I Have a Bright Green Secret

May 23, 2008 in Gardening, Humble Garden, vegetable

Thanksgiving 2007: asparagus frond decor

(Asparagus fronds)

Can I tell you about a secret thing I learned recently?

We planted asparagus last year and this spring we have been sampling a few spears from the 1st year growth. The production quantity is meager in the first year so its sampling, by definition.

Asparagus and mozzarella stuffed blue cheese and basil hamburgers

(Grilled asparagus)

No, thats not the secret.

Garden Project: Asparagus bed

(Asparagus crowns before being covered with soil)

Let me tell you the secret now. Homegrown asparagus is as different from store-bought as a rainbow is to the pitch black of a new moon night.

My vocabulary for flavor is just unprepared for the job of describing the difference between freshly picked, homegrown asparagus versus the poor things at the big box grocery store that has been soaking in germy water for days, traveling unknown miles. That asparagus is also bred specifically for putting up with the rigors of early picking, bruisy travel, oxidation, and temperature changes – all so that the poor defeated spears can sit on the grocery store shelves in pallid water until you pick them up, dump them in a bag, drag them home, and put them into your fridge for some short period of time. They are also likely grown on mineral and micro-nutrient depleted soils, leaving them mere simulations of asparagus.

Another secret – the flavor of the asparagus changes if you taste the stem versus the tip.

Garden Project: Asparagus bed

(Asparagus bed)

The main aspects of intact homegrown asparagus flavor include:

  • complexity
  • no bitterness
  • vegetal sweetness
  • a unique asparagus favor that is present in store-bought but which is divine in it’s purity

Garden Project: asparagus tops

(First year growth)

As you nibble your way to the tip, it becomes sweeter and more tender. If you are not paying attention, it is gone before you have had a chance to really appreciate the flavor.

Just like all of life right?

Its especially dear if you grow it yourself and you know it will be a whole year until the next chance to have such delicious flavors.

In terms of cooking, I would recommend a quick blanch, chill, and then a quick warm up in a bit of melted butter. There is no need to add anything besides a sprinkle of salt.

Let the asparagus sing to your soul.

Sex Addicted Genetic Einsteins, or how meat might bring the world to its knees

April 5, 2008 in Local Food

Bacterial Conjugation

(Bacterial Sex – public image – wiki)

Now, just because we have grown up eating seemingly innocuous chicken, pork, and beef bought from the grocery store, a practice handed to us by our own moms and dads, it doesn’t mean that we have provided knowing consent for the development of massive fecal lagoons on factory farms that greatly outsize even the most ambitious pool or swimming pond.

Never heard of fecal or manure lagoons? I love this description by Al Franken in his 2003 book “Lies And the Lying Liars Who tell Them”

“I want to draw you a word picture of a lagoon you may remember from Gilligan’s Is­land, where a caged lion or an Indian in a canoe might wash up just to get that week’s episode rolling. This lagoon is a rectangle the size of three football fields, lined with 40-mil high-density polyethyl­ene and filled, to a depth of thirty feet, with pig shit.

Now imagine that, at the bottom of the lagoon, pebbles have punctured the liner, allowing the liquefied pig shit to seep under and ferment. A bubble is growing. The polyethylene liner rises like a creature from the brown lagoon. It breaks the surface, spilling a pungent stew of untreated feces and urine into a nearby creek. An undocumented Guatemalan worker is ordered to puncture the liner with a shotgun blast. Retching, he fires. The swollen liner re­treats into the fetid depths. Mission accomplished.

The next day, however, one of the most magnificent sights in all of nature, a shit geyser, explodes into the afternoon sky. Those working nearby watch the pillar rise ten, then twenty, then thirty feet above the lagoon. It is as though the Earth itself is afflicted with a virulent case of projectile diarrhea.

Hold that image in your mind.” (Borrowed for educational purposes)

We do not usually visualize the high throughput nature of our meats – chickens, pigs, cows – all packed into densities that REQUIRE the use of antibiotics just to keep the animals standing long enough to make it to market. If there were not for rules requiring a standing animal (a characteristic of a supposedly healthy ENOUGH animal to eat) then the high throughput factory farms would likely push for genetically modified legless animals they could warehouse sorta like that scene in the Matrix where Neo wakes up in his bioreactor.

If nothing else, all body plans above aquatic sponges have evolved for mobility. Lack of mobility = compromised metabolism and reduced ability to fight off infection. Just look at your average 4th grade class and the obesity to see the effect of poor mobility on the body.

All of these things may not get you in the gut, I know that.

You may be forced to feel it in the gut soon though because there is now direct measured evidence of bacteria that THRIVE on antibiotics.

