Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Making a Difference

We are tired of leaders who rather than asking what we can do for our country, ask nothing of us at all.

This is a line from Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius's response to Bush's State of the Union Address last night, and it represents a recurring criticism of the Bush administration since 9/11. In times of crisis from 9/11 to Katrina, Bush's mantra has been to consume more, a response that has caused many folks to long for the leadership of a Kennedy or FDR.

The rising cost of fuel and food has victory garden back on the lips of many Americans, focusing personal, grassroots energy into a simple pinpoint of bright light for hope and change. "What can I do to help?" can be answered quite simply by the response, "Plant a garden." People are creating their own ways of making a difference and finding leadership in example where they can.

One such example is Barbara Kingsolver, author of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, who directly links her project to peak oil in an interview with Heifer International:
I felt like this is the time to write this book. Most of us understand the world is at peak oil production. We are looking at a future in which cheap fossil fuel and all the things it can buy are running out.

This one place—eating locally, even just one day a week—was a point of intervention that could easily be implemented by anyone with the mind to do it. The local foods movement is a groundswell, as disillusioned Americans seek out opportunities to make a difference without an administration bold enough to lead the way.

There are grassroots support circles popping up all over the country, focused on creating community, facilitating discussion, and finding ways to implement change at the individual level. The Northwest Earth Institute has spearheaded just such an organization and has compiled several different discussion guides on topics ranging from carbon reduction to voluntary simplicity to deep ecology. Similar organizations are popping up all over the country, in Canada, and elsewhere in the world. Click here to see if there's one in your area or consider starting your own.

I'm in the process of starting a Simplicity-Matters discussion circle here in our area, a DC-Maryland regional sister organization to the Northwest Earth Institute. Our discussion circle starts February 7th, and we'll be discussing the book Low Carbon Diet: A 30 Day Program to Lose 5000 Pounds. I hope to track my own process of working through the book here at Touch the Earth Farm blog, and I'd like to invite folks to follow along and to offer encouragement and suggestions along the way.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Dark Days Eat Local Challenge: Week 14

Quiche and frittata have become dinner staples around here as a great way to use up those extra eggs. And yes, I admit to throwing in a couple more than the recipe calls for when our fridge is full up. This is a ham and cheddar quiche with spinach and herbs fresh from our garden. The quiche is paired here with herb foccacia bread. Everything is from our farm but the dairy, which is from down the road.

This week we also enjoyed some braised goose breast from the geese Jim hung to age intact. This technique is regularly used for wild game, aging it before dressing it, which leads to a fuller bodied flavor. They were a beautiful deep red color, looking more like beef than fowl. I browned the breasts in goose fat and then deglazed the pot with some red wine. I then put the whole in the oven to cook at a low temp for about 40 minutes. The meat was delicious and tender, though I definitely could have backed the time down a bit in the oven because I didn't use the whole bird. Carrots are the only non local item here. In my potatoes, I also combined some bleu cheese and spicy salad microgreens, which were quite tasty.

Also on the menu this weekend was a Thanksgiving redux. We still have several turkeys in the freezer, and with my in laws visiting, it seemed a great time for leftovers. Everything in this meal was local, even the sweet potatoes and mashed potatoes. The green beans were from our garden this summer, but weren't very tasty. I think this was the batch I forgot to blanch, which stops the enzyme action in the bean and helps preserve the flavor.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Ongoing Education

This year, I've attended several conferences, seminars, and workshops offered in the area, which have been very helpful and interesting. Recently I attended the annual MOFFA (Maryland Organic Food and Farmers Association) meeting, where I sat in on workshops about sustainable living, raw milk, and pastured poultry/ small ruminants. All were interesting and informative.

In the fall, I attended an all day fecal count workshop where I learned to do my own fecal testing and identify the major internal parasites for our area, and how to breed selectively for both resistance and resilience to parasites. I'm hoping to follow up this spring with a certification workshop in FAMACHA, an evaluation technique designed to assess the anemic affects of the haemonchus parasite, which can kill both sheep and goats. This training will enable me to further develop our strategic worming defense here on the farm, which I hope to combine with herbal preventative maintenance and eliminate chemical worming on the farm (already very infrequent) altogether.

Last weekend I spent Friday and Saturday at the Future Harvest-CASA conference in Hagerstown, Maryland, and I was pleased and proud to be numbered amongst such a great group of knowledgeable, caring stewards of the land. The conference was really well run, and the workshops and speaker line up were interesting and informative, and the food—all locally grown—was fabulous.

In addition to the conference, I attended an Organics 101 workshop Friday morning, which was really interesting and informative. I met the owners of One Straw Farm, Joan and Drew Norman, who were both really nice, down-to-earth people, willing to share, help, and reach out to other farmers. Having been in the organics business since 1985, they were a wealth of information, and I really enjoyed being able to talk to them and pick their brains about dealing with the certification process.

I also attended a really great workshop with Dr. Susan Beal, DVM a homeopathic vet who deals with both large and small animals. Her workshop, "Treating Animals with Natural Medicine," was really interesting, especially in light of my recent medicinal garden planning.

Also high on my list of favorites was a lecture by Jerry Fischer, the Maryland Department of Agriculture bee inspector, who reconfirmed my commitment to getting a honey bee hive set up this year on the farm. I think there's a real urgency out there for folks willing to commit the time and energy to re-establishing the honey bee population, considering that 30% of all food crops are dependent upon honey bee pollination yet colonies are collapsing all over the country due to stress, pesticides, and other factors.

The Future Harvest conference, too, had some interesting talks on recent legislation, most notably the "naturally raised" claim by agribusiness. The keynote speech by Cynthia Barstow, author of The Eco-Foods Guide, was an interesting examination in the rise of consumer interest in organic, local, and artisinal foods.

The best parts about these conferences and workshops have been the networking with other farmers as well as the take-home materials. While I could've compiled much of the stuff on my own or online, the quick reference sources I've received have been really valuable. Not to mention being able to ask a real live person who's been there, done that. Some, but not all, of these programs have been offered through the extension office or in conjunction with the staff, all of whom I've found to be helpful and interested in working with me rather than for the government, a heartening realization.

Forging community is becoming incredibly important as we move into a post-peak oil world. Attending workshops and conferences helps create that community locally rather than relying on online networks—which certainly have their place, but can too easily replace that real human connection in our own community, for me anyway.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Mid-Winter CSA

This is our first year offering an annual share through the dark days of winter, and I think it's going pretty well so far, though I hope it will be even better next year. This year, we had tomatoes in the space for the high tunnel until October because of the warm weather, meaning that our winter crops didn't go in early enough. They're doing well and should be great early spring crops, but they really needed to be in the ground sooner for winter harvest.

Next year, since we've doubled the size of the market garden, my plan is to dedicate the kitchen garden entirely to herbs, greens, and winter crops, so there will be no waiting for a crop to finish out the season before we can plant for the winter. We should have all winter crops fully grown by the time we go into December, January, and February, allowing me to harvest all winter long. This year, the microgreens were a way to get around that lag time.

In this week's share bag:
  • farm fresh eggs
  • mixed baby greens (tatsoi, raab, beet, spinach, kale, red butterhead lettuce, capitan lettuce, salad bowl lettuce, romaine)
  • spicy salad mix microgreens
  • sorrel
  • thyme
  • citrus thyme
  • rosemary

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Dark Days Eat Local Challenge: Week 13

This week we cooked up one of our dry-cured hams, so country ham featured large in our meals. Here's a breakfast burrito on homemade tortillas.

We also had delicious ham and cheese pannini sandwiches on homemade ciabatta bread.

The country ham is delicious, and we've diced the rest of it to freeze in small packs to flavor pasta and frittata dishes over the winter. We still have three hams hanging in the larder downstairs, so we'll likely get the ham from our next pig turned into sausage, as we didn't have nearly enough from the last round. He's scheduled to head to the butcher in February, and we're really looking forward to having bacon and sausage again!

