Do pigs eat grass, and other questions about pastured pork

A couple of months ago, Mr. G went to a nearby farm to pick up some electric fence.  He came back really excited telling me about the great deal he got on the fencing and pigs he bought.  Pigs? Did we even want to be pig farmers?  I have to admit, I really had my doubts about becoming pig farmers.  I wandered what we would feed them.  The area where we live has no shortage of grain suppliers, but they are undoubtedly all full of GMO corn and soy products.  I did not want to stand behind pork that had been fed in this manner.

After some research, I found a few farms that were raising pigs as foragers that thrived on pasture.  So, a few days later we were pig farmers.

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We now have two gilts and one boar.  The gilts are Large Black/Hampshire and the Boar is pure Large Black.  They are now about six months old.

We soon discovered, that pigs definitely do eat grass.

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They grazed and rooted around until their pen was nothing but mud and dirt in a matter of days.

Luckily with all of our new electric fence, we were able to fence in a half acre for them.  Once this has been rooted and grazed, we can move them to another area.

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We are supplementing their diet with an organic local soy free grain we were able to find.  Eventually we would like them to have a diet that does not involve grain.  However, pigs require more nutrients than just grass so we will also have to give them whey.  We were very surprised to see how quickly they are gaining weight on a mostly grass-fed (and weeds, they love weeds) diet.

We are working on building a few more pens so that we can separated them once there are baby pigs.  But for now, we have one pen with a pig-loo that is now covered in tarp for shelter.

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Despite my initial doubts, I love raising pigs.  They are intelligent and friendly animals.  I especially enjoy our boar, who I have named Maxwell.  Since he is pure Large Black, he is very friendly and really enjoys human contact.  One of my favorite things to do is bring leftover fruit and vegetables out for the pigs to eat.  They eat a lot of our produce that is starting to go bad.  Their favorite food is melon of any kind.

There are so many benefits to raising pigs in this manner.  Pastured meat is so much more nutritious than factory farmed meat.  Also, the conventional way pigs are raised is a far cry from humane.  The animals are kept 100% indoors on concrete and fed an unnatural corn filled diet.  I am so happy to be a pig farmer and I look forward to getting more pigs and breeding some quality animals.

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Fall Project: Making Biodynamic Preparations

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Fall is my favorite season.  I am enamored by pumpkin everything, changing leaves and cool weather.  The other part I enjoy about fall is the winding down of gardening and Farmer’s Market season.  I love the farmer’s market, but long for sleepy Saturdays enjoying our farm.

Although our farming season is coming to close, there are still many fall projects on our list. We plant garlic in the fall, save seeds and preserve our harvest.  This year we have added a new fall project, making fall biodynamic preparations.  Specifically, preparation 500.

Back when I wrote this article about biodynamic agriculture, I mentioned some of the benefits to this type of farming.  Preparation 500, in particular, increases the good bacteria in soil.  It also helps increase water retention and absorption and encourages a deeper root structure, which results in less watering.  Basically, it makes your plants stronger, more disease resistant and less dependent on irrigation.

This preparation, is the easiest to make and is great for those who wish to dip their toes into biodynamic agriculture.

Preparation 500

Materials:

Cow horns-It is very important that they are from cows, not bulls

Cow manure-This ideally should be from a lactating cow because it will bring in more calcium to the preparation.  Pasture raised is also ideal.

Shovel

Procedure:

During the month of November dig a pit about 16-18” deep for the horns.  The horns should be 3-4” apart from each other and covered with good quality compost.  Bury the horns full of manure open end down, so they do not fill with water.  Keep the pits cool by covering with hay or straw.  Do not allow weeds or plants to grow above the pit.  The preparation will be ready in about four months.  It should be dark and sweet smelling.  Store the preparation in a cool, dark place in a glass jar or pot, wrapped with a damp cloth for insulation.

Use:

This can be used up to four times each year in the spring and fall.  Mix the preparation with water at a ratio of 1/4 cup preparation to 13 cups water.  Stir the water/preparation mixture for one hour in open direction and then another hour in the next direction.  Use when the moon is on the descending phase.

   The very nature and procedure of biodynamic preparations injects a life force and energy to the soil.  We are so excited to see the results of using this preparation.

Resources:

http://www.biodynamics.in/index.htm

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Tea Profile: Rooibos, the healthiest tea you’ve probably never heard of

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Rooibos, which is also often called “red tea” is something that was quite unfamiliar to me.  I found it while searching for an herbal base to use in some of my tea blends for people who cannot have caffeine at all.  I instantly found the exotic taste of this tea very satisfying and started to do some research on the health benefits, and it turns out it is amazing for your health.

This tea is very popular in South Africa and has yet to really catch on in the states.  It is made from the plant Aspalathus linearis which is an indigenous mountain shrub.  In addition many people believe this beverage is even higher in antioxidants than the super popular green tea.  Antioxidants are like the warriors against cancer causing free radicals in your body.  Some additional benefits of this special tea:

  • Improved circulation
  • Helps soothe upset stomach and can be used to help colicky babies
  • lowers blood pressure
  • Increases iron absorption
  • prevents osteoporosis with it’s high level of calcium
  • High vitamin C content helps kick a cold and prevent future colds
  • Repairs liver.  Excellent as a hangover remedy or for anyone who wants to cleanse their liver
  • High in minerals such as Magnesium, Manganese, Calcium and Zinc
  • Slows down brain aging and is fights Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s
  • Minerals in this tea promote restful sleep.

Rooibos can usually be found in green and red.  The red rooibos has been oxidized and has much more flavor.  I usually prefer to mix the green rooibos with other things such as strawberries and chamomile.  The red rooibos must be blended with very strong flavors since it is so flavorful on it’s own.

This tea was my go to pregnancy tea.  I drank it every day because the magnesium kept the nausea at bay, it was low in caffeine and unlike other teas actually helped my body absorb iron.  The vitamin C also kept me cold free the entire pregnancy.

Do you drink rooibos tea?

 

Resources:

http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/tao-of-tea

http://inhumanexperiment.blogspot.com/2010/04/many-health-benefits-of-rooibos-tea.html

http://greenlifediary.com/health-benefits-of-rooibos-tea/

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Introduction to Biodynamic Farming

    To many conventional farmers and gardeners biodynamic farming is some kind of new-age mambo jumbo that crazy hippie people use. However, the roots of biodynamic farming trace back to at least the early 1900′s.

    Issues with pest control and a shortage of rainfall have forced us to find a better way to do things at our farm. For us, the solution is biodynamics and we will be sharing our journey here.  This is an introduction and we will be talking more about special practices in the future.

    Biodynamic farming is a term for a sustainable, ecological and spiritual type of organic agriculture coined by Dr. Rudolf Steiner. From everything I have read about this type of agriculture, people say it seems really crazy but it really really works.

    The reason I am so passionate about this type of agriculture is because it gives us hope for the future. This type of agriculture is helping heal land that has fallen victim to deforestation. For example, one man in India has worked since he was a teenager to build a 1,300 acre forest from a dessert. Also Kenyan Nobel Laureate and graduate of a university in Kansas Wangari Maathai began the Green Belt Movement in Kenya. They have successfully planted over 51 million trees and have helped the rains become more regular.

    And back to the question at hand; how do you do biodynamics? In order for biodynamic agriculture to work, it is necessary to create an ecosystem within your garden or farm. There are basically three ways that biodynamic farming works.

  1. Diversity: This part is quite possibly the most important aspect of biodynamic farming. The first part of this is crop rotation. This is not the modern corn/soybean type of rotation. This involves rotating from field to field and switching between very diverse plants that will add necessary nutrients to the soil. The next part involves interplanting and companion planting. A great example of this is planting lavender or thyme around grape vines. These plants often do not become tall enough to pose an issue, prevent growth of other weeds and impart a lovely flavor to the grapes. The final part of diversity is animal life. This part involves bringing in beneficial animals to your ecosystem. A great example of this is ladybugs to control aphids.
  2. Biodynamic Preparations and Compost: The preparations are key to the health of biodynamic plants. Compost Tea is one of the very important preparations. EM or effective microorganisms are also very important. In biodynamic farming it is also common to ferment the preparations underground in a bull horn. (This is the part where people don’t understand why it works, but it does.) These concoctions can get pretty strange, but they make awesome plants.
  3. Life force: This third part is the most difficult to grasp. It really sets biodynamic apart from organic. It uses celestial, seasonal and moon cycles along with earthly influences such as physics and chemistry to promote healthy plant development.

If you are interested in learning more about biodynamic farming, there are a couple great books on the subject. One is A Biodynamic Farm, for Growing Wholesome Food and the other is The North America Biodynamic Sowing and Planting Calender 2013

And about that rain problem, a little prayer for some rain in our corner of the world:

O God, in Whom we live and move, and have our being, grant us rain, in due abundance, that, being sufficiently helped with temporal, we may the more confidently seek after eternal gifts. Through Christ, our Lord. Amen.

 Prayer Source: Novena in Honor of St. Isidore: Patron of Farmers by National Catholic Rural Life Conference, National Catholic Rural Life Conference

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Kale and Almond Pesto

Mr. G and I share a love of condiments.  We love making pickled delicacies, sauces, pestos and salsas.  Condiments can add flavor to even the most bland of dishes and make throwing together a flavorful dinner easy.

Traditional pesto is usually made with basil and pine nuts.  While incredibly tasty, basil and pine nuts are expensive ingredients.  We love to make pesto with kale since it is in season now.  Along with it’s cholesterol lowering properties, kale is also loaded with antioxidants and vitamins.  To learn more about kale, follow this link.  Almonds make a great and healthy and cheap substitute for pine nuts.

Pesto is an excellent way to sneak greens into the diet of picky eaters.  The flavor is savory, creamy and a bit peppery.

This recipe can work as a base recipe for other pestos.  Feel free to experiment with different greens, nuts, oils and cheeses for new flavors.  We like to make a big jar of kale pesto.  It keeps in the fridge for several weeks.  We eat pesto with pasta, sandwiches, eggs, steamed and raw vegetables and as a marinade.

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pesto

Kale and Almond Pesto

by Victor G

6-8 oz kale
4 oz Parmesan cheese
2 oz almonds or pine nuts or walnuts
3 garlic cloves or 5 garlic scapes
Salt to taste, about 2 tsp
1/3 cup of oil, Olive, walnut, or other good oil

Juice from one lemon

*Combine first four ingredients in food processor or blender.
*Begin running the food processor and add oil and lemon juice in a steady stream.
*Stop the processor and scrape the sides with a rubber spatula as necessary
*Add a little more oil until you get the desired consistency.

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Tomato Trellising for the Lazy Gardener

Here in the Midwest we have three seasons; winter, almost winter and tomato season. Tomatoes are a huge hit at the farmer’s market and everyone’s favorite vegetable fruit. Grocery store tomatoes cannot even begin to measure up to the taste of a fresh in season tomato.

At our farm we grow a large variety of Heirloom niche variety tomatoes. We love to have different colors, shapes and flavors that people aren’t used to in order to differentiate ourselves from other market vendors. My very favorite tomato is the black cherry. You can read all about this sweet jewel and buy the seeds over at Baker Creek Heirloom seeds.

We grow tomatoes both in the greenhouse and outside. Indoors, we string the vines to the greenhouse support structure.  Outdoors, we use 6 foot T posts pounded into the ground about 1-2 feet and then another 4 foot post bolted to it for a 7-8 foot high support. T posts are available at any lawn and garden store.

This year we only grew our tomatoes indoors. Last year we grew them indoors and outdoors and the indoor tomatoes were much more successful because they were less susceptible to drought and pests.

The only other equipment you will need is tomato clips and twine. Here is a source for good biodegradeable heavy duty twine and tomato clips.

First use twine to tie at the top of the post using a slip knot. Make the knot about 2-3 feet from the support. This will let you adjust the tension as the vine grows. You can tie the string to the bottom of the plant and then wind it around the stem as it grows or you can purchase tomato clips. I prefer the tomato clips because they cause less damage are quicker to use.

