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Archive for the ‘local food’ Category

garden clipboard and veggies

I hope you have been making notes from your garden and your kitchen about what you have been growing and eating this summer. Being able to eat as much of a meal as you can from what you have produced is a feeling of accomplishment. Even if you don’t grow everything you eat, supplementing your meals with items from local growers can give you the same good feeling. It is very satisfying to sit down to a meal and know where everything came from and how it was grown.

If you are striving to produce meals with only (or mostly) homegrown ingredients, what would you have to provide, in addition to what you already grow, to make that happen? For example, you could make sure the ingredients for salsa or spaghetti sauce are in your garden plan. In my Homegrown Friday posts you can read how I only consumed what I’d grown for the Fridays in Lent. If you run out of ingredients in your favorite dishes long before next year’s crop comes in, plan now to plant more if space allows.

I know that garden space is at a premium for many and that careful choices need to be made. In that case, think of local growers as an extension of your garden. Whatever they can supply in abundance is something you can take off the list for your garden if you have limited room. You could devote your garden space to the things you love that there is never enough of at the local markets, whether it is sugar snap peas, potatoes, or a special winter squash. Maybe you want to eat from your garden all winter. Those crops need to be planned for, since they will be planted while the traditional summer crops are still in the ground. You will find a three-bed plan for winter eating in my post Winter Food Crop Rotation.

cover crops in late winter

Cover crops in late winter.

Now is the time to be planning for next year because as the summer crops fade away and space opens up, cover crops need to be planted. Which cover crop to plant in each bed is determined by what crop will follow next year. If you are managing cover crops with hand tools, as I advocate, the cover crops have to be finished before the next crop goes in. By finished I mean winterkilled, cut at the proper time to lie down as mulch or compost material, or harvested at the end of its life cycle. A handout that will help you with cover crop decisions is available as a free download on the resource page on my website. In Grow a Sustainable Diet there are sample garden maps showing how to include cover crops in your rotations, the reasoning behind the cover crop choices, and thoughts on what other choices could be made. Getting cover crops planted this fall is your first step to having a great garden in 2016, as long as they are planned with the next crop in mind.

Mississippi Silver cowpeas ready to harvest for dry beans.

Mississippi Silver cowpeas ready to harvest for dry beans.

Just so you know, the perfect garden plan doesn’t exist. You will always be changing it as new ideas come your way. Also, the weather has a way of encouraging gardeners like us to look at new varieties and new crops to add to our plans. Cowpeas came to be part of my garden after a couple years of serious drought. I put my mind to what grows well in dry times here in the mid-Atlantic region and came up with cowpeas, sometimes known as Southern peas. That first year with the cowpeas was another dry one and they did great. Don’t you know, the following year was the wettest year I have ever experienced. The cowpeas did great then, also, and have been part of my garden ever since. I save seed each year, ensuring I will have adequate seed for next year that is already acclimated to my garden, no matter what the weather brings.

If eating a substantial part of your diet from your garden and local sources is a goal for you, participating in the 10-Day Local Food Challenge can be a gauge to measure how far you have come. The formal challenge is taking place October 1-10, but you could determine any days to be your challenge. The formal challenge suggests you eat food grown within 100 miles for 10 days. Acknowledging that humans have been trading for eons, 10 exotics are allowed to augment your local/homegrown diet. The exotics are things not grown within the 100 mile limit. So, if you really can’t exist without coffee and chocolate you can include them in your exotics while you think about weaning yourself off of them a bit. Maybe you could experiment with herb teas from your garden rather than having another cup of coffee. I don’t have any suggestions for the chocolate other than to experience all the flavors you can from your garden, which will fill your belly and your soul, lessening the need for something like chocolate.homeplace earth

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garden-august 2008-combined - BLOG???????????????????????????????In my last post I wrote about the 10-Day Local Food Challenge that I had decided to take on. Usually I write about growing food, but in reality, it begins with what we are eating. With each bite we take we have the opportunity to focus on a more local and sustainable diet, or not. Since my first garden in 1974 I have been putting homegrown food on our table. Not everything we eat is homegrown, but the amount has increased each year, along with my skills and experience in both growing and preparing it.

The conversations about the challenge on Facebook bring to light the roadblocks some have experienced, such as the distance they have to travel to buy from a local farmer, even if it is within the 100 mile limit. The time it takes to plan and shop this way are obstacles that have been expressed. Also, even if eggs are found locally, what the chickens are eating may not have come from within 100 miles and very well might be GMO grains.

