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Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT

Hand-Harvested Food Challenge

Hand-Harvested Food Challenge

The Hand-Harvested Food Challenge

by Alexia Allen of Woodinville, WA

In 2003, I moved to a house on 3 acres in suburban Woodinville, Washington, just northeast of Seattle. Chickens and a raspberry patch were about what I could manage along with a full-time job, but I made a game of eating something from my land every day of the year. I did this even before my home turned into Hawthorn Farm, when it was just a suburban house with some scraggly raspberry bushes and a weedy lawn. A dandelion leaf, a raspberry, a chive flower or green needles from a Douglas-fir tree — all these qualified as my daily taste of land and season. When I struck up a friendship and then a romance with a man in Montana, it was only a matter of time before his dedication to farm-fresh food spilled into my life.

Our romance was a courtship of meals. We feasted on his elk and my chickens, his squash and my raspberries, his home-made sauerkraut and my blueberry cobbler. During a visit to Hawthorn Farm in the winter of 2011, Daniel mentioned a fourteen-year-old student of his who had spent a whole month eating only foods gathered from the wild.

Hand-Harvested Food Challenge

“Could we go for two days on the hand-harvested food we have here?’ he asked.

“Let’s give it a try!” I responded with my usual enthusiasm.

We assembled the ingredients on the table. A frozen chicken. Shriveled hazelnuts. Kale from the garden. A few squash. Dried nettles and fresh cedar fronds for tea. All in all it wasn’t terribly inspiring, but it was calorically viable. Hunger is well known to be a superlative sauce. We ate what we had and relished the flavor of integrity. Everything on that table had passed through our hands. We knew all the costs and calories associated with it. No hidden injustice, no questionable pesticides — only our skill and ability and knowledge of place. We felt joy at living in such an edible world.

We missed salt, we survived. We liked our two days. We generated no trash from the kitchen.

Hand-Harvested Food Challenge

“Let’s do this again!” enthused Daniel. So we did, fitting what we dubbed the Hand-Harvested Food Challenge into his visits to my farm during the years he lived on the east side of the Cascade mountains and I was in western Washington. We tried it for a week here, a week there, throughout all seasons of the year. I thrived with the food-growing inspiration. How much kohlrabi could I grow? What about more greens? What were the caloric staples that could get us through the winter? Where are the apple trees in the neighborhood? A week here or there became two. We started thinking about a full year, a year that would see us eating with all the integrity we could muster through four seasons. Ever-sensible Daniel shaped the curriculum. “If we do one month at the start of 2015, and then one week a month for the rest of the year, we’ll be ready to do three consecutive months in 2016, and then 2017 will be our big year!” I have learned to pay attention to Daniel’s plans. They have an eerie way of coming true, including his move to Hawthorn Farm in October of 2014. It taps into my deep desire for food justice and connection, and a way to take those matters into my own hands. Literally my hands — though we have expanded our guidelines in subsequent years, we started with a strict parameter of only eating what he and I had gathered from the garden or the wild. Now we have expanded it to include food given or traded with friends — who show up with lovely contributions like home-made mushroom logs or buckets of ripe figs!

Sample Food Challenge meal plan for January 2016

  • First things first: Tea from nettles, mint, elderberries, or roasted dandelion roots with fresh goat milk and maybe a spoonful of precious honey.
  • Breakfast: Toasted Purple Majesty potatoes with delicata squash, minced garlic warmed in chicken fat, and a soft-boiled duck or hen egg.
  • Lunch: A leek and chard frittata with dried tomatoes. Grate goat Gouda on top, and add some garlic scape pesto from the freezer if it’s a special occasion. Sauerkraut with greenhouse arugula for a salad, dressed with mead vinegar, yogurt, and toasted pumpkin or poppy seeds.
  • Dinner: Roast chicken, one of our 6-pound birds so that there are plenty of leftovers. Cooked slowly in the oven with chunks of sweet squash, beets, one of our precious onions, some garlic cloves slipped under the skin, a smattering of dried tomatoes and a sprinkling of sea salt. A handful of minced sage or thyme finishes it off as we pull the bird from the oven. Daniel might rummage in the pantry for a pint of applesauce after dinner, or thick plum butter with a spoonful of creamy yogurt.

The food challenge is not without its flaws. We don’t do much shopping at the grocery store, it’s true, but we have rung up an equivalent bill at the feed store. We still drive to get food, even if it’s around the corner to load the trunk full of plums a neighbor said we could pick. There is also the time it takes to tend the animals, to weed and rake and hoe and highlight my favorite seed catalog dreams. If I did not love the process, it would be intensely burdensome. In my smug pre-gardening days I would have said that everyone should grow their own food. Now I see that I am simply reclaiming a piece of human history that is refreshingly ordinary.

Until recently in human history, a hand-harvested food challenge was not impressive at all. It was just what everyone did. There were no other options. When I was a kid reading books that described the joy of getting an orange for Christmas, or the elaborate risks of sailing ships traveling to buy pepper, cinnamon, and nutmeg, I had no frame of reference for how special those foods were. Now I relish the taste of exotic spices like ginger with intensity. Aha, this is why the spice trade was such a big deal! Our Food Challenge gives me a window into what it was like to eat exclusively from one bioregion. If anyone is traveling to a place where you can gather cinnamon or nutmeg, I’ll trade you for some serious goat cheese.

Hand-Harvested Food Challenge

Animals are a key part of the Food Challenge. Ducks roam the pasture hunting for slugs to convert into eggs, and chickens housed over the winter gardens give a fertility boost along with eggs and meat. Dairy goats joined the scene in 2012, adding creamy milk, yogurt, and cheese. I find it very satisfying to weed the garden when I know the hungry goats will welcome the buckets of dandelions and kale I bring them. Whatever the appalling inefficiencies (or “efficiencies”) of animals in a factory farm setting, on our homestead they are valuable alchemists and companions. Slugs turn into eggs! Weedy mustards into fine cheeses! Manure goes back to the garden to complete the cycle! The animals are true partners in this adventure. Caring for these animals requires dedication, but the trade-off is that we do not rely on the grocery store to get milk. We also continue to experiment with how to feed animals entirely from the farm rather than going to the feed store, so that they join us in independence from petroleum and off-farm inputs. Each year I make more and better hay, cutting it by hand with a scythe. We have a long way to go before this farm is humming along with food for everyone year-round — but we are a lot further along than when we started.

Hand-Harvested Food Challenge

After a meal with us, Daniel’s father pushed back from the table. “Food Challenge?” he said. “It’s more like a Food Celebration.”

We enjoy a greater palette of ingredients than our first few days back in 2011. We have forty gallons of sauerkraut that Daniel has made from cabbage, carrots, peppers, and onions from the garden. The kraut uses salt from clean sea-water, which also makes brines for my cheeses. Wheels of goat cheese age gracefully, patiently waiting to be grated on salads or sauteed kale. Hidden in paper feed sacks, a rainbow of potato varieties lines the walls of the cold storage room, and we offered growing space to a local potato breeder who has planted literally a hundred more potato varieties. For six months of the year, crates of squash made themselves at home in the library. Elk stew with home-grown beans and tomatoes is a winter feast — top it with a kale, kraut and apple salad, a big bowl of popcorn, and finish it off with blueberries, applesauce and honey-and-cream custard. This just tastes good. If I want others to be more aware of their food supply, of the sanctity of the land we eat from, I had better make it delicious.

Hand-Harvested Food Challenge

The humans on and around the farm are an essential piece of the equation if we are truly restoring culture and community through our food supply. Daniel once asked me what I thought was the most important crop we could grow at Hawthorn Farm. I replied, “Healthy, happy, skillful people.”

An April day’s mealsFilling in the “Hunger Gap” when last year’s stores are dwindling but the new growing season still isn’t providing many calories:

  • Breakfast: A bowl of savory polenta and Swedish soup peas cooked in chicken broth with dried peppers, seaweed, and handful of minced chives.
  • Lunch: An enormous salad of chickweed, dandelion flowers, and spinach. Beet sauerkraut and creamy goat cheese on top. Duck eggs over-easy.
  • Dinner: Venison meatloaf with raisins, peppers, and a pile of steamed kale and nettles. The potatoes are all gone by now, so we might add a starch in the form of Black Dakota popcorn or Cascade Ruby-Gold cornbread.

I cannot overestimate the joy and importance of making space for more people on the farm. Anthony Andreasik joined the farm as a fresh-from-the-suburbs of Chicago kid in 2013. In the crucible of the milking room, the woodlot, and the garden, he has become a capable man who did his own completely hand-harvested challenge for six days over the past season. He grows greens for the whole household in the now-legendary “T-bone’s Forest of Kale,” and is my right-hand man when it comes to goat management. Did I mention that stories are one of the main crops at Hawthorn Farm? He is writing a children’s book. Quinn Bailey, a more recent addition to the farm, sat down with us last summer in an “entrance interview” to see if he would be a good fit for the household. After he said that he appreciates the spiritual lessons of hard physical labor, we signed him right up! Quinn teams up with Daniel to manage our poultry. Our ties with the surrounding human community help fill my longing for a cohesive village, and our communicative and helpful household quenches my thirst for caring, supportive family. Farming does not have to mean a life of toil or isolation. I have the time to write this article because Anthony is picking up several of my milking shifts.

Hand-Harvested Food Challenge

This is the current household; we host a steady stream of other visitors over the years, whether for a day or for months. The work of this multitude has been instrumental in shaping the gardens. During the growing season, we open our farm to the public once a week. Everyone works for the morning and then harvests whatever is bountiful that day. Our farm-day potluck feasts prompt Quinn to comment, “We may look like paupers, but we eat like kings.” Letting kids loose to dig up potatoes, with eager ducks nabbing earthworms out from the chaos, gives fond memories as well as full root cellars. We weave together the threads of humans and soil, providing a place to remember that there is ultimately no separation between these two. We all eat. Wherever you are, do it with integrity and joy.

Hand-Harvested Food Challenge

Alexia Allen is a Renaissance woman who lives and thrives at Hawthorn Farm with Daniel Kirchhof, Anthony Andreasik, Quinn Bailey, and a pile of happy goats and visitors.

Hand-Harvested Food Challenge

Hand-Harvested Food Challenge

Hand-Harvested Food Challenge

Spotlight On: People

Honoring Our Teachers

Honoring Our Teachers

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I believe that there exist many great practicing teachers, some of who deliberately set out to become one and others who may have never graduated from college but are none-the-less excellent and capable teachers. I would hazard a guess that many readers of Small Farmer’s Journal know more than one teacher who falls within this latter category. My grandfather, and artist and author Eric Sloane, were two such teachers.

Building a Community, Building a Barn

Building a Community, Building a Barn

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One of the most striking aspects of this development is the strength and confidence that comes from this communal way of living. While it is impressive to build a barn in a day it seems even more impressive to imagine building four barns or six, and all the rest of the needs of a community. For these young Amish families the vision of a shared agricultural community is strong, and clear.

Cindys Curds & Whey

Cindy’s Curds & Whey

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The Burgess dairy farm and cheese factory are sustainable operations, meaning that nearly every by-product is re-used or recycled. For example, the usually-discarded whey goes to feed their own pigs, producing an exceptionally tasty, lean pork. Whey is the liquid portion of milk that develops after the milk protein has coagulated, and contains water, milk sugar, albuminous proteins, and minerals.

Expanding the Use of the Heavy Draught Horse in Europe

Expanding the Use of the Heavy Draught Horse in Europe

“La Route du Poisson”, or “The Fish Run,” is a 24 hour long relay which starts from Boulogne on the coast at 9 am on Saturday and runs through the night to the outskirts of Paris with relays of heavy horse pairs until 9 am Sunday with associated events on the way. The relay “baton” is an approved cross country competition vehicle carrying a set amount of fresh fish.

B. Adroit's Profiles in Passion: Herscel Gouda

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Excerpt: Um, ya, you’re just gonna have to read this one.

Fjordworks: A History of Wrecks Part 1

Fjordworks: A History of Wrecks Part 1

I am certainly not the most able of dairymen, nor the most skilled among vegetable growers, and by no means am I to be counted amongst the ranks of the master teamsters of draft horses. If there is anything remarkable about my story it is that someone could know so little about farming as I did when I started out and still manage to make a good life of it.

Students on the Lines

Students on the Lines & McD Grain Indicator Plate

from issue:

We conclude our online presentation of Volume 41 Issue 2 with beautiful photos from Walt Bernard’s Workhorse Workshops (www.workhorseworkshops.com) and some hard-to-find info on the McCormick-Deering Plain Fluted Feed “R” Grain Drill Grain Indicator Plate.

Traditional Agriculture in Siberia

Traditional Agriculture in Siberia

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The agricultural system of the Old Believers has long been one of hand labor. Their homesteads (hozyastvas) were not intended for tractors or horses, with the possible exception of their larger potato fields. Traditionally the small peasant hozyastva has its roots in hand labor, and this has helped maintain the health of the land. Understanding the natural systems is easier when one’s hands are in the soil every day as opposed to seeing the land from the seat of a tractor.

Ham & Eggs

Ham & Eggs

Max Godfrey leads Ham & Eggs, at Plant & Sing 2012 at Sylvester Manor.

Field Weeds and Street Boys

Field Weeds and Street Boys

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So, our farming system to feed hungry street boys is to have them farm “weeds”. As we have all experienced, weeds are perfectly adapted to their climate, are robust and need no fertilizer nor any of the insecticides to enhance a good crop. Because we are aiming for long term diversified permaculture (this is a Shea native tree area), we needed some very quick marketable crops while we wait for the trees to mature. These field weeds intentionally farmed have a ready market in the big city 5 km north.

The Craft of the Wheelwright

The Craft of the Wheelwright

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In these days of standardization and the extensive use of metal wheels you might think there is little call for the centuries old craft of wheelwrighting, but the many demands on the skills of Gus Kitson in Suffolk, England, show this to be very far from the truth. Despite many years experience of renovating all types of wagons and wheels even Gus can still be surprised by the types of items for which new or restored wooden wheels are required.

LittleField Notes A Trip to the Auld Country

LittleField Notes: A Trip to the Auld Country

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I’ve come to the north of Scotland this October almost by accident. And I find myself standing on the windy, rocky point of land that is northernmost on the isle of Great Britain. The sea lies before me: the flooding tide from the Atlantic pours in on my left where it collides with the North Sea pouring in from the right, the opposing currents whipping up a frenzy of white capped, tidal confusion: for sailors past and present, treacherous waters indeed. Straight ahead, across the seething waters of Pentland Firth lie the Orkney Islands, my ultimate destination.

Today I Prepare

Today I Prepare by Lynn Miller Summering towards seated moments found without splinter found with or without care. No audience save the critical unbecoming self. Were it a long race to now, surprised to be amongst the last running with a chance to go to the target beyond end, tanks full with cupped felt. So […]

Paul Birdsall

Our Friend and Champion Paul Birdsall has Passed On

from issue:

Our dear, gentle friend farmer Paul Birdsall had the countenance of an old Maine lobsterman-wood cutter mixed with a toy maker’s spirit. He had that long true visage of a man at sea, it started ‘neath the cap bill and waved out and away just as far as need be. He had the posture of a man poised to turn and move onto the next thing that needed doing. No hesitations, no wasted steps. He had the patient reach and touch of a true horseman, making useful contact and taking sweet rewards.

Harnessing the Future

Harnessing the Future

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En route to a remote pasture where the Belgian draft horses, Prince and Tom, are grazing, we survey the vast green landscape, a fine mist hovering in distant low lying areas. We are enveloped in a profusion of sweet, earthy balance. Interns and other workers start their chores; one pauses to check his smart phone. Scattered about are many animal-powered rustic implements. This rich and agriculturally diverse, peaceful place is steeped in contrasts: modern and ancient.

A Bad Day in Harmony

A Bad Day in Harmony

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Gary, hoping that that was the lot, revved up the big yellow machine in eager anticipation but once again I called a halt and disappeared in the direction of the house. When I reappeared at the graveside holding a dead cat by the tail Gary shut the machine down completely, remained totally silent for what seemed like a long time, and then leaned out of the cab and with a look of mock concern on his face said in his dry manner, “Where did you say the wife and kids are?”

No Starving Children!

You’d never be able to harvest the broccoli or the hay or milk the cows or make the cheese if it were subject to government process. Not only are our industrial farms too big…

Small Farmer's Journal

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT