Friday, October 19, 2007

the pumpkins

Over the summer when I actually had time for such things, I read the 100 Mile Diet by Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon. For those of you who haven't read it yet, do. It's a lovely read, beautiful writing, and it's not at all preachy, rather, it presents as an experiment, and the inspirational and at times heartbreaking or hilarious results. The 100 Mile Diet isn't for me - I'm not willing to give up my vegetarian ways, and until rogue farmers in the lower mainland start growing soy or garbanzo beans, I'll have to out-source my protein. While the strict 100 mile radius isn't for me, the concept is: eat locally grown and produced food to reduce carbon emissions, boost local economy, save farmland from development, and ensure the family farms aren't taken over by big evil factory farms. Food starts to loose nutrients as soon as it is harvested, so a tomato you buy from a farmers market which was picked that very morning at optimum ripeness is not only going to taste infinitely better than a tomato which sat on a refrigerator truck all the way from California, but it's better for you too.

I was lucky enough to read the book while I was on my summer holidays, where we grow quite a lot of food on our property. All I had to do most days was trundle down the terraced garden and poke around to see if I could find any potatoes in the potato patch, if any of the yellow zucchini was big enough for picking, if any beets were crowning through the soil announcing their readiness for harvest. I could pick peppery arugula, lettuce, and nasturtium blossoms for a salad. Beans, peas, plums, apples, and blackberries also grow on the property. Many things we didn't grow ourselves could be found from the little (9 acre) organic farm a short trek into town, where the stunning produce (I've been banned from further discussion on the adorableness of his eggplants) is simply bunched and priced and laid out in a roadside booth with a drop box for cash or cheques. Organic free range eggs could be found in a variety of driveways where families simply have chickens hanging out in their back yards and sell whatever they don't consume themselves. While I'm not much of an egg person normally, I ate these eggs nearly every day (the local protein source) and they tasted like no egg I've ever had out of a supermarket box. I was on the five mile diet(give or take), and loving every moment of it.

Coming back to the city was depressing, but I've tried my best to keep up with the local food. One rainy weekend Paul and I headed back to Gibsons for some R&R, and much to my delight I discovered we still had zucchini and beans growing. I harvested everything, knowing that whatever I left behind would soon succumb to autumns soggy rot, and processed most of the zucchini to be frozen and later used in baking. While Paul was out for his Sunday long-run, I headed into town to see if my favourite organic farmer had any produce out. He did! Mostly peppers, but the variety! Green bell peppers, jalapeno, red hot cherry bomb, and something they had thought was going to be an Italian pickling pepper but ended up being bright multicoloured streaked peppers, some mild, some hot. I grabbed a bag of green peppers and a bag of the jalapenos, and then started heading back. It was then that I noticed another little farm on the side of the road with a hand painted sign advertising u-pick pumpkins. I pulled into their driveway and saw the pumpkin patch on my right, and a little covered stand with a drop box and a sign that said, "all pumpkins $5" on my left. I looked into my wallet and realized I only had a $20 bill, or a cheque. After a moment of contemplating how they might feel about me leaving a cheque for a couple of pumpkins, I just up and decided I'd get four. So I slogged into the soggy pumpkin patch, and spent about five minutes wandering around in the rain trying to decide on the four most perfect pumpkins, and then called my mom and told her not to buy any canned pumpkin for the Thanksgiving pies.

Two of the pumpkins have been chunked up, peeled, steamed, pureed, strained, and turned into pies. The other two are waiting to be processed - they will be roasted and then the flesh scraped out of the skins and pureed - I realized after the fact that this would be much less time consuming - and the pumpkin puree will be portioned and added to the collection of grated zucchini, roasted, skinned, and seeded jalapeno puree, and blackberries we've got in our freezer.

I love knowing exactly where my food came from. Remembering the rainy day I picked the pumpkins, chatting with the farmer who grew the adorable baby eggplants (I'll post pictures, you'll see) and the awesome jalapenos. I know I could have spent $20 on canned pumpkin from the supermarket and it would probably have been more pumpkin and definitely less work, but I supported a local family farm, I got to see and choose my pumpkins, I know how nutrient rich they are, and I reduced carbon emissions and packaging while I was at it.

Last week I volunteered at the UBC farm helping out with the fall harvest. We harvested over 500lbs of butternut squash (some had been harvested the day before, so their crop must have been over 1000lbs) and then scrubbed them clean and dunked them in a 10% bleach solution to eliminate any fungus or mold spores so they could be stored in the greenhouse and wouldn't contaminate any other produce. It was a sunny day October day and I got to hang out in the fields and then by the farm hut and chat with an agroecology student who actually lives on the farm, and a hkin student who wandered around in bare feet and wore a straw hat with flowers stuck in it. It was an awesome day, and I left with hands raw from the bleach, a sore back from lugging crates of produce around, and a backpack full of butternut squash which had been gnawed on by rodents so was unsaleable at market, but still perfectly fine for eating. It made awesome soup. I think I'll definitely go back and volunteer some more at the farm - it's such an oasis, I didn't even feel like I was in the city, and I think it will fulfill that getting my hands dirty and being connected with food part of me that has been missing in the city.

Eat local!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

staying out of the red

September has come and gone faster than I ever thought possible. And that 'summer' we supposedly had? Feels like a million miles away.

I was worried about September and the financial burden I knew it would be, but I'm happy to report that I managed to get through and pay my rent, car payment, car insurance, tuition, textbooks, misc bills, and actually live a little all without going into the red. This is thanks mostly to the awesome under the table business I've got going on the side, and the rate at which it continues to grow while seeing a steady stream of return business. With out the biz I wouldn't be able to afford any of the little extras. Huge props go to my littlest sis (who is considerably taller than me), Pamela, who helped get it all started and is my biggest source of free advertising.

So to celebrate making it through the month, and also cause I've got a few peeps who need a visit, I've been on the lookout for cheap flights to Calgary. I was checking flights every day for a couple of weeks, watching the price go up and down and up and down and up and down and down and down and OMFG I'VE NEVER SEEN PRICES THIS LOW!!! BOOK!! BOOK!! BOOK!! And since I booked I've been watching the prices every day go up and stay up, and am satisfied that the deal I got is the best deal of all time. Good things come to those who wait.

Now I have to go deal with my pumpkins . . .