Archive for November, 2009

How this all started. (Part 1)

It’s been going on a long time.  My interest in local food began at a young age.  In fact, when I was growing up in the late 50’s and 60’s, that is what we ate.  My father had a large garden that provided almost all the produce we ate except for lemons and onions, the big round kind anyway.  We always had multiplying onions in the winter and spring.  We might buy a potato every now and then at the store when we had run out of ours.  If there was not enough, out of our garden, of things like purple hull peas and corn, there were farms around the area where you could pick your own or buy what they had picked.  We had two large chest freezers.  One was for vegetables.  The other was for catfish.  There was a little meat in there that did come from the grocery store.  But they cut their own meat and I suspect it was fairly local.  We went to a local pork butcher for all our pork items.   His meat was very local.  Mostly, we ate catfish.  My father fished regularly.  The first meat any baby in the family ate was catfish from local streams or lakes.  We lived in a small town but had a large yard.

Into this agrarian scene came the young woman who would later become my sister-in-law.  She brought with her the little pamphlet like Organic Gardening magazines of the mid-sixties.  She wanted to discuss it with my father who was a strong believer in “progress.”  And by this I mean any chemical or method which made his garden more productive, at least in his eyes.  He was not interested in going back to the old days and was dismissive of her ideas.  But she pressed on and would bring it up again and again and through that, I learned a lot about organic gardening at about the age of 9.  It all made pretty good sense to me, but I was eating all that produce that my dad was growing so I did not say a lot about it.  There were many loud discussions about the merits of manure and ammonium nitrate.   She extolled Ruth Stout and heavy mulching, my father harumphed.  It was entertaining and educational.

When I had my own yard and space to garden, organic was the way that seemed right to me.  That was in the very late 70’s and early 80’s.  What I grew in my small square foot garden plots was all done organically and fairly successfully, just not in large enough quantities to really feed us.  My daughter could scarf up all the available broccoli in a morning of playing in the backyard.  That went on for many years.  We grew a little bit and picked over the meager organic offerings at the store.  There weren’t a lot of options.

Then in 2001, we moved to Covington, GA, and about a year later discovered that we had arrived in some sort of organic food mecca.  Some very forward looking folks began an enterprise called, “The Square Market” because of its nearness to the downtown square.  It was wonderful.  There were many organic farmers right in our own little neck of the woods who would bring their produce in every Friday night during the growing season and along with local artisans and musicians, it was a grand time.  At first many people came out.  They enjoyed visiting with their neighbors and friends, they listened to the local musicians, but they did not buy much.  The shock of paying the real cost of organic produce was  a little too much for them.  We went every week and always bought something.  The food was wonderful and the people were fun.  It felt like investing in the community.  But most people did not feel that way.  In the third year, the time was changed from Friday night to Saturday morning.  Somehow, it became less friendly.  Not as many people came and it died away.  I sought out the growers to get produce from their farms, but negotiating that was sometimes tricky.  They were selling mainly to markets and restaurants in Atlanta where people were more willing to pay the higher prices that they needed to support their efforts. 

It was too far for us to drive into town, but then, miraculously, with me begging some of the local farmers for some kind of local outlet for good organic, local produce, Mary Denton started her CSA.  I did myself proud by forgetting to go pick mine up the first day until she called me.  But I’ve been faithful ever since.  Now she brings it to me, because my house is the pick-up spot for the people in town.  We are just about to finish the third growing season of her CSA.  It has been wonderful.  She not only brings us things that she grows, but adds in some lovely other goodies from other farms, like apples, local grown and ground grits, local cheese and many other fun items that we are not able to get here.   

I started concentrating more on my vegetable beds in the back.  We also had blackberry canes and blueberry bushes.  We added a fig tree and two pear trees.  About a year and a half ago after reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, we got chickens and began to seriously consider eating only locally grown vegetables and meats.  I began looking for more local options and it turns out they were there.  And more are coming all the time. 

Then in January of this year, my doctor said that I had Type II diabetes and that if I would just lose weight, I would not have to worry about it.  I made up my mind that that was what I had to do.  Part 2 will let you in on how that is going.

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Growing your own.

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Collards and broccoli in one of the raised beds.