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There are benefits of trellising tomatoes this way. It keeps the vine off the ground which reduces fungal bacteria and disease. In addition it makes is much easier to harvest, weed and water the tomatoes and prevents blemishes and fruit rotting.

Another tomato maintenance tip: Tomatoes should be pruned to only have 2-3 main vines. This is done by removing the suckers. The suckers are the off shoots that grow between the main stem and the leaf.

Happy almost tomato season.  What is your favorite tomato?

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Potato and Spring Leek Roasted Salad

   One of our goals this year is to be able to survive off the income from our business alone.  This will allow us so much more time together as a family.  With sales increasing, this goal is becoming more attainable.  This month we started our first month on the dreaded budget. 

    Currently since we both work full-time and have business income, we have become accustomed to carelessly spending money on whatever we like.  This involved going out to eat once per week and making frequent grocery shopping trips so we could cook whatever we were in the mood for.

   Our new budget which will be of absolute necessity without the income from two full-time jobs will be much more strict.  For now, we are allowing $300 a month for groceries (included toiletries) and $100 per month for eating out.  This budget may be tightened even more in the future.  The grocery budget is tough, especially since we strive to eat non-GMO and mostly organic.  I am happy to report that as of the 19th of June we have only spent $220 on groceries and ate out one time for $50.

   In order to save on groceries, we are trying to make our meals revolve around vegetables that we grow in our garden.  This gives more room for pantry items such as bulk grains and spices.  I hope to be sharing much more of this new frugal lifestyle in the future.  Here is a simple recipe that we made last night with some seasonal produce.

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Potato and Spring Leek Roasted Salad (serves two)

3 cups romaine lettuce

1 cup spring leeks cut into 1 inch pieces

2 cups potatoes cut into 3/4 inch cubes

2 TB olive oil

2 poached eggs

dressing:

2 TB red wine vinegar

1TB whole grain mustard

1 TB chopped pickled sweet peppers

salt and pepper to taste

Cooking and Assembly

  • On a baking sheet lightly toss potatoes in olive oil
  • bake for 15 minutes until they are just starting to get tender
  • Add diced baby leeks to existing potatoes and olive oil and cook until leeks are caramelized
  • While cooking potatoes and leeks, wisk together dressing ingredients and poach egg
  • Toss the potato leek mixture in dressing and place on top of thin beds of lettuce.  Place a poached egg on top and enjoy!

The verdict:  The salad was simple and delicious.  The caramelized leeks added tons of flavor.  Also, the addition of the egg made the salad very filling and satisfying.

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Chard & Cheddar Enchiladas

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    Late spring/early summer is my very favorite time of year.  Everything is green, the garden produce is abundant and it is not too hot yet.  One thing that has been loving all of this rain is our chard.  I love going out to the garden after a rain and seeing the vibrant the colors of the rainbow chard.  My favorite variety is flamingo chard.

   Swiss chard is an excellent summer green for braising.  We usually serve it as a side or a wrap.  One of our regular customers talked about making enchiladas with them.  So yesterday we made a batch, and it was so tasty.

   I have found that ordering vegetarian food at a Mexican restaurant can be very disappointing.  The selection is small and most items are so overflowing with cheese they are greasy.  These enchiladas taste light and full of flavor.  Plus it uses items that we already had in our pantry, so no shopping necessary.  Perfect for a spring Sunday.

Chard & Cheddar Enchiladas

Sauce:

1 TB olive oil

6 cloves garlic

1 TB cumin

1/4 cup Chile powder (chipotle if you want it seriously hot)

6 oz organic tomato paste

2 TB natural peanut butter (unsweetened)

handful stale bread or crackers

1 TB unsweetened coco powder

3 cups vegetable broth

Filling:

