Sunday, December 30, 2007

Reflections on Sustainability: Food

Food is another area I feel good about. Of course there's always more to do, but overall we produce a tremendous amount of our own food and rely very little on grocery stores or the industrial food chain. The few exceptions to that would be some of the kids' snack food and cereal, though even that we buy in bulk, and of course, the staples like flour and other grains. Most of what we don't produce ourselves, we try to get locally, and we've been pretty successful at making that happen, meaning that grains aside, most of our meals are 90% local or better.

This past year, even with the drought and the new CSA, we managed to preserve a fair amount of food. I processed many pounds of tomatoes, making paste and
dried tomatoes, as well as green tomato salsa, chutney, and pickles, which I'd never tried before. I made cucumber pickles, which turned out kinda soft unfortunately, but they make great homemade tartar sauce I just found out. Cool! I put up several pints of jam, which is still holding out despite the fact that we eat a lot of it. We have grape, strawberry, and black raspberry—my personal favorite. I also froze quite a bit of cantaloupe, basil, and string beans from the garden. This year I learned how to cure meat, and you can see our hams hanging in the larder. They're now sufficiently aged, and we plan to cook our first one soon. The hard part is finding time for the lengthy process: my grandmother's country ham recipe calls for a 4 hour soak, a brief cooking period followed by an 8 hour resting period, which then gets repeated, making for a whole day worth of prep! Of course what's missing this year from this photo is the huge potato bin we had the year before—a problem that will be rectified in '08.

While I did a fair amount of water-bath canning, I still haven't tried my hand at pressure canning. My goal next year is to process most of our tomatoes that way, freeing up more freezer space. I have tons of quart jars that I got from my neighbor when we moved in, but I have to say that I really prefer the pint jars, I think, for many things, paste included. We just don't go through a whole quart at first opening, and I'd rather open another jar if I need it than risk letting any of my precious food go bad. I also prefer freezing things like beans because they just taste better to me, and I think the freezing preserves more of the nutrients than canning. So while I have the luxury, I'll freeze.

Here, you can see our freezer filled with broilers, turkeys, homemade beef stock, local apples, and, now, goose as well. Our other freezer is filled to the brim with a side of local, grass-fed beef, our tomatoes, melon, beans, heritage chickens, duck, and what little pork we still have. It's just about time to take our tamworth feeder pig into the butcher, and boy are we looking forward to having sausage again! We have plenty of ham, so this time around we'll be turning all the ham into sausage, and maybe even a shoulder, too, though we do love our pulled pork.

We've also been slowly adding to our repertoire. This year Jim butchered one of our goats, adding chevon to our freezer downstairs, and we're slowly gearing up for lamb produced on farm as well. My plan is to purchase a ram in '08, which will hopefully mean lamb in spring of '09. We raise Navajo-Churro sheep, known as a triple purpose breed for their meat, dairy, and wool. Considering my ewes are incredibly skittish, the dairy part is highly doubtful this go 'round, though we do get dairy from our goats (the small fact that no one here will drink it... yet... notwithstanding).

What we still don't do here on the farm is beef, and I keep going back and forth on whether that's possible with the little land we have. At this point, I've moved away from wanting a Jersey and am now enamored with Dexter cattle, a small, heritage breed known for both dairy and beef, as well as its ability to work. Jim, however, remains unconvinced that he wants to be further tied down to the farm with a dairy cow—a hesitation I totally understand and often share. Currently, I'm considering starting with a young heifer calf, which will enable me to train her from the start ("yeah right," everyone's thinking, "remember how hard it was to train Latte to milk?") . Yes, I remember how hard it was to train my little Nigerian Dwarf goat to milk, but hey, that's experience under my belt, right? Having a cow would round out our homestead nicely, allowing us to run them with the sheep and take advantage of the symbiotic pasture relationship between the two ruminants. It would provide meat and dairy for us as well as off-setting feed costs for the other animals. The biggest downsides are the time-commitment and the winter hay costs since we can't produce our own hay (there's that long-term plan again). So, who knows what '08 will bring on that front, as we continue to mull and debate.

Another huge leap we've taken for 2008 is building our own 14' x 34' high tunnel to try our hand at year-round gardening. Built from rebar, pvc, 2" x 4"s, and 6 mil greenhouse plastic, our high tunnel is planted with sorrel, turnips, foliage turnips, parsnips, bok choi, green onions, kohlrabi, cilantro, arugula, spinach, and several cold-hardy lettuces. Our biggest disadvantage this year was having to wait for the space, as our tomatoes were planted in the kitchen garden. With the expansion of our market garden, the kitchen garden will now be given over exclusively to winter garden space, allowing us to start our crops much earlier and have them full-grown by this time of the year. Of course, Jim's not thrilled by the fact that my goal for next year is to build a companion hoop house for the other side of the garden where I have my herbs, now under a low tunnel. This one will only be about 10' x 34' though, meaning it should shed snow even better than this design. If he doesn't want to do it, however, the kids and I will be perfectly capable. He just usually takes over once we start something along those lines. (evil grin here)

Another goal for 2008 is to figure out how to integrate edible cover crops into our pig rotation, allowing us to produce more of our animals' food on-site. Any suggestions or success stories on that front would be muchly appreciated!

I also plan to begin grinding my own grains for '08, increasing nutrition and taking one more step away from industrial processing. Yes, I know, I'm a hold out, but I just haven't found it within me to justify the expense and the time before now.

Food, glorious food! Here's to great eating in 2008!


jenny said...

I'm envious of your new greenhouse area.. I have wanted a green house (on a much much smaller scale) for years but our budget doesnt allow for it yet. I just made new friends with someone that has pygmy goats and we talked about bartering for them.. me teaching her sign language in return for a goat!

I am hoping to do better in our garden this year and I am planning to try something new- a backdoor kitchen garden with some herbs and a few other stuff. While I hate to do it, we will be chopping down a tree that was planted too close to the house by the previous owners and in it's place will be my kitchen garden. I will be 7 months pregnant by the time it is warm enough to garden, so I don't know just how big our usual garden will be.. Hubby doesn't always help, leaving most of the work to me and the kids (but the kids are not much of a labor force, the oldest being only 5). Hopefully, being pregnant will encourage Hubby to help more in the garden!

I loved seeing the photos of your pantry with all the canned goods! There is nothing more satisfying to see food that you processed and canned and sustaining your family. My mom, who grew up on canned goods, can't understand why I go through the trouble, her mother ingraining in her that if she can buy it, it's easier to do so and don't can unless you have to. I tell mom I ENJOY canning because I WANT to, not because I have to.

Good luck for 2008!

Christy said...

I also want to start grinding my own grain but am really struggling with which mill to get. It shouldn't be this hard of a decision!

Danielle said...

Ooooh, did you see my response comment under "electricity" I think? Madeline has me convinced that I need to get a Nutrimill—no attachment to this particular company.

She loves hers and used it while I was there. It's quick, easy, quiet, and deliciuos. Even Lehman's non-electric sells this particular grain mill. I've done a bit of research since returning home and feel pretty confident that I'll get this one in the next month or so. I just have so much flour right now that it makes no sense to get it until I go through some of it.

Danielle said...

Jenny, our hoop house cost very little all things considered. The most expensive part of it was the plastic, obviously, and we got far more plastic than just this would've needed. I'm guessing that all told it cost under $500 for the 14' x 34' structure.

Woody said...

Danielle...consider a contract for your hay? We pre-buy what we need for the horses,which really turned out to be a blessing this year with our drought conditions here. What was left over from last year we feed to the hogs. This year we are waiting till spring to negotiate hoping prices will dip.

I still think your missing the boat on a writing career. Sustainability is a great subject and ya'll are doing what many people want to do for themselves but are maybe just a tad scared to take the first step. The way you present your arguments makes me think I could do more without feeling like I'm up against some unattainable goal.

Just my opinion...


Gina said...

I have really been enjoying your sustainability series.

I have an Irish Dexter that I love. She came to me pregnant a few years ago and had a heifer calf the following fall. Both are friendly and gentle and a joy to have on the farm. I am still getting Baby (the mama) used to milking (the previous owners raised them strictly for meat). We will be breeding her soon.

I would say the only drawback on our small homestead is that we have to purchase hay for them. This year's drought made finding hay nearly impossible and our regular suppliers TRIPLED the cost (and could only provide small square bales instead of the larger, more affordable round bales). I hope to one day be able to produce all my animals' needs on the farm too.

Good luck with the 2008 growing season!! said...

Danielle, I think this series is great!

I think you'll find that pressure canning is actually a lot easier than BWBath canning. I got into the habit of doing it nightly (which sounds extreme but hey that is what you have to do if you want to eat year-round) and it worked out a lot more smoothly than having day-long canning sessions. I never seemed to have full days to devote to canning...except maybe when the peaches were ripe, as I will gladly move mountains for rows of canned peaches. Anyway that is my 2c.

Looking forward to reading more of your journey in 2008!


Danielle said...

Thanks for the comments and kind words. I'm glad folks are enjoying the series. I'm looking forward to being able to reflect at the end of 2008 and see how far we've gone with another year under our belts. After all, each little step makes a difference.

Woody, thanks for the idea about contracting out hay. We just haven't needed very much until now, so I haven't explored it. We're surrounded by haying land, behind us and across the street. I need to find out who's leasing it and get in touch with him, as we'd be able to get it right out of the field.