Monday, 6 September 2010

Embracing your bioregion

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

There are so many buzz words out there today in the simple green movement, some are fitting, and some are well, just buzz words. Sustainable, local, locavore, green, and the list goes on. But many times the words are just words or marketing tools. In our all out quest to save the world from everything we are losing sight of what really matters. Do my neighbor's hot house tomatoes in May qualify for local? Well yes they are local, they don't travel great distances to get here, but the huge energy costs to get tomatoes ripe here in the cool, cloudy Pacific Northwest make them not such a good choice if the buyer wants to lessen their energy impact. Another neighbor keeps a heated greenhouse also, where she grows citrus fruits. She fusses, and worries and gets her fresh citrus a few here and few there, but mostly she complains about heating the greenhouse and the keeping the plants happy, then she sends her hubby to the store for lemons so she can make marmalade. Her citrus is local, and zero-mile but the energy expenditure is huge, and she is frustrated most of the time because of her personal energy is drained also. My personal path down this road was raising chickens for sale à la Polyface , every bit of grain we fed with the exception of oats was shipped in from long distances. Not exactly an environmentally sound enterprise for our farm. Not to say we couldn't have sold scads of poultry and eggs raised this way - just that we didn't really feel comfortable after awhile having our so many of our eggs in one basket, so to speak. It wouldn't have taken much of a hiccup in the transportation system to cause us a lot of problems and heartache.

We have been told for so long as consumers that the world is our oyster, and we can have anything we want food-wise any time of the year. We all want to be so distinctive but really we are all so alike. These days you could take any grocery store produce department and plunk it down anywhere and it would look the same as one in a totally different region. With a modern transportation system at our beck and call, we have out-of-season fruits and vegetables year round in every town. And I won't even touch the processed food debate in this post with a ten foot pole. It's no wonder people don't know where their food comes from. Because it comes from the store! And they're all the same for the most part in every part of the country.

There is no celebration of heritage foods, or bioregional foods. And now it trickles down to farming and gardening. I love sweet potatoes but growing them is a crap shoot at best in my location. They belong in the South, same with peanuts or a myriad of other local, regional food stuffs. Farmers and gardeners love a challenge, the self-reliant gene that makes us want to try to grow everything, and the confidence that we can, makes it a little hard to swallow when we fail. When everyone celebrates with someone else's heritage and local food, it is no longer local, and then becomes scarce. The Pacific Northwest is famous for its salmon runs, which are scant at best now. When you have doctors telling you to eat salmon for it's health benefits and everyone jumps on the fishing boat the salmon in is big trouble. Of course, we always think we can outsmart and do an end run around these types of problems. No salmon, well, we will farm them. No chicken feed grown locally, well, we'll plow up the back 40 and plant some. No limes for the margarita, we'll just get us a citrus tree and an atrium and sit back and sip away. I am not trying to point fingers really, since this type of thinking is hard to get away from. If I run into a road block on some type of idea or project, I always try to think of ways to duplicate at home what I have purchased somewhere else. It's a hard mindset to quell - I got a start the other day when I saw a recipe requests for homemade gummy worms, and chocolate syrup, and this was on a healthy food/farming forum that I read.

I have been trying to embrace our local foodshed more, but I have quite a ways to go on this one. First I have stopped trying to grow many vegetables that are really just marginal in my climate. Ok, sure I will grow peppers and tomatoes in a hoophouse, but I will not heat the hoophouse. And I am justifying that hoophouse in my mind by using it as a season extender... Baby steps. A biggie is maple syrup, I like just a dab on my breakfast sausage, you know, the salt/sweet thing, but really just a hint of homegrown, homemade applesauce has been just as enjoyable with my breakfast and satisfies my sweet tooth. Maple syrup will have to be a treat from now on. It doesn't seem like much, these changes I have made, but I hope they will add up over time.

Have you found yourself rediscovering your heritage foodshed as well?


denimflyz said...

It is very hard, this journey we call "simple lifestyle" or homesteading. Each region has its own set backs and draw backs. I live in the middle of the country, where fruit, and veggies are a challange. I use hoop houses, and cold frames to grow a lot of my greens, and I do experiment with greens, and use greenhouse plastic to extend my tomato season as far as I can.
My success was growing spinach in September and in Oct we had 2 30" blizzards and then soon after -30+ below windchill weather, I snugged down my spinach and covered it, and in February, I was rewarded with sweet, delicious spinach. So it truly is a crap game we play when we garden.
Enjoy the writing and the blog, it truly is a window to the soul of us all.
Regards, said...

I'm working at it, but it is so very hard. Instead of seeing it as what I mustn't eat (coffee, chocolate, SALT??) I am trying to embrace more of what I can (peanuts, sweet potatoes, okra.) But it's still a very unpleasant thing to know that a "dose" of medicinal pineapple would take the swelling down on my knees and feel compelled to do without.

LindaG said...

Your post is so sensible. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this matter, with us. :)

Damn The Broccoli said...

The idea of local does seem to be one of the hardest to get through to people on where the hidden costs are.
My girlfriend and I are embarking on just such a change of lifestyle, whislt trying to maintain a quality of life to which we have, like so many, frankly become addicted.

This means my sunday has been spent putting up about ten gallons of wine for the coming years all from local, foraged produce, whilst my girlfriend has busied in the kitchen making chutney and jam. When this got too much for her I filled up the bucket of apple mush with water and will start that fermenting tomorrow.

That short paragraph sums up some of the biggest problems we face though. There is a lot of work in our lifestyle, on top of full time jobs to pay the bills, sadly too few people are willing to make the choices we are.

Finding Pam said...

I love the fact that you are continuing to do what generations of people have done in the past. Be self-reliant. Because of you blog, we are making a shift in our thinking. I thank you so much for sharing your knowledge.

Being prepared is essential.

Lynnet said...

Yes, so true. In our 3rd year of local eating here in Colorado, we mostly use what grows here, in season. I'm 'putting up' less. I just go ahead and get the olive oil, salt, tea, spices, and the occasional California veggie in mid-winter, without agonizing over it.

We can ripen tomatoes; we can overwinter hearty greens without added energy; most temperate fruit grows well here.

I'm happy with seasonality. Thank goodness we don't have zucchini year round! No need for strawberries in January, citrus year round, figs or dates. Plums and peaches are fine, grown in our yard, dried for winter.

Sense of Home said...

So much in this post to think about. Many people are making changes in their thinking, but small steps are best so that we find a sustainable, homemade (buzz words? Probably)life that is realistic for the long-term.

We too have been enjoying the garden and wild foods around us. Preserving this food for the winter when the snow is deep and tempertures drop below zero.

Excellent post.


Frogdancer said...

I make my own "maple" syrup.

Half a cup of water and a cup of brown sugar.
Plonk in a saucepan and stir until it's all combined. Don't boil.
Then put a dash of vanilla essence in it.
(From The Destitute Gourmet.)

We like maple syrup on our Saturday pancakes, but I just can't afford the quantities that my 4 galumphing teenage boys would go through. This recipe has been a lifesaver.

Hayden said...

I was a foodie, first, long before I became interested in "local." And there's a strong connection, because food grows yummy-est in areas that naturally fit it's needs, not in a hothouse.

To me, it seems that the most important loss is our celebration of regional cuisine. Embracing regional cuisine automatically means eating food where it is grown best, so you have some really positive desires tugging at you. Not only the "thou shalt nots" of political correctness, but the enthusiastic and knowledgeable embrace of well made, carefully selected food.

Food isn't only fuel, and sometimes I worry that this is missed. It's a huge motivator. In the areas where cuisine has led the way, people automatically tend to "do the right thing."

Gremlina said...

i love this post.

Paula said...

I just gotta point out to frogdancer that at least maple syrup is American.

Brown sugar usually comes from can sugar, which is grown in the tropics. Vanilla comes from an orchid that is grown in- yes- the tropics again. It would actually make more sense to use real maple syrup, carbon wise- the small batch producer is boiling it over renewable wood energy, as well.

That said, I think getting over being able to get what you want when you want it will take those of us attempting it some time. I fully expect that at some point in the foreseeable future that we won't be able to get what we want, when we want it, without having to pay extremely dearly for it. I'd rather just get used to it slowly as I learn to feed myself from what I can get locally, and I mean my backyard first, and my state second. I just think it's going to be easier to deal with gradually than getting the reality of it cold turkey.

So yeah- someday real maple syrup is going to be very rare treat. I sure hope I have my own bees by then....

Enjay said...

I'm struggling learning to garden in a completely different atmosphere than I spent most of my life in. It's trial and error and try again, but I'm learning.
If you enjoy maple syrup, why not plant a maple tree or two? Or try tapping other syrup bearing trees that you may already have like birch?

erins said...

What a great post. This is a really hard topic. I live in USA yet I buy bananas in my grocery store (bananas don't grow anywhere in the U.S.) Going green goes a whole lot deeper than bringing your own bags to the store.

Steven said...

Enjay, I think the gist of the post was about eating what truly was local, maybe sap bearing trees don't grow well in that area. In my travels up the west coast into Canada I saw mostly conifer trees not deciduous type vegetation.

Until we start thinking local is really local not just in our country we have a long ways to go. Shipping something from coast to coast is not doing anyone any good in the long run.

Anonymous said...

There's an article about making syrup from trees in the Pacific Northwest at It appeared in the January/February issue of The Mother Earth News.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, the article about making syrup from NW trees was in the January/February *1979* issue of the Mother Earth News.

Sustainable Eats said...

Great post Nita. More thought definitely needs to go into much of this, including folks rushing to can everything that is local so that they can eat it out of season (as I once did.)

We are all taking babysteps but thanks to folks like you they can get bigger very quickly.

Chookie said...

I'm not convinced there is such a thing as a 'heritage foodshed' in the New World. The food plants I can grow, even the natives, are not indigenous. I think it's up to me and my culture and my gardening skill to decide what to grow. I grow sugar bananas. They take months to ripen, but that's fine as they aren't demanding plants. OTOH there is no point trying to grow anything with a chilling requirement here.
Due to the effects of the El Nino cycle, my chooks' food could be coming from a long way away, but that's less important to me than the plain advantages of backyard chooks.
Not every choice is clear-cut. Do what works, or what works close enough to keep you happy.

Lisa Rae said...

Lovely food for thought. Thank you.

I live in Alaska, where we can grow root veggies and coles. Anything else is pretty contrived, except for barley and moose and salmon and wild berries.

Wait, that's quite a bit of food! And we have birch syrup too.

Do I buy bananas? Yep, alot of them. Do I try to buy local as much as possible? Yep, I do.

Anyway, I just wanted to say thanks.

Mrs. Gryphon said...

I've been working at identifying what foods grow here, and when they grow. Turns out, even in central Ontario (Zone 3-5), we can grow an awful lot of stuff. Some things are simply impossible - citrus fruits, for example.
If I plan out what we need, I think that this coming year I should be able to put up plenty of local, in-season food so that we can eat quite well.
I've never thought about places where maple syrup isn't local. That's one blessing of living in a cold climate - we haz maple! However, when you mention labor intensive - maple takes a lot of time and effort. Literally gallons of sap must be boiled down to make a litre of syrup.
I recently read about "cider molasses" - seems that northern US settlers would boil fresh apple cider down to 1/7th of its volume and make an apple-flavored sweetener.