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Archive for the ‘Farming’ Category

HOMEGROWN Life: In Defense of Good Food; or, Farmer Bryce Responds to the 2014 Midterm Elections

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014

 

HOMEGROWN-life-bryce-logo-150x150“Who are the folks that work at the White House? Why, they’re a bunch of college professors and community organizers who think they’re smarter than all the rest of us.”

Those are the words of yesterday’s 2014 midterm elections big winner, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who is poised to become the Senate majority leader in January 2015. He, and Republicans the land over, ran their campaigns against President Obama. And they won.

HOMEGROWN readers might prefer DIY instructionals about gardening and canning, but that’s not what’s on my mind today. Maybe that’s because I live in a conservative farming community in West Missouri. Maybe that’s because I had to endure a bunch of loony political ads on TV while I was rooting on the KC Royals during their exciting, if unfulfilled, drive for a World Series title. Maybe it’s because of that McConnell quote I heard on NPR Monday evening, blasting the liberal elite professors and community-based organizations trying to stand up to the rich and powerful.

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I can’t seem to get Senator McConnell’s venom for people like me—a college-educated liberal who spent years working as a community organizer for family farmers and against the corporate takeover of agriculture—out of my mind. He put into words a very popular sentiment, and those of us working for local food and family farm agriculture need to wrestle with it.

On the face of it, you have to admit it’s pretty easy to make fun of us local food folks. We spend hours thinking about such important topics as how to best preserve the nutritional value of kale in our meals or which is the best breed of chicken to use for a pot of soup stock. (Eighteen-month-old Barred Rock laying hens do great!) I slapped my forehead when, a few years back, President Obama mused on the troubling increase in food prices by asking, “Have you seen the price of arugula at Whole Foods lately?”

No, Mr. President. I have not seen the price of arugula at Whole Foods. I grow my own.

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So, yes, we’re easy to poke fun at. We take ourselves too seriously. And that’s a big reason why we’re seen as elitist snobs instead of real people with good ideas about how to improve the economy and environment by having more farmers growing real food in a sustainable manner.

Think about what Senator McConnell is saying: Elections and politics are about a war of cultural symbols. During the Farm Bill mess the past few years, critical nutrition and local food and conservation programs were on the ropes. Some good programs were cut severely; others were eliminated. That’s what we’re facing with a McConnell-led Senate. Who cares about the latte liberals and their food stamp machines at farmers markets? We’ve got corporate taxes to cut.

This is all important because the Good Food Movement needs to figure out how to resonate with a broader population if we are to make the change we seek. It’s important to understand the reality of the people working on these issues. We’re incredibly diverse. Yes, you’ve got your Brooklyn fermented-beverage hipsters, but there are also plenty of off-the-grid conservatives who identify the grandest issue of all as the right to drink raw milk. Go to a “small farm conference” and you’ll see all kinds of weirdos doing interesting things.

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I ramble. I know.

Mostly, I’m concerned and frustrated, just like the majority of Americans. I’m sick of a supposedly growing economy that enriches a few at the top while most of us barely scrape by. Heck, my wife had to go back to teaching so we could have health insurance, since it was so hard to make a living off the farm. (In addition to farming, I also work as a writer of grants and such to make extra money). Living without health insurance seemed fine until my son broke his arm while we were building our homestead house, and we wracked up giant hospital bills we couldn’t afford.

My greatest frustration is watching as good people with good ideas who work hard face increasing challenges. Local farm and food enterprises deserve serious support from society, both from “the market” and from public support. It’s a job-creation machine ripe for the picking.

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I’ve gotta get back to the compost pile before my head explodes. I’ll try to be more happy and hopeful next time.

 

HOMEGROWN-bryce-oates-150x150Bryce Oates is a farmer, a father, a writer, and a conservationist in western Missouri. He lives and works on his family’s multi-generational farm, tending cattle, sheep, goats, and organic vegetables. His goals in life are simple: 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.

