Saturday, March 29, 2008

When it Rains, it Stores

As the March 29 snowfall melts, the rain barrel fills up for later. Come July when the cucumbers are thirsty, I won't have to haul water out to the alley. A length of chain channels water from the gutter to the barrel opening.

I'm a big fan of rain barrels. Some years back when I was feeling flush, I bought an 80-gallon commercial model, plus an overpriced downspout diverter gizmo from Real Goods catalog, and installed it at my York Neighborhood house. It did yeoman duty there, helping me establish new plants in the desert conditions under the juniper tree.

At my current house I have that one for the front yard, and a do-it-yourself model in the alley. The 40-gallon alley barrel was free from the Trans Ocean surimi plant on Orchard Street. They kindly steered us toward the ones that had held dextrose, rather than the ones that reeked of fish. A bit of RE Store gutter, a few fittings from Hardware Sales, and we're in business. My house has only one hose bib and it's inconveniently located, so the barrels save me hassle as well as water. A couple years ago on a local sustainability tour, I saw a smaller rain barrel mounted on a handcart so it can go where the need is greatest. That seems like an excellent idea too.

If you would like a rain barrel of your very own, there's a workshop Saturday April 19, 10 a.m. to noon at the Bellingham RE Store. Pre-registration is required by contacting Anitra Accetturo at 778-7732 or

A second workshop will be held in May--date to be announced later.

Friday, March 21, 2008

A Resurrection

When we lived on the farm, my own version of sunrise service was to go out Easter morning and collect nettles for omelets. It was our way to mark an annual resurrection that seems miraculous in its own way--every spring the nettles come up and the hens go back to laying full force after their winter slowdown. On days I felt even more metaphorical, I could compare the nettles--prickly, aggressive, and hard to control--with certain people I know who may be hard to get along with but are still worth having around.

Eggs from a home flock, free-ranging on bugs and greens, have brighter yolks, firmer whites, thicker shells, and a rich flavor unknown those from factory chickens. They go well with the intensely "green" taste of cooked nettles. (The sting goes away in the cooking.)

Northwest nettles have been valued as well as cursed for millennia. Local tribes used the strong stringy fibers of mature plants for fish and duck nets and for the warps of Salish rugs. They also had a variety of medicinal uses. According to reports collected by ethnobotanist Erna Gunther in one of my all-time favorite books, The Ethnobotany of Western Washington, the Squaxins and Lummis gave crushed nettle leaves in water to women during childbirth "to scare the baby out." Less fancifully, many tribes considered nettle tea a muscle relaxant, making it valuable during labor. The prickly sting was also put to use in lieu of caffeine. Hunters would rub themselves with nettles to help stay awake all night.

I know at least one person nowdays who rubs nettle leaves across his knuckles when his arthritis acts up. I've also read on the web about nettle tea curing cancer, which I think may be a stretch. When we were kids, the accepted antidote to nettle stings was the slightly gooey sap of the brake fern, which was reliably found nearby. Aloe works too.
The Sumas property is nettle's paradise, the rich riverbottom loam producing armies of 6-foot specimens. That response to good soil may be one reason that early ethnographers reported Quileute women made their best gardens in soil where nettles had been cleared away. Nettles are also an excellent addition to the compost bin. For the kitchen, though, you want the soft, new growth only. Mature plants are too stringy. I stop collecting when they top 6 inches. Use rubber gloves to pick and clean them.
In general, nettle make a reasonable substitute for chard or spinach in any recipe that requires cooking. They cook very quickly, so adjust the time accordingly. The following basic recipes are from Winter Harvest.
Cream of Nettle Soup
4 cups young nettle leaves
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 cups milk or light cream (I'm going to try it next with soy milk)
2 tablespoons grated onion
2 tablespoons flour
salt and pepper
grated Parmesan to taste
Wash nettles, do not dry, and steam them in the water that clings to them. Puree with their liquid, adding some stock by the tablespoon if necessary. Melt butter in a medium saucepan, add onion, and cook until soft. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, until color starts to turn. Add stock, salt, pepper, and nettle puree and heat just to boiling. Lower heat and simmer 10 minutes. Add milk or cream and heat gently. Sprinkle each serving with Parmesan to taste.
Serves 4

Nettle Omelet
4 cups nettle young nettle leaves, loosely packed
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
5 tablespoons butter, divided (or any combination of butter and olive oil)
2 shallots, minced, or 2 tablespoons minced onion
5 eggs, beaten
salt and pepper
pinch of fresh tarragon (optional)
Steam nettle leaves until limp. Remove from heat, press out moisture, and chop. Mix with ricotta and set aside. Melt 1 tablespoon butter, or heat oil, in a small saucepan, add shallots or onion, and cook gently until they start to turn color. Do not let them brown. Stir them into the nettle mixture. Add salt and pepper to beaten eggs. Melt remaining butter, or pour oil, in an omelet pan or your closest approximation. Add eggs and cook over low heat, loosening edges as they solidify and letting the uncooked egg run under. Spoon ricotta-nettle mixture onto one half of the omelet, leaving a 2-inch margin bare. Slide a spatula gently under the other half and fold omelet under the filling. Cook very gently, about 2 minutes on each side, sprinkle with tarragon, and serve hot.
Serves 2 or 3

Once again--What Makes a Good CSA?

I posted my question about what makes a good CSA on the Local Harvest forum-- got a thoughtful reply from Walter Haugen of F.A. Farm near Ferndale. He gave me permission to repost it here:

Since I have a CSA share program and am just up the road from you, outside Ferndale, my views are obviously biased. However, here goes. Even though I use organic practices, I don't market as organic because I think certification is bosh. As Eliot Coleman says, "Your best guarantee of safe food is to know the first name of the farmer who grew it." I also think it is important to do as much by hand and I don't even own a tractor - I have a BCS tiller and two smaller units - lower carbon and calorie footprints.

I give vacation extensions so people don't lose their weekly box when they go on vacation. I don't mind selling vegetables right up to Thanksgiving as I did last year. I only have on-farm pickup at the moment, but if I sell enough Bellingham shares I will do a single dropoff one day a week. The Local Farm Exchange (LFE) stand down on Railroad Ave. is a good dropoff point, but there is a little bit of confusion now as to how it will be run. Hopefully it will be sorted out by June.

I encourage farm drop-in visits, as I am always looking for an excuse to get off my hands and knees in the dirt. Another good idea is to use Farm Bucks - this idea was pioneered around here by Mike from K&M, so I want to give credit to him. Farm Bucks are a good way to involve people who have cashflow problems and only want the equivalent of a half-share. I find that half-shares take more energy than full shares because they break your rhythm on box-filling day. Full shares plus Farm Bucks seems a good compromise to me. I am also defining my niche more narrowly and have more of a political component in my flyer and FAQ's. Those are all things I think are important and I could go ad nauseum, but I won't.

Haugen is also an initiator of the Ferndale Farmers Market, set to open in May. To read a profile of him and his farm, and the long process of getting the farmers market going, check out the Ferndale Record Journal--

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Hunger Moon

In a chapter called “Living on Nothing a Year,” June Burn recounts the diet she, her husband, and two sons followed while homesteading on Waldron Island in the 1940s.

(See the Living High entry in the Northwest Favorites listing at right for more about this book.)

We planted spinach seed in the fall, hoping to have greens early in the spring. It came up in February and the first of March we had our first raw spinach salad, made of leaves so small and delicate it would have been a shame to cook them. With dressing made of heavy cream, egg and cider vinegar it was perfect with our hot hoecake…

In February wild nettles came up. We wore gloves and used scissors to gather them so as not to be stung. We ate nettles every day for two months or more, for if you keep them trimmed down they do not run to seed but continually put out tender new shoots. Nettles have a slightly medicinal flavor which we grew to like very much. And they do not sting, of course, after they are cooked.

Burn calculated that the family lived for twenty-six months on $200. Their primary “bought” foods were salt, sugar, rice, ground wheat, and--“oh blessed event”---coffee. They caught fish and dug for shellfish, kept chickens and a milk cow, and accepted surplus fruit and vegetables from an island neighbor with an established farm. “About six hours a day went into hard physical work whose only purpose was getting something to eat.”

Burn went on to point out the most people work at least six hours a day, the difference being that they earn the money to buy food rather than getting it directly. But in fact, most Americans are used to devoting only a fraction of their working day to their groceries. U.S. Department of Labor statistics from 2004 show American households averaging 14 percent of their income spent on food. That compares with World Bank figures showing over 60 percent of income (though a small fraction of the actual dollars spent) going to food for families in Tanzania, Morocco, and the Republic of Georgia. Most of the world works not to finance vacations or a snazzier car, but to eat.

Organic and sustainable growers have long pointed out that cheap U.S. food is the result of a variety of subsidies--for fuel and commodity crops in particular--and that organic foods would be much more competitive if the true cost of production, especially the environmental cost, were factored in.

Some of the discipline we can’t seem to levy on ourselves may be provided by circumstances. Food prices have risen sharply in the past year, and the trend seems likely to continue. The USDA predicts an overall rise of close to10 percent from 2006 to the end of 2008. The rise is higher for many people’s staples such as milk, eggs, and the myriad uses of corn.

“Part of the reason for increased food prices is strong demand—domestically and internationally,” says the USDA. “Total exports for calendar year 2007 were $89.9 billion, up 27 percent from 2006.” Fast-growing economies, particularly in India and China, mean that millions of people are eating more and also branching out to try a wider variety of foods. The concurrent fall in the U.S. dollar makes American food cheaper to import at the same time it makes it harder for hometown consumers to afford it.

It’s hard to complain about a newly minted Chinese computer tech moving from malnutrition to food security. But another aspect of rising prices is more problematic. King Corn is the reigning crop, and that’s not because foodies have converted en masse to morning grits and evening polenta. Corn acreage is way up, the highest since 1944 (when yield per acre was much lower) according the USDA. Prices are up too. One big reason is ethanol. Despite strong evidence that corn-based biofuel is only marginally better for the environment than petroleum, that’s the technology that got the nod from the Bush Administration and a compliant Congress.

Here’s what the International Monetary Fund, not generally considered bastion of na├»ve environmentalism, has to say:

Dilemma of biofuels
Using biofuels to supplement transportation fuels at modest blends—under current technology—has its pros and cons. Biofuels can supplement traditional fuels while contributing to rural development. However, until new technologies are developed, using food to produce biofuels might further strain already tight supplies of arable land and water all over the world, thereby pushing food prices up even further.

Realizing the potential benefits of biofuels requires better policies. Brazilian ethanol derived from sugarcane, for example, is less costly to produce than corn-based ethanol in the United States, and also yields greater environmental benefits. However, generous tax credits for blenders, tariffs on imported biofuels, and agricultural support for grain farmers in the United States and the EU make it difficult for low-cost foreign biofuel producers to compete in these markets.

If tariffs and subsidies in the United States and EU were eliminated, biofuels would likely be produced largely by lower-cost producers such as Brazil and other Latin American countries. Similarly, under such a scenario, biodiesel would be produced mostly by Malaysia, Indonesia, India, and some African countries.

In sum, while we wait for more efficient fuel technologies to emerge, the first-best policy would be to allow free trade in biofuels. This would benefit the environment as well as make biofuel economically more viable.

So food costs are rising, squeezing families as they also absorb higher fuel prices, higher health care costs, and higher unemployment; our government is wasting the opportunity to focus on truly sustainable fuel development; and global warming continues apace. Any bright spots?

There’s grass fed beef: It’s a better life for the bovines, better for consumers, better for the environment and it should become more competitive as the cost of feedlot corn rises.

Organic gardeners can skip most of the increased input costs, though seed prices have risen.

If our percentage of income spent on food rises, maybe some of the more egregiously pointless and overpriced products will go away--could we hope for the end of the Lunchable?

On the other hand, even while food prices were staying relatively stable, increasing millions of Americans were suffering from that is euphemistically termed “food insecurity.” I guess hunger sounds too primal. Jacking the price for milk and bread, as a byproduct of converting agricultural land to corn, and corn to, is not going to make their lot any easier. The Hunger Moon, a name many tribes attached to the February full moon, may stretch across the calendar for more of our neighbors. It used to be a part of a predictable cycle--by February, the stored roots and dried meats were down to moldy scraps, animals to hunt were skinny and hard to find. Hunger Moon is the darkest hour before the dawn. It’s when people and their prey both starve. It may be a reality that Chilean grapes and New Zealand lamb can’t erase forever.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

From the Archives: The Hope-Lives-Eternal Garden

An ugly carrot surprise. I had a lot of these maggot-ridden disgusters in the Sumas garden. Mixing diatomaceous earth into the planting beds helped.

This diary excerpt from Cohasset Beach Chronicles highlights some enduring themes--winter gardening, pests, and local eating, brought on in this case by WWII food and fuel rationing.
Feb. 24, 1945
Sunday--a beautiful blue-skyed day--I took my spade and went to my vegetable patch. I dug up and threw away the chard plants. (The Victory Garden books said they would winter over. And they did. And so did the little beetles curled up in the leaves, snug as pigs in pokes.) I dug up and threw away the winter beets--what four-flushers they turned out to be--all top and no beet. The carrots--I guess I planted them too close together--were gross, many-fingered obscene hands. The parsnips were interlaced with black lines from stem to stern and looked, when split in two, not unlike sections of read maps from heavily populated areas.

I threw these winter crops in a bonfire. "Don't put infested vegetables in the compost heap," cautions the Victory Garden book. "Burn them." That dictum deals me out of ever having a compost heap and throws me automatically into the inexpert or bonfire class. (If the day ever comes when I can toss an uninfested turnip top onto a compost heap, I'll give the story to the Associated Press.) Then, with the ground cleared of last year's failures, I plunged a hopeful spade into a clod of crab grass and turned it over--the 1945 Hope Lives Eternal season was off to a good start.

Monday, March 10, 2008

I Found a Local Feta

The farm store is right next door to this viewing room.

I stopped by Appel Farms on Northwest Road last week to buy some cheeses for a birthday potluck. (Happy 55th to Lee Becker!). Appel is best known for their nationally marketed quark, and I’ve mentioned their paneer and gouda, but they also have several varieties that rarely show up in stores.

My favorite new cheesy acquaintance there was the feta with olives. Inspired by my dwindling bank account plus a bit of carbon-footprint consciousness, I’ve been looking for a reasonably priced local feta, and Appel has it. (A bonus for me is that the farm is one of my routes home from work; no extra driving) Somehow I’ve never warmed to most of the flavored feta mixtures. What I really like best is the Mt. Viko sheep/goat combo feta from Greece that they sell at the Co-op. But one of Appel’s offerings comes with big olive slices--mostly green ones--in the cows-milk feta blocks. Both texture and taste work wonderfully together, and it looks good too. At $5.50/lb., it’s well worth a try.

When you make your own cheese in small batches, as Appel does, you can try out any whimsical flavor that may cross your mind. That’s the best explanation I can think of for another variety I didn’t buy for the party: chocolate-chip cheddar. I tried it. It wasn’t awful, but I don’t get the point. I asked the young saleswoman where the idea had come from, and she rolled her eyes. “It’s a novelty,” was all she said. A bit of Googling turned up the news that a British cheesemaker markets chocolate-chip cheddar as an aphrodisiac, but do we really want to take culinary, or erotic, advice from the culture that brought us the Deep-Fried Mars Bar and French Fries combo? Appel’s black pepper cheddar is a better bet.

If your taste in feta runs to geopolitics, check out the debate over feta's culture of origin that is straining relations in the European Economic Community:

Much closer to home, I highly recommend this website for regional cheese enthusiasts:

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Mache Notes

Corn salad, scilla, grape hyacinths, and one new cane of a heritage golden raspberry. Out in the alley at 8 a.m. on a drizzly March 8.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen corn salad (mache, lambs lettuce, lamb's tongue, field lettuce, feld salat, fetticus, nut salad) for sale on its own. It must be grown commercially somewhere in the U.S., since it shows up at times in the fancier restaurant salads, and mesclun mixes, but it hasn’t achieved the cachet of some other hardy salad greens such as arugula or mizuna. It is both more appreciated and more reviled in its native Europe, where several varieties are grown commercially, and where it spreads in weedy overabundance in some locales. It’s mostly used as a salad green, but it can be quickly stir-fried as well, or added to an omelet filling.

I first learned about it from Binda Colebrook, who makes its case in Winter Gardening in the Maritime Northwest, and I’ve rarely been without it since. It’s a great little green. It shrugs off both cold and heat. Overwintered plants are ready in abundance by early March. It self-seeds like crazy and forms dense stands that make an effective, weed- choking ground cover, but it’s easy to pull or hoe out if you’re tired of it. To my surprise, slugs don’t seem to seek it out--maybe that’s because they are too busy decimating my primroses.

But how does it taste, you may wonder? It’s not an assertive taste, so it’s tricky to describe. Imagine the slightly spongy texture of spinach, especially a tender, non-savoyed spinach, crossed with the taste of butter lettuce. It’s kind of like that. It’s a bit bland, but not flavorless. I took some to Deb Anderson-Frey’s last week, along with a few shallot greens and my first tiny thinnings of arugula. She mixed these with some lettuce and made a vinaigrette with a touch of anchovy. It was a simple, truly fabulous salad--it tasted as though spring was already in full session.

You can direct seed outside, for the next couple of months or in late summer. I don’t buy seeds anymore because it’s all over my garden, but Territorial sells them. One small warning: the low-to-the-grown rosettes of corn salad are effective dirt traps, so wash them extra carefully.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

This One's Not Complicated

As the sun sets in the west, a jetload of Florida sweet corn heads to Bellingham to tempt the unwary.

I stopped at Barkley Haggen on the way home today to pick up some milk (Wilcox Organic 1%; Wilcox is another Salmon-Safe certified farm, by the way) and spinach. Near the spinach (its sign said Northwest Grown but it didn't say Northwest of what) was a big display of fresh corn. It was flown in from Florida and we are encouraged to put it on the barbecue tonight.

OK, I've tried not to be knee-jerk about food miles. I keep learning these shopping decisions are more complicated than they may appear at first glance. But this corn strikes me as about the dumbest thing to come out of Florida since the 2000 presidential vote count.

  • Sweet corn isn't designed to travel. Granted, new varieties hold their flavors better than the old standards of my youth, which would start losing sweetness as you walked from the garden to the stove. But you still are getting merely a shadow of the true corn experience.

  • Corn has got to have one of the biggest waste/weight ratios going. Someone is jetting this crop from as far across the country as you can get, so we can munch a few rows along the surface and throw the rest, which is most of it, away. Does this make any kind of sense?

  • Put it on the barbecue? In the first week of March? Personally I like to wait until it stops freezing at night before I cook out on the deck.
On a happier note, my first sowings of spinach and lettuce are up. They don't mind a bit of frost, and with any luck I'll have enough for salads in April.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Before the Leeks Get Away

Buying leeks
and walking home under
the bare trees
Yosa Buson, 1716-1784
Just washed,
How chill
The white leeks!
Basho, 1644-1694
Basho's lines bring back memories. Leeks take a good bit of washing to be presentable to sell, especially when coated with the black clingy soil of my old Sumas garden. My hands would ache with cold after getting them ready for the farmers market on October mornings.
The overwintered leeks will start to shoot up soon. I like to keep a few of them going for the big round heads of white or pinkish flowers that generally appear in time to imitate Roman candles at 4th of July. But long before the bloom, the burgeoning flower stalk makes them too tough to eat with pleasure, and anyway it’s time to clear most of my raised bed for summer greens. My first lettuce and spinach plants are up, about 1/8th-inch tall, but visible. If I'm smart I'll start some more shortly to keep that harvest coming.

Here are two quick leek dishes from Winter Harvest:

Stir-fried Leeks and Romaine
Romaine lettuce is known in German as “kochsalat” (cooking salad), although I doubt the German versions generally feature soy sauce. Don’t turn your back on it; it cooks almost instantly.

1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar or mild raspberry vinegar
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 medium leeks, white and light green, cut in half lengthwise and sliced thin
1 medium head romaine lettuce, shredded
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Combine water, soy sauce, and vinegar in a small bowl and set aside. Heat oil in wok or large skillet. Add leeks, tossing to coat evenly. Stir over high heat for 30 seconds. Add lettuce and toss to combine.

Pour on soy mixture and reduce heat. Sprinkle with pepper flakes. Continue stirring over medium heat until all the liquid is evaporated. Serve at once.
Serves 4

Basque Leeks
This campfire or outdoor grilling quickie also works indoors. If you like your cooked veggies slightly blackened, skip the foil, and lower the tray to 6 inches below the heat. Check often. Your results will vary with your broiler.

12 medium leeks
1 tablespoon olive oil or unsalted butter
salt and pepper

Preheat broiler 4 inches below heat source. Trim all but 1 inch of green from leeks. Remove any tough outer leaves. Beginning about 1 inch from the base, split leeks upward so they fan out.

Wash leeks thoroughly, drain, and pat dry. Arrange on a sheet of heavy aluminum foil. Rub each leek with olive oil or dot with butter. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Enclose in foil and broil 5 minutes on each side. Serve hot.
Serves 6

Sunday, March 2, 2008

It's Complicated, Part 2

I really love fresh tomatoes--hardly a bold, controversial statement, but heartfelt: tomato/basil sandwiches, especially if they are on slices of La Vie en Rose Tuscan Loaf, cherry tomatoes off the vine while I’m weeding around them; fresh tomatoes on pizza; roasted tomatoes; stuffed tomatoes; tomato slices with some of that fancy salt my friend Vicky Jenkins carries around with her; fresh tomato curry; tomato risotto…

Stop!!! This is making me crazy. It barely March, and I rarely eat fresh tomatoes until I can get them from close to home, preferably from that big container on my deck. I have it on wheels so I can keep pushing it into the sunniest spots as the season moves along. Some of this anticipation is pleasurable, like waiting for your true love to come back after absence--ah those reunions. And with tomatoes, it’s much less complicated--none of that renegotiation of new and old roles--you can just dive right in.

But I’m not a purist, and I’ll no doubt succumb to a basket or two of tomatoes before the too-brief local season arrives. The question is…which ones?

If I’m tracking food miles, then my choices are B.C. hothouse tomatoes or the hydroponic ones grown by the Hayes family just down the road in Custer. If it’s price, then Grocery Outlet probably has some grape tomatoes from somewhere that will be mostly ok if I use them right away.

If it’s all about the carbon footprint, my latest reading makes it seem that organic from Mexico may be a better bet than the seemingly obvious local choices. The aforementioned (It's Complicated, part 1) New Yorker article by Michael Spector (you can also listen to his interview with Terry Gross at points out that many factors besides food miles go into a carbon footprint. He says, for example, that apples shipped to Manhattan from New Zealand, assuming they travel by sea, probably involve fewer carbon emissions than those trucked down from upstate New York. Climate, growing conditions and farming practices all factor in to the mix, and New Zealand’s soil and sunshine make for more productive acreage with less outside input. Spector says the same holds true for New Zealand lamb shipped to Great Britain as compared with those Yorkshire sheep you read about in All Creatures Great and Small. In probably the most quoted part of his article, he says that if you live east of Cleveland, you are doing your sustainable duty if you buy French wine (which travels most of the way by sea) rather than California or Washington wine (trucked eastward on our vastly subsidized highway and petroleum distribution systems). Unless, of course, the trucks are running on biodiesel. Unless again, of course, that biodiesel is made from fuel-intensive factory-farm crops that are displacing real food crops.

Back to tomatoes. Those B.C. and Custer tomatoes presumably require lots of input--the acres of greenhouses, fuel to heat them, etc., whereas Mexican ones grow outside in the abundant sunshine where their species first evolved. When I gardened in California during my college years, I was amazed how easy it was to grow tomatoes. I could grow those huge beefsteak varieties that I regretfully pass by here because they almost never ripen in time. I had so many I ended up selling my surplus to the local deli for their sandwiches--my first experience in market gardening. I could harvest Roma sauce varieties by the bushel. When I contrast that kind of gardening, which was mostly about keeping up with the deluge, with the fussing and fretting I do to get a few precious fruits to ripen here before late blight strikes, I can see that some disparities in energy input are simply built in.

As for me, I’m going to cook brown rice with chard with some dried tomatoes cured in olive oil, ride my bike over to see my granddaughter, and save the tomato dilemma for another day.

PS--I know next to nothing about hydroponics and it’s entirely possible my assumptions about energy input are a bit off-base. My main memory is from a journalistic trip to Cuba in 1983, when my then-husband and I were shown a hydroponic operation in a Havana backyard. Being that we were then living on a homestead with lots of space and wonderful soil, I focused less on the hydroponics process and more on the dedication of our host, an aristocratic fellow who had converted to the revolutionary cause and devoted his life to food independence for Cuba.
So here’s some info from an expert:

Selling Hydroponics:
Of course, hydroponics has long battled a stigma- that it's the sole province of underground growers intent of producing evil crops. But you, as a successful year-round grower, can tell a more complete story. You can show the public how hydroponics allows growers to grow more crops in less space with fewer resources. How it can provide consumers with exotic or off-season crops that would otherwise have to be shipped thousands of miles to market. And how it's conceivable that someday hydroponics will be utilized to grow large volumes of food sustainably. And, as a result, more cropland will be available for soil and wildlife conservation activities and good old open space.
It seems that when hydroponics is promoted as a partner in our efforts to build a sustainable and prosperous future, new doors of acceptance and possibility are open.
Barbara Berst is a freelance writer and microfarmer living in northwestern Washington State. She is the author of the forthcoming title, Prospering with a 21st Century Micro Eco-Farm, and can be reached at or by writing to her at Island Meadow Farm, 4925 Sharpe Road, Anacortes, Washington 98221.

The Hayes's own website ( explains, among other things, that they power their farm machinery by biodiesel they produce onsite. I've eaten their tomatoes and they are very tasty--also pricy. Once again, it’s complicated.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

From the Archives: Eating Crow

OK--how serious are you about local eating?

Here's a report from one of my all time favorite Northwest books, The Northwest Coast: or, three years residence in Washington Territory, by James Swan. Swan lived on the Olympic Peninsula in the 1850s and reported colorfully and sympathetically on everything he experienced including the Chehalis Treaty of 1855 and a variety of culinary adventures. His descriptions of tribal uses of food plants are also well worth the reading.

As Christmas drew near the game seemed to decrease; and, although we had a plenty of salt salmon and potatoes, we thought we could not celebrate the day without having a goose, or duck, or some kind of a bird; but nothing came near us but crows. the captain said crow was good, so was eagle, so was owl; he reasoned in this manner: A crow, he said, is good, because it has a crop like a hen; and eagles, hawks and owls are good, for, although they have no crops, yet they do not feed upon carrion. So we addressed ourselves to the subject of procuring a Christmas dinner.

Fortunately or unfortunately, I shot a couple of crows. They were very ancient, entirely devoid of fat, and altogether presented to my mind a sorry picture of a feast. But the captain was delighted. "I will make a sea-pie of them, said he, "and then you can judge what crow meat is."
The birds were cleaned and cut up, and a fine sea-pie made with dumplings, salt port, potatoes, and a couple of onions. And precisely at the meridian on Christmas-day (for the old captain liked to keep up sea-hours), the contents of the iron pot were emptied into a tin pan, and set before us smoking hot.
I tried my best to eat crow, but it was too tough for me. "How do you like it?" said the old man, as with a desperate effort, he wrenched off a mouthful from a leg. "I am like that man," said I, who was once placed in the same position: 'I ken eat crow, but hang me if I hanker arter it.'"

Personally I've eaten plenty of metaphorical crow, which I also find too tough for dining pleasure, but never the actual animal. I have however cooked and eaten porcupine, moose, and bear, all on account of my pal Curt Madison, who lives in Alaska and will try anything at least once. Moose is terrific, bear (like pork) depends a lot on what the beast was eating in the weeks before death. I didn't take to the porcupine. It had a strange, sweetish taste that put me off.