Wednesday, August 10, 2011

On supporting your local producer community during really hard times.

The hardest times we've experienced since the beginning of the Oklahoma Food Cooperative are certainly upon us now.  The triple threats of peak energy, economic irrationality, and climate instability are sending three strikes on farm country.  Feed prices are climbing through the roof, the drought and heat is destroying crops, and meanwhile, the see-saw economic craziness that is beyond our control continues to run riot over the globalized markets.

And its not just in farm country.  Many of us in the cities are having to cut back on our expenses because of situations that are beyond our control.

What to do?  Well, here is Bobby Max Waldrop's  4 point program for helping our growing local producer community to get through these hard times that will also help you increase the quality of life of your own household. 

Part the First:  Eat What's Available.
In the past, I have often said "Eat what's available."  That remains good advice. I'm the first to notice the shortage of vegetables this summer, even though we have more vegetable producers than ever before. The climate is against us this year, my home garden is doing no better.  I am barely keeping some container tomatoes and hot peppers alive, and getting only a couple handfuls of small tomatoes each week off of 6 plants. So I buy what I can, and get the rest at the store. But I continue to buy my meats from the coop, since they remain in good supply. If you can't afford to buy all your meats from the coop, then buy your ground meat, or some ground meat from the coop.  Ground meat from the big box supermarkets is true mystery meat. Each pound may have meat from dozens of different animals from six different states.   Isn't it worth $30/month to help these farmers get through these hard times?

Part the Second: Cut Your Local Food Budget Last.
If you have to cut your budget, cut your local food purchases last. Some years ago, as the coop develop, I got a little behind in my personal economy, looked critically at my budget, and dumped my monthly cell phone contract in favor of a cheap pay as you go phone that I use as little as possible.  We shop a LOT in the after market -- thrift stores, flea markets, etc.

Part the Third: Buy Non-Food Items From Local Producers
What about your non-food purchases?  Are you still buying bath and laundry soap at the grocery store?  What about other body care products? The artisanal body care products offered by our coop's producers are true values. They may be priced a bit more than the supermarket, but they last longer -- "more wash per bar" should be the motto of all of our soap producers. Our producers' body care products are not tested on animals. Their production does not pollute the environment. The money spent for them does not go to giant soulless corporations but instead stays right here in our Oklahoma economy and supports our producers and their families.  If you want to feel good physically -- and emotionally -- after you bathe, then use soap from our coop's producers.

Here's one anecdote about using non-food products.  Early on, I bought some laundry detergent from Rowdy Stickhorse. It came with a tiny little scoop and said One Scoop Per Load.  I looked at that and thought, "This can't be right" and kept on using my usual quarter cup scoop.  When I told Paulette about that, she laughed and said she was fine with selling me all the soap I would be, but it really did only require one of those tiny little scoops per load.  So I tried it, and she was right.  I've used Rowdy Stickhorse and I've used Crosstimbers laundry soaps (the powders) and I like all of them and consider all of them to be great values. If you have never tried laundry detergent from the Oklahoma Food Coop, your clothes will thank you if you try it this month.

Part the Fourth: Keep the Faith.
Finally, the third point is simple -- keep the faith.  Everything that we have said about local food for the last eight years remains true and important.
  • Our cities will only prosper as our rural areas prosper. 
  • When farm country is hurting, everyone is hurting. 
  • Developing local food systems is an important adaptation to the threats of peak energy, economy irrationality, and climate instability which are upon us in all of their crazed fury. 
  • Local food is the best tasting food.  
  • Local food is best for the environment. 
  • Local food is best for you and your family and especially for your children.
In healing our environment and creating a more stable local economy, we can rank our decisions as good, better, and best.  "Best" of course would be to buy most of your food and non-food items from local farmers and producers.  But if you can't do that best choice, make a better choice, and buy a significant proportion of your household's needs from local producers. And if that isn't possible, make a good decision and buy something every month, say $30 to $40 worth, to keep faith with our local producers and help them get through these hard climate and economic times into a better future.

Each of us holds the future of our local food systems in our own hands. I hope you will join me this month, and each month to come, in supporting our local producers by purchasing something from them that your family can use. sign in and order today -- or if you aren't a member, sign up now!  If you are one of those members who joined and has never ordered, while we appreciate the support of your membership share, it is equally important that our local producer community be supported on a regular basis with some of your grocery dollars.  So take a chance, spend $30 or $40 and see what good food and non-food items we have.

Monday, August 1, 2011

It's TOO HOT to shop so I'm going to the COOP!

Cucumbers in yogurt. . . green bean salad. . . ham salad. . . Santa Fe chicken salad. .  . and thoughts on keeping cool in the extreme heat. . .

106 degrees today, 110 degrees tomorrow and the next day. . . IT IS TOO HOT TO SHOP! That's why I'm going to the online coop store for groceries this month.  Yes, it's true, the August order of the Oklahoma Food Coop is open and I can sit here in my nice cool house and order away online. It sure beats driving to a big box supermarket, parking and hiking across 60 acres of blazing hot asphalt to the front door, and then repeating that process when I am done.

The vegetable aisle looks a little lean this month.  But then, it is August, and this is the hottest and driest summer since modern record-keeping began in the last decades of the 19th century. We still have onions, and it looks like there are lots of potatoes available, so remember the first rule of local foods: Buy when in season and store for eating later. You will want some of those potatoes and onions in November and December for your Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, so plan ahead.  You could buy a whole year's worth of onions, and caramelize them by the pot-full in your crockpot, and then freeze them in recipe-size portions for eating later.

Remember also that it pays to shop the Coop often during the order period.  Producers with both eggs and vegetables will often wait until later in the order window to post their products, since they may not be sure what will be available 3 weeks from now right this very day.  But over the next week or so, it will become more evident to them and then we will see some inventories start to increase.

