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the best junk mail

11 Jun

I woke up this morning to a mysterious email in my Yogurt Pedaler inbox.
It was so much fun to read, I decided to share:

Hello purchasing manager,

We know your company from the web, do you want to cooperate with our company?

We are manufacturer and exporter of milking machine, milk cooling storage tank, mixing tank, sterilization tank etc equipment in China with 8 years experience. We can provide you with good quality and competitive price. If you are interested in our machine, pls send inquiry to us, we will offer you then. Thanks.

Zhejiang ripu pharmacy equipment co.,ltd
Add: No.588,19building.3way,12Road,
Binhai park,wenzhou city,zhejiang province

At least they got the dairy part right!

Earth Month at Ohio University

30 Apr

Three cheers for Athens, Ohio! I spent a short 24 hours at Ohio University on April 12 as one of the many diverse speakers brought to campus in celebration of Earth Month. This year their events supported a People (Em)Powered theme, so the Yogurt Pedaler fit right in!

I was welcomed to campus by a group of students and staff of the Office of Sustainability, who sponsored and organized the events, and I was immediately impressed by how progressive, adventuresome, and comfortable they and their town of Athens were. My first stop was to speak to a studio art class, a seminar of graduate students designing and creating an urban garden. I was asked to speak about my process, and I rooted my talk in discussion of food traditions and the Yogurt Pedaler’s mission to preserve and encourage them in the American Midwest.

Thus followed by far the best discussion I have had about the Yogurt Pedaler’s goals and process. After months of fleeting encounters with yogurt fans, haters (just a couple), and curious souls, talking with this class was a welcome opportunity to dig deep and really question the Yogurt Pedaler’s strengths and weaknesses. (Thanks in particular to an especially perceptive student named Sebastian, and to one Turkish guy who totally threw me off when I stumbled through trying to pronounce buyurun three times fast.)

I have a tendency to speak about American food traditions cynically, as if there are none to celebrate and as if I wish we could embrace and create food traditions like my favorites in various European towns I’ve called home. And yet, even in the hour I spent with the class, I enthusiastically recounted tales of watermelon on the beach, deep-rooted North Carolina BBQ loyalties, hotdogs at baseball games, Thanksgiving dinners, and fried oreos, just to name a few. Sure, maybe they’re not all sustainable, healthy, supportive traditions, but there is certainly no lack of American food traditions. Thanks, class, for making me consider the Yogurt Pedaler’s potential as a project to celebrate great American food traditions, those both disappearing and still vibrantly alive, in addition to one fighting a sometimes discouraging battle against industrial, monoculture agricultural trends.

We also all agreed that the decidedly haphazard cart design had charm, but also definitely lacked a polished appearance that could make people take the project a bit more seriously.

My second appearance at OU was at the Vegan Cooking Workshop, an event I was immediately skeptical of – didn’t they realize that yogurt is made of milk…and milk comes from cows? I was reassured that these were no militant vegans, they just wanted people to be conscious of the food they make and eat. That meant I was definitely on board!

The crew was far from militant – the basement of the United Campus Ministries house was warm and welcoming, with a dozen students and volunteers bustling about fixing dinner. I got to work quickly, chopping carrots and keeping an eye on my huge pot of milk on the stove. As the crowds gathered, I took a moment next to the bike-powered milling machine to speak to a group about the Yogurt Pedaler project and how to make yogurt.

We gathered as dinner finished to inoculate the yogurt with cultures and set them on the stove to incubate overnight. It was an evening of great company, enthusiastic cooks and future yogurt-makers, and delicious food.

Thanks, Athens!
(Special thanks to Carolina, my Office of Sustainability host, Erin, interim OS director, and Jim and Kate at Ecohouse.)

non-dairy yogurt, experiment no.1

17 Apr

I was invited to speak as the Yogurt Pedaler for Earth Month at Ohio University this month. My primary “appearance” was at the Vegan Cooking Workshop. I was immediately suspicious of being invited to make milk products at a vegan event, but I was assured they were enthusiastic about the Yogurt Pedaler trying to get people to care about what they eat, regardless of its origin. I was in!

In preparation, I tried to make vegan yogurt.

I honestly didn’t do too much research, but what I did suggested it would be pretty easy, following the same method as real dairy yogurt. That was wrong.

This is the failed almond milk yogurt. I was surprised I couldn’t find plain non-dairy yogurt at the grocery store. (I have my own theories that it’s because it tastes gross – I’m definitely a purist when it comes to my yogurt, so far.) The yogurt made with soy milk didn’t turn out so well either:

I’ve learned a bit about the microbiology of incubation in yogurt making over the past year, but I’m still confused about how the yogurt cultures that live on lactose can thrive and work to make yogurt in a non-dairy home that has no lactose. The “live active cultures” advertised in the soy yogurt are the same as the ones found in real dairy yogurt, but I obviously don’t know if their presence is actually the cause of the soy yogurt’s yogurt-like texture. I have my doubts, honestly. I also suspect a large part of the failure of both of these experiments is because the soy milk and almond milk I used are both very, very processed and sweetened.

Next time, I am going to try the intriguing process I found in my google adventures of fermenting my soy milk with chili pepper stems, and I am going to try it with unsweetened soy milk. If I get really ambitious, I may try to make soy milk myself from soy beans. But I wouldn’t keep your fingers crossed.

Speaker circuit, destination #1

16 Apr

While the Yogurt Pedaler may be simmering on the back burner these days, it’s important to give it a stir.
Thanks to Ryan Wilson, I spoke here in Chicago at the special Valentine’s Day edition of his Seasonal Salon, an evening devoted to the theme of Food & Exchange. Good people, good food, good times.
Luckily for us, Ryan is on it, so you can check out the audio recording of the evening’s recordings here.


21 Sep

I’m finally writing from Chicago, returned to a whirlwind homecoming. People keep asking me how the trip went, likely expecting complete enthusiasm from me – but I can’t give it. To be honest, it was a hard trip, not something I’d jump to do again. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t fun, or that I’m not totally excited to have biked all those 750 miles – and above all, the Yogurt Pedaler project is not over.

The most pivotal conclusion I’ve reached about this trip was that the method wasn’t the right one to succeed in accomplishing my goals for the project. People I met were nearly always much more impressed by my bike trip than they were with making yogurt…and making things was the point, not going on a long bike ride. That doesn’t mean people weren’t touched by the yogurt – plenty of people have said I inspired them to try themselves – but the biking part of the project turned out to be somewhat of a distraction at times.

I also ran into plenty of problems being an outsider – which, in retrospect, should have been a pretty obvious expectation. New arrivals to a community are never immediately embraced into the neighborhood networks; transient street vendors are rarely trusted at first, and it takes time to build social and economic networks. There was no way I was going to expose and encourage local agricultural resources and communities when I wasn’t a part of them myself. I would repeatedly meet people, tell them about my project, and we’d chat for a few minutes before they would say, “oh, so you know about so-and-so’s dairy farm, then, just 20 miles west of here?” And of course, I didn’t. These small family farms don’t advertise online, they depend on word-of-mouth and a dedicated clientele at a local farmers market to sell their products.

Also, 20 miles west may not be far in a car, but that’s backtracking a whole day on a bike, and visiting even a handful more farms along this route would involve weaving through the countryside for countless more days or weeks.

This isn’t to say the project failed, by any means. The farms and people I did meet were enthusiastic, inquisitive, and encouraging. I am possibly even more dedicated to the mission of the Yogurt Pedaler to inspire people to make things and understand where their food comes from, and I still think yogurt is a fun, magical, and informative gateway to these sorts of explorations. But I want to rethink my methods – and this is where you readers can help me!

What were your greatest takeaways from this project? What should I definitely hold onto?
Were you inspired to make your own yogurt? How did it go? Share your incubation methods – success stories and messy failures!
How can I reconstruct this website to keep the project alive as a resource, not just as a journal of a bike trip that is over for now?
Where do you think this project should go? How can I evolve the project to reach more people, more effectively?

(If you’d rather not comment here, email me with comments.)

The REAL yogurt recipe

10 Sep

This is the long version, which I should have posted months ago and didn’t realize was missing from the website.


milk (whole is yummiest, but you can use any real milk – from cows, goats, sheep, buffalo, you get the idea)
yogurt (choose your favorite texture and flavor, because your yogurt will take on these characteristics, too)
(YES, it’s that simple!)


1. Heat the milk. To kill off any bad bacteria, and to break apart the casein proteins in the milk so the yogurt will gel more easily, boil the mill until it foams and rises. To retain the complete enzymes and bacteria of raw milk, heat the milk to your desired temperature. Remove from heat.

2. Let milk cool until it reaches 120°F. I use my fingers – when I can stick my fingers in the milk for 2-3 seconds until it’s too hot, then it’s ready. Inoculate the milk with live active cultures. This means, mix in about 2 T of yogurt for each quart of milk. Mix a small amount of milk with the yogurt, whisk well to remove any lumps, and then stir this yogurt mixture back into the warm milk.

3. Pour this inoculated milk into your incubating container. This should be some sort of glass or ceramic container with a top – it is not necessary for the top to be airtight, so you can simply set a plate over the top of a bowl if you like.

4. Incubate the yogurt at 105-110°F for 6-10 hours. The longer you incubate your yogurt, the thicker and more tangy it will become. Keep the temperature as consistent as possible during this time, and try not to jostle the yogurt. There are lots of methods of incubation, and it may take some time to find the best one for your lifestyle and environment, but here are some ideas:

  • Wrap your yogurt in dish towels and place over the pilot light of your stove.
  • Heat hot water, pour it into a cooler, place yogurt in the hot water, and close the top of the cooler.
  • Wrap the yogurt in an electric blanket or heating pad.
  • Heat a pizza stone, place it in a warm oven, put your yogurt in, and close the door to retain the heat.
  • During the summer, it may be possible to make yogurt by just leaving the jar on the kitchen counter, perhaps in the sun, for longer than 10 hours. Be patient – I have met a few people on this trip who incubate their yogurt at a lower temperature for 24-48 hours.

5. Once your yogurt has reached its desired consistency, place it in the refrigerator and keep it chilled for a couple of weeks. It will leak whey and become more sour as the days pass, but that doesn’t mean it’s gone bad.

6. To learn about straining yogurt, read this post.

Changing goals and reflections

29 Aug

This weekend in Indianapolis marks the halfway point of the Yogurt Pedaler trip. I’ve ridden about 400 miles, and I’ve visited two farms and two farmers markets. I’ve learned a lot, and the project has evolved in many ways.

One key lesson has been the real, inescapable prevalence of corn and soybeans to the agricultural – and physical – landscape of these two states. When this project was born, I had dreams of biking from farm to farm, learning about one farm from another and building my route as the days passed. Luckily, I decided to plan a little more – there really aren’t enough dairy farms to fly by the seat of my pants and make any real progress – but I keep finding out about great people and places a day or two after I visit them. And I’m certainly still building my route as the days pass.

Another key discovery has been that milk and yogurt are really heavy. As are a big glass jar, ice, and a cooler. Halfway through week two, after a couple of days of incessant headwinds, I seriously considered leaving my yogurt-making supplies in Indy and continuing on my way purely as a documentarian and yogurt ambassador. I was forbidden to give tastes of my yogurt to curious passersby at markets in both Urbana and Indianapolis – as the law states, to be fair – but it’s frustrating to make a big jar of yogurt and only be able to point to it when people wonder how it turns out, then toss it down the drain after hauling it around all weekend.

But the essential missions of the Yogurt Pedaler have also become much clearer to me on the road. The project is about getting people excited about making things, and it’s hard to do that if I am not even making yogurt. Sure, it’s about visiting the farms, but it’s also about getting to know the farmers and the animals and the products that are produced. I’ve tasted Kilgus ice cream, and I’ve tasted Traderspoint ice cream, and they are two completely different products from two completely different farms.

I’m sure I’ll visit even more diverse farms – but even visiting these two has made me ask lots of questions about the missions of these “sustainable” dairies, whether third generation and newly grass-fed like Kilgus, or new organic farms with missions that far surpass producing dairy products, like Traderspoint.

Kilgus is a third generation farm, but only recently did they refocus their market to the grass-fed, bottled-on-site niche. They’ve always been a responsible dairy, but this change in marketing has meant their survival, now that restaurants and speciality shops in Chicago are drawn to their product for its unique appeal.

Traderspoint, on the other hand, was founded in 2003 by a couple whose background and startup capital are found far from dairy farming. Their operation is beautiful, their herd of Brown Swiss is attractive and healthy, and their farm is bustling with activity from visitors to the farm, customers at the shop, and diners at their restaurant. Their marketing is so successful, spreading demand for “Fresh. Simple. Organic.” dairy nationwide, that they’ve had to bring in milk from other organic, grass-fed dairies to produce enough product to sell. They’ve done wonders for the organic movement, which I support and am frustrated by in equal measure.

The inescapable fact of the comparison I have just described is that the economic position of Traderspoint’s owners (they inherited the land, he is a plastic surgeon) allows more publicity and a greater reach of the message and products from grass-fed, sustainable, healthy food. But what are the real advantages of marketing over a family farm like Kilgus, with deep roots in the community, and with wisdom and a connection to the land and a way of life that is truly entrenched in the region’s economies and social networks? Would Kilgus be aided by investment in marketing to the higher-profile niche to which Traderspoint’s customers largely belong? Or by going organic? Or would they lose a valuable local connection, one that they have relied on and which has supported the dairy for decades?

As I ate lunch before leaving Traderspoint on Friday, I overheard Fritz Coons, one of the owners, say to a potential product supplier that their desire was to “express the brand through glass.” This gets at the essential difference I’ve been expressing here – through words and pictures – and I’ve become comfortable with the two dairies in their own ways and niches. I am attracted to Kilgus’ community connection at such a heartwarming level, and I truly believe it’s important to furthering American culture’s agricultural foundations. But I’m also convinced that what Traderspoint is doing to advance the “Organic” movement in this country, while I’m incredibly frustrated by its class limitations, is important to creating healthier and more balanced food systems. There is no perfect dairy, and I hope I continue to discover diverse models in the coming weeks, but these two welcoming places have provided me with plenty of calcium-rich food for thought.