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 (daniel.robinson@snc.edu) 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 steve.herro@snc.edu

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. (http://www.slowfoodusa.org)

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 www.nativetech.org, 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.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Farmers market winds down

You could tell the area harvest is winding down by fewer vendors at the last farmers market. Saturday, Oct. 28, will be the last one in downtown Green Bay at Cherry Street and Monroe Avenue.

So it’s just as well our monthlong challenge is wrapping up. Jeff Metoxen, manager of the Oneida Tsyunhehkwa Center and a participant in our eat-local challenge, said he’s getting tired of eating apples and potatoes. Except for dining out once, he stuck to the challenge and even gave up common spices like salt.

Mary Haupt, manager of the downtown Green Bay farmers market, said it’s been a popular event, drawing about 4,000 people each Saturday. The market has 166 assigned stalls split between 95 seasonal vendors and 15 daily vendors. The city charges $154 for a 22-week season. Next year, the city may charge an extra fee for vendors who use electricity, she said.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Rutabaga chips and shoestring sweet potatoes

Piece of chocolate, banana and a cup of coffee. Those are the first things I'll reach for when the eat-local challenge ends in nine days. But I think we'll continue our new buying habits and look for good local meats and vegetables.

My wife loves getting fresh rutabagas and sweet potatoes at the farmer's markets. I'm not thrilled about eating them boiled, and found a new way to eat them.

At a neighbors' bonfire this weekend, Bob and Margaret Sobieck of Hobart suggested we prepare them like french fries. Instead of deep frying, bake them in the oven drizzled in a little olive oil and salt.
We tried it last night. They were excellent, and had lots of flavor. We cut some thin like potato chips, but what seemed to work best was cutting them like shoestring potatoes.

Tonight we had family over to share a fresh local turkey, buttered squash, cranberry sauce and potatoes. It was a pre-Thanksgiving bash.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

You can grow your own food

Mark LeMere of Hobart e-mailed me about eating local and challenged people “do it themselves.”

His family lives on a few acres near Oneida, raising their own fish, chickens, eggs and the food to feed them.

“I give eggs to a neighbor farmer in exchange for corn and oats as needed. While I don't have the organic certification, we know we beat the requirements. All our hamburger is venision from hunting ( at home, not up north), we heat our house with wood 99 percent of the time,” he said.

Their goal is to take care of themselves. “You can do it on a few acres. If you don't have the real estate, you can barter your goods/services for what you need,” he said.

“Last Friday was a fish fry with bluegills from my pond, and fries made from our potatoes. It doesn't get any better than that. I used to brew beer before kids, and next year I will raise barley and brew again on my own grain.”

His kids sell their eggs for $1 a dozen, far below the $3 a dozen stores charge for organic eggs, and at the same time they learn responsibility and accountability.

“They know that food is more than a store, learn about the value of life and the cycle of life. These are all things that are lacking in today’s schools. I grew up on a dairy farm where I live today and learned many of the same lessons,” he said.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Chippewa rice harvest

Sherrole Benton of Oneida sent me an email saying that the Sokaogan Chippewa have hand-harvested wild rice available in their store on the Mole Lake Chippewa Reservation. The wild rice was harvested off Bass Lake on their reservation. It was also roasted and winnowed by their wild rice harvesters. It costs $15 per pound. Supply is limited.

“Better get some before it’s all gone,” she said. For information, call (715) 478-7544.

Our family ate well over the weekend. But that's in part because we had more free time to cook and bake.

I made chili using Oneida grass-fed beef hamburger, fresh and home-canned tomatoes, onions, garlic and celery from the farmers market. I subtituted soybeans for canned kidney beans.

My wife made an apple cake using whole-wheat flour and sliced apples. The kids wolfed it down in a day.

On Sunday, she oven roasted a half chicken from Foster's Organic Acres in Little Suamico. It was baked with potatoes, onions, baby squash, rutabaga and carrots.

Breakfasts are my specialty. The kids like waking to the smell of whole-wheat pancakes. They were topped with strawberries (frozen from June). Yesterday I filled a skillet with hash brown potatoes, sausage from Blue Ribbon Meats in Hilbert and eggs over easy.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Sampling mead

For two Saturdays now, we've been at dinner socials and had to turn down some delicious-looking meals as part of the eat-local challenge. But we did get to sample some homemade mead at the home of Les and Mary Marlowe in Pulaski. Les makes the honey wine out of honey, yeast and water. (He's in photo at right). Mead was common in the Middle Ages in Northern Europe in areas that could not grow grapes.

