Monthly Archives: May 2009

Find a local farmer!

Here is a link for searching for local farms and farmstands in your area.

Local Progress

Crabapple TreeDear Reader:

It’s been over a month since I embarked on this journey into local living, and today I thought it would be a good idea to assess my successes and failures and to sit down with my calculator to figure out what effect living locally has had on my bottom line.

One of the biggest items in my budget is food, coming in third after the mortgage and gasoline. Since the beginning of April, I have managed to shop for groceries locally. I did fill one prescription at a chain grocery store owned by a large, multinational company, and my husband picked up a few extra food items there while retrieving my medication. I also shopped at the Whole Foods store in Portland one time . . . mostly because a friend was going, and I wanted to spend time with her. I was able to pick up some brown rice which is not available in my town (although I could have purchased it at One Earth Natural Food Store in Shapleigh, a lovely little store run by very nice women or by ordering it from a co-op) and a box of lotus-root tea which is supposed to be good for my asthmatic lungs.

Anyway, back to the money: comparing the grocery bills of April 2008 with April 2009, I was not too surprised to discover a $261 difference . . . in favor of the local supermarket! How can this be, you ask? Can’t those giant supermarkets offer better pricing because they are buying larger quantities from the suppliers?

Well, yes and no. The difference for me has been one of availability. While shopping at the chain retail supermarket, I indulged in the marvelous selection of organic produce and pre-packaged items like fruit leathers for lunchboxes, ricemilk, rice pastas, tortilla chips, chickpea spread, and recycled tiolet paper. These items aren’t available at my locally-owned grocery store. I’ve had to make-do or do without, and since those organic and specialty items are very expensive, I’ve managed to save quite a bit of cash shopping locally.

As for produce and the nice selection of organic greens (and reds and yellows and oranges) at the big chain store, there is some debate about the wisdom of buying organic produce if it is grown on immense farms in California and shipped all the way across the country to my little corner of Maine. Weighing the pros and cons, I decided that supporting the local store was more important than supporting organic agribusinesses in a state far removed from mine. When push comes to shove, who is going to be there for me if our food supply network is compromised? I’ll take my chances on my local owner. After all, he lives here, too.

Would I prefer locally-grown, organic produce? Sure. I’d love to see our town take some measures to encourage local agriculture–perhaps property-tax breaks for anyone growing food rather than subdividing land into house lots, for instance. In the summer, spinach and cucumbers grown by local farmers are often available at the store as well as a few farm stands scattered around the area. The market offers bags of Maine potatoes, a childhood food staple and one to which I’ve come back as they are filling, nutritious, Maine-grown, and inexpensive . . . and my kid likes them.

Not everyone will agree with me here. Another mom’s priority may be putting only organic food into her kids’ bodies over supporting local business. I’m cool with that. We each have to do what we feel is best in an imperfect world.

Obviously, I’m not following the 100-mile diet or the 200-mile diet or even the 1000-mile diet. Still, it feels pretty good to know I am supporting a local businessperson, the local people who run the cash registers and cut the meat and slice the deli cheese and stock the shelves, the local newspaper where the store advertises, and possibly such service-persons as accountants and bookkeepers and office-equipment repairers. While the big, national chains hire local people, advertising and bookkeeeping and personnel-related jobs and accounting and inventory and warehousing are usually done in an outside location, removing dollars from the local economy. How many CEO’s and CFO’s and other corporate-office executives of multinational companies live in the town where you buy your food? The money paid to them (the money out of your pocket) doesn’t come back in the form of property-taxes on their mulit-million dollar estates . . . at least not in your town, most likely.

There ARE some foods I buy from local producers, and I would (will) buy more if (when) it becomes available. I love the eggs from my friend, Sarah’s, chickens. Raw cow milk and goat cheese straight from a farm the next town over is delicious and nutritious. For two weeks now I’ve even made my own butter after skimming the thick layer of cream from the milk jug. I just put in an order for a quarter of a beef which will be munching on pasture two miles from my home all summer and fall until he ends up in my freezer. I have a lead on organic, local chicken. So, meat and dairy products aren’t an issue. It’s the vegetables and grains I’m looking for!


