Deliveries on the Back-Roads of Maine

deliveries on the backroads of maine

I have to admit that deliveries on the back roads of Maine have long been a favored pastime for this farmer. Countless little roads thread their way across the landscape, beckoning the traveler off the 2-lane highways and deeper into the heart of the state. Here are the places where Maine’s legacy still exists─a hold-over from days gone by. Steeped in history and tradition, these back-roads fascinate me. Delivering Runamuk’s farm-goods to households in these rural and wild parts of Maine is never a chore, but a privilege I am grateful for.

deliveries on the backroads of maine
One of Maine’s many backroads.

Roaming the Backroads

When I was a girl, my mother would occasionally load her 3 children─myself, my younger brother and my baby sister─into the beat-up yellow station wagon our family owned. She drove the car out of town, stopping along the way at Casey’s Market in Anson to buy ham Italian sandwiches (another Maine tradition) and other picnic provisions. Then she drove northward, away from the cities and towns, into the depths of the Maine wilderness. Sometimes we went swimming at Embden Pond. Sometimes we were fishing little streams off an unknown bridge on a dirt road somewhere in Moscow or Rangeley. Other times we picked blueberries behind an abandoned farmhouse in Phillips, or blackberries under the powerlines in New Vineyard. These are treasured memories for me, and probably my favorite memories of my mother.

Roaming the backroads became a habit when my eldest son, William, was a baby. Sometimes a ride in the car was the only way to get him to nap. The backroad drives became a means of escape when life became rocky for me, and I spent countless hours rolling down one dirt road or another, searching for my forever farmhouse.

While progress comes to southern and central Maine, creeping ever northward into rural areas, off the beaten path old Maine still exists. Forgotten farmhouses in varying conditions are scattered in unknown river valleys. Above them on a high hill or mountainside, little log cabins complete with outhouse are hidden in the dense forests.

stonewall on the backroads of maine
The stonewalls criss-crossing the landscape were constructed by hand by early farmers to Maine!

Maine’s Legacy

Stone walls running along the roadside speak of a legacy almost forgotten, while massive maples act as sentries, lining the roads. Gnarled branches spread out overhead as you pass beneath the trees. Sometimes that legacy has been maintained, the fields preserved, the old farmhouse in-tact. Other times the forest has reclaimed the fields where livestock once grazed, and all that remains of the farmhouse is a stone foundation in the earth only visible during spring or fall, when the forest vegetation has died back, allowing the secrets of the landscape to be seen.

In these parts there still exists many family homesteads with backyard gardens and a coop full of chickens. Here people still go smelting and eat fiddleheads in the spring. They make strawberry-rhubarb pies and can jars of raspberry jam. In the fall they hunt to put meat in their freezer and during the winter they go ice fishing. People in these parts are still connected to the land and Maine’s rich agricultural legacy thrives even in this modern society. These are my people. This is where I belong.

backroad adventures
Where in Maine?

Committed to Local Food

When they were younger, egg-deliveries were the perfect excuse to get out of the house without the kids and take a drive down a backroad. As Runamuk grew, I gave up the deliveries in favor of setting up at the local farmers’ market. Getting back to delivery over the course of this winter has been wonderful. Ironically, it prepared my farm in advance for the coronavirus pandemic. I was offering delivery before delivery became a necessity, and I really haven’t had to change much about how I do business.

In fact, more than 20 households have enrolled to participate in Runamuk’s CSA Farm-Share program. These people have committed to local food─they’ve committed to Runamuk─and they have such faith in my abilities that they’ve even pre-paid to have dibs on the food I am producing. That is a huge compliment to this humble farmer, and something that is not taken lightly. It is now my responsibility to ensure that those families have access to high-quality, fresh foods every week. This is serious business.

I’ve been preparing for this all winter, though─ramping up production and putting different pieces in place. I am ready and eager to do the work. Shelves upon shelves of seedlings sit under lights inside the farmhouse waiting for the ground to warm up. This past weekend I was finally able to get the hoop-house closed in to allow for expanded seedling production. These plants will fill my expanded gardens, and will eventually fill bellies within my local community.

farmer sam card
This is a card from one of the families I serve.      3yo Rory loves my blueverry muffins!

To me, there is no higher honor than to be someone’s farmer. It truly is my privilege to be able to stock the shelves at the Runamuk farmstand, to make these deliveries on the backroads of Maine, and to feed and nurture the people and places I hold most dear. Who’s your farmer?

Note: The deadline to enroll in Runamuk’s CSA Farm-Share program is Thursday, April 30th.
Click here for details and to read about the special perks I’m offering members. Those who are interested in participating, but are either waiting for tax returns, stimulus checks, or are simply strapped for cash, please don’t hesitate to contact the farm to ask about late-payments, payment arrangements, potential bartering opportunities, or work-shares. I really want to make high-quality, fresh foods accessible to as many households as possible. That is my commitment to my local community.

Thanks for following along with the story of the Runamuk Acres Conservation Farm! Subscribe by email to receive the latest blog-posts directly to your inbox. OR follow @RunamukAcres on Instagram for a glimpse at life on this bee-friendly Maine farm!

13 Reasons to Grow Your Own Shoots This Winter

pea shoots

I am so pumped about this whole Winter Growing Challenge that I want every household to do this with me and I’m going to give you 13 reasons to grow your own shoots. By doing this together we can encourage the people around us to eat healthier too; we can inspire our friends and family to make a conscious choice to eat more fresh vegetables in the form of leafy greens.

grow your own shoots#1.  Fresh greens every day

By growing your own shoots you can effectively provide your household with fresh leafy greens every single day. No need to go to the grocery store to look over their sad selection of bruised and wilty leaves, or to resort to the pre-packaged iceberg salad mix. You can have a leafy green salad any day of the week─even in the depths of winter by growing your own shoots.

#2.  Super healthful and nutritious

We all know we should be eating more fresh vegetables in order to be healthy, and shoots are some of the most nutritious vegetables you could hope for. Typically, about a week after sprouting, the shoots will have the highest concentration of bioavailability of nutrients. These tiny seedlings are jam-packed with important organic compounds, vitamins and minerals that our bodies can utilize.

#3.  Quick

It seriously takes just 15 minutes to set up 5 trays for growing your own shoots to provide a week’s supply of greens. Daily watering takes less than 2 minutes, and you can harvest the shoots with scissors while you’re already in the process of making a meal. The benefits are well worth the time.

#4.  Easy

It’s so easy that you could teach your children to do it and delegate the task to them as a weekly responsibility. This teaches the the whole family about growing your own food, and the intrinsic value of feeding the people we care for.

#5.  Cheap

pea shoots
Pea shoots grown by Moon Valley Farm of Maryland! Check them out online at: https://www.moonvalleyfarm.net/

The primary expense in growing your own shoots is the seed itself, but in 7 days you can more than double the return on your investment simply by growing those seeds out into fresh greens.

In his book “Year Round Indoor Salad Gardening”, Peter Burke shares that a 3 and a half cup jar of peas is enough seed to plant 56 trays. If you sow 5 trays each week, that’s a little over two month’s supply of fresh greens. The cost of the seed is around $6 and 56 trays of shoots will yield approximately 10 and 3/4 pounds of fresh leafy greens. Peter figures the cost of the trays, soil and fertilizer at .17¢ per tray, which comes to $9.52 for all 56 trays. That’s $15.52 for 10 and 3/4 pounds of fresh veg that you would end up paying $269 for if you were to purchase it at the grocery store.

IF you can find them locally.

#6.  Not a lot of equipment

Aside from the seed and some soil, you really don’t need anything special to get started growing your own shoots. You could even cut the bottoms off milk jugs and avoid the cost of trays, and the other supplies you likely already have in your kitchen: measuring cups and spoons, a small sieve for straining seed, and a small watering can─but even a soda bottle could be improvised in a pinch.

#7.  Organic

You are in control when it comes to growing your shoots. You can use a soil mix that is free from synthetic chemical fertilizers, use natural and organic fertilizers, and produce your own organic greens at a fraction of the price that you would pay at the farmers’ market.

#8.  Small space

It requires very little space to grow shoots to supplement your family’s diet. For 5 trays, depending on their size, it might take 2 feet of space. And for the first four days they should be in the dark, so it’s totally cool to stash them in a kitchen cupboard, a dresser drawer or a closet shelf. After that the trays need a sunny window-spot, but if your windowsills are not deep enough to accommodate the trays it’s super easy to fix a shelf in a window, or simply set the trays on an end table near the window.

#9.  Variety

variety of shoots
A mix of shoots grown by Edible Flower Power of New Zealand. Follow them on Facebook or Instagram!

There are so many different kinds of shoots and sprouts to choose from, and so much you can do with them that it’s unlikely that you’ll ever get caught eating “the same old thing” ever again.

Grow a myriad of brassicas, grow mustards, legumes like peas, leafy things like buckwheat. Eat salads til they’re coming out your ears, put shoots on a sandwich, use them to make soup stock, add them to ramen or a stir-fry. Get creative with shoots!

Check out the selection of shoots and sprouts available at Johnny’s Selected Seeds!

#10.  Nurturing

Growing your own shoots and sprouts is an act of love and caring. You’re caring for something living, green and growing at a time of the year when cold and snow prohibit plant growth. Largely though, it’s caring for ourselves and the people we share our lives with. By feeding ourselves better food we’re nurturing our bodies and our spirits, and that’s every bit as important as saving money on the grocery bill─maybe even more so.

#11.  Supports a plant-based diet

Health experts agree that a diet consisting primarily of plants can significantly reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. While I’m not here to convert you to vegetarianism, I am an advocate for a diet consisting of less meat, and especially less process foods. I believe that eating more vegetables and fruits is better for my body and my long-term health, as well as for the health of my children and those I care about.

#12.  Better for the environment

Not only is a plant-based diet better for our bodies, it’s better for the planet too! Agricultural production of meat is the leading cause of greenhouse gas emissions, as well as contributing to water and soil pollution. Monocultures are depleting soil nutrients and require the use of pesticides that are in turn killing insects and other wildlife. Growing shoots ourselves offers next to no impact on the planet, while providing our families with superior food.

#13.  Reduces dependence on the industrialized food system

Locally caught bass on a bed of shoots with sourdough bread.

Growing our own food offers us independence from industrialized agriculture. It’s an incredibly powerful way of making a statement. The government is slow to make changes, and many in positions of power have been swayed by the influence of money to believing that this chemically intensive food system is OK. Yet the system is a broken one, causing harm to the planet, the animals─even to ourselves. Industrialized farming is not only destroying the soil required to grow food, it’s polluting our water and air. The resulting production of processed food products are spreading chronic illness throughout the population.

Note: To learn more about the industrialized agricultural system currently in place, how it came to be and how you can help bring about change, read: Vote With Your Fork to Save our Broken Food System.

This is one situation however, where we have the power in our very own hands to change things.

3 times a day we can vote for the kind of food system we want. Simply by making conscious choices when it comes to food─opting to purchase organic food, or local food, and by learning once again to do it ourselves. When we stop spending our hard earned money on those processed products or factory-farmed meats we’re reducing the demand for those products. Imagine if we all just said “No” and no one was buying those things anymore. There would no longer be money to be made that way and the suits profiting from industrial ag would finally be forced to change. Afterall money talks, right?

Be Part of the Winter Growing Challenge!!!

Geez, I guess I got up on my soap-box for a bit there with number 13 huh? I’m not going to apologize though. Food is such an elemental part of our lives─like water, air, a roof and clothing─food is essential to life. And yet, at the same time, food is so much more.

Through food we have cultivated humanity: community, family and tradition all center around food. Food is also our connection to the Earth and the creatures living in coexistence on this planet with us. We don’t need to wait for the government to make the changes we want to see in the food system. We have the power to make those changes in our own lives and to inspire others to follow suit. We can be the change we want to see in our lives. Be the change; grow shoots with me this winter and be a part of the Winter Growing Challenge. Together we can do more.

There are lots of great reasons why you should take up the Winter Growing Challenge with me. I’ve given you 13, if you see another leave a comment below to share with others!

13 reasons to grow your own shoots

Know Your Persephone Period

persephone days

There were 9.5 hours of daylight yesterday. Here in Maine the Persephone Period has begun. If Halloween festivities and the celebration of Samhain weren’t enough to indicate the turning of the Wheel of the Year, day light savings really drives the message home. Darkness descends upon the landscape right now at 4:30 in the afternoon, cutting the days dramatically short, and they will continue to get shorter and shorter until we reach the Winter Solstice, when the days start to grow in length once more.

persephone days
At Runamuk Acres, located in central Maine, our Persephone Days begin around November 5th.

The Story of Persephone

In his books “The New Organic Grower” and “The Winter Harvest Handbook” Eliot Coleman reminded us that before humanity had science to explain how the world works we made up stories like that of the Greecian myth of Persephone. She was the Goddess of Spring Growth, beautiful and lovely. She was also the daughter of Demeter, who was the Goddess of Corn, Grain, and the Harvest.

One day while Persephone was playing in a flowery meadow Hades, Lord of the Underworld, came and abducted her to be his bride. Demeter was so enraged that she laid a curse upon the Earth that caused the crops to wither and die, and the land became barren.

Zeus has no choice but to intervene, seeking the return of Persephone, but because the maiden had eaten 6 pomegranate seeds (the food of the dead) while in captivity Hades had a claim on her. It was decreed that Persephone would forever spend four months of the year in the Underworld with her husband.

During these months Demeter grieves for her daughter, withdrawing her gifts from the world, creating winter. Persephone’s annual return to the Earth in the spring was marked by the greening of meadows and the budding of new leaves of the trees.

Why does it matter?

As a grower it’s important to know when your Persephone period because most plants won’t grow when there are less than 10 hours of daylight. Sure, we can manipulate it a bit, using cold-frames, low-tunnels and high-tunnels, and selecting cold-hardy varieties. However, these are natural forces that we ultimately have no control over; the sun comes up when it comes up, and sets when it sets.

If we want to harvest during this time we need to plant the seeds in advance, so that the crop has enough time to reach at least 75% maturity. There will be some growth during the Persephone Days, but it will be very slow.

To determine the Persephone Period where you are try the Duration of Daylight site offered by the US Navy’s Astronomical Applications Department.

Learn more about growing through the winter by checking out this great Winter Growing Guide offered by Johnny’s Selected Seeds. Whether you’re growing for market or to feed your own family, knowing your Persephone Period is key.

Living Refrigerators

winter growing
The 2 beds we designated for winter growing.

Here in Maine the days will not be long enough for significant growth to occur again until February. In the meanwhile I have 3 beds under row-cover in the garden: 2 beds hold kale and a variety of greens, and the 3rd contains carrots. These beds are something like living-refrigerators, where we laughingly go to “shop” once a day.

During the winter it can be difficult to access fresh vegetables locally, but thanks to our own dedication, we’ve managed to grow our own, reducing the food budget and providing our family with more nutritious food. What’s more, there’s a way to grow even more fresh greens this winter! Check back soon to learn more about Runamuk’s Winter Growing Challenge!

When does your Persephone Period begin? Share your comments below so we can all learn from your experiences! And thanks for following along!

know your persephone days

How is the Cost of Farmland Affecting Beginning Farmers?

farmland

Having spent several years now pouring over real estate listings in search of my own forever farm, I have become painfully aware of the cost of farmland. Farmland prices are rising, and good land for farming is becoming increasingly scarce. This has serious implications for the future of the nation’s farm economy and farm system, but also for America’s agricultural landscape. As the older generation of farmers begins to wane, what will happen to their farmland? How will new farmers access land to grow the food that feeds our country? And how can we preserve farmland for future generations?

