One Step Closer

Backyard Poultry and McMurray Hatchery catalogue

They’re heeerre….. no, nothing requiring an exorcism, just my first issue of Backyard Poultry and the Murray McMurray Hatchery catalogue. I’m one step closer to chickens. Now my problem is deciding what kind of chickens to order, not so bad as problems go.

My main purpose in raising chickens is to have my own eggs, so I’m looking closely at the egg and dual purpose breeds. I’d like brown or colored eggs, so that helps narrow things down a bit as well, and I need a winter hardy breed. And for the same reasons I like heirloom vegetables, I’m interested in breeds who’ve been around for a long time.

In the Backyard Poultry magazine, I came across an article about the American Buckeye, an old breed being brought back from the brink of extinction. They sound perfect: cold hardy, pea comb, good layers, and quiet. However, Murray McMurray doesn’t offer them yet, so I’ve ordered a few more catalogues from other hatcheries. If I can’t order any of them, I’ll have to choose something else, maybe even a couple different breeds just for comparison. Like I said, a fun dilemma.


Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

My well-read copy of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Winter is a favorite time of mine to reread favorite, thought-provoking books, like Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Her luminous account of her family’s year of local eating always inspires me to do grow more vegetables, to appreciate good food, and to think about the role of food in my life.

What I appreciate about the book is that this family took on this project in an approachable way that most of us could manage, at least those of us with ample garden space. They did not “leave the world” or even the 21st century in order to grow most of their own food. Her family continued on with regular jobs, school and community activities, and I think that’s important because that’s the situation where most people find themselves. She understands that if eating locally meant quitting our jobs or selling up and moving to Amish country, no one would ever do it; the undertaking would be too overwhelming as well as impractical. My favorite quote from the book is, “It’s the worst of bad manners — and self-protection, I think, in a nervously cynical society — to ridicule the small gesture.” Little things like buying fair-trade coffee, growing herbs in a window-box or baking your own bread do matter; eating locally can be accessible, and that is a great lesson of this book (that and the turkey sex!).

Despite the rosy pictures of vegetables glowing out from the pages of the seed catalogues, there’s a lot of winter left. We have more than two months before the calendar even says “spring,” so there is plenty of time left for reading. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy.

Speaking of Farmers’ Markets…

This information was forwarded to me by my mom, Karen Englehart, a SD Master Gardener. If any of you are thinking about taking produce to market this year but  have questions about getting started, you may want to take in the following workshop Feb. 5 in Rapid City. Full details are available at: This workshop is sponsored by the SDSU Extension Service.

What: Farmers’ Market Workshop

When: Friday, Feb. 5, 2010 from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm

Where: Pennington County Extension Office, 601 E. Centre St., Rapid City

How Much: $24 if you register before Jan. 29, $30 afterward

For more information: Use the link above or call (605)-394-2188

Custer Farmers’ Market

Some exciting news for 2010 — Custer will have a farmers’ market this summer! Long have I waited for this day, and now I know the day — Saturday, June 5. The farmers’ market will be located in the parking lot behind Custer County Market, 444 Mt. Rushmore Road (also known as Custer’s Main Street). It will run every Saturday starting with June 5 and ending on Oct. 9; hours will be 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

For all you potential vendors, here’s the nitty-gritty: the fee is $20 for a 10 x 10 space and $35 for a 15 x 15 space weekly, with a reduction for seasonal contracts. There is room for roughly six 10 x 10 spaces and two 15 x 15 spaces. Vendors must comply with all South Dakota regulations on the sale of produce, meat, dairy, baked goods, and plants. Furthermore, vendors must have a sales tax number and use certified produce scales.  Handmade craft items are welcome, but limited to 10% of the booth’s space. All products must be grown or produced by the vendor, no commercial products or imported crafts. In keeping with local spirit, they would like products to originate within a 100-mile radius of Custer.

For more information, check out their website at or email

Seed Frenzy!

A sampling of the seed catalogues arriving daily

 This is a sampling of the seed catalogues arriving daily in my mail. I’ve recycled a few that I never order from because they don’t have a good germination rate or come from a zone too warm to thrive in the Upper Great Plains. When the snow covers the ground and spring seems an age away, I tend to have delusions of grandeur about the upcoming garden. By circling photos and dog-earing pages, I rack up a wish list longer than the Iliad. However, in time, I come back to reality and pare down my orders. I order from several distributors each year, but my two favorites are Seed Savers and Territorial.

So let the snow fall and wind howl, curl up with a good catalogue and dream of spring.

Farming Detroit

No, I haven’t had a suddenly lapse in my knowledge of geography; I found this article on the other day and wanted to pass it on. It’s been well-documented in the news that Detroit is a shrinking city, some would say an abandoned city. Neighborhoods emptied, sometimes bulldozed. Commercial districts vacant. The article addresses one man’s vision about saving the city with farming.

At first blush, I was really excited to see the headline, “Yes, turn vacant lots into small farms, feed the population that’s still there.” Even with the exodus, Detroit still has a population of around 900,000 people — that’s a decent market. But the more I read, the less enthusiastic I became about this man’s, John Hantz, vision. “We need scarcity. We can’t create opportunities, but we can create scarcity,” was his quote that took me off guard. Scarcity? As I read on, I realized that his idea of farming stems from the fact that Detroit literally has acres upon acres of unused land — an abundance of abandoned property — forsaken by the Motor City. Hantz’s believes if that land were transformed into a farm, there would be less vacant land, and when the supply drops, demand grows.

In a nutshell, Hantz wants to turn a large tract of Detroit into an urban farm in order to drive down the supply of land, and thus drive up demand for it and ultimately attract investors. Plus, he acknowledges that turning the vacant lots with crumbling buildings into greenscapes will make them visually attractive. I can’t argue with that, but what niggles at me is the spirit of the enterprise. There is little mention of food in the article; the actual agriculture part of the picture is secondary to the idea of land scarcity and development. The real point of his whole plan is to attract development around the farms, not farming itself.

Perhaps I shouldn’t says farms; right now it is farm (singular) what he calls “the largest urban farm in the world.” At 50 acres, he’d be correct, but is it right? Some of his neighbors are on board — in the desperate climate of Detriot, new ideas are welcomed like lifeboats in shark-infested waters. Other neighbors, the pioneers of Detroit’s urban farming, are unhappy with his vision. Detroit has a growing local food network, and those folks have not been asked to the table for Hantz’s project. Furthermore, this is not a landlink for beginning farmers. The initial project, 50 acres, will be owned by him, thus the people actually doing the farming will be employees. The farms themselves will have a sense of uniformity with what crops are grown; at this point, all mention was fruits and vegetables, nary a chicken or an egg to be found. With that much land, there could be a mix of livestock, but my sense is that livestock are not aesthetically pleasing enough to live on his farm. There will be no natural feeling to these farms either, his talk is of “straight lines” and planned patterns. The design will be planned, down to the last green bean.

So while on one hand I applaud the notion of agriculture as a saving grace, I’m not sure that this particular plan is the way civic agriculture and local foods can flourish. Read the article and decide for yourself.

Enjoying the Fruits of Summer’s Labor

Tonight I ate ratatouille for supper, not made with out-of-season, imported vegetables but a batch that I made and froze last summer. Ratatouille freezes well, and what a treat to enjoy it in January! I let it defrost in the refrigerator a few hours then heated it in individual servings in the microwave. It was just as good as it was in August, maybe even better considering the time of year. With some planning and preparation, you can enjoy even the most “summery” of vegetables in the dead of winter.