You heard me right kids – George Church – a world renowned geneticist at Harvard, reports in Science Magazine this week that they have identified, unexpectedly, bacteria sourced from soils exposed to manure from cows that have been treated with antibiotics absolutely LOVE to eat those same antibiotics.

See “Scientists find host of antibiotic-eating germs”

This is the link to the scientific article but its pay-per-view, sorry.

Antibiotics, those that are almost pumped into our dairy and beef cows, are now the food of choice for some bacteria.

You might say – well these are JUST soil bacteria – and you would be wrong in any sort of assumption that this means that we are safe.

Bacteria are nothing if not promiscuous.

Think of the soil bacterial ecology, exposed to manure with impossibly high levels of antibiotics. That ecology is like a testing ground filled with billions of little genetic Einsteins who each have a serious sex addiction. Brute force genetic selection leaves behind not only the resistant bacteria but also those who prefer to eat antibiotics for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Its unexpected yeah, but in no way was this an impossibility.

And that sex addiction? There is so much genetic cross talk that the bacterial genome is almost a meta-community. This is part of what makes them so successful. Not only can they pass their advantageous mutations to their downstream descendants, they can share these changes with their neighbors.

The sooner we move away the massive bacterial lallapallosa genetic testing grounds in and around and downstream of factory farm crap lagoons the sooner we can protect our children and theirs.

There once was, at the beginning of last century, a movement to have a small dairy in each small town. Think of it, a distributed milk model versus the concentrated distillery dairies that were pushed on America by city planners and those who wanted to profit from feeding the putrid effluent from big alcohol distilleries in and around big cities to cows who barely survived that toxic waste.

It would be fantastic if we could go back but we have been a bit too efficient ourselves in the genetic Einstein department.

I can not really say what the answer is for all but I can promise you that the bacteria will not be waiting around to find out.

Eating local, sustainable, rational, humanly produced meat is not just about taste kids, its about survival.

Chicken CSA Mentor wanted: Eggcellent Opportunity

April 3, 2008 in Humble Garden, Local Food

Chickenalia: chickens out for sun and food

This is a call out to those of you out there who have some experience with setting up your own CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) activity.

I need your guidance and mentorship so any and all input is welcome and appreciated.

We are currently seriously contemplating setting up a trial run chicken CSA where the chickens will be raised naturally (the word “organic” is woefully deprecated and co-opted by money-grabbing certification types – I cant afford organic certification status right now, not if I want to actually get started that is).

We will raise slow-growth long bodied breeds of chickens like you see the French growing in their “Label Rouge” program. Our chickens will be forest dwellers like those in the Label Rouge program. There is no official “Label Rouge” program in the US but that’s ok because the First Principles of Label Rouge are attractive and to be emulated. We will be more like the organic Label Rouge where we will not use any sorts of chemicals or antibiotics, not because I think it’s the “in” thing but because I follow the golden rule in my cultivation and animal husbandry:

Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you

Corollary: Treat your animals with the greatest respect possible – they are beings too

Life is absolutely too short to start something like this and not do it MY way. This is not to say that what the neighbor down the street is doing is wrong, its just that I need to do this my way.

I compromise on so much else; don’t we all!

What do I need?

I need to know how to find a local butcher and how that all works (in terms of costs and their capacity) – I have zero clue here. I need to know how best to find people who will want to buy these CSA shares – I fear raising a load of chickens which then are not pre-sold. These questions MUST be asked by any producer when they first start, I know, but I do sound sorta goofy not knowing the answers.

We are also going to be doing CSA egg shares (we just love them girl chickens so much!).

I hope that you all, with clues on this, will come out of the woodwork and drop me a note. When you leave a comment the system gets your email (confidentially I think) and then I can reply to you off-blog to have a longer convo on this.

Local Food: Starting from seed

March 16, 2008 in Gardening, Humble Garden, Local Food

Starting the 2008 garden

What are your plans for eating locally this year?

We are currently planting our seeds indoors to get a head start on our very short growing season. See more about our garden at our Humble Garden blog.

Starting the 2008 garden

The kids, an important part of my garden, are helping out with every part of this activity.

We are now looking for the dairy goat(s) to replace the massively expensive milk we drink and our chickens give us some 4-5 eggs a day. That should be closer to 9 a day once they get into the swing of things.

We have decided to grow our own chicken feed so the septic field will sport a new hairdo of wheat, millet, soybeans, and hulless barley. We are getting set to clear some more land and get a nice alfalfa and clover cover crop going for the goats and later cows. We may be using pigs to till the land, they are fantastically good at tearing things up! The key to this is electric fencing which we need to get.

How local is your food?

What fun things are you doing to reduce the impact of high oil prices on your food (now and in the future)?

Starting the 2008 garden