ALL PHOTOS BY HOMEGROWN.ORG MEMBERS: (GIRL WITH RADISH) CITY BLOSSOMS; (CHICKEN COOP) AMY; (HIGH TUNNEL) JESSICA REEDER; (SWEET POTATOES) ASHLEE SHELTON

 

HOMEGROWN Life: It’s Fall. Time to Eat!

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

 

HOMEGROWN LifeSome folks love summer. I prefer fall and winter. Why? Blame it on the food.

Already with the change of seasons, I’m a cooking fiend. There’s something about a fire crackling in the fireplace on an autumn night that sends me straight to the kitchen, bursting with ideas. The house is full of the aroma of winter squash roasting next to trays of sweet potatoes and pans full of Aroostook County Yukon Golds drenched in olive oil, tossed with Maine sea salt and fresh rosemary clipped from the fall garden. Roasted herb-crusted chickens fresh from a friend’s farm. Baked golden custards made with my turkey hen’s cache of eggs and sweet winter milk. Comfort food.

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I’ve been pickling, canning, putting up, putting by, and storing everything I can get my hands on. The last of the green tomatoes are jarred and nestled on the shelf next to the heirloom lemon cucumber pickles. The pumpkins are roasted, canned purée ready to fill piecrusts and bake into breads all winter.

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I’m proud to say I am not a mainstream shopper. Instead, I choose to raise goats for their milk and I turn a good portion of it into cheeses for myself and others. I’m blessed to walk out my door and pick heirloom apples from their branches while the girls dance around my feet. Gathering the remainder of my meals from like-minded folks who work to bring heirloom veggies, small-farm-raised meats, and a variety of other local foods to the table in turn brings me closer to people. I like that.

It takes time to raise good food. Hours of tending and weeding precious plants, feeding and caring for beasts through spring and summer. It also takes time to eat good food. I like knowing that, as long as my girls and I meet on a daily basis, I’ll never want for tall glasses of delicious milk. Butterfat content in the girl’s milk runs higher this time of year, so things are even creamier and tastier now. Likewise, while there are dry spells due to molting or to somebody deciding her eggs need to get converted into fluffy new chicks, I always have at least enough eggwash to brush on a freshly rolled piecrust.

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Speaking of pies! The past season’s jars of mincemeat were screaming to me from the shelves last week. Twice now they’ve found their way into savory crusts brushed golden with a mixture of the girls’ sweet milk and the ladies’ neon yellow yolks. Who says mincemeat is just for the holidays? I hope our local mincemeat guru will be producing and bringing more to the Grange Hall Christmas Mart in—dare we say—just a few weeks. I’m down to one jar!

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How do you resist the comfort of a hearty dish of mac and cheese brimming with a variety of local cheeses? Yes, I’m probably biased as a cheese maker, but I have to say that there are some unbelievably tasty and really good cheeses produced here in Maine. Nothing goes to waste in cheese making. Every meal is like a new adventure in tasting all the goodness that comes from the season.

Summertime is so busy, I find myself grazing through fresh salads filled with crispy greens. Cucumbers sliced wafer thin, marinated in freshly made chive blossom vinegar. Tomatoes of every shape layered on platters, sprinkled with fresh chevre, straight out of the cheesecloth bag.

Even so, fall and winter foods bring so much more flavor and color to the table. I lived in Florida for a brief time, and I remember missing the seasonal foods. Somehow, when it’s 90 degrees outside for ten months of the year, I’m just not inspired to throw a couple of sheets of gingersnaps in the oven. Living where foods change with the seasons, I find myself becoming more adventurous with flavors and textures of all kinds.

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We’re expecting a Nor’easter here today, but not even the prospect of a winter storm is daunting when my belly is full of the season’s best. With fresh ginger harvested from a neighbor’s garden, I’m preparing for wind, rain, and cooler temps. After milking this morning, I popped some gingerbread into the oven. Gingersnaps are next. Goats like a little comfort food, too, when the storms are blowing out over the bay.