This week, while I was at a farming conference eating fabulous locally-grown food, Jim cooked up two of our roasters and some locally grown potatoes, as well as homemade bread. For dinner last night we enjoyed chicken soup from the left overs, together with couscous and homemade bread.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Please Pass the Bubblewrap

There's a convergence of information in my life at the moment that's causing me to seriously question the difference between prudence and paranoia, the difference between sensible precaution and illusory guarantee. There seems to be a prevalence in our culture of "mightcouldpossibly" thinking—you know, the line of thought that goes something like "because x mightcouldpossibly happen, we need to outlaw the conditions of its possibility" regardless of the probability of x or the ramifications of the rules.

Not to put too fine a point on the issue: between government and the health care profession folks seem to believe that health can and ought to be guaranteed to the point where we're considering legislating sustainable methods of food production out of existence rather than looking to large-scale, centralized farming practices as the primary culprit of foodborne illness. More than that, we're legislating dependence on fossil fuels by privileging large-scale farming at exactly the point in time when those fuels and the systems they support have a limited life span.

Some cases in point...

Fear over potential pathogens in raw milk has prompted legislation in 22 states banning the sale of raw milk for human consumption, not only putting small dairy farms out of business but stripping the consumer of the legal ability to consume unpasteurized milk if s/he can't raise a dairy animal. If a farmer does not have the money and space to put all kinds of fancy stainless steel and concrete equipment in place for pasteurization and inspection, then she simply cannot sell dairy products. Move on, thank you very much, and leave it to the big guys.

Fear over the recent outbreak of E. coli in spinach has prompted proposed leafy green legislation in California, initiated an industry self-regulatory marketing agreement, and spawned similar marketing agreements in other states and on the national level. One of the significant problems with such proposals is an effort to strip wildlife buffers from agricultural crop land as potential contamination vectors, going so far as to suggest plowing under buffers to create a sterile zone around edible crops. Even next year's farm bill might get in on the act, excluding livestock as well as wildlife, according to this website:
There is discussion of having a “one mile” exclusion limit for fresh produce from “any livestock” as a possibility for the next farm bill. This would knock out a lot of small farmers and some of the major producers. Personally, I don’t think it can pass the political hurtles but it is something the vegetable industry is watching closely. It also does not address the deer, feral pigs, birds, dogs, etc. Feral pigs were implicated in the recent spinach outbreaks. Feral pig damage to crops is a major problem in California production of all sorts.

Fear over avian flu H5N1 has prompted proposed federal NAIS (National Animal Identification System) legislation in the name of biosecurity. The USDA recommends that poultry producers "Protect poultry flocks from coming into contact with wild or migratory birds. Keep poultry away from any source of water that could have been contaminated by wild birds," arguably one-step away from mandatory confinement house operations. Not to mention the whole "backyard flock biosecurity program" and the government recommendations on keeping family pets safe from bird flu, which go so far as to state outright: "Do not feed your pets raw poultry, poultry products or eggs." Source: www.doi.gov/issues/AI_Scenario2-QAs_wild_birds.pdf

What all the legislation, agreements, and proposals have in common besides fear is an indirect illegalization of small, sustainable farming methods, which aren't even implicated in national food illnesses like the E. coli spinach outbreak that sickened people in at least 26 states, or the salmonella outbreak in restaurants across 21 states that served salmonella-tainted tomatoes, or the Taco Bell E. coli outbreak that sickened more than 160 people across New York, New Jersey, and other eastern states.

These illnesses were a direct result of mass production and blind consumption, yet the legislation that's proposed to prevent them is undermining one very real solution: a return to local, sustainable farming practices that are good for the animals, good for the people, good for the wildlife, and good for the earth.

