Volunteers at the local food bank couldn’t wait to taste the cherry tomatoes I donated Monday morning. As soon as they were weighed in they tried some as I pointed out different varieties. It is surprising our city of 2,615 people has a need for a food bank, yet business is brisk. I enjoy the social aspect of donating to the food bank.
A group of civic-minded people noticed a number of area residents drove ten miles to the county seat to use a food bank. They felt the local need was real. The community pantry was organized in 2012 by a board that consisted of local residents and representatives from area churches. “It is able to provide food and needed supplies to residents due to the generosity of our community and businesses,” according to the pantry Facebook page. Here’s a link to the Cedar Rapids Gazette article from when it opened.
A key consideration for gardeners is reducing food waste by timely consuming, storing and processing garden produce. Having a local food bank provides one more way to reduce waste. So far this season I made six donations. While they aren’t much in the scope of things, everything helps feed people who are struggling to put food on the table. Why shouldn’t pantry clients receive fresh produce?
Local food production makes a difference in reducing reliance on the drought-ravaged growing areas of California, Arizona, Florida and Texas. Just like with victory gardens during World War II, the aggregate effect of local people growing food is positive. As dry conditions continue, especially out west, consumers will have to rely more on local food production.
If you garden, figure out how to donate part of your production to help others. It makes a person feel like an important part of society and that alone makes it worth doing. The benefit to recipients is tangible.
Despite near drought conditions most of this growing season, our garden is producing the best crop I can remember. Our ability to irrigate is most of that. I’m also becoming a better gardener. We don’t have it as bad as California does.
Because of dry conditions over an extended period of time, California farmers are letting fields go fallow. Without rain or irrigation there is no point in putting seeds in the ground. California Governor Gavin Newsom issued three drought emergency proclamations this year, in April, May and July. The state called for residents to reduce water use by 15 percent to stretch supplies and protect water reserves. While this drought is not the worst on a 1,000 year time line, it is bad and if it continues it will affect what shoppers see in grocery stores. It goes without saying prices will trend upward.
Because of drought in western states, what we do in our Midwestern back yards increases in value.
When Michael Pollan released this video in 2010, the landscape for local food was different. His focus was on the amount of fossil fuel it took to produce vegetables in California and distribute them across the United States. He also discusses the energy required to make processed foods, like Hostess Twinkies. While avoiding global warming remains a reason to eat locally, with drought made worse by climate change, supply becomes an issue. If California farmers are not planting crops, if almond trees are not sustainable there, how will we get nutritious food? There are few better solutions than growing one’s own and sourcing locally.
Like most everyone I’ve bitten my tongue. I also scalded it with hot food and beverages. It healed, at least I think it has. As I prepare food from our kitchen garden, some days I don’t notice the taste, partly due to damaged taste buds.
The first cherry tomatoes are such a burst of flavor one must notice. Some days I swoon with how good a dish prepared in our kitchen tastes, even one I make often. Days when taste is dormant are sad ones–distracted with life, eating becomes a simple necessity, a chore.
“Today, food has taken on value, which goes beyond the simple act of eating,” Massimo Bottura, who operates a three-Michelin-star restaurant in Modena, Italy said on a BBC program called The Future of Food. “I was born with the will to be contemporary. When you are truly contemporary, your mind is constantly projected toward the future. There is always more future in my future.”
What does that mean in an Iowa kitchen garden?
I mastered enough techniques to convert raw food into meals. Few ingredients have me consulting with cook books about how to prepare or serve them. For example, a few days ago I harvested a dozen bell peppers and knew to parboil them to make stuffed peppers. I knew how to prepare the dish with rice, onion, celery, tomato, garlic and other ingredients on hand. Hard to say where I learned the technique yet it is part of culinary me. There are many techniques resting behind the door of consciousness. It gives me confidence in the kitchen, enough confidence to put meals on the table each day without consulting recipes. Does it go beyond a single meal into the future? That is more tricky.
I make soup often and attribute it to my Polish heritage. I can consistently produce a certain flavor profile. In the past I made big batches of soup and water-bath canned the extra. No more. I focus on flavor in smaller amounts done over and over through the gardening season. My typical soup starts with mirepoix: celery, onion and carrot. From there, I add what is available, including pearled barley, lentils, turnips and potatoes if I have them. Yesterday I added radicchio leaves, cabbage, kale, grated zucchini, and part of a jar of canned whole tomatoes. Salt and bay leaves seasoned the soup. Because the crop is coming in, I added diced broccoli stems. It simmered all day and by supper time was a meal. While this is not specifically a Polish soup, my heritage influenced the preparation. It suited my palate.
It is a struggle to get beyond the meal currently being prepared. After a trip to the garden, and a tour of the refrigerator and pantry, I get ideas about what to prepare each day. As the gardening season proceeds there are more choices. I’ve found the more our cuisine is driven by ingredient availability and freshness, the better the meal. That’s not surprising, although not particularly noteworthy. I enjoy cooking, and eating home-prepared meals more than restaurant fare. I’m nowhere near the level of Bottura. We get by in our kitchen.
I don’t know if my palate is truly damaged, and live with what I have. When a dish comes out really well I enjoy eating it. Much of the time I’m distracted from living and eating by outside concerns. My best plan for the future of food is to grow great ingredients and pay attention to the preparation. With practice I’ll get better and occasionally I will touch the sublime. That’s what a home cook can hope.
A gentle rain fell through the night and continues this morning. We need rain to assuage the drought. When it rains, garden-watering is more thorough and much appreciated. A benefit was not having to water the garden by hand last night.
In unexpected ways my trip to Florida was life changing. The driving was uneventful and easy. It was easier for me because our daughter led our convoy and all I had to concern myself about was fuel and keeping the rental truck between the highway lines. We spaced overnight breaks so we weren’t exhausted when we arrived each night. We splurged on food, using delivery services like Door Dash, Grub Hub and Uber Eats. We took care of ourselves. Like a vacation, the time was golden even though we didn’t do anything special besides be together.
I hadn’t visited her in Florida since 2013. I missed visiting at a place she lived for five years, the only residence of hers I hadn’t seen. The seven day trip was the most time we spent together in a long time. What’s changed is now that she’s closer–a mere day trip away–we can make plans that the 1,290-mile distance between us made impossible.
Something else changed.
There is a renewed urgency to get things done, to focus on what’s most important. I want to cross things off my to-do list. During the first part of the coronavirus pandemic I seldom looked at or maintained a to-do list. The trip changed all that.
I don’t know how this will turn out yet I’m hopeful. Hopeful we can spend more time together. Hopeful to find more meaning in quotidian affairs. Hopeful to get things done that are worth doing. I didn’t expect that, but it’s welcome.
It was drizzling rain when I went to the garden. I picked three head of broccoli, a head of cauliflower, four bell peppers, a cucumber, a zucchini and a handful of cherry tomatoes. Every day is like that. Rain is important to a healthy, abundant garden. The future is a slate wiped clean by the trip from Florida. For now, we have enough rain.
It was a good garlic harvest this year. All the heads looked solid and disease-free. I hit only one with the spade. The yield was 75 head, or enough for a year in the kitchen and to seed next year’s crop.
It took about two hours to dig it. The work went easily because I had weeded the plot. This is my third year growing garlic at home and experience pays with this crop.
I made the garlic rack last year out of simple materials. I use the sawhorses for something else during the year. The present challenge is to let it dry thoroughly, then cut the roots and leaves to make the heads look like what we buy in the store.
This variety has a long history on the farm where I work. The heads and cloves are large, and the flavor is what we want. Planted in October 2020 and harvested yesterday, garlic spends to most time in the ground of anything I grow. In the pandemic year of 2020-2021, it did well.
Ambient temperature reached 38 degrees overnight, indicating we are not out of the frost zone yet. In Marion, just north of us, it hit 33 degrees. Despite this reality, the following appeared in the Saturday newspaper:
Mother’s Day has a twofold purpose in this part of Iowa. It’s a time to honor moms and it is time to plant your annuals as the fear of a late frost is over. I think.
At least it looks like this May is going to be sunny and warm without any dips to freezing.
So if you haven’t already, it is time to scope out the garden centers, find what you want, and a few more you couldn’t resist, and enjoy planting.
Judy Terry, Iowa City Press Citizen, May 8, 2021.
Gardening as consumerism? Blech!
I buy plenty of supplies for the garden. However, I haven’t been in a garden center since I worked at the home, farm and auto supply store. My work was to receive merchandise and set up display areas, not to shop. Things I need from a garden center makes a very short list.