At the end of the month, I’ll tally what we spent on food and compare it to our grocery tab for the previous month. Offhand, I’d say we're spending a bit more on groceries but saving overall on food expenses. We haven’t dined out for lunch or dinner and bought no processed snacks like Pop Tarts, Cheetos or candy bars.

I found a few Web sites and bloggers in other eat-local challenges across the country. In one, discussion concerned the “privilege” of eating local food, because it’s seen as an option only to those with the money and mobility to get it. Some people are addressing this by trying an “eat local food on a minimum-wage income” challenge. That would be a challenge.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Throwing away less

After not quite two weeks of eating only local food, I can see a big difference in the amount we throw away.

Our bagged trash that went to the curb this week was half as much as the week before we started the 100-mile diet. So that cut in half what we sent to the landfill.

Our recycling bin too was only half full, so it stayed in the garage. That’s because we’re not emptying any two-liter soda bottles, juice containers, spaghetti sauce jars, soup cans or cereal boxes. So much of our food is actually packaging.

On the downside, we're buying a lot more plastic sandwich bags, storage bags and freezer bags. Also, we've put on more miles on our cars foraging at farmers markets.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Wild rice

I wanted to find local wild rice to go with a venison roast we’re saving, but I haven’t had any luck. The wild rice in stores was cultivated in Northwestern Wisconsin or Minnesota.

Wild rice once grew abundantly along lakes and was a key staple to Native Americans, particularly the Ojibwa and Menominee. According to the Wisconsin Historical Society, the Menominee took their name from the Indian word for wild rice, manomin, and were often referred to as the Wild Rice People by Europeans.

A state Department of Natural Resources Web site said there’s at least one lake within our 100-mile diet where wild rice grows — Lake Noquebay in Marinette County. But it doesn’t grow in amounts large enough for a commercial harvest, said warden supervisor Bob Goerlinger in Peshtigo. “It’s likely gone now, I think the blackbirds got it,” he said.

A wild rice community restoration project is being undertaken by the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission in Odanah and the DNR. For those who want to sow wild rice, contact either agency for information on obtaining a permit to harvest seed for planting.

The photo with this entry is of Ojibwa Indian women gathering wild rice. It is from an oil painting by Seth Eastman, in a room of the House Committee on Military Affairs, Washington, D.C.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Homemade caramel corn

Who says localvores can’t have junk food?

After eating all that healthy food, I was craving a sweet, crunchy snack. On an eat-local Internet site I found a recipe for homemade caramel corn. Using popcorn from Kiel bought at the downtown Green Bay farmers market, we cooked up a batch one night. It was great. Here’s the recipe:

— ½ cup popping corn, with oil or butter for popping
— 2 tablespoons butter
— ¼ cup honey
— salt to taste

Cook the honey and butter in a saucepan over medium high heat, stirring frequently. It burns easily. Use a fairly large saucepan as the honey will bubble up. Meanwhile, pop the popcorn and dump it into a big bowl.

Keep stirring the bubbling honey-butter sauce until it caramelizes — about 3-4 minutes. It will harden once it cools. Then quickly pour the caramel over the popped popcorn, scraping out the pan. Toss the popcorn-caramel mixture with two spoons or your hands, until all of the popcorn is evenly covered with caramel.

Adding nuts to the mix would have been even better. But in trying to crack local hickory nuts I only managed to pulverize them into a mess all over the kitchen table.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Kids take a day off

On the car ride to Milwaukee for a family wedding on Saturday, I talked with my parents about the local-food challenge and its effect, in particular, on our teen-age daughters. They really didn’t have a decision on it beforehand, so it might be unfair to hold them to it now. My wife and I made the pledge, not them. They’ve joined our “new” food regimen with enthusiasm, and I don’t want them to feel guilty. So I told the girls they had the freedom to decide on their own.

They joined the reception buffet line happily. Olivia was giddy. Lauren was starving.

My wife and I stuck to our commitment and toasted the bridal couple with glasses of Sheboygan milk. Later we got our cooler of food from our car and ate sandwiches in the kitchen. We brought bread from Door County’s Washington Hotel. The caterer told us the cold veggies and cheese were local, so we grazed the buffet for those items.

