Sunday, December 8, 2013

The future of alternative food

   The last few months the kind of people that pay attention to changes in Washington, DC that are going to affect small farms have been issuing dire warnings about the rules the FDA is writing as part of implementing the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).  Unlike the organic advocacy groups, our objective isn't to get you to petition the FDA.  (Besides wasting time and losing focus, petitioning the FDA probably can't hurt, though.)  Now that the FSMA is already law, our best remaining hope is to partner more deeply and directly with a tight network of customers in ways that will hopefully enable us to work around the new threats and burdens to local and homegrown ways of producing food.
   As groups like the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association have highlighted, earlier regulatory burdens have already pushed most of the small-scale meat processors in North Carolina and across the U.S. out of business.  We lost our local meat processor, Johnson Meats, with whom we had dealt as far as regulatory restrictions had allowed, a couple years ago.  We're very pleased to have found another processor that will kill on the farm -- they're the last processor in North Carolina that still kills on the farm, and no new processors are being allowed to do the same -- but they're further away, they only process beef for roughly the first six months of the calendar year (much of which time is booked up a year in advance),  and we'd really be limited if they, too, went out of business.
   The FSMA is designed to bring that same kind of pressure on the one major remaining food sector that was until now mostly free to bring homegrown style food to farmers' markets and otherwise sell to the general public, namely fresh produce.  The battle for selling homegrown style produce freely to the general public isn't over yet -- it will take a little time -- but the writing is on the wall with the FSMA, and we can be sure that battle is lost.
   Of course, it's well worth noting that the foodborne illness episodes that prompted the passage of the FSMA -- here's a CNN overview: The decade's 10 biggest food-borne illness outbreaks -- were all from very large-scale producers such that individual farms sickened people all across the country and a half billion eggs, 30 million pounds of sliced deli meat, etc. were subsequently recalled... yet, the FSMA created a regulatory system that will disproportionately advantage the kinds of operations that caused these outbreaks while pushing the small-scale alternatives out of business.  One might blame corporate influence on the Washington system, but more fundamentally Washington control is simply a lot more compatible with large corporate operations than lots of small, diverse farms.  In any case, the FSMA is now law and customers now face an imminent threat of losing the one good, relatively easy connection they have with a locally controlled alternative agriculture, namely produce. 
   How can the local food movement hope to survive without being able to easily sell produce?  Like we said above, we think the answer is solidifying the gains the local food movement has made in the last 10+ years by deepening the relationships that already exist between small farms and their patrons.  Going forward it's going to be much harder for the small farms that offer substantive alternatives to the mainstream corporate food system to build connections with new customers, but there's hope in the connections we've already built, and that's a place from where we might slowly grow.  We lost a major battle when we gave Washington the power to define Good Agricultural Practice (which now goes with sinister capital letters and the acronym GAP), but we believe moving beyond the superficial freedom of supermarket style consumerism to real partnerships between consumers and local farms offers the best hope to continue to pursue alternative ideas to good agricultural practice, ideas that aren't just minor variations on 30 million pounds of recalled deli meats and all the other many ills of corporate-industrial agriculture beyond the foodborne illnesses.

Homegrown grains - buckwheat


  Grains have been a limiting factor for us in eating a totally local diet.  While we do enjoy a good bit of our corn and we've grown wheat, we still buy in a hefty amount of oats, wheat, millet and buckwheat each year for ourselves.  We were excited to discover, therefore, that homegrown buckwheat is a very doable endeavor.  We've grown buckwheat as a cover crop in the gardens for years.  This year we harvested a couple quarts of the buckwheat after the flowers had gone to seed.  These seeds we winnowed, then ran through our mill, hull and all.  When you buy whole buckwheat groats, they are often dehulled.  But we've discovered that buckwheat flour must be milled from the whole grain, giving it the characteristic dark flecks from the hull.  We did sift the flour we ground through a coarse sieve to get out the largest flecks of hull.  From there we fried up a delicious batch of buckwheat pancakes for breakfast topped with our Jersey butter and sorghum syrup from a friend.  Eating local doesn't taste any better than this!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Canned deer

This may not have been the same deer that nibbled on the garden this year but it is satisfying (and delicious) to know it sure won't be nibbling again next year.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Zone pushing: citrus in Iredell County, NC




















A good spot on the south side of our house and a little added protection on the coldest winter nights was about it all it took to produce our first delicious little crop of satsumas.  We don't really understand the taxonomy, but our understanding is that satsumas are very similar to but not the same as tangerines, clementines, and mandarin oranges.  In any case, they're an outstanding fresh eating fruit.

Goin' nuts



  Local pecans are in short supply this fall, likely due to the wet spring and summer.  The pecan farmer in Rowan County we normally get a good quantity of in-shell pecans from said there wasn't even enough pecans at his place this year for the squirrels.  Not having a local source for our usual staple nut has definitely added to our recent interest in black walnuts.  These we can source even more locally - from trees already growing wild on our own farm.  With the kids on board, feed sacks worth of walnuts were picked up from under two of our trees this year.  Word got out and a neighbor brought over a few more feed sacks full.  The hulls were rubbed off and the nuts washed.  Then we hung them in feed sacks to cure.  Now a little bit at a time, we're cracking them.  Many of them are shelling out with relatively large pieces.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

I like my greens



  Hattie and the rest of us have really taken to greens this fall.  A simple preparation has been working for whatever comes in from the garden - chard, mustard, kale, turnip, collards, tat soi, and mizuna.  Wash and chop into about one inch pieces.  In a cast iron frying pan, saute some chopped bacon or fat back until browned.  Or just add some fat.  Saute a chopped onion if you'd like.  Then add the greens and stir until they are wilted.  Add small amounts of broth or water as needed to keep them cooking until they reach the desired tenderness.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Cider vinegar can be a nice addition as well.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Lemon grass (Cymbopogon citratus)

  It started so small this spring and then just kept growing and growing.  Here it is after it's 2nd hair cut, ready for a third (picture taken about a month ago).  We dried the cut leaves and have been using them for tea.  Stevia and lemon grass has become a favorite.  We got the small plant from a friend this spring and set it out after the last chance of frost.  It was so vigorous it out competed all the bermuda grass around it, making a small bush in a short time.  It is not winter hardy, so we divided the roots six ways and trimmed stems and potted up each new plant separately.  We're overwintering them in various locations - a sunny window, a friend's greenhouse, and an outbuilding that doesn't freeze - to determine what is the most successful.  We look forward to growing it in different places around the farm next year.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Persimmons

It's persimmon season and we're out in force collecting.  Our own tree is barely producing four persimmons a day but many neighbors have kindly allowed us to pick up from their trees.  A unique favorite is a seedless tree.  We've been freezing these whole to eat later with yogurt or as a partially frozen treat.  The others we've been processing into pulp and freezing mostly for persimmon puddings.

 

Stocked up

It's been a hard year on the farm with the constant rains this spring and summer  But we have been blessed.  Our larder overflows with the harvest.


Mushrooms

We were treated recently to a huge flush of mushrooms from our shitake logs.  We've been drying a lot of them.  They are also great fried with onions and frozen for later use on pizzas.



Roselle hibiscus


  It's funny how a food we'd never even heard of a few years ago has become such a staple of our current diet.  A friend gave us some roselle seeds a few years ago.  Since then, it's become a big crop for us, not only in the gardens but also as 'landscaping' bushes around the house.  



 
  A member of the hibiscus family, this okra relative grows to a huge beautiful bush, about 4 feet in diameter.  Along the dark red stems grow short lived hibiscus like flowers.  When the petals fall off, a thick calyx is left behind.  These flower parts are then harvested for a number of uses.  




  Most commonly, they are used for a red 'Koolaid' colored tea.  Roselle is actually one of the main ingredients of Red Zinger tea.  They can be used fresh or dried for tea.  If using fresh for tea, simply drop the whole pods in boiling water for 5-8 minutes, about 4 per cup depending on preferred strength.  To dry the roselle for later use, it is best to remove the green seed pod in the middle.  Our method is to slice horizontally across the bottom then pop out the green balls.  

With piles of roselle to process we've come up with our quickest method.  The first person uses a chef's knife to chop off the base end.  The other person punches the green balls out with the round end of a wooden spoon.

 
  While we enjoy the tea, roselle also makes a great mock cranberry sauce.  Again, remove the green seed pods.  Then boil the chopped red pieces with a little water, honey and maybe ginger.
  It's a tasty sauce with chicken or pork.  It makes a great topping on cheesecake.  Probably the most common way we use it though is as a colorful fruity tasting add-in to yogurt.  The sauce preserves great frozen in small jars.



Thursday, September 5, 2013

Piles of peas

  Our early plantings of peas drowned so we replanted heavy.  They are doing great and are all coming on at once.  That means there are plenty to shell on these hot afternoons.  We love peas!  We call these Nick's since the seed came to us from Eric's great-uncle Nick.  They are small but shell pretty easily.  They were the winners in our taste test this year.

FRESH POPCORN


   We popped our first batch of fresh popcorn today and oh was it good.  We grow an heirloom variety (which is basically the opposite of a hybrid) called 'Pennsylvania Dutch butter flavored.'  Eric especially likes it at this stage before it's really ready.  After another couple weeks of air drying it should pop fully but at this in-between stage some kernels will fully pop but others will only halfway pop.  Eric thinks the popcorn flavor seems concentrated in that minimally popped kernel, and he loves the extra crunch.  If you follow Eric's example you'll probably break a tooth, so if you don't want to break a tooth don't do it, and if you do do it, let us know how you like your popcorn.

Friday, August 30, 2013

At our table this past week

   Eating very local is possible and enjoyable.  We thought it might be inspiring and maybe informative to share photos of our meals occasionally.  Here's a look at our table over the last week (maybe more).  Not every meal is documented as many meals are leftovers and I don't think any breakfast shots got taken either.  Confession - breakfast is probably our least local meal of the day.  While we have a good rotation of breakfast items, many of them are based on wheat or oats, both of which we currently buy.  We have raised wheat and harvested it so the goal of local organic wheat is hopefully around the corner.  And we do enjoy a good share of corn mush or  grits with our own bacon, goat cheese, and tomatoes for breakfast or our yogurt with fruit and nuts.  Anyway, hope this all makes you hungry for some local food.



   It's funny to look back and see what I actually came up with for a meal!  I'm (Melissa) pretty much the sole cook here though Nora is in training and Eric is king of waffles.  Three times a day there are 6 of us to feed (plus a WWOOFer at times).  I try to think ahead with some menu plans - at least having some meat thawed, but often I'm less than an hour away from a meal with NO idea what will go on the table.  There are no boxes of instant mac and cheese in the kitchen.  I remember this meal  was a last minute idea.  Leftover grits, some shitakes the slugs had eaten on -- what we call "farmer grade" -- and my own craving for spring peas (out of the freezer.)  I  often feel like a cook on the cooking challenge shows with the extra challenge of two little ones crying with hunger on my legs.  Anyway, a white sauce from our milk with our onions and shitakes and frozen peas from this spring.

   I have way too many cookbooks that I often scan for ideas.  But talking about food to customers is equally inspiring.  A CSA member upon looking through his box noticed eggplant.  Hesitantly he asked, likely not knowing what to do with them, can you roast these like with onions and such?  Yes I said and suddenly had plans for our own meal that night.  Peeled and cubed eggplant seconds, small potatoes, and onions that were getting soft all tossed in plenty of our butter and some pesto from a batch I was making with basil leftover from the market roasted until soft.