All in all, I’ve been pleased with the results of my local grocery shopping. My family is well-fed, I’m saving money, and I’m encouraging the growth and retention of local businesses and cottage industries. It’s been a good start to a year Outside the Box.

Permaculture and the Suburban Homestead

Homemade Composter

Homemade Composter

Dear Reader:

This week while the Democrats and Republicans are fighting it out over whether or not photos depicting the treatment of captured enemy combatants should or should not be released to the world at large, I am focusing my attention on something more important . . . the front lawn.

I am not talking about the front lawn of the White House. My own front lawn. I can’t do much about what happens in the Beltway. My opinion about water-boarding is a, well, drop in the proverbial bucket. My own front lawn, however, is my domain. Here I have some (but not total) control over what stays and what goes, what is planted and what is cut down, what I will grow and what I will not. I am responsible for this little patch of earth I call home, at least for the weeks and months and years I will live here. I am the mistress of flower beds, the queen of garden boxes, the final arbiter of the rotting pine tree’s fate . . .

So why am I so giddy with this dubious power? Today the tree came down. THE tree. The tall, skinny, half-rotted, dead-branched, nine-tenths limbless white pine which towered eighty feet into the air, thirty feet from my house for the past six years. It’s double-trunked cousin keeled over in a wind and rain storm a couple years ago, luckily falling parallel to the house rather than on top of it. The shallow root system couldn’t handle the moist, soft earth and the steady wind blowing east to west. We watched it fall from the basement window figuring we’d be safest down there. I’ve also watched a white pine break off one third of the way up its trunk and fall on my car. Let me tell you, witnessing one of these giants as it crashes to the ground is awe-inspiring. And scary as all get-out.

Now, to be completely honest, I’m feeling a little sad about that tree. It was a micro-ecosystem in and of itself. A chipmunk had a nest inside the soft, damp, splintery, rotted core of the trunk. Acrobatic nuthatches clambered up and down, upside down and rightside up, hunting insects. (Probably the big, black carpenter ants that streamed out of that tree seconds after it hit the ground.) Crows landed on the top brances in the early morning sometimes. Bluejays hopped warily along the ground beneath it, snapping up stray birdseed from the feeder. The tree reminded me a little of those Ents, the tree gods in the LORD OF THE RINGS, the way it towered and overlooked the deciduous beech trees winter, spring, summer, and fall.

I guess with power comes a certain responsibility, and with decisions, guilt. I’ll live with it because with the loss of the lone pine (and a couple of smaller sapling beeches beside it) I finally have a spot in my yard sunny enough to grow a veggie garden.

I didn’t always want to be a gardener. I grew up watching my parents work in our vegetable plots summer after long summer hour. I was conscripted into pulling a few weeds every now and then and snarled at the horseflies. I snapped my share of beans and shelled dishes of peas. The hiss of my mother’s pressure cooker was a constant for a couple of weeks every summer as she canned the green and wax beans.

We ate this bounty all year–fresh during those hot months and frozen or canned all winter and spring. It looked like way too much work to me. Aside from one summer when I planted yellow summer squash next to my dad’s zuccini plants, I had no plans to take up the garden hoe when I married and bought my own home. Even when I moved into my current home six years ago, I planned on supporting local agriculture by frequenting produce stands and voting with my shopping dollars at the Hannaford store by buying organic produce (never mind that it was shipped here from Mexico or California.) A mostly shaded lot didn’t seem like a problem back then. I could have a few flower beds near the house, maybe a couple potted tomatoes for fun, but a backyard vegetable garden was not even a blip on my radar . . .

Until I began to read books like Michael Pollan’s OMNIVORE’S DILEMMA and Barbara Kingsolver’s ANIMAL, VEGETABLE, MIRACLE. I learned about our food system and its dependence on oil products and overland trucking inputs. I heard people talk about “locavores” and “slow food” and “sustainability.” These books led me to such topics as Oil Depletion, Hubber’s Curve, and suburban homesteading. All of a sudden, I realized I was living an unsustainable lifestyle, in a suburban-style neighborhood, with trees shading all of my lawn except where the septic leach-field lay, and if I even wanted to start growing my own food, I’d have a real tough time doing it. Nevertheless, I took my spade in hand and got to work digging up a garden plot just outside the septic area.

It was good exercise last summer. The birds sang. The insects hummed. I sweated. I had only a few more rows to double-dig when I decided to actually watch the shadows and the sun. To my dismay, I discovered the big pine not only threatened to crash down upon me in the winter and spring, but it also managed to shade my garden area until 10 AM. By 2 PM, the sun was behind the chummy, communal clump of the pines on the back side of my lot, leaving me with barely four hours of sun, in the very hottest part of the day. Not the best growing conditions. I was too discouraged, even, to try, and so the garden plot went to grass, and the grass went to seed, and I despaired over the winter of ever growing food on my own front lawn.

More reading. More learning. An article about agro-forestry in an old MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine caught my attention. I decided to see what kinds of things could be grown in a forest-like setting. Nut trees. Mushrooms. Some types of weeds and herbs good for medicine and/or plant dyes. This was all interesting, but on my small one-acre lot, growing these sorts of products would be recreational at best, and it didn’t answer the more basic problem of actual food. I couldn’t see feeding my family a diet consisting solely of walnuts and shiitake mushrooms. See here for info about growing mushrooms. Even with some foraged dandelion greens and fiddleheads in the spring and wild berries in the summer, we’d be hard pressed to survive.

Somewhere along the line I heard this word “permaculture,” and like most new words and ideas, you hear it once and then it seems to pop up everywhere. What exactly is permaculture, you ask? Permaculture (permanent agriculture) is the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of landscape and people providing their food, energy, shelter, and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way. (see the Permaculture Institute of Australia website here from which this definition was taken for even more great information.)

Permaculture design around your home takes into consideration many factors and systems and attempts to integrate them into a harmonious whole–everything working together for maximum sustainability. A trained permaculturalist can come to your home and draft out a system for your property. Individuals can also take permaculture classes in order to design their own plans. Even trying a few permaculture practices on a very small scale can a be step in the right direction–for instance, catching rainwater from your roof or planting some parsley in the perennial flower beds. At it’s most extreme, permaculture systems incorporate sunrooms for off-season growing and for heating, ponds, rainwater cachement systems, composting tiolets, greywater recycling, animals for pest reduction and for fertilizer production (think chickens, scratching for bugs and pooping nutrients back into the lawn).

I’m beginning to look at my wooded, one-acre suburban plot in a whole new way, trying to figure out how I can combine the trees with the food-producing areas with the recreational areas with the shelter areas with the pollinator habitat areas. Did you know bumblebees like tall grasses? I didn’t, but now that I do, I’m wondering where I can grow some taller grasses for these busy, bumbly little carriers of pollen. In place of the beech saplings and the three dead or dying trees out front, I will plant a couple varieties of dwarf apples. Maybe deeper into the woods where some pines fell of their own free will, I can find a good spot for a nut tree. Can I grow vining crops up the trunks of trees along the edge? Can I find a spot for some Jerusalem Artichokes? Can high-bush blueberries serve as foundation shrubs? Should I create a mini-pond somewhere? What is better, turning table scraps and lawn litter into compost or using it as mulch?

All these questions to explore! All these experiments to try! I should be able to stave off boredom for years to come. So here’s my question for the week: What have you done around your property that combines systems–say, of food production plus recreation or beautification plus energy savings? Have you had good luck growing certain food plants in shaded or semi-shaded areas? Have you ever worked with your local officials to change zoning rules to allow small-animal husbandry or bee-keeping? Write a comment to share with other readers. We’d love to hear from you . . . Outside the Box.

ps: There are people out there who have been homesteading in the suburbs or the city for years. One of the best, most exciting examples is the Jules Dervaes family in California. Their Path To Freedom initiative is a remarkable example of what can be done on a very small plot of land. Check out this video. I promise, you will be amazed and inspired!

Outside the Bread Box

Homemade Bread

Homemade Bread

Dear Reader:

Spring has arrived here in Maine, and colors are popping after a season of white snow and black, bare branches. A male goldfinch–bright yellow flower in flight–perched on my window feeder for a moment or two before flying off into the beech trees. Pink blossoms adorn the crabapple tree I planted last fall, and the chives look about ready to show their lavender flowers. I think we may have seen the last of the frost. It’s the season of planting, and I have much to do this year in my brand-new “square foot gardening” boxes.

But I’m not writing about gardening today. In between manic sessions of digging manure into my flower beds, sticking a few showy annuals among the still-green perennials, and mulching the whole lot, I found time to bake a loaf of bread.

Last summer, after seven months on a macrobiotic diet that nixed processed grains in favor of whole ones like brown rice, millet, couscous, and barley, I took up the practice of baking my daily bread rather than spend $5 a loaf for the organic bread from the supermarket. To my surprise, I enjoyed mixing the dough, kneading it until the surface was baby-skin soft, and punching the risen ball back down into the greased bowl. The smell of baking bread perfuming my house for an hour or two was heavenly, but seeing those golden-topped loaves on my counter brought a deep, primal satisfaction impossible to replicate by throwing plastic-wrapped, corn-syrup laden slices of supermarket bread into a grocery cart.

When fall rolled around, I immersed myself in finishing the rewrite of a romance novel and my regular volunteer committments and let my bread-baking slide. Oh, I baked a few loaves here and there throughout the winter, but mostly I got out of the habit. However, with my renewed enthusiasm for all things local and handmade, along with a resolve to eat whole (if not completely macrobiotic) foods again, I’ve decided to resume baking my own bread.

Since I am a stay-home mom, I have more time than most women to practice the age-old art of breadmaking, but even working women can create their own bread with the use of a bread machine. Imagine coming home at the end of the day to the smell of fresh-baked bread and the taste of a chewy, delicious slice of whole-wheat or white with your evening meal. My friend Sharon at the library uses her bread machine almost daily and has experimented with whole grains until she now has her loaves perfected.

Even making bread the old-fashioned way doesn’t take much time, if you only count the minutes actually spend working the dough. I’ve been known to stash the dough in the refrigerator before the last rising in order to run errands. This “retards” the dough, and I think it actually improves the flavor of the finished product while earning me a little more flexibility in my schedule.

kneading the dough

kneading the dough

There are many good recipes for basic bread out there, so I won’t go into a blow-by-blow account of the process. This time, I used a basic white bread recipe from the Betty Crocker Cookbook. As I mixed and kneaded and punched and rolled, I found myself wondering if I could bake even a simple loaf of bread without the vast food network of big wheat operations in the mid-west, overland trucking, and supermarket chains. Where would I get flour? What could I use for leavening? At it’s most basic, bread is a combination of milled grain, yeast, and water. The addition of some sort of sugar helps feed the yeast, and most recipes call for a small amount of oil. In this white bread, for example, I put in a tablespoon of olive oil and a tablespoon of local honey. While the honey was locally produced, everything else came from the grocery store.

A self-sustainable community, the kind of community I envision, should provide dietary staples such as ingredients for bread. Who grows wheat or oats anymore, I wondered? Where does baker’s yeast come from? Could it be produced in Maine if necessary? Are there other options for leavening?

