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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: Crops & Soil

Propagation by Means of Budding and Grafting

Propagation by Means of Budding and Grafting Part 2

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Budding is the operation of applying a single bud, bearing little or no wood, to the surface of the living wood of the stock. The bud is applied directly to the cambium layer of the stock. It is commonly inserted under the bark of the stock, but in flute-budding a piece of bark is entirely removed, and the bud is used to cover the wound. There is every gradation between budding and grafting proper.

Syrup From Oregons Big-Leaf Maple

Syrup From Oregon’s Big Leaf Maple

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There is a great potential in establishment of a seasonal “sugarbush” industry for small farmers of the northwestern states, particularly western Oregon and Washington. Five syrup producing species of maples are found mainly east of the Rocky Mountains. The Box Elder and the Big-leaf Maple are the only syrup producing maples of the Pacific Northwest. Properly made syrup from these two western maples is indistinguishable from the syrup of maples of the midwestern and northeastern states.

Fjordworks Horse Powered Potatoes Part 2

Fjordworks: Horse Powered Potatoes Part Two

These types of team implements for digging potatoes were the first big innovation in horse powered potato harvesting in the mid-19th century. Prior to the horse drawn digger the limitation on how many potatoes a farmer could plant was how many the farm crew could dig by hand. The basic design of these early diggers works so well that new models of this type of digger are once again being manufactured by contemporary horse drawn equipment suppliers.

An Introduction To Farm Woodlands

The farm woodland is that portion of the farm which either never was cleared for tillage or pasture, or was later given back to woods growth. Thus it occupies land that never was considered suitable, or later proved unsuitable, for farm enterprises.

Beating the Beetles – War & Peace in a Houston Garden

Blooming that is, unless the cucumber beetles arrive first.
And arrive they have … “At first I thought they looked like big, yellow lady bugs.” Paul said, “Then I looked…

Cultivating Questions

Cultivating Questions: Follow-Up On Phosphorus

We like to think that the bio-extensive approach to market gardening minimizes the risk of overloading the soil with nutrients because the fallow lands make it possible to grow lots of cover crops to maintain soil structure and organic matter rather than relying on large quantities of manure and compost. However, we are now seeing the consequences of ignoring our own farm philosophy when we resorted to off-farm inputs to correct a phosphate deficiency.

Apple Cider Autumns Nectar

Apple Cider, Autumn’s Nectar

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While autumn’s beauty is food for our souls, autumn’s harvest provides food for our tables. Along with the many hours and days of canning and freezing our garden produce, harvest time also means apple cider making for our family. We have been making apple cider, or sweet cider as it is commonly called, for six years. Beginning slowly, the demand for our juice has resulted in a production of over six hundred gallons this year.

Making Sorghum Molasses

Making Sorghum Molasses

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Growing sorghum doesn’t take much work, according to Buhrman. You plant it in the spring, work it a couple of times and that’s about all that’s required until late in the growing season. That is when the work begins. Before it is cut, all the stalks have to be “bladed” – the leaves removed from the stalks. It’s then cut, then the tassles are cut off, and the stalks are fed through a crusher. The crusher forces the juices out of the plant. The sorghum juice is then boiled in a vat for four to five hours until nothing is left but the syrup.

Open-Pollinated Corn at Spruce Run Farm

Open-Pollinated Corn at Spruce Run Farm

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The old way of selecting seed from open-pollinated corn involved selecting the best ears from the poorest ground. I have tried to select perfect ears based on the open-pollinated seed corn standards of the past. I learned these standards from old agricultural texts. The chosen ears of Reid’s average from 9 to 10.5 inches long and have smooth, well-formed grains in straight rows. I try to select ears with grains that extend to the end of the cob.

Marketable Cover Crops

Marketable Cover Crops

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Our cover crops have to provide the benefits of smothering weeds, improving soil structure, and replenishing organic matter. They also have to produce some income. For these purposes, we use turnips, mustard and lettuce within our plant successions. I broadcast these seeds thickly on areas where cover crops are necessary and let them do their work.

Cabbage

Cabbage

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Cabbage is the most important vegetable commercially of the cole crops, which include cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, kohlrabi, collard, broccoli, and many others. It also ranks as one of the most important of all vegetable crops and is universally cultivated as a garden, truck and general farm crop. The market for cabbage, like that for potatoes, is continuous throughout the year, and this tends to make it one of the staple vegetables.

Farm Manure

Farm Manure

Naturally there is great variation in manure according to the animals it is made by, the feeding and bedding material, and the manner in which it is kept. Different analyses naturally shows different results and the tables here given serve only as a guide or index to the various kinds. The manure heap, by the way, is no place for old tin cans, bottles, glass, and other similar waste material.

Soil, Vegetation, and Acidity

From Dusty Shelves: Audels Gardeners and Growers Guide teaches us about soil acidity.

An Introduction Into Plant Polyculture

An excerpt from What’s Wrong With My Fruit Garden
Companion Planting for Beginners

Cane Grinding

Cane Grinding: An Age-Old Georgia Tradition

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Most sugar cane is processed in refineries to give us molasses, brown sugar, and various kinds of white sugar. However, some South Georgia farms that raise sugar cane still process it the old way to produce the special tasting sweetener for their own food. One such farm is the Rocking R Ranch in Kibbee, Georgia. It is owned by Charles and Patricia Roberts and their sons. The process they use has not changed in the past 100 years. This is how it is done.

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.

Asparagus in Holland

Asparagus in Holland

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The asparagus culture in Holland is for the majority white asparagus, grown in ridges. This piece of land used to be the headland of the field. The soil was therefore compact, and a big tractor came with a spader, loosening the soil. After that I used the horse for the lighter harrowing and scuffle work to prevent soil compaction. This land lies high for Dutch standards and has a low ground water level, that is why asparagus can grow there, which can root 3 foot deep over the years.

Beautiful Grasses

What follow are a series of magnificent hundred-year old botanist’s watercolors depicting several useful grass varieties. Artworks such as this are found on the pages of Small Farmer’s Journal quite regularly and may be part of the reason that the small farm world considers this unusual magazine to be one of the world’s periodical gold standards.

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