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HOMEGROWN Life: From September Rains to Holiday Radishes, Farmer Bryce Traces How Marginal Land Could Furnish America’s Christmas Dinner

Thursday, September 4th, 2014

 

HOMEGROWN-life-bryce-logo-150x150Ah, yes. A rainy September morning.

It’s one of the glories of the annual cycle of seasons on the farm. Here in western Missouri, fall planting has commenced. Lettuce and spinach and radishes and other leafy and rooting plants are in the ground. But right now they’re just sitting there, waiting for calming temperatures and moisture. After a burning August (I’m not complaining; 2014 had some good and timely rains), we’re hoping for the heat to break and the fall crops to take off.

They need to get going soon if we’re to have a harvest in the next few weeks. The sun is rapidly retreating. The soil is still pretty dry. And yet, even knowing those conditions, we hope things will work out. Maybe the fall will be long and mild. Maybe the temperature will be in that magic 65-degree high, 45-degree low range until Christmas. Maybe.

HOMEGROWNsubmitthanksgivingphotosIt’s all relative, though. I count myself lucky. I live on fairly marginal farmland for specialty crop growing, specifically vegetable production. For the most part, that’s due to our occasional super-high winds and wild temperature fluctuations. And then there’s bug damage and disease and wilt—the latter thanks to our spotty but sometimes incredibly heavy rains. But this is only “marginality” in comparison with other places where veggies are the specialty, such as the mountain-protected regions of the American West. I’m talking about you, California. And you, Colorado River Basin.

I pick on the Colorado River watershed a lot in my head, for a very simple reason: Geography and environmental destruction are my nagging worries. I’m a guy who really struggles with water. The Colorado River has water worries in piles and piles. That sucker doesn’t even make it to its delta, on the southeast California-Baja California coast.

And this retreating river is only part of the issue. A lot of the problem has to do with agriculture. The Imperial Valley supplies an estimated 80 percent of US-produced winter vegetables. As the writer and photographer Pete McBride tells it, we might not realize it, but we Americans “eat the Colorado River” during Thanksgiving and Christmas.

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That’s because the majority of fresh produce in grocery stores has a Colorado River pedigree during the holidays. The microclimate there and the farmers in the region have developed a serious agribusiness based on the area’s “economic competitiveness,” or giant monocultures of industrial vegetables that get shipped out to the highest bidder.

I woke up to this reality while I was enjoying this morning’s rainstorm. Mother Jones blogger Tom Philpott laid it out clearly: The highly veggie-productive Colorado River region could be facing an absolute lack of water very soon.

So what does that mean for Midwestern, Southern, and Eastern veggie growers like me? We better get our acts together. We better embrace our advantages of fall and winter production, construct hoop houses and greenhouses, and try to build on the beginnings of a nonsummer production season.

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Because those of us with experience know a longer season is ripe for the picking. We’re not trying to steal the market from our farmer friends in the Southwest. Rather, we know two things:

  1. Local food is fresher and can have a much smaller carbon footprint than industrial produce.
  2. People want a more transparent food system that aligns ecological practices with healthy meals.

So, get ready, veggie growers. Whether we like it or not, somebody needs to provide the greens and radishes and carrots for all those holiday meals. Entire industries are built upon such societal shifts. The question is whether, through agricultural policy and funding, we, as produce growers, and we, as a society, can make the transition away from desert-based veggie production in a manner that limits harm while providing maximum local economic development.

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Maybe it’s time we quit listening to all of those economists who keep nay-saying “government picking winners and losers.” If we can transition the fall and winter veggie system in our country from the desert Southwest to the Midwest, South, and East, everybody can win. Yes, everybody: farmers, consumers, and the environment.

Who knows? Maybe that broader geographic distribution of farm laborers who follow the produce would help us fix immigration policy, as well. Maybe not. But it’s worth pursuing.

HOMEGROWN-life-Bryce-OatesBryce Oates is a farmer, a father, a writer, and a conservationist in western Missouri. He lives and works on his family’s multigenerational farm, tending cattle, sheep, goats, and organic vegetables. His goals in life are simple: to wake up before the sun, catch a couple of fish, turn the compost pile, dig some potatoes, and sit by the fire in the evening, watching the fireflies mimic the stars.

PHOTOS: (HOLIDAY PLATE) JENNIFER; (ROOTS AND GREENS) ANDREA DiMAURO; (HIGH TUNNEL) RICHARD MAXWELL; (FENNEL APRICOT STUFFING) PENNY V.

