Local farm

There’s a rather cool farm not too far from us, in Sweet Home. It’s name is Sweet Home Farms. I met the owners, Carla Green and Mike Polen (not the famous guy with the similar name) at a food event earlier this year (she got the door prize of chocolates that I was eyeing, but I’m happy with the chicken butchering certificate). They are Salatin-ites who work a day job from home and are overworked. They remind me a lot of us (but much more serious about the farming). They even have an English Shepherd dog.

I was trying to buy a half a lamb a few weeks back and had trouble with their website, and didn’t understand their pricing. I know how hard it is, and they are trying to make a profit… but with the confusion and delay means I got sucked into other things, by now they presumably have butchered and the opportunity has gone by.

They also sell by the piece but I CANNOT find their website using google. So just so I can find it again, it is sweethomefarms.com. It sure seems like if you can’t be googled, you don’t really exist, maybe this link will help them.

Day 7 of the 100-yard diet

Saturday: day 7

We started off the day with a late breakfast of scrambled eggs with onions, sweet red peppers, and sun dried tomatoes; and hash browns. I still haven’t quite got the hash browns down; more practice. Toast is easy. Jay put leftover salsa on his eggs.

For lunch, we have just enough bread left for sandwiches. Jay had feta, tomato, and pickles; I made up hummus with leftover garbanzos, garlic, salt, olive oil and roasted red pepper. We don’t normally eat red peppers every day, but it’s that time of year, I’m trialing pepper varieties so have an unreasonable number of plants, and red peppers just don’t keep. While it could have used a bit of lemon, and tahini, the hummus was still a hit. Jay finished up whatever I missed.

For dinner, we had the same as Friday night; made up fresh crepes, of course, and we needed more salsa, but there was plenty of the other ingredients left. It was a very satisfying meal.

Day 6 of the 100-yard diet

Friday: day 6

The bread keeps calling out to me. I had bread for breakfast and lunch; with butter and honey for breakfast, with feta and roasted red peppers for lunch.

For dinner, I made black beans and cheese in corn crepes, with salsa.

I had soaked some black beans overnight – a pole variety named Cherokee Trail of Tears, said to have been brought from Tennessee to Oklahoma on the infamous journey. These were simmered in the sun oven, although since the day was a bit cloudy, there was barely enough sun to cook the beans. I sauted onions, peppers and garlic, added the beans and seasoned with cumin.

Queso fresco is made by adding vinegar (I used plum vinegar) to almost simmering milk so it curdles, and straining out the curds.

Then I made salsa, my usual recipe: tomatoes, jalapenos, onion, cilantro, and salt. Usually I add some lemon juice, but skipped it today – the salsa missed it, but was still delicious. I’m happy that I have enough cilantro to make salsa – for some reason I can’t grow this very well, it’s the one thing in the produce department that we buy regularly.

Finally, the crepes; a thin batter of eggs, milk, wheat flour, and corn flour. We had some regular sweet corn that got starchy before we picked it, so I tried drying and grinding it.

It was beautiful and delicious, but probably would have been better with tortillas. No reason I can’t make masa and produce tortilla – it’s just takes more skills, ones I don’t have. But this isn’t a great climate for growing corn, either – corn likes water, and our summers are so dry.

In the far distant past, food was hard to come by, and precious. You didn’t waste energy coddling along some plant or animal that didn’t grow easy and abundantly in your particular area, and when travel was by foot or boat, you didn’t rely on food that grew thousands of miles away – like the cornmeal we buy, which probably comes from Iowa, right? Part of the whole eat-local philosophy is remembering that – eat what grows locally, in the season it’s abundant.

It’s a hard concept for us to remember, since the bananas and apples are right next to each other at the grocery store, and our tastes are developed around that – like for example mangos. I love mangos in any form (my favorite snack is dried mangos), but mangos just don’t grow here. We can get mangos flown in from anywhere nowadays (why does our food travel more than we do?). Or I could find a dwarf mango tree, plant in a big tub, keep it in the greenhouse, and spray regularly for the mildrew and diseases it’s prone to under these conditions, and maybe get a mango now and again, but not one at the top of its flavor. For much less effort, no travel involved, I could have abundant and flavorful peaches, cherries, raspberries, strawberries… there’s no shortage of things we can grow locally and enjoy.

Day 5 of the 100-yard diet

Thursday, day 5

For breakfast, wheat berries with cream and honey. It was tasty and satisfying and fairly quick. I’d soaked them overnight – I’m doing even more thinking ahead.

Then, time to grind another pound of wheat for bread. This time I picked through the wheat to remove more bits of stem and hull. They may add fiber to the flour, but it’s already pretty high fiber. I also added a glob of honey – fast food for yeast, so the bread will rise more. The bread is higher, and delicious, but still dark.

For lunch, leftover turkey soup.

This afternoon we learned that a good friend was rolling into town, so we invited him for an quick early dinner, since I had to go out in the evening. I made potato pancakes: grate potatoes and onions, add a bit of flour and an egg, salt and pepper, and fry in butter. I like it served with cottage cheese and applesauce. Many of our apples are too wormy to use, but I found a few to make applesauce. Then I made a quick cottage cheese; adding some rennet to warmed goat milk causes it to set, and after a hour or so I cut it into chunks. and drained the curd in cheesecloth. It wasn’t an accurate cottage cheese, but it worked. We also had some homemade turkey sausage in the freezer, which we pan-fried.

Tonight constitutes my first violations: Chet brought some California Wine, and I do not turn down Chet’s choice of wine (it was lovely); and the turkey sausage used purchased sausage casing, and the fennel in the sausage was also store bought.

Since Chet loves good food, we set out a selection of heirloom tomatoes – I picked different colorful varieties, including pink (Rose de Berne), orange (Persimmon), yellow (Sun and Snow), red (Shuntuksi Velican), and purple (Purple Cherokee), and some roasted red peppers and feta.

I cut up a lot of apples today for drying, as well as the ones for applesauce. Growing your own food, especially growing organically, means some worms in the apples and bits of stem in the wheat. Food in grocery stores is so perfect, as if it was made in a factory. We tend to think that’s normal, like those models in advertisements. But it’s not always like that in real life. Real food as it comes from the earth has character and quirks and it’s not always pretty and sometimes there are bugs.

And then you have to pick out the stems from the wheat, and cut around the spots on the apples, and if there are holes in the kale leaf, as long as there’s no caterpiller still there, it’s just as good as a whole leaf. Although I have to say, growing apples and pears is the hardest, the bugs don’t seem to miss any of the fruit. Plums and grapes produce so much and we rarely have to deal with any bugs or spots on the fruit.

Day 4 of the 100-yard diet

Wednesday: day 4

I finished the bread for breakfast, spread with butter and honey (I’m only supposed to be using the butter for cooking, so this probably constitutes a violation, but it was so good). That’s two days from 1 pound of wheat. So doing some calculations – I suspect Jay’s been off eating store bought bread – it comes to about 122 pounds of wheat per person for a year. Over the year, there are the equivalent of 2 1/2 people living here. That’s about 300 pounds of wheat we’d need to grow to keep the family (just barely) in wheat for a year.

I’ve grown small patches of wheat for the last few years. The yields came out to about to 4 and 10 pounds per 100 sqft – I planted smaller patches, this is just standardized for comparison. Jeavon’s book “How to grow more vegetables…” claims to get yields of to 25 pounds in that amount of space – if you have really rich soil, you get more grain. But wheat can grow in unimproved clay soil too (that’s my 4 pound yield), and is drought tolerant, and can grow over winter.

Anyway, assuming I don’t get Jeavon’s yield, but that I’m growing in improved beds for a reasonable yield, I’d need 10 beds to grow all our wheat (1000 sq ft). That’s half our total garden space. I don’t know whether to be shocked (so much space just for wheat) or happy (only half the garden, we can eat plenty from the other half).

For lunch: leftover turkey soup, and whatever else I could scrounge. I was hungry again this afternoon, and a little cranky.

For dinner we had guests, so we barbecued lamb. I thawed some lamb chops; they are from an older sheep, a 2 year old ram. It’s technically mutton, but our sheep just lie around in the pasture and eat, so this one didn’t get tough. To be sure, I marinated it in some homemade plum vinegar (originally a failed wine), olive oil, garlic, pepper and salt. Then roasted potatoes, carrots and onions (in more olive oil; we really need that stuff). I made a greek salad from cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers,feta, fresh basil, plum vinegar and olive oil. And some green beans. I also baked a squash – Potimarron, an old variety of squash from France with a creamy texture and a flavor that’s supposed to taste like chestnuts. But I forgot to serve it, so it’s left for tomorrow, and I gave some for the guests to take home. I ate way too much after being hungry all day.

Day 3 of the 100-yard diet

Tuesday: day 3

I missed breakfast this morning, so I had an early lunch of yesterday’s leftovers; falafel in pita and leftover red pepper and squash soup. The soup thickened when it was chilled and was a great sauce. The heat from the hot peppers comes through.

For dinner, I made turkey soup. I sauted onions, added stock, added a lot of potatoes, carrots and green beans, and the leftover turkey meat. The turkey was smoked so the soup has a smokey flavor, I didn’t even bother to go outside to pick sage or thyme. We usually add noodles (ah, refined flour) but not today. There’s one pita roll left from yesterday that we split to go along with the soup. I sliced a cucumber also, since the one yesterday was so good; it’s an heirloom cucumber called Uzbkski.

Today we also had a dessert. This was an experimental dish, with squash, eggs, milk, honey, and soft goat cheese. It came out very tasty but really misses vanilla and spices like nutmeg.

I’ve done a little googling on locavore (who knew there was a name for what I try to do?). One group in the bay area has a whole month long challenge, not just a week, and it moves from year to year. This year is supposed to be an emphasis on food preservation. And this is the time of year to think about it, if you have a garden.

We eat a lot of our own food all year, but canning is just not a big part of this. Canning uses so much energy and generates so much heat – boiling gallons of water for 10-40 minutes… While I have heard that it takes more energy to run a freezer for a year than to can the same amount of food, we have to run the freezer anyway since it’s full of lamb and turkey. So the total additional energy for us to to freeze food: nothing, and in fact a full freezer is more efficient.

Canning is used for jam, pickles, tomato sauce and juice (maybe a dozen quarts each). And we freeze some foods. But the best way to eat is right out of the garden – there’s something growing in our garden all year, even carrots and kale in January, that we can pick fresh. And “root cellaring” (we use an unheated storage space) lets us keep potatoes, squash, onions and garlic through March, depending on how warm it gets. No energy at all. We also dry a lot of tomatoes (boy, do we dry a lot of tomatoes). In our dry climate here, and with the steady hot wind in summer, you don’t really need an electric dehydrator. Screened racks in the wind will dry tomatoes in a couple of summer days.

Day 2 of the 100-yard diet

Monday: day 2

For breakfast, I experimented with amaranth. This is a tiny round grain that grows from a decorative, easy to grow plant (they are in fact often weeds); the leaves are also edible. I grew some last year – just a couple of plants – but not knowing what to do with it, the harvested grain was just sitting around in a jar.

I cooked 1/3 cup amaranth in 1 cup water, it takes about 10-15 minutes to cook. To
serve, I added honey and milk. It’s tasty, but doesn’t stick together in the bowl
and does stick in the teeth… probably better as flour. Along with the cereal, I
also had hard boiled eggs.

Midmorning I put a butternut squash in the sun oven to bake. After a couple of hours, out it came and in went the garbanzos to simmer. The sun oven is great this time of year, I can cook without heating up the house (we don’t have A/C).

Bread is very easy to mix with the bread machine; but we always take it out and bake in regular loaf pans or in whatever other form is useful, it comes out much nicer. We use the same basic recipe we use for bread, pizza dough, burger buns, etc. In the simplest form:
1 1/4 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
4 cups wheat flour (this took the whole pound of wheat from yesterday)
1 1/4 teaspoon yeast

Today I formed the dough into pita bread to go with the falafel. A little heavy with all home ground whole wheat flour, but good flavor and we like a good hearty bread.

For lunch it was quick to make turkey salad with some leftover turkey, our own chevre thinned with milk to give it a mixable cream cheese texture, and chopped sweet red pepper. Add a slice of home grown tomato (Big Rainbow), put in a pita and it made a delicious sandwich.

For dinner, soup and falafel sandwiches. I roasted some sweet and hot red peppers, fried a small onion, and pureed both with half the baked squash, a little cumin, salt and pepper, then thinned with goat yogurt to soup consistencey; and it resulted in a really delicious, spicy soup.

The falafel was just okay; cooked garbanzos, onion, garlic, parsley, cumin, coriander, and a bit of flour. Garbanzo beans (they are really a type of pea) are the easiest dry bean to grow and harvest, I think; they tolerate some frost, so they can be planted early and harvested early before the really hot dry weather sets in, and since they are big it’s easy to separate the dried beans from the pods. The parsley reseeded itself in the perennial garden. Coriander is the seed of cilantro, and since my cilantro usually flowers before I have many leaves, I do have coriander seed. All this was blended together, formed into patties and baked. The falafels were served in pita bread, along with chopped cucumber, tomato and yogurt sauce. Maybe I don’t have the right recipe, or maybe they just are better deep fried…

There’s so much to eat around me, though it all does takes effort to prepare, but I’ve been oddly hungry today. I’m afraid my body is used to more simple carbohydrates, sugar and white flour. It’s eye opening since Jay and I thought our diet was pretty good already. But now, how much more so, with nothing that came from a factory, nothing from the Iowa cornfields, nothing refined, no additives, no packaging… this is the way real food really is.

Day 1 of the 100-yard diet

We took the eat local challenge for a week and went on our 100-yard diet, with a few exceptions and wildcards.

Sunday: day 1
We start with coffee with goat’s milk. Today we used honey to sweeten instead of sugar; honey is local, sustainable and more nutritious than sugar. It just takes me some getting used to the honey flavor in coffee.

We scrambled eggs with onion, sweet red pepper, fresh tomato, and garlic in olive oil, with salt and pepper, and topped with goat feta. Along with this we had hash brown potatoes cooked in butter.

It was very filling and tasty, but I miss bread… I like simple, starchy breakfasts. I ended up with too much egg dish and not enough potatoes for my taste. And feta doesn’t work as well as cheddar in this dish, but feta is so easy to make.

With the late and filling breakfast, we didn’t really eat lunch. I ate as I worked – raspberries, cherry tomatoes, green beans, sweet peppers and peas, all raw right off the plants in the garden. Then bits of meat as I striped the last of the meat off the turkey we cooked last weekend.

I started some preparations for eating later this week, since we’re so busy during the week. I’m making stock with the turkey bones, onions, salt and pepper and a few bay leaves from the small potted bay tree on the patio.

We grow a small amount of grain and beans, this year about 5 pounds of wheat and a couple of pounds of garbanzos and black beans, and small amounts of minor grains – we’ll rely on this to vary the potato diet. Potatoes are so easy to grow and a nutritious source of starch, but personally they just aren’t as delicious as wheat or rice.

I started garbanzos soaking for tomorrow’s dinner, and ground flour from 1 pound of wheat. That should make one loaf plus extra for all the other things we use flour for.

Dinner tonight is eating out – the Rogue Flavor Dinner! Adam Treister (Jay’s boss) got tickets for us all to attend, lucky us! So we’re bending the rules, but it is an eat-local event, after all, and it’s just too good to pass up.

Eating Local

Happy Kitchen Garden Day! Here, we celebrate a week later, on the Sunday of Labor Day Weekend; we invite everyone to come over and look at the garden and eat farm fresh food and we have a big tomato tasting (this year I’m growing 50 varieties, although we found TSWV on a few, and pulled up 6 plants to try to get it under control).

Our annual tomatofest kicks off September, which is a month filled with labor: tomatoes, the honey harvest, poultry butchering, potatoes and squash, winter garden fit in somehow, fruit, and we lose our farm hand (Jay’s daughter) to school. September is also eat local month:
And our local eat-local group pushes an eat local week:
(September 9 to 16) with lots of activities to encourage eating local. It’s a good time of year to do it, there’s so much food out there, all fresh and delicious. Since we grow so much, rather than a 100-mile diet, I’m thinking of a 100-yard diet; only eat food that we produced right here on the farm. Given the realities of trying to get the harvest in, while keeping our day jobs, and not causing upset and consternation amongst the stock and pets, and good taste, we’ll make some exceptions, like coffee, animal food, salt, etc. The most challenging part are the starches… We like rice, and I’ve grow only a few pounds of wheat… what we have lots of is potatoes, and I don’t know how well I’ll do on mostly potatoes for a week.

So this year we (Jay and I) are going to take the week-long challenge and eat all our own food, with a few exceptions, and I’m going to try to blog about it, what we eat and just how local the food items are and what energy went into producing them.

Sustainable Food Choices

This is an area where the individual can do a great deal. We all eat, and collectively our eating habits have a huge impact on the world. 10% of all the energy used in the US goes to producing, processing shipping, and cooking food.

Eating more local and more in season is the biggest impact. The average food item travels 1500 miles to your table. Eating out of season almost guarentees that the food will have come from far away – I’ve seen peppers from Israel and Apples from New zealand in the store, just in the produce section. Does our food need to travel more than we do?

It can be hard to find out if grocery store food is local; reading labels helps. Buying something made in Portland rather than New York isn’t huge but it’s going in the right direction. If you are inclined, asking the grocery store where items come from. Making it clear that you, the shopper, wants local food, will eventually push the stores to respond, although I’d expect the Co-op to be more responsive than Albertsons.

Buying from the grower’s market and asking the farmer will assure you have local food with minimal transportatation. It will be fresher and therefor more nutritious. It supports the small farmer who needs it more than agribiz. You could also join a CSA and get a weekly basket of fresh vegetables – this is easier for the farmer who can plan ahead.

Even better, grow your own! That reduces the transport of your food down to a few yards. Grow basic crops in the right season and they are easy to grow. Again this is where if we all do it, it makes a huge difference – one lettuce plant isn’t much, but if everyone in Ashland (pop. 26,000 or so) grew one lettuce plant each, that is a whole lot of lettuce.

Plus you know exactly how it’s been grown. Even those so-called organic standards now have loopholes you could thow a dog through. The most healthy food is the fresh food you’ve grown yourself and picked moments before eating. It’s also the most delicious.

Speaking of organic, buying organic is a good thing. It may cost more but voting with our dollars is important and food is cheap in the big picture. But don’t feel too warm fuzzy about it in the big picture of sustainability and climate change. A lot of this organic food is grown on mega-farms where they use twice as much machinery and oil to make up for not using chemicals. It’s certainly better for you to eat, and poisons the planet less, but a lot of organic food production isn’t in any way really sustainable.

The less processed the food you eat, the less processing (which equals energy use and factories) is needed. This does involves changing our preferences – raw apples or applesauce or frozen apple pie? Making your own soup rather than buying soup is a tricker calculation, but eating more foods raw as nature provided, or barely cooked, is a sure win.

As an aside, you can make your own solar oven, or buy a nice one for about $250, which will bake and steam very nicely and not use any extra power at all.

Changing our preferences isn’t fun, we like what we like, but we can do it if we think about the true costs. You can eat all the in season strawberries you like, but when they aren’t in season you have the choice of trucking them from Mexico or processing. While strawberries are delicious, we don’t really *need* to eat strawberries in January. Waiting for a special food to come in season used to be one of the special delights of the year. If you can always get them, they aren’t special, right? So while it feels like giving up something we enjoy in life, it’s also putting that something on a pedestal and perhaps enjoying it a little bit more as a result.

This applies to non-local foods too. Tropical foods like mangos are less special when you can buy then any time – so think of the airplane fuel and don’t buy them. If you love mangos, buy them only for special occassions, you will enjoy them much more for the waiting.

Buy in bulk, too, whenever possible. Packaging is pure waste, even if some of it is recyclable, that doesn’t excuse all the energy and materials that went into manufacturing it and printing all sorts of designs on it and shipping it empty, filling it, shipping it to the store… you get the picture. If you do have the opportunity to buy bulk, bring your own containers or bags. And of course bringing canvas bags whereever you shop means less packaging.

If you can’t buy bulk, you can buy in larger containers – those individual small packages of raisins or juice have a great deal more package for the same amount of contents than a large single box. Usually the larger quantity costs less too, so it’s win-win, as long as it’s something you will use before it goes bad. Or freeze it.

Figure out how to not waste food. A study in Scandanavia found more than half the food that’s purchased is thrown away. This seems to disagree with the buy large packages suggestion, but it’s really depends on what you are doing now, where the easy wins are for you and your family – if a lot of food spoils in your fridge, maybe consider making some effort in this area. Observe your shopping and eating habits. Take a few things out of the grocery cart before you check out; supress your impluse to buy food. Make an extra effort to eat what is in the fridge before it goes bad. You can also get a dog, or chickens, or start a worm bin, or even just a compost pile, to deal with the waste – but far better not to have that food grown somewhere, shipped all around carefully refrigerated, handled in the store, and cooked: just for the worms.

Eating “low on the food chain” – plants rather than animals – is also good. There’s an inherent loss in feeding a cow or chickens, they use a fair amount of the food to walk around and moo or squawk. Industrially produced animal products (including milk and eggs as well as meat) come from animals that are treated very badly and is neither sustainable, moral or healthy.

However, animals can also eat things that we don’t care for (like grass) and scraps like carrot tops. Animals can lead enjoyable lives on small farms. If you eat meat, seek out animals raised in these more sustainable ways.

Learn to cook from more basic foods. For example, while canned beans are handy, it’s not that much more work to soak and cook dried beans – just a matter of learning and practice. Baking bread isn’t hard either, and the results are better tasting, cheaper and much more rewarding than store bought.

Try new kinds of foods – sustainable local foods – learn about native and wild edibles. Try unusual things in your salad; sorrel soup is a french delicacy that’s made from a perennial weed. Try serving millet with dinner. Go wild and learn how to process acorns for food. I don’t know that this is so really a suggestion for individual action for sustainability, but it’s a way to get in touch on a whole new level with food and history and the land that supports us.