So, off I went into the wide world of the internet, in search of information about yeast. Yeast production on a mass scale is complicated and precise. The Dakota Yeast company provides an excellent webpage on the subject–beginning with the strain of yeast to which is added molasses as the sugar on which the yeast will feed and reproduce. Into various tanks this mixture goes until finally a “yeast cream” is achieved. This can be stored as is or dried into “yeast cake” and crumbled. Manufacturers then sell fifty-pound bags of the stuff to customers. I’m assuming these are customers such as Fleishmann’s who then package and sell their product to grocery stores where we, the consumers, purchase the yeast in those handy little, yellow packets or the brown-colored glass jars.

I think, perhaps, this process could be replicated on a smaller, more local scale if necessary as long as the requisite sugar substance–molasses or beet sugars–could be obtained. We can grow beets here in Maine, but I’m not sure if they are the right type for beet sugar. More research for me, I guess. I am constantly amazed by the pathways down which I am led in my quest for sustainability options.

There are other, more ancient, ways of leavening our daily bread, however. I have a jar of such stuff in the back of my ‘fridge right now, a sourdough starter given to me by the wonderful Sharon. The sourdough starter is simply a mixture of yeasts, water, and flour. The process of using the starter is more complicated than the baker’s yeast. For one thing, unless you are baking every day, you have to store the paste in the refrigerator, reactivating it for about three days prior to baking by feeding it with more flour and water until it is good and “healthy” again.

I’ve made some good old-fashioned sourdough bread from this starter, but I cringe at the waste of all that flour in the process. As you add cupfuls at a time, you end up with way more starter than you need, and so down the drain it goes unless you have a friend who wants to cultivate their own. Perhaps if food were scarce, we’d be glad of a fresh loaf of bread every day. In that case, you would simply reserve a cup or two from that day’s breadmaking, add some flour and water the next day, and use half to leaven tomorrow’s dough.

But where would we get all this flour?

I went on a search of the Maine Department of Agriculture website as well as the Maine Growers and Farmers Association (MOFGA), and found, to my amazement, that there are some hardy souls growing grains other than corn right here in the state. One of these is Hatchet Cove Farm in Warren. Click on the name to check out their website. There are others you can find at the MOFGA page here. We even have some grain MILLS in operation, though none in my particular area of southern Maine. Still, the technology is here and the processes haven’t been forgotten. Woo-hoo!

Here’s what I’d love to see in my community . . . and every community. Farmland surrounding the town center. And on some of that farmland I’d love to see fields of hardy winter wheat, oats, corn, and buckwheat sending up bright green shoots in the springtime. I’d love to see a grainmill in every town, perhaps beside a fast-running stream or river so as to be powered by a non-oil resource, and in every town a baker’s shop where those who didn’t have time or desire to bake their own bread could purchase a daily loaf or two.

pretty little ball of dough

pretty little ball of dough

Apparently, Governor Baldacci has similar concerns. In 2004 he commissioned a study by a Local Agriculture Department Task Force co-chaired by his wife, First Lady Karen Baldacci and Charles Spies, to come up with recommendations for policies to support and sustain Maine’s local agriculture. The study found that Maine food producers generate 1.4 billion dollars in sales per year and that Maine households spend 3 billion dollars on food. However, Mainers spend only 4% of this 3 billion on locally produced agriculture products! The study concluded that if Mainers would spend just 10% of their food dollars on Maine products, farm income in our state would increase by 40%.

Can you imagine farmers actually making a living wage? Wouldn’t that encourage others to take up farming, perhaps right in our own communities?

The study also identified eight issues that effect the growth and viability of local agriculture. They are as follows:

1. Lack of appreciation for agriculture’s value to community and local economy. If those who make decisions for our communities could be educated about the high value of local agriculture, and if we members of the community supported local agricultural efforts with our food dollars, then perhaps we could encourage the retention and creation of local farms.

2. Infrastructure–Fragmentation of farms and farm landscapes results in breakdown of local agricultural industries. This is a landuse issue, a zoning issue. We don’t need more housing development, people. We need to preserve and expand our farmland. High density housing surrounded by farmland is preferable to suburban living if we are talking about a sustainable future.

3. Lack of consumer knowledge about nutritional and flavor advantages of locally grown food. Local food tastes better and is better for you than the stuff trucked from California, Mexico, or Washington State.

4. Small growers and operators are at a disadvantage to large-scale agricultural industries. It’s the old “economy of scale” issue. The bigger you are, the more you can buy in bulk, the better the deal you can get. What if, though, local farmers could share some equipment costs in a cooperative arrangement? Or pooled their resources to order seeds in larger quantities for a better price? As the costs of oil and oil products rises, I believe the gap will close.

5. Preserve the farms currently in operation. No further explanation necessary.

6. Inadequate financing options. It isn’t easy to get financing if you are a small, independent farmer. We should encourage our state government and local banks to create financing packages for would-be agricultural producers. This is also something our overly-large federal government could do. Rather than giving subsidies to large-scale agribusinesses, why not subsidize (for a limited time) small-scale farms?

7. Help manage costs of production. Can you imagine trying to run a farm, feed and clothe your family, and still pay the exhorbitant amount needed for health insurance? Not to mention fuel for the tractors and heating costs for the home and barns? You don’t get health benefits and dental insurance when you are an independent farmer. Used to be there was a local doctor who would take farm produce in exchange for healthcare, but a doctor’s visit now costs over one-hundred dollars, not counting the extra charges for lab work and medications. If you were just starting out, would you chose a career that didn’t include health benefits? If we want more farmers, we have to figure out a way to make it a viable career option.

8. Labor costs. Running a farm takes many hands. Hands cost money. What happens when you have to provide health care for your employees? How do you pay a salary at planting time when the profits won’t roll in until harvest?

See the complete report here. You can click on the PDF link from this page.

It’s all about what we value, folks. I’m going to be searching out Maine-grown and processed flours. Proving the adage “seek and ye shall find”, when I clicked on the MOFGA homepage for the third time today, an announcement popped up regarding the annual Kneading Conference in Skowhegan this summer! There will be demonstrations in bread making, how-to’s on building your own backyard bread oven, and Maine grain growers. See here for details. And try baking a loaf of bread. It’s food for the soul.

ps: Do you have good bread-baking tips? A favorite recipe? A lead on where to purchase local milled grain in your neck of the woods? Post a comment and share the knowledge! I’d love to hear from you.

Quick note: Good essay on life after Peak Oil

Dear Reader:

This essay by John Michael Greer succinctly explains the Peak Oil theory, examines the ways people tend to view the situation, and offers suggestions on how we might best move forward as a society as our oil supplies are depleted and life becomes less magical and easy. Greer argues that the best societal response will be community based rather than individual. If you are at all interested in learning about what we might do as a society as the Oil Age draws to a close, this one’s for you. The Coming of Deindustrial Society: A Practical Response.

NOT Your Grandmother’s Dandelion Greens

0162Dear Reader:

When I was young, I’d watch my grandmother head outside with her little, sharp knife and a bowl to dig dandelion greens for our noon “dinner.” Served alongside boiled potatoes, some green beans canned the previous summer, and some sort of meat, the dandelions would be forked up into individual bowls, slathered with butter, doused in apple-cider vinegar, and sprinkled with salt and pepper.

As a kid, I didn’t really care about dandelion greens one way or another. I’d been taught to eat my vegetables and to clean my plate. I do remember the inevitable crunching grittiness between my teeth when a sly bit of sand managed to cling to some furled bit of greenery despite a vigorous soaking and rinsing. Sometimes the greens were bitter. Sometimes not so much. Now I know it probably depended on how far along in the season we were. The newer, the more tender and sweet. The older, the tougher and more bitter.

Dandelions were part of the world of my grandparents–right along with the compost pile beside the garden, the raspberry patch out back, my grandfather’s old John Deere coverups hanging on the hallway coatrack, ice cream for dessert, and my grandmother’s office area cluttered with the paraphenalia of her freelance newspaper reporting gig.

