Monday, August 30, 2010

Keeping the Farming Under Control

No one can say I haven't thrown myself into rural life, at least the cooking part, with gusto. This year's garden is bigger and better than last year's, and I can add pickling to my new set of skills.

Perfectionist that I am, I am discouraged by the lack of zucchini (how can that possibly be?!) and the scarcity of my herbs. (My two types of mint shriveled up and died last week, which I never would have expected-- I thought the stuff was basically a weed that would take over if you let it.) I need a system for herbs and many other things. I will finish the season with paltry stores and though I'm improvising on some things to try to not waste any of the produce I've grown, my energy at this point is flagging. If I had a week off from work, or two, I would throw myself into this more heartily. Alas, such is not my current state.

I also am ready for next year, not jut adding some more plants but also knowing how to get an earlier start on fresh produce. But like I felt this time last year, the yearly cycle is too long for my impatient soul. I want to implement my ideas, like, right now. I'm ready to plow under and start over-- now. But they aren't even selling seed catalogues yet. That's obviously a good thing.

In this mindset, I started reading Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and have not been able to put it down. I do, however, have to talk myself down on a regular basis. Let's face it, growing food for a family of four, or even, I suspect, for two adults, means running a small farm. And, I have to keep telling myself that she grew up with this, is from generations of people with gigantic gardens, if not farms. She'd been growing asparagus, in a variety of climates, for 25 years before she took on this task. Not that I want to take on this task. But the name of the game with vegetable gardens is more, and more ways to store and preserve the food you grow.

I, on the other hand, grew up with a flower gardener. We did have a bed of strawberries, which seemed miraculous, and now and then some fresh carrots my mother tucked into the bed along one side of the fence. But these were beds in our small suburban lot, socked in behind railroad ties-- still much more life than I ever saw in any of my friends' or neighbors' yards, but not a garden like the ones I pass now on my way to work. Also, I came to understand early as an urban adult, on the basis that I cannot keep a houseplant alive, that I do not have "a green thumb." This turns out not to be true, but it's still a deficit I'm working from. I never grew anything but a few tomato plants in pots until three years ago. (There's no question my mother was ahead of the game in terms of food co-op and healthy food. She did make her own yogurt, granola, and avoided sugar and packaged foods on and off.)

I keep taking stock: from our "farm" I can get eggs. And I can get good, local meat: beef, pork and chickens. At the farmer's market I can continue to get potatoes through November at least. (The St. Joseph Farmers' Market moves indoors in October and the winter market every two months has mostly maple syrup, jams, meat and, for awhile, potatoes and onions.) That's without doing any work at all. The first thing is to set clar goals: local is the first goal, and that can mean beyond our 80 acres.

When you boil down two whole countertops' worth of tomatoes and end up with one quart of tomato sauce, you realize that there is just no going there. Best to do my bit of canning (9 quarts of tomoatoes this year) and drying (5 bags of shriveled romas in the freezer) and eat the rest as we are able to keep up. Kingsolver does say you can freeze them whole on trays for throwing into stews in the winter, so I might try a little of that, now that I have a gorgeous new freezer.

When I read in chapter two or three that she was planting three 70-foot rows of potatoes, I realized I needed to not start identifying with Barbara Kingsolver too closely. I take pleasure in every chapter (although now she's hit zucchini and tomato harvest, late July for her and August for me, and I'm exhausted just reading about it). I'm also incredibly psyched about the idea of making cheese this winter-- and so happy she gives the link for where to get the supplies I'll need. (FYI, here's the link.) Telling Steve about it, he immediately wants to go into the cheesemaking business, and wants to know what kind of equipment we need, what kinds we can make, etc. Steve also often makes it hard to keep ideas under control. I know what I'll get him for Christmas, and can't wait to make our own mozzerella. But I am not becoming a certified artisan cheesemaker.

The name of the game, as she says in her chapter where she visits Amish friends, is boundaries, limitations. In this chapter she seems to mean staying home and driving a buggy so you guarantee the local side of things and are around to milk the cows at 5 a.m. and 5 p.m., and taking the time to plow a field with horses and enjoy the birds and bees and fireflies. I don't mean that. I wasn't raised for that and don't think my body and time management and skills are going to adapt to that kind of life in the near term.

I mean doing what I can do, enjoying it, and knowing when to quit-- retire to the hammock and read a book.

Note: the web site linked above,, is not just a place to learn about and/or buy the book. It is full of amazing recipes, links and etc, just in case you're thinking of edging into a life change...

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