HOMEGROWN Life: Farmer Bryce’s Hoeing Playlist

Thursday, June 5th, 2014

 

HOMEGROWN-life-bryce-logo-150x150Toil. The word strikes fear in some. It makes others run for the hills. But toil is something that farmers like me must embrace.

Beneath the romantic vision of farming and agriculture lies a lot of monotonous and repetitive labor: hard, physical work. It’s not sexy or interesting much of the time. It’s just something you have to do. This is not unique to farmers. Construction workers, waitresses, factory workers, postal workers, and a lot other professions know the routine. Just do your job and try not to develop anger or resentment or destructive thoughts. Find a coping strategy and deal with it because there are things that need to get done.

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Hoeing, for instance, is one of those farming tasks I’d rather not have to deal with. But it’s 2014. We have something in our toolboxes our parents and grandparents never had. We have podcasts.

So, in honor of hoeing season and my attempts to hold back the growth of early summer weeds that might eventually overtake the vegetable patch, I present my go-to soundtrack. This farming playlist is designed to help you make it through a hard day of otherwise toilsome labor, particularly when you’re not starting out in the morning with all cylinders firing. Here goes.

PODCAST EPISODES

• File under “funny and smart”: For his podcast “By the Way,” Jeff Garlin sits down with fellow comedians. This installment, with Zach Galifianakis, is hilarious at times, intelligent at others.

• File under “still the champ”: Wendell Berry. The man deserves his own category. It doesn’t get any better than Berry chatting it up with Bill Moyers in an old country church for “Moyers & Company.”

• File under “I’d rather be fishing”: I get annoyed by the host of “On Being,” from American Public Media, but she has some great shows. This one’s a sure-fire pick, and it involves three of my favorite subjects: coming of age, fishing, and the joys of humility.

• File under “blow your mind”: Here’s a thought experiment. Try killing time performing a toilsome agricultural task while listening to a lecture on life before European agriculture conquered the continent/s where we live.

BACK TO OUR REGULAR PROGRAMMING

(AKA shows from which I inevitably learn something and smile)

Good Food”: This radio program from KCRW in Santa Monica sometimes focuses on Southern California but often provides a much broader look at food and cooking.

Living on Earth”: Environmental coverage, from Public Radio International.

To the Best of Our Knowledge”: Wisconsin Public Radio produces this national weekend program for liberal arts nerds.

Men in Blazers”: I’ve become a pretty committed soccer fan (Go, Sporting KC!), and this is my favorite wide-angle soccer broadcast.

Dave Damashek Football Program”: A great look at the NFL. Yes, I’m a bit of a jock. Football is a huge spectacle and something I get re-addicted to every autumn.

There you have it. A peek into the mind of a mad farmer trying to prevent the fescue, orchardgrass, and crabgrass from smothering his seedlings. Sometimes music is not enough and you need something a little more substantive. Or ridiculous. Or trivial. Happy hoeing.

HOMEGROWN-bryce-oates-150x150Bryce Oates is a farmer, father, writer, and conservationist in West Missouri. He lives and works on his family’s multigenerational farm, tending cattle, sheep, goats, and organic vegetables. His goals in life are simple: to wake up before the sun, catch a couple of fish, turn the compost pile, dig potatoes, and sit by the fire in the evening, watching the fireflies mimic the stars.

PHOTO: MANDY LACKEY/FLICKR CREATIVE COMMONS

HOMEGROWN Village Returns to Maker Faire Bay Area This Weekend!

Monday, May 12th, 2014

 

California, here we come! HOMEGROWN.org is headed west this weekend for Maker Faire Bay Area, the ginormous annual festival of all things sawed, hammered, welded, programmed, and—yep—grown. Farmers are the original makers, after all! For the sixth year running, HOMEGROWN and our big sibling, Farm Aid, are partnering with Maker Faire to put on the HOMEGROWN Village, a curated haven devoted to food, gardening, and eating.

Most definitely eating.

Maker Faire Bay Area runs Saturday, May 17 from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday, May 18 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the San Mateo Event Center. You can snag tickets here—but first, get a preview below of what to expect in the HOMEGROWN Village. Makers, start your taste buds!

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HANDS-ON HOMEGROWN WORKSHOPS

Roll up your sleeves and dig into these hands-on homesteading how-tos! Full schedule below.

SATURDAY

» 11:30 a.m. Kraut-a-thon, with Todd Champagne of Happy Girl Kitchen (Can’t make it Saturday? Get your kraut fix, same time on Sunday!)

