SFJ

Facebook  YouTube

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

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: How-To & Plans

Horseshoeing Part 3B

Horseshoeing Part 3B

Besides good, tough iron for the shoe, we need an anvil with a round horn and a small hole at one end, a round-headed turning-hammer, a round sledge, a stamping hammer, a pritchel of good steel, and, if a fullered shoe is to be made, a round fuller. Bodily activity and, above all else, a good eye for measurement are not only desirable, but necessary. A shoe should be made thoughtfully, but yet quickly enough to make the most of the heat.

The Milk and Human Kindness Caring For The Pregnant Cow

The Milk and Human Kindness: Caring for the Pregnant Cow

by:
from issue:

Good cheese comes from happy milk and happy milk comes from contented cows. So for goodness sake, for the sake of goodness in our farming ways we need to keep contentment, happiness and harmony as primary principles of animal husbandry. The practical manifestations of our love and appreciation are what make a small farm. Above and beyond the significant requirements of housing, feed and water is the care of your cow’s emotional life, provide for her own fulfillment. Let her raise her calf!

Horseshoeing Part 2C

Horseshoeing Part 2C

The wear of the shoe is caused much less by the weight of the animal’s body than by the rubbing which takes place between the shoe and the earth whenever the foot is placed to the ground and lifted. The wear of the shoe which occurs when the foot is placed on the ground is termed “grounding wear,” and that which occurs while the foot is being lifted from the ground is termed “swinging-off wear.” When a horse travels normally, both kinds of wear are nearly alike, but are very distinct when the paces are abnormal, especially when there is faulty direction of the limbs.

Audels Gardeners and Growers Guide

How to Store Vegetables

Potatoes may be safely stored in bits on a well drained spot. Spread a layer of straw for the floor. Pile the potatoes in a long, rather than a round pile. Cover the pile with straw or hay a foot deep.

Livestock Guardians

Introducing Your Guard Dog To New Livestock And Other Dogs

When you introduce new animals to an established herd or flock, you should observe your dog’s reactions and behavior for a few days. Since he will be curious anyway, it is a good idea to introduce him to the new animals while he is leashed or to place the new animals in a nearby area.

A Horse Powered Round Bale Unroller

A Horse Powered Round Bale Unroller

by:
from issue:

We had experimented with unrolling the bales the year before and had decided to make a device that would let us move them with the horses and then unroll them. I used square tubing to make a simple frame with two arms attached to a cross piece which connected to a tongue. Small diagonal braces made the arrangement rigid and the arms had a right angle piece of square tubing on their ends which allowed a pin to be driven into the middle of the round bale from each side.

Blacksmithing Secrets

Blacksmithing Secrets Part 1

by:
from issue:

Whether a farmer can afford a forge and anvil will depend upon the distance to a blacksmith shop, the amount of forging and other smithing work he needs to have done, and his ability as a mechanic. Although not every farmer can profitably own blacksmithing equipment, many farmers can. If a farmer cannot, he should remember that a great variety of repairs can be made with the use of only a few simple cold-metal working tools.

Barn Raising

Barn Raising

by:
from issue:

Here it was like a beehive with too many fuzzy cheeked teen-agers who couldn’t possibly be experienced enough to be of much help. But work was being accomplished; bents, end walls and partitions were being assembled like magic and raised into place with well-coordinated, effortless ease and precision. No tempers were flaring, no egomaniacs were trying to steal the show, and there was not the usual ten percent doing ninety percent of the work.

Choosing a Gas or Coal Forge for the Small Farm Shop

Choosing a Gas or Coal Forge for the Small Farm Shop

by:
from issue:

After you’ve built a small farm blacksmith shop, one of the first decisions that you’ll need to make is which type of fuel you’ll be using. Most people choose either gas (propane) or coal, however, wood fired forges are also an option. All three fuel types have pros and cons. The final decision will likely be based on the type of forging that you plan to do and the local availability of the fuel.

How to Grow an Acre of Potatoes

How to Grow an Acre of Potatoes

by:
from issue:

Heretofore potato production in this country has been conducted along extensive rather than intensive lines. In other words, we have been satisfied to plant twice as many acres as should have been necessary to produce a sufficient quantity of potatoes for our food requirements. Present economic conditions compel the grower to consider more seriously the desirability of reducing the cost of production by increasing the yield per acre.

Haying With Horses

Hitching Horses To A Mower

When hitching to the mower, first make sure it’s on level ground and out of gear. The cutter bar should be fastened up in the vertical or carrier position. This is for safety of all people in attendance during hitching.

Harvesting Rainwater

Harvesting Rainwater

by:
from issue:

Collecting rainwater for use during dry months is an ancient practice that has never lost its value. Today, simple water collection systems made from recycled food barrels can mean a free source of non-potable water for plants, gardens, bird baths, and many other uses. Rainwater is ideal for all plants because it doesn’t contain dissolved minerals or added chemicals. One inch of rain falling on a 1,000 square foot roof yields approximately 600 gallons of water.

Basil Scarberrys Ground-Drive Forecart

Basil Scarberry’s Ground-Drive Forecart

by:
from issue:

I used an ’84 Chevrolet S-10 rear end to build my forecart, turn it over to get right rotation, used master cylinder off buggy and 2” Reese hitch, extend hitch out to use P.T.O. The cart is especially useful for tedding hay. However, its uses are virtually unlimited. We use it for hauling firewood on a trailer, for pulling a disc and peg tooth harrow, for hauling baled hay on an 8’ x 16’ hay wagon, and just for a jaunt about the farm and community.

Swallow

Rotation As A Means Of Blight Control

Every farmer knows that when a crop is grown on the same field year after year, it becomes inferior in quality and the yield steadily diminishes.

How To Prune a Formal Hedge

How To Prune A Formal Hedge

This guide to hedge-trimming comes from The Pruning Answer Book by Lewis Hill and Penelope O’Sullivan. Q: What’s the correct way to shear a formal hedge? A: The amount of shearing depends upon the specific plant and whether the hedge is formal or informal. You’ll need to trim an informal hedge only once or twice a year, although more vigorous growers, such as privet and ninebark, may need additional clippings.

Laying Out Fields For Plowing

Laying Out Fields For Plowing

from issue:

Before starting to plow a field much time can be saved if the field is first staked out in uniform width lands. Methods that leave dead furrows running down the slope should be avoided, as water may collect in them and cause serious erosion. The method of starting at the sides and plowing around and around to finish in the center of the field will, if practiced year after year, create low areas at the dead furrows.

Disc Harrow Requirements

Disc Harrow Requirements

by:
from issue:

One of the most important requirements is disc blade concavity, that is, correct concavity. Further along we set forth the purposes of disc concavity. We feel it is important enough to devote the extra time and words in a discussion of the subject, because seldom is disc concavity talked about, and very few know that there is difference enough to cause good and bad work.

Build Your Own Butter Churn

Build Your Own Butter Churn

by:
from issue:

Fresh butter melting on hot homemade bread… Isn’t that the homesteader’s dream? A cheap two-gallon stock pot from the local chain store got me started in churn building. It was thin stainless steel and cost less than ten bucks. I carted it home wondering what I might find in my junk pile to run the thing. I found an old squirrel cage fan and pulled the little motor to test it. I figure that if it could turn a six-inch fan, it could turn a two-inch impeller.

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