So I’m grabbing a dish, lighting the kindling, and hunkering down. Let the wind roar, the flakes blow. (Well, maybe not quite yet, but soon.) If you’re a summer person, I salute you. For me, it’s all about slow cooking, knitting needles flying, sitting by a fire lit early in the evening with a plate full of all the goodness the season has to offer.

 

HOMEGROWN Life: Dyan RedickDyan Redick calls herself “an accidental farmer with a purpose.” Her farm, located on the St. George peninsula of Maine, is a certified Maine State Dairy offering cheeses made with milk from a registered Saanen goat herd, a seasonal farm stand full of wool from a Romney cross flock, goat milk soap, lavender woolens, and whatever else strikes Dyan’s fancy. Bittersweet Heritage Farm is an extension of her belief that we should all gain a better understanding of our food sources, our connection to where we live, and to the animals with whom we share the earth.

ALL PHOTOS: DYAN REDICK

HOMEGROWN Life: The Great Pumpkin Debate

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014

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Those who know me know just how much I LOVE Halloween. Tom and I even got married on Halloween, in the ultimate DIY labor of love. Half of the tower is packed with Halloween decor, most of it being the classy Martha Stewart-esque type of decor. No plastic crap for us.

So it was kind of a surprise last year when I decided to forgo growing pumpkins. Between pumpkins and zucchini, I didn’t want to deal with the whole saving-seeds thing. (Both are the same species, C. pepo.) I also decided not to “waste” space on nonedibles. Pumpkins, the jack-o’-lantern types, are edible but bland, watery, and stringy. We just don’t eat them. Of course, when I made my decision, fall, my favorite time of year, was well behind us. I think my judgment was clouded, because now I’m sitting here mad that I didn’t grow any pumpkins.

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Granted, I did grow some Musquee de Provence squash, otherwise known as “fairytale pumpkins.” They’re gorgeous but they just aren’t the same. They aren’t easy to carve, and I would prefer not to waste them on jack-o’-lanterns because they are good eating. But they’re also big, and I find that, around here, big squash go uneaten because we never want to cook a whole one all at once. We generally don’t want to eat squash two days in a row, either. The other squash we’re growing this year, rather unsuccessfully, is Marina di Chioggia, also known as a sea pumpkin. (Notice a theme here?) It’s a type of turban: big, green, and warty. It has the most amazing flavor I’ve ever had in a squash. But they don’t make very good substitutes for pumpkins.

DIF3I’ve spent years growing pumpkins. Most years were pretty disappointing, but I continued to try to grow them. I remember how excited I was about the very first pumpkin I was able to produce. The plant in the picture at left gave us four of these monsters, each weighing more than 50 pounds, with the largest topping out at 75 pounds. These weren’t even a giant pumpkin variety. They were Howdens, the typical jack-o’-lantern, grown with a good helping of chicken manure. if you couldn’t tell, I’m very proud of these. So is Squeek.

This is what I want to start growing again. Big orange pumpkins. So this coming year, I’m going back to growing pumpkins—and also some other squash, such as Tromboncino, Acorn, Spaghetti, Marina di Chioggia, and probably some other random types. I’m rather enamored with Iran squash, which Baker Creek now carries seeds for.

Are you growing gourds this year? What kinds? Got any suggestions to add to the Leftover Pumpkin Parts 101?

Rachel-Dog-Island-FarmRachel’s friends in college used to call her a Renaissance woman. She was always doing something crafty, creative, or utilitarian. She still is. Instead of crafts, her focus these days has been farming as much of her urban quarter-acre as humanly possible. Along with her husband, she runs Dog Island Farm, in the San Francisco Bay Area. They raise chickens, goats, rabbits, dogs, cats, and a kid. They’re always keeping busy. If Rachel isn’t out in the yard, she’s in the kitchen making something from scratch. Homemade always tastes better!