Monday, November 29, 2010

Our Home in the Blue Ridge Mountains

Here we are a few days after Thanksgiving.  About this time last fall we started perusing the seed catalogs and laying out our gardens for spring.  We were also watching videos like "Food, Inc." and reading books like Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and becoming more educated about the hows, wheres, quality, and politics of the food we were eating.  We made some decisions.

We are not inexperienced gardeners but we are in no way master gardeners either.  We knew we didn't want to use anything nasty on our gardens but there would be a learning curve and we'd probably lose a few crops along the way (We did, squash bugs wiped out all our curcurbits except the cucumbers.  Overnight.).  We resolved to replace anything we might lose by buying in what was grown locally as well as buying in locally anything we didn't have room to grow or hadn't matured enough to start producing (like our baby orchard and bush fruits).

We would start as much as we could from seed (learning curve here) using open pollinated or heritage varieties as much as possible so we could seed save (another learning curve).  We would verify as much as we could that our seed sources were not Monsanto- or Seminis- owned or seed bought from those companies and resold.  Another aspect of starting from seed was how much to plant of something to ensure fresh eating and preserving for winter eating.  We fell very short of that.  Next year will be better.  Plants that were difficult to start from seed or that we couldn't get a start from a friend we bought from local nurseries we knew and trusted.  These mostly fell into perennials, some herbs, and tree, bush and vine fruit categories.

We've known how to extend the growing season at each end using hoops and plastic over the beds and planting early and late varieties that like cool/cold weather.  This year we did so in earnest and have many crops in the ground still growing and thriving.  Indoors on the shelving unit we modified for seed starting we have just planted tubs of lettuces, spinach, radishes, short carrots and little beets, basil, and small pots of herbs to add to our diet when the outside gardens finally stop yielding.

We started learning about poultry husbanding.  We acquired the two acres next to ours this month and it came with a very nice large chicken coop.  The plan is to have laying hens and to raise broilers for the freezer.  I'm particularly looking forward to that.  While I've been buying local eggs from pasture raised chickens, it's been difficult to say no to .69/lb whole chickens from the grocery store versus $3.45/lb whole organic chickens from local sources.  I know raising broilers will cost me more than .69/lb but they'll be costing me considerably less than $3.45/lb as well.  I can live with that.

We hunt as well and process our own meat.  Deer provide the majority of the red meat we eat.  We buy in very little beef.  At some point in the future we would like to put a couple of miniature Dexter cattle on our new piece of property to supply us with milk and meat.  Perhaps we'll add a yearly lamb and pig.  Rabbits are a consideration too.

And then of course there's preserving all that.  That's something I have a lot of experience with.  Started preserving back in the '80's because I was enamored with the thought of the back-to-the-land movement but so didn't want to jump in feet first.  So I stuck a toe in and have gradually waded deeper over the years.  I waterbath, pressure can, freeze, dry, cellar, and ferment most everything I can lay my hands on.  I'm asking Santa for a smoker this year.  And I'm waiting impatiently for our county extension to start it's Master Food Preserver certification course.  Michael's already signed up for Master Gardener.

Floyd is bountiful!  I have such a feeling of security and satisfaction when I survey all the foods we've been able to grow, hunt, forage, buy, and preserve from local sources.  Are we militant?  No.  But we're doing our best to gradually source items closer to home.  We now purchase olive oil for example, from Sciabica & Sons in California.  A fragrant, lovely product we know to be unadulterated from a family owned and operated grove and business.  Much closer than Italy.  Coffee we buy from a local roaster who uses fair trade beans.  Flour from a mill just up the road from us.  Maple syrup from the VA Highlands.  Wine, mead, beer, and hard cider from producers in our county and the surrounding counties.  On the other hand, I still purchase things like citrus in bulk when they're in season (which is just beginning now) because we really like our citrus and I'll be sharing methods of preserving those in the next few weeks.

So that's what it's about.  Eating Floyd.  Less dependence on Big Ag and Big Food.  More investment in our local farmers, producers and countryside and how we're doing it.

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