Sunday, November 22, 2009

Tuppence a Bag

I'm 75% of the way through Farm City by Novella Carpenter.

It really is a great book - highly recommended.

Before I went to see her and before I got the book, Deus Ex Machina and I were talking about her writing style, and I said, in effect, that she was more "accessible" than some of the other writers on the topic of urban farming.

She has a very matter-of-fact tone to her writing, like she's having a conversation with us, and she's not preachy, like "this is the way it's done, and any other way is just wrong", and even though she's obviously a very intelligent person, her word choice is everyday, street jargon, and she doesn't lose her point in verbose rhetoric.

The other thing I like is that she admits she doesn't know it all - but not in the I-don't-know-it-all-but-let-me-tell-you-what-I-do-know attitude. She is not on a pedestal. She went into her urban farming adventure with very little in the way of experience. She had raised a few bees and kept a few chickens and raised a garden, but when she landed in Oakland, and decided that urban farming was what she was doing, she went whole hog with it - even to the point that she raised a whole hog ... or two. Well, maybe they were actually pigs.

The point is, like many of us thrivalists, she started out not knowing a great deal about what she was getting herself into, but she's very candid about her mistakes and the limitations of her experiment. Unlike the starry-eyed back-to-the-landers, of which her parents were participants, she knew full well how dependent we all are on this modern society, and rather than simply throw off all of the accoutrements of the world as we know it, she has tried to take the best of what her parents taught her and the best of what her world has to offer and marry the two.

I'm not finished with the book, and so I don't know if she feels her experiment is a success, but I do know, having met her, that she does not feel it is complete. She's still there, still doing her thing day-in and day-out. It's a lifestyle. One she has embraced, and one she shares through her book and her blog.

The one thing that has most impressed me, though, is not her desire to be self-sufficient on a piece of urban land, but her desire to breath life back into a community that had died. Her urban garden doesn't just represent food security for her and Bill (her boyfriend). It's open to the public, to anyone who wants to harvest a handful of carrots ... or the only heritage breed watermelon on the vine.

It goes beyond her personal needs and extends out into a community that doesn't have a lot to hope for. She lives in a neighborhood peopled by those folks most of us never see, even when they're right in front of us, because we've trained ourselves not to see the homeless, the addict, the protitute, the destitute.

She sees them. And she feeds them. And she hopes that her garden will give them some sense of purpose, of hope, of will.

And speaking of food security, there have been a lot of disturbing stories in the news over the past few weeks. This summer the late blight hit the northeast hard and decimated the tomato and potato crops. Potatoes are a staple in my family's local diet. I usually buy potatoes in 50 lbs bags. Not this year, though. No one was offering bags of potatoes that large, and I'm buying them in 20 lbs increments.

I was hoping that we'd have pumpkin as a back-up, but the cool, wet summer affected the pumpkin crop, and it wasn't so good either. I read a story the other day about Libby brand canned pumpkin and the fact that the pumpkin crop out west was pretty bad this year. There will be a lot of folks looking for canned pumpkin and not finding it. There is a pumpkin shortage, and while there may be enough to go around for Thanksgiving pumpkin pie, and we might even have a can or two left over for Christmas pie, our options are really narrowing.

The least concerning, but most disturbing news on the food shortage front was the Eggo waffle shortage. I could care less about frozen waffles, but the fact that it's a major news story, up there with the potato blight and the pumpkin shortage, is quite disturbing. One person interviewed talked about rationing her Eggos so that they would last longer.

I wish I were making this stuff up.

And there actually was a sign on the freezer case at the grocery store today that mentioned the shortage.

There was no sign over the potatoes, though ... or on the canned pumpkin display, but it was One Pie pumpkin and not Libby's.

I wonder if people will be surprised when the potatoes are gone, and there just aren't anymore until July when the new potatoes are harvested?

In this land of plenty most of us aren't worried, yet, about the crop failures. For those of us still plugged into the industrial food machine, there's still plenty of food - most of which comes from corn, and while the corn yields this year seem to be mostly good, the weird weather we had this year did do some damage. My favorite answer to the question I feed my own corn. What steps should I take? was dry and sell the moldy corn quickly.

I wonder to whom this moldy corn is being sold, and what sort of product will be made from it.

Don't you?

The fact is that food shortages are a reality this year, and it's concerning, especially given the number of people who are living mouthful to mouthful. Most of the people in this country don't fall into that category, but there are plenty of people worldwide who do.

There's not much I, alone, can do about feeding the world. They won't want my canned goods, and even if I bought extra each time I went to the store, there's little chance that the One Pie brand canned pumpkin I donated would end up in the stomachs of the starving masses.

There's a website, though, that's interesting and educational. On one can answer questions, and for each right answer, grains of rice are donated. Since its inception three years ago, the website has generated enough correct answers to feed over 3000 people each day.

As a family, we've decided to try to feed one person for at least one day. It will take 19,200 grains of rice to accomplish this task, and it will probably take us an entire month to do it.

If you're interested in joining us, let me know. We're going to keep a daily total of rice donated on the side bar, and we'd be happy to add your daily totals to ours. Who knows, maybe if enough of us join in, we'll be able to feed a whole family one really good meal.

It's not much, but it's a start.


  1. I think I want to know "how moldy was the corn." And is it really that bad for you when they turn moldy corn into over processed Fritos? Wouldn't that kill any mold or at least take away it's will to live? ;-) I kid!

    Apparently the canned pumpkin blight has hit NJ. I'm thinking about selling my processed pumpkin on the black market.

    Maybe I can get in on some Eggo knock off action too with my waffleiron.

  2. Bezzie - Black market canned pumpkin ;) ... Ha! Ha! Ha! I love your entrepreneurial spirit.

  3. Our CSA farmer has pumpkins and I could have brought home seeral extras on Friday. I worry about them going bad before I can eat them, though. Suggestions for storage in a small house? I do okay keeping them in a cool room but I figure there's probably a better way.

  4. Chile, keeping them in a cool room is good. The other thing I do is cook them and store the puree in the freezer - which isn't the ideal solution. You can also cut the meat into chunks and pressure can it (they don't recommend trying to can the puree, though, and I haven't tried it). I've made pumpkin butter, which is just delicious, and you could probably make a fruit leather out of the pumkin butter, if you like fruit leathers. You can cut it into thin strips and dehydrate it, although I haven't tried this either - sounds intriguing, though.

    My favorite way to preserve pumpkin is to make it into canned pumpkin bread. I use this recipe and it is outstanding! Not vegan, though. I don't know how an egg substitute would affect the taste or consistency of the bread.

  5. I try to donate 500 grains of rice daily through An easy way to do so is to open the site as another window when you are reading e-mail. Each time you open an e-mail, go to FreeRice and answer a question. I will be sending you totals when December starts, probably weekly, as I read your blog on Saturdays. It will be interesting to see how far we can get.