On Chicken and Values and Mindfulness

The Tale

I threw a chicken into the garbage today. And I felt awful about it. Through my own carelessness and inattention, I took a frozen chicken out of my chest freezer and forgot to put it back, leaving it on the cement floor of a hot garage for twelve or so hours. It was largely thawed, but while my heart wanted to go ahead and just roast it, my head said to take the well-Googled advice and discard it, thus avoiding a chance to catch food poisoning.

About the Chicken

First, let me begin by stating that I am not a vegetarian, let alone a vegan. I understand the ethical underpinnings of such a diet, but I am an omnivore who has no issues with eating animal flesh and other animal products. If you are one, I applaud your finding a diet that dovetails with your convictions. But my convictions differ from yours.

Let me tell you about this chicken, though. It was humanely raised—pastured and able to peck in the dirt for bugs and slugs, just like a chicken should. It was locally raised as well, as I went to the farm to buy it. And therefore, it cost more than the factory chicken found at supermarkets. The cost is something I’m willing to pay—I’d rather pay more for high quality food and buy less. This is not a value judgement against you if you purchase supermarket poultry. Remember that food is my “thing”. I spend a bit more to buy crisp organic butterhead lettuce from a local organic farmer than my 99-cent iceberg loss-leader. I would much rather buy a small piece of unusual and artisanal cheese that retails for $29.99/lb. than buy pounds of pre-shredded industrial cheese. But I rein in my spending elsewhere—I don’t buy many clothes, I cook my own meals rather than going out to restaurants frequently, and I don’t need the latest electronics. I’m childfree, so I don’t have to worry about feeding a family. I’m not judging you, so please don’t judge me.

Chickens, Values, Mindfulness

So what bothered me about throwing this chicken in the trash? It wasn’t the money—I am fortunate to be able to afford this and can easily get another without sacrificing my monthly food budget. No, it was something else—I respect my food and I respect the producers who have provided it for me. In this case, it was an affront to my values caused by my own carelessness. That chicken was slaughtered–for nothing!–because of my negligence. The hard work and labor of the farmers who raised it, a lovely young couple making a go of it on a local organic farm, was for naught because I was not paying attention. It’s not about the money—it never is and never was. It was, instead, a disconnect from my values.

In a way, I am grateful to that chicken for prodding me to focus on mindfulness, the act of paying attention and being in the moment. I vow to be more present and I vow to show more respect for the food that nourishes me. And I vow to treat the next chicken with more care.

Share

The Vagaries of Weather and the Farmer

Water, Water Everywhere

The sunflowers (first of the season purchased at the farmers market Saturday morning) sit brightly on my kitchen island, reminding me of that orb so little seen lately. Yes, the sun has been peeking out a bit today, but solar radiation has certainly been in short supply this past month. For me, the lack of sun affects me more psychically—too much of the same make Petra an irritated (and perhaps irritating) girl. It isn’t that I dislike rain; in fact, I enjoy hearing thunder or listening to a steady soaking rain falling on my roof. But not for days at a time. That said, my complaints are just that, silly complaints. For a farmer, whose livelihood depends on the weather, days of rain can make or break one’s year financially.

I write this on the first day of summer, 2015. The solstice officially occurred at 12:39 PM EDT (16:39 UTC). Earlier today, I drove down to Indianapolis and was struck—almost stunned—by the amount of standing water I saw in the fields. Traveling the interstate in Indiana means traveling alongside farm fields (and, being Indiana, those would be fields of corn, soybeans, and maybe winter wheat). Every field was partly covered with water. In March or April or even the first half of May, it is not unusual to see field with vernal ponds, those temporary mini-lakes occurring where the water table is high. But by the start of (astronomical) summer, they are usually gone. The longer days and warmer temperatures allow for a greater ability for evaporation (or transpiration, which is the process of water returned to the atmosphere in vapor form via plants). What’s different now is that the ponding is occurring to a greater extent than even that of the spring. I know—I have a field behind my house and can see the water in spots. And what else is different is how many fields have NOT been planted.

