Category Archives: Food

Dandelion coffee and the act of foraging.

A pest to some but to others, includeing medieval nobility, dandelion has proved its worth as both a medicine and a food.

I’m a junkie there is no doubt about.  When I wake up two things cross my mind usually, do I have to move and if so, where’s my coffee!?!  Lately the morning miracle nectar has been giving me some stomach problems and I’ve been forced to reduce my ravenous thirst to just a cup a day. This is not good.
Instead of getting multiple cup boosts throughout the day I’m stuck with one drink and a day full of yawns. I have heard that you can make a coffee substitute with the roots of dandelion and yesterday when I was weeding the thought had hit again, providence. I finished up hoola hoeing my garden and then moved up towards the dandelion weeder.
My neighbors probably didn’t understand the desperation that filled my act of weeding.  People are used to seeing me out in my garden and even in the light rain it wasn’t anything abnormal. But the time and patience I took to preserve the dandelion roots while pulling them out would peg me as a lunatic in some circles, but to me I was just prepping another cup of brew.

After being roasted and ground the dandelion root looks more like tobacco than any sort of coffee.

After collecting and roasting the dandelion roots, they were ground into a fine powder and brewed like coffee. I took a sip of the black “coffee” and was surprised. It was a little lighter in color and tasted slightly burnt to the everyday coffee drinker. Unfortunately this coffee alternative is caffeine free, something I was hoping wouldn’t be the case, but a little online looking it confirmed it. Although the chemical support isn’t there I was still a thousand times happier to drink this mix than to attempting decaf.
I’m realizing this post sounds more like a confession about caffeine abuse than any sort of statement about the earths long term preservation but I assure that is not the case.  My hunt for dandelion root is one of the first acts of foraging that I have carried out.
This is the initial way humans used to gather food. Before restaurants and grocery stores, before even farming, there was hunting and gathering.  At this point human populations lived based on what nature provided, not on what could be done provided despite  nature. Although this was a great way to make sure that the land remained strong and the earth healthy, it wasn’t the best way to ensure a future. Some would argue we evolved, others would argue we devolved.

When the flavor ihit my tongue I couldn't have been more upset. It wasn't bad, and actually, the acrid root tea actually tasted like tea. I wouldn't drink it normally but in 1858 I could see turning to this in a pinch.

The main benefit to gathering food is that it doesn’t require an agricultural system that rearranges the landscape to make certain food stuffs available.  The flip side is that a long time ago many tribes figured out that about 30 people are perfect for living off the land in most areas (StuffYouShouldKnow pod casts are my source for this).  If a tribe grew much bigger than this it became more difficult to support.  If we all tried living off the wild now I fear we would overwhelm it.
But when there are opportunities to harvest from the wild instead of buying from the store I still plan to take advantage of them. And instead of throwing my dandelions in a garbage can or even a refuse bin I’m going to eat the suckers. Not only are dandelions completely edible at some point of the year, but revenge against weeds has never been below me, ask the corn.

The recipe I used to make the “coffee” was from ehow.com

How to Make Dandelion Coffee

This weeks step was to take up foraging.

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The life and death of a small farm hog.

Early in the summer these young hogs were living the good life, one day change it all. From pen to pork

Pigs are dirty, smelly, rotten animal,s unworthy of a good life or a large space because they will foul up any piece of earth that you give them.  Although this description fits a majority of politicians, my experience with pigs has taught me they are not the unclean, bestial organisms that I’ve heard a lot of people write them off as.

In that last few months I’ve watched four hogs go from small critters to slaughter-sized meat producers.  We’ve taken two off to the butcher and two more are awaiting their end of days. At first it was almost sad sinking my teeth into the first pig we’ve ever raised for food but as the thoughts started drifting through my mind I took comfort in the fact that these were probably the happiest pigs I’ve ever digested.

I’ve only seen hog operations a few times throughout my life. The first operation I saw was an indoor cage, complete with spillways that allowed for the animal waste to wash into the center of the pen so it could be easily cleaned. The only other operations I have seen were online and the pigs didn’t seem to have very much space to move and breath, let alone stay clean.

The operation that Purring Dog Farm has running for hogs is a humane one. I have spent a little under an hour a day the last two months working side by side the hungry, misunderstood creatures.  Every morning feeding them their daily allotment of corn and whatever else may be on hand.  Throughout the weeks I have watched how the animals think and interact and laughed at the way they’ll  trip over each other like kids on cake, to get the prized commodities of eggs and watermelon.

The last meal for future food.

Rolling in the mud and getting dirty is the way they stay cool, similar to elephants and dogs.  The faint smell of their waste isn’t the first scent that hits when entering their 100 ft by 100 ft enclosure.  In fact the first month and a half that I was on the farm, I only smelled the foul odor of their digested corn once.  Pigs are similar to dogs in the sense that they prefer not to wallow around in shit and urine if they don’t have to. If given enough space they will gladly deposit waste in a far corner of their structure, the only spot left that is green from under use.

Between playing and sleeping all day our hogs still make time to attempt eating gloves and boots while they are still on the wearers feet and one has developed an affinity for using my aunt April as a scratching post. When the first roast was made up, April was having a hard imagining how she could eat it after spending the time watching, feeding, scratching and admiring the 200 lbs of fat and muscle. We all agreed that she made the right decision, in a pan with gar

lic and butter.

The day before we took the black-speckled pink walls of meat to the butcher, my uncle Bill and me made a practice run of getting them into the horse trailer, making sure the next day went smoothly.  Our plan was to herd them, by pinching them in with two doors forcing them forward. After 3 minutes of getting pushed around, we headed indoors defeated and feeling weak. After

The stalkyard and final hours.

tearing through farmers books and scouring the internet more thoroughly than any porn addict, we resigned to faith that the next morning would pan out, expecting the worse. It was a six-o-clock morning, early for us lazy farmers, the pigs had to be in by 9 a.m. or else the official “pig killer” would go home, a man paid by commission not by the hour and who didn’t like to wait.

After backing up the trailer, we went with honey instead of vinegar. By cutting watermelon in half and throwing them to the rear of the transport we found the pigs loved the food enough to jump on in. After two filed in we closed the doors. The day before had taught us not to be picky. We fed them a last meal of their favorite treat, eggs, and left for Morgan’s Meat Processors.

On arriving we had to remove the pigs, this time force was our only option. Getting them out of the trailer was less of a task than getting them in, if you did it right. Hogs do not respond to being pulled but they will eventually let pushing them make a difference. The last time we saw our hogs they were playing together and wallowing in the puddles of mud, in a stalk-yard like coral.  After filling out the cut-sheets before their eyes, we took off waiting for a call telling us the deed was done. Hanging above the entrance to the slaughterhouse a sign reading “absolutely no unauthorized personnel allowed.”

Later, when we picked up the freshly processed pork, 127 lbs of the tastiest, best kept meat was waiting for us. Ethically speaking the practice was sustainable but on a level of understanding that everyone can agree with, I can say, home-grown pork beats anything you’ll ever find on a shelf. The twinge of guilt I felt while watching the pigs play out their last few minutes of life was only a reminder that every meal involves a life and suffering. I don’t doubt for a minute though that if the roles were reversed, those hogs would have been more than happy to call me a meal. And life goes on …

To market, to market to process a pig …

We took the pigs into market today. We woke up at 6 a.m. expecting another morning of being pushed around by muddy creatures twice our weight.  Yesterday we tried corralling the pigs with flimsy doors, a bad idea.  When trying to pinch in on the pigs they lost their usual, calm demeanor and started lashing out like 400 lb seven-year-old’s throwing a temper-tantrum.  Today we took a different approach.  Instead of trying to make the pigs do anything, patience was the word of the day.  Backing up the horse trailer just past the inside of their enclosure, we seeded the “hog cart” with watermelon, their favorite, and played the waiting game.  Eventually two of the surprisingly powerful and glutinous animals found a way into the food only to find the gates locking behind them.  I wanted to be able to capture this process from beginning to end on video but we had no camera man on hand and herding pigs did not prove to be an easy task.

We figured, however, that pigs deserve at least the most simple of human respects and gave them their favorite food for a last meal, eggs.

Weekly step update #1

This is the first check-in about my progress on the trail to living a sustainable life.   These are the changes that I have pledged to make so far and this is how well I’ve been keeping with them.

My "green canteen" isn't the only stainless steel container in the house. My aunt and uncle purchased these because before all they were using was plastic bottles and eventually they decided to get away from leaching plastics.

No more plastic bottles:

I have been doing good on this front.  Soon after taking on the challenge I realized that I didn’t buy that many water bottles anyway, my family is a different story.  Ultimately I decided to swear off all plastic bottles in general.  Recently it’s come to my notice that instead of going with plastic when I stop into a 7-11 what my hands end up latching onto is usually a can or glass bottles.  I’m going to have to do a little research to find out if this is actually progress towards reducing my impact on the earth, or if I’d have to give up glass and aluminum to make a real difference.

Watch labels and avoid foods with the chemicals calcium chloride and calcium disodium EDTA.

When I came up with this step I was having severe stomach problems and starting to move towards an sustainably farmed food diet.  Both of these chemicals are known to be associated with stomach problems in high doses and they are both preservatives, like arsenic used to be.

I have started to read labels due to a gluten allergy I recently found out I have, but I have slipped more then a couple of times on eating calcium disodium EDTA and calcium chloride which sneaks into more foods then you’d suspect.  Tonight I ate Calcium disodium EDTA in Italian salad dressing.  I didn’t read the label until after eating.  The horseradish sauce from Arby’s also contains the chemical.

No Coffee from large chain stores:

Calypso Coffee

So far I have been able to accomplish this goal completely.  In the town I’m currently there are no coffee shops, just diners.  In downtown Knoxville I have discovered a few coffee shops that are locally owned and on the farm everything we drink is made from grounds bought at Ingles.  I’m stilling sipping down the coffee purchased from Calypso Coffee in Coeur d’Alene Idaho.  It still taste like sweet nectar in comparison to anything I’ve been able to drink since.  To ensure that coffee stays fresh you can put it in the freezer until grinding and when you brew it up, it will be almost as good as it was when you left the shop.

Planting a garden:

A radish eye's view of the garden.

I’m still in the process of starting my garden but proactive steps are being taken.  The garden I planted earlier this year is being managed by my mom back in Oregon until I get back.  Out here the lettuce and arugula aren’t making but radishes and spinach have survived the scorching sun and are living well.  Today we purchased a flat of peppers from the feed store in town for $1.  These are all healthy plants.  When we went in to buy feed, the owner said we could get em for half off.  Shortly after that he changed his mind, and said we could take the whole bunch for a buck, he wanted to get rid of them. This is another reason why I like to shop at locally owned businesses.  If someone made this type of deal for us at Lowe’s or Home Depot they would be fired, but locally owned shops give you a personal experience with the owners and often this deal works out in everyone’s favors.

New step towards sustainability for the week: Learn to can food.

I’m actually really excited about this step.  Canning my own food has been something I’ve wanted to do for some time now and I’m finally at a place where it’s possible.  After shopping around a bit I was able to find out where to get the cheapest canning supplies in town.  In my quest for finding the cheapest canning supplies I searched the nearby Farmers CO-OP, K-Mart, a local hardware store and Ingles.  Between all the shops prices ranged from $8.49 to 9.99 for pints and $8.99-10.99.  The ultimate winner in the battle of the prices was Ingles with Pints at $8.49 and quarts at $8.99.

My aunt started canning last year and this year I have already made a few attempts but none have been what I would call completely successful.  What I’ve learned is that canning is a safe business when precautions are taken.  If corners are cut too short though consequences can be deadly.

Our recent forray into the world of canning involved packing 14 quarts of pickles. Unfortunately all the lids didn't seal, so we're going to be eating a lot of pickles this week.

Canning becomes a sustainable concept because durring in many areas the options of local food drops off.  If buying food locally and seasonally, canning can extend the time your eating home grown green beans from a couple months to year-round.  Not only is canning a good choice to keep healthy, local food around but after you get past the start-up costs canning is as expensive as buy jar lids.

Storing food isn’t only for the individual looking to spend hours in the kitchen, however.

One simple way to keep cucumbers fresh for a long time is to wait until a jar of pickles runs out but keep this juice and container.  If you add a new batch of cucumbers to the brine and leave the mix in the fridge after about a week you’ll find another batch of crisp fresh pickles just waiting to be consumed.

Organic farmed foods; the reason behind the price

This is cabbage that has been devasted by the unfortunately adept Harlequin Bug. Clemson university suggests taking care of these bugs by dousing the plants in cyfluthrin, bifenthrin or permethrin. Our method is smashing the little bastards and praying that the plants can fight them off. Crops lost to pest invasions are one of the reasons many farmers have to charge more for their sustainable products.

 

The 55 acre farm I’m currently living and working on is opperating upon the philosophy that food should be as natural as possible.  My aunt April and uncle Bill, the farm owners, have given up the Southern California suburban crawl to live out the Tennessee life, for them a slower and healthier existence.  The catalyst for the relocation according to my uncle was  my cousin Caitlin.

As a result I’ve been gifted the unique opportunity of continuously working on one of America’s family owned farms from the early start-up days, when we would carry 50 lb boxes of cucumbers to the house, wash them in buckets of water and store them in a fridge bought on craiglist, to where now we use a 4 wheel drive “mule” for transporting product and clean our vegetables in an indoor processing facility.

This is our egg processing and vegitable storage building, The White Barn. In it is the farms most powerful chemicle, bleach.

The farm still isn’t high-tech and although Bill refuses to use pesticides and chemical fertilizers, we still cannot be coined organic.  The certification process involves paying over a thousands dollars for an inspector to come from out of state and give us the golden O.  Organic is now nothing more than a status symbol for many.  I’ve had a friend who work on a sustainable farm go to market and have customers refuse to buy their products because they didn’t have the necessary title.

“Are you guys Organic?”

“No, because we haven’t become certified we cannot claim to be organic.  We do practice sustainable agriculture, however, we don’t use chemical fertilizers or pesticides but the certification is too expensive for us to …””

“Oh,” cutting her off, “if you’re not organic then never mind.”

The title only means that someone paid the extra cash in order to raise the price of their product.  To many organic means expensive and therefore not worth the buy.  Farmers markets nationwide are full of food that is truly organic but without the government issued “O” and the prices that come with it. The best advice I’ve been given is to just talk to the people who make the food.  At the markets almost every vendor is willing to talk about the way that they produce what they sell.  Usually the issue isn’t getting them to explain how they farm, it’s getting them to shut up.  If someone isn’t willing to spill the beans on their food it probably means they should be avoided.

The bag to the right is a freshly hung beatle catch. In the background our orchard is struggling to survive the constant assault that bugs deal to the leaves and fruit of the trees.

Over the next few weeks I’m going to be talking to different farm owners and exploring what goes into to the new generation of food and why organic food can be more expensive, how it can be cheaper and ways that you can it for almost free.

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The midnight drive to find “fourth-meal”

Last night hunger drove me into an Albertson’s searching for burrito makings.  The crave isn’t odd for me, usually it’s satiated by a simple trip to Taco Bell, but not that night.  I’ve been trying to avoid fast food for a multitude of reasons lately only one of which being the fact that most chains don’t work to support their local community. Instead, I signed up to make the burritos by hand.  As an experiment I decided to buy all “organic” ingredient to see what the cost difference would be.

I haven't found any good local sources for avocados, boullion cubes or rice.

Beans: At first I couldn’t find any beans that were certified organic, until I found one white can of organic pinto beans.  After finding that first can, I realized for nearly every type of canned bean they carried, there was at least one organic option. My favorite part about buying 12 0z’s of organic pinto’s was the simplicity of its ingredients list, organic pinto beans, water and salt.

Price: $1.49

Non-organic alternaltive: $ .89 Extra ingredients: Calcium chloride(preservative) and calcium disodium EDTA(for color).

These are both chemicals that have been connected with stomach problems.  Here are a few reputable Web sites that show what these chemicals are used for and what their effects are

MSDS for calcium chloride

Calcium disodium EDTA

Beef

After beans I searched for meat.  The item nearest to organic beef that Albertson’s offers is a harmone free, grass fed beef.  Although technically not organic, which could be for any number of reasons, the option was still better than buying beef with packaging that can’t even promise its contents doesn’t consist of a cannibals.

Price of harmone-free, grass fed beef: $5.49 a pound.  Equal fat alternative:$4.49.

The movie “Food Inc.” does a good job explaining where our meat comes from and why buying local isn’t a bad idea.

Tortillas

Albertson’s had no organic alternative for tortillas.

The rest of the ingredients were already at my house: a two-year-old bag of rice, 2 WINCO avocados(not organic), boulion cubes( add to boiling water before adding rice to add a lot of flavor to the plain grain) and lettuce from the Milwaukie Farmers Market.

The final product, topped with roma tomatos and Tapatio!

I’m not going to say because I used a better beef and organic beans that the burrito tasted better, but it was pretty damned good and the fresher, cleaner ingredients didn’t change the flavor at all.  However, the knowledge that I didn’t partake two chemicals that are known to cause stomach problems is relieving to me (I have IBS and stomach problems I love to avoid).

This weeks pledge:

Watch labels and avoid foods with the chemicals calcium chloride and calcium disodium EDTA.