Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Month 8: Out of the Woods at Last

In June we finally started getting the fresh Colorado vegetables in quantity and variety. We have been enjoying daily large salads with lettuce, cukes, tomatoes, and fresh herbs. We've been eating Colorado snap peas and snow peas. Snow peas are great with Hazel Dell mushrooms in a quick stir-fry. Snap peas are wonderful however you eat them. I've also frozen about 15 pounds for later in the year, since they won't stay in season here for long. And I won't buy the ones imported from Argentina or elsewhere.

The Farmers Markets finally started getting some fresh vegetables in several booths, as well as the first of the Colorado fruit: bing cherries. I'd like to find pie cherries too, but they are more elusive. The Loveland area used to have many large cherry orchards; in fact our house was built on a former cherry orchard west of town.

We're both on a diet, and both losing weight. It's mainly meat (local organic, including chicken) and vegetables either cooked or raw, with a little fruit. And a couple of times a week, a high-carb meal with bread, potatoes, or grains. This diet would have been impossible in April, with no fresh vegetables available, without breaking our local food promise.

Looking back over the eight months since November 1st, the 100-mile diet has morphed into more of a Bullseye diet. Meats, eggs, dairy products are from a 25-30 mile circle. Now that our CSA is starting (Yippee!) our vegetables will be mostly within a 15-mile circle; this spring I allowed the entire state of Colorado because there just was NOTHING in the way of fresh vegetables locally.

I'm considering building a small hoop house in our back yard. There is no reason why we can't have season extenders here; it's just that nobody is doing it as a business now. A hoop house could give us homegrown fresh vegetables from March through December.

With staples, there was really very little that I could find within a 100-mile circle, especially organic. Whole wheat flour from Kersey helped make my husband's weekly pizza, but I am gluten-intolerant, so it's done nothing for me.

Staples are grown in Larimer and Weld counties, but generally not organic, and generally sold directly into the commodity food chain. I hope we can remedy that problem. If we can build a market for local grains, beans and flours, I'm sure our local farmers can grow them for us. A side benefit for them is that they would get a much better price, with fewer middlemen between the farm and the customer.

I have bought Colorado staples: millet, quinoa, pintos, anasazis; and some staples from neighboring states: Utah, Kansas, Nebraska.
It's nice to have some food put aside. I have glass jars filled with grains and beans, and flour in the freezer to last us for a while.

I plan to put up green beans (lactofermented and frozen, maybe canned, maybe dried), and tomatoes tomatoes tomatoes, as sauce, paste, chopped, and whole. I plan to dry more herbs, make more pesto, and dry Colorado peaches, pears, and plums. Some of that will be from our yard, though our fruit crop is way below last year. Must have been too dry in the spring to set a lot of fruit.
I plan to freeze English peas, dry zucchini (I hear they're very good that way), and dry onions. It would be easier to make it through spring with more preserved foods on hand. And it makes a person feel a little more secure, knowing that there is GOOD FOOD in the house.

A great site on preserving foods is Preserve. I especially like the
apron she is wearing: "Put Up or Shut Up". I'd like to have one
of those! And here's another site with loads of info on food storage: Food Storage FAQ. And there's a load of information of all kinds on Backwoods Home Magazine.

A quick May and early June recipe, that got us through the desert of fresh food. Honeyacre is located in Wiggins, CO, and grows hothouse vegetables for the Farmers markets (and stores too, I think). Very tasty for hothouse vegetables; so much better because they are local and fresh picked.

Honeyacre Salad

1/2 Honeyacre hothouse cucumber, peeled and chopped
1 large Honeyacre hothouse tomato, chopped
1 Honeyacre hothouse sweet pepper, your choice of color (or whatever she has), chopped

Mix all together. Drizzle on 1 tablespoon olive oil (California) and 1/2 tablespoon vinegar, pickle juice or lemon juice. Sprinkle with fresh or dried herbs. Voila! Serves two hungry people.

And something that is good either with the last of the stored potatoes, or the new potatoes which are available, with the new Colorado scallions; an Irish recipe.


Peel and cut up 2 pounds potatoes, preferably Russet. Cook in salted water until tender. Drain. In another pan, heat 1/2 cup milk, 3 tablespoons butter, and 2 bunches scallions, trimmed and chopped fine. Simmer for a few minutes until the onions are soft. Then mash the potato chunks into the milk and scallion mixture. I like it a bit chunky. Serve with a few pats of butter melting into it, just to make it beautiful. This should serve four people as a side dish.

If you want a smoother-textured dish, mash the potatoes separately until smooth, then stir into the milk and scallions.

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Tragedy of the Tomato

The three-month long crisis with salmonella on tomatoes, or is it peppers? or is it scallions? or what is it anyway? sheds a very bright light on why local food is better.

Some people have gotten sick from salsa, and some never eat salsa so that couldn't be the source. Apparently the infected tomatoes are contagious enough that slicing one in a restaurant kitchen and then cutting some other food could contaminate the other food.

In a recent article I read, apparently the FDA was surprised to learn that tomatoes are commonly "repacked", together with tomatoes of the same size and appearance, from other areas. Sometimes U.S. grown tomatoes are mixed with tomatoes from Mexico or other countries, and sold as a product of the U.S. The FDA investigators have had an incredibly hard time tracing tomatoes to their farms of origin. Tomatoes are often held in warehouses for months before sale. They have become the perfect anonymous vegetable. Nobody can tell where they were grown, or when, or how. Therefore there can be no traceability, and no responsibility when something goes wrong.

One of the tragedies is that many large tomato growers have had to plow under their crop, worth sometimes $100,000 or more, because people are afraid to buy tomatoes. This is true even for growers whose tomatoes have tested perfectly clean with no trace of salmonella saintpaul. An entire industry is on the ropes right now.

Approximately 1,000 people have been sickened by the present time, though very few have died, and there's no end in sight. There is little or no progress in the investigation, except to widen it still further, due to the anonymity of the modern tomato. If warehouses are contaminated, many other vegetables could now be affected.

The E coli spinach of 2006 was much easier to trace, because bunches of spinach are held together with twist-tie labels from the company that produced them, which happened to be Earthbound. Painful at the time, but the cause was easy to find--overflow from the feedlot down the road--and easy to fix. With tomatoes there's no end in sight.

Yes, in case you wondered, your home garden tomatoes (once they get ripe) are perfectly safe. Our CSA tomatoes and locally-grown tomatoes, kept out of the commodity stream, are safe. One of the reasons to eat local food is the "face behind the food", farmers who know their product, and know that it is safe.