Barriers to farming

how is the cost of farmland affecting beginning farmersAccording to a 2009 report from the USDA’s Economic Research Service, beginning farmers face 2 primary obstacles:

  • High start-up costs
  • Lack of available land for purchase/rent

The study also found that beginning farmers tend to earn less income from their farms. They have more off-farm income and are less likely to rent farmland than established farmers. This is because rental agreements are inherently less secure than land-ownership, discouraging investment on the part of the farmer.

A 2011 report on beginning farmers “Building a Future with Farmers” by the National Young Farmers’ Coalition came up with similar results: 78% of respondants rated lack of capital as the biggest obstacle. 68% cited finding affordable land to purchase or landowners willing to make long-term agreements. 40% reported access to credit, including small operating loans.

Respondants found these barriers to be more challenging than business planning or marketing skills, finding good education and training.

The researchers from the National Young Farmers’ Coalition interviewed representatives from 30 different organizations around the country who work with farmers and found that the one issue raised by virtually everyone was access to land. The representatives interviewed pointed to many resources to help with financing and credit, farm production, and business and marketing skills, but few actual resources exist to help new farmers gain access to land.

Note: For more on the challenges beginning farmers face, check out this article from Choices magazine.

Rising farmland prices

rowcover at johnnys selected seeds albion
Crop field at Johnny’s Selected Seeds’ research farm in Albion, Maine.

Studies show that most farmers acquire land by purchasing from a non-relative. Therefore, trends in the farmland market are critical to entry opportunities and the cost of farmland. This explains why beginning farmers are more likely to not own land.

Between 2000 and 2008 farmland values have doubled in the United States. Those values are still rising today, driven by foreign investors and development pressures.

According the the USDA’s Economic Research Service, the average farmland real estate value in  2010 was $2,140 per acre, and in 2017 the price per acre for farmland is $2,728. But the agricultural value of land is dependent upon the quality of it’s soil─not it’s development possibilities─and how much income it can produce for farmers.

Due to historical program eligibility conditions, land used for cash grains such as soybean, corn, and rice, are more likely to have an agricultural base than other types of farmland uses (vegetables, fruit, nuts, livestock, etc.). Owning farmland with a base encourages established farmers to continue farming.

The ERS reports that since 2009, US farmland values have been supported by relatively strong farm earnings fueled by record high commodity prices. When coupled with historically low interest rates, the market is able to support higher land values. This is a boon for those exiting the industry, but just the opposite for those trying to buy in.

Lost farmland

old farmland and barn with wild flowers
1.3 million acres of land once dedicated to the cultivation of food, has either been lost to the Maine woods or to development.

In the 1800’s Maine had 6.5 million acres of open farmland. Everybody farmed then. Maine was such a vast state with homesteads so spread out across the country side that residents had no choice but to grow their own food. Since then a total of 1.3 million (or 22.4%) acres of land once dedicated to the cultivation of food has either been lost to the Maine woods or to development.

The phenomenon has accelerated in recent years. Economists detail how much more valuable that farmland would be if it were rezoned for development. Large tracts of land are being bought up and broken into smaller lots for housing. This has a serious impact on the farming industry,  leaving beginning farmers fewer options when it comes to finding farmland. It also makes securing that land much more difficult.

Additionally, the farmland retirement program, the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), encourages established farmers with interest in retiring to place their land in the CRP, rather than exiting farming and selling or renting their land to other producers.

Fewer new farmers

Farmers between the ages of 65 and 74 represent the fastest growing sector of the farming population. According to the USDA’s 2012 Agricultural Census the average age of principal farm operators is 58.3 years old. There are twice as many farmers who are 75 and older, as there are farmers who are 34 and younger.

There can be no doubt that we need the new generation of farmers who are eager to participate in the local food movement. Yet between 1982 and 2007, the percentage of principal operators with fewer than 10 years’ experience dropped from 38% to 26%. The percentage of young farmers fell also, from 16% to 5%, with data from the 2012 Census confirming the continuation of that downward trend. Principal operators with fewer than 10 years’ experience now accounts for 22% of the total, while young farmers represent less than 6%.

The decline of beginning farmers and ranchers has been so sharp that in 2010 US Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack urged Congress to consider adding a policy goal of 100,000 new farmers.

Addressing farmland access

In 2007, to explore and address the concerns of farmland access, succession, tenure, and stewardship (FarmLASTS), a national multi-year project was initiated by a collaboration between Land for Good and the University of Vermont. According to the report compiled by FarmLASTS, only 3% of farmland buyers are new farmers. Socially disadvantaged farmers face additional challenges, including cultural and language barriers.

farmers markets increase oppportunities for beginning farmers sign
Farmers’ markets increase opportunities for beginning farmers.

How will the decrease in beginning farmers affect the country? Based on policies, programs, and statements various policy makers have revealed they believe it matters to the country’s long-term food security. Some policy makers have even expressed the hope that beginning farmers will play a role in revitalizing rural communities, halting the long-term population losses the United States is suffering in those rural areas.

However, until we come up with some kind of incentive to encourage the older generation of farmers to work with beginning farmers─to ensure the stewardship of existing farmlands─the current trend is likely to continue.

Certainly it can be a harrowing experience for non-farmer landowners to sell to farmers because of the difference in the cost of farmland verses it’s value for potential development. Not all landowners are in a position to sell their property for anything less than top dollar, yet those who can afford to want to do just that.

Consumers are waking up to the health risks associated with processed foods. They’re realizing the environmental impacts of an industrialized farming system. People are turning to local foods, and farmers’ markets are on the rise across the US. In 1994 there were 1,755 farmers’ markets throughout the States; in 2014 that number had risen to 8,268─an increase of 471% over a 20-year time span.

The growth of local foods offers opportunity for beginning farmers, with farmers’ markets serving as an incubator for new farmers. Local farmers’ markets allow beginning farmers to grow their business and become a part of their community.

Agriculture needs community

The fact remains that fewer beginning farmers are coming into the industry, and not all of them will endure the long hard struggle to farm ownership. Innovative programs such as the Maine Farmland Trust’s “Forever Farms” project, which uses agricultural easements to preserve fertile land for farming, can help to stem the tide of farmland lost. Unfortunately it’s going to take more than a few organizations to rebuild and maintain a farming industry in rural America. Agriculture needs the support of the community. Not only is this industry dependent upon consumer support and the participation of local townsfolk, it thrives on it and in return feeds our country in more ways than one.

The number of beginning farmers entering agriculture is directly related to the cost of farmland and the obstacles new farmers face. At this time there are many questions left unanswered. Until policy is made to bridge the gap─to encourage more people to sell their lands as farmland, and to increase access to financing─it will continue to be a struggle for beginning farmers looking to get into the business.

My Real Food Challenge

Buying and eating real food is a challenge for low-income families like mine; for people who struggle to make ends meet, food isn’t always a priority. Yet I get this sick sense of satisfaction whenever I am able to put before my family a meal made up of real and local foods. Food is just one of the many ways we show that we care, and when I am able to provide a meal that is both nutritious and delicious I feel really good about that.

real food on a low-income budget. runamukacres.comReal food has been a long journey for me, and-honestly─it’s been something of a challenge. Accessing real food has been hard financially, but then knowing how best to prepare those foods was it’s own hurdle. The types of food I prepare now are much different from those I made when I first began cooking 18 years ago; and so different from what I was raised on that I can’t help but marvel at the real-food journey I’ve undertaken to come to where I am today.

real food challenge

The product of one of rural central Maine’s low-income families, I was raised like so many others on a diet that consisted primarily of processed foods and a meat-and-potatoes mentality. Like so many other families living in poverty, living paycheck to paycheck and working to make ends meet, my family received food stamps and medicaid. We shopped once a month, making the trek regularly to Caswell’s in Waterville to load 2 carts with discounted foods: cereals, snack foods, cheeses, canned goods, and enough meats to last the month. Then we went across town to the discount bread store and filled another cart with bread, english muffins, and breakfast pastries. We were a family of 5 and it took a lot of food to sustain us for a whole month.

What’s wrong with processed foods?

As I’ve grown older, and especially since I became a mom, food and how I feed my family have become increasingly important to me. Over the years, I’ve learned more and more about the health issues that stem from a diet of processed food: chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, obesity, allergies and asthma can all be linked to what we eat. I’ve learned too about the environmental impacts our food system has on the world around us and how industrialized agriculture is hugely dependent on fossil fuels, which contributes approximately one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions. Gradually over time it’s become a personal mission of mine to make real and local foods a priority for my family, even on a low-income budget.

According to renowned advocate Michael Pollan:

How we produce and consume food has a bigger impact on American’s well being than any other human activity. The food industry is the largest sector of our economy; food touches everything from our health to the environment, climate change, economic inequality, and the federal budget.(Pollan via the Washington Post).

Processed food is typically mass produced; it’s food that’s the same from one batch to the next and from one country to another. Processed foods remain emulsified on the shelf─the fats and water in those foods don’t separate because they’ve been engineered not to, and they tend to have long shelf or freezer lives thanks to the various preservatives added to them. These kinds of foods generally have too little fiber, Omega 3 fatty acids, and micronutrients, while at the same time possessing too much in the way of trans-fats, additives, emulsifiers, and too much salt and sugar.

Our current food system was designed with the intention of feeding millions of people around the world cheaply─providing food security and making sure that we can all afford the most basic of needs. However, the design has had unintended consequences with dramatic long-term costs. Highly processed foods may indeed be cheaper and more convenient, but they’re also more craveable and addictive. Studies show that today two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese, and that obesity rates in children has tripled in the last 3 decades.

For more info regarding our broken food system and how you can vote with your fork to make a difference!

What is real food?

A lot has changed since I was a child. Most people today are─at the very least─ aware of the dangers of processed foods, and they’re aware of the benefits of buying locally produced vegetables, meats, and other foods. Some things, however, have not changed, such as the fact that rural central Maine is still a region of the state where many families continue to live below the federal poverty level, as well as the fact that 30 years later, I myself am still counted among low-income families. How can low-income households like mine hope to feed their families real and local food when they’re struggling to pay the bills each month? How can I feed my children a diet that will lead them to lead long healthy lives when I’m struggling to keep my bank account in the green? And what is real food anyway?

carrots grow fast
Real food is simply the ingredients used to make food! Photo courtesy Sidehill Farm; Madison, Maine.

Real food is simply food that has not been processed. Vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, and meat. They are the ingredients that you use to make food. Believe it or not, I’ve managed to move toward a diet increasingly made up of real and local foods even on my low-income budget, and if I can do it I’m confident that other families can do it too.

There’s no denying that it’s more expensive. Cutting out processed foods can be pricey because grass-fed beef and fresh produce from the local farmers’ markets cost more. That’s the real cost of food. Thanks to our subsidized agricultural crops like corn and soy, Americans spend less on food than any other nation, and that’s not a good thing because the cost of that savings has been at the expense of our health and our environment. If we accept the true cost of food, and if we’re willing to prioritize real food in our lives, then we can change our eating habits for the better.

Fourteen years ago, I became a mom for the first time. Since then my diet has been a gradual progression from that meat-and-potatoes mentality and a diet that was heavy in processed foods, to a dedication to a life of real and local foods that has even turned me to farming and advocating for local foods and agriculture. I’m feeding my family real and local foods even on a reduced income, without the benefit of SNAP funds. If I can do it, you can do it too.

Here’s how we eat real food on a low-income:

#1 Limit processed foods: We don’t buy much pasta anymore, nor do we buy snack-foods like crackers, cookies, or chips; Instead, we buy fruit when it’s on sale or in season. If my boys need a snack, it’s fruit, a carrot or a stick of celery. I figure if they’re not hungry enough for an apple then they’re not really hungry at all and just looking to munch. We avoid buying donuts, pastries, frozen dinners or even cereals anymore. Anything with a long list of ingredients on it’s label is out, especially if I can’t even pronounce it. And yes, I look at labels.

#2 Buy real ingredients: Sticking to the outskirts of the grocery store helps me to avoid the temptation to buy processed foods. We purchase fruits and vegetables that are on sale, with the exception of carrots, potatoes, onions, celery and garlic, which are staples in my pantry as they form the base of so many meals. Sometimes I’ll buy frozen vegetables too. We buy milk and butter at the grocery store, but rarely cheese and yogurt or other dairy products, because they’re just too expensive for the budget right now.

#3 Commitment to cooking: There’s no denying that making meals with real food takes a little more time out of the day and requires a commitment to cooking and working with food that you might not otherwise have. However, with that commitment to cooking, you’re fostering love and community within your family, and participating in a relationship with the world around you in direct support of yourself, in support of your family, and in support of the greater community. That sense of love and community is something that industry just can’t give us.

Michael Pollan in the Netflix series Cooked, says:

The cook stands in a very interesting relationship with the world. On one side he looks toward people and community, family─giving this incredible gift of love which is the meal. But on the other side, you’re looking to nature, working with plants and animals. And you reconnect to the fact that the industry doesn’t feed us. Nature does.

grow your own real food
Gardening allows me to produce quite a lot of my own vegetables to feed my family. This has been the key to my Real Food Challenge and has opened so many doors for me over the last 20 years.

#4 Do-it-yourself: Over the years, I’ve learned an increasing number of skills to aid in my mission to feed my family real and local food. There are many types of food that I no longer need the industry to make for me; I’ve learned to do it myself, and the result is food that is less processed, lower in sugar and salt, containing no preservatives or alien ingredients, and is fresher and healthier for my family. We haven’t completely eliminated the grocery store from our lives, but I’m able to produce enough vegetables to last three-quarters of the year. I haven’t bought eggs in years because I raise my own chickens, which then become stew later in life. I can make my own salad dressings, ketchup, bread, muffins, and cookies among other things. Every bit of processed food I am able to avoid feeding myself and my family garners us all just a little healthier life, and reaffirms my commitment to my role in my relationship with nature.

Take a look at this post I wrote about baking to stretch my food budget!

buy real food at the local farmers market
Buy fresh local foods in-season at the local farmers’ market. Many now accept EBT from SNAP shoppers.

#5 Shop local: Many of Maine’s local farmers’ markets are now accepting SNAP/EBT and participate in the Maine Harvest Bucks program, which offers bonus bucks on fruits and veggies at the market. Personally I don’t qualify for SNAP benefits anymore, but for households relying on that assistance, this program makes it possible for low-income families to be able to access locally produced foods. Even on my reduced income I am able to purchase fresh vegetables in-season from local farmers; most often the pricing is comparable to the grocery store and the quality is superior. Meat has been harder to afford at-market, but the grass-fed meats are so superior to what’s available at the grocery store, with the added bonus that the animals that produced that meat lived the life they were meant to live: on pasture with plenty of space and fresh air. Sticking to the cheaper cuts like ground beef and stew meat, and only occasionally splurging on roasts and steaks allows me to buy meat at the farmers’ market.

#6 Eat less meat: Studies show that consuming meat can lead to some serious health risks; producing meat also consumes more fossil fuels and contributes one-fifth of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Leaving behind that meat-and-potatoes mentality in favor of an increasingly plant-based diet has been the hardest part of my real food mission. It’s such a change from the attitude I was raised with that it was difficult at first to wrap my head around it─and getting the rest of my family on board was yet another hurdle. But slowly, over time I’ve reduced the amount of meat we eat. 2-3 times a week I add meat to a meal; often meat is added in smaller quantities and mixed in with a larger dish (as in stew or a casserole or stir-fry). Roasts, steaks and entrees featuring meat are reserved for special occasions. This allows me to stretch my budget so that we can afford locally produced and grass-fed meats.

dry beans instead of meat
Dry beans are an affordable protein source and so versatile! If you’re not accustomed to eating beans and other legumes, it might take some time for your family to get used to eating them. I’ve found that persistence pays.

#7 Eat more grains and legumes: To supplement the protein source in meals, we’ve been experimenting more with different grains, dry beans and other legumes. Dry beans and lentils are inexpensive and especially versatile. With the internet I can find recipes that even my picky-eater will accept.

#8 Prioritize real and local food: Cutting processed foods from our lives can be expensive because grass-fed meats and fresh produce from farmers’ markets cost more. Real food costs more because it’s worth more. I’ve become very careful about where and how I spend my money; real food is important to me, so I’m willing to make sacrifices in order to eat this way. It all boils down to priorities.

The real food journey

eat real and local food on a low-incomeChanging the habits and ideas we were raised with takes time; it’s a journey─a progression─and some days you might fall off the wagon. I admit I still have cravings for foods from yesteryear; once in a while I want a frozen pizza, or pork chops which are not available conveniently to me at the local farmers’ market so I buy them at Hannaford’s. I have an addiction to sugar and carbs and, like a recovering alcoholic, I count the days I’ve lived without consuming a Little Debbie Nutty Bar. However, I try not to beat myself up too much because I know full well that my real food mission is a journey and I’ve come a long way from where I started.

My real food challenge is not about any particular diet; it’s about consuming less processed foods, less meat, and more fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes. It’s about eating healthier in order to be healthier and instilling healthy habits in my children for their longevity; and it’s about prioritizing food that reflects my own commitment to nature. It’s about family, and it’s about community.

Food has this unique power to bridge our differences and draw us together. That age old institution: “the Meal”─fosters community and love with whomever it is shared. In an age of electronics and social media, when it’s easy to allow social interaction in real life to slip in favor of the more passive interactions of Facebook and the internet, maintaining the concept of the family meal has become more important than ever before. Humans are, by nature, social creatures,─even those of us who are introverts need to know that we have a community of people who love us. Society functions better in general when people care about each other and are actively engaged within their communities. With this in mind, I invite you to join me in bringing back the tradition of real food with real people; let’s bring people back to a healthier life and let’s share those lives with our community.

Fast Growing Garden Vegetables

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Following the long winter, as my stores of vegetables dwindle and I am once again reduced to buying Olivia’s spinach at the grocery store, cringing over the kale and lettuce there which never compares to the quality of my own home-grown produce─I am all too eager to get seeds in the ground to grow my own vegetables as fast as possible.

fast growing garden vegetablesI’m not just boasting when I say that my own home-grown veggies are in every way superior to the grocery store produce. Studies show that fruits and vegetables from your own garden actually are higher in nutrients than those that are picked before they are ripe and trucked thousands of miles to get to you. Home-grown vegetables have superior flavor, not just because you can pick them when they are perfectly ripe, but also because the varieties found at the supermarket has been strategically adapted for commercial farming─they’ve been bred for increased yield, improved disease resistance and for their ability to withstand being shipped to the consumer. At home we can select varieties according to our own personal preferences; whether that preference is for a particular flavor, a specific use or increased disease resistance.

Growing my own vegetables to feed my family also saves me money, which I can then use to pay my bills (go figure) or invest back into my farm! This spring I assembled this list of crops that I can grow to produce fresh veg for myself and my family in just 30-60 days. These are important crops because they fill that stretch of time while you’re waiting for crops that take longer to mature.

Note: Maturity dates are typically found on seed packets or within the description in the seed catalog. It might say “Days to Maturity” or “Days to Harvest”, which is key information the seed company is providing you about that species. For direct-seeded crops count from the first day it pops up above ground to the projected date of maturity. The maturity dates for transplants may be delayed by a few weeks.

Super fast growing vegetables (5 – 38 days)

Sprouts: These are so easy and simple to grow that─even in the smallest of apartments─it’s just good sense to utilize this source of fresh veg. Check out this article I wrote about growing your own sprouts. (5-7 days)

Shoots: Much like the sprouts, you’re eating the baby greens of select plant varieties to gain a fresh vegetable source that is power-packed with nutrients at this juvenile stage. My favorites are buckwheat, pea shoots, and sunflower shoots. (10-14 days)

Cress: Grow this like shoots, or direct sow a patch in the garden as soon as the soil is exposed in the spring. You’ll be eating fresh greens in a little over a week! (10 days)

Grow Radishes Super Fast
Colorful easter-egg radishes grown by my buddy Crym at Sidehill Farm in Madison!

Radishes: So easy to grow and so versatile. Everyone knows you can eat radishes sliced in a salad, but have you tried sauteing them? or roasting them in the oven? Some varieties, like the Rover radish and the popular D’Avignon (aka – french breakfast radish) mature in just a few weeks (21 days); eat those while you’re waiting for the more exciting red meat radish (aka – watermelon radish) and the increasingly popular Nero Tondo radish (both mature in 50 days).

Greens! There are a whole host of green leafy vegetables that can be grown in just under 30 days. Many lettuce mixes reach maturity by 28 days and work great in raised beds. Select varieties of lettuce mature in 26, 27, and 28 days respectively─as is the case with the red salad bowl, flashy trout back, and the favorite black seeded simpson. Some types of pac choi will mature in 30 days or eat them at the baby stage, and magenta spreen (a spinach-like alternative) is ready in just 30 days too.

Broccoli raab: These look like small florets or shoots of broccoli, but they’re actually related to turnips and you would harvest and eat the stem, leaves, and broccoli-floret. While it’s less popular in the States, broccoli raab is probably the number one vegetable in China. If you like to stir-fry this one is for you. Grow this one to eat while you’re waiting for the later-maturing heading broccoli. (35 days depending on the variety.)

fall hakeuri turnipsTurnips: some varieties mature very quickly─like my absolute favorite: the hakeuri turnip. This small white turnip is sweet and delectable and has been increasingly popular with commercial growers and home gardeners alike. Eat them raw as a snack, on salads, boil them or roast them in the oven with other root-crops. You can even eat the greens! So good and super easy and fast to grow! (38 days)

Still pretty fast-growing vegetables (40 – 60 days)

More greens: if you can wait a little longer the options for green leafy vegetables are almost limitless. Claytonia (40 days), mustards (40 and 45 days depending on the variety), tatsoi─a succulent fleshy spinach-like asian green (43 days). Some lettuce varieties take longer, but some of my favorites are ready to harvest in 45 and 48 days: check out Skyphos and Cherokee. Swiss chard (50 days) is popular in the summertime, but will actually tolerate some cooler temperatures and a light frost; get it in the ground as soon as the soil temperature is 40°. Kale is ready is 50 days and if you select cut-and-come again varieties you can have that plant all through the season and even keep it into the winter. Mache is a simple little green (50 days), but so cold hardy that it’s worth keeping an established patch in the cold frame of high tunnel all through the winter.

Turnips & Radishes: Later maturing varieties from those listed in the “super-fast” grouping. The scarlet queen turnip is newer (43 days), while the purple top turnip (50 days) is a traditional New England root crop. In recent years the watermelon radish (50 days) has gained popularity because of it’s red flesh and green skin, which is a fun culinary delight; and the new Nero tondo radish (50 days) is black with white flesh.

Red Ace beets grow fast!
Looks at these beets from Sidehill Farm! A 2-for-1 vegetable: cut the greens off and eat those, then eat the roots too!

Beets: Are a crop that offers 2 sources of veg─leafy greens and tasty, fleshy beet-roots which can be cooked in a variety of ways. Most people are familiar with the traditional red round beet, like the Red Ace (50 days) or the Merlin (48 days), but the Babybeet matures much faster (just 40 days) and so does the Early Wonder (45 days) which also produces excellent beet-greens. Yellow beets (55 days) like the Boldor and the Touchstone Gold add more visual interest to any dish but seem to take just a few days longer to mature.

Summer Squash: Once things warm up enough, pop zucchini (47 days) and yellow summer squash (50 days) seeds into the ground and in less than 2 months’ time you can have squash coming out your ears! There are lots of different colors and shapes to experiment with too!

Beans: Another warm-weather crop that offers a quick return on your time and efforts, and also easier to grow too. Lots of varieties to choose from. (50 days depending on the variety)

Sugar Ann peas grow fast in the spring and fall
Peas are a fairly quick crop that prefers the cooler temperatures of spring and fall, affording the gardener a chance for a dual-harvest.

Peas: If you have an established garden you can just pop these seeds in the ground as soon as the soil is exposed in the spring. Snap and snow-peas mature fairly quickly and tolerate the cooler temperature of spring and fall, which means you can sow them twice in the growing season. Eat them raw as a snack, steamed, stir-fried, or blanched and frozen for winter-use. (52 – 60 days depending on the variety)

Cucumbers: A classic summer treat, either on it’s own, in salads, or pickled. This warm-weather crop offers opportunity for succession sowing over the course of the summer as they reach maturity in 48 – 52 days depending on the variety.

Okra: Less popular here in the north than it is in the southern states, Okra can be grown to harvest in just 50 days.

Mokum carrots grow fast
Some varieties of carrots mature faster than others. Photo courtesy Sidehill Farm.

Carrots: Some varieties are mature relatively early, like the Mokum (36 days to baby-size, 54 days full-size), and the Adelaide (55 days), referred to as a “true baby carrot” because it matures early and has real carrot flavor in small 3-4″ roots that you don’t normally get in premature carrots.

Scallions: A larger version of the common chive, scallions will be ready long before those onion plants or sets you put in this spring. (60 days)

Grow food fast!

Use this list to create a strategy for your garden to grow your own produce as fast as possible in the spring when the stores in your pantry are depleted. Or go ahead and plan succession sowings of some of your favorite crops─some crops grow so quickly that you can get 6, 7 or 8 harvests over the course of the growing season, which really allows you to make the most of your space. Growing your own vegetables not only saves you money, but ensures a healthier diet and lifestyle for yourself and your family, as well as an increased appreciation for food. Now get outside and get busy!

Do you grow your own veggies? Got any super-fast growing recommendations to share? Feel free to share! Leave a comment below!

Big news at Madison Farmers’ Market!

fun-and-games-at-market

This will be the Madison Farmers’ Market’s 5th season and what a season it is shaping up to be! I’m so excited and so proud that I’m fairly bursting! We have some big changes planned and despite the snow in our local forecast, the days are getting longer and I have faith that spring will soon be here and I will be in the dirt once more.

big-news-at-the-mfm_fiNew Vendors!

Our little market has grown from just two lonely farmers along the side of the road on Main Street in Madison to twelve farmers this year, with the recent addition of two new vendors. At our annual New Applicant Meeting we met with potential vendors and unanimously voted to bring Steelbow Farm and S&S Kid Farm into the fold. Coincidentally, both these farms are located on the Father Rasle Rd on the Norridgewock side.

Finnegan and Jason are transplants to the area, working with a local land-owner to establish their farm here in Maine. They’re offering mixed vegetables and a CSA program─both with the Madison market and also in Bangor.

Shana Brown is a local whom I’ve been acquainted with for years. She raises goats and makes fabulous goat cheeses, as well as goats’ milk soap and different body butters. Shana also grows vegetables and raises rabbits, so you may see some of that from her too.

Switching to Saturday!

maple-products-at-market
Haulk’s Maple of Madison with a wide variety of Maine maple products.

When we first started the Madison Farmers’ Market, we worried about having to compete with the larger and well-established Skowhegan Farmers’ Market. We went with Sunday and have actually developed a select following of customers who like that we’re available on Sunday. However, while the market has seen some growth, the rate is not at the level our local farmers require in order to meet their income needs. What’s more, it has become apparent that in-town Madison is much busier on Saturday than it is on Sunday. After several years observing our community, our farmers have concluded that─in general─the people of Madison-Anson seem to like to do their running around on Saturday so that they can stay at home or go to church on Sunday. With that in mind (and after much debate), our farmers have voted democratically to take this big and bold step in order to better meet the needs of both the community and it’s farmers.

Madison Farmers’ Market
is switching to Saturdays!

The market will continue to be held in the parking lot at the Main Street Park in Madison, directly across the street from Skowhegan Savings Bank from 9am to 2pm. We will host all of the same vendors with the same great, locally produced foods and products, but we’ll be there on Saturdays rather than Sunday. We will continue our participation in the Harvest Bucks program in order to be able to offer bonus-bucks to EBT-shoppers too. Hopefully this means more local folks will be encouraged to shop and eat local foods, but just in case that wasn’t enough incentive to come to the Madison Farmers’ Market this summer─there’s more!

Introducing our new Kid’s Club!

annual-farmers-market-convention-maine
Trisha Smith at MFFM’s recent convention.

Regular readers of the Runamuk blog may recall that I recently attended my second-ever farmers’ market convention back in January. After sitting through a presentation entitled “Bringing the whole family: integrating youth and family programming at the farmers’ market”, I was inspired to begin our very own Kid’s Club program at the Madison Farmers’ Market. It is my hope that with this program we will not only inspire enthusiasm for fresh, local foods in the next generation of market-shoppers, but also build relationships between the community and it’s farmers.

Our market in Madison is already super family-friendly. Several of us bring children with us to market and we’ve gotten pretty creative with our shenanigans there. Check it out:

changes-at-farmers-market
Here is my son with fellow-farmer Crym Sullivan of Sidehill Farm in Madison: squash-bowling at market is a competitive sport!
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We don’t just paint faces at market, Jessica Paul creates beautiful works of art on each child!
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We love little ones at the Madison Farmers’ Market!
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Who says you shouldn’t play with your food?!
fun-and-games-at-market
More fun and games at market.

How does the Kids’ Club work?

madison-farmers-market-kids-clubTheme-Days: For each week of the program I’ve planned some really fun themes like “Shoots & Sprouts Day” and “Decomposers Day” in observance of National Gardening Month, and “Birds & Bees Day” in honor of National Pollinators Week. Other fun themes include “Alien Day” as part of World UFO Day, “Mid-Summer’s Day” to celebrate the Summer Solstice, and “Adventure Day”─think Indiana Jones, Star Wars, LOTR and every fairy tale or fantasy you’ve ever read or watched.

Special Events: As part of the Kid’s Club program, on July 9th the market will host “Every Day Heroes Day” to show appreciation for our local firefighters, law enforcement, paramedics, nurses and other such every-day heroes. I hope to have the local fire department come with a firetruck, as well as our local sheriff (who actually has been an occasional patron to the market–yay!) and maybe even a local game warden. Then on August 20th, to observe International Homeless Animals Day, we’ve scheduled “Man’s Best Friend Day” with a pet food and supply drive to benefit the Somerset County Humane Society. Our annual Harvest Celebration will conclude the program on Saturday, September 9th.

Sponsored by Backyard Farms!

madison-farmers-market-kids-club-passport-book
Prototype of the Kids’ Club Passport.

In order to pay for this program, I had to seek local sponsorship to cover the cost of the $2 tokens for the kids (I set a goal of 100 kids for the first year of this new program), along with the supplies needed for the crafts and activities planned over the course of the season. After meeting with Tim Curtis (Madison’s town manager) with a host of materials–including a prototype of the Kid’s Club Passport, a program overview, and some initial ideas for market-themes–Tim took my prepared materials and approached Backyard Farms on the market’s behalf. As you probably know, Backyard Farms is a huge greenhouse right here in Madison where over 200 employees grow tomatoes all year-round. In fact, believe it or not – this is their 10th anniversary!

Within days, I had a response from Jim Darroch, Director of Marketing at Backyard Farms, who said:

Teaching children to develop healthy eating habits can be challenging for busy parents. Especially if their kids are picky eaters or reluctant to try new things. Not only does this passport idea make it fun for kids to try different fruits and vegetables, it makes it easier for Mom or Dad too.

How amazing is that!?

Getting the word out

groundswell-seed-farm
Marafax beans─an heirloom variety─available from Groundswell Seed Farm of Embden.

Now that I’ve got the details and funding of the Kid’s Club squared away, all that remains is to get the word out to the community about this great new─and free─program. As luck would have it, when I went to that annual farmers’ market convention I was able to reconnect with Cheryl Curtis, who has been a friend of the Madison Farmers’ Market since it’s inception.

Cheryl is now working for Somerset Public Health visiting local schools teaching nutrition, and I am going to be allowed to accompany her to introduce the Kid’s Club to my target audience. In May I will visit children in grades K through 6 at Madison Elementary, Garret Schenck Elementary in Anson, and the Carrabec Community School in North Anson. Flyers will also be sent home with students to inform parents, and even more flyers will be distributed across the communities by myself and my “army of farmers”.

Come see us at market!

madison-maine-farmers-marketMarket season for the Madison Farmers’ Market begins on May 13th this year─that’s the second Saturday of the month. If you’ve been a devoted patron to our market, then we hope you’ll be able to come see us on our new day; for locals who have been considering giving the market a try but haven’t made it because of scheduling conflicts, we hope these big and bold changes encourage you to come see us.

I’m so proud of the community we’ve been able to build through our farmers’ market. Over the last few years, we’ve seen slow but steady growth and we’ve developed some great relationships with customers and friends to the market. Our local farmers are an eclectic bunch─all kind, friendly and knowledgeable people. Each and every one of them are dedicated to farming and to bringing fresh, local foods to the people of Madison and Anson.  It truly is a wonderful feeling to be a part of something so vibrant, honest and inspiring, and I’m honored to be a part of it.

Be sure to follow the Madison Farmers’ Market on facebook for market-reminders, special event listings, and up-to-date information from your local farmers.

Sprouts: easy DIY winter greens

sprouts-easy-diy-winter-greens

I’ve been eating sprouts during the winter for a number of years now. Sprouts are a quick and easy way to provide the family with fresh veg all year long regardless of where you live. They’re pure, fresh, and nutrient-rich food that can be produced easily whether you’re 3 or 103. I like to use the jar method because I already have a bunch of mason jars handy, and I’m willing to sacrifice a cupboard close to the sink to keep them handy for easiest propagation.

People have been growing sprouts for more than 5000 years; in 2939 BC the emperor of China wrote about the versatile qualities of sprouts─and to this day sprouts are still one of the most nutritious foods on Earth. That’s because sprouts increase in nutritional content as they grow, especially in vitamins A, B-complex, C, E, and K. The vitamin C in sprouted peas increases 8-fold in 4 days─compared to dry peas. In sprouted wheat, the vitamin B-complex increases 6 times and the vitamin E 3 times in just 4 days of sprouting. Many different minerals abound in sprouts in an easily digested form having already been processed by the sprouts for your body’s immediate use.

sprouts-easy-diy-winter-greensWhen eaten raw, sprouts provide a storehouse of enzymes, and homegrown sprouts are the freshest, most assuredly organic food available to you. It just makes good sense to keep them in your home and utilize this easy food source.

I buy my sprouting seeds from Johnny’s Selected Seeds where they have a wide selection to choose from, and the sprouting seeds have all been tested for the presence of E. coli and salmonella. That’s important because these seeds are being used in a different manner from the seeds you’re using to put in the ground and the potential is there for those bacteria to take hold if we’re not careful.

What you need:

  • Sprouting seed of choice: check out Johnny’s sprouting seed selection here.
  • Glass jar or other such container: wide-mouth glass canning jar, quart size.
  • Lid: made of cheesecloth, muslin, or nylon screen, secured with a rubber band or canning lid rim, or a special sprouting lid which screws onto the jar and has a built-in screen, which makes rinsing easy
  • Drainer: we use a small plastic dish strainer to set the glass jars in for draining after they’ve been rinsed.
  • Air & water: should be easy enough!
  • Space & darkness: I prefer to designate a cupboard next to the kitchen sink for my sprouts. Usually the lowest shelf houses the jars and strainer with the growing sprouts, and the shelf above that is where I store my packets of sprouting seed and other related sprouting-equipment.

General rules for sprouting

There are a number of different methods to grow sprouts. I prefer the jar method because I happen to have numerous canning jars handy, but with any of the methods you will follow the same basic procedure.

how-to-grow-sprouts
Measure out your seed accordingly.

1. Measure & cull:  Check out this sprouting seed pdf from Johnny’s; they give you the quantity of seed and the estimated yield for 11 different varieties of sprouting seed. You should measure out your seed for sprouting and check it over before putting it in the jar. Pick out any stones or dead-looking seeds.

2. Wash & skim: Put the seed in your chosen jar and fill it three-quarters full with water. Swish and swirl the seed around to rinse them clean. Pour of the UFOs (unidentified floating objects).

3. Soak overnight: Soaking times vary depending on the seed size, but generally the common denominator is 8 hours or overnight.

sprouts-winter-greens
We like to use cheese cloth on our sprouting jars.

4. Drain: We’re using cheesecloth and rubber bands on our sprouting jars; you can easily adjust the cloth to suit the seed you’re sprouting. The smaller the seed the more layers of cheesecloth you need. We just cut large squares and fold them to fit, then we fix it to the top of the jar with a rubber band. Drain off the soak water. This water is rich in water-soluble vitamins and minerals so if you have houseplants you might consider saving it and using it to water you plants with; it will give them a nice boost.

5. Rinse & drain: 2-3 times a day you need to rinse your sprouts with room temperature water. Cold water will set the sprouts back, and hot water will kill them. Use room temperature water to rinse them for about 30 seconds, then drain the water off again. Sprouts are very forgiving, so if you forget to rinse them one time it’s not the end of the world.

6. Sun: If you’re growing leafy sprouts like alfalfa, clover, cabbage, kale, radish, spinach, mustard, and turnip, as well as the more difficult chia, cress, and flax. Your sprouts will eventually grow leaves, and when exposed to light those leaves will begin to develop chlorophyll. Simply keep your sprouts next to the window on the fourth and fifth day cycle or on the fifth and sixth days. I find that even just one day in the sun is enough to green up my sprouts. Beware that some sprouts─like fenugreek─turn bitter and tough when exposed to light.

7. Hull (optional): Often this is unnecessary and some folks skip this step altogether─considering it less trouble to simply eat the fibrous hulls along with the sprouts. However if you choose to remove the hulls you can do it either rinse-by-rinse or all-at-once at the final rinse. To remove hulls rinse-by-rinse begin on the third or fourth day by affixing the widest mesh possible to your jar and flush water through the jar. Many of the hulls will float up and out the top. You can also fill the jar with water and skim the floating hulls off with a spoon. To remove hulls at the final rinse put them in a bowl in the sink and fill it half-full with water. Loosen and agitate the sprouts to comb out the hulls. The trick with this is to hold the sprout midway under water so that they neither sink nor swim.

8. Cull & store: The final rinse should always precede the harvest by at least 8 hours. Never refrigerate wet sprouts─this can lead to mushy and moldy sprouts after just a couple of days. Store dry sprouts in the fridge.

9. Clean the jar: Be sure to wash your sprouting jar with hot soapy water between each batch, rinse clean and allow to dry before use.

10. Begin again: Keep the cycle going for a continuous supply of fresh, organic, nutrient-rich vegetation for your consumption.

Eat more sprouts!

eat more sprouts
Salads of sprouts and shoots are quite a treat in the midst of winter!
eating-sprouts
I like to take a sprout/shoot salad to work with me in a jar with the dressing at the bottom. Dump the contents onto a plate and PRESTO! Instant salad!

I’m making every effort to eat a less processed diet─a diet in which I’m either growing my own or sourcing as much of my food as much as possible from local farmers. Eating more sprouts is a quick and easy way to provide a form of fresh vegetables that are nutrient-rich and they’re so versatile.

My goal is to grow and eat more sprouts every day, and to get my family to eat more sprouts. I love sprouts on my sandwiches and in a salad. Check out this great website with lots of recipes for using sprouts in everything from stir-fry and salads, to tortillas, pizzas, soups and sandwiches. Everyone should eat more sprouts!

 

Do you grow sprouts too?  Which are your favorites and how do you like to eat them???

More recommended reading:

How to sprout fenugreek – from Eight Acres

Growing sprouts at home – via Mother Earth News

How to grow your own sprouts – from They’re Not Our Goats

Perfect sprouts every time; how to sprout seeds to eat – this by the Healing Harvest Homestead

Sprouts for Backyard Chickens – by Imperfectly Happy Homesteading

Garden Update

With the sowing of green beans on Friday, the garden is finally complete. If I weren’t moving this fall it wouldn’t be “done”, I would continue with succession sowings, planning for fall crops and cold-frames to carry us into the winter with hardy greens. But things being what they are, the green beans are it for this year.

potato patch 2016
Some sexy-looking potato plants!

The garden turned out to be about 120 feet by 30, broken up into 3 sections. The greens, legumes, and root crops in the first third of the garden, tomatoes and peppers in half of the next third, and the “squash neighborhood”─consisting of not just summer and winter squashes, but also cucumbers and some pie-pumpkins, in the other half of that section. And finally a full third of the garden is planted with potatoes. Everything is looking really great!

My commitment to being able to produce the food needed to feed my family was one of the driving forces behind Runamuk, and one of the main reasons I conceded to give up Jim’s farm. It’s hugely important to me to be able to produce my own food for my family and to be able to serve my community as a local farmer. Making a deal with Dirt Capital Partners wouldn’t have left me time for either.

So far this season Paul and I have harvested head and leaf lettuce (decided I don’t want to play with leaf lettuces anymore─pretty but too tedious!), spinach, arugula, kale, snap peas and garlic scapes from the garden. I’ve sold extra head lettuces, garlic scapes and parted with a couple pounds of my snap peas at the Madison Farmers’ Market, but the rest we’ve eaten or stored for winter.

Rhubarb sauce on hot pancakes!
Rhubarb sauce on hot pancakes!

We’ve also done some foraging and harvesting to feed ourselves: fiddleheads grow along the riverbanks, and Paul caught us a couple of bass from the Sandy River, Jim had a well-established patch of asparagus, which we gorged on and even sold or bartered some at the farmers’ market, and the farm supports a beautiful rhubarb patch that fed us too. We ate rhubarb til we were sick of it, sold a little at market, and sold 30 pounds to North Star Orchards.

Note: When I worked at the orchard last fall and winter I helped the Dimmock family package their holiday gift boxes, which were  artfully assembled with a variety of apples, farm-produced jams, and locally produced food products like cheeses, maple syrup , and chocolates. The rhubarb will be made into jams that the Dimmocks sell in their farm-store, or in these gift-boxes. Check it out!

Processing snap-peas for freezing.
Processing snap-peas for freezing.

It’s as important to make time to process the food, as it is to make time to grow it in the first place, but I’ve made a start on it. I’ve put 3 quarts of blanched and frozen snap peas in the freezer (decided to try stringless snap peas next year), and made 3 quarts of scape-vinegar (2 made with apple cider vinegar, and 1 with kombucha vinegar).

The stirrup-hoe knocks down over-grown weeds in a flash!
The stirrup-hoe knocks down over-grown weeds in a flash!

Everything has had at least one dose of fish-fertilizer following transplanting, and the tomatoes have been staked and pruned─they’re looking fabulous; mostly paste tomatoes to be put up for the winter. I love the heirloom and open-pollinated varieties, but with my commitment to producing my own food the need to ensure a harvest has compelled me to take on some hybrid crops. Several varieties of hybrid tomatoes, cucumbers, and squashes bred for improved disease resistance and/or increased production have made it into my garden along with my favorite heirlooms.

Now we’re on to the weed-and-water stage of the season, where maintaining it all becomes crucial. I haven’t done too bad keeping the weeds at bay. Sometimes they get tall in the aisles, but I can whack it all into shape rather quickly with my stirrup hoe. Othertimes it’s a more painstaking and time-consuming process, as when it came to weeding the carrot-bed recently.

Things are growing strong─I’ll post again soon to keep you informed; stay tuned folks!

New winter market in Madison

madison winter farmers' market

It was a long struggle this summer searching for an indoor venue for the Madison Farmers’ Market to move to once the weather turned cold. This is my third year as manager of our budding market and I’m learning to allow plenty of time for planning and promoting events, so I started on the project back in June, broaching the subject with the vendors who make up the Madison market. Collectively we were in agreement that extending our market into the winter was something we were keen on, so long as we didn’t have to suffer through the cold outdoors. We may be farmers, but we have limits too!

And I set about my grand search for a location for the prospective winter market. The ideal spot would be somewhere right in the heart of town where locals would easily see our signs and be able to get to us. A number of our patrons are elderly so we wanted to be able to accommodate them; and of course parking was a consideration too.

After a couple of dead-ends and false-starts I was beginning to get discouraged, when we were granted permission to use the cafeteria at the Madison Junior High, which is directly across the street from the park where we set up all summer. Other than the institutional-vibe that the school gives off, it was a good location and the arragement suited the market well.

You may dismiss my comment regarding the “vibe” of the location as inconsequential, but it’s the same with any first impression. The vibe, or the gut-reaction that people get from a new place, business, or house and the people therein plays a significant role in whether or not they return.  And I know the vibe that my market exudes is up-beat and optimistic, open and honest, a testament to our vendor’s dedications to local food and farms─it’s only natural that we should find a location that reflects that kind of vibe.

Well at the last minute one of my false-starts had a change of heart, and we were able to work out an agreement with the Somerset Abbey, which was our first-choice. Hooray!

This past Sunday was the first of our 5 winter markets─running every other Sunday through to Christmas. Our hosts at the Somerset Abbey collaborated with us to incorporate some craft vendors, and they launched an advertising campaign that included a radio ad, a posting in the local Somerset Express paper, as well as online via social networks. Of course we shared the details on our own facebook fanpage and through the fanpages of our prospective farms to spread the word.

On hand the vendors had locally produced chicken, duck, beef, pork, seasonable vegetables (like squashes, potatoes, leeks and kale─even some tomatoes!), garlic, seed garlic and a fabulous garlic dip, baked goods like bread and cookies, scones and muffins, and of course, Runamuk’s own fresh-eggs and beeswax soaps and salves.

madison winter farmers' marketThere was some confusion unfortunately, due to our late change of venue, a few of our regular patrons went to the Jr High looking for us, but they managed to find us in the end and we were happy to see them! It’s that kind of commitment from a growing number of locals that keeps farmers like me and my market-peeps doing what we do.

madison farmers' & artisan's winter marketmadison winter marketThe folks at the Abbey have committed themselves to all-things-local, local beers, local products, local music and artists, and they provided the Madison Farmers’ Market a warm, dry and clean location. Coffee, pie, soup and more were offered up, along with a few cafe tables for patrons to sit at and chat, eat or listen to the live music and the vibe was great. It’s an ideal alliance that I hope will further promote local products and food in Madison and it’s surrounding areas.

If you’re in the area, or will be passing though some Sunday between 11 and 2, the dates of our winter markets are November 8th and 22nd (the Sunday before Thanksgiving), and December 6th and 20th (the Sunday before Christmas). Drop in to see what’s available or what’s going on, and chat with some young Maine farmers over a cup of coffee, we’d be glad to see you!