I got out in the garden and planted some seeds this week: spinach, arugula, lettuce, snow peas. It felt great to get outside and get my hands dirty, but it was bittersweet. The gardening experience is going to be substantially different for me this year, because we are MOVING TO TOWN at the end of the summer. So, only fast-growing crops for me this year; I have no tomato seedlings under lights in my mudroom. I am giving up my 63 acres with its unlimited yet weed-infested garden space in favor of a 0.21 acre city lot with a small back yard. My raised beds will make the trip with me, soil and all, and I will try to find room for them in the limited space. Some beds will gain a bottom, and I will put them on the concrete along the south wall of the house.

Goodbye, wild & riotous garden.

Moving brings up conflicting emotions. We have lived in our house for almost 16 years, since my son was 3 months old. My daughter was born right here in the house. We have worked diligently to make the house and land ours; just last summer, we doubled the size of our woodshed and planted a bunch of blueberry bushes. A few days ago my husband and I took a walk in our woods (more of a slog through knee-deep snow), and I cried thinking that I had to leave these woods that I love so much and know so well.

The decision to move was unexpected and sudden, but as soon as we thought of it, it seemed like the right thing to do. We will no longer have to spend 10+ hours in the car each week. Our teenagers will be able to walk to school, the movies, and their friends’ houses and will not have to rely on us to chauffeur them around. We will be able to take advantage of events going on in town without deliberating whether it’s worth an extra hour sitting in the car to go to the movies. I will be less that five minutes from work, and my husband might be able to take the bus to work. We will be able to walk to the farmer’s market! The in-town lifestyle has lots of advantages; I estimate that we will gain an average of an hour and a half of free time per day that we usually spend in the car.

Gardening in a small space will be a new challenge for sure. Luckily, for a couple of years I have been growing in raised beds using the square foot gardening technique in addition to growing in my regular garden, so the learning curve won’t be too steep. But it will be a huge adjustment.

I just got back from our local meat cutter, where I picked up our half pig! The pig was raised by our favorite food providers, Chandler Pond Farm. This is an amazing diversified farm which produces vegetables, berries, eggs, raw milk & cream, chickens, turkeys, and pork. Their food is top quality. I’ve eaten a lot of their pork, but this is the first time we have bought half a pig. The pigs are spoiled rotten; they eat lots of veggie scraps and other leftover food from the farm. I have visited the farm many times and the pigs always look relaxed and happy. They are friendly and curious, and always come to the fence to greet me. You can’t see it in the pictures, but their field is huge.

Buying meat in bulk is a very cost-effective way to get high quality food. I got 71 pounds of meat for $247, which works out to $3.45 per pound. When was the last time you saw pastured bacon for anything close to that price?

Another great thing about buying a half animal is that you can order it cut however you like. I don’t like pork chops, and my husband doesn’t like ham, so we didn’t get either of those. We make a lot of Asian food, which is fantastic with ground pork, so we had lots of the meat ground. We also got bacon, sausage, roasts, fat to render into lard, tenderloin, ribs, and a package of “odds & ends”.

I avoid eating commercially-raised pork because the conditions in which the pigs are raised are horrifying, the industrial “farms” produce huge amounts of toxic waste, and the pigs are fed crap, so the meat is much less healthy. I used to be a vegetarian for these reasons. Seeking out pastured or grass-fed animals addresses the ethical, environmental, and health-related concerns about meat-eating that I had as a vegetarian. These pigs are happy, they have a negligible environmental impact, and the meat is good for you. Plus it tastes great!

I haven’t been a very dedicated participant in the Dark Days Challenge lately. Life is busy and my little blog has taken a back seat. We are still eating as local as ever, though! This time of year, most of my meals fall well short of 100%, but I would say that much more than half of the food we eat is produced locally. Veggies are the only staples we eat that aren’t local, but we still have local carrots, squash, beets, and cabbage. We finished off our local onions with this week’s all-local meal: pulled pork. Everything for the meal except the potatoes came from the farmer’s market – even the barbeque sauce! My husband came home with a giant hunk of pork (a loin end roast, for those who know cuts of meat). He browned it, then put it in the oven for a few hours with some onion, garlic, carrot, a potato, and some turkey stock until it was fall-off-the-bone tender. After spicing it up with Jamaican barbeque sauce made by Derrick, one of the farmer’s market vendors (GenuineJamaican.com), we served it with steamed spinach (the first local greens of spring!) on top and a baked delicata squash on the side. Man oh man, it was so good.

Food provided by:

  • Chandler Pond Farm, South Wheelock: pork, squash, carrots, onions
  • Biz-z-Bee Farm, Lunenburg: spinach
  • Peaslee’s VT Potatoes: potato
  • Tamarlane Farm, Lyndon: turkey for turkey stock
  • Genuine Jamaican: barbeque sauce

Mmmm…. lamb shanks braised with carrots, parsnips, onions, and garlic, and cabbage sautéed in butter. What a delicious and satisfying meal.

  • Lamb from Hope Farm in East Charleston
  • Carrots from Too Little Farm in Barnet
  • Parsnips and garlic from Harvest Hill Farm in Walden
  • Onions, cabbage, and bacon grease (for browning the meat)  from Chandler Pond Farm in South Wheelock
  • Butter from Cabot Creamery in Cabot

St. Johnsbury Area Local Food Alliance (St. J ALFA) is partnering with two other local organizations to offer a series of fun, tasty and informative sessions around the theme of improving the NEK regional food system.  St. J ALFA is collaborating with the St. J. Food Co-op and Catamount Arts to offer “Fresh from the Kingdom – Building our Local Food Economy” beginning Saturday February 20, 2010.  The four consecutive Saturday sessions will be held at Catamount Arts from 10 a.m. – noon.  Childcare is available and makes this an event for the entire family.

The series begins on Saturday, February 20 with the showing of the film “FRESH”.  This film features Michael Pollan and Joel Salatin and celebrates the farmers, thinkers and business people across America who are re-inventing our food system. Forging healthy, sustainable alternatives to our current industrial model, they offer a practical vision for the future of our food and our planet.

On Saturday, February 27 learn about Eating Close to Home – Localvores take it to the next level.  Discover the story of three NEK residents who are exploring regional food through season extension with root cellars; extreme gardening and permaculture; and extending CSA boundaries (Community Supported Agriculture) with local meat and dairy products.

The series continues on Saturday, March 6 with Cooking Outside the Box – Food Demonstration with Chef Ryan O’Malley of Elements Food & Spirit.  Chef O’Malley is excited about recently completing a “Pig Project’ and will share details of affordable local meat.  He will demonstrate cooking techniques, how to substitute local vegetables and offer samples of his preparations.

The series wraps up on Saturday March 13 with Hoes, Hammers and Handshakes – Building our local food economy.  This presentation will address how we establish a sustainable local economy through the local food movement.  Katherine Sims of Green Mountain Farm-to-School and Anna Schultz of Sterling College will share their experiences influencing institutional practices of local food purchasing.   Willie Gibson of NOFA-VT and St. J. ALFA co-founder Ted Hartman will join Katherine and Anna in a panel-led discussion afterward.

All events will take place at Catamount Arts located at 139 Eastern Ave., St. Johnsbury Vermont, 802-748-2600.  There is a suggested donation of $5 per person per session and free childcare is available.  Registration is not requires for any of the events but is required for childcare.  Call Michelle to register at 802-751-8507.  For more information on the series contact Ted at 802-748-1772 or go to http://stj-alfa.org/Events.html

This week’s meal looks boringly monochrome in the picture, but it was a lovely tapestry of flavors and textures: spicy chicken, crunchy & salty potatoes, sweet and creamy squash. Boneless chicken thighs were cooked in a cast iron frying pan with bacon fat, onions, garlic, spices (cumin and chili powder), and a splash of homemade chicken broth, then a grating of cheddar cheese and a few spoonfuls of salsa were added to the top of each thigh and the pan was put under the broiler for a few minutes. We also had fried potatoes and baked squash (again!).

Thanks to this week’s farmers and producers:

  • Chandler Pond Farm in South Wheelock: onions, delicata squash, bacon fat, chicken broth (from a chicken enjoyed at a previous meal)
  • Harvest Hill Farm in Walden: garlic
  • Peaslee’s in Guildhall: potatoes
  • Misty Knoll Farm in New Haven: chicken thighs
  • Cabot Creamery in Cabot: cheddar cheese
  • Salsa Romero in East Burke: salsa (locally produced but not locally grown)

Meatballs for dinner! My son was overjoyed by the news, only to be crushed when dinnertime arrived with the not-so-welcome news that the meatballs were to be served sans noodles. My family hardly ever has grains with dinner any more, since some of us (the adults in the family) are eating mostly Primal (quasi-paleo, or caveman) fare, which means grains are a rarity (grains have many undesirable qualities that I was unaware of until recently). Primal eating dovetails nicely with an eat-local challenge; finding local grains used to be one of the hardest aspects of eating local. Now: no grains, no problem! The non-adults in the family, however (14 and 12) think eating grain-free is for losers. They are welcome to make their own grainy meals if they choose, and I reluctantly buy them flour, pasta, bread and crackers – I don’t want to be a food-nazi mom.

This was a long-winded and roundabout way of saying that once dinner was ready, we had to postpone it so my son could make noodles for himself and his sister. Whatever.

The meatballs were made with half ground beef and half pork sausage, with onions, garlic, and a touch of grated sheep cheese. We served them up with spaghetti sauce and cabbage sautéed in butter. The kids had decidedly non-local noodles – we didn’t miss ’em.