So, the other day when I went out to inspect the perennial beds, I noticed these pretty little dandelion plants growing nearby. In a fit of nostalgia (and thinking about all the great nutrients in these naturally-grown, non-chemicalized, FREE greens) I ran inside for a sharp, little knife and cut a couple of bunches to cook up for my lunch. Since I was just recovering from a bout of upset stomach, the thought of butter and vinegar didn’t do it for me, so I came up with my own recipe for a healthy noon dinner.

First, I put the greens into a large bowl, filled the bowl with water, and let the greens soak. While they were in their bath, I boiled some rice pasta and drained it. I lifted the greens out of the bowl and poured the water and grit out, rinsed the greens with running water from the tap, and put them into a flat skillet with just a little bit of water to boil/steam them.

009In another skillet, I poured about two tablespoons of olive oil and put it on low heat. I peeled a large clove of garlic, cut it into three pieces and cooked the garlic in the oil for a few minutes to infuse the oil with flavor, taking care not to burn the garlic. I removed the garlic with a spoon, leaving just the oil, and then I drained the greens which were then tender and bright green. I chopped the greens into bite-sized pieces on a cutting board, threw the pasta and dandelions into the oil, and tossed everything together with a little bit of sea salt. Voila! NOT my grandmother’s dandelion greens!

010The flavor of this dish was very mild. I may try it again with chopped garlic I will leave in the oil, maybe some grape tomatoes cut into halves, even a few muchrooms perhaps. It would be good with parmesan cheese sprinkled on top, I imagine.

Or, I may just boil up a mess-a-dandelions and pour on the old vinegar. Sometimes you just can’t improve on perfection.

In any case, foraging for food is as old as humanity itself. There is nothing more local than gathering a bunch of wild greens. (Of course, if you have sprayed your lawn with chemical fertilizers and/or herbicides or have any other reason to think your dandelions might not be completely safe . . . do not eat them! If you have any question, contact your cooperative extension or other knowledgeable person in your area. Just because I eat weeds, doesn’t mean you have to!)

It seems to me that people used to know how to do this, to go out into the wild and find nutritious food to eat. Wild berries, the bark of certain trees for medicinal purposes, mushrooms, greens, and who knows what else! I’m certain my grandparents retained some of this knowledge. But something happened from that Depression-era generation and the next. I guess food became industrialized and convenient (though it’s hard to imagine anything more convenient than cutting dandelions out of your front lawn at noontime.) Maybe it was just the idea of modernity, of progress. There were those Kennedy years, those space-travel years that gave the world Tang to drink!

I like what is happening now. I see signs of a return to the old ways. Books are published about preserving food without canning or freezing, incorporating old-fashioned lacto-fermentation methods. (PRESERVING FOOD WITHOUT CANNING OR FREEZING by The Gardeners & Farmers of Terre Vivante, Chelsea Green Publishing Company, White River Junction, Vermont. ISBN: 1-890132-10-1.

There is the Slow Food movement. There is the Permaculture movement. Every week it seems there is an article in a newspaper or a story on the news about a farmer’s market opening up, or a community garden going in, or a go-local movement afoot. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to search out some pre-WWII cookbooks, perhaps, or ferret some old-fashioned cooking/preserving tools at antique stores and ask the elders how to use them. I’m searching for one of those heavy metal meat grinders that screw onto the edge of your table, for example.

We can have a slower-paced life with a more personal connection to the food we eat. We can find like-minded people in our communities and share our discoveries, successes, and failures. We need to stop for a minute and imagine what we want our world to look like, to feel like, and then we need to chose those ways that will best bring our vision to reality. We won’t always agree, and that’s okay. But a little respectful debate is much healthier than simply accepting what the powers-that-be shove on us. At least, that’s what I’m thinking . . . Outside the Box.