And then there is also the little detail that there is quite a bit of non-seasonal food available year from from the Coop.  Buffalo, Beef, Pork, Lamb, Cheese, Yogurt, Grains, Flours and Meals. . . you can certainly make many meals out of these deals. 

Don't forget your non-food items.  Laundry soap? Check. Bath soap? Check. Yes it costs more but yes it is also a superior artisinal product so actually, these body care products cost less than their store-bought cousins, if we could just figure out how to give a figure for "cost per bath", lol.  The hard part about buying our artisinal bath soaps and such is deciding which "flavors" you want. Which is fine, you could buy more than one you know. 

So what are we going to cook this month?

Well, once thing I like is cucumbers and yogurt, both of which are available this month. Sometimes I shred the cucumber into the yogurt, and add a bit of fire like a chopped jalapeno or cayenne or powdered or crushed red pepper. Those who have been reading my recipes for a while are well aware of my deplorable habit of adding heat to everything, so go ahead, add more than you think you need since the dairy tends to cut the heat of hot peppers anyway.

Or. . . I peel the cuke and quarter it, and then slice it into thin quarter moons. Add this to some yogurt and then if you are making (for example) one cup, add about a half tablespoon of your favorite home-made or locally made jam or jelly.  It adds just a bit fo sweetness and some fruit flavor, peach and strawberry both seem really nice for this, without adding a bunch of carbs and such.

Another summer favorite is green bean salad. so pull some of those green beans that you picked and canned earlier this year off the shelf, drain the liquid and dress them with vinegar and oil and just a hint of sweetness.  You could use sugar or Splenda. . . or here again you add a hint of fruit to the complex of flavors by using some peach or strawberry or grape jam. Jam making is much easier than most people think, but you can also buy great jams from our coop's artisanal prepared food producers.

What's that you say? You didn't put up any green beans, in fact, you didn't grow any green beans at all. Well you are certainly missing out.  Green beans are one of the best vegetables to grow in Oklahoma. You can raise them in the spring and in the fall. The more you pick them the more they produce, and you can pressure can them for eating later.  But if you don't have any on hand, you'll want to store-bought cans, a quarter cup each of vinegar and oil (extra virgin olive, please!), and sugar, Splenda, or jam to taste.

What else sounds good. . . hmmmm. . . how about some Minced Ham Salad?  Great hams are sold hereabout these parts, so get one and chop some of it very finely. Maybe about a half pound.  Then mince some onion finely, and add some good relish.  I highly recommend the varioius relishes available from our coop for this, including the zucchini relish, also for egg salad, deviled eggs, hot dogs, and anything else you would put relish on.  Many people think relish can only be made from cukes, and while fine relishes are made from pickled cukes, it is rather pedestrian to limit our choice to just cucumber pickle relishes when there are so many other fine relishes out there, like zucchini.  Then add some mayo and go ahead and get some organic celery from the store and put some of that in there too. 

If you're starting with a half pound of ham chunks, you'll want a half cup of mayo, 1 celery stalk, 1/4 cup relish, 1/4 cup minced onion. If you can't get organic celery, don't add celery, as conventional celery is one of the worst veggies in the supermarket for pesticide residue.  Celery is one vegetable that must always be bought organic, and it's not something that really will grow well around here. Lovage, on the other hand, has kind of a smoky celery flavor, and it will grow quite nicely hereabout these parts and is a perennial, which makes it a double value for the price of planting.  I have used lovage in just about everything that I would use celery and it was fine.

Extra chicken? Well, substitute chicken for ham.  Add some chili powder and a little heat and call it "Santa Fe Chicken Salad".

Let's say a quick final word about energy conservation.  As folks know, we've done a lot of work to make our house more energy efficient.  Because of the 9 inches of insulation in our walls and 14 inches in the attic, plus our R-20 interior insulated window shutters, we can cool our entire 1548 sq ft house with only 20K btus of AC equipment. that amount of AC equipment is designed to cool about 600 sq ft, and we rarely have all those btus going at the same time. So we're saving money every month on our electrical bill, and reducing our global warming emissions, and thus making out like a moderately fat rat during these hard times.  It also helps that we planted extensive landscaping outside that shades the house.  It hurt us a bit this summer when the city made us cut down five of our fruit trees due to their bogus claim of "view obstruction", but oh well, I forgive them for their sins just as O hope to be forgiven for mine, which are many.

So while the summer is brutal, never think that we are totally at the mercy of the elements. With smart work we can adapt our dwellings to meet the new extreme normals of this age of climate and economic and social chaos. But the thing is -- none of this happens on its own. We didn't wake up one morning and find our house adapted. We made a plan and we implemented it and now we get to harvest the fruits of those design decisions. 

Don't know where to start?  Caulk and weatherize. Caulk is cheap.  Heat always moves towards cold, so in the summer, all those leaks around your doors and windows and other places are letting HEAT in to turn your nice interior coolness into hotness, and thus forcing your AC to work harder and harder.  Next, shade your windows and doors, from the outside. Curtains are fine on the inside, but your goal should be to keep the heat from hitting your windows in the first place. Once the sun hits the glass or the frame, the heat gets inside by conduction, even if you have interior curtains.

So order up some tasty local foods, that do good as well as taste good, and start making your own household plan to adapt your own dwelling to meet the extremes of the future that is coming at us.

In 2005 I said that things were going to go from bad to worse, when we did our extreme green renovation, and I am sorry to say that I was write.  That process is going to continue. The sooner we adapt our dwellings to the looming realities, the safer we will be -- and the less money we will spend on energy.

For more details, see my printable flyer on keeping cool during the extreme heat of summer at .