Sep 302011

A garden has to be more than lettuce and tomato if we are preparing for a scaled down future where foodstuffs such as wheat may be unavailable or in short supply. Somehow we need to grow calories that will provide satisfying meals.

Note: it’s not impossible to exist on green stuff. We pretty much did it one full year on a raw food diet. But, the raw foodist craves fat and spends a lot of time making nut pates and lusting after avocados and young coconuts. Since avos and coconuts are not local and most nuts don’t do too well in this climate we need to focus on plants that will grow here. Consider potatoes, squash, corn and beans.

I’ve never looked forward to eating beans though I’ve certainly eaten them with some regularity. They just haven’t ever shown up on my list of favorite foods or been a featured entree. That has changed after our recent experience growing dry beans. We grew three types this year—Beka Brown, Jacob’s Cattle and Kidney beans.

Carol Deppe, in her new book The Resilient Gardener has a lot to say about beans. She argues that most of us have never really tasted a good, fresh bean, properly soaked and cooked to perfection. I made the mistake in my original blog post about her book of telling people how to soak their beans. Apparently, this is a subject (the soaking of the bean) that falls into the same category as politics, religion and ferries to Fairhaven, that is best not brought up. Too controversial.

What isn’t controversial is something that tastes so good you hold your bowl out for seconds or even thirds. Such was the case with our first cooking of fresh, dried beans—a beautiful, painted seed called Jacob’s Cattle. The colors resemble those of a Hereford cow. We soaked them (per the Carol Deppe method) and cooked them up with some onion and garlic. Added a bit of salt and ate them like soup. Delicious. Satisfying. Best beans I’ve ever eaten even though Ms. Deppe is disdainful of this particular bean. Sorry that we only have a quart jar full. Most of the beans will have to be saved for seed.

Our second bean experiment was with kidney beans, a bean that I’ve always found to be kind of mealy and hard to digest. We cooked them with garlic, onion and spiced them with Italian seasoning and cumin, then ladled them on some polenta. Again, very tasty, tender and satisfying. Satisfying in a way that curbed the appetite.

Bean test number three featured the Beka Brown, colored like coffee with milk. It became a soup with garlic, shallots, cabbage and brown rice. Again, delicious, hearty, satisfying. With the Beka Brown we had the additional testimony of out-of-town visitors who agreed that this bean was real food.

At this point, I realized that I had really handicapped my diet after being a vegetarian for forty years by not giving prominence to beans and immediately began planning for at least two full garden beds of dry beans for next season.

Sep 282011

Sharon Astyk, well-known in prepper circles and a prolific writer on food and gardening, has posted a provocative essay titled, Agriculture with a Future Comes to Dinner which I would encourage everyone to read .

We have a food culture that is centered on grains which, for the most part, are grown unsustainably. In the Northwest we have some difficulty growing grains at all although Krista Rome in her backyard bean and grain project has had some success. So, what happens to our diet if wheat and rice, for example, were to become unavailable? Is it possible to make a big shift in our diet from wheat bread to root vegetables for our calories?

Ms Astyk makes the point that most of our calories right now come from not very sustainable grain production with the vast majority of our agricultural lands dedicated to growing meat, fodder for meat animals, dairy, grains or soy. Even our backyard chicken raisers are relying on purchased bagged feed.

Many of us have started to garden. But our gardens produce food around the edges of our diet—greens and flavorings (pickles, salsas, jams and jellies). We don’t have many high protein crops like hazelnuts (which is one of the few nuts we have a chance to grow successfully in our area) and we don’t grow enough calories to see us through the winter.

If we believe that we need to rely more on local food rather than food shipped to us from long distances then we need to start make a shift in our diets. Carol Deppe, in The Resilient Gardener lays out a plan for growing calorie and protein rich foods focusing on beans, squash, potatoes, corn and duck eggs. If you haven’t read The Resilient Gardener I highly recommend it. Ms. Deppe changed my way of thinking about garden crops and I’m now focused on calorie rich crops.

I found her discussion of beans fascinating as I’ve never been a fan of beans. After this crop season I’ve changed my mind completely and will have more to say about beans later as I am inspired to write a veritable paean to the bean.

At some point, we might all have to work together to grow calories for the community. Fortunately, potatoes, squash, beans and corn are all crops that do well here. We can even manage some grains like amaranth.

While we are planting community orchards, individuals should consider planting more fruit and particularly nut trees. Home gardeners should consider the caloric output of their garden plot.

Sharon Astyk writes: “The ways our diets must begin to shift is something I think that most people, even those most aware of the issue, have not begun to struggle with. It is an issue for backyard chicken raisers who are rightly proud that they are raising eggs and meat in their yards – and who also are raising them almost entirely on purchased bagged feed. It is an issue for permaculturists, enthusiastically replacing their yards with forest gardens, who have no idea what they are going to do with groundnuts and jerusalem artichokes, so who mostly do nothing with them. It is an issue for growers like me, who very much want to grow local staple crops for market – but who simply can’t make a living growing potatoes, beets and turnips, because people don’t eat those things in quantities sufficient, or pay enough for them. It is an issue for me, because my family loves rice and bread, but does not grow much wheat or any rice. It is not that we must eat wholly as we intend to eat, but it does matter that we begin the dietary and agricultural shift we inevitably face ahead of time.”

The whole idea of Transition is to get ready, mentally at least if not physically, for dramatic changes that might occur. Think about what you eat and how that might change in the future.

Sep 262011

(I’m going to ease back into this blogging thing so welcome to my 13 regular readers. You know who you are. I’m flattered that you subscribe).

The idea that our community should take steps to get ready to scale down our lives, become more self-reliant and build local systems to support ourselves is a hard sell. When Costco is stacked high with consumables, when the airport parking lot is full and the freeway is jammed with cars it’s very difficult to conceive that the economy could go off the rails. Living in the Northwest our view probably gets twisted by the apparent prosperity. On the other hand we all know people in the construction trades, for example, who are finding it hard to make a living. We can see the cuts in governmental budgets and school funding. It’s probable that in the next couple of years we will lose our island post office. The island school lost a teacher position. And, it is clear to most that the housing market is taking a terrible beating with an enormous inventory of repossessed homes across the country. The Bellingham Herald reports Whatcom County unemployment at 8.6%.

The mainstream media reports that our current condition is just a blip, a downward cycle, that it’s just a matter of government investing more or spending less (depending on your side of the political spectrum). As a result, the majority feels that things will be okay over time. The down cycle will correct and happy days will come again.

If you are one who believes the shit will be hitting the fan sooner rather than later, there are differences of opinion on how to deal with those outcomes. The survivalist takes an extreme view with a vision of a defensible retreat in a rural area, lots of supplies, a few good friends, weapons and clear fields of fire.

The prepper has water and food saved up but is more hopeful that the streets won’t fill up with pirates and brigands.

The transitionalist tries to motivate a community to take steps to begin working together for economic malaise, energy descent and climate change.

Each of these factions has a following. None of the followings are large. Epiphanies are required. The sad fact is most people don’t have time for an epiphany. They are busy with other stuff. Thus, the readers of this blog and similar blogs or websites are people who are already into it.

One encouraging development on Lummi Island is the response to Disaster Preparedness. Transition planning pretty much takes the elements of Disaster Preparedness (food, water, power, transportation, medical) adds economic considerations and extends it into the future. Clearly, it’s easier to visualize an earthquake, tsunami or winter storm than it is financial collapse or Peak Oil. All of us have experienced an earthquake, a volcanic eruption, flooding or violent weather. Few of us have faced economic devastation or the unavailability of fuel. Hopefully, Disaster Preparedness will motivate more people to take a longer look at the future.

In the meantime, we’ll be preaching to the choir.

Sep 202011

“For the month of September, Whidbey Island residents are challenged to do their best to eat foods only available within a 100 mile radius. Choosing foods produced as close to home as possible, reduces oil consumption, decreases our impact on the climate and environment, keeps our economy resilient and nurtures us with healthier lives.”

