This time of year, the garden plans my menu. Whatever is ready for harvest is generally what’s for dinner. Our freezer is full of meat from local farms, and tonight we had pork chops with our vegetables. I brined the pork chops for a few hours in a quart of water with 1/4 c. of sea salt, drained them and patted them dry. Then Mike grilled them along with lots of veggies – green beans, broccoli, eggplant, okra and several types of peppers. He brushed the veggies with some seasoned oil as they cooked. While he was grilling, I chopped a few fresh tomatoes, a cucumber, a small onion, basil, parsley and oregano and tossed it together with mayonnaise*, salt and pepper and some garlic. Ready in 20 minutes and so delicious! What are you eating from your garden?
*It’s difficult to find a good store bought mayo. If you don’t make your own, this is one of the best I have been able to find.
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I think that Sean Zigmund and Cheyenne Miller are audacious. They have a few acres in upstate NY and they call it a farm. And you know what? It is a farm. These young people know how to work the land so that they are both producing and building soil for the years to come. On the day we visited Root N Roost Farm, they were busy processing duck, but Cheyenne took the time to show us around the farm. (Yes, we emailed ahead of time). On this small plot, they are producing enough to fill 15 CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) shares, in addition to stocking their farm stand and feeding themselves and their apprentices. And they are raising hens for eggs, and pigs, ducks, turkeys, and chicken for meat, and bees for honey and pollination.
Their raised beds are built using hugelkultur and/or lasagna gardening. And they use hoop houses to extend their growing season (winter CSA shares are available). And if you think they couldn’t possibly fit one more thing on their land, you would be wrong. They recently built two small ponds!
Missing from the farm are tractors or even rototillers. All of the work is done by hand – well, the animals help work the land as well.
While “pretty” or “manicured” would probably not be apt descriptions of their farm, you could certainly ascribe the adjective “resourceful” to these farmers. Their outbuildings are built from pallets, and one of their coops is made from an old truck cap. Sean and Cheyenne know how to recycle or, I should say, upcycle. We’re not talking dog-patch, though. (That’s the probably not politically correct term we use for people whose property is littered with junk that they think they will some day use). No, Sean and Cheyenne put this rescued junk to good use.
As if they aren’t busy enough, they love what they are doing so much that they conduct classes to share their knowledge with others. While you may not live near Root N Roost, you live near a farm. Call them up; take a tour. You’ll learn something, and hopefully you’ll take home some fresh organic produce and eggs like we did.
Before its collapse, the USSR had been providing Cuba with much of its oil, farm equipment, pesticides, fertilizer and food. Cuba, in return, provided them with sugar. All of this ended with the break-up of the Soviet Union. This was a crisis for the small island nation who grew little of its own food (sugar and tobacco were its main crops). Cuba was starving and the average person lost 20 pounds during this time. By necessity, Cubans began growing their own food. And they did it in every corner of land that they could find. Without pesticides and petroleum based fertilizers, they had no choice but to grow their food organically. Cubans, up to this point, were not big vegetable eaters and the meat they ate was from factory farms. Diseases like diabetes, heart disease and cancer were relatively common. In addition, with major shortages of gasoline, they began riding bikes instead of taking their cars. Many farmers were forced to farm with oxen. By necessity, their diets changed, and the country is now growing up to 80% of its fruits and vegetables. Produce stands are numerous, and much of the fruits and vegetables available at the stands were grown within walking distance. During the time of transition, many people, especially children and pregnant women, suffered from malnourishment related illnesses. But now, with the drastic change in diet and the increase in exercise from walking and bike riding, cases of diabetes, heart disease and cancer have been significantly reduced.
Although this story can clearly not be separated from politics, that is not the point of my article. (If you comment, and choose to make your comment political, please excuse me from engaging in the conversation.) I clearly do not wish to see my country, the United States, have to suffer what these people have suffered. But my country is suffering from a crisis of health that has less to do with insurance and politics, than with the choices we make every time we eat. We need to take responsibility for our own health, and one way that many of us can begin is by gardening. Yes, urban gardening is growing in our cities and I’m thankful. I live in small town America. I walk my streets and something is missing. Gardens are few and far between. But I am encouraged. As a Master Gardener, rarely a week goes by that someone does not ask me how to start a garden, or how to improve the one they have. I hope we can learn a little from the people of Cuba without having to suffer what they have suffered.
I absolutely love finding out about gardeners/farmers who are innovative and creative. They help me to realize that after almost 40 years of gardening, I’ve only begun to scratch the surface. I find that exciting! Our infinite God has created our world to reflect His character and because of that there will always be something new to learn.
I recently found a documentary that may be viewed for free called Back to Eden. Paul Gautshci’s methods are extremely productive without a lot of back breaking work. He grows in wood chips! Sit back tonight, relax and be prepared to be amazed. You may view the DVD for free here: http://backtoedenfilm.com/ or purchase it here (yeah, that would help me a little).
As a Penn State Master Gardener, I am required to take 8 hours of continuing education each year. I wanted to take the opportunity to visit a farm just outside of NYC called Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, so I chose a day that a class that interested me was being held. I traveled with my husband, Mike, and my daughter, Jessi, on a cold, winter day through the beautiful Hudson River Valley and over the 3+ mile long Tappan Zee Bridge to the former Rockefeller estate.
We took the class Intensive Home Growing Techniques for Homegrown Edibles taught by James Carr of the NY Botanical Gardens and author of Gardening and Landscaping the Natural Way. The 3 hour class was informative and inspiring and I am especially anxious to begin using what I learned to extend the gardening season in my PA garden. I’ll try to keep you up to date in future posts.
Both before and after the class we enjoyed the 80 acre, four-season farm. We found much life for the middle of winter. Stone Barns raises over 200 varieties of organic crops in their fields and greenhouse beds. Many of those crops are growing right now, and not just in the greenhouses. It is also home to cows, pigs, chickens, sheep, ducks and turkeys – all pasture raised. The farm also maintains a number of bee hives.
Two exciting things we found are a cafe and a restaurant which are sourced from the surrounding fields and pasture, as well as other local farms. We enjoyed a fabulous lunch at the cafe which included parsnip soup, homemade bologna sandwiches on freshly baked bread (I could genuinely learn to like bologna if this is what it’s meant to be like), and parsnip cake with cream cheese icing (not surprisingly, they harvested parsnips this week). The cake tasted very much like carrot cake and inspired me to consider growing parsnips.