Animals that aren't kept in confinement aren't nearly as likely to pass parasites and diseases. Animals that aren't kept in vast numbers aren't producing lagoons of manure that can't be sustainably reincorporated into the earth. Farms that aren't centered on a single crop/ animal don't suffer the same accumulated health risks. Joel Salatin's recent book Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal, which grew out of this article, is an excellent examination of the evidence that sustainable and diversified farming methods offer integrated pest and disease management, yet government regulations consistently undermine such efforts.

Why? In large part because of fear. Of course people want to feel safe, and of course politicians want to keep their constituents safe, so they come up with measures to try to guarantee safety in an uncertain world. Who's going to vote against safety? But rather than seeing that the system itself is the problem, politicians and voters spend time and money trying to come up with band-aids like irradiation to shore up a faulty system.

Are small farms a panacea? Are they a guarantee? Of course not. Sometimes illness can and does happen despite all reasonable efforts at protection. Sometimes wild animals get into the vegetable patch and poop. Not all crop land is perfectly level, storms happen, winds shift. But when these things happen on small, sustainable farms, the consequences are often mitigated because the animals and soil are healthy to begin with because they haven't been taxed by over-crowding, mono-cropping, and chemical applications.

The question really becomes what is "reasonable protection"? Do we confine all poultry to the bowels of a barn in order to prevent the contamination vector that wild bird contact presents? Do we plow up entire buffer zones to create wild-life-free zones around any food crops to prevent uncontrolled fecal contamination? Do we legislate diversified small farms out of existence by instituting a one-mile buffer around marketed edible crops? How far do we go in the name of safety?

The other question we need to be asking is whether increasingly invasive and myopic legislation is any more likely to protect folks from illness, whether it really offers the protection and guarantees it claims. And if the answer to that question is "no," then what what is the solution?

My answer to that question is for the consumer to accept—no embrace—the dual ideas of responsibility and risk. Responsibility for knowing where and how their food is produced and for choosing wisely. Risk in the re-acquainting ourselves with the idea that we are mortal beings and that illness and death are parts of life itself whether we want them to be or not. There simply are no guarantees, and the fella that's selling them to you is just peddling snake oil.

Women throughout industrialized countries are reclaiming birth as a normal, healthy experience, freeing it from the medicalized rhetoric of fear. So too can we all reclaim agency over our bodies through our food choices. As long as we rely on the government to do our thinking for us, we abdicate our connection to the planet, to the plants and animals that live here, and, most importantly, to our own bodies.

So much of the foodborne illness problem can be solved by knowing the food source, by washing fruits and vegetables thoroughly, and by doing more food prep at home rather than looking towards others to do it for us and then complaining when we get sick. Simply by doing these three things, the majority of foodborne illnesses whether pathogen or parasite could be prevented.

Instead of common sense and easy solutions, however, we set up more bureaucracy, more regulations, more rule-based, absolute thinking like never eat cookie dough, never eat runny egg yolks, and cook meat beyond all recognition. I'm betting many of us grew up tasting cookie dough. Heck, I grew up eating raw hamburger. But the industrialized food chain combined with trading risk and responsibility for guarantees has us all afraid—afraid to lick the bowl, afraid to eat traditional raw foods, afraid even to eat decently cooked meat instead of shoe leather. We're trading our palates for specious promises of protection.

Do I think we need to get rid of all regulations? No, just broad-based rules and regulations that have no bearing on small farms. Most don't even know what to do with the little guy/gal, which is why small-farm exemptions get written into legislation, but increasingly we're afraid to put in those exemptions, evidenced by states' strict stance on raw milk for instance. So, instead, we legislate the small farm out of existence despite all the national lip service paid to saving family farms.

Guidelines like Good Agricultural Practices make sense for large operations, but much of what they advocate is inapplicable to small farms and needs to be adapted for smaller operations. Organic standards, too, offer safety guidelines that are focused on sustainability and as such are very adaptable for small operations, though even these are increasingly tailored to industrial-organic. Even Certified Naturally Grown, a peer-based self-regulatory certification process that grew out of dissatisfaction with government control over "organic," is being compromised and co-opted by government control.

Clearly, attempts at adaptation and case-by-case, situation-specific self-regulation get co-opted. Why? Fear and control. The message is that people can't be trusted—whether it's the farmer raising the food or the consumer buying it. Farmers can't be trusted to follow safe, sensible management practices or to be open to the consumer asking questions and inspecting for themselves. Consumers can't be trusted to know the facts, ask the questions, or take the simple precaution of washing their fruits and vegetables. So, the government does the thinking for us all, perpetuating the very system that causes the problems in the first place.

Rather than supporting more safety controls and regulations, let's all start thinking more...thinking more about where our food comes from, thinking more about how we prepare it, and thinking more about how to take responsibility for ourselves so we can take back control over our own bodies and our own health all the while giving back a little more to the planet and animals that support us.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

I'm not dead yet! ..."Bring out your dead" echoes in the background.

We tried our first salt-cured, dry-aged ham this weekend and it was deeee-licious, if I do say so myself. We picked up the hams April 10th, applied the cure on the 12th and left them in the fridge for 42 days, adding salt/ brown sugar rub twice during that time. After we pulled them from the fridge, I soaked them, bagged them, and let the cure equalize in the cool basement, leaving them sit for longer than they should have. Once I got back around to it, I scrubbed them once more and applied the final rub of molasses, cracked pepper, brown sugar, and just a bit of salt. Then I bagged them and wrapped them in muslin to hang down in the larder for several months—about 7 altogether, including the time I ignored them. Hung, they will keep more than a year.

My grannie was born and raised in Virginia, and I used her recipe to cook the ham. Man, would she be mighty pleased!

We unwrapped the ham—don't be surprised if there's mold. This is perfectly normal even for the expensive store-bought Smithfield hams. Think of it like a rind on cheese.

At this point, we soaked the ham in cool water for about 4 hours, scrubbing occasionally to get the mold and the heavy parts of the rub off. This soaking also helps to rehydrate a bit and draw out some of the salt. If you've never had a salt-cured ham—be prepared, they are salty! It's best to begin this part of the process early in the morning, so that there will be plenty of time to cook the ham during the day and overnight.

Place the ham skin-side up in a baking pan large enough to cover at least half with water, preferably the whole ham, though I never have a pan large enough to do this. Preheat the oven to 500° and place the ham in a hot oven for 25-30 minutes. At the end of the cooking time, turn the oven off and leave the ham in the oven for 8 hours.

*Important: do not open the oven during the entire cooking process! (My grannie used to tape a note to the oven door, warning everyone.)

At this point, it should be late in the evening. Turn the oven back on to 500° and bring up to temp. Leave on for 10 minutes, then turn the oven off again, letting the ham sit for another 8 hours overnight. More won't matter—whenever you get up in the morning will be fine.

The skin and layer of fat on top has helped protect the meat from overcooking. Remove both the skin and the fat to reveal the meat below, which will be a nice pink color but have a somewhat dry, flaky consistency when completely cooked. The ham can then be sliced and eaten however you wish and will keep up to 6 weeks in the fridge.

My favorite way to eat country ham is sliced thin and put on a country biscuit with some melted cheddar cheese. Mmmmmm-mmmm! And that's exactly how we ate it Sunday morning, along with some delicious cheese grits. Salt-cured ham also makes tasty sandwiches, and I'll be dicing some to put into recipes calling for salted pork (though I think hunks of salt-cured bacon do better for most of those because they provide a bit of fat) or tasso type ham, but without the cajun flavoring.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Dark Days Eat Local Challenge: Week 12

This week Jim made some delicious fried chicken from the farm along with some drop biscuits that Julia made though we didn't get a picture. I'd been at the MOFFA (Maryland Organic Food and Farming Association) meeting and came home to this tasty zero mile meal.

Later in the week, we enjoyed a local chuck roast, mashed potatoes, gravy, homemade ciabatta bread, and a lovely salad from the garden with homemade bleu cheese dressing—made from scratch, but with non-local ingredients. Everything else was local or homegrown, and the dressing was well worth the cheat.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Seed Order, also known as "Oh my god, she's gone crazy!"