A writer by the name of Rhiannon posted a very nice write up on the local challenge:

“Do you know what I am doing right now?  Making blackberry jelly.  The beautiful deep magenta liquid is currently dripping its way through my jelly strainer.  It smells luxurious right now in my house.  I do not think there is any more intoxicating smell as the smell of fresh wild blackberries cooking down on my stove.  But I am getting carried away here.  Or maybe some of you understand.  I have spent the last two weekends gleaning blackberries in what has been a prolific year for blackberries.  I have picked 5 gallons so far.  I am reminiscing now as the rains have begun again here on Whidbey Island.  Fall is a few days away but I have felt it in the air for more than a week.  The time of the blackberry is now passing and those few unreachable berries will now rot away.  The ones I have been able to obtain will now serve a second short life as fruit leather, jelly and syrup.  YUM.  I may have picked my last blackberry for the year but today I quickly transitioned to the next fruit which will be smelling up my house for months to come.  I gleaned 115lbs of the loveliest apples today.
Two years ago we had a simply stellar season for apples.  The apples glowed like little candies on the branches.  It soon became apparent our neighbors would be up to their knees in apples, so they gave us 50 lbs.  Something in this gesture sparked a fire in our home and we thought we would ask a few other neighbors with trees what they were planning on doing with all their apples.  We were surprised when their response was, “take them all, I won’t be picking them and I don’t want to be cleaning them up off my lawn.”  Imagine that.  All those trees…So the only logical thing was to go on a gleaning spree that left us with over 400 lbs. of apples.  I was making apple based products for weeks.  I had made apple sauce, apple butter, apple pie filling-canned and frozen- I even made my own apple pectin and I still had so many apples.  This is when my hero arrived.  A friend of a friend owned a cider press and he let us use it.  The huge oak device was delivered to our house one evening and when I saw it, I was so relieved.  We started tossing in all the remaining apples in the crusher and two days later we had 8 gallons of cider.  We gave some away to a friend who helped with gleaning the last tree.  I froze several gallons and we drank cider everyday.  Eventually we were down to a gallon and half in our fridge and it became evident I needed to take this cider to the next level.  I found a recipe for Apple Cider Jelly and got to work immediately.  We have shared this golden jelly with many of our friends and it has been, by far, everyone’s favorite gift.  Some of them are asking me now if I will be making it again.  All the apples were saved.  I kinda felt like some super hero gleaner.
And I am about to do it all over again.  We have been checking in on our neighbors trees.  They have all given us the go ahead to glean the trees again.  We have about a week until I dive into apple-extravaganza 2011.  I admit, I may be a little obsessed.  When you live in a place like this, the food is practically growing everywhere, begging to be used, it is just hard for a person like me to ignore.  But…it is a lot more interesting to eat that apple pie, close your eyes and see where that food used to live, and to remember how that tree practically threw that food at you as if to say, “I have grown this for you and your children, eat this so I can become a part of you and so you may grow too.”  No apple from New Zealand has ever said anything so nice to me.”

We are getting ready to start orchard number two. As for blackberries on the island—best year ever.

Sep 132011

If you follow the Ferry Forum you will have read Bill Fox’s comprehensive legal case against the proposed ferry lease and Jim Dickinson’s excellent common sense analysis plus Tip Johnson prediction that there could be a satisfactory political solution to the ferry crisis. I find I am in agreement with taking a position against this lease.

It’s just bad business to pay an unsustainable amount.

In the future, when the County is even in worse shape than it is now, when the Loonie has sunk back down below par and there aren’t as many of our Canadian brothers and sisters available to keep Whatcom County going, the politicos will looking for quick ways to cut costs. The ferry lease, with its excessive cost, will be a prime candidate.

John Robinson, on the ferry forum, has made the point that we need to think about Lummi Islanders of the future and not hamstring them with costs so onerous that it will be difficult if not impossible to consider a replacement boat for the Chief.

Chandler Johnson has demonstrated that the lease is so front end loaded with costs that the County will not have any wiggle room after the first few years.

If you are worried about being isolated, this lease should be your biggest worry. It takes away all the options leaving us with an aging boat and no money available for upgrades. The future alternative may include a private ferry system and a passenger boat at that.

My argument has always been that we need to maintain flexibility, particularly as to our destination, because of unknown future costs (such as severe increases in the cost of fuel or its unavailability). This lease undermines flexibility.

I commend PLIC for hiring a bus. It’s a rehearsal for getting to town or some distant parking lot in the future.