Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘sustainability’

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

Go beyond the market for a minute. That fruit you’re holding has a story, about work and care, sun and water. It’s also about the harvest, a dance of exploration, partnering, and purpose that changes and delights both parties.

First, as for any dance, you need the proper costume–here, that’s long sleeved shirt, long pants, and sun hat. Gloves are optional; I mostly go without unless I’m picking berries. Also, tools–not many, just a sturdy picking box or bag, and a light but trusted ladder.

Next, survey the scene and plot your choreography: what is the angle of the sun, and the set of the branches? Where is the fruit sparse or heavy, inviting or still green, smooth-skinned or bird-bit? Where will the ladder best be placed to reach this one, and then that? Where will the tree accept embrace, and where will it refuse? Once sure of your partner, set the ladder firmly and begin.

Every sense will guide you–sight for judging blush or hue, smell to catch a sudden waft of nectar, hearing for the creak and rustle of the tree echoing your movement, taste to spot check as the impulse strikes you. And touch–the last, but the most critical. Take the fruit in your hand and hold it, gently. Feel its heft, the firmness or slight give against your grasp, and ask the tree if it is ready. As you tug ever so slightly, she will tell you: ripeness falls to you like water into sand–softly, smoothly, silently. Resistance says perhaps tomorrow, but not now.

When the picking’s done, climb down and thank the tree. Is that her sighing, free now to begin another season’s work? No telling, but perhaps you’ll hear it as you bite into that peach.

~~~~

This pieced aired as part of KQED FM’s Perspectives series on 8/4/14. Listen here.

Read Full Post »

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

copyright 2011 Peggy Hansen

It’s easy sometimes to get caught up in the weaving and lose track of all the separate strands. Before beginning, each component was deliberately selected, and the pattern chosen thoughtfully. Hours have been devoted to creation of the tapestry–yet here you are, suddenly, amazed and speechless. How did you get here, and what on earth is going on?

I looked around my garden recently and had that very thought. What is this web, and who exactly is the weaver? It is I, of course; I readily admit it. The nature of the web, it must be said, is somewhat murkier. How have these elements been chosen, and to what purpose? They seem at best haphazard, testaments to impulse and my inability to resist a plant tag or seed packet promising interesting and delicious bounty. It started with a love of food, interest in self-sufficiency, and curiosity about what might be possible. From there, it’s expanded well beyond my first intentions. Plans have been cast out in favor of what sounds good to eat, or what’s at the farmers market–on the theory that what they grow here, I can grow here.

copyright 2011 Peggy Hansen

Yesterday, I wrote a list of what I’m growing now, and it doesn’t seem entirely plausible–even to me–but here it is:

melons
sugar baby watermelon
hearts of gold canteloupe
early silver line honeydew

strawberries
Alpine
Seascape

beans
Roc d’or
Maxibel
Royal Burgundy

purple mizuna
rainbow chard
red Russian kale
Bordeaux spinach
carrots
peppers

red bell
yellow bell
thai bird pepper
habanero

mints
chocolate mint
spearmint
catnip

lemongrass
fingerling potatoes

Russian banana
La Ratte

onions
Walla Walla
California red
European long red

lemon cucumber
zucchini
garlic
tomatoes

Love Apple
Paul Robeson
Caspian pink
black Ethiopian
Jaune Flamme
green zebra

herbs
rosemary
thyme
sage
lavender
oregano
marjoram
parsley

chives
basil

Genovese
thai

blueberries

On top of this, add several young fruit trees that aren’t yet bearing, including:

Meyer lemon
fig
peach
pomegranate
persimmon

copyright 2010 Peggy Hansen

Admittedly, I have small amounts of each of these crops–and I’m still working at the concept of succession planting to ensure a steady yield throughout a given season. I’m testing the limits of available space, sun, and time…and my own energy. I know exactly how many bags of compost can be crammed into my Prius, and I’ve given up worrying about the cargo area being dirty. I’ve just ordered a movable electric fence, to surround the beds and keep out hungry critters. This summer, I’m envisioning a spacious greenhouse, maybe up by the garage, where I can get an early start on things and keep my seedlings safe and happy. And I’m pondering sites for a small chicken coop and run…but that’s a project for another year, maybe next year. Right now I’ve got my hands full, adding to the weaving at one end while keeping the other from unraveling. But my stomach’s full too, and I’m not going anywhere.

copyright 2010 Peggy Hansen

Read Full Post »

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

copyright 2010 Peggy Hansen

Some have called farmers markets the ‘theater of the affluent’ but I beg to differ. Farmers markets, like most things, come in many shapes and sizes–as do their patrons. My local market, which just opened for the season this week after a winter we all feared would never cede the field, attracts a wide range of folk: old and young, well-heeled and food-stamp recipients, artists and laborers, who seem to have in common only their concern for food. Some fear the pesticides and synthetic fertilizers used in conventional agriculture. Some are foodies, seeking rare or heirloom varieties that simply can’t be found in supermarkets. For others, supporting local farmers is paramount. For others still, it’s an afternoon out in the fresh air, sun on their face and cares temporarily forgotten. For all, it’s about community. Like any community, it has some rules–and a few lessons to be learned. Herewith, my top 10.

10. Get there early. That young asparagus or crusty bread your heart is set on may sell out.

9.Bigger isn’t always better. This is never truer than for strawberries–who hasn’t been disappointed by the giant ones that look amazing but have little taste and dry, mealy texture? Next time, try their tiny cousins–unassuming and shy, but packed with aromatic ecstasy.

8. Enjoy the scene–and the scenery. Many farmers markets have live music, activities for kids, and booths with boatloads of fantastic flowers. Stroll around a bit, and take it in.

7. Get your business done, but allow yourself a treat. Maybe it’s shave ice, kettle corn, or an olallieberry turnover–whatever it is, buy yourself one thing that isn’t on your list. I guarantee it’ll make you smile.

6. Sometimes a trend is just a fad….and sometimes it’s a find. Last year’s darling, green garlic, has become a springtime favorite for many. The jury’s still out for me on this year’s craze, fava greens.

5. Scope out all the options–several vendors may be selling the same thing, but they’re not all created equal. Plant varieties, growing conditions, and other variables can make a huge difference in flavor.

4. Don’t be afraid to try new things. I’d never heard of red Russian kale till a few years ago, but now it’s one of my staples. And beet greens–they’re delicious, but who knew?

3. Talk to farmers. They appreciate your interest, and have great cooking and growing tips. Often they’ll remember you, and maybe even set aside a few choice favorites.

2. Don’t judge by looks alone–sure, scan for rot and bruises, but use your other senses too, especially smell. If you can’t smell a peach, you won’t taste it either. If in doubt, ask for a taste.

1. Be open to the moment. The seasons will speak, if you will listen.

copyright 2010 Peggy Hansen

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 »

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

copyright 2010 Peggy Hansen

Party-yellow paper plates top long trestle tables on four sides of a square, half of each paired set cradling whole fruits with name and reference number, the other mounded high with diced bits ready for the taking. It’s a cool, drippy day in late October, and though it isn’t crowded when I arrive, before long it’s a total mob scene. Throngs of people, all with toothpicks at the ready, have paid $5 each to sample apples they—and I, and you too, odds are—have never even heard of. Sponsored by the local chapter of the California Rare Fruit Growers, this heritage apple tasting has drawn hundreds. One of the women selling tickets hands me a clipboard and pencil and gives me the quick lay of the land, after which I join the line and get to work.

copyright 2010 Peggy Hansen

The fruit is arrayed from sweetest to most tart, and the organizers have provided checklists that follow the same order for easy note-taking. I scan the list, finding only 5 that are familiar: Honeycrisp, Newtown Pippin, Golden Delicious, Spitzenberg (reputed to be Thomas Jefferson’s favorite apple), and Golden Russet. Happily, the rest are complete strangers: 66 possible new apple friends!

copyright 2010 Peggy Hansen

I skip the first dozen, since I often find sweet apples cloying and uninteresting, and wade in at number 13: Oxford Black, a sweetish, slightly tart variety found in New England since the late 1700’s. From there I pass through Kogetsu, Margil, Rubinette, and Carter’s Blue, all nice but not amazing. Next comes Katherine, crisp and tart but just a tad too bland, followed by Reinette Rouge Etoilee–a gorgeous name (“little red starry queen”) but not, alas, for me a gorgeous apple. Pinova, Macoun, and Hoover all strike me as too soft, and bland as well. Waltana, next in line at number 37, hits much closer to the mark with a good balance between tart and sweet; it’s crisp as well, which also ranks high in my book. I circle it, and add three stars.

copyright 2010 Peggy Hansen

Just downstream from me, a buzz arises over Orleans Reinette, a drab-looking little yellow fruit that’s russeted with darkish brown. I lean over and stab my toothpick at the plate, hauling in a goodly chunk of this crowd favorite, and pop it in my mouth. I have to agree, the flavor is delightful: sweet but nicely tart, a bit flowery. But the flesh is much too soft, providing no resistance to the tooth at all, so I can’t rank it highly. The grower assures me it’s due to the lateness of the season; today’s offerings are over-ripe and so not showing us their best. Two plates down, though, is another story: Allington Pippin–crisp and tart, with beautiful pale dappled skin that perfectly foretells the delicate perfume that lingers on the nose and palate. We debate its precise, elusive nature—banana? pear? pineapple? No matter: it’s another 3-star discovery. Three plates down lies Pink Parfait, one of several pink-fleshed apples on display. I love the lurid blush, so unexpected: the skin gives no hint of anything unusual beneath, and besides, who knew that apples could be pink? It’s nice and crisp, perhaps a bit too tart for me. I move on to King David, another crisp and sweet-tart winner, and circle number 49. Number 52, Wickson Crab, is petite but powerful–tart, crisp, unabashed but not astringent, pleasingly round and red with reddish stripes flushed over pale cream ground. I imagine this one as foundation for a spicy cider, or sliced atop an aged Manchego.

copyright 2010 Peggy Hansen

Farther down the final row, I find many of the offerings too tart. One exception is the most striking of them all, the vivid scarlet Rubaiyat. The slices on the plate are darker than a watermelon’s heart, but with an edge of tartness and a berry-like aroma. Other apples in the home stretch, like Court Pendu Plat–which dates back to early 17th century France, is named for its uniquely flattened base, and has beautiful shaded yellow-orange skin with a fine tracery of russeting–I want to like but can’t get past their texture.

copyright 2010 Peggy Hansen

Once the circuit is complete, I go back to the five or six I’ve starred or circled on my sheet to taste again, this time with a bit more serious intent: would I want a tree of this variety, or that one? Many in the crowd seem to have the same idea, and we’re all chatting up the growers in search of pearls about climate, productivity, and ease of cultivation. Happily for me, my top four all rank as ‘easy,’ and likely to find the climate in my area hospitable enough.

Stuffed with fruit, knowledge, and ideas, I turn in my clipboard and trudge back to my car through muddy grass and rough-cleared meadow. This one-sided speed-date has been informative and fun, to be sure. But do we really need 71 different kinds of apples? Or the estimated 7500 found world-wide? It’s a fair question. After all, in this globalized era, can’t we just get what we want from someplace else, wherever and whenever it’s in season? And how many distinct flavors do we need, or want–wouldn’t a dozen or so suffice? I wager most of us could name only a handful of apple varieties, and are just fine with that. Should you care if Allington Pippin disappears, or Rubaiyat, or some other apple you never even knew existed?

copyright 2010 Peggy Hansen

The answer, of course, is yes: in these times of climate change, rapid population growth, and environmental degradation, crop diversity is more vital than ever. Add in diminishing and ever more expensive fossil fuel for food production, transport, and storage, and it starts to look like a perfect storm for agriculture. The ability to adapt to drought, heat, poor soil, pests and plant diseases, low fertilizer input, and other stresses depends on genetic diversity, now more than ever–and if we don’t keep our options open, more will go hungry. Seed banks are a critical part of the solution, and perhaps you’ve heard about the “doomsday bank” in Norway, dug into a mountain at the world’s icy apex. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault opened in 2008 and contains over 500,000 unique seed samples. Regional seed banks around the world contribute to the SGSV, which serves as the planet’s sole backup storage facility.

Seed banks are a great resource for plant breeders and researchers, and can help ensure our long-term future. In the shorter term, it’s just as vital to save diversity in the farmer’s field–by voting with our taste buds and our wallets. Though I normally don’t care for crowds, today I’m thankful for the turnout, encouraged that so many came to see and taste these rarities and gladdened that each one found new fans. I hope some will become supporters, helping turn the tide away from uniformity and blandness. It’s not too late to save our amazing, diverse heritage of fruits and other plants, not too late at all.

copyright 2010 Peggy Hansen

Read Full Post »

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

copyright 2010 Peggy Hansen

My tomatoes are a jungle, leaves and fruit and flowers bursting from their cages and widening the sky, which can only mean one thing: high summer is upon us. It’s my favorite season, mostly for its bounty–every week, it seems, summer brings another luscious fruit to devour, another herb to savor, another vegetable to grill or stuff or just eat raw. There’s not much to rival a just-picked gold bell pepper, sweet and crunchy eaten out of hand, or an ear of roasted corn brushed with lime and chili. I love the warmth of summer too, the long days of tank tops, easy dresses, and hair pulled back in carefree twists. I love the sleepy fog that rises from the valleys on certain summer mornings, curtaining the hills and holding back the heat and light. And the smell of fresh-cut basil—that speaks for itself.

copyright 2010 Peggy Hansen

But the arrival of sweet corn and ripe tomatoes is not pure happiness–there’s a tinge of sadness too, tucked beneath the lining of the harvest basket. Summer means the end of spring, as green garlic gives way to fat, ripe bulbs drying in the shed. Asparagus has vanished for another year, with fava beans hard on its heels. Pole beans snake upward where snow peas ruled, it seems, just yesterday. They too have gone, vibrant tendrils faded to dry ghosts as summer marches on.

copyright 2010 Peggy Hansen

I’m not in mourning, though–there’s just too much to celebrate, like the tiny pearls of new tomatoes I find each time I pinch the suckers off my plants, or the baby haba┼łero peppers that grow larger every day. It’s right to relish every season in its turn, and recognize its unique attributes. At the same time, though, it’s fitting that we look both back and forward, to set each season in the cycle. Bittersweet, perhaps, but much more sweet than not.

copyright 2009 Peggy Hansen

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: