Howdy y’all. Ben here, checking in from the slightly moist dust bowl of Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, northeast Missouri. We got about a half inch of rain overnight, just enough to make the step outside my outhouse slippery and keep my sweet potatoes from quitting for one more day, not to mention get some mildew brewing and keep me from dehydrating the metric boatload of produce I’m tripping over.
After months of arid conditions, the cottonwoods are already dropping leaves due to stress. I drop things when I’m suffering from stress, too, mostly tomatoes. We are at the height of abundance and with abundance comes steady work. During my morning chores, I’m collecting between five and ten pounds of tomatoes a day. Some of the plantings are located between different poultry runs, in sort of a patchwork-style of alley cropping. I never think enough about bringing a clean harvest basket, as most mornings my wheelbarrow is maxed out with grain, whey, fruit drops, and duckweed, and so inevitably I end up carrying vegetables in my shirt and hat, the round ones often doing what round ones tend to do—roll out of my grasp, landing on the ground near the waiting beaks of rapidly-growing, young chickens and ducks. If I stoop over to get one, three more fall out. Whatever, everyone needs a little lycopene. In fact, tomato pomace, the byproduct obtained from making tomato paste and other tomato products is a well-known fattener for maturing pigs; so, I’d like to think that one way or another, we’re getting all our nutrients back. Eventually.
Speaking of swine and nightshades, our really tiny, really sustainable pig project has gotten an upgrade in the form of our first boar. We named him Tomato, but you can call him Mr. Mater. See, that’s a pun, I think. He’s been gradually transitioning to our scene, and it’s been a little stressful at times. We don’t feed grain of any type to our pigs, but this little guy didn’t know that anything other than corn could be eaten. Now I’m happy to report that after a few days of sulking about and ignoring overripe pears and cucumbers, he finally ate a tomato this morning. The sows we hope he gets to know better in a few months are easily twice his size, and so he’s got a lot of apples and squashes to digest before he’s ready to perform the duty he’s here to perform. Otherwise, he may well end up with an apple in his mouth for good.
Organic or not, pigs typically consume a lot of grain, at least in modern times, and that equals a lot of land and fuel resources that could instead be utilized to feed humans directly. Additionally, as the current president seeks to make America great again, or whatever, he’s seemingly doing a bunch of monkeying with the sale of conventional ag commodities, like soybeans, and burning farmers on the prices they can get on their products. This couples pretty disastrously with climate instability. So yeah, I’m of the opinion that if it takes two years instead of six months to make a hot dog, and all you need is grass and byproducts from human food production; that’s a way more sustainable hot dog. And thanks to Tomato, I’ve got all the chromosomes I need to get started. I’m looking forward to that BLT I’ll get in 2019.
And while I’m of the opinion of sharing my opinion, let me say this . . . I’ve never seen lettuce and tomatoes available in the garden at the same time. What a ridiculous sandwich. Put some lambs quarters on there, kale, something. We’ve got it made in the affluent, western world. With enough money, I could get a live lobster airmailed here tonight; it’s too dry to find a crawdad right now. Think about the poor lobster, wandering the ocean floor, covered in armor, thinking to itself, “What could go wrong? I’m covered in armor?” Until, that is, it is pulled into a completely unfamiliar world, its claws bound in rubber bands, stuffed in like, what, a Styrofoam crate, put in an airplane, and dropped into a pot of boiling water, just so landlubbers can eat something which basically tastes like a cicada.
I do believe that one day our decadent western diet will have to change for simpler, “localer,” less processed food. Like cicadas. And by the way, I’m not sure that hermetically sealed tofu is all that much better for the planet than airmailed ocean life. I believe the food of the future might taste weird. Like aronia berries. I just juiced some. It’s going to have to become hooch or something, because the theoretical health benefits just aren’t doing it for me. It’s like if you took the skin off a blueberry, wrapped it around a cotton ball that’s been soaked in alum, and then made into the most abundant, pest- and drought-resistant fruit you could grow organically in the Midwest. Lots of anthocyanins, I hear. Good for ya, I guess. Know who likes aronia berries? Pigs. Maybe not Tomato, not yet. But I’m working on him.
The food of the future doesn’t have to taste bad, but I think it’s a good idea for all of us to become better cooks. Take the simple, lowly winter squash, for instance. It’s alright. Some are better than others. But, if you put a bunch of garlic in it and apply the proper amount of time and heat, it tastes like boxed macaroni and cheese powder. I mean that in a good way. Put some nutritional yeast on it, cook it longer, and it turns into a Cheez-it. Not that I believe nutritional yeast is a food of the future. That is, not until someone can tell me what it is and how it’s made.
Some more practical commentary on this is to compare different methods of home food-preservation. Many folks are familiar with the canning process. We do it too, from time to time, especially with our meat, because we don’t have the solar power to run a freezer at our homestead. But canning requires a lot of manufactured stuff, like jars and lids, a lot of water, a lot of fuel, and a lot of time, the last one being something I’m often short on.
Fermentation, on the other hand, is going to happen to all food at some point eventually, so just controlling it more by excluding air and including salt is an easier, fuel-free way to make something that is most likely going to taste interesting. Which reminds me, I’ve got some jars and crocks I really need to go look inside.
Dehydrating is often done using electricity, but there are all types of passive-solar type projects you can do yourself. With an earthen oven, we can dry some foods out overnight, utilizing otherwise wasted thermal energy after baking. This year, many of the varieties of tomatoes we planted were selected for being tasty and drier, good for this type of practice.
I’ve made my own ketchup twice now, and both times have been disastrous messes, but with pretty tasty results. Anyhow, I think I’ll probably just buy ketchup, as much as I hate to admit. In a future where there is no manufactured ketchup for sale, I’m sure I can figure out another condiment to dip my cicadas into. Now I’m getting hungry, so I’d better go and eat some okra. Anything that slimy has got to be good for you. If people can eat chia seeds, I may as well start selling bottled okra slime. Okay, someone else can take that idea and run with it. Just send me enough royalties to get a large supply of ketchup. I’ll be needing it.
Want to see what living cooperatively is really like? Come visit us this year to get a glimpse into how we live and how you can incorporate these practices into your own life. There is only one Sustainable Living Visitor Program sessions left and a couple of events and workshops, like Singing Rabbit and the Permaculture Design Course happening between now and October, how will you choose to get involved?