Thursday, November 21, 2013

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

We're so spoiled to be able to make meals almost
completely with goods we produce ourselves.
But we can do even better.
It's not all about fancy new greenhouses around here. At the same time, austerity measures are being implemented. Sometimes Mark and I get carried away by our enthusiasm for growing obscure and unusual vegetables. Often, there is a reason said varieties are obscure. We grew a row of fava bean plants this past year--plants that required purchasing seeds, planting, tending, watering, weeding, and harvesting--that yielded about 2 cups of beans after they were removed from their fleshy pods, blanched, and shelled again. As much as I love favas, that's not much of a return on our investment. Same goes for the black chickpeas--two peas inside every tiny pod means a lot of work, and the small, feathery plants required frequent weeding so they wouldn't get swallowed by thistles and garlic mustard. There's a reason these aren't perfectly suited to our climate or to the way we garden.

In 2014, we're looking for a little more bang for our buck. There's satisfaction in being economical and sustainable. I'll step into the chicken coop with kitchen scraps, spent grain from brewing beer, and whey leftover from making cheese, and I get to walk out with a pocket full of eggs, white and blue and brown, some so recently laid that they're still warm, all with richest golden yolks I've ever seen. It feels so rewarding, and I get one step further away from the stereotype of the wasteful American consumer. I feel like part of a primal network of people, animals, and the land.

We grew these hops for Man Skirt Brewing,
and we feed his spent grain to the chickens. Everybody wins!
Right now we see glimpses of it: growing some hops for the brewer who gives us his spent grain that we feed to the chickens, who give us eggs, some of which we give back to the brewer. Using day-old cream from our neighbor's farm stand to make butter, trading honey for vegetables from our farmer friends. Recently we've been going a little deeper into the system by helping to establish a local seed library, and launching LocalShare, a project that uses farmers' culls to feed people who don't have access to fresh, local produce.

We'll still be growing mostly heirloom varieties using biodynamic and permaculture practices, but there's nothing wrong with trying to save a bit of money and our own energy. So we'll be growing fewer varieties and bulking up on veggies that produce and store well--broccoli, potatoes, carrots, plum tomatoes, green beans. Veggies we can't get enough of, that aren't labor intensive, that won't go to waste. This is what we're working toward--closing the loop, eliminating waste, helping ourselves and others.

To that end, we're taking suggestions for what we should grow next year. What do you grow that's delicious, prolific, easy, and well suited to zone 6b? Because heaven forbid we should do anything that's easy.

LocalShare pepper cull from Caristi Farms--185 pounds total.
Most was distributed to food pantries, but we made
50 pounds into pickles and hot pepper jam.

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