Friday, March 28, 2008

Support your local CSA

It's spring, early spring here in Colorado, with the buds swelling on the trees. My apricot trees, which bloomed on March 15 last year (and promptly froze), haven't quite popped yet. Every day I tell them: "Wait...Wait...".

But it IS time to pop for your CSA share. CSAs are really the most convenient way to assure yourself of a bounty of fresh local vegetables all season. You may not need one if you keep a large garden with a wide selection of veggies. Or you can choose to grow those vegetables you Really love and which produce the best for you, and let the CSA provide the rest of them.

For readers in the Fort Collins/Loveland area, Happy Heart and Monroe (Greeley) have already sold out. Cresset Farm still has shares, though they're moving quickly. I've been volunteering with Cresset for years now, and enjoying their wonderful biodynamically grown vegetables.

Other nearby CSAs I know of that still have shares are Abbondanza (near Longmont) and Grants Farm (near Wellington).

For everyone: you can find a CSA near you by searching in Local Harvest. Local Harvest is a wonderful resource for finding all kinds of local foods, no matter where in the U.S. you live.

Warning: getting a CSA membership may cause you to improve the quality of your diet. You may find yourself eating more vegetables, more salads, and more soups. You may need to go to your cookbooks to find recipes for that bounty of cucumbers, or green beans, or kohlrabi (what?).

There's something marvelous about paying once at the beginning of the season, and getting "free" vegetables each week. The check has cleared, and it feels kinda like those boxes or bags each week are a gift, which of course they are: a gift for you from the bounteous Earth.

It's a different experience than going to the Farmer's Market and paying for every pound or item that you buy. You can say, oh well I really don't need that head of lettuce; maybe I won't use it. When it's in your CSA bag, you'll use it, or lose it. Or give it away, or feed it to your chickens. And that'll be good for you, or your friend, or your chickens. It's a little extra push to eat those health-giving fresh vegetables.

For small families or single people, you can get a half-share from some CSAs (though it may still be big), or you can split the share with a friend, neighbor, or relative. That has the additional benefit of providing someone else to pick up your share if you're out of town.

Many CSAs offer barter shares, where you work in exchange for your vegetable shares. Cresset Farm offers barter shares at the equivalent rate of 4 hours work per weekly pickup, and many others do something similar. People who do barter shares generally enjoy the experience, working with other like-minded people, harvesting or weeding, or a variety of other jobs, some of them desk jobs like mine (I do the bookkeeping for the veggie shares for Cresset.)
If you have a skill that the farmers would benefit from, you can offer it. Artist, carpenter, massage therapist, baker, landscaper, small engine repair, bookkeeper, etc. etc.

Anyway, it's time to get that CSA share booked. Over the last few years, CSAs are selling out earlier each year, due to the overwhelming interest in local, fresh, organic food. So don't be one of those people I have to tell sadly, "we're sold out this year".

Monday, March 24, 2008

"Just like the Pioneers" -- Food Storage

I was telling a friend about what we're eating; nearly out of stored winter vegetables, spring vegetables not in yet, and he said, "just like the pioneers". Of course, not quite. If we get too hungry, I CAN go to the store, we CAN go to restaurants. We're really not "hungry", we have plenty of food, it just takes a lot of ingenuity to keep presenting the same vegetables and fruits in new ways.

I have certainly learned the lesson that I need to put up food in the summer and fall, to have enough to last over the winter. The pioneers did that, of course, in a variety of ways before the advent of canning: by root cellaring, by drying, by smoking, by pickling and salting. They harvested their animals in the late fall, and counted on the winter cold to keep the meat from spoiling.

Next summer: I'm putting up tomatoes and tomato sauce; green beans, peas. I'm drying peppers, tomatoes, herbs, onions.
I'll be making some more lactofermented pickles; we just ran out
of cucumber pickles, darn it! Three 1/2-gallon jars at least, next summer. And some wonderful lacto salsa with the fresh tomatoes and peppers. I have a bit from last summer, still good in the frig after all this time. It's truly amazing how well the lacto pickles store in the frig, when carefully prepared.

As local eaters, we're looking at methods of food preservation that many of our mothers and grandmothers used, to save the local bounty of fruits and vegetables for winter. I have been taking a Food Storage online class from Sharon Astyk. She has made a lot of her information public on the internet to everyone. So I'm sharing it with you.

Food Storage 101 Part I
Putting Up Your Own
Growing or Buying Fresh Food for Root Cellaring
What Food Storage Can and Can't Do
and for a few chuckles:
Screwing It Up - A Manual for the New Home Preserver

And there are more, if you're interested: just go to her site and click on "Categories: Food Storage".

It's not a bad idea to have some food stored "just in case", aside from supporting local eating. Just in case you lose your job; just in case you are snowed in; just in case they announce a flu epidemic and ask everybody to stay home. It's nice to look in your pantry and know that you have enough to feed your family for a few months, or a year. We hope we don't see Hard Times, but it's good to be prepared.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Last of the Winter CSA veggies

We had our last pickup at Cresset Farm today; leeks, turnips, Napa cabbage, onions, daikon, and a quart jar of kim chee. It's amazing that these winter vegetables keep from October-November until mid-March. Part of that is certainly the skill of Lawrence and Ursula at vegetable storage, part of it is the high quality of the biodynamic vegetables. And part is the innate nature of these wonderful vegetables, which have been grown by humans for probably thousands of years, long before the advent of refrigeration.

Note: for the best keeping quality of storage vegetables, don't wash them. Let them keep their light coating of dirt, which has a preservative quality. Wash and peel before cooking and eating, of course.

Fresh vegetables I still have on hand, either in the frig or in bags in an unheated room: three daikon, one and one-half heads Napa cabbage, one and one-half heads red cabbage, four beets, two turnips (the remainder are roasting in the oven right now), two onions, about ten pounds of potatoes in a dark corner of the garage in paper bags, and five beautiful leeks. Two small hubbard squash and three kabocha round out the vegetables, surprisingly
(to me) keeping well into March.

In addition I have several jars of lactofermented vegetables: kim chee, carrot, turnip, beet and cucumber, in the frig. We can always get high-quality fresh mushrooms from Hazel Dell on the way to Windsor. We are allowing ourselves canned/jarred tomato products in modest quantities until I can preserve this summer's crop (a temporary Exception). So we have a pretty good selection of vegetables, to hold us until the first Farmers' Markets in May.

It's a bit of a challenge finding fresh ways to fix the same selection of vegetables, however. The prospect of fresh greens is very enticing, and Peas. I really miss peas. Fortunately I don't have to wait TOO long for peas, they are an early summer crop.

Jim is having a salad many days, made of Napa, lactofermented carrot shreds and a chunk of lacto cucumber, topped with canned wild-caught salmon (an Exception) or (local) chicken meat, with olive oil and pickle juice dressing (makes a nice substitute for vinegar). Napa is really the Best! Still holding out after all these months, crunchy and sweet tasting. You can use it raw as a salad or slaw, or cooked into soups or vegetable dishes.

For dinner tonight, potato-leek-chicken soup and roasted turnips.
100% local. An upcoming meal: Cincinnati chili on local pinto beans or potatoes. All local except the chili powder and spices (less than 1% of the weight of the ingredients). Yesterday we had homemade pizzas, a weekend tradition. Whole wheat (local) crust for Jim, gluten-free flours for me, local fresh mozzarella and sausage, tomato sauce (Exception mentioned above) for him, pesto (from last summer) for me, fresh mushrooms.

I'm fast running out of on-hand gluten-free flours; I've made some flour from the Colorado millet which is nice; I have the New York buckwheat flour we brought back from vacation. So when the last of the rice and teff flour is gone, I'll still have something. The combination of buckwheat and millet makes a very nice pancake; the millet flour adds a little crunch.

I made my mixer unhappy by trying to grind little dry tapioca pearls (gift from sister) into flour using the grain mill attachment; it stuck totally and jammed the motor. The nice Kitchenaid people are sending me a new mixer. I won't make that mistake again. It does a good job on the millet.

Millet-Buckwheat Pancakes

Makes three good-sized pancakes.

Beat one egg, beat in 2/3 cup buttermilk or yogurt, 1/4 cup millet flour, 1/4 cup buckwheat flour, salt to taste, 1/4 tsp baking soda. Melt 1 tablespoon butter or lard, or use 1 tablespoon olive oil, and stir into batter. If it seems too thick, add a little water; if too thin, add a bit more flour. Cook on medium-hot griddle or skillet, turning once when bubbles cover the top, and the bottom is somewhat set.

I love these cakes just as is. You could add jam or jelly; pepper jelly would be nice. You could also spread them with pesto, for a different taste. Millet flour is best freshly ground; as a whole grain, the flour can get stale tasting quickly. If you don't have a grain mill, you could try a blender, sifting the result.

Vernal equinox coming up soon; spring is definitely on the way!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Your Victory Garden II: Planting Fruits

I mentioned Victory Gardens a month or so ago, then I got distracted and didn't do any more on the subject. So, here goes!

Victory Gardens in the U.S. started in World War I, and continued in World War II. People were somewhat slow to put them in, until Eleanor Roosevelt had some of the White House lawn dug up for one.
There were several reasons for them, especially as the war ground on and food rationing started. One was to save commercially-produced foods for the G.I.s. A second was to supplement food choices limited by rationing. And the third was to give people something REAL they could do to support the war effort, even if they were children or the elderly.

We're in a war now, but we're not being asked to do anything other than keep quiet about it. And oh yes, keep spending. But that's not the war and the victory I mean.

Your Victory Garden is a victory over industrial food, GMOs, pesticides, herbicides. It's a victory over climate change and peak oil. After all, the closest you can get food is your own garden. How about a 100-yard diet? The cost for transporting those fruits and vegetables to your refrigerator is your walk from the garden into the house. Nothing could be fresher or tastier than a tomato or a head of lettuce you just picked.

The first few posts will be for people who have a yard that they can plant in. After that, I'll look at some options for renters and apartment dwellers.

So, you have a yard? It's probably planted mostly in grass, which requires lots of water, weed-n-feed to keep down the dandelions (that's herbicide, folks), mowing, fertilizer, etc. etc. Next time I'll discuss turning some of that into garden. But for now, let's look at FRUIT.

You can pay $25 for a beautiful baby fruit tree: apples, plums and cherries do particularly well around here. Plant a baby apple tree carefully, keep the grass out from under it, and take care of it. In a couple of years it will start making apples for you.

We are lucky enough to have three mature apple trees. We're getting 500 pounds of delicious apples from each tree! We pick them and give almost all of them away. If you get semi-dwarf trees, the harvest size will be a little more manageable. We have four plum trees (I planted two, the bear planted two as far as I can tell). One old Montmorency cherry, which has had a number of seedling children also bearing cherries now.

You can grow peaches here in northern Colorado, especially if you put them on the north side of a building, to convince them it's not Spring YET. The big problem with peaches here is that they break dormancy on a warm winter day and get zapped with a frost.

For $100 or so, you can have a nice selection of fruit trees that will feed you, your family, and your neighbors for decades to come. Now THAT's an economical use of your food dollars. They can be worked into your landscaping. Fruit trees are beautiful. They bloom in the spring. They give bee forage.

You can get into more unusual trees too: why stop with apple, peaches, plum and cherry? Pear, mulberry, sweet cherry, mountain ash (pick one with tasty berries), hawthorn; you could try persimmon and pawpaw. And there are nut trees: English and black walnuts do pretty well around here, especially the black walnuts.

You don't need to stop with trees. There are a large number of fruit-bearing shrubs that grow around here, looking even more like landscaping. Nanking cherry, serviceberry, gooseberry, currants (some native), blackberry, raspberry, elderberry, and more. Chokecherry if you like to make jelly or wine. Wild plum grows wild in our yard, and would almost certainly grow in yours. Take a look at the nursery catalogs. Some grapes grow well here too, either Concord or table grapes. And you can plant a few hazelnut shrubs to provide yourself some nuts in a few years.

As our Plant Hardiness Zone moves from 4 bordering on 5, to 5 bordering on 6, lots of new choices are opening up. See the new plant hardiness zone map here. You can also enter a zip code and get your hardiness zone on this page.

Blueberries are very difficult here (though possible, from what I hear), because they want an acid soil. Likewise cranberries, which like it acid and very damp. But there are so many other choices, you don't have to feel forlorn. Of course, if you live in Massachusetts, Michigan, Maine, etc., not a problem!

Finally, you can plant strawberries on a little plot of land, or in a terrace or a strawberry pot. When have you last tasted a "real" strawberry, bursting with flavor? You won't find that at the store, from California or Argentina or China. They are very easy to grow.

Here are a few of my favorite nurseries:

One Green World
Raintree Nursery
Burnt Ridge Nursery

And there are plenty more good ones. Bsides that, there are a lot of local nurseries that also have nice fruit trees and assorted berry bushes.

There are a large number of excellent gardening books out there. One I particularly like is "Gaia's Garden" by Toby Hemenway. This is a very accessible introduction to Permaculture, which is in part a regenerative landscaping that meets human needs, and much more. See the Permaculture Activist for more on Permaculture; there is a lot of information out there.

When you get your tree or shrub, dig a big enough hole that you can spread out the roots straight. The last thing you want is a circling root. Don't put fertilizer in the bottom of the hole. Fill in the hole with the native dirt the tree will live in. Otherwise you might find that the roots just stay in that little hole where everything is pleasant, and don't move out into the challenging soil around them. Tamp down the soil gently but firmly. Water the newly planted tree or shrub well.

You don't generally need to stake a baby tree. Landscapers do this when they put in a big tree with a small rootball, to keep the poor thing from tipping over. With a more modest tree and good roots, the tree benefits from the slight pushing the wind gives.

Around here, you'll need to do supplemental watering of your new trees or shrubs as they get established, and during dry periods, especially in a winter warm spell. Raspberries and blackberries do best located under other fruit trees, shaded from the hot afternoon sun.

Fruit trees and shrubs are beautiful, easy to care for, and productive. Even a small lot has room for a couple of trees and some shrubs, especially since you can layer the shrubs under the trees. Every patio has room for a strawberry pot or planter. So, open your home and yard to the bounty of Mother Nature this year.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Month 4: The Long Haul

Well, we're through month 4 (February), and into month 5, trudging toward spring. In some ways, it has become routine; we don't buy food at the grocery store; we know what vegetables we'll be eating. The only surprise is what new recipes I can find to fix them. I love having the winter vegetables, but I'm looking forward to spring with fresh greens. It's a long couple of months until the first of May.

On the other hand, I've found Colorado-grown organic grains and beans. This is a great relief as our stored rice is down to one serving (and holding...). I've really been enjoying the millet. I may try to make some flour out of it, as my gluten-free flour stock is nearly gone. Tapioca flour gone, potato starch gone, rice flour one serving left. Jim is set with the Wheat Lands whole wheat flour.

As usual, we're well provided with local meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products. Still a few apples from our trees, holding out in the garage. Still a few winter squash, waiting for me. I've been enjoying the homegrown fruit I dried last fall. And I'm plotting what I will be "putting up" next summer. Tomato sauce for sure. Dried celery for soups (I MISS celery). Green beans. Peas Please.

This time of year was always difficult for our grandparents and great-grandparents--people who ate by the seasons because that was what there was. In March and April they relied on canned goods, on sauerkraut and pickles, on the last of the potatoes and onions.

And when the first spring greens came in, they celebrated. How good they will taste. When you have lettuce every day, from California or farther away, it is humdrum, just another bowl of vegetables. When you haven't had lettuce for six months, it's a wonder: crisp, bright green, lovely taste. I don't think I'll bother with dressing for my first head of lettuce--I'll just pull off the leaves and stuff them into my mouth. Yum!

For those of you in the Loveland area, I'm trying to organize a LoveLandLocal bulk buying club. Take a look at that short post, where I have embedded my real email address. If you're interested, email me there, so I can contact you.

The Vernal Equinox is coming soon, and spring foods are not far behind. I would say "I can't wait", but.... I can.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Fix the Farm Bill

Fix the Farm Bill

I was reading Crunchy Chicken this morning. Her latest post is about the U.S. Farm Bill. Quoting: "The op-ed piece recently published in the NY Times titled, My Forbidden Fruits and Vegetables, is really grinding my crackers.

It illustrates how completely short-sighted the commodity program in the Farm Bill is. In brief, farmers are not allowed to grow non-commodity produce (anything but corn, soybeans, rice, wheat and corn) on commodity land, limiting their ability to provide fresh produce to local markets."

Please read the above-linked NY Times op-ed piece for further information. This is written by a farmer, trying to grow produce for the local market, who was forced to pay a penalty of over $8,000 for growing vegetables on "corn land".

This is the USDA's answer to the Local Food movement: penalize the heck out of it, preserving the livelihood of the big commodity growers, destroying the livelihoods of local small farmers. We need to let them know in no uncertain terms that this is not acceptable, and we need to let Congress know right away.

Please, if you love local food, and want to see more of it, send a letter or make a phone call to your representatives right away. Crunchy Chicken's article has a suggested letter for you to send, or write your own. We need to let them hear from us.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

LoveLandLocal Bulk Buying Club

This post is for people in the Loveland/Fort Collins Colorado area. Some of the posters expressed interest in a bulk buying club. It would be nice to eventually have a food cooperative in our area, but that's a big project and I think we need to start smaller. Anyway, I'd like to host a meeting of local people at my house next weekend. See the lines below for my email address (configured to prevent auto-harvesting and even more spam).

Lynnetnb--Please email me at the address which you

at--------see to the left of this paragraph, substituting

frii------as needed to make a valid email address. Then

dot-------we can communicate about a time and place for

com-------the meeting. I'm envisioning placing bulk orders for once a month delivery. I'd like to see it limited to Colorado grown foods, preferably organic, certainly non-GMO, and the closer to us, the better. So if you're interested, drop me an email!

BTW I'm sure loving the Colorado organic millet I found recently.