The Power of Community

More and more frequently, I’m seeing articles and studies detailing the consequences of our current, conventional approach to producing and consuming food in this country. Life spans are trending downward and chronic conditions are trending up. People are getting sicker at a younger age. Even the military is now sounding the alarm, as they are turning away potential recruits due to obesity and lifestyle diseases.

And these are our young people!

How do we begin to turn this around? How can we ensure that the food we eat is good for us? How will we be able to guarantee that next year, and the year after, we can still buy food that’s nutritious and free of chemicals or anti-biotic resistant diseases? We go to the source, and that source is the farmer.

We are blessed to be living in an area that has maintained a rich farming tradition when so many other regions have lost their farms and farmers. We’ve seen a lot of changes and had to adapt to them to keep our rich fields under cultivation. It hasn’t been easy. Now, we have an opportunity to support our farmers directly, through the Port Susan Farmers Market. It’s a testament to all the people involved that the market was such a success this season.

So, why am I on my soapbox? During the off season, you may see information about funding initiatives the market board will undertake for next year’s market. These are crucial to ensure that the market returns with the same vigor it had this year. Please help.

I fully believe that a local, community-based farmers market is the smartest way to ensure good health in ourselves and in our children. To make the market a permanent fixture, year after year, it takes the power of the community. That’s you. That’s me. That’s everyone.

(Oh, and if you aren’t in my Stillaguamish area, support your local farmers market. It’s good for you!)

A Perfect Day

I’ve had the best “Geek in the Country” day. After watching the Sister let the horses out to pasture, (sometimes they leap around like baby goats, which is always fun to see), I ran out to the grand opening of Crimping River Fiber. This mill will be processing sheep, llama, alpaca, and goat fleece for small producers throughout the region. In one of my previous rants, I’d decried the lack of processors for all the small natural fiber producers in the area and this mill is filling that need. I hope they do exceptionally well.

This last winter, I learned how to spin using a drop spindle. Now I want to find a spinning wheel that fits my height and learn how to finish both 2 ply and 3 ply yarns. (Yeah, I need another hobby.) I may have found a resource for a wheel. Stay tuned…

I had a delightful chat with the folks from Paca Pride Guest Ranch about their permaculture practices. They employ a pasture methodology for their llamas and alpacas that allows for constant use throughout the year without the need for shoveling…um…well… paca poo. I don’t know how well it will translate to horses since they are much harder on the grass with their big, heavy hooves. However, it’s always worth looking into.

After that, I went to my dad’s house for a delightful little soiree and stopped at Fry’s on my return home. It’s techno-geeky heaven for those not familiar with the store. I managed to make it out for under $30, which is a pretty impressive feat considering the awesomeness of all the toys there. Sticking to my commitment to lower my power consumption, I picked up a solar charger for all my techno-toys. It will not only keep things running smoothly, it will give me a power backup in case of an emergency. Those include natural disasters, power outages, and forgetting to plug in the phone at night. (There’s nothing worse than realizing your constant connection to Twitter is compromised by a low battery.)

And I got to play with some tablets, even though I’m almost entirely sure I’ll be getting a Surface when they are available. I just can’t wait for Windows 8.

Yep, nearly a perfect day…

Eating Well All the Year Long

We are blessed here, in our corner of the world, with a moderate climate. It never gets too cold. It never gets too hot. It rains most of the year, but that ensures us a constant flow of water even at the height of summer. In winter, we get a touch of snow which lets us do a bit of sledding and enjoy a cocoa by the fire. It never lasts terribly long, though.

This means that, with the proper planning, we can grow some crops year round. A number of farmers are already doing so here, in the state. Root vegetables do quite well underground and many greens will continue to grow if they are protected from frost. I know that baby collard green leaves, when frozen by a morning’s ice, are considered a delicacy and high-end restaurants will snap them right up.

Will Allen, an urban farming pioneer, writes in his book, Good Food Revolution, about discovering new ways to grow year-round in Milwaukee, WI, where it can be bitterly cold in winter. His favorite method is to pile his compost along the outsides of his tall hoop houses, which not only increases the temperature inside, but secures the house in strong winds.  Others have composted in ditches along the insides of their hoop houses, increasing the internal warmth. Cold frames, cloches, deep mulch, haybale raised beds, and many permaculture techniques can all be used to extend the growing season right through the winter.

One of the finest sights I’ve ever seen was the fields in France covered in glass cloches in the early spring. A cloche is a blown-glass bell jar that ranges in size from a foot to 2 feet tall. Farmers place them over vulnerable seedlings. This allows them to plant earlier in the season, when there may still be frost. In our area, cloches are very expensive to buy, so why not use what we already have? When I shop at thrift stores, I constantly see large, clear-glass bowls, some for mixing, some for cooking, and some for punch. Why not use those?

There are a number of ways to inexpensively repurpose items to help you extend your season. Old windows can be made into cold frames for lettuce, scrap lumber can be found at numerous outlets in the area, including ReStore, and last year’s hay, which farmers are trying to clean out of their barns about now, works great for deep mulching. (That’s what I do with my blueberries, raspberries and marion berries. I’m telling you, I really love to pinch a penny…)

I understand that working outside in the winter has its drawbacks. The last time I repaired a fence line it was in horizontal freezing rain. I became quite familiar with a certain mind-numbing cold, as I wasn’t properly attired for such an excursion. (“Farmer-sicle” may be a good name for it.) I heavily invested in some serious rain gear and thermal wear after that.

Why is year-round production important? We don’t stop eating in the winter and good food is crucial for our health and well-being, especially when the days grow short. Year-round growing means year-round selling, which supports our farmers, who still have the same bills coming in every month. Year-round selling provides the basis for a permanent, year-round farmers market, too, which then provides a constant supply for restaurants, stores, and consumers alike. It’s a sustainable, local supply chain, is not necessarily reliant on outside products or services to thrive.