Many thanks to the farmers who made this meal possible:

  • Tamarlane Farm in Lyndon for the ground beef
  • Chandler Pond Farm in South Wheelock for the onions, cabbage, and sausage
  • Mountain Foot Farm in Wheelock for the garlic
  • Cabot Creamery in Cabot for the butter
  • County Road Farm in West Charleston for the home-canned tomatoes
  • Hope Farm in East Charleston for the sheep cheese (our very last one – sadly, Hope Farm is retiring from cheesemaking)

This weeks meal was a simple crustless quiche, made with eggs, milk, cheddar, and onions. It felt a bit odd to make a quiche without packing it full of veggies like I usually do, but quiche-friendly veggies are getting scarce by now. I made baked delicata squash and steamed beets on the side.

This weeks’s local bounty came from:

  • Chandler Pond Farm in South Wheelock: onions, delicata squash
  • Harvest Hill Farm in Walden: beets
  • Cabot Creamery in Cabot: cheddar cheese
  • Tamarlane Farm in Lyndon: eggs and raw milk

At one of the first Lyndon winter farmer’s markets this year, there was a new vendor from a farm in New Hampshire (Meadowstone Farm in Bethlehem, to be specific) selling veggies, pork, and chickens. I was poking around in his chicken cooler, and he told me he had some old layers that he was selling for fifty cents a pound. What?? I was sure I hadn’t heard right. I’m used to paying three bucks a pound for free-range or pastured chicken. He was selling a 5-lb bird for just $2.50!

The hen sat in our freezer for a couple of months. I hadn’t stewed an old hen since we got rid of our layers a few years ago, so I looked online for instructions. Over and over again, recipes for coq au vin popped up. I’m a lazy cook and rarely follow a recipe to the letter, so I heavily adapted the coq au vin recipes I found.

One thing that went straight out: setting anything on fire. Some of the recipes called for pouring cognac or brandy in the pot and setting it alight. No thanks! I didn’t want a grease fire on my hands. I’m happy to leave those advanced techniques to a braver cook than I.

Most recipes called for starting out by frying up some bacon. Bacon is considered a highly desirable delicacy in my household, and I was reluctant to use up any of our precious reserves. I used bacon fat instead. I cut the hen into pieces and browned them with onion, garlic, carrots and parsnips. Coq au vin usually calls for mushrooms, but unfortunately, I’m the only person in my family who likes mushrooms, so I used the other veggies instead. When everything was nicely browned, I added red wine, turkey broth (I happened to have a turkey carcass simmering on the stove from a late Christmas celebration), and some herbs. I put the whole shebang in the oven at 275 degrees. Two hours later, the meat was still pretty tough, so I decided to save it for the next day’s dinner. After a couple more hours in a slow oven, the chicken was tender and delicious. We ate it with cabbage sautéed in butter and baked delicata squash. I must say, the chicken was one of the best I’ve ever had – moist, tender, and oh-so-flavorful. I licked my plate and my husband’s too!

The only non-local ingredients in my coq au vin were the wine, salt, pepper, and herbs. Everything else came from:

  • Chandler Pond Farm in South Wheelock: onions, carrots, delicata squash, cabbage, and bacon (the source of the fat)
  • Harvest Hill Farm in Walden: parsnips
  • Mountain Foot Farm in Wheelock: garlic
  • Cabot Creamery in Cabot: butter
  • Tamarlane Farm in Lyndon: turkey (the source of the broth)
  • Meadowstone Farm in Bethlehem: old hen

Have you seen Food, Inc. yet? It’s absolutely worth seeing. It’s eye-opening, horrifying, and inspiring all at the same time. If you missed it when it was in theaters, don’t fret – you have another chance to see it on the big screen. Come for a screening of the film with a discussion to follow: Saturday, January 30th at 8 PM in the Alexander Twilight Theater at Lyndon State College.

In Food, Inc., filmmaker Robert Kenner lifts the veil on our nation’s food industry, exposing the highly mechanized underbelly that has been hidden from the American consumer with the consent of our government’s regulatory agencies, USDA and FDA. Our nation’s food supply is now controlled by a handful of corporations that often put profit ahead of consumer health, the livelihood of the American farmer, the safety of workers and our own environment. We have bigger-breasted chickens, the perfect pork chop, herbicide-resistant soybean seeds, even tomatoes that won’t go bad, but we also have new strains of E. coli—the harmful bacteria that causes illness for an estimated 73,000 Americans annually. We are riddled with widespread obesity, particularly among children, and an epidemic level of diabetes among adults.

Featuring interviews with such experts as Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation), Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma,In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto) along with forward thinking social entrepreneurs like Stonyfield’s Gary Hirshberg and Polyface Farms’ Joel Salatin, Food, Inc. reveals surprising—and often shocking truths—about what we eat, how it’s produced, who we have become as a nation and where we are going from here.

See what is really happening in the food industry, and what you can do to protect yourself from the dangers of “cheap” food.

You can’t afford to miss seeing FOOD, INC.  Co-sponsored by Northeast Organic Farmers’ Association (NOFA), Rural Vermont, Lyndon State College, Stonyfield Farm, and Organic Valley.