I have lots of friends who love visiting farmers markets. They come home, happy with their treats, and enjoy the fresh fruits and vegetables, or the yummy dishes they’re able to make. The key word here is “treats.” Most people I know don’t take the time (or have the time) to visit a farmers market every week. This means the treats are just that, a treat to enjoy when time allows.
Let’s think about that. The majority of the country treats FRESH food as a treat similar to eating out at a fancy restaurant. It’s something we enjoy, but not something we expect to have on a daily basis. Doesn’t that seem wrong?
Charlie and I really are accidental farmers. Sort of. Like many people we got treats from the farmers markets. But, then, we went home and looked around the yard. We had room to grow some of these things by ourselves. We started with squash, tomatoes and 6 hens, and have added more every season.
At this point, we grow a lot of our own vegetables, get our eggs from our own chickens and ducks, and have ventured into the world of meat birds and rabbits. Meats we can’t raise ourselves, we try to buy from local farms. Within the next year or two, we hope to grow or raise the majority of our own food. But for now, we still have to buy food from the grocery store from time to time.
Turns out, in our efforts to bring fresher foods into our lives, we’ve also created some food snobs. The kids and grandkids are starting to call us out on store-bought foods. And I’m not talking about frozen, processed foods, I’m talking about homemade meals with store-bought ingredients.
Reta Jean started it. Even at two years old, she scolded Carly for giving her store-bought eggs. With just one look at the plate, she told Carly she didn’t like eggs from stores, she likes eggs from chickens. That’s one of my favorite Reta Jean lines because I could just picture her explaining this to her mommy.
I think the next on the bandwagon was Joe. I made lasagna – HOMEMADE lasagna – and he questioned if I had made the cheese. I’ve made cheese for lasagna before, but that particular week I hadn’t planned ahead so didn’t have homemade cheese. Joe noticed it wasn’t “fresh” cheese. With another, recent lasagna, Carly, Tori and I all ended up picking out the sausage. Yep, it was store-bought.
If I bake something, I’m asked if I used chicken or duck eggs. When Charlie makes pork chops, he gets asked if they’re from the store of the farm. Vegetables are expected to be from the backyard, and if they’re not, it’s noticed. We don’t like winter because more of our food comes from the store. We’re working on figuring out how much we’ll need to grow next summer to make it through the next winter.
Now, I don’t mean to bash grocery stores. They’re called on to provide a lot of food to a lot of people, at a reasonable price. BUT, I can’t ignore that within just two years, with fairly regular access to fresh foods, we’re all (even the preschoolers) able to tell the difference.
I also know that not everybody has the time, space, or soil to grow a lot of their own food. BUT, I think everybody can grow some of it. Here’s my suggestion: Try providing just one thing from your own space. If you live in an apartment, and like tomatoes, grow tomatoes in your window. If you have a backyard, get a couple of hens. A lot of cities allow hens within city limits, just not roosters. There are also self contained coops, with attached runs to protect them and keep them from escaping. Fresh eggs for breakfast – or dinner – is a pretty cool thing.
So, here’s a little challenge for you. With fall rolling in, and winter around the corner, there are a few months before the next growing season. If you’re interested in growing your own food, spend this time investigating. If you want chickens, check your local laws. If you want vegetables, pick just one or two that you know you like and will use. Tomatoes are a little tricky in some areas, so they need a little more attention. Squash and green beans are easy to grow, but require a bit of space. Strawberries can be grown in a rain gutter attached to a fence or balcony. Onions and garlic actually get planted in cooler weather, so if you want those, you’ll need to get started a little earlier.
If you want fresh meat, look into local farms, or at least local butchers. This can be a little harder to find, but ask at your local farmers market. Even if there isn’t fresh meat available in your own town, the other vendors may know of someone available, fairly close.
Oh, and don’t get too hung up on “organic.” There are a LOT of regulations to be certified organic. When we get new chicks, I give them medicated feed to give them a healthy start. When we’ve completed one bag of medicated feed, I move to natural, unmedicated, but that one bag of medicated feed means I’m not organic. The chickens also like leftovers. If I bring home French fries, I give them to the chickens. Again, not organic. There’s just not a “Really Fresh, But Not Quite Organic” category.
Charlie and I bought books, joined clubs and searched the internet to learn everything we could. Here are some of the resources we’ve found to get you started:
Territorial Seed Company. Go ahead an order a catalog. I was amazed at all the information available. Charlie likes their seeds. Very productive. http://www.territorialseed.com/
USDA Plant Hardiness Zones. This will help you plan. Southern states have a much longer growing season than northern states, and this website tells you what zone you’re in. The Territorial Seed catalog tells which plants grow better in which zones, and when planting should start. http://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/PHZMWeb/Default.aspx
Mother Earth News. This magazine also has lots of information online. You can learn about everything from gardening to livestock to cheese. Good winter reading! http://www.motherearthnews.com/
R Heritage Farm. I’m including them because they’re our favorite pork farm. If you’re interested in locally raised meats, their website can give you some ideas how it’s done. To find a farm close to you, an internet search can point you in the right direction. http://rheritagefarm.com/