 

In order to eat locally and organically you can’t do any better than growing your own.  You know exactly what was involved in growing your food when you do that.  There are a multitude of resources for seeds and plants.  If you have ever gardened, you probably get a whole boxful of catalogs every January.  Some have already started coming in at our house.  Here are some sources for seeds and plants that are located in the Southeast, and which therefore, may have plants more adapted to this area.  I will also list some others on the Grow Your Own links that are located outside the Southeast, and which I have used for organic seeds and plants. 

 

Southern Seed Legacy

http://www.uga.edu/ebl/ssl/activities/seedlist/

This is an amazing organization affiliated with the University of Georgia.  They collect, save and distribute seeds grown in Georgia.  Along with the seeds they also collect the stories of the people who grew these seeds.  These are varieties adapted to the humid hot summers of Georgia and other areas in the south.   You only have to become a member to be eligible to receive seeds to plant in your garden.

The Tasteful Garden

http://www.tastefulgarden.com/

This great company is located in Alabama.  They offer transplants that are grown organically.  All the plants that I have received from them have been large and very healthy.  They also have roots for asparagus and garlic bulbs and many other fun things for cooking up all your tasty produce.

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

http://www.southernexposure.com/index.html

They sponsor a Heritage Harvest Festival in September every year at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello garden.  I would love to go to that some day.  Here is what they say about themselves, “Southern Exposure Seed Exchange is a wonderful source for heirloom seeds and other open-pollinated (non-hybrid) seeds with an emphasis on vegetables, flowers, and herbs that grow well in the Mid-Atlantic region. We support seed saving and traditional seed breeding. Seed savers and breeders are to thank for our rich selection and we will do whatever we can to support our customers and associates to carry on this noble tradition.”

Try these and some of the others that I add to the links list.  I will try others and add them to the list as I find out more about them. 

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Our three year old Black Mission Fig tree.

Now that you have some seeds or plants, you’ve got to actually get them in the ground.  If you want to grow your own food but need some help getting started or if you have some questions about things that aren’t going right, there are also some great sites out there with information on how to grow sustainably in your own back yard.  Here are just a few.

Garden Girl

http://www.gardengirltv.com/

The Garden Girl lives up north near Boston, and has raised beds and chickens and goats and does it all organically and sustainably and makes videos to show others how to garden in small areas.  She has a great website with lots of fun stuff to see.  She even works in cooperation with Mel Bartholomew in getting out the word about Square Foot Gardening.

The Easy Garden

http://www.theeasygarden.com/

This is mostly a forum where you can go to ask questions about gardening, show off your garden to other gardeners, and just peruse the wealth of information that has already been posted for your education and entertainment.

Square Foot Gardening

http://www.squarefootgardening.com/

Mel’s been around for a long time.  My copy of the old square foot garden book is dirty and raggedy from many years of use in and around the garden.  Now he has a new book and a website.  If you want to garden intensively, he has some good information for you.

Start poring through those catalogs as they come.  Take a look at some of these websites and plan, plan, plan for a really great garden next year and some healthy eating for you and your family.

 

How much can you grow on a small lot in town?

more yard stuff 004We have a house in the historical district of Covington, GA.  Our lot is approximately 75 by 150.  So far we have concentrated on growing some food and lots of flowers.  We are converting to some flowers and lots of food.  I have gathered discarded leaves and grass clippings from my neighbors for years in order to enrich my soil.  We now have lovely soil in all the beds.  Although, I never turn down an opportunity to scarf up some free mulch.  That brings us to the story of the orange bags. 

Very near our house is the city cemetery.  It is maintained mostly by a local jail detail and as a consequence the bags that they use to gather up leaves and such are bright orange.  A few weeks ago our dog disappeared in the back yard.  We did eventually find him in a hidden corner behind the shed but in the course of looking for him I drove around in the cemetery and noticed that there were many many of these orange bags full of pine straw and leaves.  We went back and gathered them up.  Now I need to spread them around in all the beds.  But if you open your eyes and look around there is free mulch everywhere. 

Now, with the help of all that organic humusy mulch to enrich the beds, how much do we grow in our yard?  We have three raised beds that measure 3 by 12 feet; one that measures 4 by 12 feet.  That is what we started with.  We managed to grow plenty of tomatoes in the summer and greens and lettuce in the winter.  But now we want to do more than that.  We are trying to provide a large percentage of what we eat from locally grown food.  And I figure that growing it myself is a local as it gets.  This past summer we converted two flower beds into growing vegetables.  We also have fig trees, pear trees, blueberry bushes, and blackberry canes.  I also took out a row of shrubbery and have put in a row of asparagus and a row of garlic there.  I’ll add another row of asparagus next year when we take the garlic out.  That will be a perennial food bed.  I’m looking for a source of artichoke plants to go there.  I may have to start with seeds to get that.

I’ve added links to the blog and if you look under the “growing your own” category, you will find sources of organic seeds and plants, as well as some regular seeds and plants and information about how to grow food in your yard.   Even a small space like ours will give you a good amount of food.  We certainly don’t have enough to feed us all our food now, so we seek out the local producers.  But our portion is growing and we are glad about that.

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greens from the yard washing in the sink

Some Sources of Local Food

Today I want to give you a list of sources of local food in the Covington, Monroe, Conyers area.  We live in an area that has a wealth of healthy food producers.  The only problem is that many of them sell directly to markets in Atlanta and Athens and so those of us here in the country have a harder time getting that produce and meat.  But don’t despair, there are ways to tap into the supply.  What follows is a list of markets, CSA’s and farms that will sell to you.  I have included links to their websites and offer a little explanation of what they do.

Local Harvest

http://www.localharvest.org/

This is a wonderful website.  Just go to the homepage.  Then zoom in to your area on the map and it will give you a list of local farms, CSA’s, markets and restaurants that provide local food for your good eating.  Not only can you get things from your own area but if there are specialty items only grown in certain areas you can order from them and recieve their specialty goods by mail.  I’ve only done that with oranges and they were delicious.

Conyers Locally Grown

http://conyers.locallygrown.net

In this weekly market, Brady Bala of Oxford does all the hard work for you.  He has gathered up local producers from all over the area and brings their produce to his copy shop on Parker Road in Conyers, every Friday afternoon.  You can go to the website to see what is available from the market.  You must become a member to order.  Then you will receive in your email each week a list of what is available.  Place your order by Tuesday night at 8:00 and then go to Copy Central before 7:00 pm on Friday and pick up your delicious local food.

The Market Conyers

http://www.marketconyers.com/

These guys are just getting going, but are striving to bring you local and organic produce as well as some other organic grocery items.  They have milk from Moultrie, produce from Social Circle and other local farmers in the area.  There is also locally baked bread.  They have a really neat store in the old John Deere Tractor place on Hwy. 138.  That’s appropriate somehow. 

Green Livin’ Farms

Unfortunately for the winter, they are only open on Saturday mornings.  They are located near The Hub, between Covington and Social Circle.  Through the summer they had some really good stuff.  Mostly sustainably grown, not certified organic, but they are working toward that.  They don’t have a website, but the number is 678-342-8895.

Hunker Downs

http://www.hunkerdownsfreshmarket.com/

Located in downtown Madison, GA, right next to a really cool bookstore, Dog Ear Books.  During the winter, they are only open from Thursday through Saturday.  They have local meats and milk and produce.  They also have produce from the big Farmer’s Market in Forest Park.  The local meat and milk make it worth the drive.  They both come from Walton County, and are humanely grown. 

Denton Flower Farm

The Denton’s don’t have a website, but they are listed in the Local Harvest map.  They do have a great CSA.  I have been doing that for three years now.  Or is it four?  Anyway, my house is the pick-up spot for folks in Covington.  It is about to come to an end for this year, but get in line to sign up for next year.  Call Mary at 770 464-3900.  Or send her email at DentonFarm@aol.com.  If you have never done a CSA, it is easy.  Mary lets you pay by the month, some ask for the whole year up front.  It usually begins in April or May.  Every week you get a big bag of whatever produce comes from the farm that week.  It allows the farmer to know they have a market for the year and to plan ahead for the things their customers want.  It is kind of like Christmas every week, looking to see what you get.  Then you can find new recipes to go with the produce.  Mary sends out a newsletter each week which often has recipes for the things that are not as commonplace.  She also buys special items that she does not grow from other farmers.  We’ve had lovely apples this fall and lettuce from Crystal Organic farm. 

Next time, the story of the orange bags and some sources for seeds if you want to grow your own.  That’s as local as it gets.