Resolving About Food

Two-thirds of the New Years resolutions we make this year will be related to diet or fitness, with weight loss being our most common resolution, by far.

Here’s a blog post I wrote for Seedbed on that topic, for any who may be interested:  Eat well in 2015.

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Milkcow Blues

When I was planning our transition to the homesteading lifestyle I imagined that we might someday have or make everything we need, here on the farm. Some of the things we did, such as planting fruit trees and gardens, made good sense.  Other things we did were, in hindsight, probably not great ideas. For example, I bought hay equipment, even though we were using very little hay.  At the time my thinking was that we should not buy anything we are capable of producing ourselves.  It would have been wiser to consider the cost of the hay we would need in relation to the cost of buying and maintaining the machinery to make it.  There are other things I’d planned to do that never happened.  Some of them, such as generating electricity here, I still hope to do. But with some of the other things I had on my homesteading checklist, I’m glad we never went forward with them.

For example, it seemed obvious to me at the time that we should have a milk cow. Why buy milk if we can keep and milk a cow instead, I reasoned.

When I was growing up my grandparents had a milk cow. In the summer milking was sometimes one of my jobs. The cow was milked, by hand, every day before dawn and then again at dusk. I didn’t know there was any other way to do it.

So I imagined that we would have a milk cow and she’d be milked twice a day, every day of the year.  In my mind, that was just part of living on a farm.

I decided we should have a Jersey.  In the industrial system Jerseys have been replaced by the more prolific Holsteins, but the consensus among people whose opinions I valued was that Jerseys produce the tastiest and most nutritious milk.

Here’s a little aside about our modern industrial milk production (because I can’t resist).

Whereas in 1900 eighty percent of American farms had milk cows, today only 8 percent do and nearly half of those are on farms with over 1,500 cows and $1 million in annual sales. Four companies control 70% of the milk sales in the U.S. In 1950 the average dairy cow produced about 5,300 pounds of milk per year. By 1965 production had increased to over 8,300 pounds per cow. Today, amazingly, the average is close to 22,000 pounds of milk per cow, about four times more than the production of a generation earlier. As Joel Salatin would say, “Folks, that ain’t normal.”

So (returning to the story) I put an ad in the local paper for a hand-milked Jersey and a few days later I got a call from someone who lived very close by who had a milk cow for sale.  Excited, I went to see her.  She was a beautiful sad-eyed hand-milked Guernsey.  I didn’t buy her on the spot, but I left fairly convinced that it was the thing to do.

Luckily some semblance of sanity came over me.  In those days I was still commuting to Florida and was only home on Saturdays and half of Sunday. That twice-a-day chore would have fallen almost entirely on Cherie, who already had a full plate and had never milked a cow before (and it certainly wasn’t what she signed up for when she agreed to marry me).  Furthermore, as Cherie gently reminded me, we use very little milk.  There’s no way we could use the several gallons per day that we’d be getting.

So we didn’t get a milk cow after all.  A wise decision.

Using the Pond

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Yesterday I posted this picture of our pond’s exit pipe in the Facebook Small Farm/Sustainability group I recently mentioned, asking if anyone was using anything similar to generate electricity, and if so how.  I got lots of responses and they generally confirmed what my prior research had told me–that it wouldn’t be possible to produce much electricity from it and that what little could be obtained probably wouldn’t be worth the effort.

That’s disappointing.  Water flows steadily through that pipe 24-7 (assuming we keep the beavers away) and it’s a pity I can’t feasibly put it to work.

When we started on this journey one of my priorities was to generate our own electricity on-farm.  Believing solar power would become better and less expensive over time, I kept putting it off.  Now it’s probably not in the cards. So for now at least, we’ll continue to depend on the utility company.

But even thought it won’t be generating power for us, the pond does contribute to the homestead.

It is the source of the fish I eat.  I pull enough bass out of it to enjoy fish suppers frequently in the summer.  Usually we’ll freeze one of the fillets so I can have fish during the winter too.  They are an important, nutritious (and delicious) part of my diet.

On a few occasions my neighbor has used the pond for irrigation.  He sets up a gas powered pump and runs irrigation pipe to his fields (a job I remember really disliking in my childhood). We’re seriously considering putting in an irrigation system of our own that will enable us to irrigate most of our gardens from the pond.  If it works out, then the pond will be contributing to the farm in that way as well.

Our daughter enjoyed swimming in it.  Our son enjoyed paddling the john boat around on it.

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I spent a couple of hours there late yesterday afternoon sitting beneath a tree. I didn’t see any deer, but I did discover that the otters have returned.  The pond is a great draw for wildlife.  Ducks, geese, herons, turtles, otters, bullfrogs, and the dreaded beavers all love it there. Of course for them the pond is already plenty useful.

The Circle

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I’ve been out hunting nearly every day for the last three weeks and until yesterday hadn’t seen a thing.  The season ends in a week, so I was beginning to think 2015 would be a year without tacos, meatloaf, spaghetti sauce, tenderloin, chili, stew, cubed steak and summer sausage (and liver for Ginny).

But yesterday evening nature provided a big buck.  So now the pressure is off. There will be red meat in the freezer and on the table next year.

I know the subject of hunting bothers some people.  I totally understand that.

I take no pleasure in killing animals.  But I do get some satisfaction from knowing that no animal will die to feed me without first living a pleasant natural life on this farm.  The deer that I took yesterday was not fattened with GMO corn on a filthy feed lot.  He didn’t have any hormonal growth promotants implanted in his ear. He wasn’t slaughtered on an assembly line. And neither was he terrified and chased around the county by a pack of dogs while so-called hunters waited along roadsides for a chance to shoot at him. Instead he died instantly and without stress or fear, with a belly full of acorns, leaves and wild grasses. In the several years he’s been roaming around here he’s probably fathered dozens of offspring–and likely enjoyed some tasty meals in our gardens. He has been part of the organism that is our farm and so even now, he lives on.

I like being aware of where my food comes from.  As long as I eat meat, I prefer to know its true cost.  I don’t want to eat animals without ever getting any blood on my hands.

Before I field-dressed the deer, I thanked God for providing him.  I thanked the deer for his sacrifice.  And I asked forgiveness of both of them.

I’ll go hunting again today and every day next week.  It’s an important part of this season in this life.  I will try to take at least one more, if possible.  But if not, so be it.

Eggplant

Late December isn’t the time I’d normally expect to be doing a post about eggplant. But as we’re preparing our 2015 seed orders and garden planning I realized that eggplant is another one of those vegetables that were not part of the food culture here when I was growing up, but has now become an important part of our farm.

I don’t recall ever eating eggplant until I was an adult.  I was probably married before I ever had any.

It was one of the veggies that I added to the summer gardens as an experiment one year. I remember thinking the experiment was a failure, as flea beetles skeletonized the leaves.  But I learned that summer how tough the plants are, as they eventually outgrew the flea beetle damage and produced fruit right up to the first frost.

We grow a lot of eggplant now.  During the summer we eat a lot of it, put up a lot of it and sell a lot of it.   Last year’s crop was our best ever.

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It’s tempting to add some new varieties this year.  Baker Creek offers lots of interesting heirlooms from around the world. But I think for now we’re just going to stick with standard Italian and Asian varieties.  I don’t think Danville is ready for white or green eggplant.

As with everything we’re ordering we have to keep in mind that there is a limit on how much we can grow.  Our focus has to be on the tried-and-true varieties that we know we’re going to like.

Whether we add some unusual new variety or not, we expect to have plenty of delicious eggplant next year.  It’s one of the best things about summer here now.  What was once only an experiment is now a staple of our summer gardens.