1 onion diced and caramelized

1 gallon sized bag rainbow chard lightly braised

raw organic cheddar cheese cut into rectangular wedges

Non-GMO corn tortillas

Queso Fresco as a garnish

  1. Add olive oil to a medium heat saucepan and lightly toast garlic.  Add Chile powder, cumin
  2. Add tomato paste, peanut butter and coco powder
  3. Allow all of the above ingredients to cook together for about a minute and then add final sauce ingredients
  4. Once the sauce is assembled transfer to a food processor to liquefy or use an immersion blender
  5. Transfer back to sauce pan.  Allow it took cook on low and thicken while preparing filling
  6. Carmelize your diced onion in a separate pan
  7. In a large pan lightly saute the Swiss chard until wilted with a little olive oil
  8. Meanwhile, wrap a stack of corn tortillas with a wet paper towel and microwave for about 20 seconds.  This softens the tortillas without the added calories from frying
  9. For assembly, place one leaf of Swiss chard on a softened tortilla.  Add a wedge of cheddar and top with caramelized onions.  Roll tightly.
  10. Lightly cover the bottom of a baking pan with sauce.  Tightly pack the enchiladas into the pan.  Cover with remaining sauce and queso fresco.
  11. Bake at 400 for 30 minutes.
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Activism

    Just before the New Year, Mr. G and I became parents.  One of the biggest changes that happened when I became a parent was my increased desire to make the world a better place for our future generations.  Instead of making my usual New Years fitness resolutions, I made a resolution to become more politically involved.

    For many years, I have worried about these issues but wondered what just one unimportant person could do to help change our country.  However, we are seeing more and more instances where grassroots advocates are helping to sway votes in the Senate.

    So today, I would like to show you what you can do to make an impact on the farm bill that will be voted on and discussed this week.  By joining the Organic Consumers Association, you can receive call to action emails about issues related to the organic foods community.  If you are reading this blog I assume these are important to you also.

   What I would like you to do today, is to send your senator a quick email.  To find out who your senator is click here.  This is a short list of Farm Bill items that may be pertinent to you that your should ask your senator to consider.

GMOS
• … label genetically engineered food.” (Support Boxer Amendments 1025 and 1026)
• … repeal the Monsanto Protection Act.” (Support Merkley Amendment 978)
• … ban genetically engineered salmon.” (Support Begich Amendment 934)

BEES
• … save the honeybees.” (Support Boxer Amendment 1027)

ORGANIC
• … give organic farmers equal access to funds for environmental improvement.” (Support Leahy Amendment 1093)

CLIMATE CHANGE
• … add climate change mitigation to conservation programs.” (Support Whitehouse Amendment 1058)

FACTORY FARMS
• … address factory farms’ drug abuse problem, responsible for antibiotic-resistant superbugs that infect hundreds of thousands and kill tens of thousands of Americans each year.” (Support Gillibrand Amendment 940)
• … reign in the factory farm and meatpacking cartels that subject contract farmers to abusive practices that reduce food quality, animal welfare and worker safety.” (Support Grassley Amendment 969, Rockefeller Amendment 993, Tester Amendment 971, and Enzi Amendments 981 and 982)

 INDUSTRIAL HEMP
 • … legalize industrial hemp.” (Support Wyden Amendment 952)

FOOD SECURITY
• … increase funding for eat-local and farm-to-consumer programs.” (Support Brown Amendment 1088)
 
• … stop attempts to take food assistance from hungry families.” (Oppose Sessions Amendments 946 and 947, Roberts Amendments 949 and 950, Thune Amendment 991, Coburn Amendments 100, 1002, 1005, and 1009, and Vitter Amendment 1056)

CORPORATE WELFARE
 • … place long-overdue limits of $50,000 on crop insurance premium subsidies for America’s wealthiest large-scale farmers.” (Support Shaheen Amendment 926)

WATER CONSERVATION
• … make sure farmers who get federal money for irrigation aren’t wasting water.” (Support Udall Amendment 1049)

   Thank you for taking the time to read this political post and I hope that you will also consider standing up for your values.  It is up to us to let our senators (representatives of us) know what it is that we want.

