Community Philosphy Blog and Library

Archive for the ‘Good food’ Category

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.

HOMEGROWN-life-fall-foods-jars

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.

HOMEGROWN-life-fall-foods-pumpkin

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.

HOMEGROWN-life-fall-foods-pie

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!

HOMEGROWN-life-fall-foods-animals

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.

HOMEGROWN-life-fall-foods-breads

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

HOMEGROWN-LIFE-LT-GREEN

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.

1239504_626044074093334_936481338_n

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! 

HOMEGROWN Life: Farmer Bryce’s Take on New USDA Funding

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014

 

HOMEGROWN-life-bryce-logo-150x150I’m a small farmer struggling to pay the bills and keep the farm alive. Farming takes time and money, which sometimes turns out to be the same thing. Even if everything works out and the harvest is good, it takes money to buy more animals or to build fences or to pay for seeds or soil improvements.

So, like the vast, vast majority of farmers, my wife and I both work off the farm to pay our regular bills, and we try to keep the farming happening at the same time. That doesn’t make us special or unique. Net farm income is actually negative, as farmers tend to defer paying themselves in favor of reinvesting in their farms’ future capacity. USDA Economic Research Service reports, somewhat startlingly, that 85 to 95 percent of farm income comes from “off farm” sources.

In terms of off-farm work, I count myself lucky. I work on a variety of rural economic development projects related to local food production, expanding access to resources for small farmers, rural infrastructure projects, and renewable energy programs. Generally, I help do paperwork: writing grants, getting startup capital in place, writing business plans, et cetera.

Involvement with projects like these puts me in a position of being very attuned to the policies, priorities, and investments made by USDA through a wide variety of programs. And, as you might expect, I get frustrated and confused about what exactly USDA’s multipronged approach means when it comes to distributing resources on the ground.

HOMEGROWN-cityblossoms1

For instance, one of my favorite USDA programs of all is the Community Food Projects Grants. This week, USDA announced that it would be providing $4.8 million in funding to innovative local food and healthy eating projects. In terms of combining job creation with nutrition and healthy food distribution, CFPs are a hugely impactful and beneficial program. Some of my favorite organizations, like the Missouri Rural Crisis Center and Cultivate KC, have paired CFP investments with internal and private funding sources to build long-standing efforts that support urban and family farmers in improving access to good food for low-income families.

That said, it boggles my mind why such an impactful program like CFP continues to have such a limited volume of funding compared to other USDA funding streams. This week, for instance, USDA also announced a $40 million bump to the commercial canned salmon industry, in order to “clear last year’s inventory” as they are canning up this year’s catch. The canned salmon will be distributed to food banks across the country.

Now, I’m not complaining here about the purchase of salmon—a healthy food and possibly sustainable industry in its own right—for low-income families. I want to be clear that I have no problem with using resources to feed hungry families with nutritious food. But what rattles me is the wide disparity of scale between the two programs, $4.8 million versus $40 million: one to prop up small organizations building healthy food infrastructure and jobs to support local economies, the other to bail out a well-established industry from overproduction.

HOMEGROWN-smokedsalmon

I’m only using the salmon purchase here to demonstrate a very small point because, in reality, both of these programs are a drop in the bucket. I mention the salmon program because I heard about it on the radio while I was watering my spinach patch. The truth is USDA invests nearly all of its resources in SNAP (food stamps) and a safety net for crop producers (crop subsidies and crop insurance). That’s where the true disparity resides.

Here’s what’s frustrating: spending time and effort to build a project team, budget, and people’s hopes that we can make meaningful change in their lives. And then competing with other, similar projects that could make meaningful change in people’s lives. Frankly, it seems like we’re fighting over the crumbs at the table.

HOMEGROWN-sallie-gordon

Once again, I’m glad USDA has these minimal local food programs available. I’m glad important soil and water conservation programs are up and running and that USDA is committed to renewable energy. I’m glad USDA has expanded its work with beginning farmers and socially disadvantaged farming communities, including African-American farmers, Latinos, and Native American agricultural efforts. I even support a strong safety net in place for family farmers raising crops and livestock, although my system of support would look wildly different from the one we have in place for now.

But at times like these, when so many of us are looking for jobs and pathways to building a better economy through clean and green industries, it seems like a no brainer to shift resources away from giant agribusiness interests and toward high-impact, community-based ventures. I am not naive about the prospects for making this shift happen through the political process. Still, it’s worth the conversation. Back to work, I guess. Back to work.

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.

PHOTOS: (HAPPY GARDENER) CITY BLOSSOMS; (CANNED SALMON) PAT JOHNSON; (COMMUNITY GARDEN) SALLIE GORDON