Posts Tagged ‘local food’

Local readers, your input is needed!


A reader who is moving to Albuquerque soon left the following comment on my “About Us” page:
“My husband just accepted a job in Albuquerque that starts in Nov, 2011 so we’ll be moving there from Northern Colorado. We currently raise/sell goats, chickens, and pigs for meat. We also sell eggs. (Our other critters are 4 llamas, and 2 sheep). I garden for our own eating pleasure and am striving to be more self-sufficient each year.
Would any of you be willing to take part in a conversation regarding raising farm animals in the Albuquerque area? Do you have contacts or websites that I should be sure to check out?
Some of my questions are as follows:
Chickens don’t like to lay eggs in extreme temperatures (too cold/too hot). How do you handle this in ABQ?
Is there a market for meat goats? (Boer goats)
Pigs: do you know of anyone who raises pigs to market weight and sells to local friends/neighbors that I might talk with? Do you need to compensate in any way for the heat?
Thanks for getting me excited about the Albuquerque area and starting our new adventure!”
Becky – Meadow Muffin Acres – Loveland, CO

I’m going to invite my local readers in Albuquerque to respond to Becky’s questions. Please leave a comment if you know anything that would be helpful to her. My own responses are as follows:
1. I haven’t had any major temperature-related issues with my laying hens. They lay almost all the way through the winter, with a lull in late December and early January, and they slow down a little during the hottest months, July and August, but even during the most scorching seasons I get three or four eggs a day from my six hens.
2. I don’t know how much market there is for goats, but it seems worth a try, especially if they were grass-and-browse raised, because there’s a substantial market for grassfed meats here.
3. I no longer know anyone who raises pigs, more’s the pity, but there would be a good market for them. I would definitely be one of your buyers! I used to know a family who raised pigs just a few miles south of Albuquerque, and they told me that a mud wallow was essential to keep the pigs cooler on hot days. Access to shade was also essential, and on the hottest afternoons their son used to go out and spray down the pigs with the hose. The pigs loved it, and would keep trying to shove their way into the stream.
4. If you are looking for other farm-based business opportunities, a micro chicken-processing facility would be well worth considering. Many of us like to raise our own meat chickens but on a single-household scale the plucker and scalder that make butchering efficient just aren’t affordable. When I had a farm in upstate New York there was a couple who had the equipment and would process chickens for the rest of us, and it was a huge convenience. I would happily work with anyone who had the set-up to process my chickens, as well as pay for the processing. So keep it in mind!
The people at the Urban Store have their finger on the local pulse when it comes to this sort of enterprise, so I would definitely give Kathy a call or email her from their website. All best wishes to you, and welcome to town.

Food Inc.

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       Recently a follower of my site asked me if I ever receive pay or free goods for recommendations that I make about products. The answer is no, never. I prefer to be able to say whatever I think, and am careful not to accept gifts or samples for this reason. I don’t recommend a product unless I have eaten it, know how it’s produced, and think it’s a good thing. I also don’t recommend anything that I didn’t pay for, because forking over the cash myself is a good reality check about perceived quality/cost ratio.

       In this case, though, I’m going to recommend a movie that I have not seen and haven’t (yet) paid for a ticket to. The movie is Food Inc., and it opens in Albuquerque on July 31st. The filmmakers are people with solid credentials in the area of sustainability, and I think it will be good. Also, attendence at this film will be scrutinized to see if there is  broad support for more sustainability and safety in our food supply.
          Here’s a little more about why I think this film will be important: the picture above was taken last week when I visited old friends of mine in Los Lunas who have a small pig operation. Everything about their place respects the needs of pigs: these pigs have lots of room to stretch out and to socialize with other pigs, walls are sturdy to keep them safe, both sun and shade are available, they have both indoor and outdoor space, and no inhumane practices like tail-docking or farrowing crates are used. The pigs have plenty of water to make the muddy wallows where they cool off on hot days, as you see above. You will not see any of this in a large commercial pig operation.
        Sure, it takes extra effort to seek out meat from farmers like this instead of buying it in plastic at the grocery store. You may need to buy a quarter or half animal at once, and the cost will probably be higher than the factory-farm price.  You will probably need to eat less meat. That’s a good thing.

        The movie Food Inc. is likely to get more people to think about these issues. That’s a good thing, too. www.foodincmovie.com
And no, I won’t be getting any free passes.

The Jewels of Summer: flowers and local food

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Now that the idea of local food is popular, a backlash is detectable. I’m beginning to see comments and articles attacking the  idea of obtaining all your food locally. I’m familiar with the debate technique of building a straw man and knocking him down, so this doesn’t especially surprise me; caricaturing your opponents’ views is a way to make them seem ridiculous. All I will say in this context is that few of us obtain all our food locally, or want to. Coffee, chocolate, wine, and olive oil are among the foods that I love dearly and will happily buy from other areas. On the other hand, local fruits and vegetables are fresher and superior, and we have some truly superb grass-fed local meats available. If you aren’t ready to make a big lifestyle change, try shopping at one farmers’ market a week and cooking what you find. If you want the cooking done for you, try one of the prepared foods, cheeses, or breads.  Don’t go there with strong notions about what you should eat. Instead, look around and see what you want to eat.  Local farmers and artisans will benefit, and so will you.

If you don’t want to try any  local foods, buy some local flowers. One of the greatest pleasures of my gardening  lifestyle is eating my own food on my patio among my own flowers. Beauty feeds the spirit as surely as vegetables feed the body, and our local seasonal flowers didn’t require greenhousing, pesticides, fertilizer, petroleum fuel, or poorly paid labor to reach us. The flowers are the fringe benefits of  growing locally, and sometimes they are beautiful enough to stop you in your tracks, which can only be good for your health.

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winter salads

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As part of our Christmas dinner, we had salads made entirely from our own yard produce. I had not used any season-extending devices at all, and we’d had cold weather and a few light snows, so these are the greens that thrive on cold and neglect. The “trim” is a ring of pansies, which I wrote about in an earlier post. The greens included arugula (see the post before this one,) pansy leaves (cool, tender, and delicious,) chervil, a few nasturtium leaves still surviving in a sheltered corner, my new favorite lettuce, and sunflower sprouts.
The lettuce that I’ve enjoyed most this year is a gorgeous deep red romaine called “Marshall.” I think I got my seeds from Territorial. the color is a dramatic foil for almost anything else, and it doesn’r get bitter in our sudden hot springs. It’s beautiful in the garden, too. You can see it poking up through a light mulch in the photo below.
The other photo shows my sunflower sprouts, and I wish I had known earlier how delicious they are. The first taste is pleasant and mild, but a delicious nuttiness rapidly reveals itself. These are the only sprouts that I’ve enjoyed eating out of hand, but they’re even better in a good mixed salad.
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Sunflower sprouts seem to be best when soil-grown, and they need a little light. I have a grow-light for my spring seedlings, and it usually goes unused in the winter, so I used it to grow the sprouts, but a sunny window would be fine.
Start with a large flat container. I used a terra cotta saucer intended to hold a large potted plant, just because I had one sitting around. Put in an inch of good organic soil. Scatter raw organic sunflower seeds (in shell) very thickly on top, touching each other. Pat them into the surface, cover with another 1/4 inch or so of soil, water well but don’t make the soil soggy, and wait a few days. The books say to presoak the seeds, but I didn’t and they did fine. When they start to emerge, begin giving them light, and harvest when they are green and are trying to shed their shells. I snap them off at soil level with my thumbnail, flick off the clinging shell, rinse well and dry, and start snacking. They go well with spicy mesclun mixes but can also give depth to a simple lettuce salad. Grow lots, so that you can use them lavishly.

Arugula, my favorite weed

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At times I’m very surprised by what grows well in my high desert garden. I wouldn’t have guessed that arugula would not only grow well but would naturalize and happily spread itself about. Arugula is my favorite salad green, and I’ve learned to love it for cooking too. Something about its tender nutty sharpness is like watercress gone to heaven. It likes cold weather, and manages with surprisingly little water.

First, get your seed. I don’t recommend the wild-type often sold as “sylvetta” because the leaves are small leading to low yield, and in dry conditions it can get too sharp to be pleasant. Try to get the type designated as ‘cultivated” or the named variety Apollo, although the latter lacks the frilly leaves that make such a nice show on the salad plate. In winter or very early spring, scatter the seed in drifts on prepared ground and rake them in lightly, or scatter them in prepared containers and scratch the seed in a little with your fingers. Water occasionally and keep an eye out. Early in the spring, you’ll notice the little plants struggling up bravely. Give them a little water when the soil is dry, and thin them out to stand about 4-6″ apart. Throw the washed thinnings in your salads, of course. When the plants are about 6″ tall, harvest them heavily for salads, but don’t cut the crown or pull the roots up. Use dressings containing nut oils and good olive oil. Never dress the arugula more than a couple of minutes before eating, because it wilts easily. Eventually the plants will start to bolt to seed. Do nothing to stop them. The next phase of the arugula season is starting.

The maturing plant will now stand about 2 feet high, with small clusters of buds. It’s perfect for cooked greens now. Leave one or two plants to bloom and make seed, and cut the rest down to about 3″ high, and bring the cuttings into the kitchen. Pull off and save all leaves, and break the bud sections off wherever the stem will snap without resistance. These are your cooking greens. Wash them carefully. If you want to use the large stems that are left over, cut them in cross sections no more than 1/4 inch long, because they contain strong  stringy fibers. I compost them instead of eating them. blanch the washed greens in a large quantity of rapidly boiling water for 1 minute, no more. Drain and proceed as desired toward dinner. They have a flavor a little like broccoli rabe, and I love to eat them with pasta. See recipe below, and for other recipes see my website, www.localfoodalbuquerque.com, go to the “recipes” page, and click on “greens.”

Now, what about the plants you left alone? They will develop into great wispy clouds of small white flowers, a little like annual baby’s breath. Bees adore them. Then they’ll set hundreds of tiny seed pods. When these dry out, let some spill around the mother plant (which can now be pulled up, and should be, because it looks pretty scruffy by now) and toss the rest around wherever you want more arugula. Usually these seeds will be dry and ready for seeding in late summer, will sprout by September, and will be in the salad stage by late October. Leave them over the winter, and the cycle continues.

clich here for the recipe

Thanks Giving

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What a deeply joyful Thanksgiving I was privileged to have: here in New Mexico we had both a new president and a good long soaking rain, and in the high desert it’s a little hard to say which is more exciting. The garden is still providing some lettuce, arugula, herbs, and carrots, but I have more time to reflect on what I’m doing. This has led to thinking about what, exactly, my urban homestead means. It certainly doesn’t mean self-sufficiency. That won’t happen until I can grow coffee and olive oil. It doesn’t mean grimly making do. It’s a happy celebration of what one small piece of city dirt can produce. I have a medical practice and a number of hobbies, but growing my own food in the most space-intensive way possible is a lot of fun, and I have a website and blog to let other people know that, if they want to provide for themselves a little more, they don’t need to quit their job and move to the country. I don’t even think that’s the best way to start. Start where you are, with what you have. People with no land at all can bake sourdough bread and brew beer, and those are indoor “yeast gardens.” People with a balcony can grow herbs in pots. People with a tiny yard can utilize it. In the quest for local food, we can have the most local food of all, and if we have more garden space at other points in our lives, we’ll know more about how to use it if we’ve practiced in small ways. Please go to my website, www.localfoodalbuquerque.com, for more about urban gardening, and look at my blog entries on other pages for details about the many small pleasures that crop up along the way.

Most of my winter posts will be about canning, preserving, and using what was made during the summer. That’s also a way of remembering the abundant season and being grateful for what I received. So, here’s a fond look backward at

the colors of summer.   august-08-029

pansies- more than an edible flower

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Here in Albuquerque, pansies are a pretty presence during the fall, take a brief break in the coldest weather, and then bloom themselves silly in the spring. The hot weather finishes them off. For years I’ve enjoyed their beauty and have used the edible and mild-tasting flowers to beautify my salads. It was only this year that I learned that the leaves are edible too, and in fact are very tasty, with a substantial but tender texture and a cool, slightly minty taste rather like mache’. Now I put in pansy plants in late September, let them establish themselves for a month, and begin plucking leaves and flowers at will until late November. After that I leave them alone until they show fresh growth in the spring. When making mixed salads, the mildly sweet flowers and leaves go better with lettuces than with the wilder-flavored greens like arugula or any of the chicories. Keep the flowers on top where they can be appreciated. I like to lay them on after the greens have been dressed. Gently floral olive oils like the ones from Provence and mild vinegars or a little lemon juice let these subtle flavors shine.

It’s worth noting that this triple-purpose quality makes pansies a good use of space in the cold months, and means that you can get some local food even from a pot of flowers by your door.

Some people make derisive noises about edible flowers, and think that the trend was a 1980’s California phenomenon and is now long over. Well, edible flowers have a culinary history several hundred years old at a minimum, and not likely to be over any time soon. Anything that both beautifies food and makes it taste better is worth learning about and preserving. The best culinary list of flowers that I know of is an appendix in John Ash’s From the Earth to the Table, which is a delightful cookbook in other respects as well. Second-hand copies are often available. Check it out.

If you get your plants from a nursery, ask whether they’ve been sprayed or fertilized, and wait a month or more to make sure they’re safe to eat.