Thursday, September 20, 2012
Tips from a Low-Income Year-Round Organic Locavore
By Elizabeth Henderson
When I moved to a farm back in 1980, I became a year-round locavore. My plan was to stay out of supermarkets. If I could not grow it myself, trade for it with neighbors, or buy it in the food coop, we did not have it. On our 49-acre old Boyle Farm on Boyle Road, Gill, MA, we dug raised beds, planted vegetables and raspberries, raised chickens and rabbits, and foraged fruit from old apple trees, wild elderberries, blackberries and grapes. I traded baby chestnut trees for two Jacob ewes to start our own flock, and for two years fed piglets that grew into hogs that I slaughtered and butchered using Putting Food By as a guide. An old farmer up the road put out a sign – “bee hives for sale.” I offered to buy them if he would teach me how to do bee keeping. He was not sure a woman was suitable as a bee keeper, but reluctantly agreed and turned out to be one of the best teachers I have ever had in any subject. From friends, I learned how to bake bread and make jams, jellies and pickles, and how to can fruit and vegetables. I traded raspberries for fresh milk and made my own yogurt. For winter storage, we constructed an underground root cellar recycling the ruins of the old barn. I purchased a chest freezer and filled it annually with a bushel of broccoli, a bushel of green beans, and many cuts of meat.
If you are living in the city, there is still a lot you can learn from us country homesteaders. At this time of year (September), local organic produce farms are overloaded with crops. The farmers sell the most perfect vegetables or fruit, but there is always crop that is blemished in some way yet still perfectly good to eat. At Peacework Farm, we call this our “factory rejects,” and most of what I eat is of this quality. You can buy these seconds directly from a farm or arrange to pick up a bushel or two at the farmers market. You can put up tomato sauce, salsa, ketchup, etc. at way below the price of buying organic processed products in the store during the winter. If you do not know how to can safely, the Cornell Cooperative Extension offers courses. The best way to learn is to do it alongside someone who knows how. Volunteer to help, and I am sure you will find mentors.
Freezing is a better alternative for greens like broccoli, beans or spinach. If you want to can them, to make sure these vegetables do not harbor botulism, you have to cook them so long that they turn to mush. Before freezing, you must blanch greens for a few minutes and remove all water. There are guides that tell you the correct timing. On the other hand, you can freeze berries and peppers without any cooking. Those red peppers that sell for $3.99 a pound in the winter, go for $10 a bushel at this time of year.
Even in an apartment, you can create a cool space that you can use as a “root cellar” to store potatoes, beets, and other root crops for the winter. You can convert a small bedroom, a closet or a space in your entrance hall or garage where you can wall off a section and keep the temperature at around 50 degrees. A metal garbage can works well as a storage container that keeps out rodents. If you leave the roots on leeks, you can keep them for months in a cool place. Winter squash and onions also store well in a cool, but dryer space. Garlic will keep for a month or two, though it is safer to peel it, chop it and freeze it in small containers, enough for a week’s cooking. In the frig, chopped garlic in oil may become infected with botulism unless you soak the garlic in vinegar for 24 hours first and that changes the flavor.
The prices for organic produce are higher than conventional but remember that organic premium helps keep local farmers in business. Family-scale conventional farms in NY have dropped like flies over the past 50 years because the farm gate price does not cover the costs of production. But timing your purchases well and learning some homesteading skills, you can economize while eating food of the highest quality. And you can transform canning and freezing from a chore into a DIY party by inviting friends. The less cash we all require, the freer we become from the pressures of the mainstream economy. One day, we will pool our resources and invest in a cooperative storage space with a processing kitchen – maybe one for every neighborhood. Locavore eating is good for us and good for our planet!