Monday, November 2, 2015

How to eat like a farmer

  The basic concept of our Full Farm CSA (and the Vegetable CSA as a smaller step in the same direction) is that we grow and provide as complete an assortment of as many food groups as possible, including things that wouldn't be practical or economical to sell to the general public, and our CSA members make a comprehensive commitment to our farm in return, making significant changes to their food habits for the sake of eating from our way of farming.  The idea is that we grow first for them, and their food choices begin with us.  That frees us from catering to less informed customers and allows us to farm in the way we believe best, and it enables those that share our beliefs to obtain and to eat food grown in ways that largely wouldn't be available otherwise.  (See here for a discussion of food groups that have been completely left out of the local-organic food movement.)  Basically our CSA means you eat more like you would eat if you were growing your own food, and that's how we farm.  These are things we've said before, but we want to explain what we mean in a little more depth here.
  So how does growing our own food shape how we farm?  Perhaps most significantly, diversifying instead of specializing -- our farm provides us with fruits, vegetables, nuts, sweeteners, fats, dairy, meat, poultry, eggs, grains, pulses, herbs and teas... really everything besides fish -- means that we are our own most significant customer.  Our own family eats a significant percentage of almost every crop we produce.  If we were selling 99.9+% of each crop, like most full-time farmers in America, then we wouldn't have any real incentive to do anything besides what made the most money, but since we're farming for our own food as much as we're farming for money we don't, for example, just grow the highest yielding sweet potato variety, but we grow an assortment of the best tasting varieties... every issue from taste to diversity to affordability to organic integrity to food safety to the deeper questions of sustainability concern us personally and affect our personal food supply as much as anything, so instead of being forced to compromise everything possible to compete for fractions of a penny with thousands of other farmers serving millions of customers, most of whom are in a position to judge only the most superficial questions of price and cosmetics (swayed by advertisements, misleading product labels, etc.), we're in a position to weigh all the questions in the balance.  We farm the way we want to eat, because we're eating so much of what we farm.  And the extent of the differences between even USDA-organic food, on one hand, and how people eat and the ways they choose to farm when they're farming for themselves, on the other hand, is dramatic, all the more if you consider not just what people growing for themselves eat but also how it was processed, what chemicals and other inputs went into producing it, etc.  (See here or here for more discussion of what our homegrown style of farming does and doesn't mean.)
  But lots of obstacles stand in the way of customers being able to join in eating from a homegrown system of farming like ours.  Our farm can't offer the same crops, processed into the same foods, available at the same times and in the same kind of places as what almost all of our customers are currently in the habit of eating (including how we ate before how we believed in farming reshaped how we eat.)  We don't sell prepared tomato sauce, which the supermarket does sell, but we do offer bulk discounts for processing grade tomatoes, and that's something the supermarket doesn't sell, and certainly not from heirloom tomatoes picked ripe the day before and grown without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, etc.  Similarly we don't sell ice cream, but we sell exceptional honey from unmedicated hives that you could use to make your own ice cream for a homegrown quality like nothing you could buy in the store.  And that gets at a difference beyond just processing: honey is generally a substitute for sugar, but it tastes different, it requires adjustments in preparation/cooking methods, etc.  While we can grow foods to cover nearly every food group besides seafood, we can't grow all the same foods, especially not pre-processed foods, you're used to buying if you're used to getting most of your food from the supermarket system of farming, and especially not the same produce items if you're used to buying the same items fresh year-round.  Even our beef is seasonal based on the grass and based on our preferred meat processor that won't kill beef cattle when they're busy with deer hunting season.  And the logistics of selling our beef by the package are complicated enough that, going forward, we plan to only sell it on quarters, which pretty much means we can only sell to customers with stand-alone freezers (or to customers willing to buy a quarter cooperatively and divide it.)  Our point in all of these examples is that eating from a homegrown system of farming like ours requires lots of adjustments from normal supermarket habits.
  So the trouble is that if you come to us with a shopping list based on normal supermarket habits, we're not going to be able to offer you much.  The idea of the Full Farm CSA is that, instead of beginning with a shopping list, you'll begin, like a farmer, with what your farm has to offer.  Having already decided what kind of farming we want to eat from as much as we can, a lot of food questions are pretty well answered for us as farming questions before they ever become food questions.  For example, we haven't seen any reasonable way to try to grow rice in our location, so instead of eating rice and beans, we often eat grits and beans.  Having already grown it, heirloom corn is a given for us, and so we find ways to use it and to enjoy it.  Similarly, because we already have corn, we don't buy tortillas or tortilla chips at the store, but we'll cook whole kernel corn into hominy, grind it in a cheap hand mill and roll it into tortillas, and for chips, fry tortilla pieces into chips.  Of course, that means that tortilla chips aren't a quick and easy thing to decide to eat (unless perhaps we have leftover tortillas from the day before), and it means we don't eat tortilla chips all the time (but how much better are warm homegrown tortilla chips when we do make them!)  Letting our small farm direct how we eat, means that a lot of "fast food" options like tortilla chips are still possible, but they're no longer fast, and they require significant kitchen time and planning.  But that also leads us to a different kind of "fast food."  Vegetables are mostly fairly quick and easy to cut up and saute, so we eat lots of fresh vegetables.  Vegetables that we already cut up and froze or canned are even easier to pull out.  And how good are homegrown spring garden peas hand picked at just the right stage, shelled, and briefly boiled out of the freezer!  Of course, raw vegetables as in fresh tomato sandwiches or ripe pepper pieces filled with goat cheese or lettuce salad are even easier than cooking vegetables.  Yogurt is another "fast food," sweetened just with honey or with added fresh berries, when they're in season, or out of the freezer, or with roselle sauce, or as a dressing for a cucumber salad.  Meat out of the freezer is potentially easier than going to the store to buy it.  Overall letting a farm like ours lead how you eat will almost certainly mean more time spent in the kitchen, more skills to learn and employ, but the bigger point is that our CSA will turn a lot of normal supermarket food culture upside down so that you shop and cook and eat more like farmers that grow their own food.

2 comments:

Kendra at New Life On A Homestead said...

I really enjoy reading what you guys eat and how you eat it. :) It's encouraging to us as we transition from exactly what you're talking about here- grocery store shopping to eating locally and seasonally. Thanks for the continuous inspiration!

Eric & Melissa Brown said...

Kendra, you should consider joining our Full Farm CSA. There are probably a few whole categories/food groups (conventionally combine-harvested crops like grains, some of which we however hand-harvest, being hugely important ones) that you're not growing at all nor buying from other local-organic sources. Local-organic consumer options for several such basic foods don't even exist here (or hardly anywhere in the US, Europe, etc.), as we discussed here:
http://themilkandhoneyfarm.blogspot.com/2015/07/10-local-organic-things-farmers-like-us.html
And besides those major whole categories, we could probably do a lot to supplement what you are growing/foraging yourself (thinking especially of vegetables and other produce.) Our point in this post is that transitioning to eating like a farmer, when many of the homegrown foods we eat don't even exist as straightforward, modern consumer options, requires breaking out of the normal modern consumer framework. Growing your own is, of course, one way to create a new framework, but so long as your present reality is spending $1000+ (if not multiple thousands) on food every year, consider letting our Full Farm CSA redefine those parts of your food budget for your family (and, if it's your goal, help move you toward the realistic alternatives you could grow yourself.) Trying to eat locally and seasonally without a meaningful partnership with a farm defined by local/homegrown values (which is pretty much impossible for farms selling to thousands of minimally invested and proportionately informed consumers, the flip side of which is consumers buying a little bit from lots of specialized farms, all frequently made doubly impossible by distributors/processors/etc. pooling crops together) is a recipe for failure, both for your goals as a consumer and for the farmers that might try to offer most of the products that farmers growing organically for themselves would eat.