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!