Thursday, November 02, 2006

Comments from readers

— Jean Pokorny said the mention of ground cherries in a recent column rekindled memories.

“I have been eating them for as long as I can remember (I am 68). My grandmother grew them and made jelly and also canned them. However, I love to just eat them out of the garden. Once you get them growing, the cherries reseed themselves and you get many plants the following year.”

“At the farmers market on Broadway this year I saw some at one of the booths. The young man selling them said they were from Seymour. He also said most people did not know what they were. Most of my friends are not familar with them either.”

— Jeff Brockhaus, who maintains a vegetable garden in suburban Cincinnati, said eating local is a nutritious and efficient social strategy.

“I've always felt the solution to many of our problems is local detail-oriented solutions, rather than a grand sweeping plan,” Brockhaus wrote. “As in life in general, producing something (whether it be piano playing, writing, or even carpet cleaning) probably has more to do with the tedious work of making it happen and less to do with the “vision,” i.e., the devil’s in the details.”

— Jim Tolbert of El Paso e-mailed me about a press release from Bon Appetit called “Comfort Food for the Economy.” A pioneer in sustainable food sourcing, Bon Appétit implemented a “Farm to Fork” program in 1999, requiring each of its cafés and restaurants to purchase extensively from local producers.

“One encouraging bit of news from the release is the potential that local restaurants have to support local farmers,” Tolbert wrote. The news release can be found at

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Coffee and local eggs

After two cups of coffee this morning, the caffeine kicked in. I could tell because I was fighting the urge to climb on the roof and clean out the gutters. Returning to the laborer’s drug of choice was my first sign we were off the 100-mile diet.

But not entirely. Given the option of eating cereal today, our daughter Olivia asked for eggs over easy with hash browns: her favorite local breakfast.

Our eat-local challenge is ending, but maybe yours is starting. Every time you buy a local food product you create a positive ripple in the area economy. Today’s Press-Gazette story in Business offers tips on things you can do: Scour your supermarket for local products, join a farm coop, shop farmers markets, plant a garden, take field trips to local wineries.

Let me know what you think about eating local and I'll post it on this blog.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Last day in the challenge!

Watch for a summary in Wednesday’s Business section about the monthlong challenge. I think our family will continue to eat local after today, but we’ll welcome back some previously taboo foods. I plan to stay up to 12:01 a.m. tonight and raid the kids’ trick-or-treat stash for chocolate goodies.

Norbertine brother Steve Herro, a Green Bay diocesan consultant for social concerns, wrote me an e-mail that he’s working on local food initiatives through rural life ministry and the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

“The cost and impact of the energy use alone is a great enough reason to go locally produced,” Herro said. “In a way, it is like buying fair trade coffee, chocolate, and clothes — are we willing to pay extra for consumer choices that are more socially just?”

Herro said he was asked if the Norbertines would consider allowing people to use land around the Abbey for community supported agriculture plots. Dan and Laura Robinson ( were involved in this in another part of the country in which they lived, he said.

The Catholic Campaign for Human Development is interested in hearing from any low- income farmers who may be trying to start a community-supported agricultural system that would increase their economic viability and expand farming profits to other farmers involved in community supported agriculture.

Readers can reach Herro at (920) 337-4345 or e-mail him at

Monday, October 30, 2006

Slow Food, Italian style

An eat-local challenge participant, Jill Martus-Ninham, is among an Oneida delegation in Turin, Italy this week for Terra Madre, an international conference sponsored by Slow Food.

She said in an e-mail she’s still eating local, Italian food, that is.

“At this conference and in Italy it is a daily routine to eat local! There is no challenge since it is a way of life here. We are learning a lot, eating a lot and sharing a lot,” said Martus-Ninham, who is project director at Oneida’s Tsyunhehkwa center.

More than 5,000 small farmers and foodmakers from 130 countries are in Turin. About 500 Americans were invited as delegates and observers.

She attended a session on genetically-modified organisms learning how to protect heirloom native white corn from contamination and cross-pollination.

Slow Food seeks to deindustrialize food production by saving heirloom fruits, vegetables and animals, keeping small farmers in business, and returning farming to sound environmental ground. Slow Food has 80,000 members in 50 countries, including 12,000 in the United States.