There's serious danger in giving a gardener virtual carte blanche when it comes to seed ordering, and that's essentially what running my CSA does. Not only do I feel obliged to provide a nice variety for my members (umm, yeah, that's an excuse), but I also love being able to try different varieties that I might never grow just for our family. The CSA really works for me in that way because it does offer a plausible excuse to try lots of things, it provides the funding for doing so, and it ensures that the produce goes to other families rather than just languishing in the garden. This year, too, I have the whole front yard that I'm making over from turf into an edible/ medicinal plant garden.

Really... there was a whole set of quite legitimate rationales for the number of seeds I ordered, starting with the CSA, moving onto the front yard project, and wrapping up with a small dose of peak oil preparedness. No way will I go through all these seeds in one year, even with my succession planting, which allows me to try several different varieties and shake things up a bit for the CSA. But that's okay. Most seeds will keep quite a long time, especially if dried, vacuum sealed and stored in the freezer, with the notable exception of corn and onions, which tend not to save well beyond a year. Plus, the bulk of what I've purchased is open-pollinated, meaning that if I do it well, I should begin to be able to save more of my own seeds on a rotation, part of my long-term plan for the farm.

So, I submit this list as much as a record for myself as fodder for all my readers proving I am, indeed, as insane as Jim thinks I am.

Seeds left from last year (no I never got them into the freezer, but it's still a good plan):
  • artichoke (saved seeds)
  • arugula
  • bean: royal burgundy snap, isar French fillet, genuine cornfield pole, Kentucky wonder pole (saved)
  • bok choi
  • broccoli: calabrese
  • brussels sprouts: catskill
  • cabbage: early jersey wakefield
  • carrot: red core chantenay
  • cauliflower: snowbell
  • celery: conquistador
  • chervil
  • chives: garlic, purly
  • cilantro
  • cucumber: Boston pickling
  • dill: bouquet (saved), hercules
  • green onion
  • kale: Hanover spring, vates
  • kohlrabi: purple
  • leek: American flag, blue solaize (very few)
  • lettuce: black seeded simpson, parris island cos, sweet valentine, red salad bowl, green salad bowl, speckled bibb, oakleaf, Thai oakleaf, winter density, forellenschuss, anuenue, slo-bolt, ermosa, buttercrunch, jericho
  • michihli
  • muskmelon: Hale's best, hearts of gold, old time Tennessee (4 seeds)
  • parsley: curled, flat leaf
  • parsnip: hollow crown
  • peas: Amish snap, Little Marvel, Wando
  • pepper: California wonder, serrano hot
  • pumpkin: little pam pie, jack-o-lantern
  • raab
  • sage
  • salsify: sandwich island mammoth
  • sorrel
  • spinach: long standing bloomsdale
  • sweet potato: beauregard (gift from Nicolas)
  • swiss chard: bright lights, ruby
  • radicchio: verona red
  • tatsoi
  • tomato: (very few of each) sweet olive, gold nugget, sun gold, Amish paste, German red strawberry, Brandywine, green zebra, sweetie
  • turnip: seven top foliage, purple top
  • upland cress
  • zucchini: black beauty
  • bee balm
  • bergamot
  • borage: blue, white
  • calendula
  • evening primrose
  • lavender: munstead
  • motherwort
  • mullein
  • white sage
  • wormwood

Yes, any rational person would have looked through their seeds and determined that was plenty for a very large garden. As Jim is so fond of telling me, however, I am apparently not remotely rational. Really and truly, though, I don't plan on ordering anything next year except perhaps for corn and potatoes, depending how the upcoming season goes, and to fill in any gaps. Promise. You can hold me to it. Jim will expect you to.

Seriously though, a large part of my rational was broadening my fall storage vegetable and winter garden repertoires, which really does make a lot of sense. C'mon, now—it does, so! I also want to try different varieties to try to find one that performs really well here. Plus, I went for a few jazzy color combinations and varieties. Oh god, all right, here goes. Up until now it's been my dirty little secret, but now it's out and Jim will know and shake his head and I'll feel so much freer with it off my chest!

This year's seed order:
  • basil: sweet genovese
  • bean: Louisiana purple pole, genuine cornfield pole, Cherokee cornfield, rodcor butter bean, provider, flagrano French bean
  • bean, soup: Taylor's dwarf, black valentine, sulphur
  • beet: lutz, chioggia
  • broccoli: di cicco
  • carrot: Belgian white, purple dragon
  • Chinese cabbage: bilko
  • chives
  • corn: double standard (old fashioned sweet, open pollinated), robust (popcorn—we tried "Tom thumb" and didn't like it)
  • cotton: Mississippi brown, Erlene's green, nankeen
  • cucumber: yamato, marketmore
  • dandelion: clio
  • eggplant: rosa bianca
  • endive: totem, eros, rhodos
  • escarole: pancalieri grado
  • gourd: green apple, mixed small
  • kale: vates
  • kohlrabi: winner
  • lettuce: dark lollo rossa, natividad (both reds)
  • marjoram
  • oats: hulless
  • onions: cortland, redwing, purplette
  • peppers: ace, sahuaro hot
  • potatoes: red nordland, yukon gold, Russian banana
  • radish: black Spanish, d'Avignon
  • squash, summer: golden bush scallop, early prolific straightneck, costata romanesca,
  • squash, winter: seminole pumpkin, cinderella pumpkin, sweet meat squash, winter luxury pie, table queen vine acorn, delicata, Waltham butternut, marina di chioggia
  • swiss chard: rainbow
  • tomato: Amish paste, Brandywine, striped German, green zebra, sweet olive, red grape, sun gold, gold nugget
  • turnip: hakurei
  • watermelon: Amish moon and stars, strawberry
  • aesclepius tuberosa (butterfly weed, pleurisy root)
  • calendula: Pacific beauty
  • chamomile: German
  • echinacea: tenneseensis, purpurea
  • false unicorn
  • fennel: florence
  • feverfew
  • flax: omego
  • ginseng: American
  • horehound: white
  • hyssop
  • joe pye weed: sweet
  • lavender: munstead
  • lemon balm
  • lemon grass: east Indian
  • lovage
  • pennyroyal: English
  • peppermint
  • salad burnet
  • saltwort
  • savory: summer, winter
  • scarlet runner bean
  • soapwort
  • skullcap
  • stevia
  • sweet shrub
  • thyme: German winter
  • valerian
  • vervain: blue
  • woad
  • yarrow: proa

Everyone say it with me: "Bad Danielle! Bad Danielle!"

It could be worse. I could've gambled with that money or spent it on phone sex or even... gasp... a single purse as so many women do!

Microgreens and Sprouts, Oh My!

One of the things I'll be offering my annual CSA members this year during the dark days of winter is microgreens. Not only are the microgreens fun and easy to grow, but they're also loaded with nutrition without having any of the potential contamination issues that sprouts have. Needless to say, while I'll be sprouting for my own family, it's not a risk I'm willing to take for the CSA, and microgreens are the perfect answer! Because they're grown beyond the sprouting stage in the light and air, microgreens avoid any potential pathogen issues. Microgreens are the stage of growth between sprouts and baby greens, and as such, they retain loads of the nutritional value of sprouts. They take between 5 and 14 days to grow, and are harvested by cutting just above the root. They can be tossed in salads, on top of pizza, potatoes, or even pizza, and add a delicious zing to sandwiches.

Day 3:

Day 5:

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The Winds of Change are Blowin'

It's been a while since I've done a weather post....

Last week, our temps dropped to 14°F at night, and this week, they've risen to 70°F during the day, and today we're getting gusts of wind up to 35-40 mph. Needless to say, the plants are not happy. That's the down side of living in the Mid-Atlantic where we do—temps can go either way and often both.

