It's been awhile since I've posted anything, and for once I have a good excuse: I've been travelling through Bolivia and Peru for the past six weeks or so, and keeping my eyes open for anything I can glean about the agriculture there. It's been an interesting journey through the land of Quinoa and Potatoes, but I am doubly excited to return home and get back to my beloved seed collection!
It seems that most of the agricultural energy in the Bolivian highlands goes to potatoes, quinoa, favas, and corn. I did see a bit of lupines and oca as well, but just a bit. I have not, in any of my wanderings, run across a single vegetable garden! I have learned through chatting with the ladies at the local markets, that most of the fruit and vegetables are imported from other parts of the country, and from places like Argentina and coastal areas, and probably Brazil. The climate here seems quite fine for most vegetables that we grow back home. One lady commented to me that her people "don't know how to grow vegetables", except maybe some onions, carrots, and chard. Strange. In Peru, at least in Cusco, it seems that more of the food is actually from Peru as opposed to other countries. But Peru is lucky to have a coastline. Bolivia is landlocked, and limited in some ways, but still has jungle and tropical areas in the east. However, the roads are long and windy from the east over the mountains to the western altiplano towns...it's closer for most to get food transported up from Argentina and such.
It seems fruitless to try and collect quinoa seeds here...so many varieties, so many variables in climate. The sad thing about quinoa is that since the US and other "western" countries have taken such a liking to this gluten-free superfood, prices here have skyrocketed. Most Bolivians (and Peruvians, although I see more of it in this affluent town of Cusco) can't afford to eat their indigenous Andean grain anymore. There is a whole lot of vitamin-deficient white rice going around these parts. I read in a local Bolivian paper that the cost of meat is cheaper than quinoa now. It's good for the farmers, but bad for everyone else who is buying their food.
I've had some good conversations with local folks about the importance of eating local foods. There are many similarities to back home: folks in the cities aren't eating nearly as many local foods as they could, peasant farmers in the countryside are probably eating mostly what they grow, although selling extra staples in order to have cash to buy those veggies at the market. Perhaps that is why there aren't many veggies served with meals. It is usually a piece of meat with rice and potatoes. A true gut bomb if you ask me: the old starch/protein combo. There are some tasty soups to be had, though!
And of course, every area has a different specialty, and that is why I love to travel. Something new around every bend. And for me, it usually has something to do with food. Ok, it Always has something to do with food.
I have a friend who is in Peru for a year, studying such agricultural topics as the Brazil Nut industry, and, hopefully, Cacao. She writes a great blog at: plantasquecomemos.blogspot.com.
Thanks a heap to the Co-op staff who came out for a bean-threshing work party on August 24th. It was loads of fun, super productive, and I really enjoyed the company and enthusiasm. I have never had such a hard time dragging volunteers away from their work. And a beautiful day on top.
Just a word that this project is only partially aimed at making a profit - half of what we do is education and unfunded research, and we depend on volunteers to help us out so we don't burn out and move to a tropical island for early retirement (as if). If anyone has been wanting to get out here and see how exactly one might process their own backyard dry goods, get in touch with my by email for a one-on-one session or come to the next big work party:
Sunday, September 15th, 1-3pm
Sponsored by Sustainable Connections' EAT LOCAL MONTH
Threshing and Non-GMO corn harvest party
Go here for details: http://sustainableconnections.org/events/threshing-party-non-gmo-corn-project-harvest
This year we were fortunate enough to get a small grant from the Bellingham Community Food Co-op's Farm Fund, for our Non-GMO Corn Preservation Project. The grant paid for pollination supplies, outreach, and a portion of the labor required to launch this community program aimed at ensuring an enduring supply of locally-adapted Non-GMO grain corn varieties.
As part of the project we learned to do hand pollination and trained other farmers in the skills required to keep their own corn patch from receiving pollen from neighboring GMO corn field. Our hand pollination efforts were focused on varieties already known to do well here: Nothstine and Mandan Bride dent corn, Lavendar Mandan parching corn, Cascade Ruby-Gold flint corn, and Painted Mountain Flour Corn.
We will begin harvesting our corn at our upcoming Threshing and Harvest work party, sunday September 15. We will have the results of the first year's work at a free community information session at the Food Co-op on October 21st, 6:30pm. There, we will also discuss the importance of protecting corn from GMO contamination, threats from GM crops in general, and how you can get involved as a farmer to steward a variety yourself.
Yesterday I had a workshop on rendering lard and pressing vegetable oils. I've been using a lot of lard over the past year, ever since I discovered how easy and inexpensive it is to make (pork fat is a by-product, you can often get it for free). Lard is a very healthy fat if you make it yourself from an organically-fed, pastured pig. Lots of Omega 3s and high in Vitamin D, doesn't have the trans-fats, has mono-unsaturated fats, the good kind. It's a totally different beast than the thing you find on the grocery store shelf - to make it shelf-stable it has been hydrogenized, the same sort of process that makes margarine and crisco so terribly bad for the heart. So yeah, if you are not a vegetarian, lard is excellent, and fairly versatile. The only thing I don't use it for is salad dressing.
Pressing vegetable oil with a home-scale oil press on the other hand is WORK. Hard work. It takes me a lot of effort to get a quarter cup. Unless you want to buy the $3,000 electric machine. As if. The one I use is made by Piteba, a company in Holland. It is a high-quality, hand crank, "screw press" and it is used all over the world in subsistence societies. It costs around $150. It's a sweet little gizmo, but like I said, you need to rally some bicepts to keep it cranking. Especially for flax seed, the hardest one I've tried yet.
Yesterday we made sunflower oil from seed I bought...and camelina oil from seed that I grew. Camelina is an amazing oil and I believe you will start hearing about it in the near future. It is in the mustard family, like canola, and has been grown for oil for a few thousand years in the Mediterranean. It is high in Omega 3 oils, but unlike flax, you can cook with it on high heat. Camelina is now being used as a soy substitute in chicken feed since it is very high in protein and a super-healthy oil for the "chooks".
Camelina was very easy to grow, harvest, and thresh. I yielded 3 gallons of seed from a 150 foot long bed 3' wide. I would have gotten twice as much but it started to drop half its seed while I was away over a hot weekend. It was easier to thresh and winnow than flax, and overall, really seemed to thrive in our climate: plant it in the spring, and it matures during our drought season very easily. I have seed available for Camelina if anyone else would like to try it. Or if you are local and want to try your hand at pressing oil, give me a call. I might just be willingng to set the machine up if you feel li
My kitten Hunter is my most loyal volunteer these days - he shows up for every threshing session within moments of set-up. He loves to lay in the material pre- or post- thresh, and I always wish I had my camera to capture the orange ball of fluff snuggling down in the orange-colored chaff or straw. The picture above is un-threshed buckwheat. We finished the buckwheat but are still working on the flax - the one last grain threshing push. After that it's smooth sailing finishing up the bean harvest and pulling in the corn and one more row of potatoes. The end-of-summer perfect weather has been a joy for the second year in a row. I get sick of watering my garden but for grain and seed harvest, you couldn't ask for anything better.
Organizing and packaging for the CSA is another matter! So many details to take care of before getting the first distribution into peoples' hands at the end of the month! It is difficult to stay inside and spend time on the computer during a beautiful day in September - my favorite month - but I need to finish writing up storage and cooking information, make labels, and the rest. I will be excited when it is November and it is all done, but then again, this is the high season - squeezing in as many high-country adventures as possible amongst the business is my ultimate goal. Yesterday was a beautiful day in the mountains, and I feel rejuvenated and ready to continue with the full days of farming...
Quite a busy summer for us, as you can tell by the lack of blog entries! I have been so busy helping to develop the new farm where I live and developing my farm business so that I can continue on this path of self-employment in a the world of farming, where it is not easy to pay the bills. (Hint to other perspective farmers: lowering your expenses is much easier than raising your income.)
The season has been full of interesting challenges for myself and most farmers in the region (interesting because I believe we always learn more when things don't go according to plan). The rainy summer brought a lot of disease for the potatoes, storage onions, garlic, and wheat. The millet crop downright failed for the first time in the 5 years I've grown it, because we tried to do it at home where the weed pressure was simply too overwhelming. (Note to self: do not plant grass family grains into a freshly seeded pasture). Sad, I do love the millet flour for my gluten-free baking! Our local wheat grower also had a massive crop failure from too much rain, too late into the season. Our CSA customers will get their money's worth, no doubt, but we will have to wiggle things a bit to even everything up.
The fava bean trials are all harvested and in. There were definitely some promising varieties at the green stage, and I look forward to doing the taste tests as a dry bean to determine if any are tender enough to go without peeling. That is the main goal- overwintering during a harsh winter around here - and cooking as a dry bean without needing to peel the individual beans.
We have also harvested all of our soup peas and camelina (an ancient oilseed crop). The camelina grew in nicely, with only one weeding, was easy to harvest, and easy to thresh. Unfotunately, half of the seed shattered when the temps got into the 90s here. I don't know if I should have harvested it earlier or if the unseasonable heat was what got it. I may try it one more year. Crops that shatter easy are a pain - but a vegetarian source of local oil would be nice to have and it is a fantastic chicken feed amendment.
I am still looking for volunteers who want to learn some of the harvesting and threshing. We still have to harvest flax, garbanzos, dry bean (lots and lots!), buckwheat, and dry corn. Harvest and threshing will mostly take place over the next month.
I will be leading a threshing workshop at the Whatcom Skillshare and Barter Fair. If you have not heard of this most awesome event, please check it out at: www.whatcomskillsharefaire.org. It is on Saturday, Sept 22, at the Deming Log Show grounds and will feature all sorts of wonderful self-sufficiency skills in all categories. It's only $2 to get in! (plus $8 for the vehicle itself if you drive). You can also bring things to barter and teach a skill yourself if you want!
Well, there is good news and bad news. All seven of the overwintering favas I trialled have survived the winter and are perky and ready to grow up up up with the lengthening days. The bad news is that how will I know which ones are the most cold tolerant when they all survived? The best kind of trial is when 90% of the varieties do poorly, and 10% thrive. Then you know you are on to something. We simply didn't have a harsh winter this year. The super cold northeaster we had in January followed a snowfall, which seems to have protected the plants well. Even my winter garden made it through far better than it did the past few winters. It was a gradual hardening off this year, which is fabulous...but as I said, I didn't get good info about the favas.
Our 1200 garlic plants look beautiful, happily popping up through the mulch. We did a side by side comparison of mulched vs unmulched this year. The unmulched version was already full of weeds, but seems to be growing more vigorously, since the bare soil can warm up more quickly.
So I enjoyed a couple of very beautiful february afternoons weeding the garlic, favas, and overwintering wheat and barley trials. I am ecstatic about having overwintered crops that I can enjoy working with without having to wait until the soil is dry enough to till up with the tractor and warm enough to germinate new seed. It felt wonderful to be back out to the field at Broadleaf Farm, a very special place, with the most beautiful soil that is so lovely to weed. The field at home, on the other hand, is a soggy, heavy, mucky mess and I don't even want to think about planting anything there until at least May.
Georgia and I will have the details out on our CSA very soon. We are shooting for March 1. Stay tuned. Meanwhile, I am busy filling seed and book orders and looking forward to having a small booth at the Bellingham Farmer's Market this year. I hope to see you there!
It's February, the time of the year when the abundant fall harvest has either been eaten or lost to rot. For a local food eater, the months of late winter and early spring are the most challenging. But here at my household at Riverhaven Farm, the residents are fat and happy. Our pantry is stuffed with amazing homegrown, foraged, and locally-raised ingredients. From the organic pastured pork and wild-caught salmon in the freezer to the overloaded shelves of canned foods, to the sauerkraut and root-cellared apples, potatoes, and squash, to the winter greens that survived the January blast of cold, we are smiling. The many jars of beans and grains are certainly a welcome contribution to our winter food supply as well.
I'm busy preparing for the many workshops and presentations I have scheduled for the winter and spring. I am speaking six times on the subject of growing beans and grains. I am also co-teaching a homesteading series that will cover a broad range of topics. The schedule of talks are as follows:
GROW YOUR OWN DRY BEANS AND GRAINS
COMMUNITY EDUCATION WORKSHOPS
*February 7– Bellingham Gluten Intolerance Group support mtg - 7pm
*February 13 – Everson Garden Club meeting (WECU Everson) – 7pm
March 7 – Community Food Co-op Class (Cordata Store) – 6:30pm ($10)March 17 – Deming Library (Local Food Works series) – 10am
*April 9 – Lummi Island Gardener’s Network (Lummi Island)– 6:30pm
April 21 – Cloud Mountain Farm (Everson) – 1:30-3pm
*Non-members please call firstSPRING HOMESTEADING SERIES Location: Riverhaven Farm (Lynden)Sundays from 2-4pm; April 15, 29; May 6, 20; June 3
$85 for the series + $15 registration feeRegister through Whatcom Folk School
Threshing soup peas and garbanzos with friends
Somehow I've completely neglected to blog for over 6 weeks, while meanwhile, the entire harvest season has come and gone. It's been a busy time! Right now I am relaxing in Missoula, Montana, with friends who also appreciate the art of growing quinoa, dry beans, and garbanzos.
The 2011 harvest season was the best so far for BBGP. The late summer sunshine and beautiful dry september was perfect for drying down all of the crops that matured. The cool summer meant that the soybeans and amaranth struggled and didn't mature well, but everything else was primo. The dry beans yielded about twice as well as last year, wildly exceeding my expectations. All of the beans are threshed and the grains and peas are all threshed but needing to be winnowed.
We had a number of successful work parties this year, so I want to give a shout out to all those who came and learned and helped and had fun. It's truly more enjoyable with company! We had a couple of great articles published this summer as well: in the June issue of GROW NW magazine and the October issue of the Community Food Co-op's newsletter. Thank you to the writers/editors for helping to get the word out about what we are doing. Lastly, I was invited by Tom Thornton, of Cloud Mountain Nursery, to have my dry beans and grains on display at the annual Fruit Festival. It was a very exciting weekend and I enjoyed chatting with hundreds of folks over the two days.
My cohorts and I are now busily planning for next season. A collaborative storage foods CSA is in the works for next year, I am putting the finishing touches on an instruction manual for growing dry beans & grains in the Pacific NW, we are planning workshops for winter and spring, and I am gearing up for seed sales, hoping to have everything ready by December. Thanks to everyone who provided motivation, encouragement, and enthusiasm this year. I feel especially confident that this project deserves my attention and passion and I look forward to diving in even deeper.
It seems like it is going to be awhile before my earliest crops are mature and dried down. The weeding pressure has relented but there is no harvesting to be done yet, so a few weeks of breathing time (camping, hiking, and planning for next year) have arrived. I am anxiously awaiting when the grains, soup peas, and garbanzos are ready so I can have a harvesting and threshing workshop. I think that will be loads of fun.Meanwhile, I have been too busy lately to make more tortillas and I crave them immensely. I had purchased a new Estrella masa grinder a few weeks back at the Mexican grocery store down the street and have been looking forward to trying it out. So I finally spent a few hours this morning making tortillas. I made about 70 tortillas from 8 cups of my Mandan Bride dent corn. Here are some masa-making instructions for those of you who are interested in making your own tortillas:
Dissolve 4 Tablespoons of "Cal"/Slaked Lime (can be purchased at a Mexican grocery) in 12 cups of water.
Add 4 cups of dent corn kernels and slowly bring to a boil over a half hour. Let it boil for a few minutes, then turn off the heat.
Let sit overnight.
Rinse the corn until the water runs clear. Use your hands to briskly rub the kernels to assist in removing the cal. Drain in a strainer
Grind in a masa grinder as fine as you can get it (it won't be fine like flour and you will get a wet, coarse dough).
Make the dough into a ball. Add a bit of water if needed for it to stick together. It should be just wet enough to be able to make a golfball sized ball hold together.
Use a plastic bag to line either side of your tortilla press. Put a bit of oil on each side. Press tortillas and carefully peel them off the plastic.
They should be fried in a cured but dry cast iron pan on high enough heat so that they turn slightly brown on each side in about 30 seconds, but the pan does not smoke.
Note: if you do not have a tortilla press, you can make little patties with your hands, or you can press the dough between oiled plastic sheets with a heavy pan or other flat-bottomed object that you can press down on. But believe me, a good tortilla press is invaluable if you are going to do a lot of this!
Good Luck and happy masa-making.