Radical homemaking. January 25, 2012Posted by ourfriendben in chickens, gardening, homesteading.
Tags: back to the land, CSAs, farmers' markets, Gene Logsdon, Helen and Scott Nearing, Jackie Clay, Jere Gettle, locavores, organic gardening, Radical Homemakers, Ruth Stout, self-sufficiency, Shannon Hayes, slow food
Silence Dogood here. I was intrigued and excited to receive an e-mail from PASA, the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, announcing the keynote speaker for their upcoming symposium: Shannon Hayes, the author of a book called Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture (Left to Write Press, 2010).
Heading to Amazon to read what people had to say about this, I found this bio of Shannon: “Shannon Hayes writes and farms with three generations of her family on Sap Bush Hollow Farm in West Fulton, NY, where she grew up. The family raises all-natural grassfed lamb, beef, pork, and poultry. She holds a BA in creative writing from Binghampton University, and a Masters and PhD in Sustainable Agriculture and Community Development from Cornell. Shannon is the author of three books: Grassfed Gourmet, Farmer and the Grill, and Radical Homemakers…. Shannon currently blogs for Yes! Magazine, and her books are available through most conventional channels, as well as directly from the author at RadicalHomemakers.com and GrassfedCooking.com. Shannon’s newest book, Long Way on a Little: An Earth Lover’s Companion for Enjoying Meat, Pinching Pennies and Living Deliciously, is due out from Left to Write Press in 2012.”
The cover of Radical Homemakers shows Ms. Hayes defiantly brandishing a rolling pin with one well-muscled arm, much like the iconic poster of Rosie the Riveter. You can see that she’s picked her battle and joined it exuberantly. And that battle is an old and honorable one, agrarianism versus industrialization, family and community values versus blind consumerism, honorable, rewarding work versus the mindless climb up the corporate ladder, whatever the price.
The roots of this argument go back to the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. It shaped the lives and thoughts of the Founding Fathers; it spawned the Agrarian Movement in the early 20th-century South, led by such literary luminaries as Robert Penn Warren, Allen Tate and John Crowe Ransom.
It inspired the Back to the Land/homesteading movement of the 1970s, led by those pioneering intellectuals, Helen and Scott Nearing, in their Living the Good Life books; it has been the life work of the fine novelist and farmer Wendell Berry, and has been embraced by the novelist Barbara Kingsolver. It has inspired the rise of local and seasonal eating, of CSAs (consumer-supported organic farms) and farmers’ markets, and has created a renaissance of home cooking and a backlash against fast so-called food. It has inspired chefs and cookbook authors like Alice Waters, Mollie Katzen and Laurel Robertson, and seedsmen and seedswomen like Rose Marie Nichols, Rob Johnston, Jere Gettle, and Renee Shepherd.
Our friend Ben and I are totally on board with this. We moved to Pennsylvania back in the day when an opportunity arose to work for Organic Gardening, a magazine we wholeheartedly believed in. Our escapist reading has been publications like Mother Earth News, Back Home, Backwoods Home, and Plain, and the works of the Nearings, Wendell Berry, Gary Paul Nabhan, Ruth Stout, Jackie Clay, and Gene Logsdon. Our families still scratch their heads over why we chose to make our home in a rural cottage and fill our property with a greenhouse, chicken yard, compost bins, raised beds, fruit trees, vine trellises, woodpiles, rain barrels, and the like. Our colleagues have always asked us why we didn’t seek jobs in New York and Philadelphia, just a few tedious hours’ commute away.
Well, we didn’t want to. We’ve enjoyed our organic connection with our work and with our land, and all the plants and animals we share it with. We’re so grateful to the internet for making broader connections effortlessly possible, enabling our lives to be home-based while still keeping us connected to friends, family, world events, and the latest discoveries in every field. Letting our minds and hearts reach out, even as we’re able to remain centered.
Our choices have had, as you might expect, considerable impact on our style of living. Our cottage home needs painting in the worst way. Our cars are ancient and battered, held together with a prayer and a few strips of duct tape. We need a new stove, new laptops, a digital camera, a washer-dryer. We dream of travel but stay at home. Going to a movie, eating out, buying even the most basic new clothes become major decisions. (Thank God for thrift shops, home cooking, and Netflix!) And yet, imagine this: A life without deadlines, without meetings, without commuting, without constantly having to check your smartphone and talk, text, tweet. “I know a place where dreams come true and time is never planned,” James Barrie, author of Peter Pan, wrote longingly. We know that place, too. We’re lucky enough to live there.