The Planting

It’s June 21. By now, the farmers should have planted their fields. But conditions this month have been so wet that many fields haven’t even been touched. Acres that should have corn or soybeans growing haven’t been touched and still have last year’s harvest detritus littering the ground. Planting was already behind schedule back at the beginning of May (which was, in retrospect, a fairly dry month); Now this soggy, sodden June has rendered planting even farther behind. And once the summer begins, it may be too late. It’s not just planting, either. Conventional farmers may find conditions too wet to apply fertilizer. Agricultural experts at Purdue University suggest that Hoosier farmers prepare for crop losses due to the flooding.

What’s the Problem with Standing Water?

Plant survival, that’s the problem. Roots cannot survive in saturated soils for very long. Crops planted earlier have (by now) developed stronger and deeper root systems; they will be likelier to survive this flood onslaught. But recently planted corn and soy may be more vulnerable. That comes with the risk, then, of nothing to harvest. And, come fall, no crops means no money.

Nearby field. This one is actually in pretty good shape.
Nearby field. This one is actually in pretty good shape compared to some I’ve seen.

Whither California?

Yes, pun intended. California’s exception drought is getting most of the attention these days. And it rightly should be of concern to us, not just Californians, but the rest of the United States. California does serves as the fruit and vegetable and nut basket—no pun intended—of the country. The recent climatology, coupled with social and political decisions, has culminated in a mess. A big mess.

But, as the case of Indiana shows, too much rain can also be detrimental. I talked with a lamb farmer at the market on Saturday and she told me that her soybean fields were underwater; the lamb pasture is full of water, too,. Another farmer, one who grows organic fruits and vegetables, was bemoaning the plethora of storms that just keep coming and coming and coming. Farmers, as my great-uncle was fond of saying, are the greatest gamblers on the earth. They gamble with the weather.

Counting Blessings and Counting Luck

I’m grateful that my livelihood isn’t so dependent on the chaotic nature of the atmosphere. And hopefully yours isn’t either. In that case (if you are religious), count your blessings; if not religious, count your luck. Maybe I pay for this with some higher prices at the market or with some down moods because I haven’t seen the sun in some time or the occasional flooded roads in my subdivision. But overall, I’m grateful that my concerns with the weather are so small. Farmers aren’t nearly so lucky.

Share

This Blog Serves EVERYONE

OpenForService

Gay, straight, transgender, white, black, Asian, atheist, Christian, Buddhist, short, tall, omnivore, vegetarian, male, female, Phillies fan, Cubs fan…you get the picture! I’m based in Indiana (and we’ve certainly been in the news quite a bit this week!), but rest assured this blog is for EVERYONE!

Share

Why-owa? My Thoughts on the Farmers Market State

My Connection to the Hawkeye State

In the early aughts (2002-2003), I spent a year as a visiting instructor at the University of Iowa, which meant living in the Iowa City area. Having known very little about the Midwest (except that it was some place I never imagined living in), I was beyond pleasantly surprised by Iowa City (although, as a student told me, “Iowa City is not what you think of when you think of Iowa”). I really loved my year here, even those winter mornings featured a few too many temperature readings below 0°F.

In Which She Marvels at the Food Available to Her

Let it be said at the time, I was (and still am) what would be termed a “healthy eater”. Definitely a food lover (why else would I write this blog?), but certainly leaning toward the healthy end of the spectrum. At the time, that was high-fiber, low-fat, semi-vegetarian (today such a diet is no longer the sin qua non of healthy eating, as meat and butter and such have made quite the comeback). But I had no trouble finding organic vegetables, tofu, tempeh, exotic cheeses, interesting grains and the like. In fact, I joined the New Pioneer Food Co-op within 6 hours of moving to Iowa. What a magical place that was for me! Two branches—one (complete with a bakehouse turning out marvelous and inventive breads) within a short walk of my apartment and one within a short walk of my campus office. I was in gustatory heaven!

Then there were the restaurants. Spanning the globe in terms of cuisines, as well as ways of eating (e.g. vegetarian), I had numerous choices on the days I opted not to cook (which were many, given that I was finishing a dissertation at an East Coast school and teaching a full load of mostly new classes at Iowa). Granted, Iowa City is a Big Ten (or 11 or 12—I’m out of touch with this now) with a large medical school (and dental school and law school) to boot, so I shouldn’t have been surprised. But (and this was probably some residual East Coast elitism) I was nonetheless pleasantly delighted at my options!

But one of the things I really loved were the farmers markets. Yes, plural—I shopped at the Iowa City one (open twice a week) and the Coralville one (once a week). And now there’s a third one in the old Sycamore Mall location. Anyway, the array of produce options and other goods (breads, etc.) was wonderful. So, when I ran the numbers for farmers markets, I really wasn’t that surprised. There’s clearly a market for farm-fresh products in Iowa. Iowa has a food-aware populace (why else would my coop—and I’m still a member—have two locations, with a third on the way). And, also important, there are actual farmers there as well. So to me it makes sense that Iowa leads the farmers market charge!

SeedSaversGiantZittauOnion

And Something Else: Seed Savers Exchange

Iowa is also the home of the United States’s premier organization devoted to the preservation of heirloom varieties of produce and plants, as well as heritage breeds of animals, Seed Savers Exchange. This nonprofit has been around since 1975. I’ll post about it some other time (as I was fortunate to visit this past summer), but to me it is another indication of the food (and food-issue) cognizant people you find in Iowa. No, it’s not all heirloom peaches and heritage cream (I drove by a Monsanto plant and did give them the finger), but there is a critical mass there.

SeedSaversFlowers

Why-Owa? Iowa!

In short, finding Iowa front and center in the number of farmers markets per capita is almost expected. There’s farmland, farmers, and a ready (and educated) populace—ingredients for a successful farmers market locus!

Share

In Search of Market Excellence: The Dane County (WI) Farmers Market, Part 1

The Dane County Farmers Market in Madison, Wisconsin is known as the largest producer-only farmers market in the United States. To me, it’s like a Farmers Market Holy Grail. Indeed, I planned a road trip with the intent of standing upon this Shrine to Local Foods. I did visit and was awed and energized about the entire “eating local” phenomenon. Before I describe the market, however, let’s talk about what is meant by being a “producer only” market.

MarketWakingUp1

As I discussed in a previous post, not all vendors at a farmers market are necessarily growers or producers. Unfortunately, it’s not unheard of to have vendors selling goods they bought at a wholesaler—or even a local supermarket—foisting a jacked-up price onto an unsuspecting (and likely well meaning) public for profit. Many, if not most, of us walk into a market believing that we are helping small family farms or other local producers. We consciously make the effort to go to the market and perhaps even pay a little more in order to ensure that there is some sort of viable local food system in our communities. The produce imposters—and that’s what they are—prey on that goodwill.1 Supporting local producers is important to many of us—thankfully, there is no need to worry or be suspicious at the Dane County Farmers Market! If you or your family didn’t grow it or make it, you aren’t selling it there.

I made my first visit the Dane County Farmers Market (henceforth referred to as “DCFM”) on a picture-perfect summer day (yes, I get that this is such a cliché, but it really WAS perfect—sunny, warm-but-not-hot, low humidity). The DCFM is located on Capitol Square (remember from your elementary school geography that Madison is the capital of Wisconsin). It opens early—6:00—though it isn’t really crowded until around 9:00-ish.
EarlyMorning1

Early morning at the Capitol with vendors setting up.
I got there early and enjoyed watching vendors set up, chatting with the market staff, and just soaking up the local foods goodness of the place. Unfortunately, I was at the beginning of my road trip, so any souvenirs were going to have to be non-perishables. Fortunately, I was able to get some stuff to bring back to Indiana anyway.

MarketWakingUp3

Shoppers

Well, a great piece of advice I heard from my dear friend Amy was to shop on an empty stomach—no eating breakfast beforehand. Good thing I listened to her, because the DCFM was the Free Sample Center of the Universe. Cheese curds—in many flavors, from many vendors—were ubiquitous. In fact, I’d had my first cheese curd here at the market. Okay, that makes sense. I mean, this IS Wisconsin, a state with football fans known as Cheese Heads. But there was more! Jerky from grassfed, pastured beef, cherries from Door County, pickles and jams, venison sausage, honeys and maple syrups, cinnamon buns, cookies, bread cheese, salad dressings—a cornucopia of deliciousness! There was a riot of colorful produce, gorgeous flowers, and, more importantly, a HUMAN diversity. Honestly, it felt like home to me.

So, let me share with you some of the sights of the DCFM! Peruse the pictures and take a virtual trip to the DCFM–maybe these will get you thinking about a face-to-face visit some day!

ChongsGarden

ColorfulCookies

ProduceStand

EthicalYarn2

Kohlrabi

CallaLillies

Share