Where’s the Beef?

…I finished off the last of our local organic beef the other day. I documented the process – so moved was I that this was the last great beef I’d be eating for a while.  The next round of butchering will be late this fall, into winter. Our beef has usually been a Christmas present of sorts..

I have come to value to highly the dedication of the farmers, the great taste and quality of the meat, that it becomes harder to buy anything else. And, though buying a share of a steer can be some up-front cha-ching, it is very much worth it (and actually works out to be less per pound than the ‘natural meat’ of questionable naturalness and even more questionable origin, at the supermarket). I am always on the look-out for opportunities to buy local meat, and its nice when its organic too, but for me, local is the first check-mark on my search.

What local meats to you buy? Do you find it to be a good value to buy in bulk? What local meat would you like to try? Next on my list is lamb, and after that, goat – have never tried either, but I do know of some area farmers raising sheep and goats!

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Found: Local Eggs, not from chickens

Just a quick note today –

Are you a substituter, like me? I’m constantly revising/adding/changing up recipes – even more so now that we’re virtually gluten-free in our household.

Maybe you’re not subbing lots of stuff, but one thing you might occasionally do is: run out of eggs. This is especially likely to happen if you have only 3 hens, and one of them isn’t currently laying, and they’re bantams, so every 2 eggs is like 1 “big” egg.

So, you can substitute ground flax meal, preferrably purchased locally, from someone like Mark Askegaard of Askegaard Organic Farm.

Flax meal, when combined with water, makes a mucilaginous kind of substance, and acts as a binder in recipes, like an egg would. You can make pancakes, cakes, cookies — the only caveat — you might need to decrease some of the other liquid in the recipe. This is only a potential “might” – and I’ve found it usually in the cookie arena.

Basic recipe:

1 Tbl. ground golden flax meal, 3 Tbl. water = 1 egg

Flax eggs!

The only thing you can’t do — make scrambled flax.

 

Do you have any clever substitutions you’d like to share?

Local: Honey

Bees.

What does that word immediately bring to your mind? For some, its fear. We typically think of bees, and then we next think of a painful sting.

Up until about 3 years ago, when I thought of bees I didn’t have any memory of a sting. That all changed the day we took a bike ride, and an insect flew into my bike helmet, and stung me on the ear. At least once. But it felt like a hundred times.

What probably flew into my dorky-looking-yet-safety-producing helmet that day was probably a yellowjacket – which tend to look more, I guess, ‘beetle-ey’ with a hard noticeable exoskeleton.

And not something fuzzy, sweet, and non-confrontational, like: A honeybee.

Though, really, its hard to tell. Italian Honeybees, which you can see here,  have a nature that is pretty docile. They’ll defend their hive with all they’ve got – but you really gotta get ’em riled up, and be perceived as a threat. Yellowjackets and other wasps tend to be more aggressive, more easily agitated. How might one appear as a threat to these buggers? According to several wasp sites that I visited,  ” wearing colors” or ” moving” near wasps and their hives, is enough to set them off.

I try to put the memory of the cauliflower-ear-swell-fest that occurred after the sting out of my mind, and instead focus on the sweet, sweet product of honeybees. Which is…well…honey. Of course.

Honey is a great natural sweetener, that has been found, preserved, in archeological digs in ancient Egypt! All the fruits and veggies we enjoy depend mightily upon the bee and other insects, for pollination. According to backyardbeekeepers.com, honeybees themselves account for 80% of pollination! That makes mysteries such as Colony Collapse Disorder (where beekeepers began losing 30 – 90 % of their bees to death each year) very, very troubling for all food! And all people who eat it! *You can learn more about CCD here, and may I just note, there are many links to increased and increasingly varied and dangerous pesticide use that may be a factor in all of this. This phenomenon continues, and a dedicated team of researchers continue to put the pieces together.

I became interested in keeping bees through reading quite a few books – books on homesteading, both in the country, and urban. There is a neat novel that reads like a beekeeping guide called “Beeing” that I suggest you check out from the library (or buy, if you have a mind to. But you know how frugal *I* am).  I also became interested when I started buying local honey, from Paul and Lori Luthi of Three Bears Honey Co (click for their contact info). Please also keep the Luthi family in your prayers, and consider attending a fundraiser benefit for Lori, who is undergoing costly cancer treatments. Click for more info on the event.

I am kind of a stubborn person that likes to have tried everything once, and if I fail, then I can put it out of my mind. But…if its out there…not tried yet…I just can’t seem to rest until I, personally, have done this thing. Backyard beekeeping is “one of those things”. I’m *hoping* to go to a backyard beekeeping workshop in Medina, at the end of the month. This workshop is one of many hosted by Farrms.org – check them out for upcoming classes and dates!

Oh, and here is a picture of a Bee Haus, which might be a hive model that would fit in with the plastic urban landscape, and be more low-profile.

I also don’t know if the city code says anything about bees, so this is contingent on me searching through pages (online…but still) of legalese. Wish me luck.

Buzz, buzz!

The Local Foods Puzzle –

…Where do you fit?

That was a question I was asking myself over the two days that I attended the Dakota Grown Local Foods conference in Fargo, ND. That was also the question F/M area organic farmer Noreen Thomas asked us as we ate lunch together on Saturday, February 4th. Do we grow things? Do we consume local foods? Do we share information with others? Do we present unique opportunities to get people from diverse walks of life interested in where their food is coming from?

Over the course of the two days, I met small family farmers, like the hopeful, joyful, informative presention of  Brian and Angie McGuinness, of Riverbound Farm , in Mandan ND.

What sticks out in my mind is that these two young adult farmers absolutely know the odds they are facing – some would call them insurmountable odds, and truly, that could be said –  and yet their vision of creating and providing not only healthy, organic food – but community for their members, was very inspiring.  “We want this to be ‘our’ farm – we want people to come and hang out, and be part of the farm.” From creating a unique itemized CSA to providing a children’s play area at their CSA barn and awesome farm events like the “Take Back the Value Meal” event, the McGuinnesses are really thinking outside of the box, while they’re putting good stuff IN the box – the boxes for their 150 CSA members.This will be their third year offering their CSA.

Also inspiring was talking with my tablemates at dinner – Stephanie Sinner, who works with the USDA export program and frequently travels overseas. Recent trips include to Vietnam, China, and Cuba. A couple involved for many years farming near Minot, marketing to farmer’s markets and restaurants as well as feeding themselves, talked about the  flooding devastation for many, their own farm untouched. Kathy, a former journalist, and current staff member of the USDA, who was taking in the conference as well as helping to educate others about the services, opportunities, and new grant programs that the USDA could provide to small farmers.

After making a round around the outside of the room picking up pamphlets (I love pamphlets! I’ve been known to look at them once, and file them for years, “just in case”) I decided to just plop myself down at a table with other young-adult-type-looking people, and I’m glad I did. A young couple with dreams of farming right outside of the area and starting a new CSA in future years shared their own vision. Clint and Victoria Russell and I traded stories about our families and our poultry – ducks and chickens for them, three backyard chickens for me – and the surprise of loving farming and gardening after never having grown up with it being a huge part of our lives. They have recently purchased an existing farm and name, and plan to continue to expand, and serve the area with fresh vegetables, and make a life for their family.

On Saturday, I talked with a woman who grows heirloom tomatoes and sells them to a local upscale cafe, but lives in town, just like me.

We all fit different pieces of the puzzle. I have to admit, there were times at the conference when I thought, Why am I here? I think I know, now.  I’m here to tell the stories of those that are farming big-time and small-time, and anything in between. There’s all some way we can be involved in local foods. We just have to figure out where we fit.

Where do you fit into the puzzle of local foods? Consumer? Advocate? Backyard gardener, like me? Small or large scale organic or conventional farm?

Perspective…

Looking out at the painted-frosty-wonderful-icy trees, and the fog (yep, that’s still here, too) I can’t help but just marvel in the little everyday beauties of creation, even right here in the city, across from the Mall. But, inside, we’re going to continue to make Punxsatawny Phil keep his promises – let’s bring on spring by talking about food, about growing it, about eating it, about connecting with farmers, farms, and people doing good stuff, right in our own ‘neighborhood’. From my own perspective, my participating in the local foods movement includes mostly eating it. I grow some, too. I love to learn.

I’ve enjoyed meeting a couple of the other bloggers (so far! Hoping I cross paths with more of them today) – and would love for you to check out their perspective on their own blogs – we’re all from different walks, and we all have a unique voice to share.

Beth, at Rhubarb and Venison has her post up here, I met Beth briefly yesterday. Brenda, from I Need Chocolate is right here for ya’. I hung out and chatted quite a bit with my new pal Pam, from Its Time for more Coffee (great title, and a true statement, no matter the time of day, IMHO) has her post up right about…..here.Val from Wag’n Tales is around here, too.

We also have Kirsti from GriggsDakota blogging here, and one of the conference organizers and 1-month-under-her-belt-new-job with the USDA, Katie Pinke of Pinke Post also has a blog post up on her personal blog. Sarah from Farmer on the Mission wasn’t able to make it, but her blog looks absolutely beautiful, so check it out.

So, where am I headed today? I’ll be gathering back with the conference in just a few minutes, and plan to attend several interesting sessions today, including learning about social media and how it relates to local foods with Katie Pinke, a session on the economics of running a small vegetable farm, lunch with a presentation by Noreen Thomas, and a session on direct farm marketing. Awesome, and thankful for the opportunity, and the fresh perspective I am gaining from all of this. Thanks for reading along!

North Dakota wine can be made of…

a) rhubarb

b) raspberries

c) strawberries

d) all of the above

If you guessed D, you are absolutely right! After arriving at the end of our luncheon time, my first conversation was with Merleen Gussiaas, of Carrington, ND. Marleen and her husband, Bruce, have a delicious dilemma –

They planted 3,000 – yes, you read that right, that is Three Thousand – rhubarb plants in 2007. Bruce laid down the mulch and cut X’s in it, and dug the holes; Merleen planted about “99.5% of those plants.” When she was done, she was a bit sore.

But not sore are the people who taste their rhubarb wine – which comes in a few varieties, including, of course, the pairing with strawberry. Chocolate-cherry is another flavor I’d love to try. Offering tours of Merleen’s extensive flower gardens, hosting wine tastings in their commercial kitchen made especially for the wine-making aspect of their operation, and marketing their wine regionally keep the couple busy. They have enlisted the help of family, including some of their older grandchildren, in harvesting the many, many, many (can you imagine? 3000 plants, ya’ll!) rhubarb stalks.

So, here’s the dilemma – how to get this luscious, uniformly chopped (by local employees), freezer-packaged yumminess into the hands of those who would use it to make a 9 X 13 cake (each package has 5 cups, just the perfect size!) –

Merleen told me that part of the reason why they’re attending is to find out more about how to get connected with Farmer’s Markets in a profitable way. Round-trip gas cost from Carrington, costs associated with the processing of the rhubarb — how can they sell their wares and make it all work out – and make a living?

I encouraged Merleen to think about being first to market in the spring. We’re sick of the long, drab brown/white winter, and hungry for fruit! Hungry for color! Hungry for a first taste of what’s to come…

Here’s my question, for Fargo area residents: Would you buy a 5-cup package of rhubarb from Merleen? Let her know she’s got options in Fargo! You can type in a comment, or send her an email through the beautiful websites that showcase their wares:  Dakota Sun Gardens (www.dakotasungardens.com and http://www.dakotasungardenswinery.com/)

I’m looking forward to discovering more stories of farmers and hobbyists doing creative things to help us all get connected with great, healthy food!

Ending Hunger in ND – one garden at a time…

Picture the tightest budget month in your own particular household. Is it December, when you’re buying gifts? Is it the month when it seems like every member of your family has a birthday? Is it spring, when you’re maybe attending weddings, or visiting relatives now that the roads aren’t don’t as closely resemble skating rinks?

Well, picture that tight month stretching out over months and months – or, indeed, years. When the budget is tight, things start to get cut out. Often fresh fruits and veggies are the first to go for a family in need of food, period. 9 out of 10 of us don’t get enough fresh produce anyway – multiply that problem for a household facing a tough time.

Enter the Hunger Free ND Garden program. This program, as presented by the ND Dept of Agriculture and one of their partners, Lutheran Social Services program the Great Plains Food bank today, February 3rd, at the Dakota Grown Local Foods Conference, aims to connect local farmers, large and small, with area food pantries, with a very impressive goal – to get 500,000 lbs of fresh fruits and vegetables into the hands of those who need them, and helping to eradicate area hunger.

1 in 11 people don’t get enough to eat in our great state, and 40% of those are children.  This program seeks to involve people on all levels – from the backyard hobbyist like myself, to a CSA farm, to a large scale operation.

During this session, I was impressed with the sharing the group did at the end of our time together. One man from the Wahpeton/Breckenridge area noted that their farmer’s market has started a program, Pounds for the Pantry. At the end of the market day, extra or unwanted produce is collected and then brought by a network of volunteers to the area food pantry. We broke into small groups to brainstorm problems and solutions – how can we get food to people? Could we each plant an extra row, or, in a small situation, one extra plant, that we can share?

My husband and I have often marveled at the output of a single plant. Plants – and here I’m going to reference the abundant zucchini, which, at high season, you can’t hardly GIVE away! – are meant to be shared. They are meant to feed people. This program seeks to connect that abundance to the people who need it most and can afford it least.

Consider making this program visible, through your network of friends, your church, your workplace, your extended family. The program has had success in its first two years, giving about 350,000 lbs to those in need, and has some heartwarming stories of how the abundance is collected. Take retired pastor Dave Faust, for instance. He planted 2 acres of squash, yielding over 60 thousand pounds. At age 76, harvesting it all himself was not an option. Help was enlisted in the local college population, who had the squash harvested in about 2 hours (and were entreated to go back out into the field and pull the weeds, too).

Check out more information about the Hunger Free North Dakota garden project, and share the abundance. Here is a brochure:

http://www.lssnd.org/greatplainsfoodbank/pdf/Hunger%20Free%20ND%20Garden%20Brochure.pdf