Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Local Meal of the Week: Butternut Tostadas

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For this week's Dark Days Eat Local Challenge meal, I browsed through lots of squash recipes and settled on this simple, quick, delicious meal: butternut tostadas. I found it in The New Laurel's Kitchen: A Handbook for Vegetarian Cookery & Nutrition, by Laurel Robertson, Carol Flinders and Brian Ruppenthal. When I was being an at-home mom in the early to mid '90s, I loved this book for being so much more than just a book of recipes -- more like a trusted friend -- but I have less time to cook these days and haven't visited it much for quite a while. Silly me. It's still wonderful.

This recipe is credited, to my surprise, to the late artist Alan Gussow, whose wife, Joan, wrote a compelling book about their gardening lives that I have often quoted here: This Organic Life: Confessions of a Suburban Homesteader.

Here's the recipe: You cut a butternut squash into quarters and scoop out the seeds. Put it with a little water into a covered glass dish and microwave for about 10 minutes, until flesh is soft (or steam in the conventional way for 20 minutes). Meanwhile, toast corn tortillas on a griddle until softly crisp. When the squash is tender, scrape the squash pulp off the skins and mash it. Heat a tablespoon of oil, add some chili powder, garlic and ground cumin, and stir-fry until the spices are fragrant. Add the squash and some oregano; stir and fry until the mixture is hot.

Spread some squash mixture onto a prepared tortilla; sprinkle with a little grated cheese; cover with shredded lettuce, and dot with salsa.

"Makes 4 rather unusual but very tasty tostadas," the book says. It certainly does! The combination of toasted corn/spiced squash/mellow cheese is a real winner.

My squash and lettuce were from the farmers' market; my tortillas are from down the road in Faribault (purchased at the co-op during the Eat Local Challenge in August, but tortillas seem to keep almost forever in the fridge or freezer); the cheese is from perhaps slightly more than 200 miles away (Crystal Farms is based in Lake Mills, WI), but I had it on hand; and the salsa was Minneapolis's own Salsa Lisa.

Addendum, 11/1: I should have noted above that Joan Dye Gussow is a noted local and organic food advocate and nutritionist; my description above doesn't do justice to her national stature.

Monday, October 29, 2007

100-Mile Foodshed

The 100 Mile Diet website has a handy little gizmo for calculating your 100-mile foodshed, for those who would like to take on the challenge of eating -- occasionally, mostly or entirely -- from sources lying within 100 miles of home. Of course one could do this with a map and a compass, but this makes it easy for those who like to find all their tools online. I took a screenshot of the results for Northfield. It's a circle that extends roughly to St. Cloud and Pine City in the north, Chippewa Falls and La Crosse to the east, Clear Lake/Mason City to the south, and Redwood Falls to the west. 100 miles is a fairly arbitrary cut-off, and I don't pretend to be trying to follow a strict 100-mile diet -- but it's instructive, and as a matter of fact most of the "local" foods in my kitchen do come from within this area.

The Dark Days Eat Local Challenge I'm participating in -- at least one meal per week to be 90% from within 200 miles -- of course doubles that, which would qualify my White Earth Land Recovery Project maple syrup and presumably almost any wild rice I might buy. The Just Food Eat Local challenge from the late summer called for 80% of one's diet to come from the 5-state area. Now that seems comfortable and very doable in contrast, allowing wheat from the Dakotas and cheeses and fruit (Door County cherries, anyone?) from Wisconsin. There's not much we really need that can't be had from within that region (almost everyone in the locavore movement makes some exceptions for relatively dry, low-weight cultural staples like coffee, tea, chocolate and spices). It still does a lot to bring down the average, often cited these days, that the typical food item in an American kitchen has traveled 1500 miles to get there. (Here are some more statistics to chew on.)

Do what makes sense for your family. I'm not out to badger anyone about what they eat. But eating more locally makes sense to me in my gut (truly, no pun intended). It feels real. It feels good! It feels as if we might think of ourselves as having a real food culture, as the French or Italians or Japanese do, rather than living off an endless array of foods from everywhere that no longer strike us as luxuries and in many cases, due to their long travel or multisyllabic preservatives, really aren't so luxurious after all. Eating food that's fresh off the farm, is full of flavor, and stays good in your refrigerator twice as long as typical supermarket produce or dairy does -- now that seems to me luxury worth building increasingly into my life.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Hard Frost

A few days ago, based on the projections of my Desktop Weather gadget, I blithely mentioned that my last few green tomatoes might still have a chance of ripening on the vine, as no frost was predicted. Well, as it turns out, I saw frost on the roofs of most houses around here just about every morning this week, but my tomato plants remained unscathed. However, tonight in Northfield I see it's likely to be in the mid to upper 20s by the pre-dawn hours, and that's not something any tomato can withstand. So I've picked the last half-dozen small tomatoes. My growing season is over.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Tormented by an Apostrophe

A few weeks after I began this blog, I succumbed to peer pressure and did a terrible thing. And I've felt guilty ever since.

This dreadful deed? Dropping the apostrophe in "farmers market" (there, I shudder just looking at it). It may be correct AP style. It may be increasingly accepted. But in my heart I know it's wrong.

I'm a grammar and usage junkie from way back. My mother paid me to check for errors in the galley proofs of one of her books while I was still in elementary school [well, on further reflection, more like 7th grade]. I got (blush) a perfect 800 score on what used to be called the English Composition Achievement Test. My father was a journeyman printer-proofreader, who learned to proofread movable type upside down and backward. Editing skills have been a big part of my career, though my proofreader's eye does tire and miss things sometimes. So this stuff means something to me; I'll readily engage in a 20-minute debate on the finer points of the English language. I am flexible in a number of areas and am not a strict traditionalist by any means. But "farmers market" sticks in my throat.

There was a big debate not long ago about the naming of Scholars Walk at the University of Minnesota. The no-apostrophe faction won, the prevailing argument being that the walk did not belong to the scholars, it was merely named in honor of them. That argument doesn't persuade me when it's about scholars and it doesn't persuade me when it's about farmers, though it persuades others. See, for example, a journalist's discussion of the issue. Here's another:
Today, the tendency is to drop the apostrophe where once it would have been required. We see this especially in company and organization names. A relatively new distinction has arisen: if the organization is for the benefit of, but not actually owned by a particular group, don’t use an apostrophe. Thus, we have Department of Veterans Affairs, Citizens Insurance, Consumers Energy, and Farmers Market, none of them owned by the group in question. But we’d have a veteran’s benefit check, citizens’ groups, and the farmer’s daughter.
Okay, so there is definitely support for this view. Peer pressure, as I said. And I gave in. But I don't like it, and it's been nagging at me. In my mind, a plural noun is not properly used as an adjective unless it is made possessive. Possessiveness, in grammar, doesn't indicate only ownership; it can also indicate some general relation, a "pertaining to." When you don't want to use a possessive form, you use the singular. We don't say "I'm going to buy a dogs collar," we say "I'm going to buy a dog collar" (or, more elegantly, "I'm going to buy a collar for my dog"!). We don't have employees benefits, we have employee benefits. Or we could, somewhat less elegantly, have employees' benefits, particularly if we're talking about particular employees.

So why do we have Kids Meals? Veterans Day? Farmers markets? Singles bars? That phraseology loses something significant in elegance and precision. I think we could have farm markets, or farmer markets (which sounds odd, but I think that's just because it hasn't happened to become our usual idom), or farmers' markets.

There are some traditionalists who agree with me, like the Lexington Farmers' Market and the Australian Farmers' Markets. And in the article linked above on the Scholars Walk controversy, I see that my favorite newspaper grammarian, Stephen Wilbers, sides with me on this one -- in part because it sounds nonsensical not to use a possessive form when the plural noun is irregular: "women sizes" ("women" being plural already, there is no such word as "womens" without the apostrophe, just as there is no such word as "childrens" without the apostrophe, as Blogger's spell-check is at this moment advising me by way of some red underlining). We don't have children meals at fast-food restaurants. I see no good reason to put up with farmers markets. I think the latter simply sounds more natural to us because the "s" sound at the end of the word suggests the possibility of a possessive, or relational, construction. But without the apostrophe, it simply doesn't work.

So now I have a dilemma: do I go back and edit all my posts that have referred to the "farmers market," and their accompanying tags? Do I resolve not to look backward, but to simply go and sin no more? Or do I live with my wishy-washiness and write it off as one more quandary of the humans condition?

Barney Frittata?

For my first deliberately local meal of the Dark Days Eat Local Challenge, I had thought maybe I'd use a butternut squash I bought a couple of weeks ago. However, my attention turned to the much more perishable vegetables I bought at the farmers market last Saturday -- in particular, a gorgeous purple cauliflower and some broccoli. Since I also had some locally grown potatoes and onions on hand, I thought I would recreate a favorite dish from Keys Cafe in Minneapolis and St. Paul: a skillet meal that (as I recall) starts with potatoes and onions, adds fairly finely chopped cauliflower, broccoli and mushrooms, and gets those all nicely browned before adding eggs and cheese. I had all those ingredients, including eggs, from local sources -- well, the cheese is from Wisconsin, but it's not a major ingredient by weight, and I used a little olive oil, salt and pepper.

Here's a shot of the skillet while the veggies were cooking:

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Isn't it both startling and beautiful? I thought to myself, "Now, what familiar purple and green icon can I compare this to when I write my blog post?" Having three kids, the answer came immediately to mind: Barney, the dinosaur.

So that's my name for this skillet dinner: Barney Frittata. It was delicious.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Bedraggled October Garden

My vegetable garden this year grew in half a dozen pots on my patio. At left is all that is left of the green promise of late July (see photo below) -- frostbitten a few weeks back, though I covered everything, and thoroughly waterlogged from the steady fall rains that have brought us back from drought. I have a few small green tomatoes struggling to soak up enough sun to ripen, and since there is no frost forecast for the next week, perhaps some of them will make it. But one day soon it will be time to pull out the plants, consign them to the compost pile, empty the pots, and put them away in the garage until next spring.

Lessons learned this summer:
  • The bigger the pot, the better. My patio gets good sun, and though I watered almost every day, the plants in the smaller pots were clearly stressed by the heat.
  • Fill the pot with more soil than you think you need. Particularly where I had my cucumbers growing, the soil settled after a few waterings and rainfalls, in the end leaving the pots only about 3/4 full. The extra soil would have held more moisture and stayed a bit cooler.
  • Combining soils worked pretty well. I combined potting soil, topsoil and manure, trying to achieve a balance that wouldn't be too heavy, would hold moisture well, and would feed the plants. I did very little additional fertilizing, relying only on a few infusions of wastewater from my son's fish tank. My plants' production was on the low to moderate side, I'd say. The cucumbers and the tomatoes I had in a large pot did pretty well; tomatoes in smaller pots did not produce well.
Gardening is appealing in part because of its cyclical nature, especially here where we have such a curtailed growing season. You put your garden to bed in the late fall and start dreaming about next year. In just a few weeks, the first seed catalogs will start to arrive. I'm looking forward to that.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Cornucopia of Local Goodies

This morning I stopped by one of the final farmers markets of the year. A few last hardy souls were there with their trucks, selling squashes (a wonderful variety), broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, potatoes, carrots, salad greens, pies, jellies, eggs, flowers, and ornamental corn.

The morning's takings made a still-life worthy of capturing. Note the beautiful French heirloom squash at the right, looking like a pale pumpkin. The grower said her pumpkins had rotted from all the rain, but these had flourished, and would last well. Note also the deep purple cauliflower just behind the cabbage. The eggs were apparently from assorted breeds of hen; the white ones are actually a very pale blue. Also included here are Native Harvest maple syrup and bread I picked up at Just Food. The syrup (a must to go with baked squash, in my mind) is from the White Earth Indian Reservation's land recovery project, and the bread is a new variety from Brick Oven, baked especially for Just Food -- and called Just Bread.

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It's a multi-grain bread made with all organic grains and local honey. I made a peanut butter sandwich with it after shopping, and ate it with a local Honey Crisp apple. Yum.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Dark Days Eat Local Challenge

In the local-food blogosphere, momentum is building for an Eat Local challenge for the harder part of the year. It's easy to fill up on local sweet corn, zucchini, tomatoes and berries in summer, but we Northern folk have to be a bit more intentional if we want to keep local foods in our winter diets. I posted a few days ago about eating locally in the wintertime. Joining the Dark Days Eat Local Challenge will give me some extra motivation to follow through on those possibilities. Here are the guidelines of the official challenge; you can read more at Urban Hennery.
  1. Cook one meal a week with at least 90% local ingredients
  2. Write about it - the triumphs and the challenges
  3. Local means a 200 mile radius for raw ingredients. For processed foods the company must be within 200 miles and committed to local sources.
  4. Keep it up through the end of the year, and then re-evaluate on New Year’s Day.
I'm pretty sure my first Dark Days local meal will involve the butternut squash that's been sitting on my counter for a couple of weeks now. I'll keep you posted. If anyone wants to join me and post your experiences either in comments here or at the Urban Hennery blog, please do!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Flash Flood Watch: Clear Your Storm Drains

The National Weather Service has issued a flash flood watch for much of this area for tonight and tomorrow morning; heavy rains are expected. With the soil still saturated from all the rain we've had recently, run-off will be heavy. Take a few minutes to make sure the storm drain near your house or office isn't clogged with fallen leaves!

New Northfield Blogger: Mary Schier's "My Northern Garden"

Check out a new local blog with a regional gardening focus: Mary Schier's My Northern Garden. Mary is the editor of Northern Gardener, the magazine of the Minnesota State Horticultural Society. As I well know, having had the privilege of her friendship for the past 17+ years, she's a longtime Northfield resident, a terrific writer, and a knowledgeable gardener -- not to mention an all-round superb human being. Over the years we've had plenty of gardening conversations about everything from tomatoes to asparagus to perennials to landscaping, and I look forward to following her blog posts.

Monday, October 15, 2007

A Poem for Blog Action Day

by Gerard Manley Hopkins

This darksome burn, horseback brown,
His rollrock highroad roaring down,
In coop and in comb the fleece of his foam
Flutes and low to the lake falls home.

A windpuff-bonnet of fawn-froth
Turns and twindles over the broth
Of a pool so pitchblack, fell-frowning,
It rounds and rounds Despair to drowning.

Degged with dew, dappled with dew
Are the groins of the braes that the brook treads through,
Wiry heathpacks, flitches of fern,
And the beadbonny ash that sits over the burn.

What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wilderness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Quote of the Week: From Michael Pollan's Second Nature

My quote of the week, which appears near the top of my sidebar, reads:
"In American gardening, the successful compost pile seems almost to have supplanted the perfect hybrid tea rose or the gigantic beefsteak tomato as the outward sign of horticultural grace. What I read about compost gave me my first inkling that gardening, which I had approached as a more or less secular pastime, is actually moral drama of a high order."
It's from Michael Pollan's book Second Nature: A Gardener's Education (1991). Pollan has become better known since then for The Botany of Desire (2001) and The Omnivore's Dilemma (2006). Given my interest in how we think about, and the sources of, our food, I certainly mean to read the latter, but haven't yet. I remember The Botany of Desire particularly for its grim portrayal of chemical-dependent "conventional" potato farming necessitated by the American public's love of perfect French fries, and the freedom from such extreme chemical dependency that is promised by genetic engineering.

In Second Nature, Pollan devotes a chapter to the "moral drama" that's inherent in gardening if we care, and it seems we do, about gardening as more than either a purely artistic pursuit, using plants as our paintbox, or a manufacturing process, in which soil is only a substance that holds plants up while we feed them chemically. He describes the transition in the last century from agriculture that had relied on composted organic waste for thousands of years to the downward spiral of chemical fertilizer use:
At first, yields increase dramatically. But the cost is high, for the chemicals in fertilizer gradually kill off the biological activity in the soil and ruin its structure. Eventually, few organic nutrients remain, leaving crops completely dependent on fertilizer -- the soil has become little more than a device to hold plants upright while they gorge themselves on 5-10-5. And to make matters worse, the more fertilizer he uses, the more problems the farmer has with disease and insects, since chemical fertilizer seems to weaken a plant's resistance. After [World War II] the farmer in this predicament succumbed to a host of new chemical temptations -- DDT, Temik, chlordane -- and it wasn't long before he found himself deep in agricultural hell.

The home gardener, meanwhile, had been walking down pretty much the same ruinous road. .. By the 1960s, the shelves of his garage were lined with the dubious products of America's petrochemical industry... Where one might reasonably have expected to find the logo of Burpee or Agway there were now the wings of Chevron. Somehow gardening, this most wholesome and elemental of pastimes, had gotten cross-wired with the worst of industrial civilization.

This is the wilderness in which [Robert] Rodale [the father of modern organic farming and gardening] found the American gardener and confronted him with a stark moral choice: he could continue to use petrochemicals to manufacture flowers and vegetables, or he could follow Rodale, learn how to compost, and redeem the soil -- and, the implication was clear, himself. [Second Nature pp. 84-85]
After a tour through the history of the Jeffersonian agrarian ideal, to Thoreau's bean field at Walden, Pollan sums up:
No less than the nineteenth-century transcendentalists and reformers, we look to the garden today as a source of moral instruction. They sought a way to preserve the Jeffersonian virtues even in the city; we seek a way to use nature without damaging it. In much the same way that the antebellum garden became a proof of the agrarian ideal, we regard our own plots, hard by the compost pile, as models of ecological responsibility. Under both dispensations, gardening becomes, at least symbolically, an act of redemption. [p. 85]
I think there is more to it than that. For me, at least, keeping some kind of garden connects me with the fundamental nature -- or, conversely, the natural foundation -- of life: the seasons, the soil, the miracle of the seed, the renewal that comes from decomposition. We are often so disconnected from nature that apart from the occasional natural disaster we can and often do go about our lives as if they -- we -- were not utterly reliant on sun and earth and air and water. To me, that disconnect is unacceptable: gardening is not just about personal redemption, but a lifeline to all that is real and basic.

But I do view organic gardening as a moral issue, believing that in gardening, as in our other interactions with the world that is the only home not only for ourselves but for all other forms of earthly life, we should do our best to leave things no worse than we find them.

Image credit: Kessner Photography/ Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

St. Croix Bluffs Regional Park

Today was the kind of day that simply demands that you get outside and enjoy it. Dave and I set out on a vaguely birding-motivated drive, intending to visit Afton State Park near Woodbury. Instead, finding ourselves behind slow-moving road-marking vehicles on a county road, we abandoned that plan and followed a sign to St. Croix Bluffs Regional Park. The river was noisy with watercraft driven for speed, but up the hill it was relatively peaceful, and a beautiful place to enjoy the changing colors and contrasting foliage.

We found our way to the park's Conference Cottage, a somewhat prairie-style house built into the side of the bluffs. Standing on its deck we were at eye level with the tops of the trees growing on the steep hillside below us. We saw a few warblers darting from treetop to treetop.

The conference center certainly looks to be an appealing place for a social occasion or small business gathering. It can be rented for $250 per day (8 a.m. to 6 p.m.) year-round. It has me wondering what occasion I can think up that might call for such a get-away. (Women of my book group, are you taking note?)

Leaf-strewn trails let us get up close to a wide variety of deciduous and evergreen trees, including, unfortunately, plenty of buckthorn.

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We caught glimpses of the St. Croix between the trees and sat on a bench at a scenic overlook, watching snow-white gulls wheeling far below us. It was an idyllic outing, indeed.

We drove back past farms advertising pumpkins, apples, and corn mazes, and I marveled as always at the beautiful city hall (the Historic Dakota County Courthouse) in Hastings. That's a town I need to find time to explore.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Tam Lin: Fairy Tale Set at Carleton

I've just been rereading, for about the fourth time over the past fifteen years or so, Pamela Dean's novel Tam Lin, a modern retelling of an old Scottish ballad, set at a thinly disguised Carleton College of the early 1970s. It's part of Tor Books' Fairy Tale Series and was originally published with the cover at left in 1991.

Janet Carter, daughter of a "Blackstock" English professor, has grown up around campus and is now a student there. She befriends a group of drama-loving Classics majors whose speech patterns, cryptic references to age, and intimate knowledge of Shakespeare hint that they are no ordinary college students.

Anyone who knows the Carleton campus, the Arb or Northfield will enjoy the very recognizable descriptions of place in this novel, which combines a dark magical tale with a college coming-of-age story. College buildings are renamed in decipherable ways: Laird Hall has become Masters; Nourse has become Ericson; Burton has become Taylor; Evans is Eliot (as in George, as in Mary Ann Evans). Janet and her roommates shop at Jacobsen's for fabric to decorate their room. The book was reissued in 2006; the new cover (at right) shows a recognizable bridge over the Lyman Lakes. There is a nice description that will ring true for anyone who has appreciated the view of Carleton from the rise in Highway 3 north of Second Street.

Pamela Dean Dyer-Bennett
attended Carleton from 1971 to 1975. Her author's note states:
Readers acquainted with Carleton College will find much that is familiar to them in the architecture, landscape, classes, terminology, and general atmosphere of Blackstock. They are earnestly advised that it would be unwise to refine too much upon this. Blackstock is not Carleton.
That may be so, but it's nice to imagine that it is. You'll never think about Classics the same way again!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Senate Candidates Call For "Apollo Project" for Energy Independence

Al Franken speaking to a full house at St. Olaf on Tuesday evening.

