Monday, December 10, 2012

Facebook Fans

As of this morning, there are 400 people out in Facebook Land who have pushed the 'Like' section on our farm's page. We are surprised, honored, and thank them very much! I know the 2013 garlic marketing season seems like a long way off from now, but we hope most of them are local enough to shop with us, will introduce themselves next year at our market tables, and will also introduce themselves as one of our Facebook garlic fans. 

Here is another new bumper sticker I found myself thinking about during one of those 2 AM wide awake nights  - "Know your farmers and know your eaters." Creating a healthy community is a two-way street. There is much discussion and anguish over the fact that most people are disconnected from and do not appreciate the sources of their food as one reason for the development of the current agriculture and food system that is clearly unhealthy in more ways than I will elaborate on right now. 

However what most people do not appreciate is that the vast majority of farmers are also disconnected from their eaters. Most are selling the crops they raise as 'ingredients' (the corn, soy, wheat crops) or selling food to be eaten to the processors and/or wholesalers so that you can pick it up in a grocery store.  I learned a generic phrase for this type of growing and selling as "selling to the river" when reading Sandra Steingraber's book Living Downstream

Several people have asked me, either directly or indirectly, if my husband and I "have to be doing this". In each case, the situation has never been fully right to have a lengthy, in depth, and honest heart-felt discussion about "have to" versus "want to be doing this" (by which I am assuming these people were thinking about our taking on the hard work of starting a farm to sell commercially so late in life). 

Let me repeat a sentence I used earlier in this post: 

"Creating a healthy community is a two-way street."

And there is a lot of back and forth activity on that street that for us starts with how we care for our soil and ends with the enjoyment we get from handing off our garlic (and the Etc! on our Garlic, Garlic, Garlic, Etc! banner) to our customers, our eaters, our community. 

Let me repeat a word I just used:


Yes, enjoyment is what we feel and experience deeply when we meet our customers who are putting faith in our work and taking home the 'fruits of our farm', which is one more necessary step on that busy road of contributing to the creation of our healthy community. 

Who would have guessed? :) The deep enjoyment that comes from knowing we are doing our small part in our small part of the universe to create and nourish a healthy community (starting with our soil and the land's community) gives us deep purpose. 

We are not 'selling to the river' but to our own local community. People with faces, in fact, people with smiling faces! We like being being part of our community on this two-way street. Being fully there, in the fields, at the markets, even at the computer researching this or that, and then meeting you gives us happiness, which is the difference between "have to" and "want to". 

I don't really need to add, but I will, I am grateful beyond words for the health I currently have that allows me these many opportunities to both sink my roots into plus nourish my various communities. :)

Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - root by root, inch by inch, row by row :)

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

PS - I changed the photo on my blog's header a few days ago. It's not a great photo, but it shows 24 of the 29 sandhill cranes that were flying over our farm last week, circling in the updraft that would get them to the air current they needed to start flying south. It's about time! The marshes are finally (beyond) ready to freeze, and we hope they will be snow-covered this year. Our land, our waters, and our various plant and animal communities need a return to cold, snowy winters for our land's health here in the Upper Midwest!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Soil Day follow up

This morning was an unplanned 'lazy (rainy) morning'. Of course there is work to do in the barn (and I could always vacuum up the dog fur in the house - smile), but my husband and I both agreed that the barn work was not urgent, and the fur will also need vacuuming tomorrow, so instead I did some reading from one of the books that I requested this week from our library.

I am always on the wait list for a 'slew' of books that sound interesting to me, and obviously to others in my community. I was lucky, this book had no waiting list, and to be honest, I was surprised that our local library even had a copy of this book. (I very frequently need to request books from other Michigan libraries, including books that only are available to borrow from our many universities and colleges.)

I am reading For the Health of the Land, previously unpublished essays by Aldo Leopold (author of A Sand County Almanac which I cited in my previous post about World Soil Day), edited by JB Callicott and ET Freyfogel (1999). Every time I read Aldo Leopold's words I learn more about his views of 'land health', which can be illuminating, satisfying, and unsettling, particularly because the farmer is the focus of most of his later writings. To give these insights time to percolate, I began perusing my blog stats, looking for the recipe with the most views. I only took the time to look back through my posts in 2012 and found this one for Kale-Mushroom Strata (I hope I have put this on my kale blog, too), which has a ton of views for some reason!

I do remember making this dish and loving it, however, what struck me as I re-read my post was how I ended it, with this quote, which brought up a deep memory of happiness:

When we put on the apron, we are nurturing. 
This is not work; it’s love. 

Carol Nicklaus - Danbury, Conn.
(from her Letter to the Editor, New York Times, Sept. 25, 2011)

As I think of cooking and farming, they are both love, not work, at least not 'drudgery'. Both involve nurturing our various communities, including our 'land community' to which Aldo Leopold addresses much of his writing. Both take time and intention, both take a spirit of adventure and curiosity. There may be guidelines but there is no real definitive 'cookbook' for either pursuit. To be successful at each in the deepest sense requires that the 'product' not be measured only in terms of 'yield' but the contribution to the commons, the common good, the commonwealth, commonweal, or our common health. 

I hope that the preparation of all the recipes on this blog contributes to your community's health, indeed your commonwealth. 

Here are the other books sitting in a pile to read (books on my library list always seem to come at once!):
A Time to Plant: life lessons in work, prayer, and dirt by Kyle T. Kramer (foreword by Bill McKibben)
American Earth: Environmental Writings Since Thoreau, edited by Bill McKibben
The Gourmet Paper Maker: handmade paper from fruits and vegetables, Ellaraine Lockie

Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row,

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Thursday, December 6, 2012

World Soil Day - December 5 - Local Foods

I'll start right out by saying this blog post might seem like a ramble, but I hope I come around full circle eventually. An editor would make me write and re-write this posting, which of course is one benefit of personal blogging - no editor! Ok, let's get to work. :)

Here is my favorite Q&A from a recent interview with Barbara Kingsolver, my favorite author:

Q - Have you continued with the living traditions you outlined in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, or have your habits changed since then?

A - The way we eat as a family is the way we live in general. We try to avoid excessive consumption in every way, of resources, of fuels. The process we described in that book, of eating deliberately, of tending to the sources of our food, was very gratifying to us. It was a wonderful exercise both emotionally and socially to engage with the farmers in our region, to learn about the provenance of our food. It’s something we couldn’t go back on. When you have a conversion like that, you don’t leave it. We do what we do because it makes us happy.

I forget which of our friends told me that visiting our farm felt like she was with Barbara Kingsolver. Her comment was an honor I felt deeply, and with happiness, too. :)

Secret revealed here - during the years I traveled around the country speaking (long before I started this blog in 2007), I had this wild fantastical hope that I would walk onto the airplane, find my seat, and see Barbara Kingsolver sitting next to me. Gasp! I don't know if I would have even had the courage to speak to her, the desire to interrupt her privacy, knowing it was possible I might reveal to her that I wrote a book but I am a 'small author' compared to her influence, that over the years I have spent more time reading professional journals/research than literature but somehow I found her books devouring every one she has written, reading or listening to several more than once, even before she wrote my favorite book of hers, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. 

People often ask me where to start reading about the 'local food movement', whatever that phrase and concept entails. I could say read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. However, I don't (that comes 'second'). I say "Don't start by reading! Instead, first start by doing! Start by eating and tasting the difference between a food locally grown versus that same food shipped in from another part of the country (or the world)! To do that, shop at your local farmers' market this week, look around to see what is being offered this week (i.e. what is 'in season'), choose one favorite food that you see for sale, introduce yourself to the farmer, thank him or her for growing it, and then bring that food home to cook, eat, taste, and celebrate." 

I will interject here that every market has different goals and 'rules' about who may be a vendor and what they may bring, so it is important to either ask the farmer (or the market manager) where the food came from to ensure you are purchasing something grown by that farmer. Eventually, you will start asking questions about a farmer's agricultural practices, how the food was grown (signs that say "no spray" really don't mean very much - even I don't know how to interpret that phrase!). Please don't be shy about asking these questions. We welcome them, embrace them, which gives us a chance to discuss and share with you the love and deep sense of responsibility we have for our soil, our crops, and the health of our community. 

Second, purchase or request Animal, Vegetable, Miracle from the library (it is also on CD with Barbara Kingsolver reading it herself). To understand more about this phrase "the local food movement", savor this book, do not race through it. Try several of the recipes contributed by her daughter Camille. Read and re-read the succinct sidebars written by her husband explaining some of the complex concepts involved with our current agriculture and food system and the benefits of changing to one that is more local, more regional, more involved with a sense of place and a sense of provenance as Barbara Kingsolver noted in her response above, which I understand to be both valuing and bestowing a sense of authenticity to our foods' origins. 

