Local foods would help alleviate hunger

One in every six people on the planet suffers from hunger. Think about that figure, 17 percent of the world. Two weeks ago the United Nations World Food Programme reported that more than one billion people go hungry every day, more than any other time in history.

Where are these hungry folks? About 642 million live in Asia and the Pacific Rim; 265 million live in sub-Saharan Africa; 95 million come from Latin America, the Caribbean, Middle East and North Africa, and the remaining 15 million live in developed countries. In other words, they’re everywhere; some of them may be your neighbors.

The U.N. reports that hunger spiked when the world economy plunged, and governments started pumping money into the financial sector. Essentially, saving banks left people to starve because those efforts took funds away from food aid and distribution.

Beyond the worldwide response to the crashing financial market, there is a deeper reason hunger has become so prevalent: the disappearance of local food systems in favor of exports. Before World War II, the bulk of a country’s food was grown domestically. Yes, there were some imports and exports, but not at nearly the level we experience now. A country imported what they couldn’t grow; now countries import food that they can grow. They must import food because they have agreed to export so much of their own food items. Wouldn’t it be less complicated if we just ate what we grew in the first place? Yes, but then all those poor trade representatives and USDA negotiators would be out of a job, boo hoo. Of course, it might help feed these billion hungry people.

A case in point is the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which was passed in 1994. This agreement among the U.S., Canada and Mexico was to usher in a brave new world of prosperity, which it did, for multinational food processors  like Archers Daniel Midland (ADM), Cargill and ConAgra. Actual farmers didn’t fare so well; in fact, they started disappearing. Over one million Mexican subsistence farmers were forced from their land during NAFTA’s first 10 years. These were folks who were raising their own food, and then forced from sufficiency to factory jobs in border towns. Vanishing farmers equal vanishing food.

Why did they lose their farms? Mexico is the birthplace of corn, and many of those farmers raised corn for their families and sold their surplus. NAFTA forced Mexico to import corn and corn products (like high fructose corn syrup) and the price of corn plummeted. They grew corn, yet had to import it due to the agreement. End result: broke, displaced, hungry farmers.

The small African coutnry of Djibouti is another example of fairly stable, developing country that had been pretty well able to feed its people, until its government bought into the global export model. Farmers were told to stop growing their own food and start growing tulips for export, so they did. Not enough food could be imported to replace what had grown there, and many areas of the country were too remote for efficient food distribution.

If we are ever to end world hunger, it must start at home. Growing some of our own food and buying more from our neighbors or within our region will eventually return our food system to a saner model. How we spend our money at the grocery store also matters. Feeling virtuous about spending $20 at the farmers market and then heading to Wal-Mart for the rest of our groceries is rather hypocritcal. For food items not grown in your area, like coffee or tea, vote with your food dollars by purchasing fair-trade certified foods. This process ensures that more money goes to the actual farmers, not middlemen, and enables them to sustain their families.

We don’t need more efficiency, pesticides, genetically modified foods, or analysts to decrease the number of hungry people. We need to take the raising of food out of the boardrooms of Wall Street and back into the hands of farmers worldwide.


Soup’s On

The arrival of cold weather signals the beginning of soup season; there’s just something about a bowl of hot soup that warms the soul as well as the body. Luckily, you can make soup from about anything, including leftovers, but one of my new favorites is butternut squash soup.

Yesterday I hit the Black Hills Farmers Market and loaded up on squash; today I made a pot of soup using an adaptation of Molly Wizenberg’s recipe from her book A Homemade Life. She adds two chopped pears to her soup, but I skipped them since I didn’t have any on hand.

Butternut Squash Soup

3 Tbsp olive oil

One 2-pound butternut squash (peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch chunks)

1 medium yellow onion (peeled and coarsely chopped)

1 cup apple cider or juice

4 cups chicken or vegetable stock

½ tsp salt

½ cup half-and-half or cream

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or soup pot over medium-low heat. Add the squash and onion, stir to coat with oil. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft and translucent.

Add the cider and bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the broth, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer the mixture, partially covered, for about 30 minutes, or until the squash is tender.

Using a blender or food processor, and working in small batches, puree the soup until very smooth. An immersion blender also works very well and doesn’t require removing the soup from the pot. Return the soup to the pot and add the salt. Continue to cook, uncovered, over medium-low heat, until the soup has reduced to about one-half of its original volume. Stir occasionally. The final consistency is up to you, when it reaches a thickness that seems right, it’s ready. Add the half-and-half to the soup; allow the soup to warm up again if the half-and-half was cold. Serves 4 to 5.

Garlic Planting

Today I planted garlic for the first time; with luck, I’ll have green shoots popping up next spring. The bulbs are lightly mulched with leavs and pine needles, but will require a  heavier cover as fall progresses into winter. If you plan to plant garlic this fall, best be getting to it as mid-October is prime time; you don’t want to wait until the ground is frozen or covered in snow. It also takes a hefty covering of mulch to prevent winter-kill; don’t waste your money by planting and then neglecting to mulch.

I planted two hard-neck, heirloom varieties, Persian Star and Transylvanian. Their flavor is similiar, and both store well. Persian Star has larger cloves, which means fewer per bulb. Transylvanian bears more cloves, but smaller ones. Both varieties bear more than the standard-sized ones sold at the store.

If you’re thinking of planting garlic, make sure you buy a variety suitable for your area; don’t try to plant the stuff from California, Mexico or China if you live on the Northen Plains. (And if you’re buying garlic from China, you need to rethink your priorities.) I bought my garlic from Prairie Couteau Farm in Astoria, grown by my friend Kristianna Gehent, the garlic goddess.

Kristianna has been growing garlic for several years, so her varieties are well-suited to our cold winters. If you’ve never been to Astoria in January, take my word for it, it’s COLD. So I figure that her garlic has a good chance of making it here at 5600 feet, but I will have to mulch thoroughly, especially since I use raised beds.

Now we do what gardeners do in the winter: wait.

Take Action to Support Local Foods

As all we food subversives know, our food system has been hijacked by designer-suit-wearing CEO’s who make a lot of money by paying farmers a pittance, processing the heck out of raw ingredients, and then shipping their “food products” vast distances to retailers like Wal-Mart, who are quickly replacing our community grocery stores. Nor does it come as a surprise that companies such as Wal-Mart, Con Agra, Cargill, Archers Daniel Midland (ADM) and Phillip Morris (owners of Kraft Cheese and Camel cigarrettes) don’t care much for people like us, people who raise their own food or buy it from their neighbors. Folks who support local food systems are a threat to them, so they try to paint us with either a radical brush, making us out to be food terrorists who would snatch the McNuggets right out of children’s hands, or the hippie brush, likening us to 60s flower-children living in communes and raising pot with our tomatoes. In reality, we’re just people who give a damn about what we eat.

So if you care about what you eat and want to see the local foods movement grow, please read the following action alert from my friends at the Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC). While the bill S. 510 is purported to make our food safer, what it really will do is make local food systems harder to sustain.

Please call or email your U.S. Senators to urge them to fix flawed Federal Food Safety Legislation (S.510) so it does not stall the newly emerging small businesses built around fresh, wholesome local foods, direct market farmers and small local processors processing local foods for local markets.

WORC and its member organizations just delivered letters from a coalition of 21 grassroots farm, ranch, organic consumers and producers and holistic health organizations to 100 members of the U.S. Senate.

The House passed H.R. 2749 in July and in the Senate, S. 510 is pending. Both bills impose an onerous federal regulatory regime on small direct market farmers and small local processors processing local foods for local markets.

The problem that needs to be addressed by federal regulations is not fresh local foods marketed transparently, but the huge industrialized agribusinesses and the long supply chains that they utilize to move food thousands of miles from multiple sources to markets. The long food supply chain of industrial agriculture is where foodborne pathogens have created hazards that have moved Congress to act. 

Fresh, wholesome local foods are an alternative to the huge industrial agribusinesses where foodborne pathogens have resulted in sickness, injuries and deaths.

Federal legislation to address traceability and increase record keeping to ensure food safety should not be directed at emerging new sources of fresh, easily traceable, local foods that are already governed by an existing framework of state and local health and sanitation and inspection laws.

The message to Senators:

One size does not fit all when it comes to food safety. Please amend S. 510 so it does not undermine small businesses involved in direct market farming and processing local foods for local markets.

You can contact your Senators on WORC’s Take Action page.

Grape Jelly

No, I didn’t harvest any grapes from my solitary vine; it will be another two years before I can do that, but I did make some grape jelly. In fact, I made two batches, one from store-bought purple grapes and one from bottled juice. Even though neither were truly local grape sources, I figured that it wouldn’t hurt to hone my jelly-making skills while I wait a couple of years for grapes of my own (provided the vine lives). Both the grapes and the grape juice were grown/processed in the U.S.

At first I thought using bottled juice was a bit like cheating, but it did help me learn the skill, and it’s much more economical than buying store-bought jelly. A bottle of grape juice doesn’t cost much more than one jar of jelly, and can make about 12 half-pints of jelly!

In order to make jelly from the grapes, first I had to make grape juice by cooking them down and then letting the cooked/mashed grapes drain in a cheesecloth-lined colander for a couple of hours. These were the recipes I used, changing the amounts slightly since I didn’t have quite five cups of juice for the first one. Both recipes are from Ball’s Complete Book of Home Preserving.

Grape Jelly

5 cups grape juice for jelly

1 package regular powdered fruit pectin (I used Sure Gel)

6 cups granulated sugar (I always cut back on the sugar)

Prepare canner, jars and lids. In a large, deep saucepan, place juice. Whisk in pectin until dissolved. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring frequently. Add sugar all at once and return to a full, rolling boil, stirring constantly. Boil hard, stirring constantly, for one minute. Remove from heat and quickly skim off foam.

Quickly pour hot jelly into hot jars, leaving ¼ inch headspace. Wipe rim. Center lid on jar, screw band down until fingertip-tight.

Place jars in canner, ensuring they are completely covered with water. Bring to a boil and process for 10 minutes (check for correct processing times for your altitude). Remove canner lid, wait 5 minutes, then remove jars and cool. Makes about seven 8-ounce jars.

*Because of my altitude, I have to process everything for an additional 10 minutes.

Easy Grape Jelly

3 cups unsweetened bottled grape juice

1 package regular powdered fruit pectin (Sure Gel)

4 ½ cups granulated sugar (I used only 3 ¾ cups)

 Use the same process as above. Makes about five 8-ounce jars.

Harvest Photos

My parents grew a healthy crop of pumpkins and squash this year, harvesting them just before this Arctic cold front hit. The pumpkins are of various sizes and will make lovely soups and Thanksgiving pies. They also grew several varieties of squash; the large orangey-green ones are a heritage breed. Alas, the butternut squash seeds I planted there produced nary a fruit.

A bumper crop of pumpkins and winter squash

A bumper crop of pumpkins and winter squash

Heritage and Table King squash varieties

Heritage and Table King squash varieties

Visiting Soulard Market, St. Louis

This was submitted by my mom, Karen Englehart.

The oldest operating farmer's market in the country

The oldest operating farmer's market in the country

We recently had the good fortune to visit one of the oldest Farmer’s Markets in America. It is the Soulard Market in St. Louis, MO. Their sign boasts establishment in 1779 but that is a bit of an untruth! Farmer’s Markets were in existence in St. Louis at that early date but not the Soulard, which was actually established in 1838 and has operated year around since then.

Soulard Farmer’s Market was created when Julia Cerre Soulard donated two undeveloped half-blocks of her real estate to the city of St. Louis in the year 1838. Her instructions dictated that the donated property by used as a public marketplace in perpetuity, lest it be reclaimed by her heirs. The Soulard Market is the only remaining open market in St. Louis. It would seem that her vision has withstood the test of time!

A huge variety of fresh fruits and vegetables await customers

A huge variety of fresh fruits and vegetables await customers

We traveled to downtown St Louis, near the riverfront, on an early Saturday morning to visit this historical market. The market was already crowded with eager customers ranging from local residents, tourists (like us) and chefs from fancy city restaurants. There was a festive air about it with live musicians playing in both major aisles of the market. The size of the market and the abundance of produce and crafts were mind boggling to this South Dakota country girl. There was everything there you could possible need to cook a seven course meal! From artichokes to zucchini, roses to risotto, many varieties of mushrooms, meats, fish, raw and cooked chickens, flowers, cheeses, pastas, herbs, honey, fruits of all sorts and various craft items. It was like a Farmer’s Market with a bit of flea market and music festival tossed in for good measure.

We were pleasantly surprised to see that the prices at the market were somewhat lower than the local supermarket produce, especially vegetables and melons. Some of the fruit was about the same price, but the quality was superior to that in the supermarket.

Oh, did we mention the flowers? What a riot of color and fragrance! Roses for $5 per half dozen, gladiolas, bouquets of various summer blooms, even vases to put them in at a little extra charge.

Because of the long drive home purchasing perishables was out of the question, we ended up with soaps and herb flavored dry pastas. The smells, the sounds, the cheese tasting, the soap sniffing, it was an adventure for the senses.

Local Grower Featured in RCJ

Native American book inspires local grower

By Curt Nettinga, Hot Springs Star staff

HOT SPRINGS — People in the Southern Hills have come to know that Tuma’s Farmer’s Market is the place to go to get fresh, locally grown produce in the Southern Hills.

But an experiment that began two years ago has intrigued Maureen Tuma, an experiment that began after she read “Buffalo Bird Woman’s Garden.” The book is a translation of a Hidatsa Indian woman, born in the 1830s, whose family raised crops of squash, corn, beans and sunflowers along the Missouri River in what is now North Dakota.

“I thought that I would give her traditional plantings a try,” Tuma said while showing off the small portion of her garden given over to the ancient way.

 “They planted these three — corn, beans and squash — together,” Tuma said. “They work well together, and each one supplies a necessary part to make things work. They are very compatible.”

Tuma said that the crops are traditionally planted in a large rectangle. Corn is planted on the inside, with beans next to it and squash on the outside. “I just have the one row here this year,” she pointed out.

The crops work well together; the corn has strong, tall, stalks suitable for climbing plants such as the black beans that Tuma is growing. “This corn is blue corn, and it is ornamental,” Tuma said. “The black beans, called ‘Trail-of-Tears,’ and the blue corn, which can be used to make corn meal, came from Native tribes in the southwest.”

 The squash, planted on the outer edge, is the defender of the crops. The rough leaves and bristle-covered stems discourage the foragers who would make a meal out of the beans and corn.

Tuma said she got the idea of trying it while reading the book, which was first published nearly a century ago. In addition to offering crop secrets, “Buffalo Bird Woman’s Garden” takes the reader through the year, giving tips on preparing and planting, cultivating, harvesting and storing the crop.

Tuma said that MJ Adams, owner and chef of The Corn Exchange in Rapid City, has been a longtime customer of the farmers market. “Our numbers are down this year, customer-wise,” Tuma said. “It could be that more people are planting their own garden plots.”

Next year, she plans on dedicating a larger portion of her growing area along Fall River Road over to Buffalo Bird Woman’s idea.

“I think I will use some different corn next year, maybe a sweet corn, along with the beans and squash,” she said.

From the Rapid City Journal, Sept. 27, 2009