The Food Project – Getting Started

rhubarbIt’s been a while since we’ve posted, mostly because it feels as though we’ve been eaten alive by our garden (isn’t it supposed to be the other way around???). But really, things here at the Punkernoodle Palace have revolved around the seemingly endless task list associated with getting stuff ready for summer.

We’ve grown an edible garden every year for the past 6 or 7 years, with varying degrees of success. It’s actually a lot of fun, and we never know exactly how it’s going to go – which vegetables and herbs will take root and succeed to harvest, and which (depending on weather, our skills and maybe a little luck, or lack thereof) will flop. One year, when we lived in a small house on Capitol Hill, we were surprised to receive a wildly bountiful potato crop that lasted us well into fall/winter after we threw in a couple dozen sprouting potatoes into a strip of little-used earth along our backyard fence. We usually have a great pea harvest and good luck with zucchinis (who doesn’t?). Tomatoes have been trickier – we lost more than a hundred unripened ones to an early rainy season one year (this year we’ll try covering them if the threat should arise again) but have also enjoyed hundreds of juicy, sweet cherry tomatoes from our potted plants.

There is nothing better than the taste of food from your own earth, freshly picked. Even our two little Punkernoodles love eating tomatoes, spinach – even onions! – straight from the plant, even though they often turn their nose at less-fresh, store-bought versions on their dinner plates.

This year, our garden has spread from its modest backyard plot into some nicely landscaped plots, bordered by antique brick, in the front. We’ve added chickens and are enjoying watching them grow from the tiny pullets and chicks they were a couple months ago into big girls who might start gracing us with urban eggs before winter if we’re lucky.

After recently (and obsessively) reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I now have even bigger hopes for our little home food crops. If you’ve read the book, you know what I mean when I say it can change your outlook on the cutural and environmental implications of our food choices. If you haven’t read the book, you should. Anyway, a few chapters in it dawned on me – there’s no reason we can’t do this. Ok, maybe not to the extent Kingsolver and her family does (we don’t have acres of rural land to grow a year’s worth of our own vegetables and meat, for one thing). But we have some space, which we fill with as many cabbages, carrots, pea vines and spinach seeds as we can, plus a handful of chickens who will hopefully give us fresh organic eggs soon. And, most importantly, we have what I hope will be the key to the success of this new Punkernoodle family plan: the Ballard Farmers Market.

Seattle in general has amazing farmers markets. We are lucky to live in a neighborhood that hosts a year-round Sunday market. Farmers from our county and beyond truck in whatever is fresh and in season every week. Most of it is organic, and these farms use free-range, grass-finished and sustainable methods to grow hormone- and chemical-free vegetables and meat, practically in our own backyard. Ok, not that close, but thousands of miles from the South American bananas we’ve become programmed to think we need to eat every week of the year.

I go to the market often, but I always use it to supplement our weekly grocery visits – I spend maybe $30 on a handful of market produce. If I really looked at every stand with a fresh eye, treating the market as my grocery, how much of our weekly food could I get there? Could I, complementing with whatever we grow in our yard, fill nearly all our nutritional needs from these local farmers and food artisans?

Like Kingsolver, my husband and I discussed some necessary exceptions to a potential buying-local rule: coffee, tea and spices, chocolate (though we’d aim, as we do anyway, to buy those through fair-trade sources). What about staples like bread and pasta, beans and grains, we wondered? I did some research. I was surprised to find a couple of Washington sources for some of those, including a Methow Valley enterprise called Bluebird that grows and processes emmer/farro, rye and oat flour. And I was excited to learn on Sunday (more about the first project trip to the market later) that I can get beans of many varieties grown in the Yakima Valley only 150 miles from us, not bad on the local-eating chart.

For now, we decided we will buy bread from local bakers using organic ingredients and conscious practices, as well as acknowledged that we’ll need to occasionally buy some things of the truly non-local/commercialized variety (hey – we have a 2- and 4-year-old who might not be so down with this plan of ours, at least right away). Even then, I was excited to see that our local natural-foods co-op has great orange tags in every food section denoting which products are produced locally – so we can try to navigate to the mac and cheese that is still from down the road, or highway, vs. across the country, cutting down on our global footprint and supporting our local community. The overarching goal is simple: to change our habits so that we can begin eating and appreciating local food that is in season. What to do when there is (practically) no food in season?? We asked ourselves that, too, as Kingsolver does in the book. What I learned, or was reminded of, by reading it is that there are always foods in season, even during the soggy, nearly freezing Pacific Northwest winters. I am newly interested in the other methods of relying on local foods that I learned about in the book – canning, drying, freezing foods when they’re in season. I’ll report the (probably hilarious) attempts at those when the time comes.

Obviously, we decided to go for it. I would take my $200+ normally spent at the store to the market this weekend with a fresh eye and a new task: feed us all for a week. I spent that money, and I’ll report what it bought us (and what I’m doing with it) in the next blog installment.

One response to “The Food Project – Getting Started

  1. I love your basket of rhubarb! I posted the first of what will be many rhubarb recipes last night. I’m thinking it’s rhubarb week! http://www.sustainableeats.com/?p=78 in case you are looking for things to do with your rhubarb.

    I look forward to following your journey! I’m sure you’ll find it easier then you think. I haven’t bought groceries at the grocery store since January and haven’t found it too difficult.

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