Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for November, 2010

Final Harvest

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

copyright 2010 Peggy Hansen

First, wash your hands. Then get a bowl–a large one, bigger than you think you’ll need. Next, go outside and stand beside your basil plants. Study the leaves, and burn that color on your retinas, the green that carries summer in its veins. Lean over, or bend down (depending on how tall your plants–and you–are at this moment), and stick your nose into the heart of one of them: inhale, deeply, slowly, and memorize that smell. This is your last chance for many long, dark months.

copyright 2010 Peggy Hansen

When you’re sure you’ve got it, set the bowl down next to one of the plants. Grab the leaves on either side of a stem, near the bottom, and pull upward. Use your hands like rakes, pulling off the leaves and gathering them toward you as you ascend. At the top of the stem, cup your hands around your treasure, and transfer to the bowl below. Grab, pluck, repeat, till all the stems are bare.

copyright 2010 Peggy Hansen

At this point you should have quite a haul, especially if–like me–you haven’t harvested your basil much since making pesto (twice) a couple months ago. What to do with it? More pesto is hard to dismiss: is there such a thing as too much pesto? Or you could chop it in a food processor with a little olive oil, pack tightly in a small glass jar, and top with a thin layer of more oil–what the French call pistou. This keeps in the refrigerator for months, and will spark new life into winter omelets, home fries, or even spread on plain old toast. Freezing tiny aliquots of chopped leaves is another great way to bring a blast of summer to your kitchen any time of year, especially welcome when the days are short and cold–and nights long and colder.

copyright 2010 Peggy Hansen

This time of year seems to be about losses, and farewells: the last tomato, the last raspberry, the final leaf shed from red-robed sycamores and maples, the departure of the geese and hummingbirds. But fall pears, monarch butterflies, and ripe persimmons have arrived, and asparagus will be here before too long. Meanwhile, I’ve got summer’s emerald lifeblood anytime I want it–sleeping soundly in the freezer.

copyright 2010 Peggy Hansen

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

copyright 2010 Peggy Hansen

It’s complicated. Most things that have to do with life and death are, it seems, but eating meat is way up there on the list. I’m not going to get into the debate over whether to eat it or not, or why or why not, though it’s something I struggle with myself. There are no easy answers to those questions.

copyright 2010 Peggy Hansen

One answer that is easy, though, is how to eat it if you do. More precisely, how the meat you eat is produced–every step of the chain from birthing pen to plate–matters: for your health, the animals’ welfare, the planet’s well-being, and the survival of the family farm.

copyright TLC Ranch/Tana Butler

By now you probably know our food system is a mess. Michael Pollan and many others have written eloquently on this subject. Both government policy and consumer demand have driven the goal of producing larger and larger quantities of food at lower and lower prices, without regard for what that ultimately means for everyone. Antibiotic resistance, pollution, deforestation, and greenhouse gas production are just a few of the problems large-scale commercial agriculture has given us. Its dependence on fossil fuel, for production, harvesting, transport, and storage of food is another major weakness. We need to eat greener for a lot of reasons. The final straw for people of conscience is the unspeakable cruelty that’s at the very heart of meat, milk, and egg production in our country.

Livestock raised on factory farms, which account for about 99% of meat eaten in the US, endure short, miserable lives with no opportunity to know what it really means to be a pig, a chicken, or a cow. If you’re not familiar with what factory farming entails, I encourage you to read the powerful books on this topic by Jonathan Safran Foer and Peter Singer. The truth isn’t pretty, but it is important: ignorance is not a substitute for ethical behavior. It’s simply not OK to satisfy our taste for steak, or omelettes, or bacon if these animals aren’t treated humanely, with respect and care.

copyright TLC Ranch/Tana Butler

There has to be another way–and there used to be, in our own country. Joel Salatin and Wendell Berry remind us that till fairly recently, the small family farm was the norm, not the increasingly rare exception it is today. Lack of access to affordable land, demand for cheap–rather than good–food, and poor quality of life are all critical issues facing small farmers, driving more and more of them out of the business. Tyson Foods, meanwhile, keeps churning out the low-priced, chemical-laden factory-farmed beef and chicken we can’t seem to get enough of, even though it tastes like crap and makes us sick.

copyright TLC Ranch/Tana Butler

I don’t eat meat very often, but took comfort in knowing that I had a local source that was ethical, humane, and honest. Since 2004, farmers Rebecca Thistlethwaite and Jim Dunlop have raised animals on pasture and organic feed at TLC Ranch in nearby Aromas, doing their best to educate consumers about food, farming practices, and why we all should care. After 6 years of struggle, though, they’ve done the math—and made the only viable decision for their family: TLC Ranch is going out of business. Another dream has died, and it’s a damn shame.

copyright TLC Ranch/Tana Butler

I can understand people who don’t know better not doing what it takes to ensure that farms like TLC survive. But here in northern California, and Santa Cruz most especially, we do know better. We pride ourselves on eating organic, fresh, and local, patronizing independent businesses instead of big-boxes, and being green (greener than thou, most certainly!). We think we understand what seasons mean, and life cycles, and we eagerly chat up the wait-staff at our favorite restaurant about their food’s sustainability. But when push comes to shove, we still buy organic food from Wal-Mart or eggs at Costco (see my earlier post, The Price of Eggs), because they’re cheaper….and we ask for, and expect to see, asparagus in October, strawberries in March, and lamb year-round.

So what can we do, now that another family farm has folded, to ensure that safe, wholesome, humanely-raised food will be available? This too is a question with an easy answer–or, rather, a lot of easy answers. Rebecca Thistlethwaite listed many of them in a recent 2-part blog post that’s essential reading for those who want to make a difference. The bottom line? What we do, what YOU do, does matter, and it doesn’t have to cost a fortune. My heart aches that it’s too late for TLC, but if enough concerned and educated consumers try, it may not be too late for other small, sustainable farms that are still hanging on.

copyright 2010 Peggy Hansen

Meantime, I will hoard and savor the four packages of bacon I bought at the farmers market today–the next to last week meat from TLC will be available. This treasure will be parceled out in precious aliquots, and eaten with respect and gratitude toward the animals and farmers who made it possible. I hold every good wish for Jim and Rebecca, and thank them profoundly for the effort they made on our behalf. They’ll be traveling around the country with their daughter, checking in on small farms and ranches across the US to see how other farmers are meeting the challenge. I look forward to hearing about those journeys and discoveries, and trying to do my part.

Read Full Post »

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

copyright 2010 Peggy Hansen

It’s been on the way for weeks, but I’ve been in denial. The shorter days, cooler nights, changing leaves, even the first real storm of the season notwithstanding, somehow I never really thought the farmer’s market would end. Stalls have been disappearing week by week, and the offerings have become less varied, but I stubbornly refused to believe. Today, though, there is no hiding any longer: today is the year’s final market.

copyright 2010 Peggy Hansen

Oh, sure, there are other markets in my area that run year-round, and I will make my weekly pilgrimage to those instead during the coming months. I’ve been known to visit them even during summer’s height if I find myself under-provisioned, and the fact that they’re on different days is a big plus. But they are bigger, draw bigger crowds from a larger area, and don’t have the funky, local, small-town mountain feel of my favorite. Squeezed into a church parking lot, the market is a treasured emblem of community, and packs in the faithful May to November. My weekly stop on the way home from work is always a discovery: what’s ripe this week, what’s coming in or out of season, what new vegetable I might muster up the guts to try. Sometimes, it’s a revelation–that nectarine or peach at its sublime, evanescent peak, or the ear of corn that holds the very heart of summer.

copyright 2010 Peggy Hansen

Much as I sometimes find them inconvenient, I will miss the kids running randomly between the stalls, plastic blocks or dinosaurs firmly in hand, or sprawled beneath the canopies in the market’s heart, busy coloring or finger-painting. I will miss the fiddlers and the balladeers, though I rarely tarried long to listen. I’ll miss the knife sharpener’s wheel, playing backup for the popping kettle corn next door. I even miss the crappy parking–the over-flowing lot, the cars cramming both dusty shoulders of the narrow two-lane highway, and the poison oak lurking by the roadside.

copyright 2010 Peggy Hansen

Most of all, I will miss the vendors: the stone fruit specialist who knows my favorites and keeps me posted on which ones are ripening, the tomato farmer who gives advice on growing heirlooms, the berry grower who extols the virtues of strawberry cultivars you didn’t even know existed, the artisanal baker and her tips on getting that perfect sourdough crust. These people are local food, my local food, and it’s sad to see them go.

copyright 2010 Peggy Hansen

Of course, I know they will be back next spring, but right now the first Tuesday in May might as well be light-years in the future–it’s just as unreal and difficult of access. But I’ll hang on, watching the trees, the skies, and the earth as they announce the seasons, counting down the weeks.

copyright 2010 Peggy Hansen

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: