In Gene's Weekly Posts on December 26, 2012 at 7:59 am
From GENE LOGSDON
I walked into the kitchen today and found my wife engaging in the primitive practice of pounding on a slab of round steak with the edge of a saucer. Every so often she would pause and sprinkle flour over the meat, then savagely attack it with the saucer again. I have witnessed this strange behavior for so many years, first by my mother and then by my wife, and I have generally taken it for granted. But suddenly it struck me as so Neanderthal that I should maybe ask some questions. But questioning someone who is pounding meat with a saucer can be dangerous. When my mother used to do it she had that same fierce look on her face that she had when killing a snake with a hoe. One learns to address beef pounders very humbly and gently because they are liable to be in a bad mood from having to do such base work. In fact, one of my millions of theories about the human race is that people who decide to pound beef with a saucer are already in a bad mood and are taking it out on the poor round steak.
“Honey, shouldn’t I be doing that?”
Cold stare. “No, you won’t do it right. Go out and bring in some potatoes if you want to help.”
I don’t want to do that either. “Why don’t you use the regular metal meat tenderizer?”
Even colder stare. “That thing doesn’t do the job. And the flour plugs up the teeth. Go get some potatoes out of the pit.”
Thus it shall always be.
I like to talk about pounded round steak in this holiday season of eating high on the hog—or cow— mostly because More…
In Gene's Weekly Posts on December 19, 2012 at 7:39 am
From GENE LOGSDON
I have a hunch that the following scene happens only on one farm in the whole wide world so pay attention. You are driving down a two lane highway in Ohio when you pass a farmstead with a chicken coop in easy view through your windshield. In front of the coop stands a middle-aged woman with a kind of vacant air about her, cracking an egg on a fencepost and gingerly letting the white stuff ooze off onto the ground to separate it from the yolk. She tosses the shell back to the hens to eat. By now you probably have slowed almost to a stop because surely the poor woman has lost her mind from the hectic pressures of modern farming. She seems to be rubbing the yolk between the palms of her hand. A dog laps at the egg white drooling to the ground. By the way, she is also barefoot.
Unless you are an artist, and then maybe only a certain kind of artist, you are not going to believe what is going on here. The woman in the hen yard is Pat Gamby who with her husband Steve, has been farming at this location for 22 years. This is your typical Midwestern dairy farm except that it is organic, but neither Pat nor Steve is typical in any ordinary sense of the word. Besides being a farmer, Pat is a professional artist who started drawing at age four and, without any formal training whatsoever, was actually painting pictures on commission when she was still in high school. Steve, besides being a farmer, played minor league baseball until he got smart and realized that farming (and playing softball on my team) was more fun. I’ve found excuses to put them in several of my books, most recently Holy Shit, so readers might be familiar with them already. I thought I knew them fairly well too until I heard about More…
In Gene's Weekly Posts on December 12, 2012 at 6:45 am
From GENE LOGSDON
Last summer I started to fall for the old Doomsday Disaster Doldrums again. It didn’t rain from the middle of May to September. Crops didn’t grow and pasture dried up. I was once more painfully reminded of how close we live to the brink of disaster at all times. The food cliff, if not the fiscal cliff, lurks just one misstep away, or so it seems. Of course the rains did come in September and more in October and now going into December, the pastures are lush and I don’t think I will have to feed hay until January. The latest weather roundup says rainfall in Ohio for the year is about normal. Ho hum.
I never learn. I got a good case of the DDDs in 1988 when it did not rain one drop here from April 11 until July 17. And I can remember my parents and grandparents in the 1930s despairing when it seemed that every other year the weather was taking us to the end of the world. And they didn’t have global warming to blame.
But it was back in the 1880s when the worst (so far) weather came our way. Our Sandusky River, here in northern Ohio, got a crust of ice on it in July, so the old papers say. A huge volcano had erupted in Indonesia in 1883 (Krakotoa) and it sent enough ash and debris into the atmosphere to shade the sun for several years even as far away as Ohio. But not many people here knew that and probably would not have believed it anyway. From every pulpit came the old DDD refrain: the end is nigh.
Can you imagine More…
In Gene's Weekly Posts on December 5, 2012 at 5:50 am
From GENE LOGSDON
I just finished reading a pre-publication copy of Paradise Lot, by Eric Toensmeier and Jonathan Bates (out next year) that makes me wonder exceedingly about the meaning of what we refer to as “space.” On only one tenth of an acre, the authors tell how they squeeze in 150 to 200 different kinds of food plants, including some in a pond and more in a greenhouse, all for year round eating in the north. From this “space” they are harvesting 400 pounds of perennial fruits and vegetables every year (some of which I have never heard of, like Rebecca violets) plus lots of annual vegetables. The book includes a detailed layout map showing how they do it, but I’m still finding it hard to believe. The best way I can think to describe their method is that they’ve eliminated space in their garden except for the pathways, which they are trying to fill with useful low-growing plants too. From now on, when someone asks me how we can prevent food scarcity forever I have a ready answer. Simply eliminate our preconceived notions of space. With work and knowhow, we can always find room to grow more food. Using the forest food methods of Paradise Lot, I have a hunch we could right now be growing all the food we need simply by eliminating all the space taken up by America’s lawns and filling it with food producing plants. If we run out of that space, there’s thousands and thousands of miles along all our roads which could be growing food or fiber.
Recently, we took our grandson back to college. Once more my notion of space was shattered. More…
In Gene's Weekly Posts on November 28, 2012 at 5:14 am
From GENE LOGSDON
In contemplative moments I like to think about all the manufactured products that could come from the soil surface rather than from deep underground. Today I was listening to a report on NPR about flutes made of bamboo. Bamboo is a marvelous example of how plants can replace metal and plastic. Asians even make bicycles out of bamboo and use it as scaffolding in construction work.
Bamboo is very invasive and I won’t try growing it after I saw what a weed it has become around Chadds Ford, Pa. where I used to visit often. But invasiveness is an interesting subject for contemplation too. If we decided to make bicycles and structural lumber out of bamboo, it would suddenly become a major resource rather than an invasive plant, would it not?
We could easily go back to baseball bats made of ash like the major leagues still use. The metal ones that have replaced wood in softball and amateur baseball drive the ball farther and break less, but the good ones are more expensive too. One reason the major leagues stick with wood is because metal bats can rocket the ball at lethal speeds back at the pitcher. Also they can render most of the major league ball parks obsolete because with a metal bat even I could knock the ball over the fence. In some ways the case for wood vs. metal in ball bats limns the whole debate about planting vs. mining. It all comes down to money.
Henry Ford made car bodies out of plasticized soybeans. Wood-paneled station wagons were once almost common. Good artificial limbs can be made out of willow. Osage orange has more tensile strength than steel. I have catalpa fence posts that were used for forty years (20 years each by my grandfather and uncle) More…
In Gene's Weekly Posts on November 20, 2012 at 6:34 am
From GENE LOGSDON
This time of year our inside window sills clutter up with tree leaves that Carol and I have found in our grove while walking to and from the barn and which are so pretty we just have to save them. At first we try to outdo each other in finding the brightest yellow-red-orange-gold maple leaf with still a little green in it. As the season advances, our choices become more eclectic, perhaps more abstract, favoring leaves with more somber purples and olive greens, or even with brooding browns and blacks along the veins or margin edges. Some of these are downright ugly in a way. My interest in human art paintings has followed a similar course over the years, going from bright and garish in the days of youth to earth tones in old age. In fact, walking to the barn in the fall becomes sort of like visiting an art gallery. Only the paintings in the woods are almost infinite in number, cater to every taste, and are free for the picking.
Now in mid-November, with all the bright and beautiful leaves faded away, I find myself admiring foliage rarely given much attention in fall coloring exhibitions. Sycamore leaves, for instance. This year, our sycamore mostly dried up and shed its leaves early. But way in the top of the tree, a few leaves hung on and are just now fluttering down in time for Thanksgiving table decorations. Their color is a mingling of muted mauve, olive and brown with rather metallic green veins that filigree out from the central stem to the lobe tips. Very arresting— my photo above doesn’t quite do them justice. They seem unreal, in fact, something that if an artist were to put it on canvas, would seem like fakery to sycamore-deficit viewers. More…
In Gene's Weekly Posts on November 14, 2012 at 5:16 am
From GENE LOGSDON
I thought I had an original idea recently only to find that thousands of others were way ahead of me. I got to thinking about cemeteries and their potential for garden farming while making death a little less abhorrent. That’s when I had this “new” idea that actually is very old but is now a new movement.
Have you heard about “green burials”? A growing number of people want to be buried without toxic embalming fluids like formaldehyde, in a shroud or cardboard box or cheap, wooden, readily-biodegradable coffin. Since our bodies are going to decompose no matter what (even in mummification), why not let them return to life-giving humus naturally, thereby enriching the soil?
So I’ve been entertaining myself with a bizarre vision of cemeteries as gardens and orchards of lush food plants fertilized by all that nitrogen, phosphorus, potash, trace elements and organic matter that dead bodies would provide. Could human culture advance toward the true definition of immortality, the enfolding of our remains back into the food chain to contribute to the health of the environment even in death?
I see on Google that every year we are burying 90,000 tons of steel caskets, 14,000 tons of steel vaults, 2700 tons of copper and bronze caskets, 1,636,000 tons of reinforced concrete, and some 800,000 gallons of embalming fluid, mostly formaldehyde which destroys microbial life in the soil. More…
In Gene's Weekly Posts on November 7, 2012 at 6:10 am
From GENE LOGSDON
Bad weather almost always brings a few good results, something to hang on to in the time of adversity. After the extremely dry summer, rain came here again in September and October and nature reacted with a tremendous spurt of new growth. Sometimes I wonder if during drought the soil doesn’t store up energy that is then unleashed when moisture returns. Anyway, among various good effects of this spurting green revival, our pole lima beans decided to come alive with new growth and blossoms. Aiding that spurt of growth, we suffered no killing frost going into November. (The photo shows the pole beans after the last harvest, after frost did come on Nov. 5.)
So on October 27, with the “storm of the century” bearing down on us (seems like every year now we have the storm of the century), Carol and I were out in the cold wind harvesting the last of these late beans. We picked even the ones that we normally might leave to mature another day or two. The advantage of pole limas is that you can hold a pod up to the sky light without picking it and ascertain the size of the beans inside. The secret of a really tasty lima bean is to harvest it when it is just a little bigger than a man’s thumbnail which is difficult to determine any other way. By the time the bean is plump enough to feel with your fingers, it has past its tenderest, tastiest stage.
Shivering in the wind and with fingers turning blue, we rushed back to the warm kitchen with our treasure and shelled out the beans. This is a tedious job when the beans are so small and thin yet— true “baby” limas. More…
In Gene's Weekly Posts on October 31, 2012 at 4:26 am
From GENE LOGSDON
Seems to me that if we want school kids to eat lettuce, broccoli, carrots, peas, green beans, corn, potatoes, tomatoes, whole wheat bread, fruit cocktail etc. etc., we have an obligation to make these foods taste as good as fast food hamburgers and French fries. MacDonald ‘s spent millions of dollars developing its French fry and now we want the kids to eat instead untried sliced, browned potatoes that I’m sorry to say, are not nearly as tasty. Ask any school kid.
Have you eaten a school lunch lately? I don’t want to criticize the cooks at all because they work hard and do the best they can, given the circumstances. About all they have to work with are mass-produced, canned products or “fresh” products from distant places. Commercially canned peas, green beans, or sweet corn taste awful to me and the fresh lettuce out of supermarkets is not very desirable either. Mechanical vegetable harvesters can’t handle peas and corn at their tenderest, most tasty stage and factory-processed food of whatever kind just isn’t as good as home-cooked. Just because bread is brown doesn’t mean it tastes good. Mass production equals mediocre taste and most school lunches are by definition mass-produced. When I ate school lunches with my grandsons on Grandparents’ Days, I noticed that most of the vegetables went right off the plates into the garbage buckets.
It’s good to see some new programs developing like the “National Farm To School” project and other efforts to link up local fresh fruits and vegetables with school lunch programs. An article in the Farm and Dairy magazine of October 11vreports that local food is being served in various counties in West Virginia More…
In Gene's Weekly Posts on October 24, 2012 at 6:02 am
From GENE LOGSDON
What is being called the world’s first solar-powered flour mill is now in operation at Frankferd Farms in Butler County, Pa. Just think. Hardly a century ago, when local food was just about the only food, the countryside was dotted with water-powered grist mills and now we are headed that way again only with sun power. The farm and mill are organically certified and the business is actually so successful it reaches out to quite a large “local” area. It provides yet one more example of how the decentralization of the farm and food business is progressing toward local food independence.
Progress like this invites different ways of thinking about energy other than what fossil fuel generates. As I was doing my yearly job of cleaning out the corncrib yesterday in preparation for the new crop, I realized that the crib (in the photo above) has something in common with that flour mill. It too uses nature’s energy directly. The sidewalls are slatted to allow for air penetration and tilted outwards from bottom to top so that rain hitting the wall falls down and away from the corn, not into it. The length and height of such a structure can vary, depending on need but the four foot average width is standard and critical. Tradition learned that in a crib that narrow, air can penetrate through the eared corn inside and dry it down to about 13% moisture when it comes from the field already nearly that dry and keep it from molding indefinitely. Heat from the sun coming through the metal roof helps. It dawned on me, thinking of Frankferd Farms, that what I have here is a solar and wind-powered corn dryer More…