Yesterday December 5th was World Soil Day, a day to value and celebrate the few top inches of planet Earth, our home as humans beings, as a most precious natural resource that without proper use and care, civilization as we know it will not continue to thrive, and may not survive (Dirt: Erosion of Civilization by David Montgomery is one of the most informative and powerful books I have read). 

Our love of growing healthy food for our local community starts with our love and respect for the soil on our own farm and encompassing and embracing the community of wild things that live in our soil and on our farm. Nourishing and restoring the health of the soil on our farm, our local eco-system, is our "Job #1". Doing so also brings us full happiness. 

I don't know the history of World Soil Day and have not had time to look it up right now. However, I am grateful that someone somewhere had the wisdom, foresight, and know-how to have a day set aside globally to raise awareness and celebrate our soil. 

I have not seen bumper stickers that say "No Soil, No Food" but in a nutshell that is the message of the book Dirt: An Erosion of Civilization by David Montgomery mentioned above. A better bumper sticker would be "Celebrate Local Soil and Foods", which may be too corny and/or long to put a bumper sticker, but you can see where I am going and what we strive for on our farm. 

I don't know if Barbara Kingsolver's interview was timed to coincide with World Soil Day (I doubt it), but I enjoyed making the connection between her and our farm. I'll leave you with words and a beautiful image from Aldo Leopold, another of my (few) favorite and inspirational writers:

Land is not merely soil; it is a fountain of energy that flows 
through a  circuit of soils, plants, and animals. 

~~ Aldo Leopold, from 'The Land Ethic', 
An essay within A Sand County Almanac, 1949

I have no idea if or how anyone actually celebrated World Soil Day. I will put it on my calendar for 2013 and remind us all to honor and celebrate our local soil and local foods on that day with one simple act, thanking our local farmers for connecting us to and nurturing the soil that feeds us. :) 

Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row,

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

PS - Barbara Kingsolver states in her interview, she 'needs' to write, and her struggle is leaving the computer. Like her, I 'needed' to write this post. I could have/should have been doing many other things for our farm, but at least I combined writing this post with occasionally stirring home-made granola baking in the oven. The house smells wonderful, but the granola is done, this is all the time I have right now, so I hope no editor shows up to make me re-write this post to be less disjointed. I also hope I started and ended in approximately the same place. :)

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The current most popular posts - holiday desserts!

Why am I surprised? :) I am getting ready to make these two recipes myself, so I want to give you the past links to the two most requested posts (i.e. both are holiday recipes) on my blog at the current time.

(1) Date-Walnut Loaf - as easy as can be to throw together. Do it now and put these small loaves into the freezer. I am going to make a double batch this year to have plenty for gifts, eating ourselves, and sharing. I usually bring out the last one from the freezer for Valentine's Day to share with my husband. There is not much that makes him speechless, but one last little date-walnut loaf makes him happy with no need for words except 'Wow - this is just great! Thank you!'. :)

(2) Date Pinwheel Cookies - another family favorite and long-standing family tradition.

The link above shows the step-by-step directions for making these time-consuming but irresistible cookies. My mother no longer bakes them but she is thrilled to get some in her Christmas stocking every year. :) The dough can be made ahead, frozen into logs that are ready-to-slice-and-bake whenever you need them (including Christmas Eve to leave for Santa).

Oh, yum, yum! Both of these recipes have been tweaked over the years to make them as 'healthy' as possible while not sacrificing one bit of their melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness.

I'm sure that somewhere on this blog I have discussed my philosophy about the word 'diet', believing that a 'diet' is much more than the food we eat and no where in my mind is there the word or concept of 'cheating'. The Old Middle English definition of the word 'diet' actually defined diet as 'a day's journey'. I like this, I like this a lot! So, knowing that food nourishes both the body and the soul (being far more than just biochemistry), I hope you will enjoy and savor these two delicious holiday traditions as much as I do, not only as part of 'day's journey' but part of a 'year's journey', too.

What foods are traditions in your family that you cannot give up (nor should you) that are also foods you have tried to make a teensy bit healthier while still enjoying their taste and connection to your past?  I would love to know. Feel free to comment, complete with recipes!

Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row,

Diana Dyer, MS, RD