Tuesday, May 5, 2009

My First Morels...

...and wild asparagus!

Just a teaser:

So Much Has Happened

Where to start?

I'm officially a farmer starting May 10 (one week...) I'll clean my apartment, pack up all the weird things in my room, and set off to my hometown of Scottsboro, a small farming community just north of Nashville, TN. I'll be living Sulphur Creek Farm, one of three farms that comprise the Bells Bend Neighborhood Farm CSA. I'll be working close with 30+ year biodynamic farmer Jeff Poppen, the Barefoot Farmer, soaking up as much of his experience as I can. Despite being a bit rusty on the tractor and the occasional "what the hell am I getting into?", I think I'm fairly ready now.
Since my last post:
  • learned a ton about shiitake mushroom production: inoculated over 50 white oak logs with shiitake spawn, took them to nashville, got big plans.
  • learned a ton about starting from seeds, tomato varieties especially: started over 150 healthy tomatoes--golden jubilee, big boy, juliet, homestead, and pink girl. Babied them, potted them up last week, look great and are doing very well (clearly a proud parent). I'll put them in with 50 more (200 total for CSA) next week, assuming the biblical flood is confronted by some sun.

  • went to the Organic Growers School in Asheville, NC. Learned a lot about a lot of things--met great people from great farms.
  • been to Nashville every other weekend to work. a lot. I'm technically the Sulphur Creek Farm Coordinator--i think. Trying to get as many volunteers as possible. Registered our farm to be WWOOF hosts four days ago. Have had 5 volunteers requesting stays so far...
  • Am also working at the ASU Sustainable Development Farm to learn as much as I can from expert Marc Williams. Am also working on Ripshin Goat Dairy, keepers of incredibly happy goats and makers of incredibly good goat cheese. Much to my liking, I work the kitchen/herb gardens, and with my good friend John at that.
  • Presented my senior thesis last Friday: How Anthropology Can Lead the Transition to a Sustainable Food System. Mic and podium...in front of whole department. Nailed it. Somehow defended all questions and critiques. It's like this hasn't been my life for four years...
  • Sick. Probably Swine Flu.
  • Three more papers/projects and I graduate! FOREVER!

Monday, January 19, 2009

If I die on Roan Mountain

So, I'm alive. I just got back to Boone at 10pm, and the last 48 hours seem like a dream. I think I should write it all down now so I don't forget.

I set off Sunday morning to do a 30 mile horseshoe on the AT, a section that climbs to the top of Roan Mountain, and a number of smaller knobs. I was with three friends, so we parked one car on Hwy 19 where we planned on finishing the hike, while parking my car on a small, snow-covered mountain road. Our plan was to hike through private property for a mile or two before running into the AT. We would hike about 15 miles the first day, camping at a trail shelter in between.

I found a place to park and we started up a steep ridge in hopes of running into the trail. There was maybe an inch of snow on the ground, and temps were relatively high around 20. We nearly missed the trail when we hit it due to the snow, but I noticed it out of the corner of my eye. After reaching the first knob, we headed down a small valley before making the climb to the summit of Roan Mnt.

A few things we didn't count on: that our pants would freeze solid from the knee down -- that the hike was almost straight up with few switch-backs -- that only reaching the top of Roan would take us nearly 7 hours for about 7-8 miles. We hiked the last two hours in the dark and finally made it to the shelter. I collapsed on the floor when we finally made it.

Sleep was difficult to reach after dinner. My bag is rated for 10 degrees, and I had about 4 layers on in the bag. The top 1/3 of my bag (around my head) was frozen. I put an emergency blanket on, but it just kept getting colder. It definitely dropped into the single digits. Two other hikers (I never actually saw them) also came into the shelter after we went to bed. They were noisy as hell and kept us up most of the night.

We woke up to find our pants frozen solid, shoes frozen solid, gloves frozen solid, water frozen solid. We decided that there was no way we could finish the hike and considered our options. We eventually agreed to hike back to my car, and set off. There was about 7-8 inches of new snow on the ground, and it was still snowing. After about 20 minutes of hiking I was starting to feel my toes again.Frozen water means eating snow (this is also the trail..?)

After several miles we finally found the bush-whack trail that we came from. We didn't count on the fact that the new snow would completely cover our tracks. We headed down the ridge, trying to stay on the highest point. We realized we were lost just as the sun began to go down. We were hiking at an incredible angle down the mountain. The ice-covered ground with snow piled on top made each of us take dozens of hard falls. It was soon pitch black, and I realized that my outer shirt and coat was starting to freeze as well. We found a small stream and oriented our position with map and compass. I realized that this stream could easily be a tributary that leads to Roan State Park, which would just be leading us further into the wilderness instead of to the car. At this point I began thinking of places to camp, while trying to come to terms with the fact that I may not make it out. We took our chances and followed the stream, and found a small service road an hour later. That road led us to the main road, which eventually led us to the car. The road was covered with the same amount of snow, but I somehow made it down without sliding off the cliff.

I've had a lot of close calls in my life, but never one that set in like this. All I have to show is a bunch of soaked clothes, a right leg that doesn't seem to want to walk, and teary eyes. If you are reading this, you're most likely someone I love. I'm trying not to take that, or my life, for granted. If my friends did not decide to walk back with me, I have no doubt that I would still be there.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Pumpkin Butter

My folks' neighbors have a pear tree that produced more than it ever has this year. I took advantage of the unusual season and shook about 5 gallons of pairs from the tree and made a batch of pair butter over Thanksgiving weekend. When I gave a jar of the pair butter to some farmer friends of mine in Sugar Grove, NC, they took me down to their cellar where they gave me two heirloom variety pumpkins.

The older of the two farmers, Hoyt Combs, told me I "better not carve no face into those or make a jack-0'-lantern; those are for eatin!" And so, I decided to make pumpkin butter today.

As usual, I didn't really follow any exact recipe. I looked at a few basic pumpkin butter ingredient lists, and pretty much added how much I, particularly my tongue, felt was right.

Here are general amounts, trying hard not to use words like "pinch" or "dash".

  • 10 cups of puréed pumpkin
  • 1 cup of white sugar
  • 1/4 cup of brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons of lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons of ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon of ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon of nutmeg
  1. Assemble it

I used the larger heirloom pumpkin, some really nice Vietnamese cinnamon. I didn't use the arrowhead pictured, but I did find it yesterday! (I'll shamelessly show 'em off any chance I get)

2. Cut 'em open, save the seeds

Next, I cut the pumpkin in half, and pulled out the seeds. The seeds can be roasted in the oven as you cook the pumpkin, and make a good cooking-snack if you bake them with a little brown sugar and salt. Then, take a spoon and scrape the excess "seed debris" from the inside.

3. Cut & Bake

Next, cut the pumpkin into manageable peices and place on whatever you've got. I baked mine at 375 until soft enough to easily puncture with a knife or fork (or about 20 minutes). Notice I just put the seeds on the same baking sheet as the pumpkin. They will be done in about the same amount of time.

4. Sterilize Jars

Ok, a lot going on. While baking the pumpkin, I started the canning operation. To insure you don't kill yourself or those who recieve this stuff as gifts, you need to boil the jars and lids for 10 minutes. The above photo shows jars/lids boilin', with the baked pumpkin and seeds to the left, ready for the next step.
5. Purée, add ingredients, and boil
I took the baked pumkin, cut off the skin (this should be very easy if it has baked long enough), put the peices in the blinder and puréed until it turns into baby food. Once of baby food consistancy, add all spices, sugars, whatever you like, and bring to a boil.
I strongly reccomend stirring constantly while boiling. This stuff can be pretty thick, so boiling bubbles have the tendency to burst, launching bits of flaming goo onto your extremeties and face. So, stir constantly, unless you wish to pay a visit to the aloe plant as I did.

The result: about 8 1/2 8oz jars of pumpkin butter
Once you've boiled the goo for about 10 minutes (or longer, depending on your hand muscle strength index), you're ready to can. This process is fairly easy with two people, but when you are single and .... ok that's enough. Take one jar out of the boiling water at a time with tongs, and place it on a dish towel. Ladel the pumpkin butter into the jar and fill to within 1/8" of the rim. Wipe off any excess butter and place the lid on the jar with tongs. Now use your hands and screw on the lid fully.
This stuff turned out pretty good, and I'll be curious to know how it will age and, as always, if any family members mysteriously catch a case of botulism.
Some things to keep in mind and tips:
I've heard that the conventional pumpkins you buy for halloween can be a bit bland and wattery, as well as the pre-canned purée from the store. This pumpkin was really sweet and needed a fraction of the sugar that most recipes called for. Try finding a local farmer who grows pumpkins and ask about different varieties for baking.

Minimize waste by: composting what you don't use and washing the dishes with the water that was used for boiling the jars/lids. You can also just reuse old jars and lids instead of buying a new set.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


I'm one day and about 7 pages away from being done with this semester. My exams have gone pretty poorly so far, despite studying well over 20 hours. Some things just don't register with me--they're called statistics. Agroecology was insane, Agrarian Studies worse, and one more Community Development paper for it's over. I've got about 3 hours of sleep in me and am sick.

I'm getting better though.

I couldn't fall asleep last night until about 4:30am, and probably should have just studied more. Instead I laid in bed, way more stressed then I should ever allow myself to be. I turned over onto my right side and the pillow smelled like the room I slept in at my farm in Wales. Although strange, this really calmed me down. I feel like I haven't had a good scent-association in a while.

I get to take Sammy home for the winter break again this year, which I am very ready for.

I'm competing on a local game show called Scrambled Squares tonight. My brain is totally scrambled. I think I will meditate for the first time in maybe 6 months.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Mountain Top Removal?

I went to Whitesville, West Virginia two weeks ago to visit Kayford Mountain, one of more than 470 mountains destroyed by mountain top removal. Mountain top removal is a mining process that literally removes the top 800 - 1,000 feet of mountains to reach the seams of coal within. The trees and rocks are stripped and excess debris, called overburdin, is dumped into the surrounding valleys on top of streams and rivers (called valley fill). Over 1400 miles of rivers and streams have been completely burried. Then slurry, the toxic sludge created during processing the coal, is placed behind a dam. These are basically lakes that contain thousands of tons of toxic sludge.

In year 2000 one of these dams breached in KY, flooding the community of Buffalo Creek with more than 300 million gallons of toxic sludge. 150 people died, 1,100 were injured, and over 4,000 left homeless. This is more than 30 times the size of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, yet did you ever hear about this? EPA called it the worst environmental disaster in the southeast ever.

Economically devastating for communities, as it is a job that only needs 9 people to accomplish.

[can you tell I've had to memorize this for presentations to classes?]

Check this out:

Here are the photos from my visit to the Coal River Valley:

The gang and our accommodations -- Coal River Mountain Watch headquarters in Whitesville

Larry Gibson, life-time resident and activist, is the last person who lives in his hollow on Kayford Mnt. Larry explains to us what we are about to see. Notice the sign and clearing behind him--this is a 800 foot drop off in his back yard (only stopped there because of his family cemetary).

Where your energy comes from

I'll close with this photo. The grave is of a mining boy who died at age 14 in the mine. It reads:
"Death Has No Sorrow That Heavan Cannot Heal"

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Oh, Boone....

Last night was wonderful. I finished my last class, walked home, and got a call from a couch surfer traveling through town. His name was Jake and he had been hitching around the east, starting in Portland, Maine. I picked him up at a main intersection in town and dropped his stuff off at the apartment before heading out to Sugar Grove where I posed for a few pictures for a project Matt Lawson is working on. My farming friends out there, Hoyt and Scott Combs, offered me a home-cooked meal that I had to decline due to time.

After Matt got his photos, we came back, cooked some dinner, and went to Art Walk, a monthly event where stores downtown become art galleries and serve wine and cheese. We saw some great exhibits before heading over to the Jones House (community center) for the annual solar Christmas tree lighting. Lots of good friends were there and after the lighting we went to two more galleries.

At about 10 we headed to a contra dance close by. I have such an amazing time at these dances, and I believe my couch surfer did too.

It makes me happy when someone chooses to stay at my apartment and I feel that I've guided them towards having a great time. He told me that he loves this town, and was very appreciative and glad that he chose to stay with me. It also makes me realize how much I love Boone and all of my friends here. I will miss this town greatly.