In 2000 I became concerned about GMOs in both my diet and the diet of my chickens, so I began to prepare my own chicken feed. At first I would buy corn from a local farmer and add oats from the feed store and organic wheat that I bought elsewhere. Once I stopped selling eggs I kept fewer chickens and no longer bought corn twelve bushels at a time from the farmer. That farm has since switched to GMO varieties. Now I buy organic grains–corn, wheat, and oats–from Countryside Organics, which is within 100 miles from here. I haven’t checked lately, but I’m sure not all the grain is grown within that limit. Nevertheless, I included eggs from my chickens in my local diet.

Mississippi Silver Cowpeas and Bloody Butcher Corn

Mississippi Silver Cowpeas and Bloody Butcher Corn

In Grow a Sustainable Diet, I wrote that with a sustainable diet we would be eating less meat prepared in different ways. So, it is fitting that when I checked our freezer when I decided to take the challenge at the spur-of-the-moment, I found a package of chicken backs and a package of ground sausage. Although we have raised all our own meat in the past, now it is only the meat from our few young roosters and old hens that grace the table from our farm. I depend on the growers at the farmers market if I want more. This whole year has been a year of BUSY and my meat supplies were low. I cooked the chicken backs in a crock pot. There was enough meat to have chicken and gravy over mashed potatoes for a couple meals for my husband and I and chicken broth enough for potato soup for another couple meals. I had already used most of the Irish potatoes that had come from my garden this year, so was very happy when our daughter showed up with ten pounds from her garden. I made sausage gravy over mashed potatoes for another couple meals. Vegetables from the garden completed those meals. Vegetable soup was on the menu that week, as well as cowpeas with salsa. Homegrown Mississippi Silver cowpeas are a staple in my pantry. The salsa was some that I had put up from garden ingredients this summer.

As much as I enjoy growing our own food, I am happy for the farmers market to add variety. I bought some beef there and had pot roast for Sunday dinner when our son and grandson joined us at the table during the challenge. My homegrown corn provided cornbread and breakfasts of cornmeal mush over the ten days. I didn’t have a lot of wheat I’d grown in my garden this year, but I had some. That went into Saturday morning pancakes and the gravy I made with chicken broth and sausage. When I visit family in Ohio I buy maple syrup produced nearby and bring it back to Virginia. I counted that as a local product, not an exotic.

The exotics during my ten days were milk, butter, vinegar (to put on the kale, as a salsa ingredient, and to sour the milk for the pancakes in place of yogurt), salt, onions, baking powder, black tea, and whatever was added to the pork to make the sausage and bacon. We didn’t eat bacon during the ten days, but I cooked with bacon grease. The pork is grown locally on pasture, but also receives some grain. The farmers there are working toward eventually growing their own grain. The animals are processed within the 100 mile limit. The beef we ate was grassfed. I could have lived without the tea, since I also make tea from homegrown herbs.

The milk we consumed during the challenge could have been local, but it wasn’t. For seven years when our children were growing up we kept a milk cow, so I have experienced that. I participated in a milk share one year. When the farmer moved and sold her cows to another milk share I decided not to continue as a customer because too many distractions were creeping into my life to pick up the milk at a certain time each week. So, I understand how that is, also. With milk you can make butter, yogurt, and cheese.

String of onions.

String of onions.

Onions were included as an exotic because I was out of the ones I’d grown—or rather thought I was out. I found some later that week that had been a late harvest and were not in their usual place. With such a wet spring, I didn’t harvest as many onions as I had hoped to this year. Onions and garlic are really important for a healthy diet. We have plenty of homegrown garlic. There are not enough storage onions available at the farmers market and the garlic growers often run out of garlic before fall. If you are a producer, grow more storage onions and garlic for your customers.

I made “zucchini” bread with homegrown sorghum for the flour and some late butternut squash that wouldn’t have time to mature in the garden before frost. We had locally grown popcorn cooked in butter for a snack. I also snacked on homegrown peanuts. Having the community to rely on, not just my own garden as I did for Homegrown Fridays, really expanded our diet. Except for the salt and the additions to make pork into sausage and bacon, my exotics were not so exotic and could have been produced locally or at home, if necessary.

This challenge was a good assessment of how far I have come on this journey—and it has been a journey. Eating this way didn’t happen all at once. Of course, my children are grown now and I work from home, which makes a difference. However, that doesn’t mean that I have more time than anyone else to make this happen. We all have the same amount of time, we just use it differently. If your ultimate goal is to have a local/homegrown diet, begin eating that way as much as is possible in the situation you find yourself in at the time. If you aren’t growing enough food yourself yet, and can’t find local options, choose food to prepare that you could grow if you had the time, place, and skills to do so. Certainly, there are limitations in the marketplace that have not yet been adequately addressed, but often the biggest limitation is ourselves. If we change ourselves, the rest of the world changes around us. Homeplace Earth

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logo-10daychallengeIn early September I received an email newsletter from Vicki Robin, author of Blessing the Hands That Feed Us. It gave notice of the 10-Day Local Food Challenge that would begin in October. It sounded interesting and I was glad she was doing that, but I was over my head in work and barely had time to read the email, let alone act on it. I was away from home from September 12-23 and two more newsletters about the challenge arrived in my inbox during that time. I’m back now—at least until October 24 when I leave for the Mother Earth News Fair in Topeka, Kansas—and I am beginning to get caught up. Thinking the local food challenge would make a good topic for my blog, I took the time to look into it.

The guidelines of this challenge are to select 10 days in October 2014 when you will eat only food sourced within 100 miles or so from your home. You are allowed 10 exotics, which are foods not found in that target area. You can do it by yourself or get others to join you. You can make a formal commitment to this project by taking an online survey and joining the Facebook Group for the project. Or, you can only make a personal commitment if you don’t want to be public about it. That’s okay, but one of the reasons for this project is to gather information about our local food systems and come up with ideas about how to make them better. The survey results and the comments from the online community will help toward that end. If it turns out that you can’t fulfill your plan to do this, that’s okay, too. No one will come knocking at your door asking to see what is on your plate. It is an opportunity to learn more about what you eat and where it comes from. Maybe you can’t do it for the whole 10 days–so do it for 5 days–or 1 day. If you aren’t ready to make a commitment, but want to stay informed about the project, you can sign up through the website for that, too.

Dinner for Day 1-acorn squash, sauteed peppers and green tomatoes, kale, roasted radishes, watermelon.

Dinner for Day 1-acorn squash, sauteed peppers and green tomatoes, kale, roasted radishes, watermelon.

The emails began arriving in early September to give participants an opportunity to begin preparing, but I was too busy to pay attention. With no preparation at all, I decided to jump into this and began my 10 days on Sunday, October 5. I say no preparation, but in reality I’ve been preparing for something like this for a long time. I have experienced my Homegrown Fridays when, during the Fridays in Lent, I only consumed what I had grown myself. No exotics allowed. This seems much easier than that. Sure, I have to stick to it for 10 days straight, but I have so many more options. On top of that, I have the luxury of 10 exotics!

Our dinner on October 5 included acorn squash, kale, and roasted radishes from Peacemeal Farm, homegrown peppers and green tomatoes sauteed in bacon grease that was saved another day when I cooked bacon from Keenbell Farm, and watermelon that I found hiding in the weeds when I cleaned up the garden. I made some cornbread that day from the recipe in The Resilient Gardener by Carol Deppe. The salt, butter, and baking powder that were required are on my list of exotics. The cornmeal and eggs were grown right here by me. This recipe requires no wheat. I already have jam made from local and homegrown fruit sweetened with homegrown honey.

VA 100 mile map - BLOGBesides being an interesting challenge (and promising to be easier than Homegrown Fridays) I was also attracted to this challenge because I used to assign my students at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College a project to contemplate what it would be like if the trucks stopped coming to the grocery stores. I told them at the start of the semester in late August that this would happen on January 1 and they needed to plan now to source their food for the next year from within 100 miles. We had many good discussions over that 100 Mile Food Plan project. They received extra credit if they marked circles on a highway map showing 25, 50, 75, and 100 miles from their home. Actually, just that act of putting the circles on the map was a real eye-opener for most. They began seeing all the possibilities, rather than limitations. If you don’t know where the sources are in your area for local food you can begin your search with www.localharvest.org.

Another attraction to the 10-Day Challenge is to put into practice what I wrote about in Grow a Sustainable Diet. In this book I show you how to plan a diet around homegrown and local foods, while at the same time planning to grow cover crops that will feed the soil. When your food comes from sources other than your garden, take the time to question the farmers who grew it about their soil building practices. It is great to do as much as we can for ourselves, but we don’t have to do everything ourselves. It is in joining with others in our communities that we gain strength and resilience for whatever the future holds.

I hope I have encouraged you to join the 10-Day Local Food Challenge. If you have been following my work and thought that Homegrown Fridays might be a bit too much to do, give this a try. To my former students, now is the time to update that plan you made years ago and act on it. To the current JSRCC sustainable agriculture students, this seems made to order for you. Put your plan into action! If circumstances prevent you from actually doing this now, at least begin to think about it. You could plan one meal, maybe with friends, with all the ingredients being homegrown or sourced locally. To those who have read my book, taking this 10-Day Local Food Challenge is an opportunity to reinforce what you have learned and expand your thinking.Homeplace Earth When you take the survey to join, there will be space to write additional information. Please take that opportunity to say that Cindy Conner sent you. That way they can track how people learned about he challenge. Best wishes to all who join this adventure!

 

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