Have a wonderful Monday.  Keep our land grand :)

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White tea: 10 Reasons you should enjoy a cup today

    In the beginning Mr. G and I were not growing many vegetables.  Our harvest was just big enough to feed our family and sell just a few at the farmer’s market.  Along with our passion for locally grown food, we also really really love tea.  Tea does not grow at all in the Midwest, so we wanted to find some great fair-trade organic tea leaves.  We began buying tea in bulk and creating new blends and flavors to sell at the farmer’s market.

    Drinking tea is one of the healthiest things you can do for your body.  Whenever my beloved little sister is sick or hurt, I always jokingly tell her “I have a tea for that”.  It is honestly the truth, because herbs and teas have numerous health benefits.  I would like to share some of the benefits of different teas starting with white tea.

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   A common misconception about tea is that different teas such as black or white come from separate plants.  In fact, all teas are from the same plant, Camellia sinensis.  White tea is the least processed and caffeinated of all tea.  It is simply steamed and dried.  This leaves the tea with some incredible health benefits.

Here are 10 reasons you should have a cup today:

  1. White tea is the highest in antioxidants which helps fight free radicals.  Free radicals can cause premature aging, damage DNA and contribute to cancer.  If you want to look younger and lower your risk of developing cancer, try white tea
  2. It may help you loose weight.  There are two reasons for this.  One is replacing soda or juices with white tea saves a ton of calories.  The other is that white tea helps break down fat cells and prohibits the growth of new fat cells.
  3. White tea can help strengthen your immune system.  In a 2004 study from Pace University, it was found that white tea can help strengthen your immunity and fight off viruses.
  4. Fight sun damage.  White tea has been proven to fight sun damage and skin cancer but when ingested and applied topically.  This is a favorite benefit for someone with fair skin such as myself that does not like applying excessive chemicals.
  5. Increase bone density.  Studies have found that tea drinkers have greater bone density than non tea drinkers.  This is especially important for women.
  6. May help naturally treat asthma.  Theophylline in tea has been known to help treat respiratory diease.
  7. Fight tooth decay.  Flavonoids are antimicrobial and help prevent tooth decay.  The bonus for white tea is that it does not stain your teeth.
  8. Reduce Inflammation.  Tea, but especially white tea has flavonoids which help fight inflammation within your body.  Inflammation causes a whole host of diseases such as psoriasis, Alzheimer’s, asthma, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel disease and many many more.
  9. Lower cholesteral, blood pressure and raise happiness level.  These are just a few of the additional benefits as listed by Dr. Andrew Weil.
  10. Finally, white tea tastes amazing when prepared properly.  It is delicate, light and floral.  It is important to use water around 180 degrees.  This can be achieved by adding a couple of ice cubes to boiling water or bringing water close to a boil.  It is best to steep flavored white tea for around 1-2 minutes and unflavored for 3-4.  Over steeping will make the tea bitter.

    Where can you find this magical leaf?  There are many online sources that sell loose tea.  For the best tea, buy organic fair trade loose tea.  We like to support fair trade because these companies pay fair wages to field workers and offer favorable working conditions.  Organic is important also because of the very high level of pesticides used on tea leaves.  Would you want to drink Round-up?  Loose tea is important because it is a higher quality tea.  Bagged tea is often just the finnings and is not as flavorful.  In addition, bagged tea may be harmful to your health.  You may find this tea available at your local farmer’s market with many fun flavors like white peach, white chai, blueberry maple white tea and pomegranate white.  (Hint we make and sell these)

   Here is to a delicous cup of Thursday afternoon tea.  You deserve it and it will do wonders for your health.

Resources:

http://chinesefood.about.com/od/chineseteaandliquor/a/whitetea.htm

http://altmedicine.about.com/od/herbsupplementguide/a/whitetea.htm

http://www.teavana.com/tea-info/white-tea

http://www.whiteteaguide.com/whiteteahealthbenefits.htm

http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/tea-types-and-their-health-benefits

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1600-0625.2008.00818.x/abstract;jsessionid=E34EFC9228A9B976111FA6D04869CE2A.d04t01?deniedAccessCustomisedMessage=&userIsAuthenticated=false

http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/86/4/1243.short

 http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S096399690900012X

 

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