviewing Luci’s Healthy Marketplace, it got me thinking about the benefits of shopping and eating locally. We as consumers have always been encouraged to do so, but why?

Local First Arizona, a statewide non-profit organization, cites a few studies to support the fact that when money is spent on local businesses, it creates a great economic benefit for the entire community (1). In 2009, Urban Conservancy in partnership with Civic Economics found that when just 10% of New Orleans spending was shifted from chain-stores to their local counterparts, hundreds of jobs were created and it was the monetary equivalent of putting 60 million dollars annually into the recirculating cycle of currency (2). Secondly, a study by Institute for Local Self-Reliance and Friends of Midcoast Maine in 2003 claims that when $100 is spent at a large chain store, only $14 is then spent again by that merchant within the community. Whereas when that initial $100 is spent locally, $45 (that’s triple!) will be spent again in the surrounding area (3).

Local businesses usually strive to provide superior customer service because the owner belongs to the same community you do; which would explain why small businesses typically donate almost twice as much per employee to charity organizations (4). Local shops add charm and character to the area, and can sell unique things that big-box stores may not have enough of to sufficiently stock.

In reference to food specifically, when items have to travel long distances it uses an enormous amount of fuel. If only 10% of ingredients were sourced from a state grower instead of corporate farm, it would save 310,000 gallons of fuel annually according to www.elocal.com (5). Additionally, food that takes a while to get from farm to table demands special packing and storing methods that are typically not recycled to keep the food from spoiling.

Farmers markets are a great place to buy locally grown food. The food often looks and tastes better because it’s grown in it’s natural season, picked at the perfect time, and doesn’t need added preservatives. Farmers markets are also a great place to meet other community members who care about locally sourced food, as well as grab a bargain because the middleman and transportation costs are eliminated. And, you likely get to talk to the person who actually grew your food — how cool is that!

It’s not easy to run a successful local business, in fact according to Forbes 80% of entrepreneurs fail within the first 18 months (6). While not every store can be a mom and pop type shop, there are stores making an effort to support the local community in other ways. Sprouts Farmers Market, native to Arizona, is a farmers market style grocer that sources many products from local farmers and donates to community organizations. Whole Foods Market donates food products and profits to local organizations in need throughout the year, and launched the Producer Loan Program in 2006 to give a hand to community farmers and help them grow as business owners and producers. (7)

In summary, shopping local helps financially support those living in and caring for your community.

While working on this post, I found a website where you can search for local farmers markets near you: www.localharvest.org. Also, If you’re in Arizona you can usehttp://www.localfirstaz.com/directory/ to find businesses near you that are locally owned and operated. Or, try a Google search for a similar organization in your state to find places near you to shop local!

Sources:

  1. http://www.localfirstaz.com/about/index.php
  2. http://www.independentwestand.org/wp-content/uploads/ThinkingOutsidetheBox_1.pdf
  3. http://ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/files/midcoaststudy.pdf
  4. http://www.independentwestand.org/learn-more/about/faqs/
  5. http://www.elocal.com/infographics/why-buy-local.html
  6. http://www.forbes.com/sites/ericwagner/2013/09/12/five-reasons-8-out-of-10-businesses-fail/
  7. http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/mission-values/caring-communities/local-producer-loan-program

“Goodness for Goodness’ Sake!”

Let’s start with how perfect is that slogan? That’s the tagline of Luci’s Healthy Marketplace, a Phoenix area market, coffee bar, bakery and restaurant all in one. As a full-time college student (and now blogger!), I’m always looking for good places to park myself and my laptop for a few hours. Good coffee, decent music and comfy chairs are all site requirements, while good things to snack on, quality lighting and friendly employees are great bonuses. Luci’s has every one of these things.

I initially tried Luci’s for lunch on a late Saturday afternoon, enjoyed a fresh salad and hot coffee with my father, and then returned the next evening for a delicious dinner sandwich. The menu is posted on digital screens, enabling the kitchen to update their featured special dish daily. The staff is personable, there’s the largest community board I’ve ever seen posted near the restrooms, the lighting is relaxing but bright enough to read and comfortably conversate, and they even have a large garage-style open door for fresh air that leads to additional outdoor seating. And get this: breakfast is served all day, and there’s free wi-fi access (where are my college kids at?). If you’re still not sold, there’s an in-shop market: shelves stocked with local and unique ingredients for at home cooking or baking, along with exclusive trinkets, gifts and alcoholic beverages available for purchase. I promise I don’t work for them, I’m really this impressed.

After I fell in love with this adorable establishment, I did a little research to expand my knowledge beyond the observable stuff. Luci’s opened in 2009, and then re-opened a few months later after a neighboring store fire damaged the building. It’s known for it’s wide variety of gluten-free options, healthy grab-and-go entrees and award winning coffee bar items. In additional to tables and booth seating, an inviting counter wraps around a part of the kitchen, where guests can enjoy a view of the food prep process.

Cooking classes, an online blog of Luci’s favorite recipes, and catering services are also offered. Now if you’re anything like me you’re wondering: who’s Luci?

According to a 2012 article published in Raising Arizona Kids magazine, her full name is Lucia Schnitzer, mother of three young children at presstime and a breast-cancer survivor. Her marketplace prides itself on healthy portions, organic offerings, locally sourced ingredients and a casual atmosphere embracing a modern-retro feel.

If you’re in the Phoenix area, check it out at 590 East Bethany Home Rd. Phoenix, AZ 85014.