Saturday, November 15, 2014

HOW WE MAKE THE WHOLE LOCAL-ORGANIC DIET COME TOGETHER FOR OUR FAMILY

   We thought it might be helpful to those of you interested in eating more local-organically to tell you about what our diet looks like.  Our goal is to eat as much from local-organic sources as possible.  That means we mainly eat from our own farm, but we also buy/barter/forage/hunt/scavenge other local-organic foods, and compromise on just a few foods we feel like we haven't figured out yet: oats, millet, oil, vinegar -- we buy those things from USDA organic sources -- and very rarely some wild fish.  We also buy salt, baking soda, and some spices, although we're fairly content with those food purchases.  For our young family of six we spend well under $1000 per year on food, which includes the local-organic foods we buy (pecans are a big one in the years we can find them), which we say just to put how much we're eating from our own farm and other non-purchased sources in perspective.
   Millet might seem like an odd thing to keep buying when we've let go of rice but a big part of the reason we started eating millet was because we wanted to begin by learning how to enjoy the foods that we aspired to grow.  In other words, eating millet is for us a very small step towards growing millet.  We use millet mostly as something of a rice substitute, and we see more hope in the local potential for millet than we do rice, but we're not there yet.  Our most important grains, though, are the corn and wheat we grow ourselves, along with non-local purchased oats.  (We did grow both oats and millet this year [2014], but we're still in the experimental stages with those crops. [As of 2016, we've grown enough hulless oats to displace purchased oats. We're still trying with millet but haven't found real success even on an experimental scale yet.])  We use wheat mainly for bread, pancakes, pizza, biscuits, in lesser amounts in desserts and sauces, and occasionally in pasta, but homemade pasta is time-consuming enough that we don't eat pasta very often.  We use corn mainly as cornmeal and grits for cornbread/muffins, corn mush (for breakfast), grits and fried grits (for breakfast but more often as a starch/grain to go with a main meal), cornmeal casseroles, cornmeal pancakes, and, when we have enough lard, as hush puppies.  We also make hominy from our corn, which we mainly use whole mixed with vegetables or beans like pintos, but we also really enjoy tortillas made from grinding fresh hominy, but as with pasta, that feels too time-consuming to do on a weekly basis (even though lots of central Americans do it daily.)  Buckwheat is the other grain we grow for ourselves, and so far pancakes are about the only thing we've made with buckwheat flour, which, however, we really enjoy, commonly with sorghum syrup, that we get from neighbor-friends.
   Although eating local-organically means we don't eat anything like granulated sugar or brown sugar, we do eat plenty of sweeteners.  We'll eat some sorghum syrup on bread or biscuits, in addition to our standard buckwheat pancakes, and we'll buy a little bit of maple syrup when we're visiting Melissa's family in Michigan, but we mainly eat lots of honey, about a quart per week.  If we eat ice cream, it's sweetened with honey, either as just plain honey ice cream or flavored with black walnuts or strawberries or mint...  If we bake a pie or a persimmon pudding or a custard (like flan) those things are all sweetened with honey.  Of course, we also use honey for the more obvious uses of sweetening tea (which for us mostly means mint or roselle) and on toast and biscuits.  We particularly like creamed honey on biscuits.  Perhaps our biggest use of honey, though, is with yogurt.  Yogurt and honey, often without anything else, but sometimes with fruit or pecans or granola... is one of our most common afternoon snacks as well as a fairly common breakfast. Popcorn and peanuts, boiled when we're digging them fresh and roasted the rest of the year, are our other two main snack foods.
   We eat a lot of yogurt, probably over two gallons per week, some weeks maybe three.  Dairy is probably our most important protein source.  As with the rest of our diet, that's not determined by any health theories or taste preferences so much as the simple fact of what our farm can most efficiently produce.  (We believe that eating whatever our farm can produce is, however, leading us to food that's healthier and tastier than anything we could buy.)  Most of our farm is too rolling to be suitable for us to use for anything other than woods or pasture, and dairy seems to be the best way we can eat grass, which is an outstanding crop in terms of sustainability anyways.  In addition to yogurt, we drink two or three gallons of milk each week, plus what we use in cooking.  And we make a few simple cheeses.  We make pretty much all of our goat's milk into a simple, soft cheese.  With cow's milk we make cottage cheese, mozzarella, and ricotta.  We would certainly enjoy hard/aged cheese, but we need to build a press and construct some kind of "cave" (aging room/space) first, and we haven't made that happen yet, so we do without hard cheeses in the meantime.  Most of the milk we drink and most of the things we make from milk are made from skimmed milk -- we simply ladle the cream off the top with a measuring cup, so our skimmed milk still has a decent amount of fat left -- because butter is our first priority for the cream.  Even with rich Jersey milk, it probably takes four gallons or more of milk to make a pound of butter.  Butter is the most efficient local-organic fat we can produce (because it's made mainly of permanent pasture that the cows harvest for themselves), but butter is only efficient so long as we're able to realize substantial value from all the gallons of skimmed milk that comes with every pound of butter.  Still, hand milking a cow to make butter is no way to compete with supermarket prices.
   Other fats (lard and oil) are even more costly.  Our supply of lard is limited by our supply of hog feed.  Although swine are great at making use of various farm and kitchen byproducts and surpluses, we haven't had enough of these things to be able to do without substantial quantities of crops grown and harvested particularly for feed, especially not year-round and for the full life and breeding cycle, so we use butter for a lot of uses we might otherwise use lard.  We still buy oil, however, to make salad dressing and mayonnaise.  Birds seem to make sunflowers too difficult to try to grow for oil on any but a huge scale, but we're currently trying to figure out how to grow significant quantities of sesame seeds.  Of course, if we can grow enough seeds, we'd still need an oil press, but growing the seeds seems like the most challenging hurdle to local-organic salad oil.
   At least as important to our diet as anything we've discussed so far, however, are all the vegetables we grow.  We frequently eat meals that consist primarily of vegetables, especially counting starches like sweet potatoes and Irish potatoes as vegetables. Perhaps we wouldn't eat quite so many vegetables if there weren't always extra vegetables that we were bringing home from the farmers' market, but there are other vegetables we enjoy so much that we'll only sell them after we're sure we have enough for ourselves. Homegrown hand-picked vegetables just offer so much great taste and variety of tastes, and there are very few vegetables that simply won't grow well in our location and without chemical inputs.  So we eat a lot of vegetables, often in very simple preparations: boiled butterbeans, whole roasted Asian eggplants, tomato sandwiches, lettuce salad, boiled "green" peanuts, etc.  We also eat a lot of stir-fries, simply chopping up whatever is in season and stir-frying it together.  We've joked that stir-fries are actually all we eat: either a standard stir-fry on top of millet or fried grits, or the topping for a pizza, or the filling for an omelette, etc.
   Fruit is more limited for us than vegetables (by what's locally and organically practical and by the fact that most fruits take years to reach bearing age whereas most vegetables only take a year to do everything they're ever going to do), but we still probably enjoy a greater variety of fruits than most people, some excellent quality fruits like figs or satsumas (a citrus fruit similar to clementines or tangerines) and other lesser fruits like azaroles (an edible hawthorn) or tiny wild-type strawberries.  We've eaten fresh regular (fuzzy) kiwis as late as March, and we often get our first strawberries in April, so we eat most of our fruit fresh, but we also freeze a lot of blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries to eat throughout the year, as well as persimmon pulp (mostly for puddings) and cantaloupe puree (mainly for ice cream -- if it doesn't sound really good, try it!)  We dry Asian pears and figs. Drying Asian pears doesn't have much preserving value for us, because dried Asian pears mostly get eaten before the fresh fruit would have gone bad, but most years we manage to dry a good number of figs, and they're our primary dried fruit, which we use in most things that might otherwise contain raisins: on salads, in oatmeal, and as a straight up snack.
   Roselle isn't a fruit -- it's technically a flower part -- but we use it as a cranberry substitute, which once cooked very closely resembles cranberry sauce.  Besides as a sauce to go with yogurt or desserts or meat/poultry, we make a lot of roselle tea.  We haven't found fruit juices very doable local-organically, although we occasionally find some cider to drink.  We've made mead (honey "wine") since before we ever started farming.  That's a simple if slow process.  We've grown barley and hops with aspirations of making beer but that whole process is pretty complicated, and we've been more motivated to pursue other things lately.  Of course, we don't grow coffee -- there are some non-caffeinated coffee substitutes we could make, but we were never much into regular coffee -- but we do grow true (Chinese type) tea, although that's another crop that we haven't yet really figured out how to use, particularly not the fermentation process of turning fresh tea leaves into black tea. [As of 2016, we're making our own black tea from our tea bush.  Now that we know what to do, we're propagating more tea bushes to be able to increase our production a little.]
   We eat plenty of eggs, although our free range flock is pretty seasonal, so some seasons are full of omelettes and flan and whole wheat angel food cake (although that may be an oxymoron) and other seasons we ration our egg consumption tightly.
   Beef and veal (by which we simply mean beef butchered while it's still drinking milk and hardly eating any grass yet) are our main sources of meat besides game, especially deer meat, but also the occasional rabbit or wild turkey.  We eat much less chicken than most Americans nowadays.  We don't eat a lot of pork but we put a little bit of cured pork or fatback in a lot of things.  After hesitating for too long, we finally realized we love young goat meat, which is tender and very mild flavored, but our young dairy breed goats aren't very big (especially at the age we'd otherwise wean them, which makes for a good time to butcher them), so a young goat typically only makes a few main meals with leftovers.  We'd like to increase the size of our goat herd, but parasitic worms make higher stocking densities challenging in organic systems in our climate.
   We eat a variety of dry field peas (most of the same peas we harvest as fresh shelling peas except left to dry on the plant) as well as October beans, pinto beans, and black beans.  We tried chickpeas a time or two without any success.  Besides the field peas, October beans are perhaps our most productive dry bean, and we really like them, so we grow more of them than other types.  There's a lot of work to harvesting and shelling dry beans, besides all the work of growing them, so they're not something we eat multiple times per week, but we do enjoy them somewhat regularly.
  This isn't a diet we sought out; it's what following local-organic ways of farming led us to.  In a lot of ways it's very similar to the way people in this region would have eaten three or four generations ago.  A goal next year is to produce some local-organic soy sauce to add to our diet, especially for deer jerky.

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