People have to get their seedlings somewhere, so I don’t begrudge folks who frequent garden centers. I encourage people to plant something, even if in a container on a patio. I also understand newspapers appeal to a certain type of resident. The paper dipped below 10,000 subscribers and had to begin once a week free distribution to meet advertising contracts. They may need articles like Ms. Terry’s to prop up sagging circulation. I’m okay with that, too. Doesn’t mean I have to like it.
My little greenhouse remains full despite planting yesterday. Into the garden went Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, leeks, spinach, tomatillos and okra. I planted the okra and tomatillos in drainage tile so they will be protected or easily covered if it does freeze. Everything else should withstand the cold.
My garden fencing is a mess driven by trying to recycle previous years’ mesh. I’m committed to reorganizing it because I need two rolls of the welded wire fencing for the tomatoes and a third, which is heavy duty, to make more tomato cages. That is a big project by itself.
For now, though, we wait for danger of last frost to pass.
Toward sunset I checked the greenhouse. The plants look healthy and unblemished.
There are a couple of empty shelf spaces which will be filled with tomatoes and peppers once the channel trays germinate on the heat pad. The question is when to plant?
My farmer friends posted this note about gardening in Iowa:
It’s really easy on these first nice days to get excited and plant plant plant but we know there’s some frosts still on the horizon! The roller coaster of spring in Iowa keeps us on our toes, but what it delivered today felt pretty dang good.
Local Harvest CSA, Instagram, April 5, 2021.
The ten-day forecast is for overnight lows well above freezing. Despite the risk of frost, I plan to get kale in the ground this week. It will tolerate some frost and I don’t want the seedlings to get root bound. In case the early crop fails, I started back up seedlings.
I walked on the state park trail yesterday afternoon and the place looks pretty bleak. The landscape is of browns and greys. Spring does not appear to have arrived and damage from the Aug. 10, 2020 derecho is noticeable everywhere.
There is hope in the greenhouse and untilled garden. Hope sustains us in the time of contagion.
Hope everyone is well surviving the coronavirus pandemic. It made 2020 difficult, to say the least. Jacque and I remained virus free, although neighbors on two sides of us caught it and former Solon Mayor Steve Wright died from COVID-19 complications, as you may have heard. The virus is all around us and I’m reluctant to leave the house much.
I’m wrapping up old business and I saw the check from the sweet corn come through on my account this morning. Your sister still hasn’t cashed the $30 check from April for a t-shirt, so if you can give her a nudge on that, I’m not sure how long the bank will continue to cash it. If it doesn’t clear soon, I’ll presume she won’t cash it. Insert snarky comment for her about running a business here:
I’m not sure what I’m doing this coming season. Well, I know some things. When the derecho destroyed my small greenhouse I bought another. I plan to start onions in January using the channel trays I bought from you last year. I also got a heating pad from Johnny’s and may get a grow light. I don’t like having the trays inside for fear mold will form in the room where I put them. I also don’t want to run my space heater in the greenhouse continuously. I think you started onions in the basement. Is that true? If so, when did you start them and at what point did you give them light?
As far as soil blocking, I think the pandemic will remain with us for most of the season so we have to address that. As I may have mentioned, I don’t really like working by myself all the time. It did protect us from each other last year and one hopes the situation is not permanent. Last year I didn’t wear a mask, although I am now the proud owner of five homemade ones and can bring one along and wear it when I’m with people. Since it’s your farm, it is really up to you to tell me what to do. So what I’m saying is I’m open to the idea of a barter exchange in 2021. It’s time to start talking about that, although no particular hurry.
To better use the home time I started a writing project. Hoping to have a first draft done by next year at this time.
Hope you are bunkered in for the snow storm. Supposed to get 5-8 inches, I hear.
The measure of Thanksgiving came this morning when I took my blood pressure and stepped on the scale.
My systolic blood pressure was normal and the diastolic slightly elevated. It was elevated to the same point where my medical practitioner and I had a conversation about medication a couple of visits ago. We decided I wouldn’t take meds and I expect my blood pressure to return to normal by tomorrow.
My weight was the same as 24 hours ago, meaning the huge plates of food consumed in the celebration, which made me feel stuffed and drowsy, won’t likely be added to my waistline.
The two of us were alone for the holiday as we’ve been for many years. Our family is small and no one makes a big deal of the holiday. We do all have some kind of feast. Phone calls, text messages, emails and social media posts were made. It was all reassuring. It all felt like normal.
The coronavirus pandemic is here and the incidence of cases elevated to the highest level since it began in March. Keeping the gathering small was easy for us: we just had to be ourselves. The Centers for Disease Control recommended Americans not travel. Americans are not good listeners. “In a pandemic-era record, 1,070,967 people passed through security at America’s airports on the day before Thanksgiving,” CNN reported. I expect the numbers on this chart to soar higher in the next couple of weeks.
We are lucky to have enough to eat. CNN reported yesterday some 50 million Americans didn’t on Thanksgiving. Food pantries were swamped and some ran out of food. The toll of the coronavirus pandemic on health, on employment, and on income is tangible. In graduate school, during interviews with survivors of the great depression, they told me having a garden was a big part of how they put food on the table. Because so much of what was on our plate was produced locally or from our garden, food insecurity was not a direct issue here. For that we are thankful.
I did most of the cooking beginning at 11 a.m., continuing for six hours. Over the years we developed recipes for baked beans and wild rice which are the two most complicated dishes and take the most cooking time. Beans and rice are the center of a vegetarian meal. For sides we had steamed broccoli, cooked carrots, butternut squash and sweet potato. I ate a few home made pickles while I was cooking. For beverage it was fresh apple cider and for dessert a take and bake peach pie, both from the local orchard. Everything in the main meal was low fat. Except for the peach pie there was little refined sugar. Eating an ovo-lacto vegetarian diet has its advantages.
Part of my Thanksgiving is politics and I spent time reading Barack Obama’s presidential memoir, A Promised Land. He wrote about the 2006 Tom Harkin Steak Fry where he spoke and my friends and I had a chance to shake his hand in the rope line. While others have written about the campaign, notably David Plouffe in The Audacity to Win, it was good to read familiar stories of that campaign. There may not be another like it because of changes in American society since then.
The president took press questions for the first time since the election while I was cooking dinner. He made what were described as “stunning claims” about the election, without evidence. We are a nation of laws. Mr. President, either show us evidence the election was rigged or shut up. He did say he will plan to leave the White House after the electoral college votes on Dec. 14. There is no doubt Joe Biden won the election. President Trump really has no say in the matter of his leaving by Jan. 20, 2021.
In normal times I would be scheduled for work at the home, farm and auto supply store this morning for Black Friday sales. I left retail work because of the pandemic. I’m not sure I will return to it. We’ve discovered how to get by on our pensions.
During my regular end of year planning it appears our budget for next year is sustainable. My best hope is 2021 does not bring another pandemic Thanksgiving.
Pepper and tomato plants were bitten by a hard overnight frost so I gleaned the garden Wednesday morning. A lot was available, a lot remains. I hadn’t been in one of the plots since the Aug. 10 derecho.
When frost comes, kale and broccoli turn dark green and represent some of the best garden eating all year. I froze the kale I picked as there is plenty more. We’ll serve broccoli multiple times during the coming week.
I had forgotten squash vines volunteered in the celery patch and didn’t know what kind they were when they emerged. The four butternut squash I picked look healthy and should provide variety to our dinner plates. We have a new recipe to make pasta sauce with butternut squash so we’ll try that with one of them.
Now is an abundant time for gardeners. The refrigerator has been full, the counter has plenty of squash, onions and garlic on it. The dehydrator is full of red hot peppers. Bins are full of potatoes, onions and shallots downstairs. Two fall shares remain from my barter arrangement at the community supported agriculture project. While we’ll be isolated this Thanksgiving because of the pandemic there will be plenty of food available for our special dinner.
And then winter…
How winter goes will depend on the weather, which is expected to be warm again; on the results of the election, which we hope will favor sanity and competence; and on an ability to be productive on home-based projects new and old.
I’ve been active this election year with multiple political projects. As Nov. 3 approaches many activities enter their endgame. I’m looking toward what’s next and hope my work as a poll watcher on Election Day provides diversion as we all wait for the results of the Electoral College.
A pall fell across the land, a dark shadow from Republican governance. Disoriented, we don’t know if it’s caused by a setting sun or one that’s rising on a new day. Because of the large number of vote by mail ballots, the counting may not be finished election night, and could drag out for a couple of days as states with less financial resources deal with the unusual workload. The coronavirus pandemic has been hard on everyone, including election officials. There is no clear indication when the pandemic will end, or if it will. The election won’t resolve that near term.
For now, with a temperate climate we raise our own food to reduce the amount purchased at retail stores. Produce remains in the garden for gleaning and harvest will continue until the plots are stripped bare during the next warm spell. We’re counting on a warm spell.