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New Blog for a New Year

Garth Brown |

When I quit eating only homegrown food I had no intention for my blogging to join the dodo and Tasmanian tiger in the land of nevermore. Alas, without a prescribed program and schedule my ability to muster the mojo to upload to the interwebs waned substantially and I found myself without any posts to put up since mid-November.

I do enjoy some aspects of having a farm blog. I like the way it makes it very clear to new-comers that our farm is a going concern. I've read many a defunct farm blog over the years and it can be difficult to tell whether it is the whole farm that's gone bust or just the farmer's attention and time for blogging. I also enjoy putting my thoughts to words about various topics that cross my mind. And I like having a regular blog that I can use as a platform to solicit ideas and feedback. So there are plenty of reasons to keep on blogging, but without the super-local food angle Cairncrest's web prescense is going to change a bit, primarily in that there will be fewer posts specifically about food and "what I ate". Garth and I did not restrict ourselves exclusively to posts about diet, which means the over-all the feel of the blog will not change much. I'll still be a little too verbose at times. I'll write about things that interest me and hope that Normandy can capture some piece of my thought in an image (she's done a bang-up job so far IMHO). We're going to attempt regular posts - twice a week rather than the four times per week we did last year. Normandy and Alanna may contribute too. We love reader comments of any and all stripe so please keep them coming if you've got them.

I also want to reflect briefly on the super local eating challenge I undertook last year. Following is a list of my observations and experiences.

1. Trying to grow everything one eats is silly. We're a social species and we're happier when we engage with others. I think it's better to barter and relax than to be dogmatic and rigid. In this vein I did "cheat" on the rules a few times. Sometime around June I decided to just eat whatever people served when I was out and about. Leaving the farm was a rare enough occurance that it didn't feel like I quit the program when I ate a little storebought goodies at somebody else's house.

2. If I were to try a challenge of this nature again it would be a lot easier if the whole household committed to the same program. Willpower is much like a muscle in that it can be strengthened by regular use, but it also can be fatigued by over-use. I felt like I was borderline on the fatigue vs strengthening spectrum this year. It would have required a lot less mental space to avoid a chunk of chocolate or a spoonful of peanut butter if those things were not in the house at all. This is a good lesson for anyone looking to change their diet. If a food is not even in the house it makes it a lot harder to eat it. Especially if you live 20 minutes from the nearest grocery store as I do.

3. Hunger is a great spice, but it cannot overcome all flavors. As I've written before I soured myself on turnips and rutabagas this year and haven't even tasted them since early July when the 2015 potatoes and beets got big enough I could eat them instead and unload the dregs of the root cellar on the compost pile.

4. A good root cellar can keep roots fresh and tasty for a long, long time. I ate brassica roots until early July 2015 that were harvested in October of 2014. When I put some fresh carrots into the cellar a month or so ago I dumped out the last crate of 2014 beets. They looked bad, but if push came to shove there was probably a little bit of dried out edible material in them. That's a full 13 months post harvest for them.

5. I'd need a bigger garden if I wanted to grow all my own food year after year. I sort of gamed the system a bit. In the fall of 2014 I ate sparingly from the root cellar until it came time to begin the project, so I began with a completely packed cellar. I then ate more from the garden during the growing season and put a lot less away for this winter. All in all I think we (everyone on the farm) get somewhere in the neighborhood of 50% of our total calories from the farm. My garden is 100 x 120 ft in case you're keeping track, and that includes some berries. And I ate a lot of meat that came from my farm but not from the 12,000 square feet of the garden. Now that I have a bit of experience I think between an 1/8 and 1/4 of an acre per adult is required for 100% year-round local eating of vegetables in my climate and on my soils. The ultimate footprint depends on how much meat and dairy one chooses to consume. 1/4 acre of veggies sounds like more than an 1/8 of an acre, but if a bunch of calories come from animal proteins and fats the land required to meet basic needs balloons dramatically upwards. For beef raised in central New York it could easily be 4 or 5 acres to make up those same calories. Dairy is between and 4 and 5 times as efficient as beef from an acre:food calorie perspective, so perhaps 1 acre for a dairy rich diet. Pork and chicken fall between these two extremes, but regardless they're going to take up more than 1/8 of an acre. I am not trying to pass judgement or prescribe a diet for anyone with these stats. There is a lot of formerly farmed land in my area that's been turning back to woods for a few decades now. Around here, eating locally, I see no problems with a diet rich in animal foods. It's sure to taste better than all veg all the time.

6. We live in a golden age for gardening. It's straightforward to grow a wide variety of really great vegetables for the home kitchen. In the US we have several companies that sell good, vigorous seed. With the modern scientific tools of soil testing and the availability of minerals to address deficiencies we can grow food of superb quality and flavor. If I didn't have soil tests and minerals for amending I know my produce would taste worse and be less nutritious.

Edmund Brown

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