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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: How-To & Plans

The Woodfired Bottom-heated Greenhouse Bench

Cultivating Questions: The Woodfired Bottom-heated Greenhouse Bench

It took several incarnations to come up with a satisfactory design for the bottom heated greenhouse bench. In the final version we used two 55 gallon drums welded end-to-end for the firebox and a salvaged piece of 12” stainless steel chimney for the horizontal flue. We learned the hard way that a large firebox and flue are necessary to dissipate the intense heat into the surrounding air chamber and to minimize heat stress on these components.

English Sheaf Knots

English Sheaf Knots

Long ago when grain was handled mostly by hand, the crop was cut slightly green so seed did not shatter or shake loose too easily. That crop was then gathered into ‘bundles’ or ‘sheafs’ and tied sometimes using a handful of the same grain for the cording. These sheafs were then gathered together, heads up, and leaned upon one another to form drying shocks inviting warm breezes to pass through. In old England, the field workers took great pride in their work and distinctive sheaf knots were designed and employed.

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.

The Tip Cart

The Tip Cart

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When horses were the main source of power on every farm, in the British Isles it was the tip-cart, rather than the wagon which was the most common vehicle, and for anyone farming with horses, it is still an extremely useful and versatile piece of equipment. The farm cart was used all over the country, indeed in some places wagons were scarcely used at all, and many small farms in other areas only used carts.

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.

Henpecked Compost and U-Mix Potting Soil

We have hesitated to go public with our potting mix, not because the formula is top secret, but because our greenhouse experience is limited in years and scale. Nevertheless, we would like to offer what we have learned in hopes of showing that something as seemingly insignificant as putting together a potting mix can be integrated into a systems approach to farming.

Choosing a Gas or Coal Forge for the Small Farm Shop

Choosing a Gas or Coal Forge for the Small Farm Shop

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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.

A Pony-Powered Garden Cart

A Pony-Powered Garden Cart

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One of the challenges I constantly face using draft ponies is finding appropriately sized equipment. Mya is a Shetland-Welsh cross, standing at 11.2 hands. Most manure spreaders are big and heavy and require a team of horses. I needed something small and light and preferably wheeled to minimize impact to the land. My husband and I looked around our budding small farm for something light, wheeled, cheap, and available, and we quickly noticed our Vermont-style garden cart.

Horseshoeing Part 3A

Horseshoeing Part 3A

An examination should be made while the animal is at rest, and afterwards while in motion. The object of the examination is to gain accurate knowledge of the direction and movements of the limbs, of the form and character of the feet and hoofs, of the manner in which the foot reaches and leaves the ground, of the form, length, position, and wear of the shoe, and distribution of the nail-holes, in order that at the next and subsequent shoeings all ascertained peculiarities of hoof-form may be kept in mind and all discovered faults of shoeing corrected.

Farmrun On the Anatomy of Thrift

On the Anatomy of Thrift: Side Butchery

On the Anatomy of Thrift is an instructional series Farmrun created with Farmstead Meatsmith. Their principal intention is instruction in the matters of traditional pork processing. In a broader and more honest context, OAT is a deeply philosophical manifesto on the subject of eating animals.

Planting Calendar and Other Diagrams

From Dusty Shelves: A 1943 calendar for seeding your vegetable garden.

Harvesting Rainwater

Harvesting Rainwater

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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.

Fencing for Horses

Fencing for Horses

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The first wire we tried was a small gauge steel wire which was not terribly satisfactory with horses. Half the time they wouldn’t see it and would charge on through. And the other half of the time they would remember getting shocked by something they hadn’t seen there and would refuse to come through when we were standing there with gate wide open. We realized that visibility was an important consideration when working with horses.

Log Arch

Log Arch

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The arch was built on a small trailer axle that I cut down to 3 feet wide and tacked back together. This was done so that I could keep the wheels parallel. I cut the middle out after construction was complete. I used heavy wall pipe from my scrounge pile for the various frame parts. It is topped off with an angle iron bar for added strength and to provide a mount for the winch and some slots for extra chains.

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.

Sleds

Sleds

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The remainder of this section on Agricultural Implements is about homemade equipment for use with draft animals. These implements are all proven and serviceable. They are easily worked by a single animal weighing 1,000 pounds, and probably a good deal less. Sleds rate high on our homestead. They can be pulled over rough terrain. They do well traversing slopes. Being low to the ground, they are very easy to load up.

The Horsedrawn Mower Book

Removing the Wheels from a McCormick Deering No. 9 Mower

How to remove the wheels of a No. 9 McCormick Deering Mower, an excerpt from The Horsedrawn Mower Book.

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