Archive for the ‘Eating Locally and Seasonally’ Category

April Eating and Gardening

Saturday, April 17th, 2010

Spring has been wonderfully early here in Southern Ontario and most people feel that we are about 3 weeks ahead of schedule in the garden.  It is still a challenging time to eat seasonally but I do find that there is a surprising amount of food, one just has to be creative.

Here is a list of what I have available to me

  • carrots, onions, garlic, and potatoes in my root cellar
  • one last butternut squash
  • mung bean and alfalfa sprouts in jars on my counter
  • sorrel, chives and garlic chives in my herb bed
  • kale and green onions in the garden -  I plant about 12 bunches of green onions in August specifically to leave in the ground over the winter, they survive almost every year without any special care.  Kale always comes back as small leaves on the larger plants that were in the garden in the fall.
  • Spinach in the garden – last August I planted an 8 x 4 foot bed of spinach and harvested it throughout the fall.  I made sure that I left 5 or 6 leaves on each plant in November and then covered it with about 6″ of straw.  This spring about 2/3 of the bed had survived and I have been eating spinach salads for about a week now.
  • Garlic in the garden – I always plant about 50 cloves of garlic in the fall specifically for spring eating.  They too are mulched with straw in November/December and most of them survive.  This garlic I eat like a green onion, harvesting the whole shoot when it is about 8-10″ tall.
  • Buckwheat and Sunflower seed sprouts that I make in trays of soil and grow under lights or in a sunny window.  These sprouts do require soaking and are then broadcast in about 1/2″ of soil.  (See the March chapter of From Seed to Table for detailed instructions).
  • Jerusalem Artichokes in the garden

So, that is the list.  So far this month we have enjoyed baked squash, raw carrots, Jerusalem Artichoke and Potato Soup, Pasta with garlic, green garlic, and chives, stir fries with carrots, onions, and mung bean sprouts, egg salad sandwiches with alfalfa sprouts, spinach and sunflower sprout salads with hardboiled eggs, feta, mushrooms, and/or toasted sunflower seeds,  fish in a wonderful sorrel sauce, Vietnamese Fresh Rolls with buckwheat sprouts, julienned carrots, and chives  – a new invention and very yummy, and lots of mixed bean salads with red onions, chives, garlic, and garlic chives.  I seem to have problems getting to the kale!  When I finish writing this blog I am heading out for some wild leeks for this weekend’s supper.

If you are planting a garden, there are many things that can go in in April.  Green onions, more green garlic, radishes, peas – shell, snow, and sugar snap, salad greens, lettuce, spinach, and beets all can be planted and don’t mind a few frosty nights.  I like to start green onions, lettuce, spinach and beets in flats indoors in mid March so I get a head start on the growing season.  The other way that I speed up my harvest is to cover my April planting with a layer of floating row cover.  This cover is available from Seed catalogues and will warm your soil up by about 4 degrees celcius.  I find it works better than a cold frame and speeds up my harvest by about 3 weeks.  Nothing grows quickly in cool soils!  Around now I like to start another flat of lettuce, endive, beets, fennel, and green onions to be planted in the garden mid May.

So surprisingly lots to eat and a few hours worth of planting for April – all in all a great month!

Why is growing our own food so important?

Monday, April 5th, 2010

Someone once said that you could solve 95% of the world’s problems if you addressed the issues surrounding food.  As I thought about this statement, I began to see all of the aspects of our life that food touches.  I thought about greenhouse gas emissions, environmental degradation and pollution, waste issues, obesity, stress, degenerative diseases, poverty and loss of access to land and water in developing countries, genetically modified organisms, corporate control  – the list just kept on getting bigger.  The ways in which we set up our systems of food production governs much of the way that our society, and the societies that we trade with, function.  So, it would follow that if we changed our relationship with food, we could begin to reshape our society and address the problems that we face.

A century ago, almost everyone knew how to grow something, growing food and harvesting and storing it were very much part of day to day life and therefore part of a person’s education.  Often the academic year was arranged around the growing season, to allow children to help with the work on the farm.  Food was relatively simple, unprocessed and unpackaged.  But food production has become big business and today fewer and fewer people are actually involved in the whole process.  This has led to several generations of people who have very little understanding of their relationship to food or to the land that grows it.  I also believe it has led to a host of very poor environmental decisions that are beginning to have real consequences.

As an organic market gardener, one of my first real lessons in understanding consequences came when I was faced with an outbreak of cucumber beetles.  These tiny beetles are very fast and hard to catch, and they can easily destroy young cucumber plants.  I remember going to the local farm co-op store and looking at the remedies – this was before they had organic insecticides.  I read the labels, looked at the price (very high), and actually bought a container of something and brought it home.  Then I went out into the garden and as I worked I thought about the chemical, about the whole physical action of putting it on my cucumber plants, and then finally about harvesting those cucumbers and feeding them to my family.  I realized that the chemical insecticide was just not an option.  I think we lost most of that cucumber crop, but there were lots of other things to eat, and the next year we paid far more attention to the growing conditions for cucumbers.

Growing one’s own food also brings up many questions concerning value.  Science, technology, and industry have replaced so much of what was once an inherent part of human existence with artificial alternatives.  Why would anyone grow a head of lettuce when it can be bought for 60 cents at the grocery store?  Having grown my own food for 25 years now, I would ask why anyone would want to forego the experience of harvesting and eating something they have grown themselves for something that has no connection to their own life.  Taste and quality are definitely superior, but more than that, it is the satisfaction and the richness that gardening brings to my life that cannot be replaced.  In harvesting my own food year after year, I feel the sun, the wind, the soil.  I also feel deeply grateful for all that the earth has provided.  Somewhere along the way I have made a big shift from thinking that I grew my own food to realizing that what I am doing is caring for this miracle that is the soil and in doing so, am blessed with abundance.  For me, this is a way of knowing and of being in the world that comes only through thoughtful and mindful work in nature.  I also believe that it is the foundation for the kind of earth centered philosophy that we need so badly if we are to preserve this planet for future generations.

Eating Locally and seasonally in a northern climate

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

In this blog I try to answer the question of what can one reasonably ordinary person expect to achieve in this climate?    Having grown much of my own food for many years and also being one to really enjoy a challenge, I would like to take a stab at answering this question.  First of all, I should say that I did once live on a farm and have had both the headaches and the pleasures of a large garden, chickens, maple syrup making, and a large woodlot.  But for the past 12 years, I have worked to develop a diet that is primarily local and seasonal within the confines of a very small village lot in Eastern Ontario.

The first thing one must do is to make some decisions about what can be grown and what must be purchased.  Let’s begin by looking at what must be purchased, at least for all of us who do not live on a farm.  I would say that the easiest places to start are with local eggs, honey, and maple syrup.  If you live in the country, many of you will know of producers, and if you are an urban shopper, most health food stores carry these items.  Almost all dairy products are local, so that one doesn’t require much work.  Our area is also lucky to have a cheese factory that actually makes its own cheese from local milk, though there are sadly few of these left in Ontario.  Quebec, however, has a booming cottage industry that makes beautiful cheeses and even local butter. Meat is one food that I believe is very worthwhile to purchase locally.  Government regulations and supermarket buying policies tend to limit the ability of small farmers to get their meat into large grocery stores.  This is because supermarkets will only buy from federally inspected abattoirs and the only farmers who can afford the economies of scale required by these huge processing facilities have very large operations.  This generally means feedlot animals that are often subject to all the worst horrors of our meat producing industry.  There are fewer and fewer provincially inspected abattoirs, in Ontario over 100 have closed in the past decade or so.  As a result, it is increasingly difficult for the small farmer to find a place to have their animals butchered.  Having said all of this, there are still farmers who produce good quality beef, lamb, pork, chicken, and turkey and these farmers are worth finding.  With a decent sized freezer, buying this meat can happen once or twice a year and does not have to take up a great deal of time.   As far as dry goods, there are suppliers and producers of local grains and dry beans, jams and jellies, and baked goods – if you can find them in your area, so much the better.

Fruits and vegetables can either be grown or purchased, and for many eating locally involves some combination of the two.  It is surprising how much food can be grown in a small area.  Since leaving my farm 13 years ago, I have grown an incredible amount of food in a tiny, 350 square foot garden in my front yard – my house backs into a limestone hill so I do not have a back yard, just rock walls and ledges!  This garden provides about 90% of the vegetables for my family of 3-4 from April to late November and often into December.  I do this by using an intensive method of growing, by planting small amounts every month from April to August, and by replanting about half of the garden in mid to late summer, once the spring crops are finished.    This garden is too small to provide me with winter storage vegetables so in the fall of each year, I visit a local farmer and purchase a winter’s supply of onions, garlic, leeks, potatoes, carrots, cabbage, turnips, parsnips, beets, and squash.  These vegetables keep amazingly well in a small and very simple cold room that I built in my basement; many vegetables hold their quality well into April and May.  Others such as leeks and beets need to be eaten within 2-3 months of being put in storage.   This garden/cold storage combination has allowed me to eat vegetables that are almost entirely seasonal and local for many years now.

I am beginning to get far more interested in incorporating fruit trees and berries into my small yard.  I have a large patch of wild blackberries and two years I planted ever bearing raspberries among the flowers on the east side of my house.  I would like to try a few grape vines, as well as perhaps one or two fruit trees.  Windmill Point Farm in Ile Perrot, Quebec, specializes in fruits and nuts that are hardy, disease resistant, and require little or no attention – a winning combination!   But for the most part, local fruits must be purchased.  This means small berries from June to August, then an abundance of plums, peaches, pears, grapes, etc. in late summer and early fall and then apples in the fall and winter.  I do store apples in my cold room but with only moderate success and I freeze and can whatever fruit I can in order to supplement our winter diet.  I have also recently found a small local grocery that has a great cold storage and is selling local apples throughout the winter.

As more people become interested in eating locally, locating suppliers and producers gets easier.  Increasingly, many municipalities have local food campaigns and these campaigns often produce pamphlets and directories that list producers.  Health food stores and small local groceries have long supported small farmers and increasingly we are seeing the opening of ‘local food stores’ – stores that specialize only in foods produced their area.  These are great venues, and often supply a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, meats, honey, grains, etc. etc.  And they make for one stop shopping.  If your city or town has a farmer’s market, this can be both a wonderful shopping experience and a great resource.  However, it is important to make sure that the vendor is selling local produce, as many simply buy from wholesalers.  Many small farmers sell vegetables at the farm gate or through something called a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture).  A CSA is almost like a buying club; you connect with a farmer and agree to take a regular delivery of vegetables throughout the season or throughout the year, if the farmer has winter storage facilities.  The other resource that I have found valuable is Canadian Organic Growers.  This organization publishes a quarterly magazine which is always full of interesting articles; it also has local chapters that often publish a producer’s list.  They can be reached at www.cog.ca and membership is $40 per year.

Incorporating local and seasonal foods is a process and a challenge, but a fun one.  It won’t happen overnight, but there are many foods that can be either easily purchased or grown in a small area.  I like to encourage people to set small challenges – switching to local eggs, cook one or two meals a week with only local vegetables, find one small grocery store that supplies local products.  Then gradually build on these challenges and increase your repertoire.  It is well worth the effort – taste and freshness are vastly superior, you are supporting your local economy, and you are reducing the environmental impact of your food choices.  A win-win exercise for all of us.

Creating a Local Food Supply

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

Despite growing consumer awareness and increased support for local foods, there are many obstacles that must be overcome if we are to create a  vibrant and sustainable local agricultural economy.  Canadians import 53% of their vegetables and some 90% of their fruit.  Food production is steadily shrinking as prime agricultural land is developed and paved over.  In the past 15 years, the Canadian population has grown by some 15% while food imports have increased by 160%.  Ontario alone imports four billions dollars more in food than it exports.

Many of the problems lie with both government regulations and with the larger food suppliers.  What are the chances of finding a local strawberry in a major supermarket in June?  As often as not, they are still coming from the U.S.  In the U.K. this year, hundreds of tons of plums were left to rot on trees because farmers could not find a market for their fruit.  Despite a bumper crop of local plums, most supermarkets allocate only about 20% of their shelf space to British plums, the rest goes to foreign imports.  Only two of the larger British chains, Marks and Spencer and Waitrose, responded to the problem by making space for British plums.  Others cited an unpredictable British supply as reasoning for their reliance on imported plums.

Poorly thought out government regulations are also a big barrier in the fight to increase local food production. In Quebec, small scale poultry and egg producers have been banned from selling any products that have been raised out of doors.  This is reportedly due to worries about avian flu, despite the fact that the disease occurs primarily in industrial farms.  In British Columbia, new regulations require that all meat sold directly to the public must be slaughtered in a provincially or federally inspected abbatoire.  This policy affects small farmers who have traditionally slaughtered on their own farms and though it may be appropriate for large scale operations it is questionable wether it is necessary for small producers.  In Ontario, government regulations have resulted in the closing of hundreds of small local abbatoires that traditionally served small farmers.  Instead we have only a handful of federally inspected abbatoires that create both problems of distance and scale of supply for the farmer that produces one or two dozen pigs a year for market.  Most Ontario supermarkets will only sell meat from federally inspected abbatoires, resulting in conditions where it is almost impossible to buy local meat.

So what kind of food systems and policies are needed in order to support small and mid-sized farms?  Must we completely rethink our ways of selling and buying food.  Not all of us can grow our own food or purchase directly from local farmers.  There are many innovative ideas that can increase the availability of local foods.  Farmers cooperatives, such as the Quinte Organic Farmers Cooperative are examples of farmers working together to pool their production and marketing efforts.  Mobile delivery services are another way in which producers can effectively reach consumers through a better system of distribution.  In the U.K., Riverford Organics delivers fruits and vegetables directly to over 100,000 customers, with 80% of their produce coming from small to mid sized farms.   Another very positive sign comes from the Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International which recently  resisted pressure from large buyers such as Starbucks and decided that certified ‘fair trade’ coffee would only come from small scale operations.  All of these are very positive initiatives, however, one cannot ignore the need for supportive government policy if our food systems are going to change significantly.

A Vision for local agriculture

Friday, September 18th, 2009

As the gardening season draws to a close, it is sometimes good to reflect on why all of this growing and eating seasonally is so important.  There are the obvious benefits of taste, quality of food, and true enjoyment of the whole process.  But as we become more aware of the effects of our food system on the world around us, I believe we have to look at issues of environmental degradation and pollution.

Modern agriculture is very heavily dependent on oil and as such, contributes significantly to global greenhouse gas emissions.  It is estimated that in the past 50 years, the amount of oil used in agriculture has increased 80 times, while yields have only increased four times.  A 2oo1 British study done by PowerSwitch UK estimates that the average British family of four is responsible for about eight tonnes of CO2 emission through the food that they eat in a year, while this same family only emits about four tonnes of CO2 through the car that they drive in that year.  Similarly, an American study shows that the average person consumes 10 barrels of oil per year through the food that they eat, 9 barrels per year through the car that they drive, and 7 barrels per year for household consumption.

Oil is used in agriculture for many things – the production of chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides, mechanical cultivation, irrigation, processing, packaging, storage, and distribution.  By far the biggest consumption of oil occurs in the refrigerated transport of fruits and vegetables, by both plane and truck.  To give an example, it is estimated that it takes 127 calories of energy to fly one calorie of lettuce from the U.S. to Britain.  Changing one’s diet to include a high percentage of local and seasonal foods can go a long way to making a real difference when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

If we want to imagine what a truly l0cal agricultural economy would look like, we can look to Cuba for inspiration.  A 2006 video entitled ‘The Power of Community – How Cuba Survived Peak Oil’ (produced by Faith Morgan, Pat Murphy and Megan Quinn Bachman and available through New Society Publishers) gives some very powerful images of a society transformed.  Before 1990, Cuba exported 80% of its agricultural outputs – primarily sugar cane and tobacco – and imported 80% of the food it consumed.  With the fall of the Berlin Wall, Cuba lost access to oil imports, export markets, and capital.  Today Cuba produces 80% of the food that it consumes, farmers are among the highest paid workers, and the Cuban diet has changed to include a large variety of fruits and vegetables. Throughout the country every inch of vacant land has been turned into gardens, producing both food and cooling shade.  Cubans consume only 1/10th of the energy that North Americans do and they are the only country to come even close to meeting the World Wildlife Fund’s targets for sustainable living and development.   Today Cuba’s largest export is ideas, and people come from around the world to learn what can be done.

Winter Storage Vegetables

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

It has been more than 10 years since I had a large garden and grew all of the vegetables for my family.  I currently live on a tiny lot in a small village and my garden is about 400 square feet.  This small space has been incredibly productive for me, supplying myself and my family with fresh vegetables from mid April to late in November.  But I am still committed to eating locally and seasonally and so for the past 10 years I have bought a supply of winter storage vegetables from a local organic farmer.  I have a small cold storage in my basement and this has worked amazingly well, despite sharing the basement with an oil furnace.

Buying from a local farmer has many benefits – the vegetables taste so much better than those available in the grocery store, they are often organically grown, and you can develop a friendship with and support those who grow our food.  I try to order my vegetables sometime in late summer so that the farmer knows what to expect from me.  In late August I make a trip to the farm and buy about 1/2 bushel of paste tomatoes which I either can or freeze for the winter.  I also buy my storage onions and garlic and  1/2 bushel of early carrots.  If the onions have not been cured (ask the farmer) then you must do this yourself.  Curing dries the outer skin of the onion and is essential for successful winter storage.  To cure, find a shady spot and lay the bulbs out so that they are off the ground but also have some air ciruculation.  I use an old wooden pallet and leave the bulbs out for about two weeks.  If the sport is sunny, you can cover the bulbs with a light cotton sheet, held down by some rocks.   If there is going to be a lot of rain, cover with some plastic or bring the bulbs inside until the weather clears.  Once the bulbs have dried, put them in an open basket or better still, a mesh bag.  The more air circulation, the better they store.

The rest of my order I pick up in late October or early November, once the weather has really cooled off and my cold storage has cooled down.   The following list should give you an idea of what I order for a family of now 3.

  • 1 1/2 bushels onions
  • 2 bushels carrots
  • 1/2 bushel beets
  • 1/2 bushel parsnips
  • 1/2 bushel leeks
  • 2 bushels potatoes
  • 6-8 rutabagas
  • 8-12 cabbages
  • 30-40 bulbs garlic
  • 15-18 winter squash

This order usually costs me about $200 but it is far cheaper than buying the same amount of vegetables in small quantities from the grocery store.  It takes me the better part of a day to pick everything up, bring it home, and get in all into cold storage.  There are some tips for successful cold storage, that I can cover in a later blog.  For now, find a farmer and transform a small corner of your basement to a cold storage area.  You only have to eat ‘real’ carrots once to realize that it is well worth the effort!

Why I like transplants so much

Thursday, August 20th, 2009

In From Seed to Table I try to make a pretty strong case for making transplants as much as possible in one’s garden.  I start making my first transplants in March, when I start tomatoes and peppers as well as a large flat of early spinach, lettuce, green onions, beets, and endive.  I also like to start any brassicas and squash family plants a few weeks early and then transplant them into the garden.  There are many advantages to transplants – an earlier harvest, good germination, seedlings that are a few weeks ahead of the weeds and better able to cope with pests, eliminating the need for thinning later on, to name a few.

But what really makes a difference for me in having a steady supply of vegetables all summer long is that I also make a flat of ’salad’ transplants around the middle of every month from April to August.  These are some combination of salad vegetables and greens – kale, swiss chard, basil, spinach, lettuce, endive, green onions, beets, fennel, collards, this year I tried cutting celery.  The flat holds 48 cells and I fill it with whatever combination of vegetables takes my fancy.  By making this one flat every month, I know that I will have a small but steady supply of vegetables that mature evenly throughout the summer.   I find it easier to discipline myself to start the flat than to direct seed in the garden every month.  But more importantly, I don’t have to worry about watering and getting seeds to germinate in the garden, instead I have a small tray to keep moist and care for once the transplants are up.  I can keep the transplants in the tray anywhere from three to five weeks, depending on how busy I am and also on the weather.  And almost every transplant that I put in the garden matures into something that I can harvest.

These past few weeks in Southern Ontario have brought home to me the benefits of transplants.  In early August I started my last ’salad’ tray – a flat with only spinach in it.  The seeds were up within about 5 days of planting and I moved them outside to a small structure – I call it a mini greenhouse – that I use for my transplants.  Then we had our first real heat wave of the summer,  which lasted about 10 days.  During this time I was able to move the flat to a shady area in the heat of the day and one quick pass with a mister and it was well watered every day.  To me, this is so much easier than caring for small plants in a garden space.  Now that the heat is over, I can transplant them on a rainy day and they will hopefully thrive without much care.

I try to help people to grow a lot of food in a small space without too much work. For me, once you are in the habit of making transplants, they are quick and easy to do and make for a much more successful garden.

Thinking about winter storage

Thursday, August 13th, 2009

I thought I would spend a bit of time talking about winter storage.  I find my garden pretty well takes care of itself this time of year.  I have a few flats of spinach that are just starting to germinate, they will go in the garden at the end of August at which time I will also direct seed some salad greens.  And then….THAT’S IT FOR THIS YEAR!!  Hard to believe that we will soon be heading into fall, but that is my favourite time of year so I look forward to it.

I do believe that if we want to be committed to eating locally and seasonally it really helps to have one’s own cold storage.  There is not a great selection of local vegetables in the grocery store in February and March and what is there is seldom organically grown.  Not only that, if you can get bulk winter vegetables from a local organic gardener, you can usually get them for a reasonable price and the quality and taste are just so much better.  Anything that is packaged is always more expensive, so for example I see a bundle of 3-4 Ontario leeks sell for $4 in February, the half bushel I bought in November cost me about $20.

I have never built a root cellar in a finished basement so I can’t offer too much in the way of advice.  I have built two in unfinished basements, both of which had an operating oil furnace at the other end.  Basically you are looking for a cold, dark space that is about 6′ x 8′ in size.  It should be as far away from the furnace as possible, preferably on the north side of your basement.  The floor and the walls to the outside (in my case, stone) do not have to be insulated, but everything else should be, including the ceiling and the door that you build.  You want to try create a space that stays between 2-8 Celcius if possible.

A few other things to consider

  • humidity – traditional cellars were often dripping water from their ceilings.  This is seldom the case in modern houses, but root vegetables can be stored in damp sand and this provides the moisture they need
  • air circulation – the advantage of low humidity is that air circulation is seldom an issue.  As long as you don’t see mold growing on your produce, the natural circulation in your basement is probably all you need.
  • darkness -  this really does need to be total – cracks of light will cause vegetables to sprout.
  • storage containers – you can build wooden bins if you feel inspired.  I use open bushel baskets for leeks and cabbages, 7 gallon plastic pails layered with damp sand for beets, carrots, parsnip, and turnip, and mesh bags for onions and garlic.  Potatoes can go in open baskets but they should also be covered to stop them from drying or out  seeing the light! Cloth or newspaper works.

If you have a space that is less than perfect, don’t be discouraged.  You might be amazed at how well it performs.  Or it may give you a good supply of vegetables for the coldest months and that is certainly better than nothing.  In my converted cistern I am able to keep carrots in sand until late May with great quality.  This was far more than I expected when I first insulated the area – I thought the heat from the furnace would cause far more problems than it has.  Some ideas for other spaces that friends have looked at are under porch stairs and in a garage or shed that butts up against the house, preferably on two sides.  I suggest that they buy some sort of thermometer with an alarm so that they can know if the temperature is approaching zero.  At least until they get a sense of how the space will perform.

Thank you to all who have sent such positive comments – they are greatly appreciated and inspire me to keep writing.  I had tried for every Thursday but it seems to be working out at every second Thursday.  Hopefully that is enough!!!!

The Challenge of Eating Seasonally

Thursday, July 16th, 2009

Sometimes it is really hard to incorporate change into one’s life.  For those of you who would like to begin to eat locally and seasonally, wether for health, community, or environmental reasons, it is often hard to develop new habits within an ongoing busy lifestyle.  After a day at work, it is often easier to cook something familiar and easy than it is to go to garden or search the grocery store for food that is local.  For those of you who are struggling with this, I offer a few suggestions:

  • I have always been a firm believer in the ‘cold turkey’ approach to change.  Many years ago I decided I did not want more plastic grocery bags.  After forgetting to bring my own bags for a few weeks in a row, I told myself that if I forgot the bags, I did not buy the groceries.  Success!!!  This method works very quickly for me.
  • I try to set myself progressive challenges.  I started with trying to grow my own food, this progressed to finding more ways to use my own food, then finally to making a commitment not to buy vegetables that were not local or seasonal.  At first I tried to make 2-3 meals a week with vegetables that were completely from my garden, then I gradually increased this until I would say that 80-90% of my vegetables are either my own or are local and seasonal
  • Realize that with each challenge, you will find answers.  That is the beauty of the challenge.  If you have a garden, forego the grocery store and it doesn’t take long to find ideas.  Tell your friends that this is what you are doing – I have been given some amazing recipes and ideas from so many people.  If you don’t have a garden, make a trip to the farmer’s market or a local food store, buy what is available, and then make the commitment to using it and not buying something else.  For me, necessity is very often the mother of invention, but in our perhaps overabundant society, one must almost artificially create the necessity.
  • Feel the beauty of being creative, enjoy and bask in your success.   Remember that each success makes you feel better about what you are accomplishing and feeds your ability to create and overcome more challenges.  I tell people that I really try to make this whole exercise into a bit of a game. Have fun with it.

So, here is an example of my process.

It is early July. I have snow peas, green onions, lettuce, and green garlic in the garden.  Beans, cucumbers, zucchini, and tomatoes are not ready yet.  I like trying new grains and one of the ones that I enjoy is quinoa.  I have some pork in the freezer.  So, before I begin this process, I have no idea what I will create, I just have an idea of what I want to use and what I have in the garden.

So, I cut the pork into small pieces and marinated it for several days in tamari, rice vinegar, sesame oil, and finely chopped green garlic.  (I know the condiments are not local, but it is the refrigerated transport of fruits and vegetables that are the huge environmental killer – I decided long ago that I was not going to martyr myself – just do my part!).  After  3 days, I cooked the pork with all of the marinade.  Then I soaked and cooked about 1 1/2 cups of quinoa.  I washed a head of lettuce and cleaned and chopped some green onions.   Snow peas were harvested, washed, and very lightly steamed.  Put the lettuce in the bottom of a large and pretty bowl. Mix the quinoa with the vegies and add the cooked meat and juices.  Taste, add abit more rice vinegar and some salt and spoon on top of the lettuce.  When my daughter asked if I would make this again, I knew that I had succeeded.

This ‘recipe’ might work with pasta or rice, other kinds of meat, tofu, shell peas or sugar snap peas, beans later in the summer.  Much of what I cook are variations on a theme, after all the garden is somewhat limited – especially when it is very small as mine is.  But it is good, nutritious, pretty economical, and fun to come up with.

Eating in May

Friday, May 8th, 2009

While April always seems somewhat bleak in terms of eating locally and seasonally, it is surprising how quickly things begin to turn around.  After making the last curried squash soup and eating as many variations of coleslaw, carrot and sprout salad, and cabbage and sprout salad as I can possibly think of, it is nice to move on to food from the garden.  I find that by the first week of May I have something to eat every day, though this is made easier because I have access to some wild foods.  Also, I have what I call ‘volunteers’ in  my garden – vegetables that have survived the winter and are up and growing – this year there is quite a bit of red Russian kale, several dozen shoots of garlic (I use these like a green onion and call them green garlic), and three or four bunches of green onions.  Often I have spinach as well, but not this year.

So, for those of you wondering what meals look like around here – it is now May 8 and so far I have made

  • a fried rice with green garlic, green onions, garlic chives, onions, cabbage, and carrots
  • steamed fiddleheads, with a meal of burgers and potatoes
  • a clear soup with wild leeks, green garlic, chives, and green onions
  • a pasta with wild leeks and green garlic
  • a stew with chicken, parsnips, chives, and chervil
  • my first spinach salads – with mushrooms and feta cheese

And as I look around, I have a list of what is on the menu for the next week

  • many more spinach salads
  • another pasta with wild leeks and garlic chives
  • wild leek and potato soup
  • creamed kale or maybe kale and potato soup
  • my first salads of baby greens
  • some egg dishes with sorrel and chives – sorrel is a wonderful lemony tasting perennial that is up early in the spring
  • rhubarb pie
  • I hear the first local asparagus is available – quiche, steamed, just eaten fresh
  • ………….as you can see, it looks better all the time!!!

There are a few other wild foods that I would like to try – finally tried Solomon’s Seal but only the very bottom of the stalk was good.  The top was bitter but, to be honest, that is what the book had said!  Perhaps I waited too long and the plant was too big, but nevertheless I would have to have a much larger patch than I do to make even a small meal.  But there are also cattails and the many hundreds of dandelions that dot my lawn.  Would love to hear from readers who have ideas on how to use dandelion greens – I began exploring recipes for them last year, and want to continue.