  Bread - made with organic but not local wheat.  Sweet corn our neighbor grows and gives us.  Sliced venison from from a deer a neighbor gave us.  Our tomatoes and beans.  Elsea's milk.  Homemade mayo with our egg but purchased oil.  We have dreams of local oil and have even looked into manual oil presses available in Africa.  But for now we try to enjoy our butter and lard as our main fat sources.  Not so great for making mayo though.
  Okra, onions, and tomatoes on grits with our goat cheese.  Now that the goats are in milk and we're making goat cheese again we seem to find a way to enjoy it with every meal.  It's a very simple cheese - we simply add buttermilk and homemade rennet to the still warm milk and let sit overnight.  Come morning, it is solid.  We then pour it into a cheesecloth lined colander, salt and let sit in the fridge for 24 hours.  Done!  Oh, that paddy thing is a venison "burger."  Somehow I got in my head to finely chop the rest of that venison roast in the food processor.  Then added egg, flour, cumin and rolled it in cornmeal and fried.  You'll have to ask the family what they thought of that idea!  (Eric objected without tasting.)  Oh, and the cumin wasn't local - yet.
There's that venison paddy thing again!  Trying to push off those leftovers.  In any case, beans are usually a hit for the family.  These are dried Oct. beans from our small harvest this year.  Grits, beans and tomatoes.  And goat cheese.

Soup - I think some of that venison roast ended up in there, chopped up and added to our canned beef broth with some potatoes, carrots and onions.  Cornbread and goat cheese!  Probably some butter and honey, too, for a dessert slice of the cornbread.  Maybe an extra pan of cornbread for the much loved breakfast of cornbread crumbled in milk with honey.
Okay, there was that venison roast again this time cooked with okra and onions.  It was a big roast, I think it was a ham that went whole in the freezer to be made into venison jerky at some point but didn't.  With mashed potatoes, shitakes and the first of the summer peas - pink-eyes.  And on the side, the first of the Asian pears, maybe a little under ripe but the chickens who pecked on them first didn't seem to think so.


Nora's nick-name has long been Noodle so it's quite appropriate she's become the pasta maker.  She is much more patient then I am.  Here she's making spaghetti - our eggs, purchase wheat we ground in the mill.
Worn out from pasta making or fun on the farm.  In any case, the pasta with tomato sauce or pesto went over quite well.

Even if you look at this picture up close I bet you'll never guess what Nora fried in the pan.  Inspired by our friend from the Congo, the kids went on a grasshopper search, came home and fried them.   And gulp, we all actually enjoyed them.

I've been craving sweet potatoes.  We used up our supply in late spring.  So I was excited to pull some already decent size potatoes from a few plants and put them directly in the oven.  Of course, some aging makes them much better but with butter and salt, they were good.  Irish potatoes cause we have plenty of "farmer grade" ones.  Tomatoes, okra and onions and our beef steak.  And beer from a customer who makes it, bringing us beer when he comes to pick up his veges.  It's time to harvest our hops for him.  We have some barley hand-harvested, too, just needs to be malted for a really local brew.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Swarm

  In beekeeping you'd rather not have swarms but when they happen they can be quite impressive.  About a month ago we caught this late season swarm.  Fortunately they had landed within reach of our tallest ladder so we were able to cut off the branch and relocate the bees into a new box.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

A Week on the Farm

   I was a little optimistic today and hung the clothes out to dry - it's raining on them as I write.  But we did have a small window of dry hours this week and got some weeding done in the garden.  I recall dry years how "clean" the gardens look.  This year, it's more like searching for the produce among the weeds.  By now we're getting a little used to the rain.  That said, Saturday's market downpour was like no market we've ever survived.  Thanks for coming out to support the farmers!  Eric and Nora came home a bit chilled, grateful for the kitchen I'd heated up with canning tomatoes.  It has been a tomato week since then.  On harvest days, Eric will bring in box after tray of them and I'll start the processing line.  Drop them in boiling water to peel for whole tomatoes, slice onto a tray in the oven for roasted tomato sauce, cook down in a pot on the stove for juice.  It was music to my ears the sound of sealing jars on the kitchen table.  We've almost filled our shelves with our needed supply, so now it's your turn to stock up!
  You may know, we are really into taste tests.  While this is quite useful - helps us grow the best tasting varieties - it's also fun to blindfold someone and feed him something.  Trust.  This week it was blueberries.  Now 5 years in the ground, our blueberry planting is starting to amount to something.  Not sure which variety to plant, we planted 19!  You'd think a blueberry is a blueberry, but taken one at a time and really tasted, there are good ones and really, really good ones.  (Of course, it's also nice to have early- and late-yielding varieties to extend the fresh blueberry season.)  Most members of the family chose the same top four varieties, with the overall winner for the Browns this year being a variety named 'Yadkin.'
   New additions always brighten the mood around here and this week we welcomed our third kid, goat kid that is.  All three have been nanny (female) kids this year.  We found the latest kid in the pasture with her mother where she was healthy and had already figured out nursing.  This was a reassuring sight after losing one of our goats about a month ago to late term pregnancy complications.
  It's a delicious time of year outdoors.  We find ourselves grazing around the farm - cherry tomatoes, blueberries, our first little crop of very organic-looking apples, big tame blackberries, raw beans (just Melissa), grapes, figs...

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Drowned


 We had over a week ending earlier this week when it must have rained well over an inch on average every day.  Fortunately, we didn't suffer any noticeable washing or other long-term damage, but we've never before stayed this wet this long in the middle of the growing season.  In all but our very best drained soils that meant continually water-logged soils, and the roots of most garden plants can't stand that very long.  So all the rain put an end to some crops, left others rotten in the ground, and set us back on weeding and planting...

dead cabbage plant

lots of dead cabbage plants (and other cole crops)

dead bean plants
rotting carrot
  But on a diverse farm adverse weather like this still leaves hope in other crops:
the field corn still looks good but so do the weeds
it's not looking like a big crop this year but there's definitely honey to harvest
the tomatoes are looking pretty good but we have more to prune and tie up

Monday, May 20, 2013

Grafting

   Eric confessed yesterday that he was done grafting for the year (but this morning that's sounding a little too final). This may not sound like a big deal, just another farm task completed, but then again, you've probably never lived with an obsessive grafter. Let's start with a quick lesson on grafting. In short, you connect a piece of wood from an outstanding tree on any random tree and that transforms that tree into an extension of that outstanding tree. Take an apple tree grown from an apple seed, for example, and you'll get an apple tree that will most likely produce a fruit not fit to eat. Now cut a twig off a good apple tree and graft it onto the sorry apple tree and now it too will produce wonderful fruits. It's an ancient practice, talked about even in the Bible. While some of Eric's good wood comes from neighbors or a remarkable tree found growing in a ditch somewhere, he gets most of his wood sent to him through the mail. Yes, grafting addicts mail each other twigs! These folks typically meet each other on a fruit forum chat group. They discuss to exhaustion the pros and cons of all known cultivars of mulberries, they console each other about the coming emergence of the 17 year cicadas that could decimate their orchards, they post pictures of their first blossoms of the year; they are fruit and nut nuts. And they share wood. Often it's an exchange, you send me this and I'll send you that. But sometimes they force their favorite varieties on each other, like a package that arrived this spring full of seedless native persimmon cultivars we just had to try. In any case, the 6 inch pieces of wood arrive carefully packed with damp paper towels sealed in plastic bags labeled with names like Rosseyanka, Shinseiki, and Thomas Myers. They are cut in the winter before the trees start to grow and stored in the fridge until the trees they'll be grafted onto are ready. Soon the fridge produce drawers are all taken up with twigs. A friend suggested we could serve dinner to a family of beavers with all the wood in our fridge!
   In practice, it's interesting, especially when grafting season begins. First, he grafts onto potted plants to be planted out after the graft has established itself. At our house, many of these potted plants found their way into the house "because it's warmer in here and the trees will be ready to graft earlier." I envisioned delicious Asian persimmons and accepted, for a time. The other method is field grafting. Here you have a seedling already established in the ground where you want it, no need to dig a hole or to worry about watering transplanted trees. All you have to do is graft onto it. You simply turn a weed into food. Our pastures and fence lines are full of useless callery pears (with tiny bad tasting pears like the ornamental Bradford pears) and persimmons and mulberries of unknown quality and possibly non-fruiting male trees. So Eric has put wood of known pear or persimmons onto them, marked them with flagging tape (a reminder not to let the cows graze too close). But here there is less control as the elements can be hard on the delicate new grafts. Little tin foil bonnets protect the persimmon sticks until they get established. Many times a weeks, Eric takes the kids out on the graft march into the fields. They too can now spew off the technical terms: scion, stock, cambium, banana graft, bark graft, whip and tongue...
So grafting season is pretty much over. And now we watch as the new buds swell, turn green, and expand into new branches. Yesterday I was checking on the bean planting and Eric came over and asked if I wanted to go look at the nearby Hana Fuyu graft. Jokingly -- although he takes his grafts too seriously to have gotten the joke at first -- I immediately responded that I already had. Once the tree begins to fruit it will be another story: I'll be at least as eager for the fruit as he is to see his buds grow. Our farm is quickly growing into a forest of seedless persimmons, and sweet, crunchy Asian pears, thin-shelled black walnuts, big fat pawpaws, and delicious mulberries. We look forward to sharing, too.

Sweet potato pies

We couldn't resist, we made a sweet potato pie with our blue sweet potatoes.  While we were at it, we did pies of our white potatoes, yellow and orange.  They all disappeared pretty quick!

PRAISE FOR CORNMEAL

  We're just back from the mill this week where we had another batch of our heirloom white 'Floyd' corn ground.  After having it ground, we store it in our freezer until we bring it to you at the market. We don't understand what makes store-bought cornmeal sit just fine on the shelf for months, but we wouldn't want to store our cornmeal at room temp for more than a couple weeks.  In any case, there's a huge difference between our fresh cornmeal and what you're probably used to.  To keep it fresh, our freezer is now full of cornmeal, so this seems like a great time to sing the praises of cornmeal (we just had some delicious hush puppies last night).  We encourage you to stock up on cornmeal (simply store in your freezer for months/years or fridge for several weeks) and enjoy using the only local heirloom grain staple you're likely to find anywhere.  Isn't it time you sourced your most basic food staples from within your community instead of buying all your grains from huge-scale farms that you really couldn't know much about even if you wanted to, that you probably don't even know what state (or country) they're in, exclusively processed and sold by corporations motivated by anything but the interests of the health of our community (to say nothing of what's not even organic)?  Is that the system you trust to stand up against the onslaught of chemicals and biotechnology redefining food?  Here are a few of our favorite cornmeal recipes.  You can find more recipes, including a couple types of cornbread, fritters, and spoonbread, on our blog.  Anson Mills' website also has a lot of good recipes highlighting heirloom grains.  (Let us know, by the way, if you'd like to buy whole kernel corn for making your own hominy/tortillas/tamales/etc. from scratch.)

Almost As Good As Aunt Gerri's Hush Puppies

1 2/3 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup flour
1 tsp soda
1 tsp honey
black pepper
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup finely chopped onion

Mix well.  Drop in heaping teaspoonfuls into hot fat.  Flip and cook until well browned on both side.

Cornmeal Pancakes

1 1/2 cups cornmeal
1/4 cup flour
1 tsp soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp honey
2 cups buttermilk
2 tbs butter or oil
1 slightly beaten egg yolk
1 stiffly beaten egg white

Mix dry ingredients.  Add buttermilk, fat, and egg yolk; blend well.  Fold in egg white.  Let stand 10 minutes.  Bake on hot griddle.

Corn Mush
we'll just give you a link for this one:
http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-cornmeal-mush.htm

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Photos from the last month

peach blossoms at the breakfast table
the second mother hen of the year to hatch a clutch
Liz, our WWOOF visitor from Maine
our family

Saturday, February 23, 2013

DIET THEORIES

  We just watched a documentary film about a diet of veganism (plus no added plant fats/oil) as a way to stop and potentially reverse the adverse health effects of the standard industrialized diet. We're definitely not vegans, and we don't mention this film because it represents us or any of our views, but as farmers we take extra interest in all the various diet theories and their supporting arguments, and even diet theories that fail to offer good solutions can be helpful in assessing the problems.

  As we've discussed before, our diet theory -- if we had to give it a name we might call it "radically homegrown" -- isn't based on any kind of nutrition or health theories. In other words, we're strongly inclined to believe that eating a radically homegrown diet while completely ignoring the difficult questions of any and all nutrition theories will actually result in a healthier diet than following the advice of the world's most brilliant nutrition experts, whoever they may be. Are we saying that ignoring nutrition theories can lead to better nutrition? Short answer, yes. How could that be?

  First, nutrition science is invariably a very muddy field. If any of the fringe theories (like the one in the film we just watched) were scientifically compelling it would be more than a fringe scientific theory. That's not to say those theories are necessarily wrong, only that the scientific case for any of them is fraught with questions and legitimate doubts. On the other hand mainstream dietary advice like is embodied in the USDA food pyramid seems undeniably damned by its results. In other words, mainstream dietary advice is too closely tied to our problems to reasonably consider it any kind of solution. And, in any case, even if the nutrition experts could agree on a diet theory -- which they can't -- that still leaves the rest of us needing to eat but without the expertise to sort out the advice from conflicting experts. (The arguments that we always find most convincing are the ones making the case that the case for someone else's theory is grossly overstated.) In short, as with the documentary we just watched, every diet theory seems to lose any real scientific footing as soon as it moves beyond criticizing the standard industrialized diet.

  So the next question then: what reason is there to trust that a radically homegrown diet offers any better hope of nutrition? First, our current diet-related health problems are clearly the result of the industrialization of our food supply, and a radically homegrown diet is the only alternative (at least in the industrialized world today.) Secondly, although the nutrition science is very muddy, one thing that seems very clear to us is that the giant food and agriculture corporations (and the government and university systems that serve them) aren't fundamentally pursuing any kind of health (of persons, soils, waters, air, animals, communities, etc. -- which, of course, are all deeply interconnected), but rather all large corporations are structured so as to ensure a narrow focus on corporate and executive profit. Surely dependence on that corporate system, no matter how much it conforms to any superficial diet theory, is fundamentally at odds with good health. If we are to have any real nutrition choices at all, we're convinced the first step needs to be breaking loose of the corporate-industrial grip on our diets.

  In that light, a question this documentary raised, as all nutrition theories do for us, is how compatible is veganism with a radically homegrown diet versus dependent on an industrialized corporate food supply. There is a limited point on which we think vegans score some points here. In recent years vegans have commonly made the case that animal products increase our dependency on the evils of the corporate-industrial system. They'll say that animals are an inefficient use of grain crops, i.e. that the grain fed to animals would go a lot further if fed directly to people. If we lay the nutritional and gastronomic problems with that idea aside, we think it has to be conceded that they have a real point: raising animals strictly on field crops grown for the purpose of feeding animals is highly questionable. (So, of course, is raising annual crops for the purpose of feeding our cars, which now consume more of our most planted field crop (corn) than all farm animals combined.) The limits we see in their argument are that (1) exchanging dependency on large quantities of grain for dependency on smaller quantities of industrialized grain doesn't really solve the problem, and (2) although modern industrialized agriculture completely fails to realize it, animals offer all sorts of potential for making food out of things that aren't food to start with. The most important example of this second point is grass, and the benefits of grass are huge. Especially in regions like ours where much of the land is quite susceptible to erosion, a permanent cover of grass is surely the most sustainable farm use of land. Pasture also drastically reduces the pressure on farmers to depend as heavily or at all on herbicides, insecticides, fossil fuel-powered tractors and combines, genetically modified seed, etc. Much more could be said about the gains to be had from farm animals and from grass, in particular, but the point here is that animals offer lots of potential (even if commonly unrealized) for reducing our dependency on the corporate-industrial food system.

  This is a bit of a tangent, but to be clear, "pastured" pork and poultry and eggs even from "organic" (whether officially or unofficially) family farmers selling directly at small farmers' markets rarely redefine the equation any more than their supermarket counterparts: simply keeping animals on pasture while feeding them complete rations of combine-harvested annual field crops (which is the case with the vast majority of large- and small-scale "pastured" and/or "organic" pork, poultry, and eggs) does nothing to silence the vegan argument we've discussed. Swine and poultry and other animals certainly have lots of potential in a radically homegrown system of agriculture, too, but so long as farmers and consumers continue to measure these possibilities against the artificial cheapness of their industrialized counterparts any market for radically homegrown pork or poultry will remain practically non-existent. In the meantime, we would concede that vegans score valid points here, too.

  But truly grass-fed/grain-free beef and dairy (and goat meat, lamb, wool, leather, etc., not to mention wild game) does radically redefine the equations, not just historically but in accessible ways here and now. As practically the whole continent of Africa figured out before us, goat meat and, in our case, also goat milk may be the most sustainable products we produce, and we'd make nearly as strong a case for our beef and cow's dairy. There was an interesting and repeated contrast in the film we just watched that highlights some of these differences. Images of dairy cattle on pasture were contrasted more than once with huge, super-expensive, diesel-powered combines harvesting mono-cropped annual grains. Completely apart from all the questions of sustainability, is the corporate-industrial dependency of the implicit vegan model not starkly obvious, especially in contrast to the pastoral image of dairy cows? There are plenty of misleading pastoral images in today's food marketplaces, but here the vegan advocates (apparently unwittingly) chose images that exposed the flaws of their case. Small herds of all grass-fed livestock are rightly viewed as consistent with sustainability, small family farms, and community food sovereignty. Equivalently homegrown grain and pulse (dry bean, peas, etc.) crops are as non-existent in the industrialized world today as the radically homegrown pork and poultry we already lamented. As with pork and poultry, grains and pulses have plenty of potential in a radically homegrown system of agriculture, but that potential is largely lost to mass-produced corporate counterparts.

  One more thing deserves mention on the subject of veganism and a radically homegrown diet. With the diet promoted by this film as with every other example of veganism we've encountered, simple homegrown foods are replaced with fake counterparts: milk is replaced with rice or almond "milk" -- it's worth noting, too, that we live in the most dairy rich county in North Carolina, but rice and almonds, of course, aren't grown here and are very marginally adaptable if at all -- turkey with "tofurky," eggs with "egg substitute", etc., etc. Avoiding real milk or turkey or eggs commonly has the result of forcing consumers to turn to corporate-industrial foods from far away, often in less homegrown, more processed manifestations. This is an aspect of veganism to which we definitely object, and we suspect that it's an unavoidable aspect of any diet theory that shuns any major food groups.

  Obviously there's plenty of controversy to stir up with these questions, but there's also lots of room for agreement. Proponents of veganism and paleo diets and "traditional" diets and low-carb diets and the USDA food pyramid and raw foodies, etc. together with us, can all potentially agree that moving away from sugar and corn syrup, artificial flavors, preservatives, and sweeteners, white flour, pre-processed foods, confinement style animal products, and chemical-intensive field and garden crops would be an improvement. These are the most emblematic parts of the standard diet in the industrialized world in which we live. And it seems quite plausible that drastically reducing these things could indeed solve a majority of our dramatic, diet-related problems. Without paying any particular attention to any questions of diet or nutrition, pursuing a radically homegrown diet would necessarily accomplish all these things, and it's something any of us can understand unassisted (and unmanipulated) by any experts.