On Sunday, the girls found local food (including popcorn from Reedsville) at Beans & Barley Market and Café, 1901 E. North Ave., Milwaukee. Today, the whole family’s back on our 100-mile diet. All the food we serve will continue to be local. What our daughters do in their free time is up to them.

“It was just a one-time exception,” Olivia said.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Quiche cups and beef sticks

A hurdle looms for the localvore family this weekend. We're heading for an overnight trip to Milwaukee on Saturday to attend a family wedding.

It's going to be tough to resist the reception buffet and cake. We'll have to settle for toasting champagne flutes filled with local water. My wife and two daughters and I will pack a cooler with our own food, like apple juice, beef sticks and quiche cups.

I made up a bunch of quiche cups ahead of time using cupcake tins. I used eggs, cheese, spinach and garlic-sauteed onions. The recipe came from the South Beach Diet book. They work great on the go. You can freeze and unthaw them for school lunches.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Marco Polo rules

I miss my morning jolt of java. It's hard to go without coffee. But this is a good experience to go a month and learn the depths of my addiction to caffeine.

A local-food enthusiast told me that some eat-local challenges allow edible exemptions known as "Marco Polo rules." That means any spices a 13th-century explorer would have on hand such as salt, pepper, and leavening agents like baking powder and yeast.

The idea for the Marco Polo exemption came from Vermont author Bill McKibben, who went for seven months eating all-Vermont fare, then wrote about the experience for Gourmet magazine. His account details his diet of meat, cheese, cider, syrup and oats.

We're following similar rules in our challenge. But in the Upper Midwest, we might call them "Voyageur" rules. I'm being a stickler on ingredients, too. Even though there's some great local beers and breads made here, they use grains from out of state. So they are off limits.

Our kids have taken a liking to a transplanted local food: jicama. Pronounced HICK-a-ma, the root is from Central America and popular in Asia. It can be cooked or eaten raw. A farmers market vendor who was eating one like an apple gave me a sample. It tastes like a sweet snow pea or water chestnut. According to Wikipedia, jicama's sweet flavor comes from a form of fructose that is not metabolized by the body, so it's an ideal snack for diabetics and dieters.

Today's menu:
Eggs over easy with hash browns and sausage for breakfast
Apple slices, beef sticks, cheese curds for lunch
Chicken booyah for dinner

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Foraging takes some time

I received online comments from people asking good questions about the "how" to eat local food.
-- Who does the cooking and grocery shopping in the family? My wife and I both work full-time jobs outside the home, so I'd say we pretty much split the cooking duties.

I do breakfasts and she does dinner and the kids help make their own lunches for school. We go to farmers markets together to shop, but I've hit more of the outlying farms (and shopped for produce) as part of the research for this story.

-- What are the difficulties? The scavenger hunt for food and the meal-prep time has been more work than I thought. We'll try to look for shortcuts, like finding local food outlets and making big pots of booyah or chili to last a few days.

For example, Bill Foster runs Foster Organic Acres in Little Suamico and offers organic beef. His meats are available at Down to Earth, 2331 Velp Ave., Howard.
His produce also will be available when Naked Foods opens its full-service grocery store in Howard this fall.

We've also tried some new recipes because of this challenge. A good resource for cooks is "From Asparagus to Zucchini: A Guide to Cooking Farm Fresh Seasonal Produce" from the Madison Area Community Supported Agriculture Coalition. I got a copy for $20 at Keune Authentic Farms in Seymour. The A-Z guide offers tips on cooking, storing, freezing produce.

Monday, October 02, 2006

We survived the first day

After 24 hours, the biggest hurdle is living without coffee. Otherwise, it's much of the same food, just made locally. The idea is not to lose weight, but gain insight. This blog reflects some contrasts in our lives in that I'm using a technology of the future to write about slow food and traditional skills of the past.

Sunday's menu included BST (bacon spinach tomato) sandwiches for brunch. Afternoon snacks of beef sticks and string cheese with apple slices.
Dinner was sirloin tips stew with onions, potatoes, rutabaga and carrots. Baked pears with honey for dessert.

For breakfast today, we had whole wheat pancakes, maple syrup topped with fresh raspberries and applesauce.

The food came from Blue Ribbon Meats in Hilbert, Morning Glory Dairy in De Pere, Oneida Apple Orchard, farmers markets and Washington Island wheat flour from the Washington Hotel Restaurant and Culinary School.