» 1 p.m. Chinese Noodle Making, with Mr. Wang (Can’t make it Saturday? Catch more noodle magic, same time on Sunday!)

» 3 p.m. Unraveling the String Cheese Knot, with Louella Hill, a.k.a. the San Francisco Milk Maid

» 5 p.m. Making Marshmallows, with Cristina Arantes

» 6 p.m. Sourdough Starters, with Brandy Reynolds (as in, take home your own starter!)

» 6:30 p.m. DIY Tea Blending, with Christopher Coccagna

HOMEGROWN-maker-faire-kraut

 

SUNDAY

» 11:30 a.m. Kraut-a-thon, with Todd Champagne of Happy Girl Kitchen (Can’t make it Sunday? Get your sauerkraut fix, same time on Saturday!)

» 1 p.m. Chinese Noodle Making, with Mr. Wang (Can’t make it Sunday? Catch more noodle magic, same time on Saturday!)

» 3 p.m. Shake It Like You Mean It: Butter Making 101! with HOMEGROWN.org (Yep, that’s us! Shimmy over and say hello!)

» 3:30 p.m. Ginger Beer with Wild Fermentation, with Jennifer Harris

» 4:30 p.m. We Can Pickle That! with Kelly McVicker

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MAKER SQUARE STAGE

Head here for a jam-packed lineup of food and farming demos! Full schedule below.

SATURDAY

» 11 a.m. Making the Perfect Dip, with Kelly Manzo

» 11:30 a.m. It’s All in the Crust: Making Your Best Pie, with Suzanne Kissinger

» Noon Gastronomy + Chocolate = Make a Unique Dessert, with Vanessa Holden

» 12:30 p.m. Making Pearl Sugar, with Sivan Wilensky

» 1 p.m. Making Bean to Bar Chocolate at Home, with Greg D’Alesandre

» 1:30 p.m. Making Fresh Chevre at Home, with Nicole Easterday of the totally awesome-sauce FARMcurious (She’s a HOMEGROWN member!)

» 2 p.m. Home Coffee Roasting, with Byron Dote of Sweet Maria’s

» 2:30 p.m. Backyard Beekeeping, with Kendal Sager

» 3 p.m. Backyard Livestock, with Dog Island Farm‘s Tom Ferguson and Rachel Hoff, a.k.a. HOMEGROWN’s very own crazy-rad blogger (and a HOMEGROWN member!)

» 3:30 p.m Tiny Homes on the Move, with Lloyd Kahn, author of a 2012 book by the same title, as well as the 1973 classic Shelter. Don’t miss him.

» 4 p.m. Your Place in the World—An Intro to Biointensive Sustainable Mini-Farming, with Justin Cutter

» 4:30 p.m. Soil is Life. Tillage is Death. The Awesome Future of Agriculture, with Paul Kaiser

» 5 p.m. Bringing Home the Grain, with Doug Mosel

HOMEGROWN-maker-faire-shrub

 

SUNDAY

» 11 a.m. String from Sticks! with Tamara Wilder

» 11:30 a.m. Mushroom Cultivation, with Patty and Ray Lanier of the Mushroom Maestros

» Noon Home Kitchen Food Handling & Safety, with Bill Waiste

» 12:30 p.m. Root to Stalk Cooking: Discovering a New Way of Looking at Vegetables, with the James Beard Award-winning author Tara Duggan, who was kind enough to share the recipe for her no-cook fennel-Parmesan  salad with HOMEGROWN last year

» 1 p.m. Lactoferment Just About Anything! with Nicole Easterday (yep, the supercool HOMEGROWN member)

» 1:30 p.m. DIY Yogurt, Greek Yogurt, and Cream Cheese: A Simple DIY Science Project for the Whole Family, with Tyler Henthorne

» 2 p.m. Art of Dehydrating: Dehydrating Pineapples into a Hibiscus Flower, with Michelle Francia

» 2:30 p.m. Your Sustainable Home Brewery: Crash Course in Building It and Using It, with Amelia Loftus

» 3 p.m. Aero Press: Coffee from the Future! with Chris Casassa

» 3:30 p.m. Wet Block to Finish Product (homemade jerky!), with Randall Hughes

» 4 p.m. How to Make a Good Sweet Potato Pie, with Charles Swift

HOMEGROWN-maker-faire-bees

 

HUNGRY FOR MORE MAKING?

» Browse HOMEGROWN Village photos from last year’s Maker Faire Bay Area

» Be your own maker! Find all kinds of DIY projects to craft, plant, grow, cook, preserve, and beyond in the HOMEGROWN 101 library!