The people, however, are making the most out of these warm days. Interestingly, Julia remembers her birthday (January 4th) as "warm" because we've had temps in the 60's ever since she can remember, which means about the past 4 years.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Dark Days Eat Local Challenge: Week 11

The weekend before Christmas, I got myself up and to our local farmer's market on the off chance that I might be able to get some staples. In particular, I was looking for carrots, onions, and potatoes.

I say "on the off chance" because our farmer's market rarely, in fact, actually has any kind of produce whatsoever—seriously. Our county has the worst farmer's markets I've ever had the displeasure to peruse. The year-round indoor market is filled primarily with stalls of craft items, some baked goods, and stuffed toys that were clearly made no where near Maryland, never mind in our particular county. The seasonal outdoor market is much better in terms of locally produced food items, but it allows only one producer per item, meaning monopoly and no consumer choice.

All that aside, however, I was pleasantly surprised on Saturday. I was able to purchase a half bushel each of yellow storing onions, white potatoes, and sweet potatoes. No carrots, but I had hit the mother-lode nonetheless, and I was quite pleased. I brought home my early Christmas present and promptly put them in the larder downstairs, pleased as proverbial punch.

For Christmas Eve, we made breadsticks, seasoned with homegrown herbs; sauteed kale from the garden; and crab cakes from locally caught and packaged blue crab. To go along with the crab cakes I made a tartar sauce with the last of my canned pickles. Of course the mayonnaise I used wasn't homemade or local, but it was tasty all the same, and the pickles and locally-grown onions lent it a local flair.

Christmas morning we had homemade monkey bread while opening presents and afterwards enjoyed a delicious brunch of eggs benedict and country home fries, all local but for the English muffins—the eggs, bacon, and herbs being homegrown. My goal for 2008 is to learn to make my own muffins and bagels, two bread products we still rely on being produced outside the home. The bagels we get when the in-laws visit from New Jersey, however, count as local because they are made at the small bakery where my in-laws buy them. Still, it'd be very nice to have bagels in between visits!

Christmas dinner was 100% local this year. We roasted two of our geese, which were absolutely delicious, but had almost no fat of which to speak. While this may seem like a good thing to some, I was sorely disappointed not to have my year's supply of goose fat to pull from the freezer. We had homemade ciabatta bread, roast goose, and white/ sweet potatoes roasted in goose fat. I stuffed the goose with local onions and apples as well as herbs from the garden. The apples gave the gravy a sweet flavor, which I thought went very well with the sweetness of the pecans in the salad and the sweet potatoes. Jim and Emily, however, weren't nearly so fond of the sweet gravy.

Jim's family arrived a couple days after Christmas, and for our family celebration we enjoyed a delicious, local standing rib roast, with mashed potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, and a homegrown salad. The Yorkshire pudding was a recipe out of the River Cottage Meat Book, one of our Christmas presents to Jim, and it was absolutely amazing—even the kiddos loved it, not the least because of the way it grew up and over the sides of the roasting pan.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

2007 To Do List

Out with the old and in with the new...

  • build mobile coop
  • pick up boar weanlings
  • pick up gilt weanling
  • pick up ewe lambs
  • pot up tomato seedlings
  • continue succession planting
  • plant fingerlings
  • build milking stand
  • clean up strawberry bed
  • finish cleaning out winter coop
  • stake tomatoes
  • figure out goatie pasture/milking routine
  • continue hand-picking potato bugs/larva/eggs
  • irrigate
  • continue picking yellowed leaves
  • figure out how to feed beans
  • begin fall planting
  • work out tunnel design and placement
  • build tunnel and order plastic
  • choose and order cover crops
  • learn to make goat's milk soap
  • find raspberries in upper garden
  • prune berries in kitchen garden
  • get burn barrel set up
  • transplant fall seedlings
  • continue fall planting
  • order micro green trays and seeds
  • clean out kitchen garden
  • spread compost for winter garden
  • make low tunnels from plastic
  • move pigs into market garden for winter clean up