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Archive for April, 2007

I was making some buckwheat crepes to wrap around some mushroom stroganoff the other night. I made it with soured cream from my raw milk share, as suggested a while back – it wasn’t a hit with John, but I liked it a lot. I had just purchased eggs from the food co-op, not the eggs I normally get but those from another farm nearby (they were on sale and I was curious). I cracked three eggs into the buckwheat flour, and here’s what I got:

Five yolks! The next day I cracked open three more when I was making pasta for some delicious delicious lasagna. Double yolks again! I know I have some readers with ducks/chickens/other fowl. Is this uncommon? Why on earth are there so many double yolks in my eggs? I’m not complaining, just curious.

I’ve not been posting much because, sadly, my MSU boss informed me that no information from the farmers’ market vendor study should be made public. Damn. It’s been going wonderfully, I’ve seen 5 farms so far, and it’s all so exciting – I wish I could share it with you, but as Jim told me, it would be a breach of the confidentiality agreement our farmers have signed. It makes sense, but I’m sad. I do, however, feel comfortable talking briefly about my own impressions of the farms in general.

The only farm I’ve ever worked on, and the only farm I’ve had any really close contact with, was the Flying J farm in Johnstown, Ohio. It was only in its fifth year, begun by a retired evangelical christian aviation professor. He wasn’t in it for the money – he was already quite well off. He let me take care of market sales, and never asked how we did. I can’t imagine he brought in much income, if our market sales were any judge. He wasn’t lazy really, but there was just too much farm for one man of advanced years to handle on his own.

The misconceptions that this experience gave me about farming are quickly unraveling. Farming is fucking hard work. These families push themselves and their budgets to the limit, struggling to keep their operations alive. Even the most commercially successful farms I’ve visited have reinvested all their income into the business, because their business is their life. I’m amazed and humbled by how hard they work to provide me with the food that I so often take for granted. I’m also impressed by how much some of them rely on farmers’ markets, and how skilled most of them are at marketing themselves and their produce. This is an incredible learning experience for me.

In other news, John wanted me to write briefly about his bike. We actually met because of bikes: he had an adorable 1959 Schwinn Tiger. I complimented him on it, and offered to help him fix it up (I’d been learning some basic bike repair that summer in a volunteer bike garage). The rest is history, but we’ve continued learning to repair and restore bikes ever since. He found a beautiful (but abused) old blue Raleigh Sportif for sale a block from our house last summer for $10. Last week he decided he was going to transform it into a tougher, more militant, less baby-blue vehicle, and he’s been working on it incessantly since then. It’s done now – he stripped it, repainted it red and black, removed the derailleur (but not the freewheel – we’re not that hardcore), chopped down the handlebars, and pieced it all back together. It looks incredibly tough, rides like a dream, and I’m impossibly proud of him. I’ve always been the one doing the bulk of the real repairs, and he’s handled the artistic details. This time though, he took it upon himself to learn the real mechanics required to build a bike from nothing, and I hardly helped at all.

When he asked me to write about the bike, I told him, “No, this is a food blog.” But I thought about it for a minute, and realized that bikes belong here too. This project is inspiring me to work more on another bike I have, to fit it with a basket so that I can take it to the farmers’ market and the garden without burning fossil fuels. We’ll ride our beautiful, tough bikes to Old Town and eat amazing brunches at Golden Harvest (a fantastic diner that has a list on its menu of all the local farms and businesses from which they buy their ingredients), building an appetite as we go. So much of my interest in food systems is centered around sustainability, and I love bikes for the same reason. Eating local food, like abandoning motorized vehicles, is a way of creating a closed-loop system, taking away no more than what we’re put ting in. Goes to show me that everything, yes, everything, comes back to food.

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Guess what I got?

Yesterday was my birthday. And I got this!

It’s a Le Creuset French Oven (like a Dutch oven, but…made in France) from my parents,and I’m so excited I can hardly stand it. I also got a baking stone from my little sister and a copy of Preserving Summer’s Bounty, which I’m also pretty excited about. I got equally exciting non-food related presents from John, but he took me out for some pretty amazing Thai food, so that counts, doesn’t it?

Tomorrow or the day after I’ll be posting pictures from my trips to two more farms just south of Lansing. And that’s all for today.

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Three years ago today, John found a scrawny young cat running around behind the now-defunct Temple Club. He took her home and the rest is history. He figures she was about a year old at the time, so we’ll call this her fourth birthday. Happy birthday, Pickles. Enjoy your tuna.

I’m back tonight from my very first farm visit. It was really, really, really fun. My boss Jim and I drove an hour south to Ceresco, home of Cinzori Farm. We spent a couple of hours talking with Anthony (son) and Don (father) Cinzori, walking around their enormous enormous farm and talking about the farm history and their current marketing strategy. Don is a first generation farmer, formerly a tool and die maker for Ford in Detroit. When his youngest daughter was a year old, he decided to give up on the auto industry before it gave up on Michigan, and he bought 260 acres just outside of Battle Creek. He started off raising livestock: mainly hogs and cattle (not organic or anything like it). When his five kids grew older and left for college, he decided vegetables would require less labor, and by the mid-’80s he had moved entirely to organic vegetable production. Of his five children, all of whom graduated from Michigan State, only Anthony has stayed to work on the farm. Now, of their 260 acres, less than half is cultivated with certified organic vegetables and organic cover crops (clover and oats), while the other half has been planted with native hardwoods to promote local conservation efforts. They were keeping bees until this past year, when all but two of their twenty-plus hives died out, probably related to this.

I really enjoyed meeting with the Cinzori’s, and I was struck by how hard their job really is. They run a very successful operation, with a large following in some of Michigan’s best farmers’ markets and strong ties with Whole Foods.  But they are also astonishingly busy, all the time. Even this early in the season, they’re already at their largest market, selling plants (they do a large part of their business in organic transplants). In the midst of this cold snap, I figured they’d be taking it easy, but they were hard at work in their hoop houses, getting ready to move cabbages into the fields next week. Sometimes I think I’d like to have a farm. Seeing them, how completely absorbed they are in their land and their business, I feel like I wouldn’t be up to the task. I’m certainly glad they are, though, and I can’t even begin to explain how excited I am about going to their markets later in the season and buying some of their produce.

At the end of the week I’ll be visiting two more farms just south of Lansing, and this time I’ll have pictures.  I realized about 5 minutes before leaving today that my camera battery was dead, and I wasn’t able to find the charger in time. Typical.

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Back again..apologies to all

I gave up on this thing for a while, obviously. I’ve been busy with (and fairly depressed by) work, and I felt like I was surrendering more free time than I wanted to writing and thinking about food. But I feel like if I quit this blog I’ll have let myself down – I was really enjoying writing and hearing people’s feedback, so I think I’m back again.

This change of heart is due in part to the fact that I’m finally (finally!) going to start visiting farms tomorrow. I’m visiting the largest organic vegetable producer in Michigan – he lives about an hour away, and once I ask permission to write about him, I’ll be talking about him a whole lot more. I’ve also been surprised to see that people are somehow still finding their way to this site – the magic of the internet, I suppose. It makes me think that if I spend less time worrying about how many people are paying attention to me, I’ll make gains in both quality and quantity of posts, without stressing so much.

I’ll put together a “real” post in the next day or two, but for now, here are some updates:

  • I just bought a CSA share from Titus Farms in Leslie, MI. I’ve mentioned them before, and I think they’re pretty wonderful. I’m going out to visit them on Friday as part of my farmers’ market vendor study, and I can’t wait to see the place. Even more so, I can’t wait for it to warm up so they can start giving me food!
  • My wonderful, wonderful boss who has the raw milk share decided that she just can’t keep up with the glut of milk at her house. She lives alone and is getting a gallon a week. So she’s splitting the share with me, and she’s not letting me pay for it. Amazing! I have a half gallon a week of delicious raw milk. This is the third week I’ve been getting it and I’m absolutely thrilled. She seems to like how it’s been going too, and wants us to keep splitting it indefinitely. Sometime this summer she’ll be gone for a couple of weeks, and I’ll get all of her milk too – I think I’ll have to have an experiment in cheesemaking!
  • I got to see John Jeavons give a 2-hour free talk at MSU this past week. I want to say it was amazing, but it was pretty blah. He didn’t say anything beyond what was covered in How to Grow More Vegetables, which was disappointing for me since I’ve already read it several times. He’s also not a particularly gifted speaker, in such a way that the impact and gravity of his message was greatly diminished. The bright spot in all of this is that I brought my mom along, and while she wasn’t very impressed with Jeavons’s rhetorical skills either, she did come to two realizations: she’s only been taking things from her garden, not feeding it at all, and this has had a negative impact on her soil quality and yields; and eating locally produced food really does mean you can’t have eggplant in March.
  • My mom (after hearing Jeavons’s talk) told me she’d buy me compost for my garden as a birthday present. I don’t have anywhere to make my own (damn you, apartment living!).
  • My friend Lauren (with whom I’m splitting my CSA share) and I are contemplating taking a master composting class at Fenner Arboretum in May, so that if I ever have access to enough space to make my own compost, I can do it.
  • Local leeks exist at my food co-op (or at least they did for a few weeks – they seem to have disappeared since). I bought approximately a ton, and I’ve had leeks coming out of my ears ever since.
  • I’ve started my tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and onions. The first three are huge. Absurdly huge. They’re making this cold snap almost bearable. I’ll be starting kale, collards, cabbages, and a few other things this weekend. Pictures forthcoming.

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