But let’s get back to Radical Homemakers. The title should have clued me in right away that this is an interview book, a profile book, not a how-to book. Homemakers, not Homemaking. The author is also apparently very eager to show that homemaking is not anti-feminist, and feminism apparently occupies a good deal of her approach. (To me, true feminism is doing whatever you feel is right, not wasting time trying to prove that you’re really as good as men—shock surprise!—or that what you’ve chosen to do isn’t demeaning. But I digress.) And she was fortunate enough to have a working family farm to move her family to (for free) when she decided to leave the rat race for a more meaningful life.
Shannon Hayes has, in my opinion, created the meaningful, home-based life she sought for herself and her family. And in Radical Homemakers, she interviews families across the country who have also achieved this goal. What the book doesn’t do is provide a roadmap to help others who have the same dream achieve their goal, especially if they don’t have a family farm to move to or a family who will pay their expenses.
This is in marked contrast to the Nearings’ books, in which they explained exactly what they thought, exactly what they learned to do, exactly how they planned, exactly what they gave up, and exactly what they did to create “the good life.”
And yet. The Nearings inspired the entire Back to the Land movement with their books. But they made their move in the 1930s, when land was cheap and plenty was available. They were published and accomplished authors, who had led privileged and cosmopolitan lives and had influential connections across the globe. Their connections allowed them to spend half of every year visiting friends and lecturing abroad, and the earnest (young, strong) groupies who flocked to their Forest Farm allowed them to delegate unpaid work, often for years, while they wrote and made music and led a civilized life.
Not that they didn’t feed, shelter, and include their volunteers in their cultural life. Not that they didn’t work hard themselves and live very simply (mostly on unbuttered baked potatoes, raw apples, and undressed salad, if memory serves, on the theory that if you aren’t hungry enough to eat plain food, you aren’t hungry enough to eat, period).
Rather, the problem was that they were delineating the new/old Utopia, based on backbreaking agrarian labor, and their vision was espoused not by farm workers but by Hippies, who embraced peace, love and drugs rather than hard work, who had no experience of work, much less farm work, and who had no support network. The Nearings were as horrified by the people who created a cult around them as JRR Tolkien was by the fans of his Lord of the Rings trilogy. There simply was no meeting of the minds. The Flower Power generation tried the homestead life, alone and communally, and next thing we knew, they’d become Yuppies, pursuing their parents’ have-it-all consumerist lifestyle with a vengeance.
Well, we’ve seen what happened to the ’80s. We’ve also seen the resurgence of the back-to-the-landers, with urban farms and urban chickens and CSAs and farmers’ markets and slow food and seasonal eating and locavores. We’ve seen how the internet has given all these trends vitality and longevity. And we love that.
So what if Radical Homemakers is an inspirational rather than a how-to book? As long as readers expect inspiration rather than how-to, I see no problem with that. Reading the Nearings and Organic Gardening opened our eyes to new possibilities, honorable livelihood, the concept that you could go back to the land without giving up culture and civilized pursuits. This realization changed our lives’ directions. Who knows what you might find that would trigger a total life change, or a minor tweak that would make your own life whole?
The world of blogging offers a great opportunity to explore the lives of real-time homesteaders, family farmers, and urban bioneers, to see how hard they work, what they’ve chosen to do, the rewards and trials, how their families like it. Some places we love are Jackie Clay’s blog (http://www.backwoodshome.com/blogs/JackieClay/), Gene Logsdon’s musings (http://thecontraryfarmer.wordpress.com/), Alan’s adventures over at Roberts Roost (http://www.robertsroostfarm.com/), Daphne’s Dandelions (http://daphnesdandelions.blogspot.com/), Aunt Debbi’s Garden (http://auntdebbisgarden.blogspot.com/), Future House Farm (http://futurehousefarm.blogspot.com/), and The Home Garden (http://www.growingthehomegarden.com/). We love many other blogs, of course, but these cover various aspects of self-sufficiency and food gardening, from urban and suburban spaces to a few acres to a few hundred. Check them out!
And if you’ve read Radical Homemakers, please let us know what you think!
‘Til next time,
Time to cook: Get the book. May 11, 2011Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, recipes.
Tags: CSAs, eating seasonally, farmers' markets, From Asparagus to Zucchini, Learning to Eat Locally, LocalHarvest.org, locavores, ways to cook veggies
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Silence Dogood here. The seasonal farmers’ markets in our area have finally reopened for the growing season. Soon, our local CSAs (organic subscription growers) will be offering lucky members the first fresh produce of the season. I’m hoping all Poor Richard’s Almanac readers share our commitment to supporting local growers, even if you’re not entirely committed to organics and eating seasonally. But what do you do with all that produce, especially when a lot of it isn’t particularly familiar?
Spring is especially tough in this respect. How many radishes can you eat, after all? Spring mix, mesclun, and sprouts are all well and good, but what do you do with all those Asian greens, mustard greens, pea shoots, garlic scapes, and the like? How do you persuade your family that eating fresh asparagus, sugar snaps, and snow peas every night is a luxury? How long will it be before they start demanding tomatoes, corn on the cob, green beans, and summer squash?
Fortunately, help is at hand, in a cookbook I first picked up at our local CSA called From Asparagus to Zucchini: A Guide to Cooking Farm-Fresh Seasonal Produce. Created by the Madison (Wisconsin) Area Community Supported Agriculture Coalition, mine’s the third edition, published in 2004 by Jones Books (www.jonesbooks.com) and priced at $19.95. With 420 recipes for more than 50 vegetables and herbs, it’s bound to give you some good ideas for how to use even the most obscure-to-you veggies, from fiddlehead ferns, ramps, sorrel, and dandelions to daylily buds and tomatillos to kale, kohlrabi, parsnips, rutabagas, Jerusalem artichokes, burdock root, fennel bulbs, celeriac, Swiss chard, all the dreaded greens, and even edible flowers. There are handy storage tips for each vegetable, too.
From Asparagus to Zucchini also gives thoughtful essays on eating locally and seasonally and “thinking outside the shopping cart.” Not to mention some eye-opening statistics. (Did you know that the top ten items purchased at grocery stores are Marlboro cigarettes, Coca-Cola Classic, Pepsi-Cola, Kraft processed cheese, Diet Coke, Campbell’s Soup, Budweiser beer, Tide detergent, Folger’s coffee, and Winston cigarettes?! Hey, where’s the food?!!!)
This book is a must-have for your cookbook collection, and now you can get it for free. Well, you can if you hurry up and if you’re lucky enough to be one of the five winners chosen by LocalHarvest.org. Hurry up, because eligibility for the drawing ends May 17. Go to the LocalHarvest website (http://www.localharvest.org/), check out the 9871 offerings from family farms in their store, order something before midnight on May 17, and you’ll automatically be entered in the drawing to be held the following day. You can also find CSAs and farmers’ markets near you on their site.
Other cookbooks I’ve found useful in terms of cooking and eating seasonally are the pioneering book on the subject, Learning to Eat Locally (Juliette Spertus, Williams College, 1998, $10); the colorful, anecdotal Farmer John’s Cookbook: The Real Dirt on Vegetables (John Peterson and Angelic Organics CSA, Gibbs Smith, 2006, $29.95); and Simply in Season (Mary Beth Lind and Cathleen Hockman-Wert, Herald Press, expanded edition 2009, $19.99). And there are the garden-to-table cookbooks, from Rosalind Creasy’s Cooking from the Garden, which started it all (Sierra Club Books, 1988, $20), to Renee Shepherd and Fran Raboff’s Recipes from a Kitchen Garden (Ten Speed Press, 1993, $11.95) and The Gardener’s Table (Richard Merrill and Joe Ortiz, Ten Speed Press, 2000, $24.95). These days, there are many more; ask at your own local CSA and farmers’ markets about their favorites. And remember that you can buy them at deep discount or used (for even less) through online sites like Amazon and Barnes & Noble!
Fortunately, our friend Ben and I love our (at least once-daily) salads, and we delight in tossing in every conceivable kind of green, herb, and allium, including the abundant spring scallions (green onions). It’s all good. We love radishes, as long as they’re fiery and not woody, munched on plain with salt as a snack, sliced into salads, or sliced and layered on a buttered piece of crusty baguette with salt and eaten French breakfast-fashion. We love asparagus, boiled and tossed with butter, lemon juice, salt, and lemon pepper, or roasted with olive oil and a sprinkling of salt, lemon pepper or cracked black pepper, and herbs (try it, it’s fabulous), added to pastas and omelettes, and creamed on toast. We love snow and snap peas, cooked briefly and tossed with butter, salt, and pepper, or added to stir-fries, Thai curries, or salads. We need no inducement to feast on spring’s glorious bounty.
Join us, please!
‘Til next time,
Frugal living tip #31. August 7, 2009Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, recipes, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
Tags: CSAs, farmers' markets, frugal living, frugal living tips, local eating, local produce, putting food up, seasonal eating
“Buy fresh, buy local.” It’s a bumper sticker slogan that our friend Ben thinks says it all. (Well, practically all; there’s also “No farms, no food.”) Saving money on food purchases and eating a healthy diet often seem to be mutually exclusive goals. But they’re not if you’re willing to reeducate yourself to eat as our ancestors did: seasonally.
Eating seasonally means eating what’s ripe and abundant (and therefore cheap) in your area right now. To those of us who grew up with the watermelon and tomatoes in the dead of winter mindset, this might seem an exotic or limiting idea. But think about it: Right now, where Silence Dogood and our friend Ben live in southeastern Pennsylvania, corn on the cob, tomatoes, green and yellow wax beans, cabbages, eggplant, peppers, Swiss chard, carrots, beets, cucumbers, sweet onions, summer squash (including zucchini), Romaine lettuce, early apples, and peaches are at peak, not to mention abundant herbs like basil and mint. This certainly sounds like a feast to our friend Ben, and not just a feast, but a feast of full-flavored, fabulous produce, not pale, mealy, tasteless stuff that’s been grown and shipped from God-knows-where.
Learning to eat seasonally means enjoying abundance in season, but it can also mean preparing to enjoy produce off-season by buying it in quantity while it’s fresh and cheap and then preserving it by canning, freezing, pickling, and/or drying. Home-canned or frozen corn or beans (or corn relish or salsa or dilly beans) may not be the same as fresh, true, but they’re still better than the ghastly imitations that have been doused with chemicals and shipped bazillion miles to be sold at premium off-season prices. And an inventive cook can always make the most of them, in soups, cornbread, casseroles, stir-fries or sautes, corn pudding, etc.
Speaking of inventive cooks, I’ll let Silence take over here to give you some good resources. But our friend Ben wants to remind you that there are three benefits to rediscovering seasonal eating: First, for the point of these tips, it’s the least expensive way to enjoy fresh, flavorful, nutrition-packed food. Next, it enhances your anticipation of each fruit and vegetable in a way you wouldn’t believe. If you know the only time you’ll be eating watermelon is in late summer when it’s locally available, it’s enough to reactivate even the most jaded palate. And of course, in-season local produce tastes so much better that you’ll fall in love with fruits and vegetables all over again. Finally, it feels good to be supporting your local community—really, your neighbors—by buying locally-grown produce. In these tough economic times, giving back to your community matters more than ever. And what better way to do that than to get the freshest, most flavorful fruits and veggies in return? Okay, on to Silence:
Silence Dogood here. As OFB says, we’re big believers in eating seasonally and locally. We’re not so fanatical that we’re willing to give up our salads in the winter, but we also find that fresh produce tastes so good that we don’t mind—in fact, we look forward to—eating, for example, corn on the cob and green and yellow wax beans several times a week while they’re in season. Ditto for the fabulous Caprese salads made from Romaine lettuce, ripe tomatoes, fresh basil leaves, fresh mozzarella, scallions (green onions), salt, and a drizzle of olive oil. Fresh, perfectly ripened food just can’t be beat, and another joy is that it’s easy and fast to prepare.
However, I realize that switching to seasonal cooking can be a challenge for our everything-all-the-time society. So thank goodness there are plenty of cookbooks out there to help us! Here are a few of my faves:
Farmers’ market cookbooks are a great source of seasonal, regional recipes. Two of my favorites are From Asparagus to Zucchini: A Guide to Cooking Farm-Fresh Seasonal Produce (Madison Area Community Supported Agriculture Coalition, Third Edition, Jones Books, 2004) and Farmer John’s Cookbook: The Real Dirt on Vegetables (Farmer John Peterson and Angelic Organics, Gibbs Smith, 2006). There are doubtless many more; try to find one from a farmers’ market in your area, or at least one from a similar climate.
Learning to Eat Locally: Berkshire Recipes for All Seasons (Juliette Spertus, Williams College, 1998). This was the first locally- and seasonally-oriented cookbook I ever saw. I still love it.
Simply in Season: Recipes That Celebrate Fresh, Local Foods (Mary Beth Lind and Cathleen Hockman-Wert, Mennonite Central Committee, Herald Press, 2005). Though described as “A World Community Cookbook,” the “world” part refers to the international scope of the recipes, which are divided into seasons based on the North American gardening year. That makes the book easy to use if you’re an American or Canadian, but it also provides a wealth of international recipes for seasonal produce in case your family can’t face eating, say, boiled corn on the cob over and over again. (What’s wrong with them?!!)
Recipes from a Kitchen Garden (Renee Shepherd and Fran Raboff, Ten Speed Press, 1993). Renee Shepherd has spent her professional life trying to encourage home gardeners to grow the most delectable, flavorful vegetable and herb varieties, first through Shepherd’s Garden Seeds and now through Renee’s Garden. In this book and its sequel, she shows you how to make the most of your backyard bounty (or the bounty of your local farmers’ market or CSA).
Cooking from the Garden (Rosalind Creasy, Sierra Club Books, 1988). Ros’s book launched the revival of kitchen gardening and cooking from the garden here in the States. I have a signed copy of this classic and it’s still one of my most cherished cookbooks. Kudos to you, Ros!
The Let’s Preserve series. Our friend Ben and I (and our puppy Shiloh) went to Meadowview Farm this past Wednesday to see what Jim Weaver had on offer, and we weren’t disappointed. I snagged a wealth of heirloom tomatoes, including the famed ‘Banana Legs’, which I had read about for years but never encountered, as well as bags of green and yellow wax beans and some jalapenos. When we got to the checkout counter, I saw something new: in addition to recipe cards, the Weavers had sheets of “Let’s Preserve” pamphlets from Penn State, summarizing the best ways to preserve everything from blueberries to snap beans and tomatoes. Needless to say, I snapped them up. Your local Cooperative Extension Service may have the equivalent of these, and if not, there’s always the classic Ball Blue Book, which gives directions for hot-water-bath and pressure canning of fruits and vegetables, as well as recipes.
Finally, though it’s not a cookbook, Barbara Kingsolver’s wonderful Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (Harper Perennial, 2008) is a fantastic introduction and inspiration for eating locally and seasonally. A must-read!
If you have any favorite seasonal/local cookbooks, please share them with us. And meanwhile, everyone, buy fresh, buy local, save money!
‘Til next time,
Silence and our friend Ben
Blackouts and banana bread March 9, 2008Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes, Uncategorized.
Tags: banana bread, Daylight Svaings Time, farmers' markets, recipes
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Silence Dogood here. Yesterday was pretty grim here at Hawk’s Haven, our one-acre Eden in scenic rural PA. It started out well enough, with a trip to the local farmers’ market in nearby Kutztown followed by a beautiful drive on curving country roads to Gilbertsville, home of Zern’s Market, a huge, rambling, eccentric farmers’ market that offers everything from auctioned livestock to Amish-made furniture, antiques, leather goods, and incense. As it happened, we were going there for two very specific reasons: to pick up some handmade cedar chests we had requested, and to visit one of our favorite spice shops, Spices’n'Such, which not only offers the best selection of spices we’ve ever seen, but has a great selection of coffees and teas and their own wooden nickels (no fooling) that you can redeem for discounts on future purchases–that is, if you can pry them out of the hands of our friend Ben, an inveterate coin collector, for whom even a wooden nickel appears to be fodder for the stash. (Sigh.)
After buying several pounds of our newest favorite coffee, Jamaican Me Crazy (we’re huge reggae and Bob Marley fans, so we can’t resist it, but pretty much anyone would love this delicious, aromatic coffee), and some Bengali curry spice (yum, can’t wait to try it) and ground cumin (yikes, we were almost out) at the spice shop and loading three–count them, three–beautiful handmade cedar chests in the trusty vehicle (hey, they said the price was about to shoot up), we headed back home to Hawk’s Haven, only to experience near-immediate disaster. First, the venerable furnace kicked out. Then, the wind kicked up–to an extent never before seen here, with shrubs bent to the ground, enormous evergreens also sweeping groundward from their celestial heights, and all sorts of branches and other movables like chairs and such flying across the lawn. Fifty-mph winds at least, and we’d be willing to bet they were more like 75 mph.
Gadzooks! Before we could reach the phone to report a furnace failure, the power went out, not to return until 2:30 a.m. (That’s 3:30 Daylight Savings Time, but don’t get our friend Ben started on that.) This morning, Hawk’s Haven still had no heat, and our internet connection was down as well. But the power was on again, so despite the 26-degree weather all was not lost. The fish, cats and parrots huddled in front of the space heaters; the trusty greenhouse heater kicked in, and as far as we could tell, no plants were lost to the wind and cold; and the furnace repair guy eventually showed up, so we once again have heat and hot water (at least for now).
Sounds like the perfect time for a treat, doesn’t it? So I’m going to share an easy but excellent recipe for banana bread that’s fast to make and luscious to eat, especially hot from the oven with a little butter. It’s a great way to say goodbye to winter once and for all!
Silence Dogood’s Best Banana Bread
2 cups unbleached flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
3 ripe bananas, mashed or whipped
1/2 cup (or small package) pecan pieces
Cream the butter and sugar until light. Beat until light and stir in 1 egg. Beat in the bananas. Stir in the flour, baking powder, and baking soda to form a batter. add the pecans. Pour the batter into a greased 8 x 4″ loaf pan. Bake at 350 degrees F. for about an hour. Enjoy!