Good Food


My kids call me the doomer.  I try to tell them that I just like to be prepared.  I never want to worry about where my next meal is coming from.  In doing so I have learned to garden in good weather and bad.  This year is one of those years where some things are doing much better than expected while others are an unmitigated disaster.  Every year I seem to say to Bill, “If we had to survive on this year’s garden we would starve to death by February”.  Even though I’m getting better at my gardening and adding more and more perennial beds and plants to the ever changing array of food that I grow I know that it would never be enough for a family to survive on until the next crop comes in.

The main reason I really grow a garden is there is nothing like the taste of a warm cucumber just picked, or that summer tomato.  The real revelation came to me when I grew potatoes for the first time a couple of years ago.  Potatoes freshly dug scream “POTATO” when you eat them.  Something happens to produce the minute it is harvested – the taste begins to wane. There are only two things I grow that improve once picked – pears and long pie pumpkins.

Last weekend we made a spectacular meal of things we have grown (or in the case of the steak watched grow).  These are the meals that are memorable, the ones I like to share with friends and family.  I want them to know their food can be so much better. There is such satisfaction in knowing you started the seeds and nurtured your food.  That there are no chemicals involved in any of the food we ate.  The beef was fed grass and hay from one property, no hormones, antibiotics.  It grew up in fresh air and sunshine.  It tastes like BEEF, not the homogenized red meat you find wrapped in plastic and styrofoam at the grocery store.  There is a huge difference.

The garden surplus I will continue to can to use in the winter months.  Peaches and apricots are next on the list and I will continue with tomatoes.  Even with processing the taste of  home canned fruit of any kind is a revelation in the winter.  The first bite brings you back to summer.  That is what makes all the work of preserving your harvest in the summer worthwhile.

When the Weather is Bad

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Garden in August 2009


A couple of weeks ago I was reading the blogs of young farmers across Ohio, New York and Vermont lamenting the loss of their crops due to an unexpected frost.  They had started all of their long growth veggie plants indoors, nurtured them, fussed over them, dreamed about their potential.  The weather warmed a couple of weeks early and in the eagerness that befalls us all when we think spring is here they transplanted everything into their newly tilled beds.  They were watered in, possibly staked up, fussed over some more.  The following week we had 3 days of below freezing weather – all of their sprouts were lost.  That’s a true hit for a small farmer.  You try to do everything right, avoid starts coming in from some other state or parts unknown.  You want to know how they were cared for, no one will love your little plants the way you do.

A similar thing is happening to me right now.  We’ve had very rainy, cold weather for the past week and a half.  Yes, right after I transplanted my starts and put my seeds in the ground.  I waited, I always do.  The official Memorial Day weekend this year fell on May 25 and 26 this year.  Too early to plant I said to myself, I’ve been burned before and the soil temp wasn’t high enough to germinate seeds.  I waited another week.  The weather wasn’t great but between a couple of rainy afternoons I got everything into the ground.  The following week was hot as blazes, it felt like late July.  Things were looking good.  The waiting is the most difficult for me.

It turned fairly cool a little over a week ago and it’s been raining a lot.  The sump for the cellar was running non stop last night as it does when the water table is extremely high – not a good sign.  I woke up this morning to a temperature of 48 degrees.  The rain had stopped right before dawn and I walked the garden with the dogs.  Beans and corn are up for the most part, rhutabagas as well.  Radishes, onions and all of the tomatoes look okay for now.  No potatoes yet which isn’t what I’d like to see and the Long Pie Pumpkins will probably have to be replanted.  I take heart in the fact that it’s still early enough to get a harvest from those things I have to replant but I’m also just waiting for signs of blight on my tomatoes, they’d rather have it sunny and warm you understand.

If I had to survive on the things I grow myself I would be scared right now.  There are so many crop issues that this weather has effected.  Things are slow to grow.  The fields are so wet that haying will have to wait (with a little prayer that it won’t rain like this for a while). Some times it’s difficult to put yourself into the shoes of your ancestors, so many of mine were farmers.  How must they have felt has they stood in the middle of their corn field with the plants 2 to 3 inches tall and fully a third of said field under water?  We take for granted that someone else is growing our food for us, they are the ones taking the risks.  We complain if the price of things go up or if fresh veggies are more difficult to come by but think about if food production was your whole life.

I’m convinced the day will come when a very large percentage of what I eat I will have to grow myself or in cooperation with my neighbors.  I garden because I love it but I also know that you can’t just decide one year that you are going to grow your own food.  In New England (and probably everywhere else) each growing season is different.  Every year I learn something new because I have to deal with some problem from the weather or pests.  You learn, you grow, you change.  The variety of food I grow is different from what I grew 10 years ago.  Part of that is that my garden has expanded over the years, part of it is there are things that just don’t do well in my particular spot.  Each year I try something new to see how it goes.  There are winners and losers.  I’m hoping that things warm up and dry out a little now or we will see what really survives in an adverse weather year. I’m also praying for a little more patience, things have a way of working out.

The Frustration of Food

ChickensToday’s level of farming ignorance is unprecedented in history—including all time and all cultures. Never have so many people in a civilization been able to be this far removed from their food umbilical. 

Joel Salatin

An acquaintance of mine, Jenna Woginrich of Cold Antler Farm just received her order of 45 baby chicks today and posted part of an article written by Joel Salatin in response to those who would criticize the practice of sending chicks through the mail.  Joel has the ability to explain in very simple terms why it is possible to have chicks comfortably make the trip from his farm to your house and remain perfectly healthy.  He also wrote this article out of frustration and I’m sure that anyone that raises animals for food can appreciate that but I think everyone needs to read the article.   The article is called  Rebel With a Cause: Anthropomorphism Against Farms, take a few minutes to read it, maybe read it to your kids, you will all learn something.

I grew up when most of our meat was grown ourselves or my father shot in the woods.  Sounds backwards and like I am some kind of hick doesn’t it?  I think something is lost when you don’t make an effort to know where your food comes from.  I believe you have to see their faces, understand what they are and what they give to you, sustenance.  I believe you need to know the kinds of lives that these animals have led and what kind of deaths that they have had in order to make peace with the fact that you are an omnivore and flesh is part of your diet.  Factory farming is farming at its worst, the only thing this is about is the almighty dollar, produce as much as you can as cheaply as possible.  It’s all about volume.

The frightening part to me is now everything you can buy in a grocery store comes from some sort of high volume farming situation.  If you want to know what is in your food you need to seek out the farmers of every single ingredient, visit their farms if possible and buy it directly from them.  I am fortunate to live in an area where there are many farmers of various kinds.  There is a small, family run dairy right down the street from my house in Enfield.  Smyth’s Trinity Farm takes dairy farming to a new (old) level in my mind.  I go there to pick up my dairy products and see all of the girls either in the pasture or in the stanchions in a very clean barn chewing their cuds and seeming very content.  All of their products are processed right there.  Once you start drinking and cooking with their milk, half and half and cream you will never go back to what passes as milk in the grocery store, you realize that you are being lied to about what they are selling you – it looks like milk but it doesn’t taste like milk.

Maybe that’s the problem, we’ve been lied to for so long that we now see what passes for food and something good and wholesome because it says so on the box.  We’ve lost our way, we really don’t know what is good and what is crap.  The gap seems to grow wider everyday.  If you’re reading this you could maybe Google GMO corn, or Monsanto, or the difference between wheat 20 years ago and now.  I can promise you it’s not pleasant reading, any of it, but it pays to educate yourself, you need to know what’s happening to us because of the profitability of big Ag.

Someone that reads my blog commented on what I really eat and if I was somewhat of a hypocrite.  In a word, yes.  I think we all are complicit in the problem with factory farming on every level.  I cook at home a lot of the time from scratch but even those recipes handed down for generations use ingredients that are now questionable.  It would require me to do a LOT of research to make some of my favorite meals from total scratch and I have not figured out how to replace American Cheese . . . sigh.  So I may not always cook as fresh and local as I want to for every meal but you can be assured that I think about and calculate what is going into it.  Then I make a decision about how bad I want that meal and at least know (and try to justify) what I’m ingesting.  Sometimes that’s the best you can do.

Thinking Local


A couple of days ago I received an order for yarn from Green Mountain Spinnery.  Until I read the tag I had no idea that they were in Putney, VT which is about 45 miles from Rowe.  They are a co-op and spin the majority of their yarn from New England fleeces.  This is for a project I will be doing in a knit-along with Ruth Fischer-Ticknor.  You can read about it on her Counting Sheep blog.  It is a beautiful yarn.

As I was winding the skeins into balls I started thinking about having a garment made from wool that was processed so close to home.  I’ve gradually become more of a locavore in the past few years and have begun to see that mindset seep into everything I do.  I grow and preserve a lot of food from my garden every year.  I get all of my dairy from Smyth’s Trinity Farm in Enfield, CT where I can talk cheese making with someone who works with dairy on a larger scale. We buy a side of beef from Russell in Heath once a year – grass, sunshine, fresh water, nothing else goes into these cows. We also make our own maple syrup with him.  My eggs come from my sister next door where I’ve watched those hens from hatchlings.  Our sausages, bacon and other assorted smoked meats come from Pekarski’s in South Deerfield. Mike Pekarski is a very generous man and rightfully proud of his smokehouse – he will tell or show me how things are made, right there, with the help of his family.  In the summer there are a few farms that I frequent for pick your own produce that augments what I am putting up at the time. Although the farmers there don’t know me by name they instantly recognize me when I arrive.   I thought, until I started writing this, that it was more important to know how far my food had travelled but I now realize that I have friendships that have been built over time with all of the people who are raising much of my food.

Preparing and eating food that you trust gives you a peace of mind that is difficult to really describe.  There is nothing that makes me feel better than to prepare a meal where I know where everything came from, I’ve visited its source, I know who’s hands have been on it.  I know that if I didn’t grow it myself I have contributed to the livelihood of people that have become my friends or have been for a long time.  By doing that I am contributing to my local economy.  So I try to get what I need within the 100 mile radius that is often talked about.   Purchasing fiber that I needed for a project from less than 100 miles away made me feel that there are so many other ways I can think about being local.  I personally know at least 3 people that are raising fiber animals.  Although I didn’t buy their fiber I know that I am still contributing to their type of local economy as well.  Yes, things cost a little more but doesn’t it feel better when you know that the money you are spending is going directly into the pockets of people you know rather than some huge corporation with the farmer essentially getting paid just enough to keep going? It’s worth thinking about.

This is my 100th post!  Thank you so much to all who read, follow and comment on it.

Reflections on 2012

With the last day of days upon us and the end of the calendar year here as well I thought I would make a list of things that were important to me this year.  Then I thought I would post them with photos.

1. Daughter Caitlyn graduated from Springfield College with her Masters in Clinical Mental Health Counseling.120511 (15)

2.  Helped my father transition into assisted living.

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3.  Took over the care and feeding of Fort Pelham Farm.

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4.  Learned to hook rugs.


5.  Learned to weave.

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6.  Gardened and canned in competition with sister Sue.

Fall Garden

7.  Loved my dogs.

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8.  Watched loons in a sunset on Lake Winnipesaukee.

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9.  Began blogging more about the past and present.

This Old House When It Was Newer

10. Got a little more serious about eating local food.  If I didn’t grow it much of it came from local farms.

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The year has been a stressful one but out of that stress good things have come. I have learned a lot of things this year.

I’ve made an effort to learn new crafts and along the way I have met some truly amazing people.  Pottery was not mentioned in the list but I have to say that class taught me one thing I really needed to know.  I am not a potter, I will never be a potter, move on.  I spent great time with my sister this year including the aforementioned pottery class.  I laughed a lot.  I found out that there are a lot of crafts I know how to do but there are many things that I should stay away from.  Textiles are good for me, so is woodworking (your very basic kind).  Anything that you can measure and keep square works.  Pottery is so . . . uncontrolled.

I have learned that life is too short to have the past get in the way of renewing old friendships.  I have been reminded about this over and over and over again.  What’s done is done, move on.

I’ve learned that digging in the dirt will clear your head faster than anything else I can think of, plus you end up with something good to eat.

Sometimes you just have to ignore all of the noise.  Rowe is the best place in the world for that.  No cell service.  We do have wifi and currently tv but I think after the first of the year the tv will go.  There are always the DVDs.

The next 11 days will be spent disconnected from work, internet, the outside world.  What I’m really afraid of is not wanting to come back.