Al Franken and Mike Ciresi, both seeking to step into Norm Coleman's U.S. Senate seat, share a metaphor for what needs to happen to remove our dependence on foreign oil and move to cleaner, renewable energy sources. Both men -- and other candidates and policy organizations around the nation -- call for the energy equivalent of the Apollo space project that put humans on the moon within a dozen years of the Russians' launching of Sputnik, the first satellite, 50 years ago. As Franken's website says,

This “Apollo project” should provide financial support for research into new forms of renewable energy and development of currently-identified sources to make them more efficient. Of course I’m talking about corn ethanol. But I’m also talking about cellulosic ethanol and other biofuels. I’m talking about solar power. And, especially here in Minnesota, I’m talking about wind power. We live in a windy state!

It’s going to be a huge project, but it will pay off in so many ways:

  • We’ll dramatically improve our environment.
  • We’ll finally be taking steps to address global warming.
  • We’ll make our nation more secure and less dependent on an uncertain global fuel economy.
  • We’ll revitalize our manufacturing sector. The Ford plant in St. Paul that’s closing down should be making wind turbines, and we should be putting them up all over Minnesota.
  • We’ll create high-tech, high-paying jobs in conservation and R&D.
Ciresi's site says:

We must fund the initial investment by redirecting subsidies paid to the highly profitable oil and gas companies. The 2005 Energy Bill provided billions of dollars to the largest oil and gas firms in our country. These special interests have a stranglehold on our nation through record prices, record profits and at the same time, an undeserved share of our tax dollars. Subsidies for the rich do nothing to change our dependence on foreign oil or our need for rural revitalization. Investing in local farmers and universities does create positive change. ...

As your U.S. Senator I will:

  • Invest in clean energy technologies such as wind, solar, ethanol, and biomass.
  • Bring America to energy independency by 2020 by creating an Apollo-type project. By investing in energy efficiency technology, investing in “green buildings” that are energy efficient, creating tougher mileage standards and investing in alternative fuels to power our automobiles we can reach that goal.
  • Create a tax system that gives entrepreneurs and businesses incentives to develop clean energy technologies.
I'm no fan of Norm Coleman's, but he is a co-sponsor of the bipartisan Dependence Reduction through Innovation in Vehicles and Energy Act (DRIVE Act). More information about his views on energy independence can be read on his campaign website.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Eating Locally in Winter

The Star Tribune had a nice piece a few days ago about ways we northerners can continue to emphasize local food in our winter menus. Relatively local grains, including wild rice, and local meat, dairy products, eggs, beans, squash, root vegetables, cabbage, and sturdy greens like kale can carry us a long way. Apples can last quite a while if carefully kept, and cranberries are a major crop of our neighbor, Wisconsin, that are being harvested now, last a long time when refrigerated in plastic bags, and freeze well. Maple syrup and honey are often available from Minnesota sources.

Many of us freeze, can, or dry some of our local produce to get us through to the next growing season (I have one jar of strawberry jam left from my flat of Lorence's strawberries), and as the article notes, "while 'frozen' may not be the first word association match for 'local,' Sno-Pac Foods Inc. in Caledonia, Minn., has been freezing local organic fruits and vegetables since 1943." Butter Kernel canned vegetables are processed by Faribault Foods, based just down the road.

I'm not a hard-core locavore; you won't see me writing a book on "how I lived for a year on food grown within 100 miles." I see great value in supporting local food production that's a good fit for our ecosystems and in strengthening our local, sustainable farming infrastructure. I believe in being thoughtful about food choices and being aware of how much fuel is expended in transporting tons of food thousands of miles around this country every day. But I also recognize that trade has always tended to improve quality of life and I don't want the local food ethos to lead to the demise of other valuable, traditional regional economies like those that produce citrus or tropical fruit, coffee, tea, olive oil, wine, or spices.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Lorentz's Meats Featured at Econofoods

I dashed through Econofoods this evening, picking up a few necessities for the week ahead, and I noticed that an entire case in the meat department is now devoted to products from Lorentz Meats, which is based in Cannon Falls. Bacon and quite a variety of sausages were on display. What a delightful surprise.

The Lorentz Meat label, above, was designed by Triangle Park Creative, which has also designed packaging for Thousand Hills Cattle grass-fed beef, Cedar Summit Farm cheese, and other local specialty food producers.

Here's an article from Ag Innovation News about Lorentz's diversification from a typical small-town meat processor to a firm with expertise in direct marketing of meat from the farmer to the consumer. They've been very involved in a direct marketing initiative called Branding Your Beliefs, presenting seminars they developed in association with Land O' Lakes, The Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota, and The University of Minnesota. It's nice to see a small, traditional business find ways to adapt to the changing economy.

Back at Econofoods, Minnesota-grown pumpkins are featured out front, and sturdy-looking, inexpensive, reusable shopping bags -- the likes of which the store (or its predecessor, More 4) has offered before but not recently -- are on sale at the checkout lanes.

Econofoods has recently reorganized its shelving plan, with one of the main results being that organic or natural brands of many canned and packaged foods are now, for the most part, placed right next to conventional brands, where they will offer a new breadth of choice to shoppers. While there is certainly some logic to the more traditional supermarket practice of segregating natural/organic products to a specific section of the store, it has always struck me as rather a shame -- as if it were a statement that such products were not part of the mainstream, and making it too easy for the typical shopper not to see them as an everyday shopping option. I'm pleased to see Econofoods integrating them with other products in a more "natural" way.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Become a Just Food Owner-Member

Since it opened nearly three years ago, Just Food Co-op has held a special place in the hearts of Northfield-area residents who value access to locally produced food and to organic, natural and/or bulk foods and personal care and household products. It's also a great place for people who simply appreciate top-quality food, from artisanal cheeses to fine olives to the freshest produce and dairy products.

If you shop at Just Food, appreciate their presence in the community, and are not yet an owner-member, consider this a personal invitation to become one. It's a great way to help ensure the co-op's financial stability, which not only benefits you as a shopper but also supports the local farmers and other food producers who provide much of the co-op's produce and other fresh food.

It's not like the '70s and '80s, when co-op membership meant store discounts in exchange for actually working at the store a few hours a month. The way it works now is that you simply purchase shares in the co-op. In exchange -- on top of the satisfaction of supporting a store that you value -- you get case discounts, member specials, voting rights at the annual meeting, a monthly newsletter, and more. Visit and click on Membership to find out more. There is a downloadable membership application, which you can fill out and bring into the store. The application form outlines options for paying the $125 cost in a single payment or in quarterly payments over the course of a year, which makes the cost quite manageable even to those on a tight income. You may also opt to give a gift membership.

I borrowed the image at the top of this post from a website, The Northfield Food System, I stumbled upon recently that reports on three major Northfield food suppliers from the perspective, at least in part, of their support for local food producers. It appears to have been an Environmental Studies course project by St. Olaf College student Jason Hendricks. The introduction concludes:
With farm bought foods giving way to frozen foods, the average consumer cannot help but lose their sense of place in the food system. It is no longer apparent where your food was grown and what was put into it. This web page will seek to discover how Northfield has responded to the loss of its rural identity, and whether a sense of locality has been retained through its food system.
As you'll see, Just Food emerges as the hero in this particular story. If you're looking for a sense of place in the food system, Just Food is where you'll find it in Northfield (along with the farmers market, of course). I encourage you to give it your support.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Box Elder Bug Season

Box Elder Bugs swarming on garage doorRob Hardy's "season of plagues" comment to my last post reminded me that a year ago I submitted to a photo or two of box elder bugs swarming on the south-facing face of my former house, where my ex-husband still lives. As I recall, Adam Gurno gave it the honor of grossest photo of the week. I haven't seen them quite this thick yet this year, but they are plentiful and rather annoying as they look for suitable hibernation spots. They prefer light-colored, south-facing surfaces -- hence their particular profusion at this location. Here is a page with more information about them and advice on how to keep them out of your home.
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Thursday, October 4, 2007

High Water in October

It took me a while to get my camera up and running this week, so I missed getting pictures of the highest water after our heavy rains of the weekend, continuing into the workweek. I have to say I don't remember the river being this high at this time of year before.

Look how little space shows under the Third Street bridge; granted, there is a drop-off at the mill, but normally you can see more under the bridge. Compare it to the photo that lives at the top of my sidebar, which was taken in late July.

A couple of days ago, looking out of the Neuger Communications Group office at 411 Water St., we were pretty sure we were seeing water up to the bench on the west side of the river.

That's a lot of water! The ducks have been keeping a low profile; it's got to be challenging to keep up with the current during high water like this.

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On the east side of the river, the vegetation is getting its feet wet. (This plant, covered in tiny little daisy-like flowers, looks as if it might be part of the aster family.)