Slow Food USA is planning a gathering of regional artisanal food producers in San Francisco in May 2008. (

Friday, October 27, 2006

No feedlot-fattened meat

Toby Paltzer, who runs a beef and poultry farm near Freedom, last week butchered some chickens and turkeys and sold us some.

Paltzer, who also serves as Outagamie County executive, operates farms on the side. He also gave us beef patties that were processed locally and some eggs to try. This week we cooked all of them. You can taste the difference. The egg yolks are big and rich orange in color. The chicken tastes like chicken. The beef is lean. You can tell it’s not from feedlot-fattened animals.

We’re set for the week with leftover turkey slices for lunch. Thanks, Toby.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Growing the ‘Three Sisters’

This spring, a group of local media toured the Oneida Tribe’s Tsyunhehkwa Center. Pronounced Joon-henk-wa, the center means “life sustenance” in Oneida and is dedicated to perpetuating traditional indigenous agriculture.

Ted Skenandore, farmer at Tsyunhehkwa, showed us a beautiful example of the companion planting method of the “Three Sisters” in which corn, beans and squash are planted together.

The three plants grow in a special relationship to one another and help each other by maximizing growing conditions. American Indians developed this system to provide food for a balanced diet from a very small plot of land.

"Each of the crops benefits the others," Skenandore said. The tall corn stalks provide a support structure for the climbing beans. The beans return nitrogen-rich nutrients to the soil. Squash provides a dense ground cover that helps retain moisture and shade out weeds that would compete with the corn and beans.

It’s fascinating to see this close up. It means no chemical pesticides, herbicides or petroleum-based fertilizers are used. Companion growing is more labor intensive in the short term, but better for the earth in the long haul.

Sustainable agriculture is a key part of the Iroquois culture. The Oneida Tribe makes its demonstration plots available for visits by community and school groups. Home gardeners are rediscovering the benefits of companion planting for these and other crops. This knowledge, coupled with a long tradition of native folklore, is being used to improve home garden production.

At, I found these instructions for growing the “Three Sisters.”

1. In late May or early June, hoe up the ground and heap the earth into piles about a foot high and about 20 across. The centers of your mounds should be about four feet apart and should have flattened tops.
2. First, in the center of each mound, plant five or six corn kernels in a small circle.
3. After a week or two, when the corn has grown to be five inches or so, plant seven or eight pole beans in a circle about six inches away from the corn kernels.
4. A week later, at the edge of the mound about a foot away from the beans, plant seven or eight squash or pumpkin seeds.
5. When the plants begin to grow, weed out all but a few of the sturdiest of the corn plants from each mound. Also keep the sturdiest of the bean and squash plants and weed out the weaker ones.
6. As the corn and beans grow up, make sure that the beans are supported by cornstalks, wrapping around the corn. The squash will crawl out between the mounds, around the corn and beans.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Sorghum stories

At a recent farmers market, our kids were delighted to find sorghum, a sugar-cane like plant that can be chewed for its sweet pulp. I didn’t know much about sorghum, but learned it was once a cash crop in Wisconsin.

My mom told me her father used to grow it near Fort Atkinson. She remembers as a girl in the 1930s riding atop a truckload of sorghum with her sister, Ruth, when my grandfather’s truck stalled on a hill and rolled backward out of control. It hit a tree, throwing both girls to the ground with slight injuries. He was taking the load to a sorghum mill, which would extract the juice and boil it into sorghum syrup. They used it on pancakes and bread.

Anyway, sorghum is still produced here. At Rolling Meadows Sorghum Mill in Elkhart Lake, Richard Wittgreve turned sorghum syrup into a niche product. After failing to find a jar of sorghum to buy in 1984, Wittgreve decided to try making his own. He produced 6 gallons of syrup with his first crop. Then he got serious and built mechanical harvesting equipment for a certified food-processing operation. He now makes more than 1,300 gallons a year. He’s at 9030 Little Elkhart Lake Road, Elkhart Lake, WI 53020. Phone (920) 876-2182.