Saturday, July 28, 2012

Having Yummy Fun

It's late July and we've worked really hard. We beat back the borers and beetles and slogged through the mud to ameliorate the effects of high heat and intense rain. And now our little farm is showing its gratitude.

I must admit, each time we come home, dog tired and arms full, I feel a bit anxious about the temporary and long term storage of our produce. I always have to look up what goes in the fridge and what stays at room temp, what gets wrapped in plastic and what gets gently cuddled in paper, what gets cooked immediately and what can hold for days or weeks without losing nutritional value. It's a learning curve I just haven't caught the rhythm of yet. Most nights our dinner is late to the table because my attention is consumed by our new arrivals.

Cilantro wrapped and hung to dry the seeds, which become the herb corriander.
I haven't yet had the courage to preserve any harvested vegetables the traditional way - through hot water or pressure cooker canning, but I've blanched and frozen many double portion side dishes and one or two casseroles. Last night I hauled the mason jars, lids, rings, and labels up from the garage. I'm getting ready to take the plunge - tomato sauce? peach jam? roasted red and yellow peppers? I can hardly wait to see the rainbow lined up on the pantry shelves. To be continued...

Beets, Beans and Banana Peppers
Campari Tomatoes

Peppers on the Bush

Yellow Filet Beans
Homegrown Roots!
Two Mostly Homegrown Dinners
And lots stored for the winter
The first dinner is shrimp in San Marzano tomato sauce with local shitake mushrooms, onions and homegrown peppers and herbs from our deck garden. The second dinner is chicken thighs in homemade garlic/basil pesto, yellow filet beans, roasted banana peppers and kohlrabi/apple slaw.

That slaw was our first taste of kohlrabi, which I grew from seedlings purchased at the Mills River Farmers' Market. I planted four of them in a large container on the deck along with beets and parnsips (and one cherry tomato in the middle of all those cool weather plants). The container got part sun/part shade and Mike kept it well-watered. All went well, except some crawling creature did a number on the kohlrabi leaves prompting me to harvest the bulbs when they were still quite small. I understand, though, that the best time to pick kohlrabi is before they go beyond 3". The dressing on the salad was a simple mix of mustard, lemon juice, and a sprinkle of sugar stirred into pillows of whipped cream (a scant 1/4 cup). Definitely worth trying again. I love hearing Mike go "Yum!"  

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Fixing the Future

Last night I attended a screening of the documentary, “Fixing the Future,” hosted locally by Ownership Appalachia. In Fixing the Future, host David Brancaccio, of public radio’s Marketplace and NOW on PBS, visits people and organizations across America that are attempting a revolution: the reinvention of the American economy. By featuring communities using sustainable and innovative approaches to create jobs and build prosperity, Fixing the Future inspires hope and renewal in a people overwhelmed by economic collapse.

The film highlights effective, local practices such as: local business alliances, community banking, time banking/hour exchange, worker cooperatives and local currencies.

Last night the documentary was screened simultaneously in theaters around the nation. At the conclusion of the film, audiences were treated to an exclusive onscreen discussion panel featuring:

Bill McKibben: Author, environmentalist, Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College
Majora Carter
: Peabody Award winning broadcaster & Urban Revitalization Strategist
Mike Brady
: CEO, Greyston Bakery & social entrepreneur
David Brancaccio
: Host, NOW on PBS

It seems to me that there is little hope of fixing our national or world economy in the next several decades. It’s not broken for everyone, and those who hold the most political power to initiate change either feel they have too much to lose or don’t have the courage to tell the emperor he’s naked. Likewise, there’s slim chance that we’ll see meaningful policy reform that will redirect us significantly off the path to climate/environmental destruction.

So why do I keep on going? Why did I invite my neighbors to start a community garden? Why shop at and promote the Mills River Farmers Market? Why do I turn off the water when I brush my teeth? Disconnect electronic chargers from outlets unless they’re in use? How can my tiny efforts make any difference?

I don’t know and sometimes despair that they can. But I can’t stop. I am compelled to make my contribution – for myself, for my own self-esteem; that’s it. And there are so many benefits beyond feeling good. Some of them are consistent with the message of this YouTube video about a Time Bank in Vermont.

The Time Bank was one of my favorite ideas featured in the documentary. Community cooperation. That’s the ticket. We are dead in the water if we wait for national action or international agreements. The “evolution” (not revolution) will come from the bottom up - from the heart, not the mind. From the 99%. Those of us who are feeling more vulnerable to economic uncertainties and climate anomalies reaching out to one another – as far as we can reach – which tends to be local. Using all the fantastic human creativity that got us to where we are today to head toward where we know we want to be, where we’ve always wanted to be – a healthy, peaceful life of relative abundance.

I’ll bet you too would like to live in a neighborhood that embraces the attitudes and strategies embodied by the people participating in this Vermont Time Bank. Why not try?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Man vs Nature

So far this has been a challenging season in the yard and garden. It The warm winter was a provocative tease. Early spring-like temperatures made it difficult to hold off planting until the officially recommended "last frost" date of May 15. The benefit was that my fall-back position was to read the catalogs, order seeds, and actually get seedlings going indoors, in the sun room, something I've always neglected in years past. That might have been the last time nature cooperated.

We have had plenty of sunshine, but maybe even a bit too much. The warm winter morphed into Summer almost at once, going way too quickly from 70's to 90+. And staying there. Weeks of hot and humid, even at 3500 feet. (It was 106 in Atlanta when we visited there week before last.) The winter squash and tomatoes seem to be loving the heat, but it's also had some negative effects. 

Bugs! In our High Vista Community Garden, potato and cucumber and Japanese beetles galore gnawed away at the earliest zucchini leaves. Corn borers threatened the corn crop with instant demise. Flea beetles turned my eggplant leaves to lace. This week I pulled the first (and hopefully) last well-camoflauged hornworm from a tomato plant. A vole/mole is burrowing under the Cherokee Black Bean poles and a bunny or some other critter has chomped on one or two crook neck squash. Oh well, our garden is large enough to qualify as a small farm, and we can share. 

Beyond the heat and voracious critters, we're now keeping our fingers crossed that four days of rain and much longed-for cooler weather doesn't encourage late tomato blight. We've hand-picked beetles, sprayed with Spinosad against the borers, BT and Pyrethrin against the other bugs, and used Copper Fungicide as a preventative against the blight. And, happily, we have begun to harvest plentiful bush beans and yellow squash, banana peppers, basil, and a few beets and cucumber. Now, if only the hundreds of tomatoes can reach maturity, I'll be a happy farmer.

At home, we've not seen the same quantities of bugs. The challenges to our ample potted deck garden have been larger and faster moving - BEARS! 

Mama bear, on terraces just below our deck

Mama on the move

Cubs up a tree

We've learned from bitter experience that the deer will consume anything planted in the ground, so we grow all our edibles in containers well above their reach. But altitude doesn't discourage bears. They've visited more than once. Once in the middle of the night and this latest (family) encounter at dusk, around 8:30 pm. So far, they've only bent wrought iron bird feeder supports and destroyed the feeders themselves. They timed their visits poorly, too early and too late in the season for the blueberries, so Mike and I got to eat those. For the immediate future we've taken in our feeders, entrusting the birds to the forest and our neighbors' buffets, in the hope that we can keep the bears from discovering the tomatoes, carrots, beets, kohlrabi, chard, lettuce, beans, squash, and parsnips we hope to bring to the table - our own table, that is.

Friday, July 6, 2012

I've Been Grounded

There are those days when all things are possible. Today is one of them. I have this amazing sense of being high and yet grounded at the same time. Last post I was reveling at all the uplifting potential for good times this summer. Not only have they begun to materialize, but new opportunities have spontaneously appeared, and I've grabbed them all.

My trip to New York was productive and pleasant time with Mom. Since she'd taken a fall recently, we saw her primary care physician and orthopedist and she had a CT Scan of her head. Pleased to say "all systems are good to excellent". We got her set up for several weeks of physical therapy and started the process to get her walker repaired. We even squeezed in lunch with cousins and a matinee performance of "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel."

The day after I returned we hosted a pot luck dinner for six before seeing Terpsicorps Theater of the Dance - "The Many Deaths of Edward Gorey and other Eccentricities." Our favorite resident dance troupe.

Mike and I spent last weekend indoors in Hot-Lanta. Good thing we loooove the friends we were visiting because as we drove down I-85 we watched the exterior temp climb from 97 to 106! Mike and Bob played gin rummy; Xenia and I swapped practical tips and philosophy as we've been doing for the past 28 years. Sunday we brunched in style with relatives on Mike's side of the family we rarely get to see. The whole time felt like a warm embrace.

I'm thrilled to have just completed an eight week "Guided Autobiography" program with Diane Rhoades. Her writing prompts and facilitation, as well as the personalities and writing prowess of the other women in the group helped me dig deeper into the memoir of my (liver transplant) season of miracles. I've found a momentum and can now envision successfully transforming the manuscript I completed two years ago (but knew was not quite "right"). This is really good!

This morning I had two art-ful invitations in my "in-box". One from RiversEdge Studio to attend a pleine aire workshop in the French Broad River Park. I've always wanted to try painting in the great outdoors, but haven't acted too much on that instinct. The other invite was a call out for an "Art Play Date" from Sonja, an artist friend who lives most of the year in Florida. We're both signing up for great fun and practice on our beautiful riverfront.

I've been to McKinney's Small Fruit Farm once already and will probably hit those blueberry bushes again tomorrow. The beans and summer squash are beginning to need pickin' at our High Vista Community Garden, so we meet up with neighbors in the field on a regular basis. I can hardly imagine how I'm going to keep up when what seems like a thousand tomatoes ripen all at once in our personal plot.

What's even more meaningful to me than a whirlwind of travel, gardening, and local events is that I'm finding myself quite comfortable as I ride the currents. I seem to have brought a grounding calm along for the ride.

Ordinarily I need solitary quiet time in nature in equal amounts to the time I spend interacting with other human beings - that's just the way I'm put together. If I can't pull back and replenish, I get overwhelmed and moody. But so far this summer, I'm finding myself boosted and inspired by people as well as nature, by engagement as well as the pauses between.

I had a teacher once who spoke about life consisting of "simultaneously occurring, equally valid, contradictory realities." Perhaps this is just an example of that truth.