Fresh Produce Auction

produce auction, food auction, local organic raspberries,

Pint baskets with handwritten tags–raspberry, organic scrawled in blue ink–are enticing. So is everything else at our nearby produce auction. Small lot tables are crowded with local bounty set out for purchase by the hands that raised or made these foods. Apple pies, pickling cucumbers, brown eggs, new potatoes, beets, honey, fresh bread, and much more awaits buyers.

Just beyond, the huge open barn is packed with bigger lots for sale. County Line Produce Auction is open three evenings a week from spring to autumn. This enables farmers to find buyers while avoiding burdensome storage and transportation costs. And the resulting profits stay in the local community. (There are only about 45 wholesale produce auctions in the U.S.)

produce auction, Amish auction,

County Line Produce Auction

An auctioneer walks along rows of pumpkins, green beans, apples, tomatoes, gourds, chrysanthemums, and potatoes.  He makes eye contact with each bidder as his quick cadence rolls through prices. The bidding warms up over peck baskets of honeycrisp apples in a language of nods and raised fingers. Three pecks of apples go for four dollar apiece, far more than a bushel of Cortland apples bought moments ago. Then he moves on to a ten pound box of jalapeño peppers.

The wholesale auction barn was built along a picturesque country road. For years farmers have been struggling with decreasing prices and increasing costs. Those who sell their goods here are smallholders, most located within five miles. Many are Amish, who have fewer options for getting their crops to buyers. Nearly 50 horse-drawn buggies are parked on the side and out back. Amish produce auction,

County Line Produce Auction opened for business just this year. A sign with photos of the building under construction says,

We want to thank you all for helping, supporting, and working together as one community build this building and make this produce auction a success.

Another sign hangs at the entrance.

wholesale food auction

People gather near the items they hope to purchase, surrounded by the season’s bounty. Sweet corn is stacked in bags that hold 144 ears each. Brightly colored peppers contrast with broccoli, kohlrabi, beets and carrots in a tantalizing array.  The tag reader announces, “Now we have two half bushels small yellow squash.” He taps it with a wooden stick. The auctioneer’s chant begins, “Ah dida dadada two, two and a half, three dollars, three and a half, four, four and half, five, five and a half. Ana dada ana, five and half, six dollars, six and half, ana ana dada six and half.” The buyer’s number is recited from memory after the winning bid.

Although many bidders are from farm markets, grocery stores and restaurants, the auction is also crowded with local residents. Three generations of one family are here to buy cabbage for their annual day-long tradition of making sauerkraut. A young couple push their toddler daughter in a stroller. They brought excess tomatoes and peppers from their garden to sell at the small lots table, and plan to buy pumpkins to decorate for a party. An older gentleman is loading his van with a dozen blueberry bushes he just purchased. He grew up on a farm, but doesn’t recall any wholesale produce auctions. “This is a great way to buy and sell,” he says, “And it’s a good place to talk to people.”

What a mix of people. A burly man wearing a Beer For Breakfast shirt talks to an Amish man, teens linger at the stand selling French fries and sandwiches, and small children are everywhere.

Amish wholesale produce auction,

My husband and I are here to augment what we grow. We’ve been canning on and off for weeks but still need apples for applesauce (and pies!). We gladly bid on large amounts knowing we can split items with a group of friends who take turns attending the auction. We’re happy to buy what has been grown nearby, especially since the average produce item found in stores has been shipped more than 1,000 miles.

A pink sunset accompanies us as we move our purchases to the car. We have 35 pecks of freshness to bring home. Plus those lovely raspberries, which we’ll be taste-testing on our drive.

Posted in community, economy, frugality, local food, sustainability | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

More Birds = More What?

attracting songbirds,

For years I’ve been spreading birdseed on the wide flat rail of our back porch. Often twice a day. In return I’ve been rewarded with the sight of birds landing to eat only a few feet from our windows. No matter what else is going on, there’s something captivating about watching birds. It takes you beyond ordinary fuss to a place of watchful calm. Those are vital interludes in our busy lives.

Then that porch had to be torn down (a Great Thing gone very wrong). When we finally had the new porch up, this time correctly attached to the rest of the house thank you, my beloved spouse didn’t really want bird food and the resulting bird poo all over his newly stained porch rail. We nattered about it as spouses do. I continued to spread birdseed on the rail. He grumbled.

Then my darlings Benjamin and Niki gave me the gift of three coppery bird feeders. They came with decorative brackets so they could be attached to the outside of the porch posts, putting the birds (and their poo) a good eight inches away from the porch rails. A lovely solution. Spouse man and I were both thrilled.

We filled each feeder with different food. Black oil sunflower seed, a finch mix, and a premium nut and seed mix. Then we waited. My old buddies the blue jays and cardinals and sparrows didn’t come back for a few days. And then they returned. Gradually more and more birds showed up. Every day we see birds that didn’t alight on the porch rail but now happily perch on the feeders. We get to see all sorts of species up close like the house finch, cowbird, tufted titmouse, goldfinch, flicker, chickadee, and the beautiful rose-breasted grosbeak.

It’s interesting to watch the way they wait for a turn at the feeders. We can see them on the roof of the small barn near the house, in the magnolia and sycamore and ash trees, on bean poles and rose trellises. Some are so bold as to wait on the porch, perching on the chairs or hopping along the floor picking up scattered seed. I’ve tried in vain to take pictures of them, sometimes clustered in fours and fives at a feeder. No luck. Through the window the camera mostly focuses on the screen and even when I wait silently on the porch only the blue jays are bold enough to grab seeds in my presence.

Because we’re more tuned to the birds on our porch, I think we pay closer attention to the great blue herons standing by our pond in the morning and the barn swallows swooping over it in the evening. We notice the calls of owls and hawks. We appreciate the family of buzzards that lift together over the nearby fields.

Morning is the biggest bird traffic jam on the porch but it remains a flurry of activity all day. We must have ten times the birds we had before when I only scattered seed on the rail. To keep up we’re ordering birdseed in 50 pound sacks. Our kids tease us about creating a dependency.

There’s a consequence. Now our newly built porch is festooned with bird poo. Spouse man grumbles as he does what he can to keep it clean. More birds may result in more bird poo but that’s a small inconvenience. More birds mean more beauty and wonder. More chances to still oneself and look, simply look. And then look some more.

Ohio bird watching

Posted in animal relations, awe, mindfulness | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

The Resilient Gardener: A Must-Have Book

One of the most joyous things we can do is to find our place, the land we fit into, the land where we belong. Having found our place, we snuggle into it, learn about it, adapt to it, and accept it fully…We cherish it. We become native to the land of our living.  Carol Deppe

If this spring is any example, I’m not a very resilient gardener. Rain washed away most of the peas I planted in March. Some creature keeps chewing my newly emerging broccoli and kale plants. A freakishly late freeze killed all 12 pepper plants and 28 tomato plants I’d started indoors. Yes, I planted them in the garden too soon. No, we haven’t had a freeze at the end of May in my memory. Every time I replant it costs time and money and frustration, exactly what a garden is supposed to save. But I’ve got stubbornness on my side. And Carol Deppe.

Dr. Deppe is the author of a brilliant book, The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times. It’s based on five crops she deems the
easiest to grow, most productive, and most essential to feed ourselves: potatoes, corn, beans, squash, and eggs. Sounds organized. It isn’t, in many ways, yet it’s entirely useful and unexpectedly enlightening. Deppe branches off in all sorts of directions. She covers adapting to climate change, poor soil and minimal irrigation, physical limitations, and dietary restrictions. Still, some of her assertions made me laugh out loud. In one section she proclaims that anyone can grow and store sufficient squash to last a year. Simply build shelves on all inner walls of the house. Now I really want a glimpse of her house!

She goes into depth in ways no other gardening book does. For example, she doesn’t just write about planting and harvesting potatoes. She explains why this particular foodstuff yields more protein per acre, with less work, than any other crop. She covers potato nutrition, the benefits of particular breeds, and different methods of planting. Plus, how to avoid potato diseases and rogue growing plants, different methods of harvesting, how to store seed potatoes, and various potato cooking methods.

I read it when it first came out in 2010 and have tested many of her ideas, even ordering seeds she’s bred. When she says that Costata Romanesca is the best zucchini for growing, eating and drying, she’s right. I planted it last spring. The plants gradually developed powdery mildew, as is becoming increasingly common in our area, yet they didn’t perish and continued to produce.The zucchini fruits stayed tender-skinned even at 4 pounds, with small edible seeds. They were more mild and yet flavorful than any zucchini I’ve ever grown. I dried far too much of it, yet the slices aren’t at all intrusive tossed in soups and stews. You can bet I saved seeds.

Here are a few of the many fascinations I’ve gleaned from The Resilient Gardener.

  • On pages 76 through 78 Dr. Deppe speculates on eight possible evolutionary reasons for today’s obesity epidemic. They’re all reasonable. Here’s number six: “During our evolution, the fact that we had to walk…in order to forage might have mattered. This might have made getting seriously overweight difficult just on mechanical grounds. But there may be more than just mechanics involved. I speculate that exercise of the big leg muscles might be integrated into energy metabolism and weight control. That is, we may need to walk (or run) in order for energy metabolism to be optimally controlled.”
  • Manure should be covered as it composts. If it’s left out in the sun and rain, much of the soluble nitrogen can be leached out. (Our manure pile is so tall, I’m hoping that most of it is protected by the top layers.)
  • Potatoes develop high levels of poisonous glycoalkaloids when harvested too soon, stored incorrectly, or exposed to sun (even an hour’s display at a farmer’s market is too long). I knew that greenish areas under the skin were evidence of these high levels. I didn’t know that any green on a potato indicates the ENTIRE potato shouldn’t be eaten. Peeling or cutting off those areas doesn’t help, nor does cooking the potato. It shouldn’t be fed to livestock either.
  • Most of us eat winter squash that is picked too soon and uncured. Which means the squash is not very good. Some varieties aren’t fully sweet and flavorful until they’ve been stored for six months. That is, if they weren’t picked too soon. Which most squash are.
  • Dry beans bought in the store are often too old or too low quality to cook properly. They also tend to contain split beans and moldy beans. When cooking dry beans, it’s best to avoid adding salt, vinegar, tomato paste, or even additional cold water as the beans won’t cook properly and will have poor texture.
  • Corn has been bashed, but it’s hardly the same crop that we can grow in home gardens to make our own silk-fine flours, hearty polentas, and parching corn snacks—all protein rich and flavorful. I ordered a traditional Hopi variety, Parching Magenta, from Deppe last year. The kernals are gorgeous–red and white striped. They dry easily on the stalk and, once I dried them further, make amazing flour.

Actually, every page offers something fascinating. Read this book with a highlighter.

Posted in books, frugality, gardening, health, self-reliance | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Oh Honeybees, We Hardly Knew Ye

saving bees, bee losses 78%,

Over six thousand beekeepers, together managing nearly 600,000 colonies, responded to a recent survey. This represents about 23 percent of the country’s bee colonies.

Preliminary results show that 31 percent of honey bee colonies were lost in the US last winter (2012/13). This is a huge increase over the already devastating losses from the winter before, 42 percent more.

Overall, US beekeepers lost 45 percent of their colonies over the winter. That’s a 78 percent increase compared to the previous winter. Why such different numbers? Most of the survey respondents were backyard beekeepers, whose losses, while devastating, were not as bad as the losses by the six percent of respondents who are commercial beekeepers. Migratory beekeeping practices and standard agricultural practices harm honeybees.

It’s like a battle, with bees and our other earthly allies on one side. The other side? Those who wish to profit no matter the consequences. There are ways to help bees. If we don’t stand up against genetically modified crops, intensive monoculture farming, and pesticides like neonicotinoids we won’t have bees left to save us.

Monsanto’s rolling out the guns again, hurroo, hurroo
Bayer is rolling out the guns again, hurroo, hurroo
They’re rolling out the guns again
But they never will take our earth again
No they’ll never take our bees again
That I’m swearing to ye.

Posted in agribusiness, beekeeping, farming | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Stocking Up, Spring Style

stocking up, taking stock of food supply,

We may be enjoying our last few cool evenings. I’ve been making the most of them: stove-wise.

No one likes food bubbling on the stove when it’s hot out. Especially me. My normal good cheer is it’s lowest ebb through the sweltering months. But meals still have to be made all summer long because eating is some kind of daily requirement…

So while it’s still cool I keep our largest pots full. I order 5 pound bags of organic garbanzo beans, black beans, and pintos from the food co-op. Cooked and parceled out into jars, they’ll spare me from cooking beans (or buying beans) all summer. I make giant vats of stock, sauces, and  favorite dishes that’ll be easy to thaw as needed. This helps to fill our basement freezer, which was packed full last fall but now has plenty of space.

Spring stocking also has to do with accounting for what we canned and dried last year. I keep track in a not-so-organized way. It’s not easy to compensate for yearly fluctuations in production and use. Already 25 quarts of applesauce are gone, two dozen half pints of grape jelly gone, and 45 quarts of marinara sauce are almost gone while it appears we made too much salsa and way too much peach spread. I also have lots of dried tomatoes and zucchini (and what made me dry several gallon bags of chard?) Then there’s all the parching corn I grew, thinking surely I’d grind it for cornbread. Um, maybe twice. Clearly we’ll be eating more of what’s in ample supply.

It doesn’t matter. I cherish every last one of these cool spring evenings. Steam rising from pots on the stove make summer relaxation possible.

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Imagine An Energy Fingerprint

peace in tragedy, energy fingerprint, what we leave behind, act in crisis,

April is a month of unfurling blooms and songbird eggs hatching. A month of gray skies and rain. It’s a changeable month that promises new life.

Not entirely. A friend said, “What is it about mid-April that brings so much tragedy?” She was referring to the bombing at the Boston Marathon but she had plenty of evidence. Just in the U.S. alone:

April 15

- Abraham Lincoln assassinated

- Titanic sank - Great Mississippi Flood (1927, worst flood in US history)

April 16

- VA Tech shooting

April 18

- 1906 earthquake in San Francisco

April 19

- Lethal end of the Branch Davidian standoff

- Oklahoma City bombing

April 20

- Columbine school shooting

- Deepwater Horizon explosion

Horrific events, every one. It’s entirely natural that our attention is drawn to such disasters, especially as they’re happening. Way back in prehistory, those who paid close attention to every detail when someone was attacked by a predator were more likely to avoid the same fate. Their bodies and minds were primed with vividly awful but useful information, hence they survived and passed along those disaster-attentive genes. These days, our attention is pulled toward all sorts of disasters, although the information isn’t useful in the same way. Too much attention to what’s wrong in the world, and we’re likely to end up with Mean World Syndrome.

Threat also compels us to engage our full potential, to “rise to the occasion” whatever it might be. No wonder that those who want us to marshall our resources for their own purposes try to convince us there’s a grave threat. This is done by football coaches trying to motivate teams as well as political pundits spewing angry conspiracy theories, because it works.

But rising to our full potential means we humans pull together in a crisis. Author Rebecca Solnit takes a close look at disasters including earthquakes, floods, and explosions in her book A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster. She finds tragedy and grief, but something else too, something rarely noticed. During and after these horrific crises there shines from the wreckage something extraordinary. People rise up as if liberated, regardless of their differences, to act out of deep regard for one another. They improvise, coordinate, create new social ties, and pour themselves into work that has no personal gain other than a sense of meaning. Such people express strangely transcendent feelings of joy, envisioning a greater and more altruistic community in the making. Even those suffering the most horrific misfortune often turn around to aid others and later remember it as the defining moment of their lives. This is a testament to the human spirit, as if disaster cracks us open to our better selves. As Solnit says, “The possibility of paradise is already within us as a default setting.”

I don’t think mid-April leans any closer to tragedy than other times of the year. Like every moment on Earth, it’s packed with constant, unnoticed acts of cooperation and beauty.

I dreamed once that what each of us contribute to this world, maybe to worlds beyond, is an energy fingerprint. All our striving and accomplishment are wisps lost to time but this fingerprint of energy remains and affects all other energy. It’s the overall attitude that matters—grateful or bitter, loving or hateful, aware or dismissive. Whether that’s true or not, I do believe that even in the midst of tragedy we can choose an attitude of hope and compassion. Blame, anger, and vindictiveness isn’t the fingerprint I want to leave.

Posted in challenges, mindfulness, non-violence, optimism, shift | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Saving A Neighbor’s Farm

Every day as I walk my dogs, I pass Ron’s farm. My husband and I have brainstormed with him about how he can save his farm. It’s nothing Ron has done wrong. His cows are healthy and contented. He’s careful to move them from pasture to pasture for the best grazing. His calves drink milk, not milk replacer. He devotes all day, every day, to tending his land and his animals. But it’s nearly impossible to stay in business as a small scale dairy farmer these days.

That’s because there’s a dairy crisis. Prices paid to farmers are less than they were in the 1970′s. Ron’s dairy sells milk destined for cheese and butter. He earns less than $11 a hundredweight (per 12 gallons) although on average it costs him more to tend the cows producing that hundredweight. Someone is making a profit, but not the people milking cows.

Many are selling off their herds and leaving the farm. Ron is determined to stay on the 70 acres that have been in his family for 62 years. Although he doesn’t have the resources to fix up his house or outbuildings, that doesn’t matter to him. He’s just looking for ways to keep his cows. One solution is to raise this year’s calves to start a herd of grassfed cattle.

But it’ll take nearly a year and a half before the first steer is ready for market. Ron will need funds to fence some more pastures, to replace lost dairy income, and to keep tending to his contented cattle. We know what it’s like to raise these gentle creatures. We can’t imagine our neighbor losing his herd to today’s cruel economic realities.

In fact, Ron’s situation has just gotten worse. He was informed that the local creamery (wholesale milk buyer) in our area that buys from small producers, the one that has purchased his milk for years, is cutting his farm out as of April 30th. They’re concentrating their efforts on larger farms. That means Ron’s income completely halts in a few weeks. He works 10 hour days, yet when the money stops coming in there’s no unemployment compensation.

So I’ve set up a campaign on GoFundMe to help Ron. Every dollar will help him keep the cows on his farm. Please check out the link and share it!

Posted in challenges, compassion, elders, farming, grassfed | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments