Eating Seasonally, Eating Locally

Day 160 of 365

We used to eat frozen dinners from a box. We bought all of our food from the grocery store, and I thought farmer’s markets were just a novelty. When we started growing our own food about 10 years ago, I didn’t realize how much it was going to change us. We started growing our own food because we wanted our children to eat organically, which can be expensive if you’re buying it at the grocery store, and we wanted to get outside of our food system as much as possible. I knew it was going to change the way we eat. I mean, that was the goal.

I didn’t know how much I was going to fall in love with delicious, homegrown food. I didn’t know how good a tomato or a piece of corn or a strawberry freshly picked was going to taste. I didn’t know that I was going to want that all the time. I didn’t know I wouldn’t be able to bear eating grocery store eggs or grocery store berries or pretty much grocery store anything. We grow more than half of the food we eat. I think it’s somewhere around 60 to 65 percent of what we eat, but we don’t have the capacity to grow everything. This led to my quest to find what we don’t grow from local farms. We buy humanely-raised, grass fed beef from a farm north of here. We pick our blueberries from a farm about an hour away. We get our apples from an orchard owned by life-long friends of our friends, and we buy milk at a local grocery store that carries milk from a local dairy. And it’s all so good–and good for us.

I realized this last week that, in our effort to either grow what we eat or buy it locally, that are super seasonal eaters. The most interesting thing is that we somehow now seem to crave whatever is in season more than I ever remember craving seasonal food. Right now, we are eating apples for meals and snacks. Before that, it was the tomatoes and peppers. Before that, it was the corn. And, before that, we were eating everything from blueberry muffins to blueberry smoothies.

There are many benefits to eating seasonally, Some I have been aware of; others were less obvious to me. Of course, food is more nutritious when it is fresh and in season, at least for the most part, but since eating seasonally and eating locally go hand in hand, another benefit is that most of our food isn’t shipped from across the country or the world, which is better for the environment. (I say “most” because we haven’t given up bananas. I could, but the rest of the family loves bananas.) It’s also very important to me to support local farmers, especially farmers who are working hard to provide good care for their animals and the earth. But one of the benefits I didn’t anticipate was cost.

I think most people have it in their minds that it costs more to eat from local farms, but there are ways to support local farms that can actually save you money. One of the things we take advantage of us “u-pick” opportunities. We get such good deals by picking our own fruits from local farms. We pick so much that we eat some fresh and then freeze enough to last the rest of the year (at least hopefully). We also take advantage when there are end-of-season surpluses, like apple drops and discounted berries when it’s the end of the season and farmers will drop prices because the berries are just going to go bad if they aren’t picked soon. But, truly, prices at the grocery story are so high right now that it can save you money to go directly to a farmer all the time. Thankfully, we live in an area where farmers frequently sell directly to the public.

Aside from these benefits, there is the noticeable craving we seem to have for whatever is in season. It feels like it’s been a gradual process, but it’s so apparent. In the spring, I start craving spinach. Then, it’s the strawberries. And so on. I looked it up to see if there was something to the seasonal cravings. According to an anthropologist, we adapt to our surroundings and therefore adapt to eating what is available, which is something that changed for us when we started this journey. It used to be that everything was available to us in the grocery store. By choice, we made only seasonal foods available to us.

I also read that the emotion we connect to our food can also be a driver toward seasonal eating, and I can see that too. I have such a love for beautiful fresh foods, and I love when I am eating something from my husband’s garden or from a farmer I know. In addition to my food really tasting better, I add some emotion that makes it taste even better in my mind–or at least this is one possibility.

Either way, I am thankful we homestead and grow so much of our own food, and I am thankful we live in a place with such a strong local food economy. We are very fortunate to eat so well, and we are very fortunate to have figured out how to do it affordably.

Sungold

Day 98 of 365

Ron is stressed about the garden. Every year, he stresses about the corn. Every single year. So far, except for the year the squirrels ate almost all of the corn, the corn always comes, and we have plenty. Hopefully, this year will be the same.

He’s also stressed about the tomatoes, but they are coming. A few of the big tomatoes are ready, but mainly, the Sungolds are here, and they must be one of the most delicious foods I have ever eaten. “Like candy,” our farm share customers said to me today. It’s true. They are just like candy.

Sungolds from the garden are also quite different than the copycats I have had from the grocery store. I actually used to think I didn’t like tomatoes–until I tasted a tomato fresh from the garden. I could not believe the difference in taste.

Sungolds were actually the first food I ever tasted from our garden many years ago. I guess they are maybe what got me hooked on fresh food from the garden. How in the world can you go back to eating tomatoes from the grocery store when you can have them fresh from the garden.

We eat seasonally and locally, but it’s not like I actually set out to be a seasonal eater. I just discovered, after tasting fresh Sungolds, that I would rather wait all year until the Sungolds are ready than eat a bland tomato from the grocery store.

I am so thankful for the Sungolds.

His Garden Grows in Perfect Rows

Day 28 of 365

His garden is so perfect that people think he must use a rototiller. He does not. Everything is done by hand. He disturbs the soil just enough to get the chicken compost from our chickens into the rows where he is planting. And he wastes no space. He’s a master of space usage. I’ve never seen anything like it. I honestly never understood what a fantastic skill it is to have–space usage. I mean, he can load the dishwasher like a magician, but that just annoys me. I feel my way is fine.

But in the garden–in that garden–I have full appreciation for his skill and his perfectionism. I used to help plant more. I still do sometimes, but it’s only after he’s used the string to mark the places for me to plant. One time, I just made my own row, and when the carrots came up with a bit of an s-shape to them, I think it broke his heart a little.

He’s frugal to a fault, if there is such a thing in the garden. He uses every nook and cranny of the garden. He wastes no water. It’s too precious. He waters by hand and aims for deep watering with as little water as possible. Any extra water from the house is saved for the garden. He also plants seeds without the plan to thin them later, so as to not waste the seeds. This seems bold to me, but he just knows the seeds will come up. He talks to them to make sure.

He also plays music for them, classical music. Every day, in the garden, he listens to Bach and Vivaldi and Mozart. So do the plants. I don’t know if it’s the chicken compost, the classical music, or Ron’s magic touch, but every year, whether there is drought or so much rain some of the food starts to rot in the ground, this garden feeds our family.

And this year, we have our first farm shares. It took him years to have the confidence to do it, but I can see that he’s proud to share his work with others. This makes my heart happy. Not only do other families get to share in this delicious, beautiful, organic food, but I can see there is a pride growing in a man beaten down by life early and often.

It’s a kind of miracle to me that this garden, this work of art of a vegetable garden that feeds our family year round, heals. But it does.

And isn’t it lovely?

***

I have to quickly add a Ruby and Kate update. Ruby has become a fierce mama–like a little too fierce, perhaps–but her babies are very well cared for. Kate is now sitting on an egg that may have to be a miracle egg. I have put three other eggs from our flock under her as of yesterday, which means she may have to have wait another 20 days before she finally gets to be mama. It’s all kind of heartbreaking, but I will feed her well and help her get through this. I believe she deserves to be mama after all that drama. Plus, she looks healthy despite having been broody for over two weeks now. Of course, there is still the miracle egg. I won’t write about it until I check it again in a few days. It’s a long story. Hopefully, it’s a good story. We’ll know soon.

Grow Your Own

Day 15 of 365

Before we had chickens and ducks, we had a garden. The first time I ate a tomato from our garden, I thought I might cry. I didn’t even think I liked tomatoes very much. Then, I had a tiny sun gold tomato standing in our garden, and truly, it was like the sun had infused its magic into a tiny, delicious orange ball. 

I was hooked. 

I guess my husband was as well. Since that time 10 years ago, he has devoted himself each spring, summer, and fall to growing the food the feeds our family. Right now, if you count the garden, chicken and duck eggs, and the broiler chickens we raise, we grow somewhere around 60 percent of the food our family eats. Beyond that, we buy from local farms as much as possible, but we definitely do our best to grow our own. We do all this on about 1.6 acres. We are evidence that you don’t have to have a lot of space to do this. In fact, part of our property is still wooded.

It’s not easy work, of course. Outside of the epic work my husband does to start seedlings, plant rows (he grows perfect rows), compost the chicken poop for fertilizer, water in the most creative, water-conserving ways possible, and will the plants into beautiful growth, we have to focus our food preparation around the things we grow. 

This didn’t happen overnight. I grew up on Hamburger Helper, and though Ron had grown up on homegrown food, as an adult, he had also shifted his diet to the frozen foods section in the grocery store. And, as a cook, it took me some time to figure out how to use things like cabbage and beets. Additionally, even for the things I knew how to cook and use, like green beans, I had to find ways to use them a lot more frequently. We now eat a lot of green beans.  

Right now, our garden is just getting started, but the chicken and duck eggs are in full season. But we are eating greens every night for dinner (mostly spinach), eggs for every breakfast (and sometimes dinner), and I have learned to make several wonderful treats with rhubarb. 

My plan is to share some of the recipes I use that help us eat so well from farm to table. I have become quite efficient at cooking and storing food from the garden–from the spinach in the spring to the tomatoes and squash of fall. I think I can share some wisdom here. I mean, I’m going to try.

I’m going to start tomorrow with a little rhubarb recipe I kind of made up. I just don’t know yet if it’s a jam or a jelly. I think jelly, but I don’t want to steer you wrong and have to do some research. 

More on this tomorrow…

***

In the meantime, on the Ruby front, all is well. She had eggs and toast for breakfast and drank some of her water. It’s very nice and cool in the garage, and the sun comes in well. She seems to be pretty content. 

I have also decided that Kate will be our next mama, but we are going to try something different. Because she has been broody awhile, instead of getting hatching eggs for her this week, the chicken breeder I am working with says he can just sell me some chicks I want next week. So, this is exciting but also adds an element of drama. It will involve taking eggs from under Kate and replacing them with live chicks at night. We have about a 98% success rate with this, but we had one failure, which means I always have anxiety. Still, I am hopeful. Kate’s a good girl, and this strategy works almost all the time. We’re getting some Black Copper Marans and maybe some Blue Marans. If we get some girls, we will then be able to add chocolate colored eggs to our collection, and my little egg rainbow will be complete.