Category Archives: soapbox

On extended absences

P1110221December flowers (calendula, good for hand cream) inside a snow-surrounded greenhouse #2

Ah, wherever have I been?  I have noticed that most blogs which go dark do what I just did:  no warning, just a waning quantity of posts and then poof!  no new posts.  For most bloggers, the end is unintentional.  I am not quite sure if I wish to end FGtW, but I have not been keen to post to it.

To answer the question, I have been where I have always been.  We have added homeschooling to our list of daily tasks, and like most start-ups, it has been overwhelming, mostly because nothing else in our lives has changed and we still have the same holes to dig or get out of every day.  I will say this about choosing to school one’s child fully at home:  It feels complete, full circle.

P1110206Sit and spin a while with us (Daughter’s Lendrum and my Ashford Traddy.  Dyed wool at right above blending hackle…lots of low-tech fun).  The front porch has become a fiber haven.

With the turning of the calendar pages come harvests made and plantings begun.  The garden calendar is as cyclical as all others.  Sometimes I flatter myself because I have been able to eke out larger harvest windows for many things (via season extension or milking through or even leaving a light on in the coop for three extra hours of ovulatory trickery in the egg birds) but most days I understand that these tricks, these hoop-jumps, are less time-saving than lifestyle-making.  I couldn’t HAVE a year-round CSA without the greenhouses, a traditional dairy calendar says I would be done with milking* about now, and no extra light means two eggs a day, and not thrice that.  It is simply a matter of commitment.  I want this so therefore I need to put the work in to make it happen.

P1110217Chickories and lettuce in the newest greenhouse

So when visitors marvel at the amount of labor they perceive is required to keep this place afloat, I kind of snicker inwardly.  I realize that, partially, it is the infrastructure that confounds them.  It sure looks like a lot of gardening, and wow, three goats a-milking?  And I will admit that often I am very tired.  But really, I have a secret.

Truth be told?  Global warming has saved my ass on most harvest windows.  It sickens me, but it is true:  the usual cessation of farm-related tasks that attends winter has simply occurred later and later each year.  We only just harvested our honey** this week:  the kitchen remains quite sticky.  And I finally cleared out the oldest greenhouse on Saturday.  On that fated day, baskets of green and hot peppers were pulled from living plants, forty pounds of sweet potatoes were unearthed under fading vines, and about 250 pounds of curing squash made the wheelbarrow commute from greenhouse to root cellar.  These tasks (honey harvest, pepper/sweet potato harvest and curing squash) should have been completed in October, not mid-December.

P1110209Livvy checks if the fence is live (it is) while T-bell and Cricket look on

So, sure, I have figured out some tricks.  I think most of human innovation involves some risk-taking, be it on a personal scale or a more species-wide one.  I still think high-nutrient food-growing is a terribly important thing, that our current system of growing food is horribly broken, and, if one is willing to risk it, a person who grows food for her own family’s consumption can scale up to year-round, then scale up to growing for others.  It really is not that hard to do once you have mastered the basics.  If I, with my rather limited time, can produce enough food for six other families on top of what I already grow for us…well, you get the picture.  Doing so, however, might not allow for much blogging time.

But I am still here.  And the gardens still grow.

P1110204Yarn fun

*we now have three goats:  T-bell, Cricket and new girl Livvy, a prima donna of a purebred doe.  I have elected to not breed them this fall, and instead continue milking them.  T-bell has been milking continuously since Jan ’10.  Of this writing, I get about 9 pints per milking.

**we have four hives this year.  Of the four, two are healthy and two are not (probably need to be replaced in the spring).  We leave them their honey through the winter, taking the top super off…four supers are about four gallons of honey, in this, an awfully stressful, year.

On heirlooms

Jimmy Nardello’s sweet Italian frying peppers:  find them in my garden and on the Ark of Taste

The true spirit of this holiday season, Greed, showed up right on time for me with Tuesday’s arrival of the 2012 Fedco seed catalog.  Whee!   Time to get out the highlighter and tally my wish list for next year’s seeds.

I have had to become a lot more serious about my gardens now that I’ve started a pseudo-CSA.  My usual mania for no unplanted ground has been a good policy, but keeping up with my customers’ vegetative demand has required that I likewise be ruthless about harvesting and doing away with any spent plants.  Precious, every square inch, that garden space!  So you would think that I would be stocking my garden with hybrids, right?  Grow big, grow fast, grow uniformly, grow hardy F1 seeds:  the great guarantee for yield!

Yeah, right.  Perhaps you should step over to a very non-judgmental description of hybrids and heirlooms right here; read it, get educated, then come on back.

Okay.  Here’s the deal:  I love heirlooms.  Heirloom, or open-pollinated, or standard plants (the names are interchangeable) appeal to me on many levels.  I am naturally thrifty, so having a plant whose seed I can save and perpetuate puts these puppies in the LIKE category for me:  I will go through the trouble of growing seed if it spares me from buying them year in and out.  I enjoy the natural variation found in a planting of seed:  they’re not all exactly alike, either as seedlings, as growing plants or as the yield of seeds (fruits) they produce…close, but no cigar.   This slight variation enables me to save seed from the plant whose qualities most appeal, whilst eating its slower-growing or smaller or leafier siblings…very nice, especially in a row of, say, cabbage, when having 18 heads of F1 plants ready and huge right now is more burden than blessing.  I’d prefer the variation of the small, the big, the wooly and the sprouting.

(Not all heirloom seed produces such crazed variation.  I’m generalizing here as there are loads of other factors all along the plants’ growth that could cause those differences.  Also, I like to pick on cabbages.)

My other insistence on heirlooms has to do with the vast gene pool from which they spring.  When I picked up a copy of The Vegetable Garden (web version here) about ten years ago I began to understand just how few varieties of open-pollinated seed are available to home gardeners today.  The more I looked into it the more ill I became by how little of that seed heritage remains.  Here’s a graphic that should shock you:

which can be found in a probably more legible view at National Geographic, make sure you read its attendant article too.  We’ve squandered our inheritance, it seems to me, with our happy pursuit of Early Girls and Big Boys.

I won’t step into the waters of patenting seeds (you don’t have all day, do you?), trademarking life forms and bioengineering.  Producing F1 seeds typically enriches just one seed producer.  Problem is, a successful hybrid will most likely get bought up by a seed conglomerate who also is in the gene-splicing business.  And frankly I am not keen to support the likes of Monsanto and Cargill, even by buying a lowly packet of hybrid onion seeds.  Why feed the beast?  Here is a list of seed sellers that have signed the Safe Seed pledge, wherein they don’t knowingly* produce or sell GMO-tainted seeds.  (*”Knowingly” is telling.  It’s up to you to research that the hybrid you wish to buy is not owned by or modified by a company that genetically modifies its seeds.)

Probably the biggest reason I love heirlooms is that they’re an unbroken link to our past.  Perhaps I am simply a romantic at heart, but it’s truly humbling when I hold a handful of that savoy cabbage seed over a freshly-scratched trough of earth, as it’s a link to the past.  Think about it:  SOMEBODY, actually a whole chain of somebodies, has tirelessly grown and saved the very seeds in my palm.  It is living history.  In growing and saving seed myself, I become the latest link in that unbroken chain.  The only other thing that I have actively done that has even come close is to become a mother:  that, likewise, is a mighty long chain.

Sigh.  So Tuesday night I curled up onto the couch with my highlighter and my catalog.  Sure; 1/3 of all the seeds therein are hybrids:  hybrids equal cashmoney, after all, and even Fedco isn’t above that.  (I read and circle Fedco for its politics and its writing, of course, and not necessarily for its offerings.)  And it is equally true that my garden, likewise, is home to a few safe hybrids.  I might be strident, but I am not an absolutist, except maybe on GMOs….

Here’s a great source for home-saved heirlooms:  Become a member of Seed Savers and get their annual catalog. I love Fedco but I also support TerritorialVictory Seeds and Southern Exposure, but please, I hate Baker Creek so don’t try to persuade me otherwise.  You Canadians have lots of options:   Salt Spring Seeds and a whole bunch of others in the comments.  Lucky ducks.

Oh:  You may also be wondering why I would need more seeds if I save so many.  ahem.  Avarice!  Rapacious greed!  and an overwhelming sense that I “need” more types of veg! that’s why.   I am an American after all:  consumption is my birthright, isn’t it?

On personal transformations

And sometimes growing a lot of food happens easily with an active compost pile (all the butternuts you see above are from the pile)

If you had told me 25 years ago that making food for a lot of people was in my future, I’d have, if not laughed in your face, at least told you you had your facts wrong.  Cooking for others would’ve seemed too trad fem for someone raised in a feminist household, and 25 years ago I was on my way to pursuing a butch-enough profession (architecture).  “Nursing and teaching were the only professions open to me, and I didn’t like bedpans,” my mother often said.  “You should do something I could not,” and so I did.

Yet here I am, scurrying about on a Monday morning, assembling four boxes for my CSA customers and sticking 12 loaves of bread into a carrier to take to our daughter’s school for the kids’ mid-morning snack.  Food growing and making IS a large part of my life, at least as big a part as my code books and my drawings.  And like making buildings, making food is terribly enjoyable to me…and I happen to be fairly good at both.

Like most transformations, my shift from either/or to both was gradual.  Certain imperatives hastened my decisions, of course:  our move from our small city lot to five country acres; parenthood; global warming/climate change:  the world is small, and growing more crowded daily.  This is the world I am handing my child, and it’s a world with many problems.

So I can show her that consuming less is a laudable goal…and it’s hard in a culture that only celebrates “more.”  But I can also show her that one can be a producer, too.  Whether it’s just for ourselves or (at this point) six other families, I can demonstrate that quality home-grown food can be made (despite? in addition to?) while someone has a full-time job.  And yes, it might mean that she helps too, and her dad as well.

But what I am also trying hard to demonstrate to her, and to you, is that the world is going to need a lot more people like me who’re willing to produce food for themselves, and eventually for others.  The transformation might be gradual.  But we’ll certainly be eating better food…and better serving our earth and each other.

Viva la revolucion, gardeners!

On spring cleaning

This is a bit of a “taking care of business” post.  Apologies for its strange list-like format.

  1. BEES ARE OUR FRIENDS. I find it quite hopeful that 120 people showed up for the Introductory Beekeeping Class that my husband attended this past weekend.  The Kalamazoo Bee Club can now boast 500-odd members.  And if only half of those attendees start their own hives this year, that’s sixty new hives.  This is a great and positive thing, and I look forward to home-grown honey topping our home-grown breakfast yogurt!
  2. MO’ MONEY, MO’ MONEY. I have been watching with interest the kerfuffle over the apparent trademarking of the terms Urban Homestead/Urban Homesteader, among other oft-used terms.  I’ve been looking at the debate as one of morals (simply, individual working orders) versus ethics (collective working orders that don’t necessarily apply to everyone).  It seems the point of most people’s frustration is the graying of the moral/ethical line by a grabbing of the commons to the benefit of an individual.  The folks who are the center of the controversy started their home food-producing endeavor with what I can only assume were the best of intentions (a moral choice).  With time and the internets, it appears money has blinded them (an ethical matter).  This happens so often to individuals in the business world (that someone’s personal compass gets de-magnetized from one’s moral true north) that it barely bears mentioning…and 99 times out of 100 it is because the idea of “more money” is behind it.  In point of fact, “more money” is a laudable, revered goal in the business world (it’s the business world’s ethic, if not any one individual’s).  So my first response to this controversy, frankly, was why would anyone be surprised? What makes it galling, of course, is this one family’s land grab over anyone else’s use of the term as it would now infringe on their ability to make (more) money for themselves.  They’ve gone way beyond the mere sharing of gardening ideas to the copywriting of an idea.  This is morally suspect in the personal world but in the corporate world, it is par for the course.
  3. TRADEMARK THIS. So I of course have been thinking about how I would never be motivated to trademark anything.  Goodness, why?  Money has never been much of a motivator for me, and the idea of making money on how-to-grow-food advice is distasteful.  Collectively and individually, we all need to learn how to grow some of our food, and the sooner the better.  But over the nearly six years of my writing this blog, I have been contacted by two publishers expressing interest in me writing a book that codified and expanded on its ideas.  I have considered the proposals with all seriousness and have rejected them mainly because a book would not be free, it’s instead a money-making venture off of the commons.  The blog and its contents are free to those of us lucky enough to have access to the web, and likewise I do not accept ads.  (If indeed I were to write a book, it would probably be about something else entirely.)   However, if I were to rip off anything, how about my personal spin on Michael Pollan’s food recommendations?  You know:  Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants.  This is what I advocate for myself, and thus by extension, anyone else who can do so:  “Grow food.  As much as you can.  And share it.” I wouldn’t trademark it though.
  4. VEG GARDEN BOOK. Speaking of books, I have a fabulous one to recommend to you.  (Full disclosure of course is that I do know the writer, and, in point of fact, she interviewed me for the book…but I get no kickbacks from this, peeps.)  Michele rocks, period.  And her argument is completely convincing.
  5. MEAT CHICKENS. I have ordered my meat birds for this year.  This, indeed, is quite early…however, I won’t be getting them until the first week of July.  For those of you considering it, I annually raise 25 meat chickens within a chicken tractor that I drag around the back 40 twice a day for 12 weeks.  In other words, I expend a lot of energy just for a freezer full of chicken dinner.  And like last year, I am ordering the godawfully named Freedom Rangers because  honestly they are more tender than the usual slower-growing meat chickens I have raised in the past.  Marginally more tender, that is; they taste the same.  And despite the problems I had with them (splay legged chicks: a nightmare to resolve, frankly, and general meanness in the flock) I am going with them again.  Shoot me now.
  6. GREENHOUSE STARTS. Indoors and out, many things have begun to sprout, and it makes me happy.  I have two toads that have come out of their hibernation hidey-holes in the old greenhouse, too.  It’s fun to visit them.
  7. SWEAT EQUITY. I finally finished my bleeping kitchen renovation.  Ergh.  Took me eight weeks.  Now I can spend my extra time outside!

Ah.  That’s quite enough of a list.  I wish you all spring cheer.

On eating live foods

Bangbang:  making her spice mix for the table.  That knife looks closer than it is…her hand is about 4″ above it, have no fear

I have never been particularly trendy, or guru-worshiping.   It goes without saying then that I’ve never been one to follow a fad, except architectural ones.  Perhaps this is my inner (eek!) conservatism speaking, but doing something because a bunch of other people are doing it generally trips my bullsh*t-o-meter.  I’m also not particularly preachy or prone to the picking of nits.

All the above?  I mean In person:  the blog is something else entirely!  So, here, let me spew forth on the idea that you (you!) need to eat a lot more live foods!  Be trendy, and go raw, and go cultured!

Nothing like the funky ferment of freshly decanted kimchi out of the pickle crock first thing in the morning!  Five days in the crock, then into the fridge for the CSA folks.

Ahem.  For the last twenty years or so, I have been stuck in the loop of research/practice/direct observation of two things:  the growing of food and the making of food.

I have always believed in compost.  It makes sense that the addition of live microflora and fungi and microbes into your soil will nourish the soil that in turn nourishes the plants that nourish you.  And in my studies of peasant cuisine, there is one constant that can be found in societies as geographically and culturally different as the Laplands are from Micronesia, the desert Southwest from the Czech republic, and that is that all peoples nourish themselves with cultured, live foods, daily, and usually with most meals.

American people?  Not so much.  Our grocery stores guarantee that everything we buy is either dead or has never been living.  And the few “live” foods they do sell are suspect (e. coli in salads, sprouts; salmonella in eggs; pesticides on apples) and even the “active culture” yogurt is made from very dead milk that’s been inoculated, after the fact.  Our American fear of what we cannot see is so extreme, it’s like we’re more successful at the war on microbes than the war on terror…witness the proliferation of hand sanitizers and antimicrobial everything if you think I exaggerate.  Likewise, the “convenience” aspect of all food preparation has generated whole industries to ensure that the bother of, say, cutting up a head of broccoli (that most time-consuming of tasks) need not be done, as you can easily pick up a package of microwave-ready florets.  And then the experts wonder why we won’t eat our vegetables, and why we’re so fat.

Osmosis in action:  a mix of four types of cabbage for the pickle crock, tossed with salt first to bring out its moisture.  In two weeks or so this will be sauerkraut.

Why do I natter on so about “live” foods?  I guess it doesn’t take a genius to see that what we eat has radically shifted lo these last 75 years, and one of the first things to go has been cultured or microbially-active food.  Whole, unadulterated, unprocessed foods went next.  Out with the milkman, in with the ultrapasteurized milk carton that can sit on your pantry shelf forever.  In with the boxes and cans of food or microwave-ready comestibles, out with the idea that one needs to actually MAKE dinner, or breakfast, or even lunch (as you can now find in your grocer’s freezer section crust-less peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for your kid).  And don’t get me started on getting food through your car window, okay?

Sprouting wheat berries for bread

Me?  I like life in my food.  I have a lifelong aversion to leftovers and old food, so…this seems a contradictory stance.  Bear with me though.  Our recent food tradition has been such that, if we cook at all, we cook to death just about everything (hey, our milk is even cooked) and eschew that which is uncooked, mainly to worship the god of Convenience.  This is a new development, one in which our bodies (it is my belief) have not evolved to completely tolerate.  I will admit that I too cook nearly everything:  even my bread is well-baked even if its starter was alive.  But I do try, in every meal, to feed my family something un-dead.

The un-dead:  Camembert and peach jam on sourdough toast

Un-dead!  Zombie food, really?  Not really.  It’s more like this:  breakfast is sourdough toast with homemade raw-milk cheese (camembert, chevre, etc.) topped with fruit jam, or maybe a bowl of cultured oatmeal.  Lunch might mean a small bowl of kimchi, a handful of almonds, and a bowl of yogurt with some fruit and local raw honey.  After-school snack is a glass of chilled kombucha tea with a few homemade herbed crackers, or some cubes of feta, or a fruit/kefir smoothie.  Dinner includes cooked foods (mostly vegetables) paired with a huge salad topped with buttermilk dressing and walnuts, dessert is a couple raw apples.  Nothing terribly radical here…except that it’s me and not the food industry doing the making.

Listen.  I have seen what the introduction of compost did to the nearly-dead soil on my farm.  I can only wonder about the pleasing interaction between fungal hyphae and the root nodules of my own broccoli…what this unseen magic does for the plant.  Likewise, one’s own gut flora is a near imponderable to me!  Who knows how many unseen things I am host to, those little untold billions that sustain this corpus?  I believe it can’t hurt to have them nourished by live foods to help them do their job.  I expect to be around for a long time…and can only believe that feeding every little bit of me, well, will help me live long and happily.  And:  it’s a tasty way to be.

I figured out this weekend that the masonry oven can handle 15 loaves at a time.  All hail the Loven!

You can, too.  Just think about what it is you eat, and why.

On freedom from the grocery store

The new greenhouse at dawn:  it’s a fun in-between season in here.  New lettuces transplanted from outdoors in the foreground beds, tomatoes, peppers, sweet potatoes in the back yet to be harvested, and hot peppers, beans and corn hung from the purlin to dry

Another October 1st is here:  2010 makes it six years since we purchased our house and started down the road of food self-sufficiency.  A seventh growing season, likewise, has come and (nearly) gone.

Would I say that complete freedom from the grocery store was my goal way back when we bought the farm?  I would say no, it was not:  I had the small goal of simply having a big garden and (eventually) eggs.  Let’s just say we’ve come a long way from my initial modest goals.*  But last Thursday morning, after dropping my daughter off at school, I could be found…trolling the aisles of a grocery store!   What’s up with that?

Listen, I am not what anyone would consider “an average American food consumer,” and never have been.  Sure, I love to cook, and I love to eat good food.  I have never, however, been a fan of what clogs the shelves of your average grocery store.  For most of my adult life, I was a car-less vegetarian city dweller who shopped at walkable specialty food stores, food co-ops, and, later, got my vegetables from a CSA.  I also loved to garden and spent part of each season canning big purchases from the Minneapolis Farmers’ Market.   I am not saying this to toot my own horn but instead to point out the obvious:  if anyone, I was probably more prone to the Grow Your Own (name your item of choice) than not.

But fast-forward to last Thursday morning.  Yes, we do use the grocery store on occasion, for cow milk, butter, and the occasional bag of sugar (and indeed, local sugar and canning lids were my reason for stopping).  If we don’t grow it, we buy it in bulk (coffee, tea, fish, beef/pork, flour, grain, oil, etc.)…and truth be told, it’s Tom who does the non-bulk shopping.  As I zipped through the huge long aisles, I thought about all the sections of that store that I have completely written off over these last six years, and it’s here that I think my experience will be relevant to you who endeavor to do the same.

Perhaps, next year, you can try to make one or two items home-produced ones too.  And after six years of adding one or two more home-produced items, you might have whole sections of the grocery store that are worthless to you too!

  • It’s fall, even though I am in denial:  fall is a perfect time to get new garden beds made. If you do it now, you will have all winter to read up on tomato varieties so you can make as much salsa, say, or ketchup/barbecue sauce, or just plain tomato paste, to last you a year.
  • It’s fall:  if you own land, why not plant a few fruit trees?  Some larger trees, though you’ll pay more for them, will reward you with a harvest in just a year or two.  Raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries likewise can be transplanted in the fall.
  • If you build a greenhouse, or even a low tunnel, you can easily be self-sufficient year-round in salad stuff.  Plant some herbs and a couple of rows of shallots and onion plants next spring, you can be self-sufficient in the basics for salad dressing.  (But as I have repeatedly said, greenhouses are wonderful for more than just salads.)
  • If you build a coop, you can easily have three hens to supply you with at least a dozen eggs a week.
  • If you buy a milk goat and make cheese, my goodness, you will make a lot of new friends.  Even if you only make yogurt and kefir, believe me, you will have more than you can consume…thus, more for those friends.  You’ll also be self-sufficient yourself in dairy, making everything from buttermilk to creme fraiche to chevre to cream- and cottage cheese:  in other words, even if you don’t like to drink straight goat milk you won’t need to.
  • If you make a very small initial investment, you can have a three-compartment hutch, a breeding doe and buck, and all the rabbit meat you can consume by this time next year…and you can feed them very inexpensively, or even free, with your garden scraps.
  • If you learn how to make decent bread, you will never be satisfied with store-bought again.
  • And if you buy a chest freezer, the world is your oyster.  You can stock it with fruits as you pick them for winter eating; you can find a local grass-fed meat farmer and buy yourself whole, halves or quarters of cow, pig, lamb or goat; you can likewise stock up on chicken by buying your yearly needs, cut them up yourself, and freeze portions and whole birds.  Freezers are also great places to stash bulk grains and flours.

Listen.  I know it’s hard to start from zero, and I also know that not everyone has the cash to just go out and make huge bulk purchases of things or buy chest freezers, fruit trees, chicken coops and the like…and land most of all!  But gardening is seriously one of the cheapest pleasures in life, one that yields the biggest returns, and fortunately you don’t always need to own land to garden it.  A shovel, a fork, a hand tool or two and a few packets of seeds…these can be had for under $100, and the library has scores of vegetable-growing-how-to books.  You don’t need a fancy compost bin; a pile on the ground will do…or put it in a pit if you’re worried about what it looks like.  And once you find a friend who gardens, you will be trading know-how and zucchini in no time.

You can do it, I know you can.  And:  I think you want to.

*Major steps by years:  2004, house and land, first fruit trees planted.  2005, garden, canning, first chest freezer.  2006, egg chickens, pressure canner, blog!.  2007, greenhouse, guineas.  2008, 2nd greenhouse, meat chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese.  2009, home-hatched turkeys and geese, milk goat, rabbits.  2010, home-hatched chickens, winemaking, outdoor kitchen (masonry oven/rocket stove) and mini-CSA. 2011:  who knows?

Let’s continue that last blog post conversation, shall we?

Is there anything cuter than a bowl full of baby bantams?

Many, many good points and questions were brought up in the comments section of my last post on the cottage industry law that recently took effect in Michigan.  The legality of home-baked, home-produced goods was but one facet of the conversation, with bartering, taxes, and general farm-based living issues wrapped up in it too.

So again, the obvious.  I wouldn’t mind being taxed on my egg money, not at all, which is why my CPA knows about the contents of my farm earnings  jar.  My point in the last post is that the farm’s output has repeatedly exceeded the consumption pattern of its residents.  What to do with this excess?  I could bank it against a cold and rainy day, and do.  I could give it away to the food shelves, but I have been discouraged from doing so:  the ones in town don’t want anything that’s not already in a tin can or box, thanks.  I grow and can things for my daughter’s school.  I could give it away to friends and relatives and generally, this has been my operational model.  But my friends think they’re taking advantage of the bounty, especially now that there’s a high-value, rare item involved (goat’s milk products).  Thus, the filling jar.

Let me first make a personal state-of-the-homestead/farmer statement.  I am avowedly on the left side of the political spectrum, and I surely do not think I am taxed enough.  In my particular worldview, I am taxed little and get little in return.  Locally, our property taxes are a pittance, and I suppose that grants us the pittance we receive:  our roads are plowed and paved, and we have 911 service if we can afford to have a telephone.  One example: Despite the hefty share they receive from local and state funding, the public schools in my area are awful.  Every referendum on an increase in millage (basically a percentage increase to pay for school “improvements” based upon property taxes) has gone down in flames.  I consider this short-sighted, crass, and anti-community, and really a part of a larger social problem that is frankly beyond the scope of this blog post.  (And no, my daughter is not in public school, and won’t be:  this in no way affects my opinion on paying for those children who are.)  But the (non)value of schools is an illustration of my larger point.  If we don’t care for school-aged non-tax-paying children, we’re probably not caring much for many others in my community.  But hey!  What about them low property taxes?

Bringing this one-sided conversation from this particular person to the general readership.  The bigger picture is how do you, dear reader, take the next step in your own little homemade-food world?  If you live in Michigan, the steps for putting up a tent in a farmer’s market are now a lot clearer.  Those cookies everyone raves about?  Wrap them up, list the potential allergens, the ingredients in descending order, your home phone and address and you can legally sell them, if you’re so inclined!  Likewise your home-decanted vinegars, dried herbal teas, killer pickles, jewel-toned fruit jams and more can be legally sold.  Grow enough vegetables, you can start a CSA along with your Saturday stall.  The world is your oyster, or at least your zebra mussel.

If, however,  someone were to ask me the course I would chart to, say, move from city to country and make a livable wage off the products of one’s labors, I would snarkily ask to see their trust fund disbursements.  It’s more than a gamble, frankly, and there’s a lot of work and head-banging ahead of you.  For the foreseeable future, one needs off-farm income to make a go at this kind of life.  I feel I am in good company (Wendell Berry, Gene Logsdon, Barbara Kingsolver) when I say this.  You can raise as many heirloom vegetables, meat animals, and make as many artisan cheeses and wool products as you would like to sell but it will in all likelihood be a losing venture, economically.

I am still trying to ride the razor of the livelihood/lifestyle that is what it is that I do.  I like producing food because I like CONSUMING food.  I like to share; so do others, which is why barter is fun.  I like the idea that I could be a bigger part of something should the lights go out and my neighborhood worries about its food supply.  I like to teach.  Money is in no way a motivation for me mainly because I am as yet secure in my off-farm income.  This cottage food industry bill that has become law is a boon to me, should I really fire up the Loven more than once a week, or if I should decide to can more veg than we consume.

My point to all of this:  For me, it is not about the money, and so far has not been.  It’s about the life, and about sharing that life with others.  We moved here knowing we’d make a third of our city income.  That income still stands, but the quality of our life has vastly improved, of which diet is the first obvious part.  Am I saying “follow me”?  No, not unless you’re already so inclined.

But hey:  those taxes are sure low.

Okay, so it’s not quite a full bowl.

On sex and the barnyard

Let’s face it, people.  The male sex is not valued in the world of the farm.

It came as a shock to me.   A very parallel universe to the one I knew:  being of the female persuasion is actually highly valued if one is a farm animal.  All males are either quickly eaten or dispatched at birth/hatching.  This is NOT a hard and fast rule, of course:  being male won’t hurt your chances of growing to maturity if you’re a cloven-hooved creature, or a turkey.  You just most likely won’t get there with your scrotum intact (cattle, pigs, sheep, goats) or once you hit sexual maturity (turkeys).

I am not blind to the reason that female creatures are welcomed:  We desire the products of their reproductive organs (eggs, milk, more babies).  And even as a vegetarian I harbored no illusions that I wasn’t killing animals in my quest to have milk and eggs:  you need to get pregnant to have milk (duh!) and, the chicken DOES come before the egg…and the ratio of males to females in almost every animal grouping is 50/50, thus, for each egg-producing hen, one potential rooster chick was snuffed out.  The fact that you don’t even need male poultry to produce eggs further reduces their chances.

So it was with some sadness that I learned all three of our goats turned out to be boys.  Sigh.  And in my readings of goat-rearing handbooks, most dairy manuals were clear-eyed about this–a lot more clear-eyed than my usual gimlet-eyed self, too–that the most humane thing to do with newborn bucklings is to drown them in a water bucket.  “For every 500 males born, only 5 will find productive service as stud, and it most likely is not the one born in your barn,” is the way one manual put it.  Other suggestions were to skin them for their downy-furred pelts, or tan their hides for kid gloves.  (Eeps.  I am so not there yet, people.)

But in my usual take on the world, I knew the most responsible thing to do would be to do the responsible thing:  get them disbudded, castrated, and shot up with necessary injections, pronto.  Within their first week of life, then, they had their horns burned off, their immunizations, and their male parts disarmed.  They will all three find lives as either dinner or as cart-pulling bellwethers.  This is what is required if I want home-grown milk.

Likewise, one male turkey and one male chicken is all I require to have a self-sustaining (closed) poultry flock.  This is the first year we will not get chicks/poults from the store or in the mail, the first year then that we will have truly homegrown poultry (Thanksgiving Dinner and last year’s goslings excepted).

I harbor no illusions about what it is I am doing and what has been required of me to do it.  I am simply a lot closer to the reality of it than many meat-, dairy- and egg-eating people are; the choices pluck a touch harder on my heart-strings because I know and in most cases love these creatures.  But please don’t kid yourselves:  you’re subcontracting the killing if your hands aren’t physically wielding the knife.  And that is okay, as long as you know the animals have been well treated (for whatever their lifespan) in life and through death.  And if you don’t know, then you are, at the very least, being willfully blind.

Don’t be blind.  Support small ethically-committed farmers if you choose to eat meat, dairy and eggs.

On the hidden costs of cheesemaking

Last week’s (top) and this week’s yogurt made from our milk share

Over the years my husband and I have had a bit of a tussle over finances.  This of course is the typical marital story.  Defining our particular story is my yen to DIY, and almost every little project I undertake, financially, has a big start-up cost.  It has a start-up cost (mainly in materials) that almost always requires no huge outlay of later cash…no bubble, as it were; only maintenance money.  So I have been able to persuade him that my *needs* are, well, inexpensive if you amortize!  At this point he trusts me.

The things I am thinking of are the chicken coop, the chicken tractor, the greenhouses, the goat(s), the (so far unfinished) masonry oven.  Smaller things likewise can be considered:  the pressure canner, the grain mill, the chest freezers, the tiller.  The orchard.  Raised beds for the gardens.  All of them have paid for themselves or will do so within the first year or so of owning them.  And any of my kookier ideas also have an out, financially:  2010, to name one example, will be the first year I don’t have to order chicks because we have roosters and a tom turkey, thus, self-sufficiency in egg and meat birds.

But cheesemaking.  I mentioned a while back how I found life as a single vegetarian to be much less expensive than omnivory…mainly because I almost never bought cheese!  I adore cheese, but it was rare that I would shell out for it, despite my love of the stuff…good butter being the one exception.  NOW there’s a goat in the shed, and she’s bagging up quite nicely, and within about a month I will don the bonnet of Resident Milkmaid.  And fresh milk means cheese.  And homemade cheese means…damn, another start-up cost!

A few years back when the homemade cheese bug bit me, I purchased a starter kit from Hoegger Goat Supply.  It’s served me nicely and I haven’t gone back to that well, but then again, I didn’t try to make hard cheeses or aged cheeses.  Now, though, now I have printed out little plans for my husband to build me a cheese press (he likes to feel handy) and now I have finally purchased and read Ricki Carroll’s Home Cheese Making.  And I am discovering that that woman is a pusher.  Seriously:  is she any different than the guy on the corner who’s giving you a little taste for free so you can keep coming back to feed your habit?  I read the recipes and I think:  hmmm, thermophilic culture, I need that; how about a bag of penicillium candidum, and might as well get a bag of p. roquefortii while I am at it.  And then, well, use it up and keep coming back for more.  Yogurt sure doesn’t have this problem:  make it once, always have it (like sourdough).

Man!  What would Ma Ingalls do?  She’d culture her own.  Something else to figure out, I guess…stay tuned.

On manual labor

Until the weather turned “normal” late last week, I’ve been obsessively building something outside.  It’s something that will bring a lot of my efforts together, not necessarily effortlessly, but certainly enjoyably.  We should all aim to get a lot of enjoyment out of life.

But I wanted to talk about the process of building.  I have mostly LOVED getting extremely sore:  I enjoy this about gardening, too.  Certainly, I haven’t strained myself into a hospital visit, but solid hours of lifting anything is not part of my normal day:  at most, I lift my laptop and piles of drawings, sometimes a book…my normal work is not exactly physically demanding.  But construction!

I am trying to puzzle out what it is about manual labor that is so immediately appealing to me.  We discussed something similar to this over the Thanksgiving table.  My father in law seriously believes I should go into pie-baking as a sideline.  “But once you do it for a living, you probably wouldn’t enjoy it,” he said, taking another bite.  So:  is it the novelty of construction?  I build things all the time for a living, and though the same kind of thought process goes into it, doing architecture on the computer isn’t the same as constructing architecture with my hands.  But I think I have figured it out, why I enjoy it so much:  it’s the time required.

I believe I get more accomplished in 3 hours of laying bricks than I do in 3 hours of computer time.  It’s actually productive time, well-spent, with progress observed and felt.

Don’t get me wrong:  if it wasn’t for computers, I wouldn’t be able to work from home.  I wouldn’t have all of you in my life, and life would be a lot less easy in so many respects.  But computers are A HUGE TIME-SUCK.  Really!  This is not a unique observation, nor certainly is it new to me, but this contrast between outdoor work and computer work has been very jarring.  Computers steal time from our lives, minute by uploading minute, autosave by refresh by page load.  Somehow, we’ve acquiesced to this, we’ve agreed to spend a large portion of our lives allowing our asses to grow ever larger, sitting in front of a screen, all because we think these tools are indispensable, and helpful.  And so muscles atrophy, brain synapses misfire.  I’ve always thought the television was bad but now I am reconsidering this damned internet connection, seeing it as the black hole of time that it is.

All the more reason to pick up a hammer.

On meat-eating

P1010907Not gory, not fleshy:  last night’s salad

A call came in.

“Do you want a backbone?” asked my friend.

See, I am not missing a backbone, and never could have been accused of such:  I’m pretty spiny (in more ways than one, especially if you rub me the wrong way).  No.  This call related to a pig’s backbone, as its owner didn’t know what to do with it.  Apparently, a pig came her way (these things are known to happen if you live with your ear to the local food rail) and she got smart and called the itinerant animal killer/butcher to come over and help her out.   He did, killing and hoisting that boy onto the branch of a tree.  She took it from there, with one of her children holding the butchering book.

But I didn’t want a backbone.  Backbone of poultry, backbone of beef, yes, I wouldn’t have said no.  But pigs don’t make great stock, and that would be why I would need a backbone.  (Maybe I can smoke it, then use parts to flavor bean dishes. Hmm.)

“Do you have any meat you don’t want, or fat?  Or the head?  That, that I could deal with,” I said.

Jonathan Safran Foer has a nonfiction book out now called Eating Animals.  I have never been able to stomach his fiction, but he’s a clearer, less annoying voice when he’s researching things and telling stories from his life.  A vegetarian who’s wavered between carnivory and veganism, this book prods us to think about what it is that we DO eat.  One of the more outlandish outtakes that’s been covered in the media is his questioning our taboo of pet flesh.  (I would throw horse in there too:  there are peoples all over the world who eat pets AND horses, as you might know.)  For the most part, though, the book is a look at the meat industry, and how it has accomplished its highest goal:  keeping us away from knowing what it is we eat.  Keeping us blissfully ignorant, in fact; the average American consumes 21,000 animals in his or her lifetime.  (How so many, you ask?  Ground beef in your burgers is how:  there could be up to 400 individuals in your patty.)

As a new-ish returned carnivore (two years this month, all due to producing my own meat) I obviously have very strong opinions on this issue.  My reason for 16 years of vegetarianism is that I could not be ignorant, no matter how hard I tried.  No, it was too cruel, eating meat from factory farms; it wasn’t who I was, or am.  But I am not blind to the way my own animals live and die, and I can easily eat those of the beef and pig farmers I know.

That’s all it’s about.  Being a little less cruel.  Being a little more open-eyed to the reality of our food.  And being game when backbones come your way.

On life without the had-boughtens

P1010804Pick me!

Driving back from Minnesota last week, my husband and I were discussing some of our old friends and acquaintances.  I had a neighbor, for instance, who spoke an odd form of the American English language, and we were wondering if her verbal tics were particular to the neighbor or particular to Minneapolis.   (We agreed it might be both.)  One thing she would always say was “borrow me” when she meant “lend me.”  Another thing, and this is the one that sticks with me, is she’d say “had boughten” instead of “bought.”

Had Boughten!

I say this all the time, in its negative:  “This salad is so much better than any I had boughten.”  “My gah, this roast chicken is fantastic, better than anything I had boughten in a restaurant.”  “Okay I am going to die quite happy, this cider vinegar dressing I made is out of this world, much better than any bottle I had boughten.”  I say all these things to myself, of course, in my head:  saying such things aloud could bring some strange looks.  (Okay, I could have said them out loud to my old neighbor.)

But here’s my point:  there’s no contest between the home-grown and the had-boughten.

Why don’t people see this, know this?  Why do people settle for convenience?  Is a supermarket salad really that much more convenient than a home-grown one?  Unless it’s salad-in-a-bag (horrors), you still need to wash and separate and mix and dress it.  The time it takes me to come home, grab the salad spinner, trade work shoes for garden shoes, harvest the salad, rinse it, bowl it and dress it is STILL much shorter than me swinging by the grocery store and had-boughening the salad fixings.  I can even poach an egg for the top and still come out ahead on the clock.

And the chicken.  Granted, not everyone either wants to or can raise chickens for eggs or for meat.  But home-grown eggs are a separate kingdom altogether, might as well be from different species of animal…same with the meat of those home-grown chickens.  As is doing little things like making your own salad dressing:  clipping your own herbs, mincing your own shallot, shaking it all in your own little jar with your had-boughten olive oil and salt.

Okay, okay; so there are very few things that I get around to had-boughtening.  That olive oil, that salt, in bulk.  Boxes of pasta (in a pinch).  Butter, sugar.  Selected seafood, and not from the grocery store.  Wine.  Everything else, though, really, everything, is grown here or are things that I had boughten through local farmers:  wheat, oats, corn, cow, pig, all in bulk, all purchased and stored for the year.

I get a lot of questions, mainly because people assume I don’t work and doing all this MUST take the hours of a day job just to keep on top of it all.  “How is it that you have time to can things?  I certainly don’t have the time to garden, much less can,” was a statement (how can this be a question) from a mother at our daughter’s school.  How am I to answer that?  That I spend wonderful time daily with my daughter in the garden, in the kitchen?  That my life with her is not spent in a minivan, getting drive-through food between soccer and ballet?  That eating breakfast and dinner, seated at the table with cloth napkins and candles with my family every flipping day is the best kind of quality of life that I can imagine?  That it is a choice to live this way, to eat this way, to be this way?

To just say no to the had boughtens?  Because that is what this is: saying nonono, while greedily saying yesyesyes to the best food money can’t buy.  And I’m having the best time making it all happen: much better than anything I could have had boughten.

On being wrapped up


Some of the 150 pounds are dehydrated, some in salsa, some in jam, but most are still frozen for future snacks

Passion is a curious thing.  Its pursuit, on occasion, excludes all other things, and this can be a problem.

I’m not doing any on-the-couch time, no analysis here, but my passion for good, real food has led me to be a bit nutty as far as volunteering for our daughter’s school goes.  I am not at the point of needing an intervention, but doing the school garden and rethinking how the school supplies, cooks, and distributes its food to the children has been a rather time-consuming affair for me these last few months.

Both gardens are weedy, but both populations (home and school) are well-fed due to my efforts, as well as the efforts of many others.

Here’s the passion:  I feel absolutely HORRIBLE, and sorry, for people who aren’t eating the way my family eats.  Is this some kind of epicurean snobbery?  No.  Simply, we eat fresh, whole foods, year-round.  Minimal processing, minimal transport, tasty simply by the fact that it’s real food, not too far from its origins.

Here’s a typical snack rundown for a typical school week:

  • Monday:  Fruit day.  Apples, pears, peaches and blueberries are in season.  These are served raw.  We’ll have apples throughout the year, but we have applesauce, peach and pear butter, and lots of frozen fruit for the rest of the year.
  • Tuesday:  Vegetable, Parent-instigated food day.  Roasted potatoes from the garden are next Tuesday’s snack.  Hummous and classroom-made pita, our jam with school-made crackers or oat cakes, etc.
  • Wednesday:  Muffin Day.  We make the muffin mix (actually, the kids make it and bag it) and a child from each classroom takes the bag home.  The basic mix requires you add two eggs, a quarter cup of oil, and some water.  You can add fruit or nuts or a crumbled topping as you wish, but the mix is nice by itself too.
  • Thursday:  Chips and Salsa Day.  We’ve made salsa for the year at my house.  Black bean/corn, regular, tomatillo (salsa verde), peach, and cherry salsas are in the pantry and in the freezer.  The chips come from a reliable manufacturer in Chicago, where our students practice their Spanish when they make the monthly order.
  • Friday:  Classroom-supplied Snack Day.  We have given each class suggestions, and the school has crock pots, hotplates, toaster ovens and electric griddles to use.  So, classes might make Stone Soup (where each child brings in something to add), or even make tortillas from scratch (or at least a bag of masa harina) for quesadillas.  Either way, this is a way for the children to directly participate and also to really see what it takes to produce a small snack for the entire class.

We have other irons in the fire, too.  We are getting a milk share, and will be using the milk to make yogurt, yogurt cheese, kefir and smoothies for Monday’s Fruit Day with the older kids.  The milk will also be used for baking.  (It won’t be directly consumed because it’s raw and we don’t want the hassle.)  Trips to a beekeeper and a cider maker and a maple syrup maker (sugarer) are scheduled for October.  I have a 20-gallon crock in the Upper School’s classroom (grades 5-9, 9-14 year olds) that is currently filled with brine and cucumbers, and in three weeks will be filled with shredded cabbage for kraut.

Where is your passion taking YOU?

Mine has been keeping me away from the blog, unfortunately.  I’ve been thinking of you lately, though.

On other shoes dropping

P1000670Meet your meat

On so many levels, I am glad that the “food revolution” has begun to sink in.  I surely wouldn’t say that everyone has signed on, nor do I believe there’s been enough of a revolution (that’s the anarchist in me I suppose), but I am personally glad I don’t seem like such a crank now.  Lots more work needs to be done:  lots more movies and books, lots more profitable small farms, lots more awareness, period, that our food system is neither sustainable nor particularly healthy.  In Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ steps, I would say that we’re still collectively in Denial, maybe moving toward Anger.

Having run through all those steps myself, I do wonder what the next collective level of awareness will be.  Don’t you?  The food revolution, at the very least, has a tasty payoff.  Living life with less of what we have because, well, we’ll have to, is not something so easily changed, like just replacing our lightbulbs.  There’s lots of other half steps that will need to be taken, lots more bargaining, depression and finally acceptance.

But I still wonder what will be next.  I do foresee the day when my grandchildren or maybe our great-grandkids marvel at the idea that we flush perfectly drinkable water down our toilets.  There is so much in our world that is good, but so much more that is simply wasteful and wantonly short-sighted.  And that is it, I suppose.  We were in the dark for so long about our food:  what else are we ignorant of?  What surprises lie ahead for us as individuals, as a society?  And, perhaps more importantly, what are we going to do about it?

On the intemperance of ideas


Me, plowing the school’s garden this spring

…If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density at any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation.

–Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to Isaac Mcpherson, August 13, 1813

The above quote was taken from a letter in which Jefferson questioned England’s patent law, and wondered whether exclusive copywriting of ideas truly benefited all of society.  (He didn’t necessarily question patents on inventions, but bare ideas themselves:  ideas are by their very nature fleeting things.)

My reasons for bringing up this quote is simple.  We ALL have ideas and skills, and we should share them.  I taught a couple of garden-related classes this past weekend.  It was really quite fun, frankly, and even if I initially doubted my qualifications, I shouldn’t have:  enough ideas and questions were thrown around in those few hours to leave everyone with something new, with new skills shared.

SO:  if there’s someone around you who’s hoarding some skills you’d love to learn, then ask them to share.  If there’s some canning you’re afraid to do on your own, then host a canning party.  If there’s a new garden you would love to put in, then get people to come over and help you.  Life is so much richer if you can share what you know.

On food preservation

P1000560New greenhouse on an August morning

Other than the fact that the front and back seats of my car are filled with ripening peaches as I type this, I think I have a handle on food preservation for the year.  It’s not much of a juggle, I do swear to you.  Nope; it’s more like cooking an extra course with each dinner, with the occasional five-course dinner thrown in every week or two.  Seriously.  It’s not that hard if you’re used to cooking your own food.

Granted, I am well acquainted with my canner and my carving knife, my fingers are nimble at harvesting, and I have a certain knack for vegetable gardening, but putting your own food away for the year is not  an overwhelming challenge.  Every night or so, I probably put away four dinners’ worth of food.  It could simply be something like four dinners’ worth of green beans for the freezer, but the next day or two will see tomato sauce for four pasta dishes.  The potatoes are plumping, doing their thing; the winter squash likewise are just out there absorbing the sun, no help from me at all, both are instameals, plucked from storage on a snowy day.  And six three-hour days will see all those chickens magically become frozen chicken dinners of the future:  three long hours at six birds apiece:  six birds for the three of us is a LOT of dinners, lunches, soups and gravy; 36 birds is a year’s worth.

The reason I mention any of this is I met yet another person recently who thought I simply must not have a day job.  This happens to me fairly frequently, frankly.  “Oh, I thought you just farmed,” comes the comment, with its half-sister “Oh, I didn’t think you worked full time.”  Huh!  Wow, well, those 40-50 hours I spend at my job would put a LOT more food in the freezer, I think to myself, and again I demur that it’s not that much work.  Because it isn’t, but then again, this is what I wish to do with my free time.

It beats tv.

On reruns

P1000015On track to beat the 3.25 pound monster I grew two years ago?  Perhaps!

I am going to be completely boring and unimaginative and give you guys a reread of one of my favorite posts.

I’m a bit tired today:  we put away 26 quarts of strawberry, strawberry/rhubarb, and blueberry jam last night for the school’s snack pantry.  So much more to do!  But exciting nonetheless.

Food preservation season has begun

P1000064Daikon radish pickles: RECIPE NOW IN COMMENTS

Yes, it is that time of year again:  big pots of boiling water on the stove, zero counterspace available due to all the green and fruity produce coming in the door.

Interestingly, however, the preservation being done today (Saturday) is not being done for this family.  No:  the school garden is just as busy as our home gardens, and many of those lovely Asian vegetables planted in April are ripe and ready.  Likewise, it’s strawberry and rhubarb season around here, and we are on the cusp of the sweet cherry season.

The one thing I have discovered (and you will all probably laugh at this) is that WOW having lots of hands doing the work makes any task go so much more quickly.  I say this admitting that for today I am elbow-deep in making the second batch of kimchi and the first batch of radish pickles all by myself, but it is quite amazing how much fun, and how productive, those Thursday Weed and Feed evenings in the garden truly are.  So much gets done!  Makes me think I should have a team of my own here on the farm…

Other than working in the garden, another volunteer opportunity for the school community is what we’re calling “fruit tithing.”  One of the fun things to do with your kids in the summer is go to one of the myriad pick-your-own fruit places in the area: there are many, verging on hundreds, of these farms.  We are asking parents to set aside some portion of that fruit for the school.  We are having organized picking sessions with the school community too, but if folks want to go ahead and pick on their own, we’re giving them instructions on how to process and freeze these fruits to give back to the school.  It is all part of our Slow Snack initiative wherein we source local, organic, nonprocessed foods for the school-wide snack.

But what to do with all that fruit, of course, is yet another volunteer opportunity, and through the summer we are having canning parties at a local cafe/shop owned by a parent at our school.  So every two weeks, we will be jamming, jellying, pickling and sauce- and salsa-ing the contents of both our garden and these fruit-y gifts from the parents.

All of this is so exciting, I must say.  What started as a simple “let’s make the school snack a little bit more nutritious” a couple of years back has now blossomed into a greater notion that Food Does Matter, especially the food consumed by our youngsters.  Having them participate in the complete foodway that is seed-to-table eating is a knowledge base that we hope will serve them their entire life.  Will it discourage them from grabbing a Twinkie and picking up a spotty heirloom organic apple instead?  Well we shall just see.  We do know, though, that all habits (good AND bad) start early.

On seasonal eating

IMG_1389Pea season

“Guess what’s NOT for dinner tonight, folks?”  I have just walked in from the garden, colander brimming, and I am addressing my husband and daughter.  “SALAD!”

“Woo-hoo!” was the response.

Don’t get me wrong:  we adore salads in this house.  We easily eat between six to nine cups of salad an evening for dinner:  that’s the equivalent of about one of those huge bags of premixed salads you buy at the store…though ours is much better, of course 😉  Our daughter eats a good two cups by herself.  And it’s not like salads aren’t still on the menu, because they are.  It’s just that other things are ripening and moving the salad over.  Last night’s big harvest was broccoli, and it was really quite tasty.  Tonight will be greens of some variety, perhaps turnip or spinach or rapini, to pair with the pot of cranberry beans bubbling away on the stove at the moment.

Eating seasonally means you do need to take what’s available:  it’s completely different from “well, what do YOU feel like eating for dinner tonight?”  The garden dictates our diet!  One more day and that broccoli would’ve opened too much, another 5 days my spinach will be bolting.  While many people would find this incredibly limiting, I instead pity their narrow-mindedness and lack of opportunity.  Everything we eat is at its nutritional peak, still warm from the sun.

The downside, if it could be considered one, is when something’s in season, that’s what you eat.  It’s license to be a glutton, I think.  Asparagus!  Green garlic, multitudinous greens, spring onions, broccoli, Asian cabbages.  It’s not a bad way to eat, frankly.

On garden emotions

img_0903Wouldn’t you cry too?

On Wednesday, after work, I went into the old greenhouse with my small stash of shallots and I started crying.  Sobbing, nearly.

YES:  me, hard-headed, tough-as-nails, rationalist, non-sentimental ME, brought to tears by the emergence of the first fava beans, by the gorgeousness of the lettuces, by the thin little green waving sprouts of leek and onion.

img_0891Freckles romaine

I cannot tell you if it was merely something hormonal, but I can tell you this:  these greenhouses  have changed my life, have changed our lives, and not just our food lives.  If ever I can convince you to get a greenhouse of your own, please remember this post:  remember me sniffling as I tried to harvest our dinner salad!  Blinded with tears!  Oh, the joy.

img_0906Red Sails embracing Green Grand Rapids lettuce

On others’ baby steps

dscn4378You want me to pick and eat WHAT:  snap peas on a trellis

Certainly, life would be a lot simpler if I (or you) had our way all the time.  In many situations, dictatorship ultimately appears to be such a simple solution:  my way or the highway, you’d say, slashing greenhouse emissions or implementing universal health care or heck doing WHATEVER it is that’s on your burning agenda.  But no.  Most of life is compromise, and much of communal living is searching for that compromise, but…it does help to have a burning agenda.

In our house, it’s my husband who’s the more recalcitrant.  I think back to when, as a preteen, I was learning to ride horses, and one of the first things you learn is you need to speak softly and not make sudden movements or you’ll spook that horse, losing all trust.  Husbands appear to be the same way, and, given their size, they (in my singular experience) can become just as easily spooked AND immediately become as immovable an object as any 1500 lb. quarterhorse, snorting and stomping their feet in indignation.  So!  Lots of change is taken by baby steps around here.  Speak softly, I say.  Move slowly.  Someone, though, still needs to lead.

But substitute “recalcitrant husband” for whatever your own situation is:  perhaps it’s 8 and 10 year old children who resist new foods, or a wife or a grandfather who insists on doing things the way they’ve always been done.  Introduce change slowly:  over time, say, you can substitute more and more whole-wheat flour in your bread and baked goods for less and less nutritionally empty white flour.  New greens on the plate, lovingly grown and harvested and cooked by you:  well, tell that 3- or 30-year old that it’s okay, today, to dump ketchup on them to make them palatable, but tomorrow it could be different.

Another thing I know about working with horses:  They move away from pressure.  Heels in, reins free:  they’re going to charge.  Right heel in, right side of the bit tight:  they’ll step left.  Speaking softly all the way, encouraging them:  you ARE a team if you work at it.  Beating them, screaming, or just being hard on the bit and that’s going to be one resentful horse, and one really frustrated rider.  Anyway, family members can be the same way.  If your people aren’t happy about the changes you wish to implement overnight, then ease up on the reins, folks!

Baby steps!

On long-distance luxury items


It was Tom’s birthday this weekend and he requested a chocolate cake.  A flourless chocolate cake, natch.

In the interest of both Valentine’s day and in good world practices in general, I thought I would tell you how we addressed the man’s “need” for this cake.  Cake:  I have never been a big fan.  It always seemed to me that the frosting was much more worthwhile than the item it frosted, so, on my birthdays, I like berry pies, befitting a July birthday.  But Tom loves all kinds of cake and really wanted this flourless one, with a recipe he’s used for years to much fanfare.

Our two not-local-but-still-gotta-have-it items are coffee and chocolate, and the ratio to which these items are readily consumed in the house is about 150:1.  It is a no-brainer for us that these buzz-inducing luxury items be fair traded and organic…along with being shade-grown.  I don’t need a little rain forest deforestation with my morning jolt, nor can I sanction a little child slavery with my chocolate cake.  Our coffee comes from a like-minded friend who is a hobbyist roaster:  we buy in 10# quantities, and the UPS driver either loves us or hates us depending on where our delivery is on her work day, as that is one mighty smelly box.  The coffee is whole-bean, and it gets thrown in the freezer to be used as needed.  Cocoa, though, comes from here as baker’s cocoa and semisweet bars.

But hey:  despite the fact that this cake has lots of long-distance ingredients, the six eggs, the sugar and the butter are local!  Recipe in the comments.

On the hard work of grains

Our Little (Rhode Island) Red hen Verloe

The story of The Little Red Hen tends to be told for its communitarian values:  by helping in the growth, harvest, winnowing and milling of the wheat, all could have enjoyed the ensuing bread.  As it was, industrious Hen shared it only with her family.  If one looks more specifically at the labor involved in that bread’s beginnings, one finds a deeper story, and a lost virtue.

Industrial agriculture, like anything humans do, has good and bad points.  One bad point:  the average person has been separated from the process of how things grow, and how things are processed into food, and have lost the knowledge of even the most basic of human foodstuffs.  Let’s take cereal grains (cereal is from Ceres, the Roman goddess of farming) as an example.

Ethnobotanists and archaeologists pin the start of agriculture to around 9500BCE.  (That’s about 3500 years before the world began according to Governor Palin; she also thought dinosaurs lived with humans at this same time. An interesting aside, goshdarnit.) Agriculture, as defined, meant the intentional growing of multiple foodstuffs normally found in the wild, with emmer, chickpeas and peas being three crucial first crops.

Michael Pollan has done a fabulous job in his books of pointing out the very narrow slice of botanical life upon which modern agriculture (and thus our way of life) is based:  it’s mostly soy, wheat, rice, and corn, the biggest of which is corn.  Indeed, it is especially hard to escape the latter, as it’s everywhere, even where you think it wouldn’t be.  Relying only on this handful has made our culinary lives less rich, I would argue.  Less rich, and less prone to experiment even in our own kitchens.  It’s certainly caused a boatload of other problems, from soil depletion to nitrogen runoff to childhood obesity to Type II diabetes.  Oh, and it’s aided in the warming of this earth.

So, back to cereal grains.  Industrial ag and, goshdarnit, the loss of small-scale family farming have separated us from the meat of our wheat.  “Separating the wheat from the chaff” sounds today like a trite colloquialism, when in actuality it’s hard work!  Try it sometime: growth, harvest, threshing, winnowing.  The process of removing the inedible chaff (husk) that surrounds any cereal grain (the bran, endosperm, or seed) that is eaten is laborious.  I tend to kvetch about having to shell my peas and beans, but it’s got nothing on the preparation required to make our grains edible.  Machines, or hand tools, certainly help in this process. I am quite certain the need for better and faster agricultural tools led us to have the big brains we have.  Other than spearpoints, they qualify as our first true tools.

What would it mean if we were to become a nation of gardeners, of chicken-ranchers, grain-growers and apple-harvesters?  What would it mean if we cut off our addiction to fast food, to microwave meals?  What would it mean if any American could supplement their egg and garden bounty with fresh bread from locally-grown grains, or cartons of locally-made butter and cream?  I would argue we would become a lot more healthy, a lot more food secure, a lot more culinarily rich.

I wanted to give you something to chew on.  Tomorrow I’ll cite my luck making posole/hominy.

On education

That lovely library, and looking down the street to Copley Square

Our Boston hotel room overlooked the finish line for the Boston Marathon, and faced the north side of the Boston Public Library.  On the north side of the old McKim, Mead and White section of the Library was the following, carved into the limestone of the frieze:


I thought about this statement a lot as we watched the Republican convention coverage in the evenings.  If I have a bias toward anything, I would say I am avowedly pro-education.  Whether in the hands of the state or in private hands, it is my belief that access to a solid, well-rounded education for all citizens will cure most of what ails us as a country.  A lifelong love and quest for knowledge, likewise, is what we as parents and as people should expect for our children and ourselves.

So it was with some dismay that I watched the governor of Alaska’s speech on Wednesday:  her finger-wagging prettiness will go far in a country where style trumps substance.  She, of the six colleges in five years, she, mother of the teen daughter whom she’s goading into early motherhood and shotgun matrimony.  Do you think she had education as a topmost concern in her own life, in her daughter’s life?  Good God the woman doesn’t even believe in sexual education.

Perhaps this is petty of me.  John McCain’s choice of running mate should be seen as what it is: a purely craven choice, a hard-right pander to an ever-shrinking base of religious white folks.  And my bias plainly shows, as not everyone has the educational opportunities I have had, or is as knee-jerk a card-carrying liberal as I am.  But in this country, and it is one of the things that makes it so great, education is available to anyone who wants it.  Education, more than class or gender or race, is any American’s ticket to a better life for themselves and their families.  We have the best post-secondary education system in the world, even if we don’t value educating our elementary and high school-aged children as much as we should.  And we (still) have LIBRARIES, even if Sarah Palin actually tried to get her own town’s librarian to ban books.

I worry for this country, I do.

Addendum: I love this woman.

On production

Black bean flowers and babies

This morning, as I walked around in the gardens with my coffee, I thought, boy, this garden is looking mighty boring: about 65% of what is filling the garden beds now is beans. Dried beans, shell beans, green-ish beans: well, this girl loves her beans, you would think if you likewise were walking around with a hot cup of morning wake-up brew.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about our food. This is nothing new of course; I am rather obsessed with our own food, and I’ve structured my life more or less around its production. The transition from food consumer to food producer though has been a fun one, sweat and aches and pains aside. But walking around amongst the beans, I thought about that alot, too: the notion of producer versus consumer. Am I one, or the other? Because in this house I am both: I am she who raises the food, she who prepares and consumes it with her family.

And it is in those mountains of beans that there’s some kind of answer for me. Certainly, there are a lot of beans (17 varieties, and yes I am crazy so please don’t remind me), so I obviously am tipping heavily toward production. But the consumer in me is the one who’s likewise craving that crazy diversity, that deep variety of choice of beans. The consumer in me was also the person who suggested that we get those Pekin ducks 2.5 months back, and it was the producer in me who produced a mass of feathers on Sunday. I wear the production hat very heavily on Bird Harvest Day. I cannot help but feel like some kind of monster when I lift that knife. This creature is NOT a “production unit,” its wrapped body in the freezer is no “production output.” Neither are those beans, but one doesn’t feel so awful about killing a bean plant.

Then I think about the birds themselves. I think I have another two or eight or twenty posts in me about becoming a Meat Bird Rancher. Let me just say that what makes me less of a monster and more of the compassionate vegetarian that I am at heart is the absolute truism that these chickens, guineas, geese, ducks and turkeys have a better life than most dogs and cats in this country. This puts them in better stead than much of humanity, frankly: their every need is met, whether that need is clean water or plentiful and nutritious food or secure shelter or a desire for dirt baths, bug-catching or garden scratching. They are fortunate creatures; this is a fortunate farm.

And the answer IS in the beans for me. The other 35% of what’s occupying the garden beds is the heart of what I am trying to do here: a little bit of this, a little bit of that; this particular week in August means beans are the biggest land pigs out there. In two months, it will be salad. Two months ago it would have been onions and peas. In other words, as both a consumer and a producer it’s diversity that I am going for: not mass units of monocrop production, no monocrops of poultry, either in terms of egg birds or meat birds. I could not look at myself in the mirror if I took away the individuality of these creatures, if I forgot about how these beans grew this year. Again, if we are going to eat meat at all in our house, I must ensure it’s been raised to standards that I would set myself, and the best way to guarantee that, for either meat animals or those humble beans, is to grow them myself too.

Gosh, no wonder I am obsessed.

On complaining

Ugh: something else to can. The plums are ripe.

I got an email from a friend recently. He’d started reading this blog and was letting me know he liked it. He said something that made me pause, though. He pointed out I don’t do much complaining about this life.

I was puzzled by this. I have chosen this life, we have chosen this life. How in the world could I complain about it? Yes it’s lots of work to be a subsistence farmer, or a subsistence gardener-slash-bird rancher, or whatever little pigeonhole you wish to stick me in as someone who raises 95% of what she eats. Yes I do work for a living, putting in my 40-50 hours a week, mostly working from home. Yes I do cook from scratch, relying only rarely on the occasional bag of pasta. Yes to the laundry on the line, yes to the nightly canning sessions, yes to the mornings pulling a weed or two. Yes to parenting, that full-time job.

So much of this life of ours is one based upon complaining. Yes, I do readily complain about the not-terribly-smart man occupying the White House, and yes, I do think we’ve soiled our planet beyond easy repair with a lifestyle based upon buying things. Yes, I do wish for certain things, like world peace and marital peace. But when has complaining really done any good? I suppose it acts as a social lubricant: by complaining about how horrible my child or my husband is, I have truck with all the other whining mothers out there. But here’s my point: didn’t you plan to have that child, didn’t you marry that man on purpose? Why complain?

Maybe it’s not complaining that I am getting to: maybe it’s follow through, it’s the consequences of your actions. Yes, moving from the city and taking up with 5 acres of land meant I would be outside a lot more than I had been. That was the point! And unplugging the dryer does mean it will take longer to dry the clothes, and yes, as my neighbor claims, one quick way to make it rain is to have El hang out her laundry. And children are work, whether you have one or a dozen. So are husbands, not that I would want a dozen of those.

I guess what I am saying in this long-winded whining-about-not-whining thing is this: if you live to your ideals, you’ve got no right to complain.

On rare and endangered foods, and vanishing food traditions

Jimmy Nardello’s Sweet Italian Frying Pepper greening up nicely in the greenhouse. These are great frozen.

“No matter how cynical you get, it’s impossible to keep up.” –Lily Tomlin

For my birthday recently I received a copy of Renewing America’s Food Traditions: Saving and Savoring the Continent’s Most Endangered Foods, edited by Gary Paul Nabhan and with a forward by my hero Deborah Madison. This book (as you can imagine) is right up my alley. Nabhan founded Native SeedSearch. He’s an ethnobotanist who happens to be a kooky single-minded food enthusiast. I read his Coming Home to Eat a couple of years back and truly enjoyed it: it makes the nice idea of eating locally in the verdant hills of Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle look like the child’s play it is compared with local eating in the desert southwest of this country.

The premise of this book is to do what Slow Foods has done: instead of presidia, it divides North America (actually, just most of the US) up into small territories (nations) known by what Native Americans and early settlers would have cultivated, foraged and hunted. Traditional foods, in other words. My particular corner of Michigan has a foot in three such territories: the Wild Rice Nation, the Cornbread Nation and the Maple Syrup Nation. (I like that, that where I live is transitory, is between zones.) The book features once common, now rare plants and animals from each featured zone, and why it is in our best interest to preserve them. By preserving, of course, Nabhan means EATING them.

Carolina northern flying squirrel, anyone?

By teaming up with revered seed-saving institutions and the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, this book gives little vignettes about disappearing flora and fauna. I think the stories behind each item are fascinating. Take the Northern Giant (McFayden) cabbage, for instance. Or the mulefoot hog. Or the Quahog clam.

Anyway, back to the cynicism of which I have in abundance. I am not one to believe capitalism is a cure to all that ails us: that we can, say, buy our way out of global warming by purchasing a solar panel or two, a hybrid car, a few canvas shopping bags. As you may know by now, I think we’re all quickly approaching the shores of an entirely different world. The index and bibliography in this book are stellar. The RAFT List of Foods at Risk in North America is a large one, 700 items and counting, listed with T (threatened), E (Endangered) or X (Functionally extinct). Currently, I do seed-save some of the threatened and endangered vegetables, and I intend to breed a few crucial animals over the next few years. My cynicism comes in (and again, it’s hard to keep up!) when everyone just HAS TO HAVE x cool endangered item. Is creating a market for them a good thing? I suppose if it brings something back from the brink of extinction, it is.

Either way, it’s nice that some people give a damn.

On doing without

Gratuitous cute-ducky photo

Monica tagged me for a meme that I have seen a few other bloggers respond to lately. It has to do with what is it you would refuse to do without, should things really take a bad turn. I have read hers, and mostly agree if one had to make choices, hers are definitely reasonable ones to choose.  I think, though, that the meme is entirely wrongly directed. No offense to Monica as hey: she was tagged too; she didn’t make the thing up. It should not be the X Things I Cannot Live Without but How In the World I Can. That is the ultimate question, isn’t it, in any worst-case scenario?

And it has been my journey, upon moving to Michigan, to see how much we can do ourselves, without resorting to huge extremes of time or cash outlay. I have made it very plain in the entries in this blog that Rome is burning. You can either fiddle, or you can grab a fire extinguisher.

And these are my discoveries. Your life on this path need not be dire, or even wanting in any particular way: there is a world to be discovered when you bake your first loaf of bread, plant your first garden, taste your first egg from a little chicken under your care. You may even like the way your laundry smells when you hang it out to dry. Those are simple transitions anyone can easily make. The harder leap is one of degree. What would I do if gas jumps to $10/gal., as it inevitably will? How about heating our house without heating oil, or getting our water out of the ground if the electricity goes out? I know the answers to these last three, and while Rome is burning, we are working out ways to do them.

As it is now, so many of my transitions are gradual ones that it’s kind of hard to notice over time. We long ago stopped buying stupid stuff that is used and thrown away. Paper towels are now washcloths, purchased from Target by the dozen. We have always had paper napkins. Leftovers? They go in glass canning jars and then into the refrig, and not into a wasteful and never-to-leave-us plastic bag. We do still have garbage bags but it is crazy considering we have almost no waste with which to dispose. I never get the stand mixer out if I can grab a whisk or a pastry blender, and hey, I have the best-looking biceps of anyone I know because of it. In other words, any area of our lives (and in this paragraph I only focused on the kitchen) can see the easiest of changes undergone, changes which are NOT “living without,” just living differently. Am I wanting for anything? Maybe a little more time, but any parent of a young child would likely say the same thing.

So sure, I could play along and say I really do not want to give up coffee. But to be completely honest, I really do not want to give up life on this farm!

Long-stored food, part two

The end of the 2007 season

Yesterday, I cleaned out the root cellar. Doesn’t that sound so very…retro? “Excuse me, but I need to step down to the root cellar.” To even HAVE a root cellar sounds so…foreign. But really. ANY unheated space can be a root cellar, and it needn’t be a cellar, and you needn’t even store any roots! There is one and only one concept you need to understand about a successfully stored root-cellared item. This is the concept of transpiration. All plants transpire: they exhaust their liquids. (Ever wonder why they put that nasty wax on cucumbers, apples and peppers? To keep them from losing moisture.) A root cellar tries to prevent transpiration by being cool enough, moist enough, and well-ventilated enough to keep something from rotting or drying out.

Many things have a leg up on being potential root-cellared items. Apples, pears and quinces have a thick skin, and many heirloom varieties of the same actually improve with storage by becoming sweeter or softer with time. Potatoes, usually white ones, are also thick-skinned things that simply require a dark, not-dry but not-wet, unfreezing place to be stored. Beets and carrots and celeriac likewise can be grown to be stored. Onions, cabbage and winter squash are other candidates. Other veggies and fruits just need other methods of storage, like drying, freezing or canning.

What drives me absolutely crazy is we have lost, through our own disinterest, both the knowledge of root cellaring and many of the long-stored cultivars of vegetables and fruit best grown to be stored. Why this happened is the fodder for books and in-your-face documentaries, and not my focus today. Let’s just say my theory is we were hoodwinked into a “lifestyle” of “convenience.” Well, excuse me if I strongly disagree that, by putting bushels of apples and roots and cabbage on the back steps of my basement, this is not convenient? This is less convenient than me driving back and forth to the grocery store 15 miles away once a week for a whole winter, THAT is a “lifestyle” of “convenience”?

Another indication of our loss is that the cultivars listed in my holy book of root cellaring (named, univentively, Root Cellaring, by Mike and Nancy Bubel) as great storage types are not exactly easy to find. One must then rely on the literature of seed catalogs which were written, of course, to sell seeds. Again, this makes me crazy. My other holy book of vegetables is one that is the 123-year-old English edition of Vilmorin-Andrieux’s The Vegetable Garden: it lists, for example, eleven closely-spaced pages of cabbages: about 100 varieties total. The average seed catalog lists 9, mostly concentrating on today’s “convienience/lifestyle” market of “mini-cabbages.”

Anyway. The picture above is the last of the goodies from the root cellar. The spooky sprouted potatoes got their own corner of a garden bed yesterday. The collection of apples is a motley one, mainly Northern Spys and Baldwins. And yes, I had one more cabbage: this is a Winningstadt.

The other thing to note about growing things for storage I kind of alluded to in the treatise I made about onions: it’s a many-pronged approach. Mostly, I put seeds in the ground for the storage items later in the season. Excepting the leeks, which take forever to grow, I won’t plant the cabbages, carrots, beets and celeriac for storage until the end of June. Any little cabbage babies in the ground today are for summer consumption and sauerkraut and kimchi and the like. Things will get harvested and stored successionally, as they become ready and/or when it starts getting cold. I suppose this sounds like a lot of work. It’s not, really.

And again, I suppose someone could likewise say to me that they prefer NOT to eat a seven-month-old cabbage, a six-month-old apple. Well, in general, neither would I, but just look at that cabbage!

*Note to those interested in the storage varieties I use: I’ve got a running list, including sources, that I plan to upload to the Seeds/Trees tab above. I think with any long-stored item, the “long” in the idea is relative. Some of my long-stored carrots, or beets, I never expect to see in April! December, maybe. So it’s another thing to consider: storage does not mean “forever.”

On fish and fishing


Chinook salmon fry in a tank at our daughter’s school. The school annually hatches chinook eggs for the Michigan DNR and releases them into the St. Joseph River in May. You are seeing 3 of 93 baby fish here. With luck, these babies will come back to the St. Joe in 3-4 years to spawn.

I say without reservation that I enjoy the challenges of this local diet. I do find it distressing, though, that I cannot regularly eat the fish out of my backyard creek, down-the-road river, or over-the-dune Great Lake.

My father was a fisherman. Not as a profession, but as an avocation. He did, however, descend from fisherfolk, on both his French and his Irish sides, who made their living on and around Beaver and Mackinac Islands near Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. I spent my childhood, then, catching and eating fish out of Lake Michigan and its tributaries. I still own–and throw a mean loop with–a smelt gillnet.

An eight-year-old me with a morning’s haul of coho salmon

I adore fish, and fishing. Our honeymoon was a fly-in fishing camp in Ontario: one week, thirty miles away from the nearest other human: what fun that was! The last fish I ate, though, was on that honeymoon. Freshwater fish in this country is well nigh inedible, where Michigan says that eating even the smallest perch is inadvisable for me, and a definite no-no for my daughter. A simple perch, as poison! We’ve overfished our oceans, we’ve polluted our streams with agricultural runoff, our coal-fired power plants have rendered all inland lakes, from the tiniest pond to the Greats, as mercury-laden sinkholes. And this, even after the Clean Water Act actually cleaned up the lake! One can actually see the bottom of Lake Michigan when you’re at a depth of 40′: something unknown to my ’70s childhood. Cleveland’s river doesn’t even burn any more.

I look at the state of our world and I wonder, what would my father say? His grandfather, his great-grandfather? That we live on a lake filled with inedible fish, what would they say? Knowing my dad, he’d probably say “What the holy hell did we do?”